Interview: Christine Emmert author of The Nun’s Dragon and Lilith

Awhile back, I went out of my normal, if eclectic, comfort zone and read The Nun’s Dragon and novella Lilith by Christine Emmert.  They are both sort of out of my zone because I have never really read about dragons before, and I try to stay away from anything related to the Catholic church.  Lilith, I never really knew much about.  But one of my favorite authors, Stant Litore, asked me to read it and review it.  I’m glad I did.

Christine kindly responded to questions I sent her via email:

1. When did you first become interested in the legend of LILITH?
      Actually in the 60s there was a book called LILITH that was the fictional story of a women in the mental hospital who was a seductress to everyone – even those who were supposed to heal her.  It was written by JR Salamanca.  It was then my curiousity was awakened as to the mythological inspiration for the character.  I discovered one aspect then of the LILITH story, but as I read further I found Lilith has many faces and proceeds Eve as the first woman in the Creation legend.  Today she is a figure of multiple personalities — some good and some not.  I chose the more traditional idea that she wanted to eat the children from all the women who did not follow her example of saying “no” to a traditional role.
Marsha Norman, the playwright, told playwrights to write about what they fear most.  Every woman’s greatest fear is probably the loss of her child.  I found that element of Lilith the most frightening, and so I wrote about it.
2.  The wedding vow of “being shackled to a naked beating heart” is so extreme.  It is shocking.  What did you mean by that?
My heroine who is trying to write her thesis about the many faces of Lilith is a dark person.  Her husband seems to be
a man in love with her inspite of.  Her use of that wedding vow is representative of the drama of the heroine and her fierce commitment to what she loves. She isn’t easy on others or herself. She asks extreme commitment.
3.  How did you pair a nun and a dragon for THE NUN’S DRAGON?
My story started to be about just the nun .  I envisioned it as a murder mystery about the finding of her body when she ran away from the convent.  The convent being her place of safety. In the unfolding of the story I suddenly had a dragon turn up. The dragon’s friendship with her is one of the elements that makes her start to question her place in her world.  Once he was there I could not dislodge him or belittle him.  He became the central motivator in the story.  Like many a person I am fascinated by creatures from mythology.
4. The themes of feminity and sin feature prominently in both stories.  Was it intentional?
In a male dominated society it’s hard to separate the two.  Women are placed below men in many cultures, and their
inate desire to rise above such subservience is often interpreted as sin. I am a deep feminist.  I cannot view women without viewing their strengths and in many cases their talents that were left to rot while they were judged in very narrow roles.
Certainly in THE NUN’S DRAGON the Church of the time placed women as there to support men of the cloth.  By that time The Gospel of Mary Magdalene had been deeply buried as it showed a woman equal to the other disciples.
Sin is the blame we put on others for what we have wrought.  I want a sinless world like so many people.  It’s hard to overcome perceptions though that have existed for thousands of years.
5. What dragons of literature did you use to create Wyver?
A Wyvern is a medieval concept where the dragon has a specific look in all the visual renderings….the front claws are attached to wings, and the powerful back legs.  Some purists would not even consider a wyvern a dragon, but wyverns share the same dragon qualities of making people fear them, and their liberty to move through the skies.  I wanted to make this frightening image a character of sensitivity and beauty.
6.  What did you use to make the convent come alive?  The atmosphere is horrific.
Convents were often horrific places where young women were dumped off for whatever strange reason.  Often though beauty happened inspite of the motives.  If you research middle ages life you will find much of it was horrific.  When the people did not make the horror themselves, it was made with disease and natural cirucmstances of famine, flood, fire.
I have been in circumstances with other people that are close. Theatre often fosters an artificial closeness.  People react as they do everywhere, with love or hate or indifference. And alot of ego. Many of the nuns in my story were in awe of Sister Agnes Dei, but they could not save her.
7. The chronology of the story is not linear.  You go back and forth giving us little pieces.  Is this something you planned and if so why?
I often do this in writing.  Starting in the middle or close to the end and then going back and forth.  I find that is how we find out events in life.  Sometimes we think we know what is happening only to discover later things turn out differently from events we did not know at the time.  I think this method of story telling makes for a deeper story where the tale could have gone many different ways.
8.  The book is highly critical of the Catholic Church.  Was that your intent?
I am critical of a church that holds so much power and influence without the compassion Jesus preached.  Perhaps this new Pope will succeed in reminding people of tolerance and joy.  However I have several dear friends and even relatives who are committed Catholics.  And they are also deep Christians. I do not mean to suggest that they are flawed.  Good people exist in all religions.  The Church is changing, but in the medieval world it did countenance much brutality.  It excluded many people who did not want to embrace this way of life as sinners.  That was cruel and deserves to be criticized. Remember that one of the characters says there has to be a deeper love than Christian love itself or we are all lost.
9.  How did you approach the love story between the nun and the dragon without making it campy or downright bestial?
These were two beings who reached across the species to form a friendship that was inviolable.  They did not ask for this affection to come to them, but they understood it was more important than surface rules.  I think writing about real love which was not especially something that could be solved romantically over the long term is one of the most bittersweet kinds of writing.  They were both outcasts, but refused to cast out each other.  I find that admirable.
Christine is a writer, actress, director and educator who has lived a long life on this earth. She holds a Masters in Humanities from the University of Colorado where she lived for twenty-three years. Now her life is re-settled in the woodlands of Pennsylvania where she was born.
Presently she works in the Outreach Program for Hopewell Furnace National Park where her play FROM OUT THE FIERY FURNACE (a one-woman piece about women in the ironworking industry of the area in the 1800s) has been touring for the last four years.  She also has other dramatic pieces that are seen throughout the United States.  This summer she is appearing in her own work, FRAGILE FREEDOM, about the Suffragist movment at the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester.  Her blog “Writing Across the Genres” does just that and is found at  christineemmert.wordpress.com.  Christine loves the power of words.  Her newest project is THE TINY MONK taken from an idea she had on her visit to Thailand this last February.

 

 

Interview: Coty Justus author of the Birthrights Series

ahomeontherange

 

For the last week, I have been reviewing the Birthrights Series by Coty Justus.  I was completely taken in by the series and totally fascinated with the world created by the author.  It is just so different from any other paranormal romance series out there.  It offers such a great message for young women, it is “safe” for teenagers (meaning it doesn’t feature graphic sex) and it is totally addictive.  Ms. Justus  kindly agreed to an interview, much to my delight.  Here is the author’s “official” bio:

Coty Justus lives in the Wyoming she writes about in her books.  A simple person with simple tastes, her books reflect her upbringing, with an emphasis on family and a rural lifestyle.  An animal lover, Justus frequently incorporates dogs, horses, and an odd assortment of wildlife into her plots.

Stronghold

 What inspired you to write such a far reaching series about magical women in Wyoming?

Like you, I enjoy reading history.  Sixteen years ago, I was reading a history of Easter Island—I cannot for the life of me remember which one—and I fixated on a piece of trivia: One of the first visitors wrote in his captain’s log that most of the people were dark-skinned and dark-haired, but that he had seen the occasional red-haired native.  I am curious by nature.  I pondered this information.  From whence had stemmed a red-hair gene?  Geography not being my strong suit, I decided on Scotland.  I made the logical transition to second-sight.  From those wild deductive leaps, a series was born.

 Is the religion/culture of “The Ten” based on any real or historical religion?  If so, what is it?

I don’t think “The Ten” is based on any religion or culture.  I think it’s invented.  At my age, though, having long been an avaricious reader of anything, even a cereal box in a pinch, it could be an amalgamation of any number of spiritual or superstitious beliefs.  I like to read.

Did you plot out the entire series or did you write it book by book?
I plotted out the series, but it went badly awry.  One day I will pull out that old outline, perhaps a hundred pages long, and read it for fun.  I invest a lot of energy on character development, and they all become alive to me.  The greatest joy for me in writing is to develop a character, put that character in a situation, and let my fingers fly while the character acts and reacts accordingly.  The outline quickly became obsolete.

Roundup

 Many of the themes in your book are dark, especially starting with “Home on the Range”, was it difficult writing from the perspective of a young girl on the run? With “The Maverick” it continues with Acrasia’s struggle to survive was that difficult as well?
I enjoy the darkness.  Like you, one of my favorite contemporary books, maybe my favorite, is The Stand.  I remember, as a non-traditional college student, telling one of my literature instructors that this book would one day be included among the classics.  (She had asked another student who Stephen King was.)  There must be some darkness to appreciate the light.  All the women protagonists suffer as children.  The darkness shapes them into strong women warriors.  They have seen evil or deprivation and are prepared for the final battle.  I think I needed to portray that as realistically as possible without offending the reader; otherwise, they would not have been believable in the last book.

Each of the women are very well developed characters, even some of the little ones, like Maddy, Ally, Susan.  I was surprised to see that the men weren’t just a side dish as well, they are very central to the plot and as equally represented and developed.  Was it difficult to create so many deep and robust characters? 
I think that, of all the fiction elements that go into a work, I most enjoy characterization.  Dialogue, actions, reactions, thoughts, other characters’ impressions—all of these go on autopilot once I’ve established the individual’s base persona.  Jason asks “What are you two?” when he finds a strand of red hair on his pillow.  Alan is emotionally obliterated by the death of a fellow officer.  Matthew vacillates between leaving the table or coming up with a response when threatened by the prospect of small talk.  Michael tells his brother and cousin that they need to take their act on the road.  Roland asks Michael when he ever conned him and then laughs at Michael’s response.  Sam tells Alan he loses sleep, wondering what goes on in his head.  These were all defining moments for each character.  After that, as mentioned before, I needed only create a situation and see what happened.  You can probably tell by this why I have a problem sticking to an outline.

Maverick

 Native American culture features prominently throughout your books.  Are the beliefs/rituals/customs mentioned part of a particular tribe?
All of the Native American customs are specific to the High Plains tribes, in particular, Granny Whitefoot’s Eastern Shoshone.  Because the High Plains tribes met at trade fairs, fought side by side to repel early colonists, and battled one another, taking captives, the customs are similar.  The religion is specific to the Shoshone, but I will confess to being disappointed in the dearth of research materials available for the Eastern Shoshone.  I did my best with what was available and only hope I don’t walk outside one day to a flaming lance buried in my lawn.

 Have you approached the Wyoming tourism board and offered to write travel brochures for them?  The way you describe the landscapes, the beauty, the feel of the range has made me seriously consider a trip out there.  How do you go about writing such fantastic depictions?  Is it from memory?  Do you go out there with a pen and paper and just write?
You will not be disappointed by a visit to Wyoming.  It is a wild country and still untamed.  I did not need to refresh my memory.  Viewed under the right circumstances, it stays with you.  I was born in North Dakota, was raised primarily in northern Idaho and Montana, and spent half my adult life in South Dakota and half in Wyoming.  I love this North Country of mine.  I first saw Yellowstone National Park over fifty years ago.  It is definitely worth a visit, especially for children!  I want Wyoming readers to read my books, but I am a novice at promotion so don’t know how to go about it.  I recently entered a Wyoming writers’ competition, submitting the entire series as one work.  It pleases me to know that at least three Wyomingites—the judging panel—will be captive readers.

Range_Wars

Any chance of a follow up series with the younger generation?  Or just a few books on how life is for the family and their hilarity?

 
I doubt I will do anymore with the Stantons, only because I am reluctant to leave them behind.  I visualize Michael’s reaction when Bel’s chosen shows up at the door; Acrasia working as a volcanologist; and Ally in a college classroom during final exams, and I know if I don’t let go now I will never begin another book.  I’ll see how the next book goes.  This series was something I had to write.  It festered in my subconscious for sixteen long years.  Now I must wean myself off it.  (I still read Range Wars.  I love that book.)

Thank you Coty Justus for the wonderful insight on how a series like this was created.  I absolutely loved it.

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