VCFA’s The Launch Pad interviews Joyce Ray about Feathers & Trumpets

Welcome Joyce Ray, author of Feathers & Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen!

feathers and trumpetsHildegard agonizes over the origin of her visions. Is God speaking to her? Does she dare share her secret? In 12th century Germany, she could be declared heretic and burned at the stake. In a life fraught with challenges, Hildegard emerges as the most dynamic 12th century female voice.

Enduring a beginning unimaginable to today’s teens, Hildegard strains against the ascetic lifestyle of Jutta, her mentor nun. Relationships with Volmar, her monk tutor and Richardis, her daughter nun, bring joy to Hildegard. But does she allow herself to love them too much?

Feathers and Trumpets chronicles the life of the recently named saint and Doctor of the Church against the backdrop of a rich tapestry we know as the Middle Ages.

Joyce Ray’s nonfiction work includes Women of the Pine Tree State: 25 Maine Women You Should Know and other titles in the America’s Notable Women series

What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

It was difficult for me to cut several chapters from the end of the manuscript. The novel evolved from a biography, and I wanted all the important elements of Hildegard’s life to be included. Striving to achieve that goal blinded me to the real climax of my story, and I resisted eliminating these chapters which were essential to my character’s life but not to the story.

What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?

I love Cynthia Rylant and Beth Kephart for language. Two representative titles are: Appalachia, The Voices of Sleeping Birds by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Barry Moser (Harcourt Brace, 1991); Small Damages by Beth Kephart (Philomel, 2012)

Deborah Wiles delivers every time with character! I love Each Little Bird That Sings (Harcourt, Inc., 2005)

And Katherine Paterson for everything!

What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?

I’ll pass on two bits of advice. For the first two semesters I wrote picture books, or what I thought were picture books! I couldn’t even say the word “novel” if it applied to my writing. Then I heard Norma Fox Mazer and other wise mentors say, “Just write down the scenes and fit them together like pieces of a puzzle later.” And it worked!

Eric Kimmel told me to make my mantra “Persistence and volume.” Feathers and Trumpets‘ journey to publication took 13 years. Don’t give up!

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Marion Dane Bauer, Eric Kimmel, Jane Resh Thomas and Carolyn Coman

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

VCFA made me part of a community of writers and elevated my writing to a lifelong adventure. I began to see what made books work. My critical analysis skills developed, and my critiquing skills improved. Most importantly, I learned to write from my heart.

Feathers & Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen, (Apprentice Shop Books, LLC, March 16, 2014)

Joyce Ray (Musings)            originally posted March 26, 2014

Reader Review by Becky Goodwin

What a simply beautiful book. The ongoing themes of fear over loss, fear of sexuality, fear of pain and that God will ask too much of her (Hildegard) made her character feel human, approachable and profoundly accessible, even though the details of her life are so foreign to today’s audience. The details of the time period – the specific mention of everything from the furniture in the monastery to the herbs used in the infirmary made the 12th century come alive and created texture to the story – the space itself became real for me. I couldn’t put it down!

Author Interview at Catholic

“I strive to write from my heart” – An Interview with Christian Novelist Joyce Ray
“I am a writer with faith. Because I believe my writing ability is one of my gifts from God, I strive to write from my heart to produce literature that means something. What I imagine does not have to be true, but it has to mean something, and hopefully, speak something of value to the reader’s heart. Feathers & Trumpets combines imagination with historical fact to offer a window into the heart and mind of a woman who now holds an elevated position in the Catholic faith.”

Catholic Review

Reviewer Mary Woods says…

“One of the remarkable things about the book is Joyce Ray’s skill in portraying Hildegard as a character with whom the reader can sympathize.”

“As a young adult novel, it does an excellent job of turning a character who would at first seem foreign into a person whom the young reader can care about. Under Joyce Ray’s pen, the monastic life becomes a drama of love between God the Creator and his created. Feathers and Trumpets is a worthy tribute to this unique and wonderful saint.”

Reader Review by Carol Armstrong, Pennsylvania

With profound sensitivity, the author of Feathers and Trumpets breathes beauty and contemporary relevance into the life of the 12th century historical personage Hildegard of Bingen. A religious visionary, Hildegard is well-known today among students of sacred medieval music for her ethereal Gregorian chants, and among scientists for her learned treatises on natural history and the medicinal uses of plants, trees and animals to cure human disease. But it is her deep faith and her strength of character that inspires author Joyce Ray and which she unfolds to us in this book. With language and images that are poetic and lyrical, and with a structure which is unconsciously simple and straight-forward, the author transports the reader from the ordinariness of the material and mundane to that of spiritual beauty, power and grace.

Although the book is catalogued as juvenile fiction, readers of all ages will find a quiet beauty in the telling and a source of inspiration in the reading of Hildegard’s courage, unflagging spirit, deep intellect and self-discipline in facing the social, physical and gender obstacles in her life and of her time.

VCFA’s The Launch Pad interviews Joyce Ray about Feathers & Trumpets

The MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

VCFA made me part of a community of writers and elevated my writing to a
lifelong adventure. I began to see what made books work. My critical
analysis skills developed, and my critiquing skills improved. Most
importantly, I learned to write from my heart.

See the entire post: