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Black as Night: A Fairy Tale Retold
is a new novel for teens and young adults from Bethlehem Books, written by Regina Doman. Bethlehem published Doman’s first book, Snow White and Rose Red: A Modern Fairy Tale, in 1997. Based on a little-known fairy tale, it became something of a phenomenon among homeschool teens.

That novel told the story of two very different sisters in New York City and their unusual friendship with a mysterious young man named Bear. Black as Night continues the story of faith, hope, and tested love while touching on themes of euthanasia and holding onto beliefs under trial. It is based on the familiar story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with a twist: it’s set in the South Bronx of New York City, and the seven dwarves are seven friars who work among the inner-city poor.

Ms. Doman makes her home in Front Royal with her husband and five children. She works from her home as an author and creative projects editor. From time to time, she gives talks on creative writing, fairy tales, and teen literature to interested groups. IgnatiusInsight.com spoke with Doman about her newest book, the challenges of writing fiction for young adults, and her thoughts about books for teens, including the popular Harry Potter series. This is part one of a two-part interview.

This is the second half of a two-part interview.

IgnatiusInsight.com: In your estimation, what is the state of teen and young adult literature today? More specifically, what do you make of the Harry Potter phenomenon?

Doman: The state of young adult literature - if it's not getting better while I haven't been looking -- is about approximate to the state of our culture today: very bad. But should that surprise anyone? I have to admit I don't keep up with the teen literature that's out there today. Based on my previous experience, I would guess most of it isn't worth reading. See, I was a teen during the middle of the downward slope -- I was twelve when Judy Blume was writing her "shocking" teen novels about menstruation and fornication, and frankly, I hated her books and most of the books I read during my teenage years. What a depressing time to be a reading kid. In fact, the first draft of The Shadow of the Bear was written specifically for two teenage friends of mine who begged me to write them something decent that they could read. That sort of spurred me on to finish the manuscript I had started.

I fault those typical teen books for their self-centered and recreational/exploitational view of sex and also, more seriously, for their hopelessness. The boredom, cruelty, rebellion against who-knows-what, the narcissism, fame-seeking -- it's depressing. What was also depressing was the relentless justification of divorce, which I consider the single biggest lie foisted upon young people via fiction by adults who should have known better. They're doing the same thing with the gay lifestyle today. Most adults have a pretty negative view of teens when it comes to sex - but I suspect that's because too many adults are compromised by divorce and by birth contol themselves. They project their own desires for recreational or non-monagamous sex onto youth and throw condoms at them. I think this is a gross misunderstanding of their audience. If young people are anything, they are romantics. They don't want to be swingers, they don't want to end up in the divorce courts. They see divorce as a tragedy and a failure. They want real love. Of course, this is the heart of the Pope's Theology of the Body, and speakers like Mary Beth Bonacci who can articulate this to teens find a warm reception.

I think it's unfair for Catholics to buy into this negative view of teens, or even to fear them. The mass media culture and the adults who write books for teens are going to be down on youth - they are going to be depressing, they are going to give up on them, or they are going to want to sign teens up for their agenda. Of course there's a lot of trashy teen literature - there's a lot of even trashier adult literature, but we less rarely get up in arms about that.

Harry Potter is, in a strange way, a bright spot for me. I have actually read the books and I count myself a fan -- with some caveats:

1) The series is not finished yet, and my final judgment will be deferred until I see how J.K. Rowling answers the questions she hopefully raises in the first books.

2) I think it is singularly, even tragically unfortunate that she chose a witchcraft motif for the books. She might have made them Jetson-space-age types with the same storyline, and no one would have had a problem with it. But in post-Puritan America and in this stage of the warfare for the culture, witches are a bad choice.

3) I have read and respect Michael O'Brien -- I have both editions of Landscape with Dragons on my bookshelf -- and I find him insightful, particularly on Madeleine L'Engle. But I do not agree with him on Harry Potter.

4) One perceptive female commentator, whose name I forget, observed that people tend to like or dislike Harry Potter based on one factor: their personal experience with the occult. Those who have had direct experience with demonic possession, occult occurrences, or who have repented of or are susceptible to the sin of occultism -- all of these people have, almost without exception, an allergic reaction to Harry Potter. They want nothing to do with it, they are alarmed and they naturally (and perhaps rightly) want to protect the rest of us - or at least the innocents under their care -- from it. The chief exorcist of Rome and Michael O'Brien are both men who have had encounters with the Evil One (O'Brien portrays this chillingly in his writings), and I can understand their reaction to the books.

But, in the same manner, those people who have never really had a run-in with the devil, and who are free of those particular temptations and tendencies -- see nothing wrong with the Harry Potter books and movies. They wonder what all the fuss is about. They sometimes say unkind things about the critics.

This is what I have found to be true in my own life. My husband was involved in the New Age movement before he returned to the Church. He wants nothing to do with Harry Potter, doesn't want us to own the books. I respect that. Our children are not reading Harry Potter, nor do we have plans for them to do so -- but no doubt it's a bridge we'll have to cross at some point.

But myself -- I'm not the sort of person who's tempted by secret knowledge, the inner circle, spiritual power, that sort of thing. It's just not my sin. I did read the books, first for my own information, then with a bit more interest. The first book is a negligible achievement, the second admittedly clever, but in the third book I found things I wasn't expecting to read in the most popular blockbuster in children's literature in today's crass culture, namely that: a son needs a father. A young boy needs a father, needs him badly, and needs to search for him. I wasn't expecting that Harry Potter, of all people, was going to affirm fatherhood and -- dare I say? -- masculinity. And so I think I understand why kids are devouring these books - especially kids from divorced and fatherless homes. J.K. Rowling is tapping into those questions they desperately need answered.

And as I said, we don't yet have her final answers. So I am deferring judgment. But I will say that in terms of plot, I've yet to meet a young adult writer of her caliber. A badly needed standard of quality. All Judy Blume could do was break taboos. This woman can tell a story.
And it's a shame that J.K. Rowling essentially wrote these books with gross ignorance of the culture wars in this society. We don't live in a vaccuum, and the fact that others have and will use these books to promote witchcraft and the occult is troubling and problematic. It just goes to show that even great artists (yes, I will call Rowling great) can't afford to be ignorant, or the good they can do will be seriously compromised.

Too long of an answer, but there it is.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Who are some of your favorite authors, both fiction and non-fiction? Who has had the most influence on your own approach to writing?

Doman: The three most significant books I've read in my life, outside the Holy Scriptures, are: C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, G.K. Chesteron's Orthodoxy, and St. Maximilian Kolbe's works on Mary and the Holy Spirit. In that order.

Lewis confirmed me as a Christian, Chesterton as a Catholic, and Kolbe confirmed me in my relationship with the Blessed Mother. The other significant factor in my thought life has been the Pope's Theology of the Body. Philosophy and theology gives me ideas. I don't know why. I hear sermons or lectures and think of how I could work it out in an adventure novel. It's funny how the two are connected for me.

My favorite book in the whole world remains Lewis's That Hideous Strength, for the quirky uneveness of the plot, for the eerie suspense and horrific conclusions, for the parallels with modern ghastliness, and most surprisingly, for the Theology of the Body embedded inside it. I admire Charles Williams, I love all sorts of poetry, I came to a late appreciation of Tolkien via my husband, and I love The Silmarillion more than The Lord of the Rings. Growing up, I had a strong attachment to Madeleine L'Engle, but I see her theology as problematic. She's known as a fantasy author, but she also writes realistic books with metaphysical underpinnings. As she's a powerful writer, and I can't pretend she hasn't influenced me, but I made a philosophical break with her years ago. I simply can't agree with everything in the background of her stories. Young adult authors that I did enjoy when I was a teen include Beverly Cleary (what a voice of common sense) and Marylin Sachs.

These days I don't read much fiction -- too busy writing it, I suppose. I read history, psychology, sociology, Reader's Digest, books about whatever I'm researching. I still use Chesterton as a sort of road map when I write fiction - he was able to create characters who were both good and interesting - tricky to do, you know! I prefer writing about the real world to creating fantasy worlds, and Chesterton, unlike Lewis and Tolkien, set his stories in the real world, which is more like what I do.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What are you currently working on and what do you hope to write in the future?

Doman: I'm always working on something, particularly when I should be homeschooling.

I am gearing up to edit Waking Rose with Bethlehem later this year (visit the trilogy's website here). And I have a picture book coming out this Christmas.

And I'm editing this other series for Sophia Press, which is yet to be named (information about it can be found here). I'm searching for businesses who want to underwrite the costs for our radio drama based on my first book (contact me here). As you can see, I sort of have a website for every project; my husband owns a web development company, so it's sort of natural.

This summer, I finished writing my sixth novel based on a fairy tale and am researching my seventh. They're sort of expanding in scope as I write them. The sixth one was set in New England among the family of a conservative Catholic senator, and the seventh will probably be set on an Indian reservation. I love working with fairy tales because they have these deep metaphysical archetypes behind them that I can tap into. And I can use the contemporary setting to prove to readers that, despite the chaos and fragmentation of modern society, there still is order and purpose and meaning behind our lives. God uses human beings to create His stories. I think my books reflect that.

Read Part One of this interview here.

Black as Night: A Fairy Tale Retold

by Regina Doman

460 pp, Softcover, Ages 14-up. $11.95.

Circumstances have conspired to place Blanche Brier entirely on her own this summer in New York City while Arthur ("Bear") Denniston is in Europe and her family is on vacation. Blanche is fast becoming the focus of a terrifying play of evil forces: so she intuits—and wonders why. She is not sure she can trust her own sanity. Even the refuge she is forced to take among some lively Franciscan friars does not protect her from dangerous attacks. Blanche must rely on herself to sort out the ominous, seemingly disconnected events which will not let up until all appearance of hope seems gone. Yet meanwhile, Blanche's own heart's desires are being clarified—as are Bear's. In this sequel, patterned on another fairy tale classic, to The Shadow of the Bear, the "night" is very black; yet the beauty of honest relationships of faith and hope and of tested love brings light, warmth and joy to this much-awaited new novel.

You can read an excerpt from Black As Night: A Fairy Tale Retold here.

More information about novels by Regina Doman can be found at www.snowwhiteandrosered.com or at Doman's web site, www.reginadoman.com

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