I recently received a lovely e-mail from Pope Joan author, Donna Cross. I was very excited to find her e-mail in my in box and even more excited to learn that she was asking me to consider promoting a contest being held on her web site. The winner of the contest will get to walk the red carpet at the film premier of Pope Joan. I have a copy of Pope Joan and am thrilled to host Donna Cross here at Planet Books by way of her guest post. Pope Joan is a great historical fiction novel about the legendary female Pope who, legend has it, held the position of Pope around 850 A.D.
I hope you will go check out the contest rules and enter to win HERE. Without further adieu, here is Donna Cross!
The Heart of the Matter
When I asked Karen what she would like me to write for my guest blog, she replied, “About the initial intrigue you felt for Pope Joan and your reaction to the novel being picked up by Hollywood.”
Though separated greatly by time–it was over ten years between my “initial intrigue” for Joan and the novel’s optioning by Hollywood–these questions are deeply interconnected, for they speak directly to how I feel about my heroine.
I first came across Joan’s story in a piece of chance reading–a passing reference in a French book to “Le Pape Jeanne”–Pope Joan. At first I thought this was an amusing typo, a “slip of the pen” that accidentally substituted “Jeanne” for “Jean”. But a few weeks later, my daughter Emily had an assignment for school that required her to go to the library. She was then too young to drive herself, so I had to take her. (She’s now an accomplished veterinarian, so you see how long it took me to write this freakin’ book!)
While Emily was off doing her research, I had time to kill. So I wandered over to the New Catholic Encyclopedia to check out that odd passing reference. Truth to tell, I didn’t expect to find anything. But when there was an entry in the NCE for “Pope Joan”, I stood in that library with my jaw dropped open. I couldn’t believe it–could not believe that such a remarkable story had existed for centuries–and I hadn’t even heard of it!
I knew on the spot that it’s what I wanted to write about. I thought then–hey, I still think–that it’s a “drop-dead” story, as they say in the book business. I was astonished at my good fortune in having stumbled across it.
So what first intrigued me about Joan’s story was its secrecy, for it is one of the great lost mystery-legends of history. What kept me interested was the woman herself. She’s an inspiring example of female empowerment through learning. In a time when it was widely believed that women could not reason and should not be educated, she was renowned for the brilliance of her mind and the superiority of her learning (some chroniclers describe her as a “prodigy of learning”, just like Mozart was a “prodigy of music”). What a stirring story for our daughters, and all the daughters of the world (many of whom are still struggling for the right to education just as Joan did over a thousand years ago).
Over the long course of over seven years of researching and writing this novel, I came to admire my heroine Joan very much. So of course I was worried about what the movie would be like. I took to heart the words of one fellow-writer who said, “Optioning your book to a movie company is like handing your child over to the Charles Manson day-care center!”
I didn’t write the screenplay for the upcoming Constantin Film, but I helped with it (the screenwriter/director were very generous about including me). And here’s what I learned: each page of a screenplay equals one minute of screen time, so 140 pages equals a 2 hour, 20 minute film. My novel is 400 pages long. 140 pages to tell a 400 page story–of course it’s impossible to fully realize any novel in movie form–unless you’re willing to sit through a 6 hour film!
All a novelist can hope for, when her book is turned into film, is that the movie stay true to the “deep heart” of the story. The upcoming release by Constantin has certainly accomplished this, for the theme of female empowerment through learning remains intact–enhanced by the dramatic imagery of the silver screen. Johanna Wokalek is brilliant as Joan, as is David Wenham (voted Sexiest Australian of 2007) as Gerold. When he asks Joan to come away with him, sacrificing all that she has accomplished and become, you REALLY feel her temptation! John Goodman was born to play the part of Pope Sergius; those who have only seen him as a comedy actor do not yet know how powerful he can be in a dramatic role.
I think that Joan herself, if she was anything like the woman I imagined in my novel, would be pleased at this re-telling of her story. If it inspires even one young girl to stay in school, to work her absolute hardest in full exercise of her qualities of mind, heart, and spirit, then the movie will have done its job. And so will I.