Are human sexuality and spirituality bound together or are they exclusive of each other? What are the things that affect the interplay of sexuality and the spirit? In this heartfelt interview, Susan Norton has a behind the scenes chat with the author of theThe Stain,Catherine Ivers Norton. Here you get to meet the novelist, just after the publication of her first novel. For the first time ever, Catherine will read a selection from her book and answer some intriguing questions. Intrigued? Then tune in for more.
I’m here with my actual sisterCatherine Ivers Norton and she published a book calledThe Stain. Welcome, Catherine. Good to have you here.
Thank you for having me.
Catherine, I read your book and I liked it. I enjoyed a lot of the scenes, travel, intrigue and a lot that happens in the book. Your book does have a lot of good and sexy scenes. Let me ask you, do you think sexuality meets spirituality? Are the two separate?
It depends. For some people, sexuality is separate from spirituality and literally just sex. For other people, it’s part of a relationship where they are combining on different levels and it’s a very powerful, intimate experience that two or more people share. I don’t want to be judgmental. In the ideal situation, everything is present. There are no barriers that come up in some of the later works of this story. This is the first book in the series,The Stain. This idea is that if your love is so pure and true, you will welcome God or whoever to be with you in the present while lovemaking because the intention is so pure between the parties involved.
It’s so deeply honoring and respectful.The Stain does not necessarily start out that way. This becomes something that comes up later but it is an adventure over several books. In the beginning, Cassandra’s experience might be a little bit different than Sergei’s where she is having this soul meeting, twirling in galaxies experience with him where he might be like, “I have a wife. Now I’m going to have sex.” He was trying to make it good that way. The two of them do grow together and then she learns a lot on the way.
I have to ask you that the red letters on the front of the book. Is that Russian? What’s with the red letter is on the cover? What does is it mean?
Suffering is part of the experience of life and without it, you wouldn't have the crystal and moments of pure joy.
As you can see there, there are Cyrillic Russian letters. That word is pronounced pyatno. It means stain. In Russian, there are no articles but there is no the. It’s stain so they would say stain.
I have to ask you, Catherine, you seem to have a lot of knowledge from somehow or another. Why do some people have such a hard time expressing their sexuality? For some of us, why there is so much struggle around it and issues? Why can’t it be easy? I guess I was thinking pre-orgasm, even getting to the dating part. For some people, so many issues come up. They get scared or the person is too much constantly run the X or other way. We can talk about that other sexy stuff but why is it so easy for some people and then for other people, it’s so exciting that they can’t get anywhere near it? What do you think?
I don’t know the hearts of everyone but I know Cassandra, she has severe social anxiety, which is one of the reasons why she is 28 before she gets married. She has pretty much avoided all social discomfort, including dating. She is a little late to the scene at that point when Sergei meets her. Part of it for her is avoidance that she is not ready for it. It’s embarrassing and awkward. She doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t feel confident. Other people maybe they have been hurt and they’re scared. I’m not sure. I know for me, as a single woman and my age, I have a hard time meeting people I connect with. I want it to mean something. I’m not interested in flings.
I don’t have a fling bone in my body and not everybody wants that. It’s hard to find the right partner. I believe in the magic that people are meant to be together in different ways. Not that you only have one in a lifetime or anything like that but there are certain people who are special and for you. The other people that aren’t special for you might be wonderful for someone else but it takes time. You have to try to find the right people and they’re hard to find.
We’re talking about relationships. This is still meant for all audiences. In letting go of those moments of romance, do you have any tips or suggestions there or is it best to read the book?
I can offer my thoughts. I encourage you to read the book. I do believe that with the right person, you have things you already have a relationship built around trust, comfort and you know that the person cares about you and wants you to have a positive experience. Sex is happening within the context of a loving relationship. Those are the things that I believe help a person let go of their insecurity. Anything that they are embarrassed or ashamed about and then let the relationship-based hold them so they can release fully.
They feel more comfortable in the container of their relationship and sensuality moments. That makes sense. Thank you. That’s helping me right now. I know that your book touches on some sensitive areas and issues and I really appreciate that. For me, it made a big difference and a deep book for me. What’s the purpose of suffering?
Suffering is part of the experience of life. Without it, you wouldn’t have crystalline moments of pure joy. We have these peak experiences but if all you had were peak experiences, they would seem nothing. It would be like a star but no backdrop of darkness to let it shine. That’s how I feel about suffering. We don’t have to suffer but we’re not going to be happy all the time. Life is all about ups and downs. We don’t always get everything we want. Sometimes, we almost never get what we want but that one time we reach for something and that happens then that’s the thing that lasts in your memory forever. Those memories are postcards of perfect experiences or the real memorable ones that make up a life.
It’s also what you focus on. If you’re focusing on your misery or your suffering, you’re not going to be open to the joy. There is a balance there and we all set our own experience that way.
I’m working on bringing more joy in.
Let’s say someone gets a copy of your book. What experience might they have when they read it?
I’ve talked to a few different people that have read it for the first time and they are bringing up different aspects of the story that were meaningful for them because there is a lot going on in there. For some people, they’ll hone right in on sexuality. Some people hone right in relationship problems. Some people will detect the spirituality that’s in there. I love all of these things but I also like the growth because when you’ve been closed to certain experiences for most of your life somebody comes along and blows your doors off your closet.
We're all marching towards the end here. Why not enjoy life while we work at it?
Cassandra is limited when Sergei meets her but then they get together, all this stuff is happening. Her head is exploding with new experiences. She gets pulled away as if she is on a boat on a river and it can feel out of control at times. Isn’t that how life is? I like how she ends up taking control of her journey after a while but she goes along with it because she is like, “You’re the boat captain. I don’t know what I’m doing. Let’s have fun.” It’s not fun and then she was like “Whoa.” She finds her boundaries.
One thing that intrigued me about the book is this capturing of different countries, nationalities, languages, local customs and tiny towns. It’s extraordinary. I don’t know how you did it. It’s something to look forward to when you guys come and you experience this book. You’re going on a journey and Catherine knows how to take you there. You feel like you’re in it. There are so many interesting perspectives. I’m sure this will be more interviews but this is the first interview with this extraordinary young writer. Can you give us a little teaser or taste of what’s the calm in the author’s voice?
I’ve always been interested in Russia. I’m not lying. This is for real. Since I was a little kid, I have always wanted to go to Russia. They said, “You can’t go to Russia.” I’m like, “Why not? They’re my people. I want to go.” “You can’t go there.” I’m like, “I want to go and see my people and friends.” They are friends to me. I don’t know if they feel the same way about me but besides the point, I’m open to experiencing some culture for whatever it is. When I write, I write about the streets in St. Petersburg. I look at the streets on Google Maps and drop in.
Sometimes, you can walk around on the streets and I look at the storefronts and cafes. I feel like I’m there. I do it until I feel it. I can feel myself there and then I write the scene. In this book, they go to too many places. They start off in Manhattan, France and Russia. In the second book we get across Europe trip and it goes on from there but that’s how I do it. I like to be there and to see the insides of places if I can see photographs or whatever. I do a little research that sets my mind in the scene. Are you ready for a little teaser? This is the very first time I’m reading anything from this book in public.
This is from the chapter entitled, Let’s Do Laundry. In this scene, she married Sergei and they’re in Russia. She is going to her first St. Petersburg party with the socialites. They’d been there a while and Sergei is in a political discussion with some guy in the other room. She is bored and doesn’t feel great and she is ready to leave. There is a hot guy there and his name is Vladislav Volkov. She has gone to the laundry room to calm down and do some deep breathing to ground and center herself as it’s her practice. It’s one of the ways that helps with her anxiety. She has done that and she is turning to leave. She is going to tell Sergei she wants to go home.
“I’m feeling clearer. I’m trying to leave. My heart jolted to discover a wall of a man blocking the exit. Vladislav Volkov. The big man eyed me with mischievous intent but said nothing. His powerful presence held me like a deer frozen in the headlights of his eyes. We gaze at each other for a long moment. Until I blinked and looked away. I could not speak Russian so I sat a little embarrassed smile and tried to step around him. I was tired and wanted to go home with my husband. I certainly didn’t want to deal with a behemoth drunken, admirer, Vladislav put his hands on my shoulders to stop me from leaving.
“My shoes fell from my finger and clattered to the floor as I took a step backward. I was stunned but felt no fear. I did not cry out for help. I did not say no, “nyet.” It was one of the Russian words I know. I was so stunned, I did not say anything at all. He wrapped his large hands behind my head and grabbed two fistfuls of my hair. As he pushed his body against mine, his enormous erection pressed allude promise into my ribs. I tried to turn my face from him but he held my head forward. I tried to pull away but my back wedged against the counter. I had no choice but to let him kiss me.” I like the scene because it’s a turning point in the story.
It’s one of my favorite scenes that comes to mind. Thank you for that beautiful taste and teaser. I appreciate it. What vision do you hold for this book? If anything were possible or your wildest dreams come true, paint us a picture. Tell us what will happen with your book and the series?
I hope it gets to readers who love it and are inspired by it. The first book is a little rough because starting out. It’s a five-part of series. I have four books already written. The fifth one, I was dying to be written but I’m trying to get these other ones out first. I’m going to end at five but I don’t know. This story has a life of its own so I do what it tells me to do. I hope that people read it and get them thinking. There are things in here that are intentionally controversial because I want people to question ideas that we have and don’t think about.
What is a marriage? Who has the power in the relationship? Is it a partnership or is it a business arrangement? What is it? There is a lot of focus on marriage and what’s okay in a marriage and what’s not okay. There is a cultural component here too. We have an American marrying a Russian. He is more Western European than a typical Russian because he spent much of his life abroad. Still, they come from different backgrounds and different values. How does that work? Deliciousness on a complicated level. I find international romance exciting because it has that room for discovery and exploration. I’m so interested in other cultures and other ways of being in the world and different gender roles.
I find it exciting. I hope other people will pick up on that. There is also a psychology component here. It’s a psychological thriller. The last person I talked to that read the book said she felt that it was a psychological thriller first and the sexuality and everything else was second to that because, in this story, Cassandra is a clinical psychologist and a recent graduate. She swept off of her feet into this relationship and then Sergei's psychological problems began to show. She is teasing it out as he is recalling repressed memories. It’s like, “What is going on with him?” Can you feel compassion for him knowing what he’s been through in his life? He’s had some early childhood trauma. Does it excuse his behavior?
Can he be helped? Should she be the one helping him? There are ethical dilemmas here too. The reveal of the psychological trauma, how that gets played out in the story and the context of their relationship is fascinating to me. That’s where I started off. The plan for the book was that arena. I liked that part because she is a clinical psychologist but even she doesn’t know exactly what’s wrong with him, it takes her a long time to figure it out because it’s not something you see every day. It’s juicy on a lot of levels.
We have to look at things in order to question them and then change them.
When I read the copy, I read it in a couple of days. It’s such a good novel. It’s so well-written that it stands out and there is something else about it that’s unusual but we will go into that another time. What’s already different about this book? You can think about that when you pick it up. Why does it seem different and see if you can feel that? Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers? What would you say to them that are reading the book or messages to them? I’m going to go buy it or you’re talking to your people.
If you’re interested in a book that makes you think but it’s also quite warming on a cold winter’s night because things can get pretty hot in Russia, go find the book. It’s onAmazon.com. I self-published. It’s available in paperback, hardcover and on the Kindle. You can search Catherine Ivers Norton,The Stain and find it. I also have a websiteCatherineIversNorton.com with the latest info. I have a blog on there too if you’re interested. I’m trying to build up a presence on Facebook,Instagram,Twitter and onLinkedIn to engage the readers.
I want to have a forum where people can discuss the book because that’ll be an important component for some people that they want to debrief what their experience was and talk to other people. I’m hoping to start conversations about philosophical dilemmas in this book and certain things that might be potentially triggering people. It might give them a way to shift how they thought about their experience and look at it in a new way. Some of these things that Cassandra does are things that we’ve done or sometimes, she’s missed red flags that we would see but we’re all human and it’s okay.
In CatherineIversNorton.com, if they have a question or want to reach out to you, is it possible that you might be able to answer some of them or answer questions there? Is it like a forum?
On the blog, they can comment and I’ll see the comments. Anybody can reach me atCatherine@CatherineIversNorton.com. That’s my business email address. It’s all part of the website. If you find the website then it will take you everywhere else because the link for Twitter and Instagram is on there. I’m trying to be accessible. I’m not overwhelmed with fans yet. If you have questions, this is a good time to get them to me.
If you jump on early, you’re going to get her attention. When I think of talking to you, I got the idea of interviewing Catherine when I saw a Jim Carrey interview before he made it and how freaking inspiring it was and this young guy held his vision. It was so powerful and super inspiring. You’re also a very spiritual person. You’re my sister but even if you weren’t, I would love to interview you, find out more and I’m certainly a fan of your books. I know what’s coming up.
This lady, when she would write a book, would make me tea and she would read chapters like little pieces from the book and I would be all cozied up. It’s one of the happiest moments of my life. The author reading is something that’s amazing. I know what’s coming up but as she develops it, this is it. Thank you. Catherine Norton, you’re an amazing rock star. Thank you so much. We look forward to hearing more from you. Thanks for giving us behind-the-peak scenes the first glimpse.
This is my first reading. You’re capturing it here. Everyone says, I hope my book changes the world but I hope my book empowers women, even though it might not seem that way in the first one. We have to look at things in order to question them and then change. I’m all for sexuality expressing that. However, people are comfortable but finding your way and liberating yourself. Why hold back? We’re all marching towards the end here. Why not enjoy life while we work at it? Thank you so much, Susan. I appreciate it. If you read the book, I hope you love it. Thank you.
An American with maternal Slavic ancestry, named by her mother in remembrance of Catherine the Great, Catherine Ivers Norton developed an early interest in St. Petersburg and the Russian people. A precocious child, she read every work by Russian writers at her local public library, including Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, while still in primary school. She spent her childhood writing short stories and composing poetry, planning to become a writer someday, with the dream of traveling to Russia close in her heart. Finding English studies painfully dull, however, she changed her academic course once in college.
The author earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with the highest honors from Alfred University in New York State. She went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Syracuse University. The degree eluded her as she needed more practical work during a time of upheaval involving a difficult divorce. This story was born with urgency during that tumultuous period. Writing became a recreational outlet, an escape from emotionally intense work in the field of adolescent psychology.
A woman of insatiable curiosity, Catherine lives in Ithaca, in the heart of New York State’s beautiful Finger Lakes region. She is looking forward to the moment she arrives in St. Petersburg, takes her first breath of Russian air, and wanders the city that has always felt like home in her heart.
“Because the world of Spirit is a great place to be”
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