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.

Christmas Reading

I love reading Christmas themed novels. It is my favorite thing to do in December and I don’t feel right unless I’ve got one going on my Kindle. I prefer to read new novels instead of returning to beloved classics, so I look for those released in 2012. Sometimes that date can fool you, as in the classic pair of novellas by the wonderful Mary Balogh. This year she re-released a double set of novellas first printed in the 1990s, so since it’s the first time the stories were pubbed in this form, the 2012 date was technically accurate.

I only learned they were classics when I read the “Dear Reader” note from Ms. Balogh that prefaced the book. That’s okay. The price was great and it’s been so long since I read “A Christmas Bride” and “Christmas Beau” that I fell in love with these Regency set romances all over again. Finished “Christmas Bride” last night (Yes, I cried. Balogh always makes me cry.) and started right in on “Christmas Beau.”

For Victorian setting, nobody beats Anne Perry, who brings out an annual Christmas story. “A Christmas Garland” was quite a departure for Perry. She set it in English-occupied India. I had misgivings, but it turned out to be absolutely my favorite Perry Christmas novel to date. But then,  I always say that. The mystery really had me stumped and Perry realistically adds in a touching romance. Mystery is the main plot, however, and that’s fine by me.

I’m still looking forward to Shirley Jump’s “Mistletoe Kisses with a Billionaire” a contemporary romance. It releases December 1. That’s Saturday. I’ll have “Christmas Beau” finished by then:)

The Hart & Horn

I loved The Hart & Horn. This is a true indie novel, in the best sense. It’s the kind of book that’s hard to put into a category; it is its own unique thing. Traditional publishers don’t take many chances these days, they can’t, their industry is at risk. So they like formulas that have worked before. They can’t take chances on unique until it makes them millions and then they want more of the same unique.  Enter the indie. C. S. Gordon uses Smashwords.

Don is a drifting twenty-something, fast approaching thirty. Unhappy in his auto company office job, living in his parents’ basement, he is without hope or joy. We think we know this guy. He’s the one in all the Judd Apatow movies, the guy in early novels by Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby. When he gets fired and his parents ask him to move out, he’s not that guy anymore.

Don thinks about when and where he was happiest. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his best friend Nate, he decides, and just as quickly moves north. Problem is, Nate and Don aren’t kids anymore, but they still have the mindset of young adults who live to party.

Don works when he has to, at jobs he does not love, and takes classes at the local college that sound interesting for their own sake, things like medieval music, where he meets Cassie. He’s still drifting, and now without his pal Nate, who is going through a life-changing journey of his own. Cassie is older, has a kid, has a plan. Sparks fly when they see each other at a bar, both there to listen to the lovely voice of their mysterious music teacher as he sings and plays the lute.

The main question is always will Don grow up? There are plenty of other questions that keep the story boiling, and this is one of the things I love the most. C. S. Gordon doesn’t keep to consecutive time, but feels free to imagine a past that impacts Don’s present. There are jumps into future years as well that satisfy in a way a lot of mainstream books just don’t. She handles the various plotlines with depth and honesty and things never get boring for even one minute.

Her prose is lovely, almost invisible except for when she’s describing the beauty of the natural world Don has found in the U.P. and then her vision is clear and true and makes me see that world so clearly. Great characters, great setting, great plot, great writing. You will be happy to lose yourself in this one.

Excellent 99 Cent Novels

If you just got an eReader for Christmas (or have one but have not discovered indie writers yet)and are looking for good reads and good value, here are my reviews of top indie picks in the order I read them. I actually read the first one on my husband’s phone, before I bought a Kindle:)

Karen McQuestion: Easily Amused.

Becky Wolsk: Six Words.

Bob Sanchez:  When Pigs Fly.

Tess Hardwick: Riversong.

Becky Wolsk: Food & Worry.

Christine Nolfi: Treasure Me.

Terri Giuliano Long: In Leah’s Wake.

Also, here are a few non-fiction indie reads I enjoyed:

Mark Schaefer: The Tao of Twitter.

John Locke: How I Sold a Million eBooks in 5 Months!

Becky Wolsk: The Text Isle Patchwork Cookbook.

I also have two books available on Kindle and Nook, each for only 99 cents. My novel, Sister Issues, and my writer’s manual/memoir, Your Words, Your Story (Kindle Edition).

Happy reading and please let me know if you have some favorite indie authors!

Two Books, Bad and Beautiful

Chipping away at the current WIP. Down from what was 80K to 70K. At this point, word count does not matter. Nothing matters except telling the best story I can. I know the difference. This week I read a horrible uncompelling novel by a best-selling author and a fabulous story by another best-selling writer.

The first book will remain nameless. My complaints include the fact that the first quarter of the book was back story, every single page a summary instead of a scene! I was appalled. I had to keep reading simply to see if the whole book was like that. Eventually Author X slowed down enough to show instead of tell, but it was too late. I was not invested in the characters and skimmed quickly through the book to see if anything at all would hook me. Nope. Not One Thing.

The book I am loving is The Help, which is so well-plotted and conceived that I am having a really good time gobbling it up. Adoring and hating the characters. Wondering what will happen next. Admiring the prose and the fact that although it is written in dialect, she pulls it off gloriously.

The Help has the kind of essence I want my books to have. Not asking much of myself, lol. Just to write like a woman who has had a novel on the NY Times top 10 bestseller list forever. Thanks to my book group for choosing this one. I’ve read so many novels set in Civil Rights south, I doubt I would have picked it up if not for them.