Cinder Allia Awarded Seal of Approval

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Cinder Allia has received yet another honor, being awarded the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval. It has previously been named the Best Fantasy Novel at Catholic Reads and a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out!

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Cinder Allia has spent eight years living under her stepmother’s brutal thumb, wrongly punished for having caused her mother’s death. She lives for the day when the prince will grant her justice; but her fairy godmother shatters her hope with the news that the prince has died in battle. Allia escapes in search of her own happy ending, but her journey draws her into the turbulent waters of war and politics in a kingdom where the prince’s death has left chaos and division. Cinder Allia turns a traditional fairy tale upside down and weaves it into an epic filled with espionage, treason, magic, and romance. What happens when the damsel in distress must save not only herself, but her kingdom? What price is she willing to pay for justice? And can a woman who has lost her prince ever find true love? Surrounded by a cast that includes gallant knights, turncoat revolutionaries, a crippled prince who lives in hiding, a priest who is also a spy, and the man whose love Allia longs for most–her father–Cinder Allia is an unforgettable story about hope, courage, and the healing power of pain.

Buy Cinder Allia on Amazon.

Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for CatholicMom.com. She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at www.karenullo.com.

The Exorcist: “An Argument for God”

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One afternoon in theology class, his professor riffed about a case of demonic possession that had recently occurred in the Washington area. Something about it struck a nerve.

“I remember thinking, ‘Boy, if somebody would dig into this and authenticate it and show that it’s the real thing, what a gift to the faith,’ ” Blatty says. “It stayed in my mind, and I thought maybe someday I’d try to write a nonfiction account.” – from an interview in The Washingtonian

There is probably no book from the mid-twentieth century heyday of Catholic literature that is more widely misunderstood than The Exorcist. At first blush, it’s easy to see why Catholics would want to shy away from a story that includes a scene of a young girl being forced by a demon to masturbate with a crucifix. The film adaptation was so nauseating that theaters began handing out barf bags with ticket purchases. It’s not the sort of first impression that screams, “True, beautiful, and good.” But from the moment it was published in 1971, The Exorcist was hailed as an instant classic in company with the works of Mary Shelley and Edgar Allen Poe. The book has sold over thirteen million copies and, adjusted for inflation, the 1973 film adaptation remains the highest-grossing horror movie of all time.

William Peter Blatty was clearly onto something. But was it shock and shlock, or something deeper?

The critics of the 1970s were not equipped to accept the story at face value. Here they were confronted by a book-turned-movie that explicitly probed the nature of good and evil, the relationship of science and spirituality, the war between God and the Devil—and it was written by a man whose previous success had been as a Hollywood comic who wrote punchy one-liners. Critics who took its religious elements seriously decried them with jaded cynicism. “[I]t treats diabolism with the kind of dumb piety movie makers once lavished on the stories of saints,” said Vincent Canby of the film version in The New York Times. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker called it, “the biggest recruiting poster the Catholic Church has had since the sunnier days of Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s.”

At least Kael understood it. Other critics quickly coopted the power of the narrative to suit their own political agendas. “I’ve read some of the most ridiculous theories, even by critics that I respect, about how the novel symbolizes teenage rebellion and all sorts of sociological nonsense,” Blatty says. “There’s no hidden message. The book is the book, and it says what I wanted it to say.”

What did he want it to say?

“It’s an argument for God. I intended it to be an apostolic work, to help people in their faith. Because I thoroughly believed in the authenticity and validity of that particular event.”

The Exorcist is a book based on truth—a real case of demonic possession that took place in 1949—that seeks also to explore the deeper Truth of our human need for God. If you are willing to steel your mind and stomach against its grotesque portrayals of genuine evil, what you can find in The Exorcist is a book full of surprisingly rich prose built on a sound foundation of Catholic theology.

And yet from this – from evil – will come good…. Perhaps evil is the crucible of goodness. And perhaps even Satan – Satan, in spite of himself – somehow serves to work out the will of God.

The Exorcist gives us one of the great dramatic portrayals of felix culpa, the idea of the Fortunate Fall. As St. Augustine expressed it, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.”

I think the demon’s target is not the possessed; it is us . . . the observers . . . every person in this house. And I think—I think the point is to make us despair; to reject our own humanity, Damien: to see ourselves as ultimately bestial; as ultimately vile and putrescent; without dignity; ugly; unworthy.

The demonic presence attacks the essence of human dignity in order to drag people into despair. And its evil can only be fought with despair’s opposite: Hope in the saving grace of God.

We mourn the blossoms of May because they are to whither; but we know that May is one day to have its revenge upon November, by the revolution of that solemn circle which never stops—which teaches us in our height of hope, ever to be sober, and in our depth of desolation, never to despair.

Ray Bradbury said, “[The Exorcist] is a great love story. I wish I had written it.”

For my part, I am merely glad to have read it.

Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for CatholicMom.com. She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at www.karenullo.com.

Jennifer the Damned ON SALE!

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Thanks to the good folks at Catholic Reads, the paperback of Jennifer the Damned is currently on sale for its lowest price EVER! You can get it for just $8.98 on Amazon or $6.33 directly from the publisher, Wiseblood Books. This offer is good through Halloween, 2019. Fill your October with vampires! 

I recommend this novel for anyone who’s a fan of the “tragic vampire romance,” especially young adults who are fans of things like Twilight and The Originals. It’s also one I would recommend to Catholics who may not consider themselves horror fans. While some may disagree, I think this novel could serve as a bridge between non-Catholics and Catholics. Secular readers have responded well to this story and I think it’s because the story brings a fresh new take on what is considered an oversaturated dead genre. –Monique Ocampo, Catholic Reads

Read the Review at Catholic Reads

Buy for $6.33 from Wiseblood Books

Buy for $8.98 from Amazon

Happy almost-Halloween!

Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for CatholicMom.com. She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at www.karenullo.com.

The Indomitable Nuns of the French Revolution

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Jean Paul Lemieux, The Ursuline Nuns, 1951

If it’s true, as the philosophers say, that eternity is the experience of all time at once, then surely writing about history is one way to practice for heaven. I’ve seemingly lived a good chunk of my recent life in the eighteenth century, and I can now expound upon everything from the process of producing indigo dye to the sanitation system (or lack thereof) at Versailles. This week, I’ve had the fun of researching life among the cloistered teaching orders of religious sisters in revolutionary France. The book I’m reading is A Social History of the Cloister: Daily Life in the Teaching Monasteries of the Old Regime by Elizabeth Rapley.This kind of research is its own special sort of entrée into eternity because the women in this book are my sisters in Christ. I might get to meet them someday, outside of this time. And that’s an exciting prospect because many of them were completely badass.

What’s not exciting to read about is the Church in eighteenth century France, either before or after the revolution. Before, you find an absolute muddle of a Church that answers to both the pope and the king, a political minefield of power-hungry clerics and money-grabbing statesmen who are frequently engaged in non-violent but very real wars against each other, with little or no regard for either the public welfare or the spiritual health of the kingdom. It’s enough to make ordinary people want to grab their muskets and revolt against them both…

After the 1789 revolution, however, it’s fair to say that Hell broke loose. Even before The Terror imprisoned and massacred thousands of priests and nuns, the government seized all Church property. Then, the 1790 Civil Constitution of the Clergy required all clergy to swear an oath of allegiance to the government, thereby denying all papal authority. But of course, not everyone did:

On 9 April 1791, the town [of Saint-Sever] prepared to receive its new constitutional bishop, Jean-Pierre Saurine, with full honours. At four in the afternoon, the cannon sounded and the bells rang out as planned—all except those of the Ursuline convent. Immediately several armed men went to the convent and demanded that the bells be rung. When the nuns replied that they could not do so in good conscience, the soldiers began to chop down the door. Thereupon Reverend Mother capitulated—after a fashion: “We are not going to ring them, but since you want it done, come in and ring them yourselves.” By this time the troop had swollen in numbers, and the community waited anxiously as the men tramped through the building and rang the bell. They left peaceably enough, but war had been joined, and the nuns knew it.

Next morning the new bishop—“the intruder,” as the nuns persisted in calling him—departed, leaving orders for the convent to conform to the new laws. Several hours later, the bishop’s delegate, accompanied by the mayor, the syndic, another notable, and an “ex-Capuchin” arrived at the grille. The syndic read out an official order installing the ex-Capuchin as the monastery’s director and forbidding the nuns to hear Mass from anyone else. Then the delegate began to speak with charm and benevolence, only to be cut short by the Reverend Mother: “Permit me to speak from my heart and that of my community. We will not recognize any bishop other than the one to whom we have vowed obedience. We cannot accept Mr. Saurine; we will not obey any order from him, and we will never communicate with any priest sent by him. These are the sentiments of the Ursulines of Saint-Sever. They cannot be false to the promises they made at the foot of the altar on the day of their profession; to be faithful to those promises, they will bear every thing and joyfully suffer even death itself.” The delegate asked if he could have this in writing. The nuns assented, the whole community signing the statement.

Those nuns held firm, refusing even to take possession of letters sent to them by would-be Bishop Saurine. They endured months without a priest or access to the sacraments, being forced out of their own church before, surprisingly, winning it back in 1791 when “local authorities were forced to acknowledge the law passed by the National Assembly that ‘freedom of worship is implicit in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.’” For the moment, the Ursulines had won.

Also in 1790, an inquest took place in which all nuns were offered the opportunity (in the name of liberté) to renounce their vows and assume a secular life. The number who chose to accept was “infinitely small.” Rapley does not cite a national total, but in the cases she does cite, the average is a fraction of one percent.

The Catholic Church of late eighteenth century France was in many ways a diseased political swamp, which then became a government-sponsored anti-Church. All but four bishops refused the oath of allegiance, but some fifty-five percent of priests swore their faith to Mammon. Certainly, some nuns did, too. But it is always in the greatest trials that heroes are born, and this was an age of martyrs. Many heroes remained hidden away in French monasteries, their names and deeds often lost to history. But their quiet, steadfast adherence to the Truth in Jesus Christ will be written large in heaven.

The official’s interrogation of the old lady, an ex-Ursuline, who had been discovered running a small clandestine school, occurred in the Year V.** Here is a part of the interview as it survived in local tradition: (Q) “What doctrine are you teaching your pupils?” (A) “The faith of our fathers.” (Q) “And if our fathers were mad, would we have to follow them?” (A) “Citizen, I knew your father; he was a good Catholic and a man of sense and character. He would not have spoken to me as you are doing.” The official’s reply is not recorded. He did not have spiritual descendants to commemorate his words and deeds. The old nun did.

*This book is out of print, but several used copies are available online. I’m waiting for my second copy to arrive because the first was missing twenty pages!

**Year V refers to the French Republican Calendar, which makes me roll my eyes every time I see it. Year V began on September 22, 1796. The woman in this story is an “ex-Ursuline” because by this time, all monasteries had been forcibly closed.

Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for CatholicMom.com. She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at www.karenullo.com.

Finding Each Other

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It’s been well over a decade now since people began to murmur about a renaissance of Catholic literature. A great deal of progress has been made in that time, from the establishment of journals and publishing houses (Dappled Things remains a trailblazer; we’re a good bit more than a decade old), to the emergence of too many talented novelists and poets to list. As Joseph Pearce recently pointed out in The Imaginative Conservative, the piece of the puzzle that’s still missing is the patrons. The great writing is out there. It’s the audience that is proving elusive.

But as the movement of Catholic literature has grown, it faces another problem, which is that so many people had the same idea around the same time—to foster the growth of Catholic literature—that the various groups working toward this goal often do not know the others exist. Sometimes, they even unknowingly step on each others’ toes. For example, on September 19-21 of this year, you can attend the Catholic Imagination Conference at Loyola University in Chicago, or, on September 20-22, you can join the Catholic Writers Guild Online Conference… but you can’t do both. A little cross-pollination between the groups might result in better planning and a healthier literary culture.

This is only one example of a frustrating trend I’ve been observing for years now. From Facebook groups and blogs to conferences and guilds, the Catholic writers are getting together, but only in niche groups that often seem to operate in vacuums. You can find the high-end literary folks in one place, the sci-fi aficionados in another, the poets here, the devotional writers there, the YA writers here, the people who struggle with faith but still identify as Catholic over there… Many groups are inclusive, in the sense that they welcome all sorts of different voices, but there’s still such a multiplicity that no one can keep up with them all.

All of this is good. The more, the merrier, and it’s always been true that birds of a feather flock together. Writers need support from other writers who understand their voices and perspectives. Also, the more outlets there are for finding some kind of entrée into Catholic literature, the more people will come in. Multiplicity is beautiful. But it can also be divisive.

One solution is to rally the troops around a central organization. The Catholic Writers Guild already exists. It’s small and imperfect, but the groundwork for a real professional guild is there, and the more people who join (and volunteer!), the better able it will be to serve.  But beyond that, I see a real need for all of us to reach out—to leave our comfort zones, forget our preconceived notions of what a Catholic Literary Renaissance ought to look like, and explore what it really is. Those from traditional publishing backgrounds need to read self-published books, and vice versa. The academics need to talk the less scholarly among us, and the less scholarly need to appreciate and understand the work of academics. Those who are hosting conferences need to include voices that don’t sound like Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene, and those whose work is less traditional need to appreciate and understand tradition.

I’m aware that this proposal is vague. That’s partly because I don’t have anything more concrete to offer right now, and partly because my aim is to foster a much longer conversation. Please, join in. Use the comments box below, or bring this question out to whichever groups you belong to and propose it there. We are all the Body of Christ. Some may be called as teachers, others as apostles, others as poets, others to write children’s books, or literary criticism, or fantasy, or memoirs. But we are all one body, and without the least of our parts, we will falter. Let’s find each other in charity and work together in Christ.

Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for CatholicMom.com. She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at www.karenullo.com.

40% off for my 40th Birthday!

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Update: This offer has ended, but the regular price is only $3.99. Still a bargain!

It’s my 40th birthday, so I’m offering 40% off the Kindle edition of Cinder Allia, one week only. Go buy yourself a present!

Cinder Allia has spent eight years living under her stepmother’s brutal thumb, wrongly punished for having caused her mother’s death. She lives for the day when the prince will grant her justice; but her fairy godmother shatters her hope with the news that the prince has died in battle. Allia escapes in search of her own happy ending, but her journey draws her into the turbulent waters of war and politics in a kingdom where the prince’s death has left chaos and division.

Cinder Allia turns a traditional fairy tale upside down and weaves it into an epic filled with espionage, treason, magic, and romance. What happens when the damsel in distress must save not only herself, but her kingdom? What price is she willing to pay for justice? And can a woman who has lost her prince ever find true love?

Surrounded by a cast that includes gallant knights, turncoat revolutionaries, a crippled prince who lives in hiding, a priest who is also a spy, and the man whose love Allia longs for most—her father—Cinder Allia is an unforgettable story about hope, courage, and the healing power of pain.

The best fantasy novel of 2017 (tied), CatholicReads.com
Finalist in fantasy, The 2018 Next Generation Indie Book Awards

Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for CatholicMom.com. She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at www.karenullo.com.

Catholic Vampire Fiction

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Believe it or not, Catholic Vampire Fiction is an emerging genre of literature. Turns out, I’m not the only crazy Catholic to see a lot of deeply religious dramatic possibilities in the undead. I’ve teamed up with three other amazing Catholic vampire novelists: Eleanor Bourg Nicholson (A Bloody Habit), Gabriel Blanchard (Death’s Dream Kingdom), and J.B. Toner (Whisper Music.) We’ve got a Facebook page now where we can geek out on Gothic together. BYO stakes and holy water, and come give us a like!

Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for CatholicMom.com. She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at www.karenullo.com.