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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.


IgnatiusInsight.com: What is your educational background and what kinds of writing and creative work have you done in your career?

Regina Doman: I graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1992 with a degree in TV Communications with a concentration on drama and scriptwriting. After graduation, I got a job as assistant editor for Catholics United for the Faith in New York City, where I worked for about two years before I met and married my husband. During my time in the city, I sort of "fell in" with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and lived in a house for young adults that they still run down there, St. Elizabeth's House. I loved living in New York, and it definitely sparked my creativity. For a while I was also freelance writing in the Catholic press, mostly for Our Sunday Visitor, YOU! Catholic Youth Magazine, and other smaller publications.

The week I had my third child, I handed in my last article as a freelancer, and haven't really written articles since. I made the decision to concentrate full-time on creative projects, like novels, radio dramas, comics, and other things of that sort. So my background is in nonfiction writing, but I am today primarily a fiction writer. I've written six novels and published two (the third will be published next year), written two radio scripts (both in post-production), and created proposals. I can go crazy on proposals: I have one for a Catholic comic book series, a fashion magazine, and a Catholic teen novel series.

The difficulty about creating proposals is that eventually someone takes you up on one. And that has actually happened with the last project, which is in development now: I'm the editor of a new series of teen novels for Sophia Institute Press. (I know—going over to the competition. Sorry, Ignatius Press.) But I still hope to go on publishing my own books with Bethlehem and Ignatius.

IgnatiusInsight.com: You rewrite fairy tales. So are your books for children or for older readers?

Doman: I know that this is a common misunderstanding with my books, so I'd like to start with a clarification: My novels are not for children. They are books for teens.

My first book has a near-seduction and several violent encounters, including references to a death by strangulation, and three near-murders by beating, suffocation, and gunfire. I always try to make this clear when I'm marketing my books that these are young adult novels, not children's books. I know the fact that they're based on fairy tales is confusing for a lot of people. We have this idea that fairy tales are only for kids, and Disney movies reinforce this. But they started out as stories for adults, and today there's a significant market for fairy-tale-retellings for teen readers. That's the genre that I write in.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Doman: I've been pretty much writing stories since I learned how to write, as my parents can attest to. After having me, my parents gave me nine younger siblings, and I was always writing plays and forcing my siblings to act in them. One summer when I was twelve I had tremendous plans to mount a production of Macbeth, starring my eight-year-old brother. And it was going to be a tragedy. I'm serious. It didn't quite come to fruition. I guess I've always aimed high and not worried too much about failure. Failure means to try again. Or try something else.

My parents also gave me a strong faith life and a sense of personal vocation: to look deeply for what God might expect from me. Looking back, I had a very strong sense early on that I was meant to tell stories, and a sense of responsibility towards God regarding that. I'm not saying my work is specially fired by the Holy Spirit or anything, but just that He had given me a gift and He expected me to use it. I like to identify with the man who was given two talents in Christ's parable: maybe I don't have as much talent as the great geniuses of our time. That's okay. He expects me to be faithful with the gift I've been given.

Because I was the oldest of a large family, I had constant contact with teens even after I stopped being one (my youngest sister is thirteen). So I still had a sense of being in touch with the needs of their particular audience. I don't really see that changing. Well—who knows? Maybe it will change when my own kids get to be teenagers and I have to do more with teens besides write books for them!

IgnatiusInsight.com: In 1997, Bethlehem Books published your first book, Snow White and Rose Red: A Modern Fairy Tale. Tell us about that book and how it came about.

Doman: I made contact with Bethlehem first when I published a list of ten good children's books in Nazareth Journal, back in 1993. One of their editors like my list, and wrote to me. We exchanged letters, I did a feature article on their community for Our Sunday Visitor, and mentioned that I had a manuscript. They said, "Oh, we don't do new manuscripts—we just do reprints. But send it anyhow." So I sent them my project, which was the odd idea of taking a favorite but obscure fairy tale—Snow White and Rose Red—and retelling the story in New York City. I had always loved fairy tales and myths, and I was fascinated with the idea of setting the story of two girls who rescue an enchanted prince in today's world. Can fairy tales still happen? That was the question that haunted and hooked me.

After sending them the manuscript, I got a call from Bethlehem saying that they loved the manuscript but it needed a lot of work. They weren't kidding. I rewrote the entire book several times before it was publishable. They are excellent editors—I was honored to be the author of their first original book for teens.

My book isn't a 1950's throwback—it's not a sweet book. I'm a child of the '70s, a teen of the '80s and, growing up in the teeth of the sexual revolution, I lost the innocence of the imagination early, as many kids today still do. I have no nostalgia for a safer and purer time—I never knew one.

My two heroines, Blanche and Rose, face the ugliness that is out there today, and they don't back down. They face the battle for the culture, and they fight it by how they live their lives. I think that's one reason why teens love them. And the "enchanted prince" of the story, Bear, is a great character—guys seem to identify with his sense of purpose and his convictions. He's on a lonely, dangerous mission for justice that few would understand or appreciate, and I think that resonates with teens.

One scene that was debated by the editors is the scene where Rose is tricked by her prom date into a bedroom, and he attempts to seduce her. When she resists, he starts to force her. She gets out of it in a very clever way, and is not frightened, but instead is really, really mad at him. She's so mad that she chews him out in the hallway at school the following week with this lecture on chastity and how a real man treats a woman. The publishers kept the scene in, and I'm glad they did. Not because I want to be needlessly crass, but because kids, particularly girls, know that this possibility of being exploited and abused is out there, and they're afraid of it. I wanted to write something that would face that fear and make it back down. Again, this has to do with fighting hopelessness—giving kids the idea that there is a way out. There is an answer. There is a better way. If you can show it to them imaginatively, they might be able to make it real in their own lives.

Of course, the main thrust of the book is not a lesson in chastity. It just happens to be part of the growth of Rose's character, so I used it.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What is the relationship between your first [teen] book and your newest book, Black as Night: A Fairy Tale Retold? What is it about?

Doman: After the first book was published, I started to get a small but steady trickle of letters and emails from teen girls who'd read my book and who wanted another story about the same characters. I had promised them another book, and I struggled to keep that promise. The problem was not that I didn't have another idea—the problem was how to work out that idea. The sequel, Black As Night, went through—I kid you not—fourteen major versions before I wrote the final story.

Black as Night is Blanche's book, based on a more-familiar fairy tale. I drew on my experience with the friars in the South Bronx to write it. Blanche, who's been continuing to live her hidden life of modesty and virtue, finds herself subjected to mysterious and vicious attacks that seem to come out of nowhere. She's helped by seven friars who work with the inner-city poor. Personal vocation is a big theme in this book: Blanche is going through the crisis that I suspect many young adults experience when they're about to choose their life's path.

At one point, she says, "I just wish I knew why I felt so under attack. It's as though my life has turned into a chess game...I just keep trying to go straight ahead and mind my own business...now every piece is after me suddenly." The friar talking with her points out that in a chess game, if you keep going straight ahead, you're going to start invading enemy territory, even if you're just a pawn. Blanche has always been a good Catholic, but she's found out that the older she gets, the more strongly she's attacked. Her childhood faith is being tested in order to grow into an adult faith.

The subtext of the a book is about choosing your life's path as well as dealing with issues from your past. And of course it's a book about romance, because choosing your life partner is a critical decision young adults usually make during that time.
There will be a third book about Rose, the more spirited sister whom everyone wants to hear more about. It's titled Waking Rose, and will hopefully come out next year, which will complete the "Snow White and Rose Red Trilogy."

IgnatiusInsight.com: You’ve said that you are fascinated by fairy tales because they are not, like typical realistic teen books, about weird people in a mundane world, but about ordinary people in an extraordinary universe. Unpack that remark a bit, if you would.

Doman: I received that insight from G.K.Chesterton, who said in Orthodoxy,
"Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time, while odd people are always complaining about the dullness of life. This is also why the new novels die so quickly and why the old fairy tales endure forever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy: it is his adventures that startle him: they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal... hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately and the book is monotonous."

This struck a chord with me when I was a teen, because it's an apt description of the mainstream fiction available for teens. So many books I was reading then featured a teenage protagonist who saw himself-herself as weird, different, an outsider, not filling parental or societal expectations, needing to break out and be different and not a clone ... etc. etc. etc. It's the same with most adult books too.

I still joke that you can tell a modern novel even if it's about a Stone Age tribe—because in the modern novel, the protagonist is almost always the one lone hero who goes apart from the tribe. Who feels strange, not akin to his fellow bear-eaters. He finds their ways strangely uncomfortable. He doesn't like to eat raw bears. He has yearnings for something kinder, gentler, higher—for—for—indoor plumbing...who knows? Whatever! There's always that telltale annoying self-centrism and the smug downgrading of any culture before birth control. As a counterpoint, the novel Kristin Lavransdatter plunges you right into the culture of the Catholic Middle Ages. Kristin doesn't critque her world—she's a part of it. It's so refreshing -- she's an ordinary person in an extraordinary, dangerous, and wonderful world, which is of course even more extraordinary to us moderns.

My heroines view their universe as extraordinary—as an adventure. And their "universe" is the world of New York City, with all its ugliness and danger and loneliness. They're on an adventure, but they know they're just ordinary girls. Of course they're not really ordinary, because of their outlook. That was how I set out to take G.K. Chesterton's challenge and write a modern novel as if it were a fairy tale. By some crazy finger of God, I succeeded.


In part two of her interview Doman talks about the state of young adult literature, including the Harry Potter books. It will appear on IgnatiusInsight.com shortly.


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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