Winner of the American Christian Fiction Writer's Carol Award for Dauntless!!!

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Medieval Conversation

Here is a fun conversation between me and fellow medieval author DeAnna Dodson from 2011 when my first medieval novel released. Those of you who love the medieval fiction might get a kick out of this. You can check out DeAnna's medieval series here.

DeAnna: Tell me what interested you in the medieval period before you wrote your book. Why did you set your story there and not in a different time period?

Dina at Medieval Times in Florida
Dina: When I started writing Dandelion I knew nothing about markets and trends. I just knew what I liked. Also at the time, I hadn’t decided if I would aim the books at a secular or Christian audience. I wanted to set the book before the Protestant Reformation because I thought it would be a great way to explore spiritual themes in an environment where they would seem organic. The medieval period seemed like a perfect opportunity to have a Christian world view book without being too overtly Christian in the preachy sort of way that annoys secular readers. During that era, everyone was Christian, but being Christian didn’t necessarily mean much. I also thought it would be great to look at Christianity in a different context, before our current Christianese dialect and denominational schisms. Finally, I've been very inspired by Christians from the medieval period. I love the poetry written by the saints of that period, and I wanted the book to reflect their intense spirituality.

So that’s the main reason I chose the medieval period. Knights, castles, and tournaments were just a bonus. Of course in the end, the spiritual aspects of the book really took on a life of their own, and I realized I would have to go in the direction of a Christian publisher.

DeAnna: The church was definitely a huge part of everyone's everyday life back then, whether or not each individual was truly living the faith. You made a great choice, then, for a place where the faith element would seem natural to the story, even to non-Christians.

Dina: Can I turn around the question to you, DeAnna? Why did you choose it for your first series?

DeAnna: I think for my books, besides the castles and the beautiful clothes and chivalry, I liked the idea that the king had such power over people's lives. I mean, these days you can fairly well live where you want and marry who you want and do whatever work you like. Back then, your choices were often much more limited, and your life could be dramatically changed at someone else's whim.

I also wanted to explore the idea of what it would be like to be forced into a position of power you didn't want and didn't feel equipped for and to have your choices affect not only yourself but all your people.

Plus I was heavily influenced by Shakespeare's history plays which are often family dramas with huge political stakes. I had to go medieval.

Dina: To add to what you were saying, I think today we really don't understand what it means to make Jesus the "lord" of our lives. You get a much better concept of this when you study the medieval time period. And I have to say that I loved the way your main character in your book struggled with his role as king and what to do with that power. It was so wonderful. Precisely the way a godly man should respond to that role.

DeAnna: Aww, thanks. I think I mostly just wanted to torture my hero a bit. So did you find anything in your research that surprised you or changed how you look at the medieval era?

Dina: My book is very different since my main character begins as a peasant. It looks at a cross section of society from rich to poor and in between. Dandelion travels to castles, to London, across the seas, and even to an Italian convent.

What surprised me in my research? When I first chose the time, I needed a famine year, and I landed on 1315. As the story idea continued to evolve in my head, I was hoping the time would coincide with some of those Catholic saints, which it did. And I knew that Dandelion would love to dance, especially as a child. However, I didn't think that I could incorporate any sort of worship dance as I'm involved in it today. I had always been led to believe that dancing as worship existed in the Old Testament and then faded away never to return until approximately 1970. Ha ha. Boy, was I wrong.

One day after I had the idea for my book but before I started writing, I was wandering through the library and a book caught my eye: Dance as Religious Studies. So I picked it up and brought it home. In it, I discovered that dance as worship existed throughout the middle ages, coming and going in waves until the enlightenment period when it finally fell out of fashion. Generally, it would thrive for a while until someone would get carried away or a new pope would discourage it, and then it would wane. But it was always around in some form. Finding that book was definitely a God thing. And it allowed me to incorporate something that I love and that has changed my life more fully into the book.

DeAnna: Yeah, it's really interesting how things that I think God meant us to do (like worship Him with our whole selves, including our bodies) gets misinterpreted and misused and repressed, but it always comes out anyway. I'm not a dancer per se, but I do dance sometimes when I worship (as long as nobody but God is watching) and it's glorious.

Did you find yourself modifying some historical realities for modern sensibilities?

I think that language has changed so much that, if we wrote the way our characters actually spoke, nobody would have a clue what they were saying. And there's that whole hygiene thing I just was not going to deal with. True or not, my people were going to take baths and have decent teeth. Of course, since my medieval books are not set in a real place because I wanted to have my own history and royalty, I had a little more latitude in what was and wasn't going to be "real."

Dina: I didn't even try to use medieval speech. As far as I'm concerned, Middle English is foreign language. I did debate on all the 'tis, 'twas, forsooth, type stuff. What I found in my research was that standard romance novels tended to use them, but historicals, like Philippa Gregory's Tudor novels, didn't. So I didn't use them either. I just tried to give an older British sound to the speech, and I tried not to use words or phrases that didn't exist by the time Modern English standardized around the era of King James. (I do use older words in the Dauntless series since it is a romance/adventure novel)

As for the hygiene issues, I actually enjoyed exploring that, although I did it more from the perspective of her contrasting her peasant life with her new life in the castle. Once she escapes from the village she discovers the wonders of baths, hair brushes, tooth scrapers, cosmetics, skin creams, and even indoor plumbing. And when she's in London, I do talk about some of the health and hygiene issues there, although she lives in a nice, upscale townhouse neighborhood.

If I stretched anything, it's just that it would have been so unlikely for a peasant girl to become educated and travel the way she did. But I was careful to set up the story so that it was technically possible. I think there have always been beautiful women who have found ways to climb the social ladder.

DeAnna: Middle English IS a foreign language! It's funny that some people say Shakespeare is "Old English." Ummm, no. It's modern English, but it's just old enough to sound a little strange to our modern ears. Most of the words aren't different.

I guess I wanted to give my dialogue enough difference to be medieval sounding without being stiff or too confusing. I wanted it to have a little music in it, too.

And, yes, I think class constraints would have made it hard for a peasant to rise above her station, but hard doesn't mean impossible. There are plenty of true examples of people who did break away from what usually happened.

Overall, people are people. Whether in the middle ages or today. We have the same struggles and heartaches and challenges. We share the same emotions and shockingly similar spiritual journeys. My book deals with the true meaning of love, worship, intimacy with Christ, and inner-healing. It also deals with ambitions, passions, and fears that are common to all of us. So while a book might be set in the far away medieval times, I think readers will still find much that they'll relate with.

DeAnna: Exactly. No matter how we dress them up, if our characters don't act like people our readers can relate to, then we haven't done our job. Thanks for the chat, Dina. I'm very much looking forward to reading Dance of the Dandelion. I've heard only wonderful things about it!

Order Dance of the Dandelion here.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting conversation from you two interesting ladies. For me, Middle English isn't too hard- it was daunting at first- but once you get used to everything being spelled phonetically, it actually gets easier and makes more sense.

    Old English/Anglo-Saxon is an entirely different ball game......that really is another language.