As I near the end of the first draft of my work-in-progress novel, I have been running scared. The fear comes from two sources. First, though the end is in sight, I still worry I will not pull off finishing the novel. Second, I will soon have to bid so long to the characters who have inhabited my life since last Fall. My fictional characters invariably come to feel like real people to me, and I miss them when they are gone.
I have used various coping mechanisms, but none so effective as a performance by the South African Drakensberg Boys Choir. Judy Croome introduced them to me in one of her recent posts, and I keep listening again and again to their music. Sometimes I am just carried along with their joy. Sometimes I think of how improbable their gathering would have been not so long ago. It may be a bit of a stretch but that accomplishment gives me hope that I too can pull off my (admittedly less consequential) endeavor.
"May the joy on those boys' faces be translated into a way of life for them and the world. May their harmony smooth any harshness life brings as they navigate the separateness the world may impose on them. May through them love find its way to all of us."
Following the release of her novel Dancing in the Shadows of Love, Judy Croome was gracious enough to answer my questions about her intriguing novel. Judy lives and writes in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her short stories have been published in ITCH magazine and “Notes from Underground Anthology”. She was recently shortlisted in the African Writing Flash Fiction 2011 competition. Her novel Dancing in the Shadows of Love explores, through the eyes of three very different women, how an ordinary person, one who doesn’t have what it takes to be a hero, can also find a way to repair the fractures of a broken world.
In Dancing in the Shadows of Love, there are recurring themes of buried secrets from the past, a sense of otherness, betrayal, the need for inclusion in a greater social circle and family, and people who are from neither Here nor There. What do you believe ties these varied themes together? The interconnectedness of all life ties these themes together. Like a pebble rippling the surface of a pond, every act we do, every thought we have, sends waves of energy that affect everything else. The quote that introduces the Glossary of Terms encapsulates the connection between the varied themes in the book: no matter what the cultural differences, no matter what the different obstacles we each face, we are all the same. And we each carry within us the equal potential to rise above our own pain and suffering and change the world around us, even if only in a small way. When we can do that—make lasting changes for good in our own hearts, in our families and in our neighbourhoods—then perhaps we can finally return to that pre-lapserian Eden where man and nature, man and his god, and man and woman can live in peace.
In Dancing in the Shadows of Love, your character Zahra speaks of a hopeless dream of love. She says, “We are lost, and I was aware that the glimpses we have of love, a transcendental love that is sacrosanct, are reserved for the privileged few.” How do you define transcendental love? It’s an a priori human potential that exists within all of us, irrespective of our culture or religion or life circumstances. When we find within us that capacity to overcome our subjective hurts and emotions; when we can reach out a helping hand to others, across all the external barriers and differences that separate us, and all the pain and suffering of our own secret wounds, we transcend our humanity and reach our Divine potential. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." When we’re hurting or angry or betrayed, and we can still find the inner strength to tap into that a priori compassion within our soul to disarm our hostility towards others, then we have made the dream of transcendental love a reality. Zahra, lost in her despair, does not realise that this love is available to all of us…if we choose compassion instead of hatred; peace over anger and forgiveness over revenge.
In another section of Dancing in the Shadows of Love, you write: “The secrets of life eat away at the foundations of our being and even their weight cannot keep them drowned forever.” Can secrets be transmuted into a positive experience?
Absolutely. And sometimes that transmutation is purely an inner alchemy; nothing external changes, only the way the individual responds changes as she comes to terms with those painful secrets.
Why was it important to write Dancing in the Shadows of Love using three points of view?
Symbolically, three carries the weight of accumulated authority: something happening once or twice can be a coincidence; but if the same thing happens three times it carries a power and sense of certainty (e.g Thrice Greatest Hermes, three witches in MacBeth; three wishes.) In this story, Grace (as her name suggests) is the ideal human; she has achieved the capacity to see beyond differences and experiences real compassion for others. To give that ideal a sense of certainty, I had three very different women struggle to transform their own human suffering into the capacity for Divine Love (transcendental love) that Grace has.
Dancing in the Shadows of Love carries a lot of hidden symbolism. Can you explain some of it?
A reader can read this book just for the enjoyment of seeing how Lulu, Jamila and Zahra overcome their challenges, because I wanted this story to be an entertaining read. However, I also wove in deeper aspects to the story for those who want to look for a hidden meaning—from the flowers to the colours to the names of the characters, everything was chosen for a specific symbolic purpose.
A common example of the symbolism in the story is the importance of Jamila’s wedding. Symbolically, a wedding/marriage represents the reconciliation and union of opposites; the merging of heaven and earth. While on one level, the story’s plot is a simple one about a woman’s desperate need to marry and leave her underprivileged past behind her; on a deeper level, it’s about the struggle of all three women to achieve a spiritual union between their flawed humanity and their Divine essence.
What are your impressions so far of the self-publishing experience?
Interesting. Hard work. A lot of freedom, but a lot responsibility too. As big a struggle as the traditional publishing route, but in a different way. I prefer it because by nature I’m a loner and I prefer to walk to the sound of my own drum. But, before anyone thinks of self-publishing, I’d suggest they consider very carefully whether they have the personality to be a successful self-published author.
Is there anything you would have done differently? Yes. I would’ve planned better, but as there were things I didn’t know and which hadn’t been mentioned in any of the self-publishing sites I researched, my first foray into self-publishing was too disorganised for my liking. I wasted a lot of energy that could have been better used. I would also not try to “launch” my book with a big bang: to self-publish you need time and patience and to get your name branded. The hard sell doesn’t work. Even my launch competitions, which I thought had big prizes (US$100 Amazon voucher or a full manuscript critique) have not been successful. I’m learning what works best is a slow steady natural presence on the web. By natural, I mean, just participate in forums and blogs and other social media. Let the readers come to you; don’t try and drag them in for a visit.
Judith, thanks so much for hosting me here. I really enjoyed my visit and, to say thanks, I’d like to ask you to draw the name of a random commentator, who will win an Amazon US$15 gift voucher (or the UK/South African equivalent!)
If anyone would like me to do a guest post on their blog, please email me at email@example.com to discuss a suitable topic and a mutually agreeable date.
Judy Croome's independently published novel Dancing in the Shadows of Love is available from Amazonand Smashwords.
My writing frequently explores multicultural themes. Born in Puerto Rico, I moved at a young age to the U.S., where my parents became Pentecostal ministers. Early immersion in Latino and religious cultures preceded later experiences as a businesswoman, a White House Fellow, and life aboard a trawler cruising from Martha’s Vineyard to South America. These sometimes incompatible worlds have given me a respectful outlook toward differing points of view. My short stories, poems, and essays reflect my own inclusive, yet sharply defined, journey across cultural and socioeconomic boundaries. I recently published Peace on the Journey, a poetry collection which explores the theme of renewal in the face of adversity.
The defining image of this blog is a waterfall. Its inspiration comes from a scene in one of my novels in which the infant protagonist escapes her mother’s attention and wanders off to a nearby waterfall. While there, she experiences a mysterious sense of wellbeing, which she yearns to replicate for the rest of her life.
"I have made love to my writing and am now in the afterglow."
"Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession... Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
About his fictional town Macondo, widely acknowledged to be inspired by his real home town of Aracataca, Colombia. “Macondo is not so much a place as it is a state of mind.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
"The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear."
"The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing."
Blaise Pascal, Pensées
"There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and, because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly... to keep the channel open."