Author of Dancing in the Shadows of Love, Judy Croome, in conversation with Janet van Eeden

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Dancing in the Shadows of Love
Judy Croome
Publisher: Aztar Press
ISBN: 9780987009043

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Short review by Janet van Eeden

Dancing in the Shadows of Love is an unusual novel in that it takes the form of a moral allegory of sorts, yet seems to be a fantasy novel on one level. However, it’s rooted in a world we can identify with as reality. For example, the “holding camp” of the opening chapters is identifiable as an orphanage, which resonates with my Catholic upbringing, peopled as it was with priors and prioresses. The veneration of the Spirit King also reminds me of the rituals surrounding worship of Jesus.

Into this world the main character, Lulu, is thrust, with nothing going for her. Firstly, she’s an albino and mocked by others for her physical state. She’s alone in the world without a family who cares for her. She’s been badly treated for all of her short life. When she’s taken to the “holding camp”, supposedly to be cared for by those in charge, she finds she’s automatically the underdog again. Her skin colour is treated with deep suspicion by those around her.

All the characters are searching for love in their lives, in one form or another. However, in spite of being in a setting where the worship of the Spirit King promises salvation and love, none of the characters finds love where they expect it. In fact, Lulu is betrayed by the very person she thinks loves her the most.

Dancing in the Shadows of Love is a compelling and absorbing novel which taps into the almost dream-like world of metaphor and allusion to recreate a world which mimics human nature’s constant search for love and acceptance. This novel has great merit.

Q&A with Judy Croome

Judy, you have written a very unusual book, which takes the form of a moral allegory of sorts. What strength did this give to you as a writer, to come at a story of such strong moral feelings through a disguise, as it were?

Janet, I wrote this story as an allegory because I wanted to move away from a connection to any specific religion. This is a story about faith, not religion. Faith transcends religion, which is why I included a glossary which defines the terms, for example: Spirit King = Any Supreme Being (eg God) or The Eden Book = Any Holy Book. So the Spirit King is more a universal Divine Being than Jesus – the Spirit King is God, but also Yahweh, Allah, or any other form of the Divine which the reader can relate to.

If any character in the book is Jesus, it’s the Prophet, Enoch. But Enoch could also be Moses, the Holy Prophet Muhammed (may the peace of Allah be upon him) or Buddha. Quite a few readers have thought that Dancing in the Shadows of Love is a book about Catholicism, possibly because some of the ritualistic scenes involve incense and stained-glass windows. In fact, those scenes were based not on Catholicism, but on my own spiritual experiences in the Russian Orthodox Church in Geneva. So the “disguise” you mention is not so much to hide moral feelings, but is rather a deliberate technique to reflect the universality of the belief in a Divine Source, irrespective of the religion followed.

Your main character, Lulu, is an albino. She’s automatically an underdog because of her skin colour, which is treated with deep suspicion by those around her. I couldn’t think of anyone who could be more of an outcast than she is. In good “Hero’s Journey” tradition the best protagonist is always the underdog. Was this your reasoning behind making her have all the odds stacked against her?

Lulu has albinism, yes, because my reasoning was to find a protagonist who was “beyond colour”. In his brilliant classic, The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon W Allport states that prejudice is not a trait of specific nationalities (eg Germans as anti-Semitics or white South Africans as racists), but is, rather, a human trait that transcends nationalities. So you’ll get your Hitlers and your Eugène Terre’blanches, but you’ll also get your Baruch Goldsteins or your Peter Mokabas. By making Lulu a “Pale One” (one with no colour) and an underdog I wanted to show how people ­­– even good people like Lulu and Jamila and Zahra – can be victims of prejudice and yet also feel or show prejudice towards others. The story traces the growth in awareness of all three women from where they can choose to see themselves only as victims of prejudice, or they can choose a different view when they experience prejudice or hurt. As Lulu says, “I see in what he says much of what I’ve seen in those that I’ve called both friend and foe. I am Jamila; I am Dalia; I am all those who flee and curse me as the Levid. My immutable bond with them all is that I, too, have seen them as different, when the only real difference is whether the view was theirs or mine.”

All your characters are searching for love in their lives, in one form or another. None of them finds it where they expect it. In fact, Lulu is betrayed by the person she thinks loves her the most. Was this a driving force in your narrative so that you could make their finding divine love even more powerful?

Yes. Many people spend their lives searching for love in sexual attraction, family love or friendship. As Lulu, Jamila and Zahra discover, finding a lasting contentment or inner peace from any or all of these types of love is dependent on external factors based on expectations or needs that the other person may not, will not, or cannot fulfil. Ultimately, the only form of eternal love is compassion, which springs from within the soul. And every individual has the power to choose for themselves whether they will forgive – really forgive – another by transcending the wounds of their past and moving into a state of Divine Grace (agape, or compassion) for other sentient beings. This is the journey that Lulu, and Jamila and Zahra too, must make.

What was the inspiration behind this novel, Judy? What compelled you to write this particular story?

As I watched the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the post-apartheid 1990s I found out how unaware I’d been of what was happening around me as I grew up in colonial Africa. With my image of myself as a “good” person shaken to its foundations I wanted to explore the nature of prejudice. That’s when I discovered Allport’s classic book on prejudice. While reading it I wondered how I could write about the pain that prejudice causes, but in a way that shows prejudice as a general human condition – a way of categorising the multitude of stimuli that make up our external world, rather than as a condition that exists only in certain races (or species).

Dancing in the Shadows of Love is the result. I wanted to write a story that transcended colour and race, even species (which is why, in the novel, gentle Grace speaks out against killing animals), so that it could speak to the collective soul, not just the soul of South Africa. Somehow, out of these complex thoughts and emotions, Dancing in the Shadows of Love took shape.

What would you like – ideally, of course – your reader to take away from this novel? Is there a message you’d like to leave in their minds, in other words?

The reader must take away from this book what he/she wants to – and what they take away from the story will have its roots in what they bring to it. For example, a local publisher’s reader sent in a rejection report advising that I “could probably turn out a very readable children's story if [I] got rid of the sado-masochism and steamy stuff masquerading as high-minded spirituality”. By contrast, an American (male!) reader called the story “an amazing find” and said in his video review that “(t)his story reminds me of Toni Morrison’s writing, only better”. Each of these perspectives tells me more about the individual reader’s thought processes than it does about my story, because I wrote Dancing in the Shadows of Love to reflect back to the reader whatever beliefs/prejudices they themselves bring to the text.

Judy, you resorted to self-publishing this novel and it’s turned out well for you so far. How do you market a book when you have published it yourself?

Janet, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made has been to self-publish. The marketing is hard, because there are so many routes one can follow. The difficulty is choosing a route that suits your budget and your personality. I used a variety of marketing routes. Social media, paid advertising, giveaways, and a blog tour were my main marketing avenues. The most successful routes for the book were the social media campaign and the giveaways. The least successful were the paid advertising and the launch competition.

The biggest difficulty with self-publishing is that the only way you learn is by making mistakes – my first edition had two grave errors: the font size was wrong and I designed the cover myself. Thankfully, both were relatively easy to fix and I’m delighted with the second edition, which has just hit the shelves!

I was also interested to read your comment on Facebook recently that there is such a stigma attached to people who publish their own books, yet this same stigma is not attached to those who become independent film-makers or play-producers, for example. I agree with you wholeheartedly, for a number of reasons, most especially because I’ve found I have to do things myself if I want to get things done. The publishing world is very like the film industry, where a small clique of people help one another, and only one another. Please tell me more about your feelings on this subject?

Janet, you’ll never get me off my soapbox if I start on this topic! (Laughing!) The Facebook comment was from British ghost writer and self-published author Roz Morris; she pointed out that while independent film and music producers are seen as pioneers, self-published authors have to put up with a resistance and an automatic assumption that any self-published author is “not good enough to be really published”. I’ve also experienced this prejudice (ironic, when Dancing is a story about overcoming prejudice!): there are many readers who refuse even to consider a book if it’s self-published. All over the web are book review sites stating, “I do not accept self-published authors.” Trying to keep a balanced view, I suggest that both readers and self-published authors are partially responsible for the perpetuation of this prejudice. There is the reader’s resistance to change (technology has swept the publishing world upside down and people’s attitudes haven’t yet caught up with the changes), and the author’s ego (too many self-published authors haven’t yet learnt that writing and publishing a book, and writing and publishing a book that’s a professional end product are two vastly different processes). In addition, there are so many books to read, and so few readers, one can understand why some people prefer the security of a book that has been through the traditional publishing gatekeepers.
A final word: Mark Twain, John Grisham, L Ron Hubbard, Irma Rombauer, Walt Whitman, James Redfield, Beatrix Potter, Thomas Paine, TS Eliot, Deepak Chopra, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, John Keats, Tom Clancy … the list of renowned authors who originally self-published goes on and on. I decided I’d rather self-publish and give my story a chance to live and breathe, than continue to give away my power as a writer to publishers who, to be fair, have to consider their declining profits in a diminishing market.

Do you have any advice for others who are about to embark on the route of self-publishing?

Be prepared to work very hard. Take responsibility for everything, but don’t try to do everything yourself. Hire professionals to, for example, create your cover design or convert your book into an e-book. Most importantly, in both content and presentation, never compromise on the professional quality of your book.

You mention e-books. What are your thoughts on those? Do you think they will make printed novels obsolete?

I love my Kindle! I love e-books! I also love printed books, and in my lifetime printed books will still have a place in the world. But in 50 or 100 or 1 000 years, as e-readers become more and more sophisticated, printed books will be found only in museums. Who knows what the future holds for e-books? All I can say is this vast new arena contains huge potential for independent authors and excites me beyond words!

Do you have another novel in the pipeline? Can you tell us something about that?

I’m very excited, because I’ve just sent a volume of poetry called A Lamp at Midday for professional editing. I hope to have that published by end June 2012. I’m now working on a collection of short stories for an anthology called The Weight of a Feather, which will be published late 2012. And I’m also researching my next novel – about child murders — which I plan to publish in mid-2013.

LitNet is giving away two electronic copies and two paperback copies of Judy Croome's Dancing in the Shadows of Love. Send your name, telephone number and postal address to [email protected] to stand a chance to win!

Closing date: 22 June 2012

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