Q&A with Joyce DiPastena
Joyce dreamed of green medieval forests while growing up in the dusty copper mining town of Kearny, Arizona. She filled her medieval hunger by reading the books of Thomas B. Costain (where she fell in love with King Henry II of England), and later by attending the University of Arizona where she graduated with a degree in history, specializing in the Middle Ages. The university was also where she completed her first full-length novel...set, of course, in medieval England. Later, her fascination with Henry II led her to expand her research horizons to the far reaches of his "Angevin Empire" in France, which became the setting of her first published novel, Loyalty's Web (a 2007 Whitney Award Finalist).
When she’s not writing, Joyce loves to read, play the piano, eat chocolate, and spend time with her sister and friends. A highlight of her year is attending the annual Arizona Renaissance Festival.
Joyce is a multi-published, multi-award winning author who specializes in sweet medieval romances heavily spiced with mystery and adventure. She lives with her two cats, Nyxie and Calypso, in Mesa, Arizona.
Q: Hi Joyce, Thanks a lot for your time. To kick off this interview, can you tell us a little about yourself?
A. Thank you so much for inviting me, Dana! My biography pretty much says it all. I’m a medieval-holic, if there is such a word, and of course, I love to write. And I’m a romantic. I love stories with happy, hopeful endings, so that’s the kind of stories I like to write. But I make my heroes and heroines work hard to reach those happy endings, because for me, the greater the struggle, the sweeter the reward. And I like mixing up the romance with a little mystery, when I can. I enjoy the challenge of trying to add some unexpected twists and turns to my stories for the reader.
Q: Are your characters based on real people?
A. No, my main characters are all imaginary. People ask me if I ever base any of my characters on myself. Sometimes, but only in super tiny, tiny ways. I made one of my heroines bad at embroidery because I was bad at embroidery when my mother tried to teach it to me growing up. And when another of my heroines suffered a serious blow to the head, I used some of my migraine experiences to describe her pain. But the vast, vast, vast majority of my characters, their personalities, etc, are totally fictitious.
That said, sometimes I do include actual medieval people as secondary characters, but they usually have fairly small roles in my books.
Q: Out of all your books, which one is your favourite and why?
A. That’s like picking a favorite child. Even if I had one, it would make my other books feel bad if I said it out loud, so I’ll just say, “I love all my books equally.” J
Q: All of your novels are set in the Medieval period, are there other periods you’d like to write about?
A. I once had an idea of creating a medieval family and following their descendants through various time periods, but I’ve never done it. I keep thinking up too many new “medieval” ideas to write first. Maybe someday. We’ll see.
Q: Are you planning any more book in the Poitevin Hearts Series? (I must admit that I first read Loyalty’s Web because it was set in France- love the characters and all the twists and turns by the way)
A. Thank you so much! I loved writing that book! I do have some ideas for more books in my Poitevin Hearts series, including sort of a “second generation” (children of the original characters) series. I’ve got notes for some of those stories. A couple are partially written, but not completed. They’ll have to wait a bit longer, because I’m working on a different idea now, although it’s still medieval.
Q: What is your favourite period in History?
My interest in King Henry II of England drew me into the early world of the Plantagenets—Henry II and his sons, Richard the Lionheart and King John, so most of my books thus far have been set in the 12th and early 13th centuries. Those are the eras I’m most comfortable writing in, because I’ve been researching and writing in them for so long. To be honest, I’ve always avoided the 14th century because I don’t want to write about when the Black Death came to Europe. I’ve read about it and it’s just too depressing for me. So I might write a little earlier—give the 11th century a try sometime?—but my stories probably won’t go much later than 13th century.
Q: Medieval England or Medieval France?
A. Medieval England is easier to research because there are lots of research sources in English. But medieval France was where a lot of English political action was taking place in the 12th and 13th centuries, so there are lots of built-in opportunities for political tension and intrigue. Unfortunately I don’t read French, so it’s harder to research for me, but there are more translated resources now than there were when I wrote Loyalty’s Web, so I’ll probably continue setting stories in both countries.
Q: When did you write your first novel- tell us about it?
A. I wrote my first novel when I was in college. To be honest, I wasn’t trying to write a novel, I thought I was just kind of playing around with a story. I was quite surprised when one day I typed “the end” and realized I had a full-length novel on my hands. That was when I first started wondering, “Hmm, I wonder if I could publish this thing?” That was many years ago, and although I had an agent for it for a few years and received some positive feedback from publishers, it never sold. Now I’m glad that it didn’t, because while the story and romance were solid, the writing itself really wasn’t the best. Many years later, after learning a LOT more about writing, I rewrote that novel and published it as The Lady and the Minstrel. The Historical Novel Society has given it a “highly recommended” rating. I’m sure it wouldn’t have earned that back in my college days. Giving yourself time to study and grow as a writer truly does pay off in the end.
Q: Have you got a writing routine?
A. I’ve found the writing method that works best for me is to set a timer for an hour and write, take a break to do some stretches, set the timer for another hour and write, then take another break, etc. I’m often stuck on a plot problem and getting frustrated at the end of an hour, but if I take that break to walk around, do some stretches, etc, my mind gets a little rest and clears up a little and I can start seeing that plot problem at more of a distance, and then solutions for solving it start coming to me. So I’m ready to dive back into the story. Some authors are very fast writers. I write very slowly. Timers help keep me on track.
Q: Can you describe your writing space?
A. Right now, it’s a couple of TV trays, one piled with research books, the other for my laptop while I’m typing. I’m not very fancy. I’ve found that when I’m writing, I’m so busy trying to visualize the world I’m creating that I don’t even notice what the room around me looks like, so I don’t really need a decorated space or a “room with a view”. I do need silence, though. I can’t write to music or a lot of background noise. So a quiet room is more important to me than a fancy writing space.
Q: What is the most difficult part about writing?
A. Getting started. Every day. That blank page, or coming up with the next line of wherever I left off the day before. Writing that first sentence of every day is terrifying for me. I know that sounds silly, but I think other writers will understand. I think that’s why writers are such great procrastinators. We love to write. We WANT to write. But that first sentence of the day is so terrifying that we’ll make up all kinds of excuses to avoid having to come up with it.
Q: At the moment, you’re researching for your next novel, can you tell us a little more about it?
A. I have an idea for a sort of four-part romance/mystery series rolling around in my head right now. The concept is that each book would be a standalone romance so the reader isn’t left hanging, but there will be an underlying mystery that gradually grows throughout the series, until the full mystery is revealed in Book 4. That was my original concept, but now I’ve come up with an idea for a prequel to kick the whole thing off, so that’s what I’m currently working on. For the first time, I will be setting my stories in actual historical locations. The prequel takes place at Corfe Castle in the reign of King John, the four part romance/mystery series will take place in medieval Bristol during the reign of King John’s son, Henry III. I’m finding it’s a lot easier to set stories in imaginary castles, as I’ve done with all my previous books, than to set them in a “real place”, like Corfe Castle and Bristol in the early 13th century. I’ve been spending huge amounts of research time trying to nail down the 13th century details of both locations. But it’s been a fun challenge. I hope I can do both locations justice in my stories.
Q: Any advice for someone who is just starting out writing or thinking about writing?
A. A friend recently asked me this very question for her 19 year old son who is interested in writing. So I’ll tell you what I told her: The first thing any new writer needs to do is learn all the different techniques that go into creating a good story and how to implement those techniques into your story. I’m talking about things like: how to create good characters; how to motivate your characters; how to write good dialogue scenes; how to write good description without weighing down a story with too much description; what is point-of-view and how do your write it well; how to you “show” instead of “tell” a story. Study and learn the craft, because writing truly is a craft. A well-written story is a story that readers will want to read. It’s the difference between my college novel that had great potential but inexperienced writing, and the same story incorporating all the writing techniques I just listed earning a “highly recommended” rating from a respected historical review association. So learn the craft. And write write write.
Q: Now, just a few questions just for the fun of it. When you do research for your book and come across a historical recipe (food or beauty) do you try them to see what it’s like? If so, what was it?
A. Sadly, I’m a terrible cook, so I haven’t dared try any recipes I come across. I’m sure they wouldn’t come out remotely like the recipe books expect! But my sister recently retired and she loves to cook, so I may have her give some recipes a try for me. I don’t like to cook, but I do love to eat, so I expect that arrangement would turn out well. J
Q: What do you do when you are not writing?
A. Eat too much chocolate.
Q. Any non-writing related hobbies?
A. I enjoy listening to music. I used to play the piano for fun, but I’ve developed arthritis in my fingers and can’t play as much now. I also enjoy reading, but that’s sort of writing-related since consciously or subconsciously my brain is always absorbing writing-related stuff, whether I’m reading fiction or non-fiction. (You never know when you’ll come across a good plot idea in non-fiction.)
Q: Are you on social media? Where can people interact with you?
A. People can interact with me on my Facebook page: I’m also on Twitter (@JoyceDiPastena), but I’m not on there a lot. Most of what I do on Twitter is follow people who post medieval art and retweet it, because I love medieval art, especially medieval manuscripts. So if you follow me on Twitter, that’s most of what you’ll see. I also love interacting with readers through my newsletter. I hold monthly giveaways with my subscribers and play games with them sometimes and I love getting to know my subscribers better that way. If your readers are interested in giving my newsletter a try, they can sign up on my website. Everyone who signs up receives a free copy of my medieval romance, Loyalty’s Web, book 1 in my Poitevin Hearts Romance series.
Website: https://joycedipastena.com (join Joyce’s newsletter and receive a free download of Loyalty’s Web)
You can purchase Joyce’s books here