I interviewed author Joyce DiPastena back in August 2009. Today I'm pleased to welcome her back and spotlight her second novel (and second Whitney Award finalist), Illuminations of the Heart.
Welcome, Joyce. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing silly little stories I never finished since junior high school. When I started a new story my freshman year in college I thought it’d end up the same as all the others…begun but never finished. But this one, my first attempt at a medieval romance, somehow captivated my attention and carried me through all the way to the words “the end”. It took me six years to get there, four years undergraduate and two years of graduate school. Although that book was never published, I’m still in love with its hero to this day!
What genre do you write and why?
I write medieval romances, although I tend to include so much additional plot alongside the romance that I had an agent tell me I don’t really write romances at all. But they’re all romances to me. There may be a lot of other stuff going on…mysteries, assassination attempts, medieval politics…but at the heart of each story is a man and a woman falling in love against all the odds around them.
Where do you get your inspiration to write?
My inspiration comes from many different sources. Sometimes it comes from a book I’ve written before. For example, my first published book, Loyalty’s Web, was based on characters from that first unpublished novel I wrote in college. The hero and heroine of Loyalty’s Web were an elderly married couple in that early romance, and I became curious to find out how they had met and fallen in love, so I wrote Loyalty’s Web to find out the answer.
Sometimes bits and pieces of research will fascinate me and influence how I draw a character’s background. For my second published romance, Illuminations of the Heart, I became interested in the subject of medieval illumination and decided to combine that interest with my new heroine, the daughter of a medieval illuminator from Italy. (Although the novel itself is set in France, like Loyalty’s Web.) During the writing of Illuminations of the Heart, I became interested in the subject of medieval troubadours. So that’s a subject I’m incorporating into the novel I’m writing right now.
Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you to overcome it?
Writer’s block is a toughie. There was a time I thought I had so many ideas that I’d never get writer’s block. Now I find myself struggling with it quite frequently. I’ve discovered it’s not a lack of ideas that I have. It’s a byproduct of stress. When my stress levels go up, I find it very difficult to “turn off” my worries and focus enough to work on my novels.
The thing that has worked best for me through the years is to set a timer for a specific length of time (an hour, two hours, whatever you can set it for) and tell myself that I don’t have to write anything, but I do have to sit at the computer until the timer goes off. I can’t go get a snack, I can’t play any games, I can’t turn on the TV, I can’t do anything except either stare at my blank computer screen or type something. And that “something” has to have something to do with my new story! Sometimes I only type a handful of words, sometimes I’ll end up typing a stream, but whether out of boredom or inspiration, I don’t think I’ve ever not written something before the timer goes off. And no matter how terrible what I wrote might seem at the time, it almost always ends up moving my story along no matter how microscopically. And I always feel better about myself just for trying.
If you could spend an hour talking to anyone from any time in history, who would it be? And Why?
King Henry II of England! I fell in love with Henry II back in high school when I first read The Conquering Family by Thomas B. Costain. Not “romantic” love. There was just something about the way his contemporaries described him that stirred a great affection in me for him. He seemed to be one of those rare kings who was actually more interested in trying to improve his country than in simply enjoying the “glory” or “privileges” of his rank. He is described as a man who hated war, even though circumstances forced him to spend most of his adult life at war. He was a man of tremendous energy and intellect. And he laid important foundations to the legal system that we have inherited from England and enjoy ourselves today.
His legacy was marred by his quarrel with Archbishop Thomas á Becket, and the son who succeeded him, Richard the Lionheart, is a more flashy character of legend. But everything I’ve read about Henry II since those high school days has only increased my love and admiration for this man. Loyalty’s Web and Illuminations of the Heart are both set during his lifetime, and although he has not yet actually appeared on the scene in any of my books, the references I make to him, small though they might be, are my own way of paying tribute to this great, underappreciated king.
What is your next project?
Right now, I’m just calling it “my troubadour book”. It’s based on a character from my second book, Illuminations of the Heart, and once again is set in medieval France.
Okay, let's try some quickie questions:
Favorite food? Chocolate chip cookies
Favorite dessert? Umm…chocolate chip cookies
Jeans and T-shirt, or designer clothes? Both! (Well, not really “designer”, but I also like fun, “nice” clothes.)
Guilty pleasure? Chocolate. (If only I felt more guilt than pleasure from it!)
One word that describes you? Shy. Why do you think this interview is taking place on a blog?
Favorite flower? Snapdragons
Favorite sport? If I absolutely, positively MUST be forced to watch a sport, then I’ll choose figure skating.
Where can readers find a copy of Illuminations of the Heart?
Illuminations of the Heart is available in Deseret Bookstores and some Arizona Barnes & Nobles. It can be ordered directly through Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores, or ordered online at DeseretBook.com, Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Borders.com.
Thank you for the interview, Joyce.