“The Judas Kiss” by Angella Graff is the second in her Judas Curse series. The first instalment, “The Awakening” introduces Ben, the detective who gets stuck with helping Jude and Mark, two Immortals chased for their powers by ancient Gods who ‘ride’ in human bodies. For the fan of action packed thrillers and fantasy stories this book – like its predecessor – is great fun with a lot of suspense and enough unpredictability to make you turn those pages as quickly as you can read.
On a more serious note it is a very ambitious enterprise to mix and match genre’s and bring together elements from different mythologies and religions and something I was curious to see how it would develop in this second book. While the first book might have suffered from being the first in the series which introduces the storyline, characters and themes, “The Judas Kiss” allows Graff to exploit her solid set up from before and be playful with the characters and the supernatural elements.
While one thread of the book continues in modern day San Diego where immortals fight over Jude, another thread tells the story of Jude [Jehuda] and his twin brother Jeshua [Jesus] two thousand years ago – through the eyes of their ‘adopted brother’ Mark. In this part of the book Graff’s background in theology and history comes out splendidly in that she paints an accurate picture of the times and characters, but she also introduces teachings, theories and alternative beliefs about Jesus and his story. Luckily not in the flat and fast way the Da Vinci Code used to exploit such themes but in a much more solid and founded way.
As this flashback – if you so will – continues so does the main action part of the story but as we meet one god after the other in human form Graff uses exemplary skill to give those gods and their mythologies credibility. In this model of ‘Gods’ one and the same god can be part of various mythologies and every god is not all knowing and all seeing. There are things they too do not understand and this within the fantasy genre distinguishes her and makes her writing more than just mindless entertainment. There is real knowledge and philosophical thought behind this.
Last but not least the characters created for this book are very colourful, eccentric and interesting, often entertaining and totally captivating. This book is an amazing achievement, a great treat and a must read.
Interview with Angella:
How did you come to writing in the first place?
I’ve been writing since I could write, in all honesty. I think by the age of 12 I knew that all I really wanted was to become an author. While all of my friends were hanging out and being social, you would find me locked in my room, curled up in my bean-bag chair (gotta love the early 90’s!) with stacks and stacks of loose-leaf paper just scribbling away. Even when I was pursuing the career path of teaching at a University, every free chance I got, I was writing, whether it was attempting to compose a novel or just scribbling out short stories.
What was your connection or special interest in the biblical subject matter?
I grew up in a very religious family; my great-grandfather was a Nazarene pastor and he had a very large influence on the family. I started at University studying psychology, but after a semester I quickly abandoned ship from psychology to history, and while taking my courses, I started taking different religion classes. It was during a history of the New Testament course, just a basic intro course, that I fell in love with the rich history, and the ability to study what happened from a secular viewpoint. Not only was it informative, but it also validated a lot of my suspicions I’d had, even as a young child.
How is your relationship with religion?
Hmm… how does that silly saying go? Religion and I have agreed to see other people? Haha! I’m a very spiritual person, however on a personal level, I find most people’s core beliefs and the way they act in the world to be very hypocritical. From a young age a lot of it didn’t make sense. I was actually kicked out of a youth Sunday Service when I was about 14. One student in the class asked why, if drinking alcohol was wrong, did Jesus turn water into wine, and why he drank wine in the Bible. The teacher fumbled a bit and then said, “Well in biblical times, wine wasn’t alcoholic. That’s a modern invention.” Now, I’d been studying Egyptian history and Greek mythos since I was about 9, so I knew that she was wrong. Not only did Hebrews have a celebration which consisted of drinking until the point of severely inebriated, but the Egyptians were very, very fond of beer, and in fact part of their creation myth was the world flooding with beer. So I raised my hand and told her she was “ill informed”, though I might not have been so nice. She told me that I was too young to know what I was talking about, and I informed her that fermenting was a process through nature, even animals do it, and it’s not an invention so much as a discovery of the process, and she promptly kicked me out.
So Christianity and I have never gotten along. My own personal philosophy, or religion if you will, is just that. It’s personal. I believe that as long as your beliefs and choices don’t remove the ability to choose from another person, you’re welcome to them. Which is probably where I take issue with Christianity as they tend to try and force people to believe, take rights away from people (one in particular is trying to keep, or make, illegal same-sex marriage), and they are very hateful and judgmental which is exactly how Jesus told them NOT to behave.
Wow this answer got a bit long, but hopefully that sums it up.
When did you first have the idea for this particular book series?
The very first spark of inspiration came about a decade ago. I was sitting in a lecture hall learning about the meanings behind the names of the Apostles. The professor was explaining the difference between Judas Iscariot and Judas Thomas. He went on to say, “The name Thomas means twin, so it’s reasonable to believe that Judas Thomas was the twin of someone in the group, though there isn’t any indication which one might have been his brother.” I realized the Hebrew versions of Jesus and Judas (Yeshua and Yehuda) were very similar and I thought—what an interesting idea if Jesus and Judas were twins. That part of the betrayal could be that they mistook one brother for the other… something along those lines. I began to brainstorm, I came up with Mark (as he’s always been my most favourite gospel writer) and Judas as immortals.
Originally I wrote the story in one book, with a pair of siblings as friends of theirs, and Judas hadn’t disappeared, but he was completely insane, and Mark eventually tells the story of how they came to be. I provided the book to an agent (self-publishing wasn’t much of an option ten years ago) and was told that although it was an original and unique story, it wouldn’t do well in the US as it was too controversial. They suggested a European market. So I hung on to the story, but eventually other things came up.
After I met my husband, he made an off-hand comment about making the book a series, which in it’s current form wouldn’t have done well, but I started coming up with ideas which could transform the core structure of the book… and suddenly The Judas Curse series appeared.
Do you know what will happen in all of the instalments already?
I plan to release my books in four trilogies, with one plot per trilogy to be resolved at the end, however one meta-plot throughout each of the books that will be resolved in book 12. That, mainly being the purpose of Mark and Judas’s immortality and powers. I have a basic outline for each of the books, but I like to let my writing flow organically, to let the characters develop, so while I have a basic idea, the characters might surprise me.
How long did each book take you to write?
The Awakening took me about two months to complete the first draft, and then another month or so for editing and re-writes. The Judas Kiss took me far less time, about one month to write, about a week for re-writes, and the rest of the time has been spent on editing and formatting. The Judas Kiss was easier for me to write, I think mainly because I’d been so looking forward to writing out Judas and Mark’s history.
You seem very knowledgeable about the theology. How do you do the extra research?
I draw a lot on my previous education. I studied theology for six years, and when I’m not writing or reading books for book reviews, I’m generally buried in some theology text, usually of my favourite topic, the Gnostic gospels. I do some online research, but it’s difficult because it’s hard to find a non-biased source of information, and as a lot of the information I’m looking up is thousands of years old, sources aren’t as reliable as I’d like.
How comfortable do you feel writing about what is a sensitive issue for many?
Oh very. I’ve always loved to debate history and religion, which is usually a taboo topic for many. Truth is, I’m not saying what happened in my book is factual. I base a lot of it on theorized factual information—for example the idea that Jesus was a Buddhist. I based that on research into Isa, from Kashmir, India, along with studying the correlation between what Jesus said and between the teachings of Buddhism. However, I’m not saying that Judas and Jesus were twins, or related at all. Frankly it’s just a twist thrown in there for entertainment purposes. If people can’t take the book for that—entertainment—I can’t take responsibility for their offense. But trust me, I’m very comfortable and I love a good-natured religious debate.
How do you write? What is your writing environment like?
I write at my desk in my bedroom, and during the day I have a nice, quiet environment as the kids are generally at school all day, and my husband is off to work. Any writing after four is very stilted, however, as my house becomes a little bit like a circus of screaming monkeys.
And when I write, it sort of depends. My very first book, Moments Collide, I wrote in a sort of quilted manner. I wrote it all in chunks, different scenes that I wanted to see play out. Then I sort of quilted them together with connective text and used the re-writes to smooth it all together.
The Awakening, I had trouble with the beginning, so it was more quilted at first, but about a third of the way in I wrote it out in a linear fashion and then just smoothed out the beginning. With The Judas Kiss, I just sat down and wrote from beginning to end, but it was helpful because I knew exactly what I wanted to say.
How many rewrites did it take you?
For The Judas Kiss, not very many. I added in more than re-wrote, and my re-writes were mainly just the occasional word or sentence. I spent a lot of time adding in and polishing up the beginning, as well as the climactic rescue scene, and then the end with the moments between Stella and Ben. When I finished the first draft, it was around 90,000 words, but when I finished adding and re-writing, it had bumped up to around 101,000 words
Who are your editors and how do you quality control your books?
Well my main editor is my husband, Joshua. He’s really very fantastic and very patient, as you have to be with me when it concerns my writing. I rely mainly on the feedback of beta-readers, like the wonderful Christoph Fischer, just to name one! I like to have a large variety of beta-readers so I can get as many opinions, especially since one person will notice something that someone else did not.
I have a very decent skill and talent with writing and language, not to toot my own horn, and usually my first drafts are very well written. I don’t do a Stephen King where I write ten thousand words, and then slash out nine thousand of them with a red pen leaving one thousand good ones to build on.
As for quality control, usually I do four or five passes over my novels while the beta-readers are going over the manuscript. Once that’s done, I hand the book to Josh, and let him have creative control. I don’t ask him, generally, to check with me before he adds or deletes or re-words a sentence. I trust him to come to me if it seems like the sentence might be there on purpose, or important to a future plot-point.
My biggest issue is that I’m impatient, so books have gone to publishing with errors still in them. I’ve been much more careful, taking far more time and read-throughs with The Judas Kiss, and am hoping that we caught them all and it’s as perfect as it can get.
Who are your favourite authors / influences?
As far as theology books, my two most favourite authors are Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman. I devour their books whenever I can get my hands on them. I think my amazon wishlist is made up of 90% their works. My favourite fiction author—well for years it was Anne Rice. I love her early works of the vampires, even the highly criticized Memnoch The Devil, but I think that’s for obvious reasons. I loved the Mayfair witch series, but I think I lost interest when she started marrying the two worlds.
I actually read a book recently that instantly turned me into a huge fan of his work—Memories of the Dead, by Phillip Hall. He’s a fellow indie author, and lately I’d been reading so many works with the same plot of sexy-vampire-sexy-werewolf-unsuspecting-special-human and then I read his, and I was blown away. It brought me back to every reason I loved the sort of dark-gothic-sort of Bram Stoker in a sense vampire books. I’ve actually read it twice now, and have been passing his link to anyone who will listen.
And I will, of course, mention Christoph Fischer, not just because I’m on his blog now and that I adore him, but in all honestly I LOVED his book. It’s hard to find a rich, historical literary fiction now a days with all the paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy, and I was immediately in love with the The Luck of the Weissensteiners.
Another author I’ve been influenced by, which oddly I don’t even really like his books, is author Jim Butcher. I mainly admire him as a person, the way he writes his books, and the way he handled his fans. He’s an uber geek writer, and I just love that about him. My husband is a massive fan of his series’ The Dresden Files and Codex Alera.
Who would play your characters in a movie?
Oh well anyone who knows me will know I want to say Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and David Tennant. But in all honestly, I don’t know. I’ll just say here that as long as it isn’t Keanu Reeves, Nicholas Cage, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, I’ll be okay with casting. Actually, you know, I’d really like to see Mark Ruffalo play Ben, because I think he could pull of that sort of quiet disdain really well. And let’s face it, I love him.
When is your next book out and where can we find out about it?
The Judas Kiss is out this Friday, and it will be available on Amazon for kindle download and createspace for paperback. I’ll also have copies for anyone local to Arizona, on March 10th 2013 at the Tucson Festival of Books. I’ll be appearing there in the Author Pavillion from 11:45 AM to 1:45 PM with copies of The Awakening and The Judas Kiss.
There will also be updated purchase links on my website:
What other projects do you have besides the Series?
Right now I’m working on a book of contemporary short stories. Lately I’ve seen so many books with unrealistic views on relationships and I want desperately to present different relationships that DO exist. In real life. None of the extremely superficial chiselled abs, glittering, werewolf, fifty-shades nonsense. I want to show that real, actual relationships can be just as, if not more, satisfying and beautiful than those fantasies.
I’m using situations and relationships that I’ve been in, and people that I know have been in for inspiration. I plan to highlight relationships from all points of view, and all sorts of different couples: heterosexual, homosexual, the sort of desperately single and barren, or a struggling single mom. It’s important for me to show that ALL of those people and ALL of those relationships are normal, acceptable, and beautiful. The book itself is going to have a central theme of the five senses, and each story will represent one of the senses in some way.
I’m inquiring into a charity at the moment as well, and plan to donate the profits of this book to an organization that helps to prevent suicide and offers support to LBGTQ community and youth, and also actively works to promote legalizing same-sex marriage. Those are some of the things I feel most passionate about. Once everything is sorted there will be details about the organization along with links and information on my website.
In the future I also plan to write a children’s book (possibly series) and have the profits donated to an organization supporting autism awareness and research, dedicated to my amazing twelve-year-old son who is autistic.