Sunday, April 4, 2010
Interview with Medieval Author Joyce DiPastena
What is illumination? To make something clear or easier to understand and appreciate. To add colored letters and designs to a manuscript or the borders of a page. In the case of this novel: the main character “illuminates many a priceless book with pen and paint.”
Welcome, Joyce! I’m so excited to interview you and talk about your new book. Your books are known as “Mystery, adventure, and sweet romance in the Middle Ages.” Tell us about your new book, “Illuminations of the Heart.”
Triston is a man of quiet honor and courage, but the guilt he carries for the death of his late wife, Clothilde, has left him numb and hesitant to love again. Worse yet, Siri bears an uncanny resemblance to his lost love. Or does she? Her merry laughter and twinkling eyes are very different from his late wife’s shy smiles and quiet ways. Yet when he gazes into Siri’s face, all he sees is Clothilde.
Then Triston’s past returns to threaten them both. Will his tragic life with Clothilde be repeated with Siri? Trapped between the rivalry of the king’s sons on the one hand and a neighbor out for vengeance on the other, Triston realizes it would be safer to send Siri away. But how can he bear to lose her again?
Siri is determined not to be cast off and not to live in another woman’s shadow. She has illuminated many a priceless book with pen and paint. But can her own vibrant spirit illuminate the darkness in Triston’s soul and make his heart beat for her alone? You’ll have to read Illuminations of the Heart to find out!
Where did you get your ideas? Do you get most of them from history? Give us some examples.
Ideas come at me from all kinds of places. The first book I ever wrote (still unpublished) was inspired in part by a Gilbert and Sullivan song about a wandering minstrel. A minstrel sounded so romantic, though I placed mine in medieval England instead of in China. For the same book, a song called “Anywhere I Wander” from the Hans Christian Anderson movie inspired a scene towards the end where my romantic couple was ripped apart by cruel circumstance (and a cruel villain).
Sometimes there are bits and pieces of medieval history I think would be fun to explore as part of my story. In Illuminations of the Heart, it was the art of medieval illumination — the decorative painting of books with little miniature pictures leafed in gold that reflected or “illuminated” the light. For my current work in progress, I’m exploring the world of medieval troubadours. Sort of. Well, at least a little corner of that world. The characters and their lives are always more important to me than giving a history lesson on any aspect of my research.
I remember Gilbert and Sullivan’s wandering minstrel in the Mikado. I love that operetta. Do you use an outline when you write or play it by ear?
I’ve tried to write to an outline, but I can never stick to it. I started off with an outline for Illuminations of the Heart, but somewhere along the way (within the first couple of chapters), my characters took off on their own and I forgot all about my outline. After Illuminations of the Heart was published, I stumbled across my old outline and laughed my head off at what I originally thought the story was going to be. Characters that I’d planned to be villains had turned into heroes, a murder mystery angle I’d plotted out never took place, and characters from my first book (Loyalty’s Web) who were going to make guest appearances never showed up. In the end, the only real purpose the outline had ended up serving was to help me choose the names of my characters before I started writing. From this experience I’ve learned that outlines and I just don’t mesh. My characters prefer to reveal themselves to me as I write them, telling me secrets about their lives I could never have dreamed up in advance. It’s just the way writing works for me. Sometimes it makes getting a new book off the ground slow and messy, but somehow I think my writing is richer for the trust I place in my characters to know their own hearts and not have my will imposed upon them.
What a wonderful answer! One reviewer said about your book, "This book is one meaty, intelligent, well-researched and exciting read for lovers of historical fiction. The romance? It's smartly written and delicious.” Tell me your thoughts about this.
Well, needless to say, I was extremely flattered by that review! I love trying to create an authentic-feeling world. And I love to include lots of plot alongside the romance. And I love characters and I love dialogue. And I love mixing it all together and seeing what comes up.
You wrote so eloquently, “He spoke the name on a breath like a prayer. Then he lowered his head and kissed her.” This took my breath away. Are all your books clean, sweet romance? Explain or describe your thoughts about romance.
Yes, all my romances are clean, sweet romances. I originally started writing because I couldn’t find any clean, sweet medieval romances to read. Back then (I’m not saying quite how far back), almost the only clean romances you could find were Regencies (sadly, even many of those aren’t safe anymore) and very few contemporaries. But I was wild about the Middle Ages and terribly frustrated that I couldn’t find a clean, medieval romantic read. So I finally sat down and wrote one for myself. I’d hoped that there might be other readers out there who were searching for clean, sweet historical romances, as well, and I must say, I have been very gratified by the warm, supportive response that my books have received. If my name was a brand, I would want it to mean: “Trust me.” When you pick up a Joyce DiPastena book, you don’t have to be afraid. I will promise you a clean, sweet, safe romance every time. I never want to betray that trust with my readers.
I understand completely. What does your family think about your writing? Are they supportive?
My mother was very supportive when she was alive. My father was less so, and sometimes that was very challenging. Now there is just my sister and brother and me. Both of them are extremely supportive of my writing. My sister even keeps copies of my books in her office for people to “accidentally see” when they drop by to talk to her. She says a lot of people get excited when they see my books, ask her questions about them, then go out and buy a copy. I call that supportive!
Yes, that’s definitely supportive! Tell us something about the real you that we’ll never forget.
Golly gee, I’m really not that exciting! Let me think… I’m telephone-phobic. So email me to your heart’s content, but whatever you do, don’t call me! (Just kidding. You can call me. Just don’t ask me to call you!)
Okay, I’ll e-mail you to my heart’s content! Thank you so much, Joyce. This has been such a pleasure getting to know the real you. I hope you enjoyed this interview, everyone.