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Friday, September 11, 2009

Character Building-An Interview with Joyce DiPastena on her novel, Illuminations of the Heart

In his book, "Characters & Viewpoint," Orson Scott Card teaches that one way writers can develop their major characters so they're "interesting and believable enough for people to want to read about what they do" is to interrogate them. Yes, that interrogation includes such questions as height, weight, hair color, and family history, but it also incorporates the more important, causal questions that define motive, such as "Why would he do such a thing? What made him do it? If he does it, what will happen as result?" In fact, one bit of advice I learned from an established author was our characters can do anything, as long as we give them the proper motivation.

Author Joyce DiPastena obviously understands this process, for her characters in her recently released, medieval romance, "Illuminations of the Heart" are fully "rounded" and maintain clear motivations.

Take, for instance, Siri, her heroine. Better yet, let's get a stronger feel for the character development process by briefly interrogating both Siri and her creator, Joyce DiPastena.

Ronda: Welcome Joyce, Siri, to The Write Blocks.

Joyce: We're happy to be here. Thanks for inviting us .

Ronda: It's my pleasure. Joyce, why don't we start with you. You must have known, early on in your development of "Illuminations of the Heart" you wanted to write an off-shoot of “Loyalty’s Web.” What led you to find/choose your main character, Siri?

Joyce: I knew I wanted to write an off-shoot of “Loyalty’s Web” when I reached the very end of the book, but I didn’t do it because I wanted to write a book about Siri. I didn’t even know Siri yet! What I wanted to do was write a book about Triston. I hadn’t intended to fall in love with him when I first “created” him for “Loyalty’s Web,” but ultimately that’s exactly what I did. And then I left him so unhappy at the end of that book. And I didn’t foresee any way that he could ever become fully happy given the situation I’d left him in. So the only thing I could think of was to write him a book of his own, knowing there’d have to be some major shakeups between the end of “Loyalty’s Web” and the beginning of what became “Illuminations of the Heart.”

Between the events of “Loyalty’s Web” and what happened during the interim between the two books, Triston carried some deep emotional wounds. There needed to be some kind of agent that would allow him to heal, and that agent became Siri. She needed to be a strong, bright, cheerful, optimistic figure to help “illuminate” the darkness that had become Triston’s life. And she needed the capacity to both teach and impart the lesson of forgiveness. By the way, something in your question just struck me as interesting. You called Siri my “main character”, and a few other interviewers have done the same thing. But once I get a story going, I never consider one character, whether my hero or heroine, to be my “main” one. Ultimately, I always think of my books as stories about a couple. “Loyalty’s Web” was HelĂ©ne and Gunthar’s story. “Illuminations of the Heart” was Siri and Triston’s story. In my mind, each of my stories is equally about the hero and heroine. So while we may be focusing on Siri for this interview, the story was very much “about” Triston, too.

Ronda: Did you base Siri or any of your other fictional characters off of real people you know? If so, who?

Joyce: I never consciously base any of my characters on real people (who knows what my subconscious might be doing?), with one exception. When Siri describes her lack of embroidery talent in “Illuminations of the Heart,” that was based on me.

Ronda: What are you most proud of Siri for doing and why?

Joyce: Teaching Triston to forgive others, and to forgive himself.

Ronda: I agree. Actually, that motivation was one of my favorite things about you, Siri. Why don't you tell us a bit more about yourself? Where were you born? What are your interests? What was your relationship with your family like?

Siri: I was born in the beautiful city of Venice into a warm and loving family. My mother was the daughter of an Italian merchant. Venice was a great trading city, you know, and as it is located on the coast of the Adriatic sea, many pilgrims and crusaders wishing to travel to Jerusalem were required to pass through our city. My father was not engaged in the prosperous maritime trade (though my first husband was). He was an illuminator of considerable reputation. Many of the pilgrims commissioned my father and his apprentices to create beautiful psalteries and prayer books for them to carry with them on their pilgrimages, so my family never wanted for money or comfort.

He was not a native Venetian, though. He, too, had begun as a pilgrim traveling through our city from a far off land to the west called Poitou, but he met and fell in love with my mother and married her, choosing to settle and build up his illumination workshop in Venice rather than proceed on his pilgrimage. I was very close to both my parents. My mother tried diligently to teach me the feminine art of embroidery. But the tedious stitching bored me to tears, and my designs always came out crooked. I wished to learn to paint lovely miniatures like Papa did in his workshop, instead! Papa apprenticed my brother, Simon, to him, but he taught me his art in private, because I was a girl. Still, I do believe I became quite as skilled as Simon was in the end.

After Mama and Papa died, Simon sometimes allowed me to sit in the workshop and help on important commissions. He said he was spoiling me by giving into my pleas to work alongside the employees he had inherited from Papa, but I mastered just the right pout to make him let me have my way. I was very young then, though. I do very little pouting now…at least, not on purpose. Triston accuses me of pouting sometimes, but then he laughs and says it is because of the shape of my lips, and I cannot help that, can I? Do you mind if I ask… What is that very odd object you are…well, I’m not sure exactly what you’re doing with it. Your fingers seem to be flying over some sort of board and then odd little characters appear on that flat background that has an odd glow. Some of the sillier servants at Vere Castle might think you are practicing some sort of witchcraft, but I suspect it is simply some sort of object I do not understand. (Lucianna says I am too curious, but she’s not here just now to scold me, and how will I know if I don’t ask?)

Ronda: Exactly! Which is why I, too, am asking you and Joyce so many questions. Just like my--this object is called a computer--seems so foreign and yet even more interesting to you, so, too, does your life seem interesting and foreign to us. In fact, why do you leave your home, with only your friend and a few body guards as protection, to wind up in Triston’s care? Did you leave any friends or family behind?

Siri: This is still somewhat painful to talk about. My brother and first husband both died. My husband was an old man and though I grieved for him, his death was not unexpected. But poor Simon…he was only seven-and-twenty years. A fever took him, as it had both my parents many years earlier. My first husband left me enough wealth that I might have remained in Venice if I’d wished to. But there was an incident…I’d rather not speak of it just now, it was terrifying and I do fear it may have worsened Simon’s fever, forcing him to expend what little strength he had left. Oh, forgive me. I should be past weeping about this by now. Grant me a moment to compose myself… There, that is better. I do so hate to weep in front of strangers. Simon made up his mind that it would not be safe for me to remain in Venice alone. My mother’s brother had sold my grandparents’ business to take up the religious life. Mama said he had never been hard headed enough to succeed as a merchant anyway. So I had no other family but Simon. When he realized he would not recover from his illness, he drew up a will that sold our illuminator shop and dictated that I should use the proceeds to journey to Papa’s homeland in Poitou. Simon had a friend there whom he’d met on a pilgrimage he’d made while I was married to Alessandro. He said he’d grown to trust this man above all other men he had ever known. He said this man would know how to protect me, and I would have promised Simon anything to give his mind ease while he was so ill. So I gave him my word I would obey his wishes when he was gone.

Yes, I left a few friends behind, but none to whom I was deeply attached, except for my mother’s dear friend, Lucianna. She agreed to travel with me to Poitou, and while she can be a bit haughty and trying at times, she remains my dearest friend!

Ronda: What did you expect would happen to you once you arrived at Triston’s?

Siri: Certainly not what did! Naturally, I was very nervous of my reception. I knew Simon had not had time to send word to Triston ahead of time of my coming. I expected him to be surprised. (That may be too mild a word.) But Simon had spoken so warmly of their friendship and with such confidence in his friend’s honor, that I never doubted I should be safe in his guardianship. But what he thought and said and did when he saw me—! Well, certainly nothing could have prepared me for that!

Ronda: Given the political and familial expectations for women in medieval history, what makes you think you can control your destiny?

Siri: Medieval? Is that what you call the time I live in? What an odd word. What does it mean, please?
Ronda: I'm sorry. It just refers to the time you live in.
Siri: Oh, dear, was that Luciana swishing past the doorway? Do you think she’s eavesdropping on us? I’ll be in for a fine scold when we’re done if I keep quizzing you like this. But I do wonder so about curious things! As to your question, you must remember that my parents were not nobles and held no land, which is all that kings and counts and barons care about when marrying their daughters off. And Simon may have been right. I may have been a bit spoiled when I was younger. I married Alessandro without his permission. When Alessandro died, Simon never tried to force me to marry another man. He knew how I would have fought him, and I know he loved me too much to ever wish me to be unhappy. Simon let me have my way about so many things, like sitting in the workshop, that I suppose I simply assumed I could go on in Poitou much as I had in Venice.

Ronda: You are a beautiful, young widow, though, Siri, and it seems you live in such a rough world, so why don’t you wish to remarry?

Siri: It was not that I did not wish to marry again. It is only that I had married Alessandro for convience’s sake, kind though he was and as fond of him as I grew. But I wished for more than fondness and convenience in a second marriage. This time, I longed for a man I could love with all my heart, and who would love me in return. I did not think that too much to ask. Did you not wish to marry for love yourself, Mistress Ronda?

Ronda: Yes, I did. And I do love my husband, but even so, you quickly learned to love Triston. What do you most love about him?

Siri: Oh, my. Must I be so shallow as to admit that his devastating good looks swept my senses away the moment I laid eyes on him? And I cannot deny that that first kiss from him shook me straight to my core. It was so sweet and gentle, so very unlike… Well, let us not speak of that. But of course, I do not love him only for his kisses. I have never met a man more loyal, more honorable, more earnest to be a good father and faithful husband. He is a skillful knight and few men can stand against the strength of his arm. But he does not enjoy bloodshed and war. I suspect he would rarely leave his beloved Vere Castle if duty and Duke Richard did not call him away. We would both choose a quiet life if we could. I like it when he reads to me while I’m painting miniatures in the books his friends or neighbors often commission from me. I can tell from the volumes he chooses that he wishes his father had allowed him to learn to do more than read simple French. Can you imagine? He once read me part of a book called Dialectica, written by Peter Abelard! Even though the volume had been translated into French, we neither one of us understood the half of what Abelard was saying. But I could tell that Triston wished he did. Oh dear, you asked me to name only one thing about him that I love. But tell me truthfully, Mistress Ronda, is it not the composite of the man that makes you love your husband?

Ronda: YES! I love him both for who he is and what he does. Thank you so much, Siri and Joyce, for taking the time to talk to us today. Our conversation has been very "illuminating."

And as a quick reminder to our audience, leave a comment on this and/or the other reviews taking place on DiPastena's blog tour, and your name (one chance for each comment you make) will be entered in a drawing to win one of four prizes: an autographed copy of "Illuminations of the Heart" or three, online, $10 gift certificates toward the purchase of "Illuminations of the Heart" from Amazon.com, DeseretBook.com, or BarnesandNoble.com.
Happy reading . . . and writing!


Joyce DiPastena said...

Thank you so much for interviewing me and Siri today, Ronda. I was a little worried about Siri. I never know what she's going to say behind my back. I'm glad to see that, overall, she behaved herself. :-)

Karen Gowen said...

I haven't read any of her books, but knowing that she writes fully developed well-rounded characters is a huge plus for me. However, I'm generally not a fan of the romance genre. Would a humor and drama fan like this book?

powellra said...

I have read and loved "Loyalty's Web". I did not intend to like it so much. I had borrowed the book and read it 3 times within 48 hours--not an easy task as I have 2 teens at home and I teach full time. I just couldn't put the book down. I have always been a fan of medieval times (I think it stems from my childhood fascination with Cinderella). I found in DiPastena's book a story that follows the time-honored medieval premise. I look forward to reading this new book to follow Tristan...although it will be hard for me to leave behind Gunther and Helene.

Ronda Hinrichsen said...

I'm sorry, Karen, it's not a story I think of as humor or drama, but if you know any historical/medieval romance lovers,this is definitely one to try.

Joyce DiPastena said...

Hi Karen,

I'm usually accused of writing "plot heavy" books, so although Illuminations of the Heart may be a little heavier on the romance than my first book, Loyalty's Web was, it does have additional action going on along with the romance aspect. If you'd like to read the first chapter to get a feel for my writing style, you can visit my blog at http://jdp-news.blogspot.com/2009/06/illuminations-of-heart-chapter-1.html

Powellra, I'm so glad that you enjoyed Loyalty's Web!!! And if I ever get my new WIP whipped into shape (sorry, unintended pun!), you may see Gunthar and Helene again. :-)

Karen Gowen said...

Thanks, Joyce, I will do that! It's not that I am stuck in a particular genre, I like a well-written book and well-drawn characters Period. I've heard so many good things about your books, I want to read one for sure.

Elizabeth Morgan said...

I love the way that Siri always has a strong opinion about something. She does not go about doing anything meekly. She is a girl who has a strong will and will do what she sets her mind out to do.

Miss Mae said...

The more I read about this, the more I'm becoming intrigued! And the excerpts...and hearing from Siri herself...is convincing me even more. :)

And oh...hi, Joyce! *grin*

Laurean Brooks said...

Joyce and Ronda: What an interesting interview! Siri became so real to me while I was reading this.

I wish you much succcess with this story. It certainly captured my attention.

Sharee said...

Ronda, Joyce and Siri
I can't wait to read your new book! I was so impressed with this interview. Do I need to read "Loyalty's Web" before I read "Illuminations of the Heart"?
Sharee Wanner

Sharee Wanner said...

Ronda, Joyce and Siri! I enjoyed the time with all of you immensely. I am definitely going to add your books Loyalty's Web and Illuminations of the Heart to my reading. Ronda this is a great interview. And now that I am introduced to Joyce and Siri I can't wait to read about Gunther and Tristan.
Sharee Wanner

Joyce DiPastena said...

Hi Sharee,

You can read Illuminations as a stand alone book if you want to. (Not that I would want to discourage you from reading Loyalty's Web too, mind you! ;-) )