I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Elena Maria Vidal and chatted about her newest book: Night's Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars.
First, a bit of background on the author, Elena Maria:
Elena Maria Vidal was born on August 15, 1962, the feast of the Assumption, Elena grew up in the countryside outside of Frederick, Maryland, “fair as the garden of the Lord” as the poet Whittier said of it. As a child she read so many books that her mother had to put restrictions on her hours of reading. During her teenage years, she spent a great deal of her free time writing stories and short novels. She graduated in 1984 from Hood College in Frederick with a BA in Psychology, and in 1985 from the State University of New York at Albany with an MA in Modern European History. In 1986, Elena joined the Secular Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. While exploring a religious vocation, Elena taught at the Frederick Visitation Academy and worked as a private tutor as well as teaching children's etiquette classes. She also traveled a great deal in Europe, gathering ideas for stories. In 1996, she married Michael Russell and in 1997 her first historical novel Trianon was published by St. Michaels Press. In 2000, the sequel Madame Royale was published, as well as the second edition of Trianon, by The Neumann Press. Both books quickly found an international following which continues to this day.
In November 2009, The Night's Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars was published by Mayapple Books. The new historical novel deals with the controversial Albigensian Crusade in thirteenth century France. Elena has been a contributor to Canticle Magazine. In April 2009 she was a speaker at the Eucharistic Convention in Auckland, New Zealand. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her family and is working on a historical novel about her Irish ancestors. Elena blogs at http://teaattrianon.blogspot.com/.
From the back cover:
"Set amid the turmoil of the Albigensian Crusade in thirteenth century France, THE NIGHT'S DARK SHADE tells of heresy versus orthodoxy, and of forbidden love versus fidelity. Heiress of her father's estates in Auvergne, the orphaned Lady Raphaëlle leaves her home to marry a nobleman in a remote castle in the Pyrenees. There she encounters the mysterious Cathar sect who challenge all of her most deeply held beliefs. As she seeks the path of her true calling, she discovers hatred and betrayal, as well as abiding friendship and unexpected love.
"From the first page, Vidal draws the reader into a vibrant world of action and emotion. Raphaëlle de Miramande is an engaging young heroine, bravely facing physical and moral dangers and dilemmas in search of truth and love. Vidal’s novel captures the spirit of the Middle Ages." ~ Stephanie A. Mann, author of SUPREMACY AND SURVIVAL
"In a country torn by religious strife, a spirited heroine struggles to reconcile faith, love, duty and family. A harrowing and engrossing journey." ~ Catherine Delors, author of MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION and FOR THE KING."
Now, our interview:
Donna-Marie: Elena, thank you for taking the time out to do this interview with me. Your book looks great! I can’t wait to find some time to sit down and read it. I’m sure it will be fascinating, based on the reviews I’ve seen and the pages I’ve scanned through already. Elena, you received a Master’s Degree in European History. When did you begin to become interested in the subject?
Elena: I was interested in European History, especially the Medieval Era, from the time I was a small child. I have loved St. Joan of Arc from as long as I can remember. Knights, ladies, castles, and chivalry always captivated me as well. I read everything about the Middle Ages I could get my hands on.
I first heard about the Cathars in a high school religion class. In college I studied them a bit more. Their strangeness captivated me in that I could see many of the same aberrations which characterized the Cathar lifestyle happening around me. It was the early eighties, and the radical feminist movement was in full swing....In school and even at home, I often felt like my heroine Raphaëlle does in the story, the only practicing Catholic surrounded by Cathars, and Cathar sympathizers. In graduate school, I decided to pursue the topic further, and did a paper on the Albigensian Crusade. Providentially, I saved the paper, with my notes and bibliography, which helped me get a good start into the novel.
Donna:Marie: Ah, good thing you saved the paper! Elena, your first two novels were about the French Revolution. Why have you now written about Medieval France and the Albigensian Crusade?
Elena: Although The Night’s Dark Shade takes place several centuries before Trianon and Madame Royale, all three books deal with the theme of revolution and its destructive effects. Heresy, which figures prominently in the new book, is a form of revolution, of spiritual revolution. The Cathar heresy was a form of the gnostic, Manichean belief system, which has surfaced again and again throughout history, often mixing with Christian beliefs and causing no end of mischief.
Donna-Marie: Who exactly were the Cathars and what did they believe in?
Elena: The Cathars were essentially a gnostic sect, who insisted upon calling themselves the “Good Christians,” adopting a lot of Christian terminology. They believed that there were two gods, one good and one bad. They believed that the evil god had created the entire material world, and therefore to them all matter was evil. The Good God, Whom they did not hold to be omnipotent, created only the spiritual world. The Cathars denied most of the major tenets of the Creed, including the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. They shunned the sign of the cross, and rejected the Old Testament. They rejected baptism by water and only believed in a “baptism of light.” They denied the Eucharist, the Real Presence, and all the sacraments, holding matrimony to be an abomination because it regularized the sexual act, leading to the procreation of children. Cohabitation as well as homosexuality were considered preferable to marriage. They practiced suicide in a ritual known as the endura, in which they would starve themselves to death. They also thought that there was nothing wrong with abortion and contraception.
Donna-Marie: It sounds like the Cathars had a great deal in common with many of our contemporaries.
Elena: Yes, their times are a distant reflection of our own.
Donna-Marie: Elena, it says on the back cover of your new novel that you were inspired to write the book after a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
Elena: Yes, in the summer of 1994 I made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, seeking guidance from the Blessed Mother. As I have written on my blog, I was intrigued by the castle there. I took a tour of the castle and then went to the town library and read about it. I discovered that it had been a Cathar stronghold during the Middle Ages. A story began to take shape in my mind. However, I did not begin writing it down until the winter of 2000-20001, after the publication of Trianon and Madame Royale. After eight more years of writing, research, and rewriting, it all came together at last. I am pleased that the novel is finally published and being read and enjoyed.
Donna-Marie: Yes, I noticed The Night’s Dark Shade has been getting some very positive reviews.
Elena: Well, the book has something for everybody— romance, history, war, and theological discussion. It is suitable for teenagers to read and yet has an underlying complexity so that adults will be able to sink their teeth into it. There are many issues which the characters must face which we must deal with today. It is a book for now.
Donna-Marie: Thank you, Elena, for sharing your literary journey with us. May God bless your work so that many hearts will be moved even as they are caught up in your fine story-telling. One last question - where can your book be purchased?
Elena: The book will be on Amazon soon, but in the meantime it can be purchased from Lulu.com: here. And through my blog, on the sidebar: here.
Donna-Marie: Thanks again, Elena! I’m looking forward to reading your book!