Julie K. Rose, author of The Pilgrim Glass (August 15-August 21)
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I'm sorry I'm late. I have the great honor of being the designated interviewer for Julie and her new book.
So, my first could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer. What inspires you as a writer? Or as a reader?
No worries...I'm an early bird!
A little about myself...well, I live in the Bay Area with my husband and our cat Pandora. I took a B.A. in Humanities and an M.A. in English, but my work has been in marketing and communications. Essentially, from the time I entered the workforce, I assured myself I was not creative, and settled in to work on integrated marketing communications plans, organize trade shows and events, make ad buys, write executive speeches -- the usual work of a marcom manager.
In 2002, my husband and I visited France on vacation, and I was so impressed by our visit to Vézelay, I was compelled to write about it. I haven't looked back since, and frankly, I could not imagine my life without writing. It felt like coming home, writing those first few paragraphs.
A lot of things inspire me as a writer, but most particularly history and how people move in and out of it (both in time and place), the intersection of the spiritual and secular, what influences and forms people and their personalities, and the deep instinctual draw of the land.
As a reader, I'm inspired by beautiful prose and fantastic characterization (I still hold Patrick O'Brian's Aubreyiad as my gold standard).
What inspires you, as readers? Have you ever visited a place that hit you right in the gut, like my trip to Vézelay?
Hey, I'm suppose to ask the questions! LOL!
I had a similar experience when I moved from Iowa to the edge of the Mojave Desert. I moved home. I can't explain it any more -- the desert is part of me and I'm part of it.
You kind of answered my next question as to if you had visited Vézelay. You did a wonderful job of describing the town in your novel, so I did suspicion you had been there. But what about Vézelay was so appealing? There are a lot of nice towns in Burgundy. What does this French town have that other French cathedral towns don't?
You are certainly right - there are a number of very beautiful towns in Burgundy. We were staying in Beaune, which was very charming in its own right, and we spent many happy days driving around the Côte d'Or.
It must have been the alchemy of the right place, at the right time. We were in France in November, so it had been chilly, but the weather changed and it was downright cold when we visited Vézelay. Because we were in the off-season, it wasn't packed with people. In fact, we only saw a few other tourists in the town, probably because it was so darn cold, and had just left off raining.
I think the feeling that we had the town and this massive church to ourselves was appealing, and it allowed me to connect more directly with the spirit, the energy there.
Plus, I loved that it is on top of a hill, with beautiful countryside rising up to meet it. I also really loved that there was this ginormous, imposing cathedral surrounded by a very sweet and charming little town.
That does sound spectacular! I was always impressed by small English towns with huge cathedrals -- where you could see the spires from everywhere in town.
So, you found a location you loved and wanted to write about. But that would make the writing a guidebook. Instead you wrote a mystery centered on a piece of 12th century stained glass. Where did you get the idea for your novel? Why stained glass and not say a piece of parchment?
Another great question!
Two things happened on that trip that ended up being the seeds of the novel.
The first was a visit to the Wine Museum in Beaune. As I was walking down a spiral staircase between floors, I passed a leaded glass window that had what looked to be very old glass in it - the kind that has the waves and the seeds. Imperfect and beautiful. It stopped me in my tracks, and made me wonder--what would it take to repair a stained glass? What kind of personality would one need? I've always been fascinated by stained glass--there's just something about the color, the symbolism, the light--but had never really thought about what it would take to create it, or repair it. So that was the first seed.
The next seed was the visit to Vézelay, which happened a day or two later. I let them germinate and combine for a couple of months, and in January 2003 I started writing the book, which was completely unplanned. The shoots just pushed themselves out of the ground...I hadn't planned to write a book about Vézelay and stained glass; it just kind of happened.
Did that make any sense?
Also: this is so fun!
Yes, it makes sense and it's very interesting.
Before I ask more detailed questions about the writing process and the novel itself, maybe you'd like to provide everyone with a brief summary. (I'd do it but I think that it would be best from the author herself.)
ETA: I agree -- this is fun!!!
The Pilgrim Glass is the story of an artist, a priest, and a photographer, and the restoration of a stained glass one summer in Vézelay, France. This is no ordinary glass, however; it has a strange, almost hypnotic effect on them, changing them in positive and destructive ways.
Jonas Flycatcher, a well-respected but prickly artisan is contracted to repair a stained glass found deep in the ancient altar of the cathedral of Mary Magdalene at Vézelay. Traveling from California to Burgundy for the project, he meets Abbot Dubay, a worldly priest with a painful secret. Jonas begins the laborious work of restoring the stained glass offering, but when he meets Meredith, an ex-pat photographer who seems to be channeling a 12th century pilgrim, his carefully constructed world - and the ancient glass - are threatened.
Thus, basically you have two stories -- the modern one where Jonas, Dubay, and Meredith interact and then medieval one with a pilgrim to the cathedral.
I've seen this type of historical story within a modern story before, but it's been done either with alternating chapters of the book or even through pieces of ancient/medieval documents. This is the first time I've seen it with one character channeling the past. I was a bit skeptical at first that this would work in a serious story, but you did it quite well and it just seemed "right".
So, were the two stories present from when you began writing the novel? Did you set out to have Meredith channel the pilgrim? And why did you use channeling as a means to link the two stories?
Both stories were not present, at least not consciously.
I had a very, very general outline when I started writing, and the pilgrim was not included. She grew naturally out of both a line of thinking--if I wanted to know what kind of person it would take to repair stained glass, what about one who created it? Under what circumstances? What drove them? And that question led to the pilgrim. Her emotions around creating the glass mirrored Meredith nicely.
I didn't really choose channeling, again, at least not consciously. It's a very intimate approach, and though Meredith is the main connection point, there are other ways the pilgrim reaches out, to Jonas especially. There's an energy vibration there, in the glass and in the village, that connects them all.
I have mixed feelings and thoughts on the whole idea of channeling, reincarnation, energy vibrations, etc. You included some of this in your book. So, naturally, I have to ask, what are your thoughts and feelings on these 'supernatural' events/ideas?
I have a question about Jonas himself. He's a reluctant hero, maybe even an anti-hero - I know some people told you he should be more "likeable". (I disagree, obviously.) My question is, did he start out more conventional and roughen up as you wrote, or was he intentionally prickly from the start?
Well, as you can imagine, I'm pretty open minded about such things. But really, I'm even more interested in what it would mean to someone to have an event like that happen to them. Would it drive them mad? Confirm a deeply held belief? Would they take it in stride?
Jonas started out prickly, for sure. He's cranky and insecure and quick to take offense, and not as quick to forgive, I think. To me he's very real, and I think that makes him much more interesting. He's screwed up, like the rest of us, you know? The only real change from first draft to last was cleaning up his language a bit (if that can be believed!).
If there are other readers out there with questions, feel free to jump in!
Jonas brings up an interesting topic -- research. I know a bit about how stained glass is created and restored and about artistic temperaments. I know more about medieval history. You got it right in both areas!
How long did it take you to do the research for this book? What were some of the major problems you encountered in your research?
I'm very gratified that I got it right!
The research basically took as long as it took to write the book, because I continued to check facts and learn throughout the process. I did my initial research at two of our local university libraries, and two books were very important: Vézelay, the Great Romanesque Church by Veronique Rouchon Mouilleron (1999) and Hugh of Poitiers: the Vézelay Chronicle John Scott and John O. Ward (1992) (and yes, I stole Marie-Laure's surname from the first).
The Hugh of Poitiers was particularly useful, as it covered a piece of fascinating history: the burning of the church in 1120. That event was the jumping-off point for the pilgrim aspect of the story. There were quite a few other texts on 12th century Burgundy and France that were very useful, as well as some online sources (all of which are detailed in the Acknowledgements).
In terms of stained glass repair, I found a number online resources that were very valuable; I'll have to dig through my research notes to get the details. One of the things I'd love to do is actually see a restoration in process, in person; looks like The Stained Glass Centre in York will be a fantastic place to do just that.
And I have to say, though I enjoy the hell out of research, I'm in the "get on with writing the story" camp. Research can be a terrible form of (very pleasant) procrastination, and there is a temptation to shoe-horn in everything you've learned (because, come on: it's cool!) to the detriment of the story.
LOL! "Research can be a terrible form of (very pleasant) procrastination,..."
So, if you liked doing the research on the medieval history of Vézelay, why not write a historical novel without modern connections? There's a lot of interesting aspects of that cathedral and the monks.
There's a lot of interesting aspects of that cathedral and the monks.
Oh tons, for sure. So, so many intrigues and political struggles. A lot of drama with the Clunaics!
I guess the short answer is that Jonas insisted on being who he was, firmly in the year 2000.
Out of personal curiosity, what did you think of the Vézelay Chronicle ( Hugh of Poitiers: the Vézelay Chronicle translated by John Scott and John O. Ward )? Had you read any other medieval sources prior to this? I ask because I know some people are startled by the brevity of chronicle entries.
The characters in TPG are so compelling to me; I'm curious to know how much of their backgrounds/backstories might have been left on the cutting room floor, so to speak, and if you'd consider expanding on any of them in the future?
Oh my gosh, Linda, it was many, many moons ago that I read the Vézelay Chronicle. I had not read other mediaeval sources prior so I can't say that I was surprised. I do know it was incredibly valuable to give me a grounding.
I'm really glad the characters are compelling. They've been with me for so long now (I started writing this book in 2003), it's very gratifying to know that they are compelling to readers!
There was quite a bit of backstory left on the cutting room floor, especially Dubay. One of my favorite cutting-room scenes is set at the Sorbonne, and...well, I don't want to say too much for fear of spoilers. Dubay is a suave dude, that's all I'm going to say. :)
I think it would be fun to revisit these characters someday, but I've got a lot of other stories and characters and landscapes to explore before that time. They're always rattling around in the back of my brain, so it will happen one day.
Which one of the characters was the easiest to write? Which the hardest? And which character is your favorite?
BTW, those quick little scenes between Dubay and Pascal are priceless! They really helped to show Dubay was very much a normal person, and not a starched-collared abbot.
Those scenes with Dubay and Pascal made me laugh when I wrote them, and I have to admit, they still make me giggle when I read them now.
Dubay was definitely the easiest to write, with Jonas a close second. It felt very natural to write both of them, and I could fairly easily get into their heads and the rhythms of their speech.
Meredith was a bit harder; it took me a little while to understand where she was coming from, and the storyline that led to the revelation at the end was as much a surprise to me as anyone. Writing male vs. female characters has been an interesting journey for me.
I like them all, but if I had to choose, it would be a horse race between Jonas and Dubay. I think Dubay would win by a nose, though. He was an unplanned part of the story (as was Marie-Laure) and it was really exciting when they wandered in and took on such large roles. There's just something about his mix of worldliness and faith that is compelling to me, and his sense of humor makes me laugh.
I can't believe Dubay was unplanned! He is such an important part of the story.
You mentioned Marie-Laure. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but she struck me as a Mary Magdalene figure. She seems to be the only major character without serious flaws. She also seems to be the glue that holds Meredith, Jonas, and Dubay together as individuals and as a group. What do you think of this interpretation?
Do you give your characters interpretations beyond their personas?
You mentioned Marie-Laure. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but she struck me as a Mary Magdalene figure.
That is fascinating. I hadn't conceived of her in that way, nor had I ever seen her in that way (at least consciously). But I can definitely see how that could be an interpretation. She has had her challenges throughout her life, but I like to think that she's achieved some wisdom. I also think that perhaps she doesn't express her negative emotions quite as readily as the others so perhaps her flaws aren't quite as apparent as the others'.
I love her to bits, though. Like Dubay, she makes me laugh.
And yes, she is a steadying influence for all of them, for sure.
The whole novel in one sense revolves around faith. The pilgrim had her faith in Mary and so was making her journey. Dubay had his faith in God and dedicated his life. Marie-Laure had hers in her academic world.
What did Meredith and Jonas believe in?
Meredith believed in her mother. When she died, it really unmoored her. I think above all, though, she believed in her unworthiness as a person, despite her achievements.
Jonas believes in art. It was not only his way to escape, but through it he learned to believe in something larger than himself.
Jonas believes in art. It was not only his way to escape, but through it he learned to believe in something larger than himself.
I might disagree to some degree. Jonas went from a painter who created art to a restorer of stained glass. There was a shift from expressing himself to allowing others' expressions to once again shine. Was this from a lack of self-confidence or did he do it for purely economical reasons? Do you envision him returning to California and beginning to do more original work?
I think there were a lot of things that motivated Jonas to become a restoration expert, including self-confidence issues and economic benefit, but also a reverence for, and desire to be close to, something so beautiful and amazing. I do see this experience opening him up again, to a lot of things.
You said, "I started writing this book in 2003." That's 7 years from the time you started to the book's publication. Why did it take so long?
The book was seven years from first word to publication because, well, that's how long it took.
Selden Edwards spent 20 years writing The Little Book, and who knows how long after that to get it published. Tolkien spent 10+ years writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy. On the other hand, some authors can write a book and get it published the same year.
I expect it's different for every book and every author.
I've heard or at least have the image of an author struggling to get the first draft on the page. You said you didn't use a tight outline of the story and several characters (Dubay for example) just "happened". So was your first draft painless to write? Was writing without a clear outline scary?
Please share a little bit about how you write.
Stories often start for me with an image or feeling--it doesn't come from nowhere, because of course it's down in the sub- or unconscious, but it feels like it comes out of nowhere. For example, I shifted a recent work in progress to Tunisia because I could not shake the images of that country from my mind. Or the stories start with a "Huh, that's interesting. I wonder why/if/how..." (very much like scientists, I think). And sometimes, it starts with a character who wanders into my brain and won't go away. And sometimes, it's all three (as with The Pilgrim Glass).
From the story idea, I do a very rough outline; sometimes, I'll just dive in and start writing and see where it takes me, and then pause later to work on an outline. Usually in the beginning stages, I'll do some character work--who are they, what do they care about, etc.--but that is often revealed more fully in the writing of the story. What I do try to do near the beginning is a rough chronology and--probably because of my interest in genealogy--family trees. For some reason, knowing who a character's great-grandmother is and when and where they were born is often important to my process.
I like the excitement of seeing where the story is going as it plays out like a movie in my head; I love the alchemy of the creative process. Which is not to say I don't go in and make changes (structural, plot point, character) in the editing process. But that first draft is where I just go with it and see where it leads me.
For a number of years, I used notebooks to keep track of research notes, chronologies, and outlines, and then I would draft in Word. But since I shifted to using Scrivener, I can keep it all in one place on my Mac, including audio and video files, which is incredibly helpful. And once the first draft is done, I'll let it sit for a month or three, work on something else, and come back to it. I have to do my edits by hand, so I'll print the whole thing out and get to slashing. After a round or two of editing, I'll send it to my trusted early readers for their input and edits, do another couple of rounds, lather, rinse, repeat--but not forever! Neil Gaiman was wise when he said, "Make good art that says sort of what you set out to say and then, when it's good enough for jazz, go on to the next thing."
And that was probably way too much information!
One of the things I'm most curious about and fascinated by is how tiny threads from an author's life get woven into their prose. As an example, there are some scifi authors that I read that it's so clear to me which scientific journals and articles they had read that gave them crumbs of ideas for their stories.
Do you find this to be true for you? That the people you meet, news you read pop up in your fictional worlds? Or is it different for a writer of historical fiction?
P.S. I loved Marie-Laure so very much! Thank you for sharing her with us. And to chime in on an earlier discussion here, I don't see her as a Magdalene figure at all. She's quite flawed, but like all beautiful old things, those flaws just add to her beauty and her grace.
Oh most definitely, threads from my life are woven throughout my stories, in the plot, the setting, the people. They can be in very obvious ways--for example, one of my novels is based loosely on the lives of my great-great-aunts in Norway--or subtle, like a nervous tic I noticed in a friend and worked into a character. I think a lot of writers are like magpies, collecting shiny (and not-so-shiny) bits, whether consciously or unconsciously, which get used in our stories.
It makes me so happy to hear that you loved Marie-Laure. I adore her.
"one of my novels"? Since The Pilgrim Glass is your first novel, I take it you have other novels in various stages of completion. Care to share anything about them?
I do, indeed. I've got three additional novels that are complete, and three more that are in different states of done-ness.
Of the three that are complete, one's a contemporary/paranormal, one's a contemporary/historical/timeslip, and the last is a straight historical. The historical is called Oleanna, and was recently short-listed for the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom award, which was very cool.
Yes, I've been very fortunate with The Pilgrim Glass - it was short-listed in the Faulkner-Wisdom, and was a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.
And so far, so good with the reception. Based on what I'm seeing at Amazon, here at LT, at book blogs, and at (shhhh) Goodreads, readers are not only really liking the book, they get it, which is very gratifying. So, yes. Quite pleased indeed with the reception.
You're doing something right as an author to get these awards. You also seemed to have progressed far as a writer in a short time. I was told once that any artist (writer, painter, etc) needs to stuff the craft of their art, do their art, and then learn from that piece to move on and grow as an artist.
So, what did you learn from writing, editing, and promoting The Pilgrim Glass? Secondly, are there things in this novel that now with more writing experience you would like to change?
Sure, in anything you write, you see things you'd like to change. But you can't get stuck in that time-loop of editing and re-editing, because you could do it for the rest of your life. Like you said, you have to learn, and move on.
I learned some very practical things during the experience of writing The Pilgrim Glass--the importance (for me) of a regular writing schedule, for one. I get up early (usually around 4:30) and write for an hour or so before I go to work. I'm naturally a morning person, so it makes the most sense, and the habit is now ingrained: morning means writing (or editing). So that's been very helpful.
But I'd say the biggest thing I learned is to trust myself, trust my voice, trust my instincts--in terms of my writing, but in my life overall as well.
This is another one of those "I love to know what authors think" type of questions. What is your view on ebooks? Do you read them? Are they are necessary evil? Will physical books be sold 30 years from now only as print on demand because ebooks have taken over?
I love ebooks as a concept, but not for me personally (yet). I love the physicality of holding a book, feeling the pages, seeing the beautiful covers every time I look over at my nightstand. I like going to the library to pick up my books on hold, I like browsing in a bookstore, I like turning down page corners and making notes in the margins of books I own (yes, I'm one of those people). I like walking by my bookshelves and the memories each spine or cover evokes.
That said, I can definitely see the benefit of an ebook reader when you're on the go, especially when traveling, and the readers themselves have improved significantly even over a year ago. I can totally understand why people love them.
I honestly don't know how this is all going to play out. We thought vinyl would be obsolete with the advent of CDs and then digital downloads, and yet it's still being produced (though of course not in the quantities of 30-40 years ago) and loved by listeners and collectors. Perhaps it will be the same with books? So hard to say.
So, when is the next Julie K. Rose book being released? And can you give us a preview of what it is about?
Well...I can't say anything right now, but hopefully soon!
I'll be posting updates on my website and blog, so stay tuned.
Soon would be good!
Anyway, you have been a delight to interview/chat with, Julie. Thank you for answering my questions with thought and care. I wish you the very best of luck and great success in your writing endeavors.
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