Christmas Reading

So far this holiday season (I started before Halloween this year) I’ve read ten Christmas novels. My very favorites are the classic “sweet” Regency romance novellas of Mary Balogh. She’s been reissuing these and I’m collecting them all over again on my Kindle. My top pick for holiday reading so far is A Christmas Bride, which is paired with A Christmas Beau. All Balogh’s books are excellent, well written and poignant. A Christmas Bride reached inside and grabbed my heart.

Balogh only writes historical romance, and she used to bring out a Christmas title every year, but this year she didn’t. Her newer books are not “sweet” (meaning they have sex scenes) and they are longer novels, not novellas, but they’re still delicious. Also re-read (so far) this year: A Christmas Promise and Under the Mistletoe.

Another favorite author, Anne Perry, also does a Christmas book every year. She’s another historical author. Her books are set in the Victorian era. This year she published A Christmas Gathering, which featured a wonderful minor character from the Charlotte Pitt series. Perry’s themes are often centered around forgiveness and loneliness. In this novella, a gentleman cannot forgive himself for a past failure and because he keeps this secret from his wife, they both feel that essential loneliness that somehow bites sharper during the holidays. But these are romances, so the endings are always happy.

Happily ever after is not just for historical fiction. I’m really fussy about what romance novels I read these days, but I always enjoy Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series, especially the humor. Thus, I had to read the newest title Shopaholic Christmas. At first I was a bit worried. She’s married and rich now, so she won’t be having the debt dilemma of that first (and best) book in the series. It was a bit slow to warm up, but when it did, I laughed on almost every page. For sure a feel-good holiday book.

Brenda Novak is another go-to contemporary romance author (she writes mystery too) when I’m in the mood for a HEA. Her Christmas at Silver Springs was lovely. An ex-con and a rock star’s almost ex-wife seem like an unlikely couple–I was curious to see how Novak handled the ex-con character–but this prolific author skillfully navigated a tricky romance that includes kids who are missing their rock star dad.

I love books set in Nantucket and Nancy Thayer’s An Island Christmas gives readers a peek at this summer haven in the off-season. There was a hint of Scrooge in the ailing and elderly curmudgeon, but the island native heroine manages to capture his heart along with his more age-appropriate son.

I’ve read and enjoyed a few more Christmas titles, including the funny contemporary The 12 Daves of Christmas by K.L. Brady (fiancee leaves her at altar, the rat!) and Invitation to a Cornish Christmas, two historical novellas by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott. All three of these authors are new to me. I loved Brady’s humor. Kaye surprised me with the sensual aspect of her lonely hearts characters–I think because I was raised on the sweet Regencies which are truer to the era IMO.

Romance readers know that these days even historical authors often go “all in” on the sex scenes. Kaye took her time with these lovers in Cornwall, so the sex is more a simmering slow boil. I really liked how she played with the ocean and swimming and incorporated them into the storyline. Makes me want to watch the series finale of Poldark, which I taped last night! Have not read Scott’s novella yet, but anticipate another hit of Cornwall after Poldark.

I know it’s a bit early, but here I am already reading for Christmas spirit and so want to say happy holidays to lovers of Christmas. ❤

Shadows of the Night…with Veronica Dale

Every single person has within them good and bad. Carl Jung understood this and called our less pious impulses our “shadow” side. It’s only when we embrace the shadow that we can come into the fullness of our true natures and be at ease and whole. This doesn’t mean we have to rob banks or kill people. It means we have to accept that we may have negative personality traits we deny or suppress. Because guess what? We all do. Vernie Dale captures this idea exquisitely in her just-released book of short stories Night Cruiser.

Many of the stories in this collection have been previously published in prestigious literary journals or have won excellence awards, or both. Each is a jewel in its own right. The last story, about a creative writing class, was so rich in real detail (I have taught creative writing) that the twist, when it came, flipped me from reality to fantasy and horror and even humor with a few skillful shakes. Other standouts include “Persons of Marred Appearance” for its faith themes, startling characters (the “grieving deacon”) and intense language like “shifting, dazzling water-stars.” What is faith? Dale seems to ask. “It’s the human condition” comes the answer from a not-quite human source. “Within Five Feet” shows hints of Dale’s COIN OF RULVE fantasy series to come, with its increasingly terrifying and astonishing imagery. Dale shows signs in this slim volume of capturing the world-wide web zeitgeist with the zeal and terror of Kafka. 

And lucky me, I was able to capture her for an interview on some burning questions I had about writing and, of course, the shadow. Here’s our talk:

Holding after resized

How does a sweet Catholic woman come up with such frighteningly horrifying stories? What compels you to write in this genre of fantasy horror?

Wow, thanks for calling me “sweet.” But I don’t think the stories in Night Cruiser are true horror. They’re pretty dark fiction, but some are funny and some have a spiritual dimension. They weren’t written to scare, but to take a good look at what we’re afraid of and ways we might deal with that. I guess the compelling thing for me is exploring Tolkien’s idea of the “eucatastrophe,” the terrible catastrophe that can become redemptive. That’s a theme in Lord of the Rings, the Gospel Passion narratives, and many other stories in which the protagonist’s struggle with the dark side results in great good. I like to compare that to an eclipse: you can’t see the sun’s glorious corona until it is blocked out by that scary black moon. So—to invent a word for it—maybe I can call the Night Cruiser stories “eclipsic” rather than horrifying.

I like that, Vernie. You are working on Coin of Rulve, a four part fantasy series. Any idea when the first book will be out? Are all four books complete or do you have a draft of each?

All four books are finished, but the last two are in somewhat rougher form. I’ve just begun seeking agent representation for book one, Blood Seed, and don’t know how long that will take. If I find an agent, she then has to get a publisher to accept the book, and then comes the long process of the publisher editing, proofreading, developing a cover, etc. My plan is to submit to a certain number of agents and, if none accept the book, to consider self-publishing.

I’m interested in your interest in Jung and “the shadow” — could you explain what it is, how you first learned about it, and how it jibs with your faith? What are some good books to read on this topic, particularly books or articles by Jung that inspired you.

I became interested in Jung when I was studying for my degree in pastoral ministry and learned about the relationship between psychology and spirituality. The shadow, according to Carl Jung, is the unconscious part of ourselves that we’re ashamed of, afraid of, or don’t want to look at. It includes our fears, our nasty side, and our weaknesses. The trouble comes when we think “Hey, I’m not like that; but he or she over there sure is.” It’s like how Christ shook his head in dismay when he’d see a person with a big stick in their eye making snide comments about someone with only a sliver in theirs. The more we deny our own shortcomings, in other words, the easier it is to project them onto other people or groups. This can lead to racism, age-ism, and all the other “isms” that our society falls prey to. A good place to start learning about the shadow is at Thirteen Quotations about the Shadow  http://jungcurrents.com/quotations-shadow/ or an overview at  http://www.carljung.co/. Then you can branch out to writers like John A. Sandford, Morton T. Kelsey, or Edward C. Whitmont. 

What is your writing schedule like? Do you write every day? Morning or evening or whenever you find time? Do you need perfect quiet or can you write anywhere?

They say the most important thing about writing is to “put butt in seat.” In other words, sit down at your keyboard and click away. I love it when I can do that by 10 am, work to maybe 1 pm, start again after lunch for a few hours, take time to make dinner, and maybe get a couple more hours in after that. This hardly ever happens. Life, alas, gets in the way. So do the dreaded “technical difficulties,” like printers that suddenly don’t print, or emails that date themselves Dec. 31, 1967, or the doorbell box loudly demanding that someone “close cover!” All of which actually happened to me. Even the electrician didn’t know a doorbell box can talk. And yes, I really do need a quiet place to write.

Speaking of writing anywhere, I know you are a fan of trance music. Explain what it is, why it moves you, and if you think there is a connection between this form of music/dance and writing, specifically your genre.

More than trance, I like club or electronic dance music—a lot. I can hardly keep still listening to it. My favorites are Sandstorm, Café del Mar, and the music of Paul Oakenfold. Other favorites with a good, solid beat are Philip Phillip’s Home and Avicii Wake Me Up When It’s All Over. Summertime Sadness and Peace Sword in B Minor (from the movie Ender’s Game) are also so beautiful. I wish I had time to explore this whole area a lot more. This kind of music brings a deep-down joy to my body and heart; like writing, it takes me completely out of my mundane self.

 Let’s go dancing sometime soon! But back to Night Cruiser…this is your first book of short stories, although you’ve published non-fiction books in the past, is that correct? So far, how does it feel to be published again in a completely new way? I assume publishing has changed a lot since you first put out those early non-fiction titles. In your opinion, what ways are these changes good for writers and in what ways is it not so good? 

Night Cruiser is my first published fiction book ever. When I began writing fiction, I was convinced I would never get involved with “the vanity press,” as self-publishing was called back then. But then things changed. With the advent of self-publishing, writers could by-pass increasingly greedy contract terms, keep the rights to their own work, and get their book out in weeks instead of years. But you have to learn a ton of stuff in order to do that (which can be time-consuming, to say the least), and then you must become your own marketing and accounting staff (which absolutely no author I know likes to do). I think most writers would love to find an agent that would root for them and guide them through the maze of today’s publishing pitfalls. I sure would!

 How long have you been at work on Coin of Rulve? Could you explain the basic story (not giving away spoilers of course!) 

What is now the four-book series Coin of Rulve began in 2003. The story is about twin brothers who are born in a land ravaged by the child slavery and addiction forced upon it by the Spider-king. The brothers are separated as infants to keep their existence hidden from the despot that hunts them. Growing up in the midst of violence and cruelty, wounded in body and spirit, they have suffered so much trauma in their nineteen-year-old lives that they cannot believe the Creator Rulve has called them to an extraordinary destiny.

In addition to being feared and reviled as a foreigner, Sheft is haunted by a murderous entity that is attracted to his blood. The village priestess wants to restore the old rites—and herself—to their former power, even if a hated foreigner must be sacrificed to do it.  In order to protect Mariat, the young woman he loves, Sheft must steel himself to leave her. Teller grows up in an underground stronghold, surrounded by ambitious mages just waiting to seize his power of fire. He gives up everything he has to rescue a young girl from a grisly fate, only to find he’s been betrayed. The beautiful slave Liasit begs him to save her people, but Teller is struggling to save his own soul. Another “character” in the series is the Seani, the small walled community the brothers call home. It is the only force that stands against the growing power of the Lord of Shunder, who has been hunting Sheft and Teller since the day they were born. With the help of the Seani, the brothers confront the shattering realization of what they are called to do. In order to buy back the lives of many, they must willingly pay an appalling price.

Readers, I will certainly alert you when Vernie publishes Blood Seed and the rest of this series. And Veronica, thanks for answering my questions!

Night Cruiser is available on Amazon in e-book or paper by clicking here.

And you can visit Vernie’s website for more news and links to Vernie’s social media circles.