Each Angel Burns, by Kathleen Valentine, is on top of the pile of books I intent to read next. I have not been able to read as much as I normally do lately, as I am based in Western China for a few weeks, and have hardly got any time to breathe. On top of my normal “duties”, I have taken on a volunteer role in a school for the deaf and teach English to deaf Chinese children. Quite a challenge, but I will write a post about this soon. In this article, Kathleen Valentine, who has published several books in the literary romance category, tells us a little more about Each Angel Burns.
Jerome: What can you tell us about Each Angel Burns?
Kathleen: Each Angel Burns is a contemporary novel about three people entering their fifties and facing big changes – things they never thought they would have to face at this point in their lives. Gabe has spent his life as a hard-working, devoted husband and father who has always done the right things for his family, his cantankerous old father, and his brother. Peter is Gabe’s best friend from childhood. He is a priest and a teacher and has always taken pride in being a devout priest and a good, supportive friend. Maggie is the woman Peter was once in love with. He wanted to leave the seminary for her but she broke off with him to marry a wealthy man who could give her everything Peter couldn’t, or so he thought. Now all of them are older and things are changing. Gabe’s kids are grown and on their own and he realises that he and his wife have nothing in common any more. Maggie has left her abusive husband and has purchased an abandoned convent that she intends to turn into a sculpture studio. When she encounters Peter again after all these years she realises she never stopped loving him and he finds out that she didn’t leave him for the reasons he thought she did.
Many mysteries surround the convent that Maggie now lives in and which Peter persuades Gabe to help her renovate. In the past there were wild stories about an angel with a flaming spear that protected the nuns there. More recently the bodies of young women have been discovered washed up near its shores. Strange things start happening to the people there now, too. Gabe discovers his wife is cheating on him. Maggie’s husband won’t respond to her calls and attempts to start divorce proceedings. Peter faces feeling he never thought himself capable of as he witnesses Gabe and Maggie beginning to fall in love.
This is a story about sacrifice and how sometimes, those things we did with the very best of intentions and for good reasons, can have consequences we never imagined. It is a story about life-long friendship, faith, and great goodness forced to deal with great evil.
Jerome: Who are your readers?
Kathleen: Most of my reader for this book have been older adults – 40+ seems to be the norm – but men and women seem equally attracted to the story. My first novel, The Old Mermaid’s Tale, seems to have a lot more younger readers.
Jerome: What was your journey as a writer?
Kathleen: I grew up in a small Pennsylvania Dutch community in north central Pennsylvania and one of the things I realize now is that the people there were great story-tellers. Ever since I was little I can remember people sitting around — on porches, or at picnics (my family loved picnics), or just sitting around the kitchen table — and they would always be telling stories. Most of my great aunts and uncles were first generation Americans and they brought the Old World tradition of telling stories with them. I can remember parties when I was little when there would be a hundred people there and every room that you went in to was full of people sitting around, drinking beer and telling stories. I loved listening to those stories so I guess it is natural that eventually I would become a story-teller, too.
Jerome: Do you follow a specific writing process?
Kathleen: When I am first beginning a novel I tend to write a lot by hand, also draw maps, floorplans, character connection charts, etc. I also write a lot of “vignettes” trying to capture the essence of the main characters. Very little of this is ever used in the actual books but it gives me a sense of who my characters are and what they are like before I actually start writing.
Jerome: Where do you find inspiration?
Kathleen: Probably the thing that interests me most is good people caught in impossible situations. That seems to be the dynamic that inspires most of my writing. I’m fascinated by people who are basically good, decent, honorable people who suddenly find themselves, often through no fault of their own, in absolutely impossible circumstance. Whenever a tale of that sort starts stirring in my brain I know sooner or later I’ll have to write about it.
Jerome: Who are your favourite authors?
Kathleen: I have a lot of them: Hemingway, A.S. Byatt, Orhan Pamuk, Arturo Perez-Reverte, Isabel Allende, James Lee Burke, Valerie Martin.
Jerome: Is there a book you wish you had written? Which one?
Kathleen: Well, I wish I could have written Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast because it is a gorgeously crafted book but also I cannot imagine what it must have been like to know those people and to have lived through that time. I’ve read the book quite a few times and every time I do I have a sense that maybe I was at the next table or hiding in a corner of Miss Stein’s apartment.
Jerome: Do you have any tips for budding writers?
Kathleen: Read, read, read, read. And then learn your craft. I’m very critical of sloppy writing no matter how interesting the story might be. If you don’t take pride in your craft, do something else.
Jerome: What are you working on at the moment?
Kathleen: I’m on the second draft of a novel currently titled Depraved Heart. It is a contemporary story about a man who was once a quite famous and admired pro-football player who married an equally famous ballerina. Three years in to their marriage he was convicted of the “depraved indifference” murder of her twin brother. When the tale opens, he has just been released from prison and is about to be united with his 15-year-old daughter who is the heiress of her great-grandfather’s estate which includes a fabulous art collection. That’s all I’ll tell you for now.
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