Visiting with me today is Joyce DiPastena, author of a number of historical fiction novels. I am always impressed by the high level of research that goes into each book that she writes. Without further ado, let me (atr) introduce my guest (jdp).
atr: Welcome, Joyce! It is such a privilege to have you here with me today. Before I inundate you with questions, may I get you your favorite hot drink and some dessert?
jdp: My favorite hot drink is hot chocolate (hazelnut is a favorite flavor), but since I live in southern Arizona where it’s in the triple digits up to 5 months of the year, I’m not cold enough to drink it very often. But Christmas is coming and I’ll be drinking it in December, no matter how hot it is outside. LOL!
Favorite dessert? Chocolate, of course! (Milk, not dark.)
atr: I guess we are in luck, because we are finally having some nice cooler weather here in Orlando. I even got to wear my boots several days this week! Not only that, but chocolate is my specialty. Let me serve you one of my triple chocolate brownies with your drink. Yumm!
So, why Medieval fiction? What is it about this time period that calls to you to research it and write about it?
jdp: I have been asked that question so many times, and every time I come up with a different answer… I think because I’m not completely sure what the real answer is. When I first started writing, I dabbled in several different historical time periods (American Revolutionary War, American West, Elizabethan and Stuart England, Regency). But the first story that ever held my attention long enough to write a complete novel from beginning to end was about medieval characters and I’ve been writing about them ever since. The time period just continues to call to me, and I’m not sure why. At this point I’m ready to say, since God loves all of His children born in every era of time, maybe He’s called me to use my very small and inadequate talent to try to help the world remember that the lives of these people in the Middle Ages mattered. (Although the people I write about are fictional, I hope they are in some small way representative of the people who lived in this time period.)
atr: That is certainly a fun reason. 🙂
How do you go about researching your books? Do you prefer online research or physical books?
jdp: I prefer any source that gives me the answers I’m looking for! Online research is often faster, but physical books often give me more depth on the subjects I’m researching. So I do a very large combination of researching via both sources.
atr: That is a great distinction. I hadn’t thought about that, but it makes so much sense.
How long, approximately, does it take you to do the research for one of your books?
jdp: I’ve written enough books now that I know many of the basics for the time period I’m writing about. Most of my “new” research takes place while I’m actually writing because I don’t always know what fresh research I’m going to need until my characters tell me. For example, I knew the characters I’m writing about in my current work-in-progress live in a medieval city instead of a medieval castle. I knew I needed to understand the basic layout of medieval cities and towns, but I didn’t know I’d need to describe what it looked like behind a craftsman’s shop until my characters decided to have me set a scene there. So suddenly I’m googling and zooming in on medieval maps, trying to figure out, “If there are two shops here and an alley runs between them, what’s behind the shops? The back of another shop or something else? And how much room is there? And how tall are the buildings and how dark might it be there, even in the daytime?” Just little things like that are always popping up that make me pause in my writing to look up little nitpicky, but important details, like that.
atr: Wow! I guess I knew that you put that kind of detail into your stories, but never really thought about what it takes to put that kind of detail in.
What is the most fun thing you did in the name of researching one of your books?
jdp: Well, probably one of the silliest things was researching how they fought with swords, then acting out a sword fight scene in my kitchen all alone, trying to visualize exactly where everyone would be standing and moving and whirling, etc, while I paused periodically to type the scene into my computer.
atr: Hilarious! Have you ever visited any of the places you write about?
jdp: Sadly not so far. I’m still hoping “someday,” though.
atr: Have you ever slept in a castle?
jdp: Only in my imagination. (So far.)
atr: I hope that all changes for you soon. What is your favorite thing from the Middle Ages?
jdp: I love medieval art from illuminated manuscripts. Many people continue to call the Middle Ages “the dark ages,” but the paintings in many medieval books are filled with light, as well as whimsy and humor. How can you not love people with the imagination to come up with miniature paintings like these?
atr: (I scattered some pictures Joyce kindly provided to me throughout this blog. They truly are beautiful!)
What is your least favorite thing?
jdp: It would definitely be lice, or actually, anything bug-related. I have a major bug phobia, which is why I’ll only portray historical accuracy so far in my books. Other authors will have to fill in the bug-blanks for readers. LOL!
atr: I have to thank you for that. <Shudder!>
Are any of your characters based on people you know (maybe yourself?) Which one do you relate to the most?
jdp: I’ve never consciously based a character on a person I knew, including myself, although sometimes there are little bits and pieces of my life experiences in the characters. When Siri fell and bumped her head in Illuminations of the Heart, I based her “headache” on how I react to my migraines. Her complaint about her inability to embroider well… that was based on my lack of embroidery talent too.
My characters who love music are very much inspired by my own love for music.
But more often, my characters represent the type of person I wish I were…smart, clever, brave, energetic, etc.
atr: Who is your greatest inspiration as an author?
jdp: I think my love of words and stringing words together into phrases came from reading Georgette Heyer romances over and over and over in my junior high and high school years. I just loved that she was so witty and how her characters could make me laugh. And I loved the way she put words together to do that. It’s kind of like putting little puzzle pieces (words) together to create this large, wonderful picture. I’ll never do it as well as she did, but I have to credit her with contributing in a very large part to my love of words and phrase-crafting.
atr: I love Georgette Heyer’s books! Where do you get your inspiration as an author?
jdp: Research is an excellent source of inspiration. There are great “true life” medieval stories, sometimes just little glimpses of medieval life related in a research book that can serve as springboards for taking such a story and trying to give it a bit of a twist. Or sometimes I take a modern challenge and try to imagine how medieval characters would have dealt with it in the context of their world? Like raising medieval teenagers (in my romance, Courting Cassandry), or the story I’m working on now where the hero has a gambling problem, but there’s no such thing as Gamblers Anonymous for him to turn to. How is he going to overcome his weakness? To be honest, I’m not sure yet, but he and I will figure something out.
atr: I can’t wait to see how the two of you work that one out! Just reading your answers like this make me want to pick up one of your books and start reading!
Who is your favorite historical fiction author who wrote more than 50 years ago?
jdp: Alexandre Dumas, who wrote The Three Musketeers and its sequels, is one of my favorite historical authors. He was a master of characterization, plotting, and dialogue. And I love the way he wove history into his stories, especially in the first sequel to The Three Musketeers, called Twenty Years After. Every time I read that book (and I’ve read it many, many times), Dumas leaves me rooting for history to change “this time.” If you haven’t read it, I won’t give away whether history does or not. 🙂
atr: Ah, I have read several of his books, including both of those you mentioned. Somehow I expected you to say Sir Walter Scott. Not sure why, though!
Who is your favorite historical fiction author who wrote less than 50 years ago?
jdp: Rosemary Sutcliff is a relatively newly discovered historical author to me. She passed away in 1992, but I only discovered her books in the 21st century. Most (though not all) of her books are set in Roman Britain. Her writing style is beautiful and some of her characters continue to haunt me to this day. Some in happy ways, some in sad ways, but the fact that the stories still linger in my memory attests to the depth of her talent.)
atr: It sounds like I need to look her books up.
What is your favorite historical fiction book?
jdp: It’s a book that is out of print, called Walk with Peril, written by Dorothy V.S. Jackson in 1959. It’s set in the Middle Ages at the time of the Battle of Agincourt, but it’s not about that battle. It’s a book about characters, and these particular characters kept me reading and rereading the book through my junior high and high school years. It was a public library book and I lost track of it once I went to college (including forgetting the title), but it continued to linger so strongly in my memory that when the internet eventually came along, my sister and I together were able to guess variations of the title and author until we finally discovered used copies lurking on Amazon. Now I have a very treasured copy of my own that I hope never to lose again. I love this book so much, I wrote a very long review of it on my research blog in 2008. (Here’s the link if you’d like to read it. http://medievalresearch.blogspot.com/2008/04/book-review-walk-with-peril-by-dvs.html#.Wgp7dq2ZMdU) This book influenced my romantic historical novel, The Lady and the Minstrel, in two important ways, but I’m not telling anyone what they were. 🙂
atr: That is so very cool! I love that you were able to figure out the mystery of what that book was AND that you found it. Are there other genres that you enjoy reading?
jdp: I enjoy clean romances, mysteries, and straight adventure books, as long as they’re historical, preferably pre-1850. I’ll give any historical setting a try set before the mid-19th century, but I prefer happy or at least satisfying endings over tragedy and heartbreak. There’s enough of both of those in real life.
atr: I’m completely with you on that! There are plenty of real-life stories that don’t end well. When I read, I like to be entertained, not depressed.
I have read most of your books and love the way you transport me to another time and place. How do you keep from interjecting parts of the present into your stories?
jdp: First off, thank you for saying you feel I accomplish that! I try very hard to try to understand the world as my characters might have understood it in their own time periods, to “get inside their heads” and look at the world “through their eyes.” I had very wise history professors in college who taught me that historians should judge history in its own context, and not in the context of our modern world. That’s not always a popular view today, but it’s helped me through the years to try to see my characters’ world through their historical eyes, rather than frowning down on it through my 21st century viewpoint.
atr: What is your favorite place to write? Can you describe the ambiance and what we would see if we were there with you? If we were there with you, what would we see, hear, and smell?
jdp: LOL! If you were to see where I write, you’d see me standing with my computer set on my kitchen island or typing on a TV tray from a fold-up chair. I might be sipping a diet Pepsi or nibbling on M&Ms to keep me awake if I’m sleepy. And I would be surrounded with dead quiet. All the ambiance, all the “see, hear, and smell” takes place inside my head. It’s very noisy in there with all my characters’ voices, so I don’t like to be distracted with other sounds. And I get so deeply into my characters’ viewpoints that I kind of zone out from everything else around me and just focus on trying to “see, hear, and smell” what they’re “seeing, hearing and smelling.” My outer surroundings are very utilitarian, but when I write, it’s a very busy place inside my head.
atr: Wow! Thank you so much for taking this time with us today. I am sure our readers enjoyed hearing more about you. I know that I most certainly did.
Readers, stay tuned for a review of Joyce’s most recent book, The Girl by the River, a short story that takes place right before The Lady and the Minstrel and tells of Robert’s escape from his lord. That review is scheduled to come out on Wednesday, November 22, 2017.
The first line from The Girl by the River is:
Robert almost tripped over the scythe.
Now it is your turn! Grab the book you are currently reading, open to chapter one, and post the first sentence (or second sentence) in the comments below. Then head on over to Hoarding Books to see all of the FLF pages this week (just click on the FLF button below).