Five Questions – Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

Last year when I was doing some market research in YA historical fiction I went to the bookstore and grabbed four books off the shelf and bought them. One of those was Julie Berry’s The Passion of Dolssa. I was not disappointed when I began reading.

Dolssa is a high-born young woman in 13th century France with the gift of hearing words directly from God. In her community she is revered as a miracle worker and a mystic, but the Church hears of her good deeds and brands her a heretic. Dolssa barely escapes being burned at the stake and goes on the run.

Botille lives in a fishing village on the coast and makes a living running a tavern with her sisters, but is also the town matchmaker. When she discovers Dolssa half-dead, she brings her back to the tavern and hides her, nursing her back to health and forming an unlikely friendship. But the Church won’t stop in their quest to find Dolssa. It is up to Botille and the people of her village to save the girl from a fiery fate.

I wrote a full review of The Passion of Dolssa last April and you can read it here.  It was a dark and twisty read full of great historical detail and a thrilling conclusion.


1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The Passion of Dolssa began gradually as several different pieces joined together. I’d always been interested in medieval mystics, and had read a fair bit about them. I had once thought, what if I recast Macbeth’s three witches as teenaged sisters running a roadside inn? At another time I thought, why do matchmakers always need to be older women? What if there was a young matchmaker? But none of these ideas found each other until I listened to an audio lecture on the Albigensian Crusade in southern France in the early 13th Century, and the subsequent inquisitions into heresy. Then everything clicked: what if a girl mystic was accused of heresy and sentenced to execution, then rescued and helped by a girl matchmaker who runs a tavern with her two sisters? Et voilà. The Passion of Dolssa. Plus a few years of research, writing, and revision, give or take. 🙂

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m pretty much a pantser, but I use outlines extensively when revising. The Passion of Dolssa underwent significant revision, and outlines were crucially to wrapping my head around the scope of the story and its many voices and moving parts.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

Hm, I’m really not sure how to answer that one. I don’t there’s anyone whom I consciously try to evoke. I have lots of favorite authors, but I don’t know to that extent they find their way into my style. I love Charles Dickens, P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters – the usual suspects, I guess.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I don’t. I love music, so it diverts my attention away from writing. Background noise isn’t my friend. It’s why I don’t write in cafés.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Julie Berry

Julie Berry

Julie Berry is the author of the acclaimed young adult novel The Passion of Dolssa, the award-winning, All the Truth That’s in Me (2013, Viking) and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (2014, Roaring Brook), and six other critically acclaimed titles for young readers. A forthcoming middle grade novel, The Emperor’s Ostrich, releases in June 2017 from Roaring Brook. She grew up in western New York and holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. Before becoming an author, she worked in software sales and marketing. She now divides her time between eastern Massachusetts and southern California with her husband and four sons. Find her online at, or on Twitter at @julieberrybooks.

And you know you want to read The Passion of Dolssa now, don’t you? You can buy it here:

Barnes and Noble                    Amazon

Le Moulin des Landes

On the western coast of France, sort of halfway between Nantes and La Rochelle is a tiny community that is tacked on to the village of La Chapelle Achard. This collection of houses in the middle of farmland is where our good friends Danielle and Sylvain live with their four kids and menagerie of animals.

Stone farm house of Danielle and Sylvain.

Stone farm house of Danielle and Sylvain.

This is our second time visiting and we love the slow pace of country life mixed with the chaos of four kids, two cats, a dog, and three sheep. There is never a dull moment in this house, even though it looks sleepy and peaceful from this angle.

Indi the English Pointer

Indi the English Pointer

This is Indi, quite possibly the sweetest English Pointer that ever pointed. He’s still quite young, only three, and is full of pep and energy. I’ve been told when he is out on the hunt everyone calls him “The White Bomb” because he tears across the fields with incredible speed. When he’s home, he thinks he’s tiny because he will try to crawl into your lap for a belly rub. He is not tiny. Nor is he fixed, and his plums are often the source of mirth in the house because they are so… well, plummy.

Who's a good boy?

Who’s a good boy?

Pan the sheep

Pan the sheep

This is Pan. He has a wife named Grovey, and a son named Lamb Chop. All three had just been shorn shortly before this picture was taken. Pan looks delirious with relief her, mostly because we had just been through a heat wave and I am sure he was feeling the burn.

Danielle's hydrangeas

Danielle’s hydrangeas

Danielle has incredible hydrangeas growing next to the garage right on the road. Tourists stop to take pictures of them. This tourist stopped to take pictures of them. They are truly splendid.

Well hello, my deer.

Well hello, my deer.

Sylvain is a part owner in a deer farm. There are three types: Sica, Red, and Fallow deer. These are the red deer. We went to visit them all and bring them lunch, which Mr. Himself is munching on here.


Our hosts, Danielle and Sylvain in Nuremburg.

Our hosts, Danielle and Sylvain in Nuremburg.

And this post wouldn’t be complete without Danielle and Sylvain themselves. We found we traveled very well together. They are wonderful friends and Kosta and I love them both very much. It would be nice if we could see each other more than every few years. But (!) they want to visit Greece with us in 2018. It is ON.

Note: I didn’t post any pictures of the kidlets because I haven’t asked permission from their parents yet. If they say okay, I’ll tell you about all four of them in turn. They’re pretty fantastic, as far as kids go.

Back at it…

It was my first day back at work after a month of vacation. It wasn’t so bad, there were some good things and some not so good things that happened while I was gone, but nothing out of the ordinary. Manageable.

I meant to do more live blogging from the trip but it was very hard. We were running all day and at night I was so tired it was hard to put two thoughts together. A coherent blog post? Not in the cards, not in the stars, not in my brain.

I got a suntan, spent time with great friends, ate some delicious food, and took a couple thousand pictures. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing these with you as I look back on my trip. I hope you’ll stop back and see the photos.

For now, I am going to leave you with one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip. It isn’t of a famous landmark, work of art, or anything much. I just thought it was lovely when I saw it for the first time. I hope you do too.

Field of wheat - Vendee, France

Field of wheat – Vendee, France


P.S. My Dad came through his surgery beautifully and is recovering by leaps and bounds.

Unexpected Events

Things have been great on vacation. We met up with our friends in Munich, and spent several days visiting Nuremberg, Würzburg, Bamberg, and Rothenberg ob der Tauber. We were treated to such views as this:

Nuremberg. Totally hideous, isn't it?

Nuremberg. Totally hideous, isn’t it?

We have had a wonderful time reconnecting with our friends Danielle and Sylvain, and we have discovered a few things about German culture.

  1. They like cash. I think I only used my credit card to pay for the hotel and the rental car. Cash everywhere else.
  2. Sparkling water is called Sprudelwasser.
  3. The Germans are crazy for pork and cabbage:

    That's a lot of sauerkraut.

    That’s a lot of sauerkraut.

Seriously. I ate so much pork I thought I was going to sprout a curly tail. Pork at every meal. Cabbage hiding under the lettuce of your salad and of course the ubiquitous sauerkraut. We went to the grocery store and they had an entire Wall O’ Pork. They are totally serious about their pig food products.

We are now comfortably ensconced in our friends’ old stone farmhouse in Western France. And it was good to be surrounded by friends because the totally unexpected happened.

The other day I got a text from my Mom saying Dad had been having chest pains. They went to the ER, ran some tests, and the upshot was Dad had to have triple bypass surgery. It happened today and went extremely well. He is in recovery and all signs point to a good recovery. But the fact that I wasn’t with my mother to sit there and hold her hand while her husband of 46 years had open heart surgery left me a quivering mess.

But my wonderful friend Danielle helped me through with Reiki. If you don’t know what Reiki is, I invite you to read about it here. Basically, it is healing energy from the Divine that a practitioner can channel into another being: human, animal or plant. I’ve been a practitioner for several years now and Danielle is the Reiki Master who has taught me. Together we created a flow of Reiki that was sent directly to my father, thousands of miles away. It was proactive and left me feeling more in control of my emotions and hopeful of a positive outcome. I held it together.

Dad will probably be in the hospital for five or six days. Kosta and I debated over what to do. In the end, (mostly because we can’t afford to change our plane tickets) we are going to continue with our vacation. Trust me when I say it was not an easy decision to make. Most of me is longing to be home with my family. Everyone seems to be coping reasonably well. Mom has been so brave and capable and I am proud of her for surviving an extremely difficult situation.

The last couple of days have been rough, for sure. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much on a vacation before. But Dad has survived his ordeal, Mom is coping with hers, and Kosta and I will deal with ours.

Perplexed and a little frightened...

Perplexed and a little frightened…




ZING ZING ZING went my heartstrings.

ZING ZING ZING went my heartstrings.

Vacation is 27 days away and plans are really starting to come together. Every day, every few hours or so, I get a zing of excitement surge through me. Here is what the plan is:

  • Leave 30 June for Vienna and arrive on 1 July. We will spend the 1-3 July  in the city, soaking up the atmosphere, drinking coffee and sampling pastry.
  • 4 July we will collect an rental car and drive from Vienna to Salzburg, stopping in little towns that tickle our fancies along the way.
  • 5-6 of July will be spent in Salzburg and the environs. Kosta is wildly excited about visiting Hohenwerfen where there is a medieval castle that was featured in his very favorite movie: Where Eagles Dare.
  • 7 July will take us by train to Munich where we will meet our dear friends Danielle and Sylvain, who live in France. We will spend the night in Munich, perhaps drink a little beer.
  • 8-12 July will be touring Bavaria. I booked a darling Airbnb in the little village of Bad Windsheim. We’ll be making day trips from there to places like Linderhof Palace, perhaps Oberammergau, Garmische Partenkirchen, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Wurzburg, Nuremburg and others. We haven’t made a hard plan for this and I am kind of excited to see where we go.

    Isn't Bad Windsheim adorable?

    Isn’t Bad Windsheim adorable?

  • 13 July we fly from Munich to Paris and then take the train to the Vendee where our French friends live. We will stay with them for about a week and have fun with the whole family.
  • 22 July we take the train to Paris and check into a hotel near Les Halles and a short walk to the Louvre. We plan to spend the whole next day at the museum and then fly home the next day on the 24th.

As my dear friend Danielle would say, “Roll on, June 30!”

V is for…


France is divided into regions, sort of like we have states, only less autonomous, I believe. The Vendée is where my dear friend Danielle lives in a tiny hamlet called Le Moulin des Landes, which is near the village of La Chapelle Achard. Kosta and I visited in 2013 and stayed with Danielle and her family for a couple of weeks. It was a wonderful experience. Not only do we adore the entire family, but they live in a 180 year old stone farm-house. They keep sheep and chickens and are slowly restoring the place.

That is Pan the sheep with his brother Fangus following behind.

That is Pan the sheep with his brother Fangus following behind.

The Vendée is on the Atlantic coast and Danielle and her family live just a fifteen minute ride from Les Sables-d’Olonne, which is a beautiful seaside town with spectacular beaches. I am very excited because we are going back there this summer for a week to see the family and hang out before we go on to Bavaria and Austria. I am hoping we can plan a side trip up north to Mont St. Michel in Brittany. It’s a few hours drive, but I’ve been dying to see it.

Les Sables d'Olonnes

The beach at Les Sables d’Olonnes


S is for…

SSt. Hilaire Abbey

In Provence there is a 13th century convent tucked into the fold of the hills of the Vaucluse. St. Hilaire is my happy place. When I meditate that is where I picture myself, sitting on the grass in the courtyard in back, watching the poplar trees across the valley sway in the breeze. We sat there for a long time, Kosta and I, just drinking in the peace infused in the very stones of the place. We didn’t speak, we just sat and watched the sky, the trees, and felt the breeze wash over us, content to just be. Even if I never return (and I sorely hope that is not the case) I will never forget the way that place made me feel.

The front entrance of the abbey.

The front entrance of the abbey.

Set in stone.

Set in stone.

My Happy Place

My Happy Place

N is for…

NNotre Dame de Paris

I have visited this cathedral twice in my life–once on a study abroad tour in 1995 and once with my husband in 2013. It was really the first true Gothic cathedral I visited and it blew me away with it being massively cavernous, and yet somehow delicate and ethereal at the same time.

The western facade

The western facade

Both times were crowded, but my most recent visit was truly packed. We were there in September and the line to get inside wound around the square in front of it. And much to our dismay, some hillbilly with a thick southern accent was pointing at the church and shouting at the line, “Is this FREE?” I wanted to die, I was so embarrassed to be an American. I’m not usually, but ask me again if Trump gets elected.

Light and shadow

Light and shadow

If the place wasn’t so crowded I imagine it would be a place full of quiet peace. We found it to be stuffy, loud, and hard to navigate through the throngs of people. Even so, it is a thing of beauty and a wonder to behold.

Looking up. For you art nerds, see the four part nave elevation?

Looking up.

L is for…


Lourmarin is a beautiful village in the hills of Provence. We visited in 2013 and were infinitely lucky we turned up on market day. You would not believe the markets in France, they are the best and most wonderful in the world, in my humble opinion. That day we bought fresh goat cheeses, tapenade, olives, crusty bread, and wine. There were also Provencal soaps, lavender, scarves, lace, olive wood bowls and spoons, herbs, and all sorts of gorgeous goods all heaped together.

all the

Olives, olives, olives!

Kosta in the thick of things.

Kosta in the thick of things.

After we wandered the stalls we sat at an outdoor cafe and had a drink while we watched people. There was a crazy bald man with an accordion busking for change and making us all laugh with his songs and dancing. My husband, who is a huge fan of Peter Mayle, noticed later that his author photo on his books was taken at the very same cafe where we sat. Sadly, we did not see him, otherwise we may have had to gush.



Highly entertaining kook with an accordion.

Highly entertaining kook with an accordion.

J is for…

JJamb of Chartres Cathedral

J is hard. I searched and searched for a town or a place we visited that began with J but had no luck. But there is a place, or more specifically a thing that takes up space that starts with J: the door jamb of Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France.

The western facade of Chartres cathedral

The western facade of Chartres cathedral

Way back in the mid to late 90’s I was an Art History student at the University of Minnesota, and I specialized in Gothic architecture and sculpture. Chartres Cathedral is lousy with amazing sculptures and the door jambs have some amazing religious and royal statues adorning them. I love their long, ethereal bodies and uplifted faces.

Four figures

Five figures of the Old Testament. The second from the left is Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Kings and Queens of France

Kings of France

An etheral

An ethereal depiction of St. John the Baptist.