This is Part Two of my interview with the wonderful Elizabeth Cunningham, author of Red Robed Priestess, the fourth and final installment in the Maeve Chronicles. You will again also meet with Maeve, the series’ main character and Celtic born Mary Magdalen.
In Part One we discovered the complicated relationship between Maeve and Queen Boudica; we learned how the politics of Maeve’s time speak to our current world; we were privy to both Maeve and Elizabeth’s wit and wisdom; we explored their relationship with Jesus; and for fellow authors – Elizabeth spoke about her inspiration for writing.
I know you will enjoy meeting with Elizabeth and Maeve again, in the continutation of their interview!
8. This question came from my writing group: How did you, Maeve, survive and cope with all of the horrendous, ruthless things that happened to you? Elizabeth – why does Maeve go through so much suffering?
Maeve—Just like any of us to whom life happens, I didn’t have much choice. As to how I survived and coped, I must give some credit to my eight mothers. They may have spoiled me, lovingly and foolishly deceived me, but I never had any doubt about my worth. I knew I was beloved. That makes a huge difference. I wish I could give everyone the strength that was given to me, the love that was lavished on me. I hope that reading my story does give people an imaginative experience of that kind of rock solid foundation.
For all I had eight mothers, I lacked a human father. When I found him, he turned all his self-hatred on me and tried to destroy me. I am not alone in this experience. And for women who have no loving father, it is hard to imagine one. Along comes King Bran, my foster father, all that a father could and should be. Elizabeth has heard from many women that the passages that describe my relationship with Bran have moved and helped heal them. That is the other key to survival. In a harsh, even ruthless world, open yourself to any kindness that is shown to you. When I was sold into prostitution, the kindness of my fellow whores gave me strength. After I was beaten and left in a cellar in Paulina’s house, a slave whose tongue had been ripped out went out of her way to salve my wounds. That is how I not only survived but kept my soul intact. Receive kindness and show it!
Elizabeth–Maeve goes through so much suffering, because she is a human being. Her sufferings may seem extreme or exotic in their first century setting. But really, haven’t all or most of known heartbreak, loss, betrayal? People today are still being sold into prostitution. It may not be called by that name, but slavery still exists. Many, many people are exiled and homeless. Maeve is not the only one to have a child taken from her or to have an adolescent child run away. Many people are widowed tragically. And in many places in the world today people know the devastation of war and occupation.
Maeve does have both a hard life and an indomitable spirit. As she says in Magdalen Rising, when we are in the place of no hope, we can call on her and she will be with us. It is very moving to me to know that actual people have done just that. And Maeve has been there for them, not just in her story, but with them in their life.
“In a harsh, even ruthless world, open yourself to any kindness that is shown to you.”
9. The combination of hip 21st century language and more ancient language in the novel worked so well. How did you choose to use that writing device? Did anyone along the way tell you to edit it out?
As I said before, she arrived as a 21st century character named Madge, and she always had quite a mouth on her and a very distinctive voice. It made sense to me to stay with that voice and for her to address her remarks to us, her 21st century audience. One of the premises of her story is that no one till now has been ready to hear it the way it really was. She’s been censored, even edited out. (See the deal she makes with Peter in Bright Dark Madonna). The novels were rejected by more than one person because of her in-your-face voice. I finally said to my agent, if that’s the reason for the rejection don’t even bother to tell me, because I am not changing her voice. Even my generally supportive current publisher wanted me to take out The Pentecostal Alley Blues that open Bright Dark Madonna. I refused. You can hear the recorded version of that song and others on my CD MaevenSong.
Also, since I don’t speak Celtic, Latin, Greek or Aramaic, and the English language did not exist in the first century, I saw no point in creating a faux archaic voice. Her voice and her unabashed conscious love of anachronism gave me great freedom and lots of room for humor.
“I finally said to my agent, if that’s the reason for the rejection don’t even bother to tell me, because I am not changing her voice.”
10. Elizabeth, what is the form or manner of communication with you and Maeve? (is it dreams, meditations, muse, etc.) How did Maeve first come to you Elizabeth? Maeve, how did you choose Elizabeth to write about you?
Elizabeth–I have mentioned in Part 1 about how Maeve first came to me. We communicate the way any two close friends would. We talk, and sometimes we argue. It was not my intent that Jesus and Maeve would ever marry, and when it looked as though the story was heading in that direction, I said to her, “You can’t get married! You’ll ruin the archetype. We’re working with the holy whore here!” And she said, “What good is an archetype if you can’t explode it. Then it’s no better than a stereotype.” So she won. Although I am done with the writing, I still talk to her. Unlike my other friends, she is right there beside me if I am wakeful at 4:00 in the morning. Someone once said, a bit condescendingly, “Oh, so you have an imaginary friend.” Yes, I do. And i-madge-inary friend. For life.
Maeve—I chose Elizabeth to write about me, because she can write. She is passionate about her craft as a novelist, poet, and songwriter. She does me justice. Don’t get me—or her—started about channeling or automatic writing. That is not what we do. We have a dynamic, creative partnership. Yeah, like she says, we’re friends.
“What good is an archetype if you can’t explode it. Then it’s no better than a stereotype.”
11. Did you have any rejection letters from agents/publishers? How did you deal with them?
Many, many, many, many, many. More than I can possibly remember. How did I deal with them? Rage, cry, drink heavily. But I did not take them personally. I did not doubt the worth of my work.
12. Which is your favorite in the Maeve Chronicle series?
Ah, that is like asking a mother which is her favorite child. Each was my favorite while I was writing it. Last year in preparation for revising Red-Robed Priestess, I read the first three for the first time as a reader (ie not for editing or proofing). I was pleased to find them engaging and…well-written. I will say that when I read The Passion of Mary Magdalen, I was living Maeve’s life so completely it did not feel like reading. I had little sense of words on a page and a book in my hand, I was so inside the story. That is the book I felt I was born to write. I used to worry that I would die before completing it, and have to reincarnate to finish it. Everything I’ve written since then feels like extra credit. That said, I love the last two volumes as much as the first two and believe that with each book I have met new challenges and grown as a writer.
“That is the book I felt I was born to write.” (about The Passion of Mary Magdalen)
13. How is it living with this material for 20 years?
It has been wonderful to have this other life with Maeve, to have two sets of memories. Hers are as real to me as my own. I miss writing the story so much, my eyes still well up when I answer that question, as they are right now. It is less than a year since the daily writing has been completed. I am still bereft as well as relieved and happy to have the whole story out in the world. It means everything to me to know that Maeve is alive and well in other people’s lives and imaginations.
14. What does Maeve say to women and lovers today? And Elizabeth, same question.
Maeve–Hearts are made to be broken, same as the husk of a seed splits for the plant to take root and grow. Risk your heart. Women, love whoever you love, love boldly, wisely, foolishly and never forget or surrender your sovereignty. Give your heart but not your freedom.
Elizabeth—A word of caution. Sometimes the one you love, the way Maeve loves Jesus, is not the one you with whom you share a domestic life or partnership. There are many different kinds of love and ways of loving and being a lover. Don’t get such a fixed idea about love that you miss what’s on offer.
Yes, I add my voice to Maeve’s about sovereignty. One way to keep your sovereignty is have things that you love to do—grow a garden, cook a meal, hike. Do not make your beloved your reason to live; do not make another person your job.
True lovers surrender not to each other but to the mystery.
“True lovers surrender not to each other but to the mystery.”
15. Is there anything about Red Robed Priestess that either of you would like to say…maybe something ‘off the record’, or something not able to be included in the final draft?
Elizabeth-Have tissues ready.
Maeve-Things are not always what they seem then or now. When you are in the midst of sorrow and strife it is hard to see how it is woven into the pattern. Let’s end with a song Elizabeth wrote that is not in any of the books. It’s inspired by a passage from my old nemesis Paul of Tarsus:
All things work together for good for those who love the mystery the pain and the bliss the lovely and the hideous they are woven into the pattern they are gathered into the river’s flow. All things together for good for those who live the mystery.
I invite you to leave a comment below for either Elizabeth or Maeve. They’d love to hear from you!
Elizabeth Cunningham is the author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of four novels featuring a Celtic Magdalen, including her latest, Red-Robed Priestess. The first three in the series are Magdalen Rising, Passion of Mary Magdalen, and Bright Dark Madonna.
Elizabeth is the direct descendant of nine generations of Episcopal priests. When she was not in church or school, she read fairytales and fantasy novels or wandered in the enchanted wood of an overgrown, abandoned estate next door to the rectory. Her religious background, the magic of fairytales, and the numinous experience of nature continue to inform her work. Cunningham also authored many individual books as well, such
as The Wild Mother;The Return of the Goddess, a Divine Comedy; How to Spin Gold, a Woman’s Tale; Small Bird, and Wild Mercy, and a recently released album, MaevenSong.
Although Cunningham managed to avoid becoming an Episcopal priest, she graduated from The New Seminary in 1997 and was ordained as an interfaith minister and counselor. Both The Maeve Chronicles and her interfaith ministry express Cunningham’s profound desire to reconcile her Christian roots with her call to explore the divine feminine.
Since her ordination, Cunningham has been in private practice as a counselor and maintains that the reading and writing of novels has been has been as important to this work as her seminary training.
She is also the director of the Center at High Valley where she leads singing and poetry circles as well rituals celebrating the Celtic Cross Quarter Days. The mother of grown children, Cunningham lives with her husband in a sacred grove in New York State’s Hudson Valley.
Jodine Turner is the author of the visionary fiction Goddess of the Stars and the Sea series, and author of this blog. Her newest novel, Carry on the Flame: Ultimate Magic released December 6, 2011.