Today I am delighted to welcome fellow historian and medieval author Joyce Dipastena. Joyce is known for her novels featuring mystery, adventure, and “sweet” romances set during the Middle Ages. Joyce recently interviewed me about writing in general and A Very Merry Chase for her blog and we had such fun that I wanted to invite her to interview here for your enjoyment. To celebrate the occasion, Joyce is generously offering a copy of her Medieval Romance Novel Loyalty’s Web to be given away to one lucky commenter (Winner will be selected via Random.Org.), and I have made a Complimentary Special Edition Commemorative Musical Jigsaw Puzzle featuring the Loyalty Web book cover and the traditional medieval tune Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, just for stopping by and commenting. Although, the contest to win a copy of Loyalty’is now closed–our lucky winner was Cindy Rogers–the musical jigsaw puzzle is still available for download.
On Historical Romances:
Q. Why did you choose to write books set during Medieval times? i.e. What was it about the time period that specifically drew you to it?
A. That’s an interesting question, because I just recently found a stash of old writing projects that I started in high school, and I was all over the historical map. I started novels set during the American Revolution, during reign of the Stuart kings of England, a Regency, several set in 18th Century France, a couple in 19th Century England. And yes, a medieval or two, but I never came close to finishing any of those high school stories. I do remember that I read a book by Thomas B. Costain called The Conquering Family in high school, about the first Plantagenet kings of England and being fascinated by these particular men of history. When I started college and decided to major in history, I took classes in several time periods again…a class on the Tudor/Stuart kings and queens, a class on the American Revolution, a class on the Middle Ages…and then I took another class on the Middle Ages and another one, because I guess I fell in love with the era, but also I had such an incredible teacher that I wanted to take all the classes he taught, and he just happened to teach all the medieval history classes. During my freshman year in college, I also started yet another romance that I thought would end up fizzling out like all my earlier romances had. I set this one during the Middle Ages at the same time I was taking all these wonderful history classes, only this time, the story didn’t fizzle out. I kept writing and writing and writing until I ended up with a full length medieval novel. To this day, I don’t know what made this story different, but somehow it was. So I think in a way, I didn’t choose the Middle Ages as much as the Middle Ages ended up choosing me.
Q. What was the first Medieval romance and/or first Medieval period novel you can recall reading?
A. Really, the first medieval based book I remember reading wasn’t a novel. It was another book about the Plantagenet kings of England by Thomas B. Costain called The Three Edwards (i.e., Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III). I came away from that book thinking I was in love with Edward I. He was such a handsome man and seemed to want to be a good king to England and he loved his first and second wives, and I just thought he was a very romantic figure. And yes, I had some idea about writing a romance with a hero patterned on Edward I. But then I read The Conquering Family and discovered the first Plantagenet king, Henry II. He wasn’t handsome or dashing, and let’s not even start on his troubled marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine! But there was something about him, his energy, his humor, a king who hated war even while he was compelled to spend much of his life fighting, a king who sincerely wanted to leave his kingdom better than he found it, and who actually did so. A larger than life personality who simply swept me away. Henry II continues to cast his spell on me to this day, and although you’ll only find him as an off-scene character in my novels, I do believe my love for him has had a very large influence on the direction my novels have taken, and the ones I still hope to write.
Q. Which authors have most influenced your love for the Medieval period?
A. Given my previous two answers, you won’t be surprised to hear me repeat: Thomas B. Costain. And, although he wasn’t an author, my college history professor, Dr. Thomas Parker.
Q. Do you have an all-time favorite Medieval novel and what elements make it your favorite?
A. My all-time favorite Medieval novel is no longer in print, but I was very lucky to find a copy of it about two years ago. It’s called Walk with Peril, by Dorothy V. S. Jackson. It’s set during the reign of Henry V of England and the battle of Agincourt. What makes it my favorite Medieval novel, and one of my favorite novels of all time, are the characters. Each one is so beautifully drawn. I first found this book in the public library when I was in high school, checked it out several times to read, went to college and lost track of it and forgot the title and author so I thought it was lost to me forever. But I never, never forgot the characters. And oh! how I lamented through the years that I would never be able to read that book again. Then about two years ago, for reasons I can’t remember, I happened to mention this book to my sister, who had read it, too. She remembered one word of the title, “Something about peril” and the author’s last name, “I think it was something like Johnson or Jackson.” We decided to do a Google search together and eventually tracked down the book! I bought an old used copy on Amazon, and oh my goodness, it was every bit as wonderful 30+ years later as it was when I originally read it! You can read my review of Walk With Peril on my Medieval Research with Joyce blog, at http://medievalresearch.blogspot.com/2008/04/book-review-walk-with-peril-by-dvs.html
Q. How do you research your novels?
A. I’ve collected a large personal library of Medieval research books through the years, starting with books from my college classes and additional titles I discovered in the University of Arizona bookstore and built upon since then. So most of my research is done at home. I don’t do a lot of pre-research before I write a book. I tend to research as I go along. I need to describe how my characters are dressed in this scene? I run to my shelves and pluck off my Medieval costume research books. What are my characters eating? I go grab my books on Medieval cooking. What does a castle look like? I grab my castle books. A peasant’s cottage? I have several nice research books about life on an English manor. Once in a while I’ll use the internet to look something up, but I find I can usually find something faster in my books than I can on the internet.
Q. Tell us about your favorite novel that you have written, and why it’s your favorite?
A. My favorite novel that I’ve ever written is one that is still unpublished. It’s called Knight’s Folly, and it was a sequel to that first medieval book that I wrote in college. My first book was a romance and had what one might assume would be a “happily ever after” ending, but when I finished it I remember thinking, “But it wouldn’t really be that easy.” Given who my hero was, he might not find that ‘happily ever after’ ending as happy as the heroine does, not because he didn’t love her, of course, but…well, you’d have to read both books to understand. What I love about Knight’s Folly is the deeper complexity of the relationships that confront all the characters than existed in the prequel. I enjoyed exploring that, even though it wound up more of a straight historical novel than a historical romance.
Q. The Medieval time period has so many glorious works of art, name one of your favorites and tell us why you chose it. (If you have a picture of it, send it along and we’ll post it along with the article.)
A. I think my favorite art form of the Middle Ages would have to be the illuminated manuscript. (And I’m not just saying that because the heroine of my sweet medieval romance, Illuminations of the Heart, is a medieval illuminator!) I love the bright colors and the gold leaf that gave the art form the name, “illumination”. I love the clever little miniature pictures of people and animals and plants that the illuminators wove into their books. I can’t pick one page out as a favorite. A representative sample is this page from the 14th Century Luttrell Psalter. This link (yes, I know it’s hideously long!) will take you to a wide variety of medieval illuminated manuscripts to explore!
Q. Is there anything you absolutely must have in order to write?
A. Dead silence is always preferred. I have too much going on inside my head to be distracted with music or TV.
Q. What is the most difficult part of writing for you?
A. Writing when I’m highly stressed. When I’m feeling stressed, it’s hard to block it out and be creative. That’s a challenge I’m still working to conquer.
Q. What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write?
A. It’s different with every book and time of my life. With my latest WIP, I set apart two hours in the evenings to write. I turn on my MacBook, settle myself in my La-Z Boy chair in my living room, turn on a timer for an hour, and write. When the timer goes off, I take a brief break, do a few stretches, set it for another hour, and write some more. I try to write at least five days a week. If I don’t have five days, then I’ll give up two hours in the afternoon to double up one or two days to equal out my five days goal. I hope to eventually expand this writing schedule, but just now it’s all my schedule will allow.
Q. Tell us a little bit about your life online and the historical sites you maintain.
A. I have a website at Joyce-Dipastena.Com where you can read summaries of and excerpts from my books. My JDP NEWS blog gives you updates of what I’m working on now along with all kinds of trivial stuff, like what books I’m currently reading. I also enjoy interviewing other authors, especially historical authors, on that blog, and sometimes I hold giveaways, so you might want to check it out. I also have a research blog called Medieval Research With Joyce where I share some of my favorite research sources and how I use them in my writing.
Just For Fun:
Q. What is your favorite quote?
A. “Out of small things proceeds that which is great,” from the Doctrine & Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m a slow writer and when I’m feeling discouraged about how slowly my story is coming together, this quote reminds me that stories are made up of one word at a time, and if I’ll just keep stringing those words together, regardless of speed, eventually I’ll end up with something “great”, i.e., a full length book.
Q. Where is your favorite place to read?
A. In bed before I go to sleep at night.
Q. What is your favorite non-Medieval book and author, and why?
A. Almost any Regency romance by Georgette Heyer. I love her sense of humor. A book that makes me laugh out loud is priceless to me, and Georgette Heyer can almost always make me laugh out loud.
Q. If you were a supernatural or mythological entity, what, or who, would you be, and why?
A. An invisible time traveler so I could visit and observe all the various historical time periods that fascinate me.
Q. If you were stranded on a desert island what 3 things would you desperately want with you, and why?
A. A box of chocolate that magically replenishes itself. A Kindle, because my desert island would have free wi fi. And remember that invisible time traveling ability? Yeah, I’d keep that, because then I could go back in time whenever I want and avoid being stranded on a desert island to begin with!
To be entered to win a copy of Loyalty’s Web, Joyce DiPastena’s Medieval Romance please leave a comment below and be sure to include your email address so we can contact you. (To foil spammers, I usually enter mine as Teresa (AT) LadySilk (Dot) Net.) Contest closes at 12:001 AM EST March 15, 2011.
To download your commemorative Loyalty Web musical jigsaw puzzle click here.