Author Interview With Beth Bernobich

Debut author Beth Bernobich talks about her fantasy series starter, Passion Play. The story follows teenage heroine Ilse, as she flees home and discovers that the world is a wild and dangerous place. Learn about Bernobich's inspiration for Ilse's strength, how the novel's hero evolved from a minor character and take a peek at the upcoming novels set in this magic-infused world.

RT BOOK REVIEWS: Between the plot, setting and characters, what was the most difficult part of writing Passion Play?

Beth Bernobich: Hmmm. That's a hard choice. Each of those gave me trouble at one point or another. But to pick one...I'd say the most complicated part was creating the world, specifically the history. Sure, it's relatively easy to draw a map and name the kingdoms, but I wanted to create a plausible tapestry of history, so I not only needed to depict the current political, economic, and cultural backdrop, I also needed to keep in mind how they had changed throughout the centuries. In addition to that, I had created a world where reincarnation was real, so I needed to figure out what roles my main characters played a hundred years before, two hundred, and so on, because that was part of the story as well. Complicated, and at times my brain hurt, but also very rewarding.

RT: While Passion Play’s setting is similar to Victorian England, you decided to create a mythical new land and add elements of fantasy including healing magic and reincarnation. Why did you go the fantasy route instead of staying strictly in a realistic historical setting?

BB: As much as I love history and historical novels, the story I wanted to tell just wouldn't fit inside the real world. I wanted to play with the themes of free will vs. fate, I wanted to tell a story larger than just a single lifetime, and I wanted to weave in the threads of mythology/folklore/religion while I did that. For that, I needed to create something new.

RT: After being told she must marry, Therez runs away from her wealthy family to venture into the unknown – only to suffer abuse and starvation. Some readers will argue that Therez is foolish for her decision, while others will admire her bravery. Which side of this debate are you on?

BB: I believe Therez made the best decision she could, given the information and experience she had at the time. Like so many teenaged runaways, she faced an unbearable situation at home--her father emotionally abused her and everyone else, her mother had erased herself to escape that abuse, and her brother was following quickly on that path. All of that was bleak enough, but then she faced a sudden forced marriage with Theodr Galt. And so, like many other kids, she took the quickest escape route. She thought she had prepared herself, but she was too young and too naive to know exactly what she faced.

And whatever hindsight we might have, I can't blame her for panicking. Imagine the wedding night with Galt. This was a man who likes to control, to possess. If she had showed any reluctance, he would have raped her, he would have continued to punish her, and he would have kept her a much closer prisoner. He is Alarick Brandt, but with the veneer of his class. It's a classic case of domestic abuse, really. Having witnessed her parents' marriage, Therez saw that right away. She also knew that once married, her chances for escape were fewer. Can you really blame her for running?

RT: Knowing the difficulties she would face, do you think Therez would make the same decision again?

BB: Yes, she would. The biggest difference is that she would be more aware of the dangers. She would have fled from Melnek that same night, but she would have left Brandt's caravan earlier, even though that meant getting stuck in a small town between Melnek and Duenne. She also would have trusted less easily. Eventually she would have reached Duenne on her own, maybe in the company of that nameless scholar who helped her escape.


RT: Therez, now Ilse, suffers great abuse including being forced into prostitution. Still, she has the fortitude to escape the situation. What do you think is the basis for her strength, especially considering that she is only 16 years old?

BB: This will sound horrible, but the true basis of her strength is her father. Both he and Ilse's grandmother faced famine. Both uprooted themselves--several times over--and pushed through impossible odds to create a better life for themselves and their family. Ilse herself sees this later on, and it's an unsettling realization. We are all connected to our parents, however much we might wish otherwise. The key is how we use this inheritance. Ilse needs to face that as well.

RT: To cope with pain and humiliation forced upon her, Ilse denies her feelings. This goes on for so long, that she almost loses the ability to feel anything at all. At one point she tells herself, “Stone. I am a rock and a stone.” How did you break her from this cycle of denial and allow her to start feeling again?

BB: Friendship is the key to her healing. It's Kathe, the cook's daughter, who first offers Ilse friendship and understanding, without demanding any explanations.  After that comes Nadine, who loves Ilse but who is willing to be a friend when needed. And Ilse could only come to love Raul himself because he first proved himself a friend. 

RT: No one can accuse you of writing cookie-cutter characters, especially when reading about the hero of Passion Play Raul. He has a rather unusual background and present occupation. Can you delve a bit into his character and explain how he came about?

BB: A long time ago, in a document far, far away, I wrote a book about a completely different character, but set in the same world as Passion Play. Or rather, the world that would become the world of Passion Play. In that book a minor character named Raul showed up. He was a eunuch. I hadn't figured out his sexual orientation yet, but he wasn't a Lord or even the owner of the pleasure house. He was simply someone Ilse, another minor character, had met during her travels from Melnek to Osterling Keep. But Raul was a demanding character, always mouthing off to me about how important he was, and how he could fix all my plot problems. (He was quite definite about that last part.) Eventually I decided to write a novella about how he and Ilse met. As I wrote the story, and delved into his background, his role changed to what you see now in Passion Play

Oh, and the plot problems? Raul was right. Once he took over, everything else fell into place.

RT: The title of the book, Passion Play, seems like it is a reference to playacting that all of the characters must do in order to survive. Is this where the title came from?

BB: The title is a play on multiple meanings. There's passion for magic, passion for power, and there's passion on a most personal level. But the Passion Play title refers to all of these plus the willingness of the characters to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. 

RT: The ending of the story leaves an opening for a sequel. Will readers see Ilse and Raul again?

BB: Absolutely! The next two books are Queen's Hunt and Allegiance, to be released in 2011 and 2012. Both books introduce a number of new characters, and there are other love stories in the background, but the focus is on Ilse and Raul, and it will bring their story to its proper conclusion.