Regina Doman has returned to writing and publishing after tragedy forced her to take a year off.
Her third novel for teens and adults, Waking Rose: A Fairy Tale Retold, was released last summer. But a year earlier, she lost her 4-year-old son, Joshua, in a freak accident near her home in Virginia.
Born in 1970 in Havertown, Pa., Doman — a 1992 graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville — worked as assistant editor of Lay Witness magazine prior to her 1994 marriage. Her first novel, Snow White and Rose Red: A Modern Fairy Tale, was released in 1997. It was republished in 2002 as The Shadow of the Bear. A sequel, Black as Night, followed in 2004. She gave birth to her seventh child, Paula, at home in Front Royal, Va., Dec. 31.
Doman recently spoke with Register correspondent Kimberley Heatherington.
Your novels are so thoroughly Catholic in their plots, characters and details. Tell us a bit about your own Catholic faith history.
My parents reverted to their Catholic faith through the charismatic renewal, so I was raised charismatic. From my teenage years on, I was also raised in a Catholic covenant community, the House of God’s Life — which is an ecumenical community that never got into trouble with any bishops, so most people have never heard of it.
What about your teenage and college years?
I went to the People of Hope, which is a Catholic community in Warren, N.J. I was one of the first kids to graduate from their school, Koinonia Academy, in 1988. And then I went to Steubenville. At the time, there was a Catholic covenant community there, but I was mainly involved with the university.
What was happening at Steubenville when you were a student there?
That was the first time I really experienced the broad base of what was going on in the Catholic world. When I went to Steubenville, it was morphing out of being a charismatic enclave into the broader Catholic revival.
When Scott Hahn came, two strands of revival that had been growing separately in the Church kind of converged. The traditionalist movement and the charismatic movement were forced to meet each other for the first time in the person of Scott Hahn’s teaching.
Scott appealed to both charismatics and traditionalists; the traditionalists loved his rigor for the Catholic faith, and the charismatics loved his passion.
They also introduced a Latin Mass at Steubenville — not the Tridentine but the Novus Ordo — and Gregorian chant kind of took off. I learned Gregorian chant at Steubenville. It was a very neat time to be there.
What happened after you graduated from Steubenville in 1992?
I went to work for Catholics United for the Faith, and I basically found myself in the midst of the traditionalist branch of the Catholic revival. There is an intellectual rigor that is very much valued there and that I was in awe of.
I always say, “I never studied philosophy — I majored in television.” Now I hang out at Christendom College [in Front Royal, Va.], so whenever they start throwing around Thomistic terms, I just raise my hands in surrender and say, “Television major!”
And then you were married to your husband, Andrew.
I worked at Catholics United for the Faith for two years, and then my prince came. I had already written The Shadow of the Bear, but I met a man who is astonishingly like this character I had written about. We met and married in roughly a year; we were engaged within six months of meeting each other. I could not be a writer if he hadn’t supported me. I always say he’s my harshest critic and my biggest fan.
After Catholics United for the Faith, we went back to the graduate program at Steubenville for another two years. Then we worked for Human Life International. During that time we moved to Front Royal, and my husband started his own business.
We have very strong connections with Christendom College, despite the fact that we’re not alumni. There’s a wonderful Catholic community here at St. John the Baptist, our parish, and I’m also a member of Opus Dei.
What prompted you to become a novelist, and when and how did it begin?
I always knew I was going to grow up to be a storyteller; that’s one of the earliest things I remember about myself. There was never a question of me not writing.
Your writing was inspired by the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, but retelling these tales in a modern setting with Catholic characters is not the first thought that would occur to most writers. How did you decide upon that?
It was G.K. Chesterton. When I was a teenager, one of the huge things that happened in my life was reading G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. I had never really seen anyone take the faith and put it into a modern, contemporary story.
Chesterton said the reason why modern novels are so boring and fairy tales remain interesting is because the fairy tale makes the protagonist hero an ordinary boy. He’s an ordinary boy, and he’s basically in an extraordinary world. Whereas the modern hero is an abnormal or unique individual stuck in a mundane world. And Chesterton was saying there’s only so far you can go with that.
That precisely summed up most teen fiction I had read — which was all about the interesting, offbeat teenager who the adults just didn’t understand, who was forced to go through this dull, boring life of routine, and everything was miserable because no one really understood how unique this individual was. And that kind of struck me, plot-wise, as a dead end.
So how did Chesterton’s ideas inspire your own?
Chesterton’s idea of taking a character who is basically just an ordinary person — but putting them into a world that was extraordinary with all sorts of dangers and threats — really made me think, “Wait, there’s something there. I could find a plot in that.”
In Chesterton’s own novels, his characters have this extraordinary vision of the world as a place of dragons, and faeries, and angels — all these supernatural phenomena.
A real dragon or a real angel never shows up in any of the novels, but all the characters act as though that could actually happen. So I thought, “Why not just take a fairy tale, put it in a modern setting, and give the characters the attitude that Chesterton’s characters would have had?”
References to Chesterton appear throughout the Fairy Tale Novels trilogy. Chesterton said, “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Your books deal with some tough topics: drugs, addiction, chastity, sexual abuse, divorce, euthanasia. Without giving away too much, how does that relate to the characters and situations in your books — and the lives of your readers?
My books are not necessarily “safe.” I’ve had people say, “Why do you have to deal with this stuff? Why do you have to go into these dark places?” And I’ve said, “Because my heroes fight real dragons.” These are real dragons that are out there.
We could wish our kids lived in a better world — but the fact is, they’re going to have to grow up in this environment; they’re going to have to face these dragons. The whole reason I deal with these things is not just to show that I know that they’re out there, but to give kids actual tools to deal with them.
There are other literary and poetic allusions throughout your books. Are you hoping readers will seek out those works, too?
I heard through a friend that, at one of the last American Chesterton Society conferences — which usually attract older people and intellectuals — a bunch of 16- and 17-year-old high school girls showed up. And the organizers asked, “How did you find out?” The girls said, “We read Regina Doman’s books, and she talks about G.K. Chesterton — and we love G.K. Chesterton, so we had to come.” That made my year.
You once said that “discovering the modern world can still contain the wonder and strangeness of a fairy tale is part of what my novels are about.” How can readers “re-enchant”, if you will, the world around them — and connect that to their Catholic faith?
I’ll mention the two girls who are the main characters in the trilogy. It’s about two Catholic sisters who love each other, but are very different.
Rose is fearless, and she sees the world as a place of wonder, but she lacks wisdom and prudence. And then you have her older sister, Blanche. She is very wise, but she’s very fearful. Blanche can’t help feeling that Rose doesn’t realize that people can get hurt and the world isn’t safe.
In the books, Rose learns wisdom, and Blanche learns courage — and they learn from each other. If you took both of their perspectives and put them together, that’s the full reality. You kind of need both temperaments.
You’ve said that, “Next to God and beauty, the thing that constantly astounds me is the amazing phenomenon of other people.” How does that attitude inform the development of your characters and plots?
In order to make characters real — no matter what the character is doing — you have to see yourself as capable of having done that. That is the ideal Chesterton sets up; I’m not saying I can always do it, but this is what you have to strive for.
Once you can reach that depth of honesty about yourself in your writing — if you can manage to then communicate that to other people — you can create great characters. Once you have figured out how to love just about everyone in the whole world, then you can actually begin to be a great writer.
While the Fairy Tale Novels were originally aimed at a teenage demographic, you’ve found that adults enjoy them as well.
After 10 years of mothers saying, “I stole this book from my kid, and read it before they did”, we decided we’re also marketing the books to adults. So we’re giving adults permission — you can read them, too.
What advice do you have for aspiring Catholic writers?
Whenever young Catholic writers ask me for advice, I say, “Write before the Eucharist.” Take your story journal, and bring it to adoration. You always have to write in the presence of God, because he is the one who gave you that talent, and you have to give it back to him.
To become a novelist, you have to be humble enough to learn, but arrogant enough to believe you can actually do it.
What is it like to be both a Catholic novelist and a Catholic mother?
You can’t do it without a plan of life, without some kind of order.
If there came a time when it was impossible for our family life, I would just have to let it go. I’m a Catholic first. I’m a wife second. I’m a mother third — and then I’m a writer.
You returned to writing to finish the Fairy Tale Novels trilogy after a family tragedy — the loss of your 4-year-old son in an auto accident in July, 2006.
We were quiet for a year; I didn’t want to talk about it. Joshua died in a car accident. I was in the car with the kids in the church parking lot, and Joshua got out of his car seat and climbed under the car. So when I moved the car, he was killed. I miss him terribly; I can’t say how hard it’s been.
How did you get through that?
What it made me realize was how much a part of the Catholic community we actually were. In the midst of that, which was so hard, the Catholic community as a whole — the traditionalists, the charismatics, everybody — contacted us to say, “We are so sorry. Is there anything we can do?”
I was just numb after the funeral. The only thing that really made me cry was when I found out that people had spontaneously taken up a collection to send us money to buy a new car so I would never have to drive that car again.
I remember that night when we got home from the hospital — a horrible, nightmare of a day — I remember freaking out and just saying, “No, I am not driving that car again. I don’t want that car in my driveway; I don’t want to see that car again.”
I didn’t want to be mad at God or myself or my husband, or my kids — but I could be mad at the car!
There’s a phrase, “Bought and paid for by the people of God.” It refers to priests, but we, too, emerged from the whole thing really feeling a debt to the Catholic community. So many people feel abandoned when these kinds of tragedies happen, but that didn’t happen to us. If only every family that had to experience it could also experience the kind of love we did.
It was a turning point for you in another way, too.
The week that Joshua died, I had been seriously looking at trying to go out and make a hard sell to get a secular agent and start moving into secular publishing — just because I was thinking, “Maybe that’s where I should be.” The day Joshua was buried was the day I was supposed to go to a big conference. Obviously I didn’t go.
One thing God blessed us with was that, after this, Andrew and I just felt a sharpening of focus and a sense of purpose that we really hadn’t had before.
On a human level, we were just so in love with everybody who helped us. I thought, “If all I did was write books for this set of people and this market for the rest of my life, it would be well-spent.” And I’ve only had that feeling since Joshua died.
You once wrote an article titled “The Catholic Fiction Problem Is a Marketing Problem.” Can you share your insight into the state of the genre of Catholic fiction?
The problem is, most Catholics do not buy fiction from Catholic bookstores. Because of that, Catholic publishers can’t make money selling or publishing it. So that’s why Catholic novelists find it hard to get published with Catholic publishers — it comes down to the buying habits of Catholics.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m overseeing a teen fiction series with Sophia Institute Press, John Paul II High. There will be a new novel every five or six months.
A final question: Why write fiction?
When we’re exposed to ideas imaginatively — in our imagination — we can start to dream about things, and think ourselves capable of things that, before we read a book, we didn’t even know about. That’s the power of fiction.
is based in Fairfax, Virginia.