Thursday, June 26, 2014

A View from Jessica Dotta's Window - Mark of Distinction!

Jessica Dotta is midway through her first trilogy, and she has made a stellar entrance into the world of Christian Fiction!  Mark of Distinction takes the reader deeper into the intricacies of England’s Regency society.  Julia enters a world quite foreign to anything she’s ever known, and it is there she discovers an eternal truth she wasn’t looking for.  Join me as I discuss this series, and Julia’s journey into the depths of a society rife with deception, intrigue and danger!

There is a vast difference between societal standards in England’s Regency era and the 21st century.  (or is there?)  Tell us about your fascination with this era and the constraints of the higher end of society – especially on women.

It wasn't my original intent to write a story that highlights the lack of woman's rights in this era. Born of Persuasion was the first novel I ever wrote and towards the end of writing my first draft, I started to research at how precarious of a position my heroine was facing. It radically changed what I planned to do with the story. The more I researched the more awful and fascinating the story became.

The value system that the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian era operated with required a lot of trust and faith in the men one was marrying. Jane Austen was aware of this; the more you understand the legal ramifications, the more you see how truly harrowing her villains are.

Taking what I know can be true in human nature today and combining it with the legal ramifications of that era, I did my very best to keep The Price of Privilege accurate to what likely would have happened to Julia.
Julia Elliston’s tale is particularly difficult in the second book of your trilogy as she is forced to submit to train for her perceived role in society.  Her training seems particularly difficult because of the conflict that exists between her father and her “sponsor”.  What research was required to create such elaborate character dynamics?

Julia's sponsor is Lady Beatrice, the mother of Lord Pierson's deceased wife. Our choices ripple out and affect others, whether for good or bad. What happened years ago between the pair is now coming around again to haunt Roy, just when he's now in the position of desperately needing her help.

The tension between the pair arose naturally when I realized Julia needed a sponsor. I keep true to my character's history once they're "born." I knew immediately that Roy had burnt most of his bridges and that only woman of status in his life qualified to oversee Julia was someone he'd had a lifelong war with. Life naturally unfolds the law that we reap what we sow. We don't often discuss it, but so do our children and often times their children.

One of the themes I'm drawn to again and attain is how important our decisions are; that our lives are intricately woven together and the choices made today continue to bear weight on others for years to come.

Were there real-life examples of these difficult financial alliances to draw upon?  Or is all of this straight from your vivid imagination?

The dynamics of their relationship didn't come about as much from research as it did from my understanding of human nature. What does it look like when two people who've nursed bitterness against each other are forced into an alliance—where the weaker one now has the upper hand. 

What insight do you hope readers will glean from this look into a decidedly patriarchal societal structure and its impact on the role of women?

I don't know if I have an agenda for the reader as much as I've allowed the story to take the paths that seem most realistic to me. The horrifying stories I've read of what it was like for some women to live in this society makes me far more sympathetic to their plight than I formerly had been.

In Disney's Mary Poppins movie there's a song that exemplifies the subconscious attitude that I've run across in research (and occasionally in modern times). In the scene, Mrs. Banks, the children's mother, comes home elated and singing about woman's suffrage while the nanny is trying to get a word in because she's quitting due to Mrs. Bank's children's naughty behavior.
I grew up hearing the message that woman suffragists ruined society—that they (especially when combined with the sixties) destroyed the traditional home and our society along with it. That argument seemed reasonable, at least until I wrote this series and followed the natural course of Julia's story.  Then I understood and saw better what an amazing gift women from the past gave us. One look at the way women are treated in other places in the world is enough to make their incredible gift clear.  

I realize that God ordained men to be the head of the household, but truly believe this glimpse into Julia’s world is a very twisted example of God’s intent.  How did you develop such a strong father-figure, and what inspired his obsessive compulsive behavior when it came to being on time for everything?

I'm glad you set up the question this way. Yes, it is a twisted example of God's intent. I'm passionate about not setting up simplistic situations about God in story. Simple situations tend to have simple answers—such as, just trust and give it to God and all will be well. Ultimately, though, I believe it opens doors of doubt in people later because it lends to the idea that there's a formula to follow.

But life is so much more complicated than that, and the things that erode faith are so much more complicated. Our relationship with God is unique and our circumstances are unique. What if someone finally trusted and gave their whole life over to God and became utterly ruined? Then what does one think, then?  Or feel? How would it look to remain in trust, even when all truly is lost? Those are the stories I'm passionate about.

So, yes. Lord Pierson is not an ideal father. God set Adam over Eve in order to give humanity a picture of the relationship of Jesus to the church—but those like Lord Pierson destroy the picture. What do we do with that? When should Julia obey or disobey to protect herself? How much do we need to protect ourselves, verses how much in life doesn't really matter and can be relinquished anyway? Those are the truth-life struggles that I want to spotlight and fuel courage and faith to.

As far as developing my characters, they tend to walk onto the page without my help. I write them, and as I do so, I learn about them. I'll fill out character charts once I finish a m/s in order to know them a bit better.

Isaac is another intriguing male role that seems to be a bit of a rebel – as is Julia.  Where was this character inspired?  Why is his presence in Julia’s life so necessary? (other than he keeps her sane!)

The way Isaac entered the story on his own. I never planned on him in the series, but he just stepped onto the page with authority and calmness, which surprised even me. (I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer.) He does, however, represent an allegorical role in the novel, so he has certain rules his character must abide by. I'm working on the author letter for the last book where I go into detail on Isaac.

I realize this is the second in a trilogy – so you already know how the story ends.  What stage are you currently in with the final book? 

I’m very excited about the last book in this series! It's handed in and has been accepted. Its word count was high and I'm still expecting editorial work back, but I'm nearly finished with this series. It's been a decade-long effort, so I'm excited.

Your first book contract was to complete a trilogy.  Are there any single books in the works for future publication?

Yes, I have several stories growing in my mind. Some have waited years to be written.

Do you plan to write any fiction in modern day, or do you think you will continue in the historical genre for a while?  

If I write a story in the modern-day setting, it most likely would be for a children's story I've had in mind. But even that would likely be set in the 1950's. I do plan on continuing in historical context for adults, and historical with a touch of speculative for YA books I have in mind.

Can you describe your writing schedule for us?  You work as a publicist as well, so what does a day in your life look like in regard to writing?

It's a tough schedule. Right now I’m not actively taking on any PR jobs, though I do advise a bit. It's hard having two creative jobs. One sort of creativity zaps the other. While I finished the third book of this series, I worked overnight, caring for the elderly. It allowed me large spaces of time to work during the day. I've recently taken a retail job that has benefits, something I'm looking forward to having again.

During this season, I'm also prayerfully considering starting a non-profit organization with my best friends that would minister to the isolated, hurt and lonely in my local community. 

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