Eilean Donan Castle by DRW Photography

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Heart of Darkness by Odelia Floris

Author Interview

Tell us about yourself

I live on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, the place where I was born and bred. I love stories, in all forms – pictures, songs, poems, drama, opera, story-telling, novels. I am the author of The Heart of Darkness, a medieval mystery/romance which is book 1 in my Chaucy Shire Medieval Mysteries series. I am also the author of Beguile Me Not, a love story set in 1880s New Zealand, and The Little Demon Who Couldn’t, a historical fantasy/paranormal novel for children.     

Tell us about your new book?

I currently have two books ‘in the works’ so to speak. The first is The Cockcrow Curse, which will be Book 2 of The Chaucy Shire Medieval Mysteries. I am very excited about how that book is coming on, and, all going to plan, will have it out by the end of the year. My other current work in progress is a contemporary mystery/romance set in Florence, Italy. The Stolen God tells the story of Angelina, a single mother and museum director whose museum has its most famous exhibit, a large bronze statue of the classical god Apollo, stolen. Leading the police team who turn up is her ex-boyfriend, Marcello Mallucci. From there things just go from bad to worse! 
 When you write, does your real life spill over into your book at any time?

Yes and no. Most of the characters and incidents I write are purely fictional. But where I am at more generally at that particular point in my life does affect what I write, and how I write about it.

Do you think about a book of yours, being made into a movie, or not when writing? 

No, I never think about that. In some ways, I don’t like the idea of my books being made into a movie. When someone sees a movie of a book, the movie’s visual becomes the story visual in that reader’s imagination. It was like that when I saw the Lord of the Rings movies. Elijah Wood’s Frodo was then what I imagined Frodo looking like when I reread the book. I enjoyed the films, so that was alright. But sometimes, I think it can be a bad thing. When you just have the book, you imagine the character for yourself, based on the author’s words. Everyone will imagine it differently. It feels more personal, more internal, then. With some books, the visual is not so big a part of it. But I am a very visual writer. I like to picture it in my mind, and then describe it in words. If one of my books was made into a film, and the actors playing the main characters were not at all as I imagined them, I would dislike that so much.     

When naming your characters, do you give any thought to the actual meaning?

I chose names very carefully, but I go on the word sound, the name’s associations, and whether it fits the character. In one historical bodice-ripper type romance I looked at, the hero (although I hesitate to call him that) was called Hunter Lionel. He was a lord, of course, and very handsome and aggressive and macho. He always got what he wanted. Obviously, the author was thinking about the meaning of those names in using them. Lionel is clearly some form of the word ‘lion’. And Hunter needs no explaining! A name like that is far too obvious for my taste. I don’t want readers rolling their eyes when they come across the characters’ names.  

What made you want to write and also what made you want to write the genre you are writing? 

I have always been very imaginative. As a child, I loved fairytales and stories about gods, heroes, fairies and other magical and mystical beings. I loved role-play games too, and would make up characters and scenarios. I spent quite a bit of time up trees, pretending to be a fairy – and not one of those Disney fairies, all pink tutu and glittery wand. I was a tree or flower fairy, just like the ones in the beautiful Cicely Mary Barker books. Creating stories has always been part of me, and writing is just a continuation of that. Now, instead of being up that tree playing fairies, I just write about it!
Why these genres? I love the romance of these past ages. But choosing a particular genre was never a conscious thing for me. It is about a certain character or characters, in a certain scenario. The genre is whatever fits the story. That comes first. I don’t think so much in terms of genre. It’s about a story I want to tell. I wanted to write about a brave but accident-prone young woman who puts a tortured, stressed knight/sheriff back on the right path. So it had to be a medieval. And the relationships between people is something I am very interested in, and love to write about. Romance is all about relationships between people. But I would call what I write women’s fiction, rather than romance fiction. It is often about love, but it does not always fit the usual romance mould. I try to create characters who are real, and have real problems. I want to address life’s issues, and tell an entertaining story at the same time.     
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? 

I have never had any writer I would call a mentor. I just got going myself. I tend to be quite independent like that. 

Do you have to travel much concerning your books? 

So far, I have never travelled at all concerning my books. I set my stories in places I know, or places I have learned about through reading, research, photographs and film. The story idea usually comes first, and then I go and research anything I need to know about. 

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Editing is the hardest part, in many ways. In takes hours, and repeated reading through, to iron out every typo, incorrect word and awkward sentence. And even when you have gone over it so many times that the thought of doing yet another read-through makes you feel like screaming, you skim through your book and find some little error that got missed. I find writing the book the easy, fun part. It is all the proofreading, formatting, publishing and publicizing that is the hard part.  
 When you start writing your book, do your H/H ever talk to you?

No, but they do talk to each other, and the other characters in the story. I try to get a very strong vision of who the main characters are and what they look like. Then I try to just write their dialogue very freely. That is how we talk in real life. We are often forming our thoughts as we talk, using the talking to think. I try to write dialogue in that same way. Often characters say unexpected things, particularly when responding to something another character has just said. Fast and free dialogue can sometimes end up moving the plot forward in exciting, unplanned ways, and developing the character and the relationships between the characters. I love writing dialogue.  
Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Not really. Sometimes I want to make some progress on a book, but just feel too tired or drained. That is not true writer’s block, where the words just won’t come. I’ve never – touch wood! – been struck with that. If I’m returning to a writing project after a bit of a break, I read over some of what I’ve already written, to get in the mood and voice of that book. I also use music to get in the flow of things. I find it very helpful for getting going. But it can’t just be any type of music. The music has to suit the mood of what I’m writing. If I’m writing a medieval story, I listen to medieval music. I love medieval music, and listening while I write really helps with the period feel and just generally getting the words flowing.

Do you have any tips for our readers that might dream of writing?

Write the kind of story you want to read.
Read some basic how-to-write books – I particularly recommend Valerie Parv’s The Art of Romance Writing. Even if you want to write some genre other than romance, this book is really good at giving you the basic elements of fiction writing without overwhelming you. It is the best book on the subject I have come across. I found it very useful when I starting working on my first novel. There are a lot of creative writing blogs and websites out there too. Some of them might be of use to you. Definitely read my creative writing blog, The Muse, which you will find on my website – www.odeliafloris.com.
Read good writing. This is the single most important thing. And don’t just read modern books of the genre you are interested in writing. Read poetry, read the classics, like Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. These great writers of the past had an incredible mastery of language, and were great thinkers too. 
Write because you love it, not because you think you’ll make money. The writing game is hard work, and often delivers few financial rewards. Having said that, fiction writing can be very enjoying, therapeutic, interesting and creative. If you want to write, just go for it.

Character Interview

Spoiler alert – if you have not yet read The Heart of Darkness (The Chaucy Shire Medieval Mysteries, Book 1), the following character interview contains a couple of spoilers.
1st of June, 1431 (three weeks after the last scene in The Heart of Darkness). Rowena is approached by a strange scribe, who asks her if she would mind answering some questions about herself…

What are your strongest/weakest traits?
I am very determined. When I resolve upon doing something, almost nothing will stop me. Usually, that is a good thing. Few worthwhile achievements are attained without first overcoming many obstacles. But sometimes, I become so fixed on solving the problem at hand that I ignore the dangers I am exposing myself too. I think that is more the result of naivety than foolhardiness, though. Some people say I am very brave, but half the time, I am either oblivious to the dangers facing me or too fixed-sighted to notice. 

What are your fears?
My husband is too proud and has a hot temper. It has caused him trouble enough over the years. One day, I am afraid that it will be the death of him. It very nearly did, when he was forced to confront Sir Roger de Wintore at Shrewsbury Tournament. He has narrowly escaped death many times. Of course, he is a warrior and a man of great valor. I love him for that. But he is a husband now, and has many responsibilities as sheriff too. I worry constantly. I wish he would exercise more caution and restraint.
I too have many responsibilities now, as mistress of Eaglestone Castle and wife of the Sheriff of Chaucy. I care very much about all the folk at Eaglestone, and the people of this, my shire. I worry about keeping everyone safe, and about fulfilling my new duties. I also fear meeting my mother-in-law, Lady Hastings. From what I have heard of her, she sounds like a formidable and frankly unpleasant woman. If she ever does design to visit me, I am sure she will not approve of me at all. 

Did you love Sir Richard from the moment you first saw him?
I will not deny that he made a powerful impression on me when first I set eyes upon him.  But no, I did not fall in love with him at first sight. He fascinated and appalled me, in equal measures. How he was at that time, I could never wholly love such a man. It is such a difficult question… I suppose I did love him in some way, even then. It was an odd thing; I felt our destinies were entwined, I felt this powerful drew – it was just that I was unsure whether he would be the making of me or the death of me! He was me fate, and I was his. Part of me always knew that to be so. 

Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?
There are far too many too mention. I must surely be the clumsiest woman in all England. Of course, Sir Richard thinks it terribly funny. I do not find it so. Spilling that goblet of water into his lap, when I barely knew him and was more than a little afraid of him, was no laughing matter – not for me, at any rate. He obviously found the incident vastly amusing. But he can just sit there and laugh. I, on the overhand, must mop up, set things to rights, and sew the tears in my gowns. He would be much less amused if he were the one forever sewing up torn clothing. I greatly dislike sewing. It is very tedious.  
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
 You do ask some difficult questions. Trait I deplore… I have to say that there are none. That is not to say that I do not have faults and weaknesses. But I endeavor to live a virtuous life, and to better myself as much as I am able. If you deplore a trait in yourself, you should try very hard to rid yourself of that trait. Sometimes a bad trait is so much a part of a person that they cannot manage to rid themselves of it, but there are no reasonable excuses for not trying.  
What people do you most admire?
I admire people who are wise, brave and virtuous. They are the only things by which you should measure a person. I greatly admire people who never cease striving no matter how great the obstacles facing them are – I mean people striving for noble, worthwhile things, obviously. Many people strive after vain, ignoble things. That is never admirable.    

If you were to get a gift, what would be the best gift to get?
Money. We always need money. Sir Richard still owes the King a great deal of money in unpaid taxes. If the King finds out how much tax Sir Richard failed to pay him, we might be in a great deal of trouble. I fear it greatly.  I should have added that when you asked me what I feared, but I was concerned my answer to that question was becoming too long. 

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
I do not believe any virtue to be overrated. Rather, there are many that are underrated.   

 What is your most treasured possession?
I treasure the few books I am blessed to have (they are worth a great deal of money), and the thin gold pendent my late mother gave me. That is not worth much in coin, but it is the only material thing I have left to remember her by. However, now that I am married, I have a new treasured possession: my husband. He tells me that I own him now. Exasperating as he can sometimes be – and he really can be very trying, you must believe me – I love him more than anything else in the world.  

What season do you enjoy most? And why?
I love every season in the year. They all have their delights, and half of that delight is in the change. There is nothing quite like seeing the first spring flower bravely peeping above the snow, tasting the first autumn berries, or lying out in the meadow or by the riverside on the first true summer day of the year. If I must chose just one time of the year, I cannot but chose the month of May. The sunshine, the joyfully chorusing songbirds, the fresh-clothed trees, the blossoming boughs, the surging life everywhere – all are so dear to me. And a sweet season became sweeter to me still, when I married my beloved in the month of May and we lay together up on the warm hillside overlooking the valley, joined forever as one. Those two perfect joys will be forever entwined in my memory.

Odelia Floris website: www.odeliafloris.com

The Heart of Darkness on Amazon: