“Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world—everything is hidden in you.” -Hildegard of Bingen
Grace McIntosh Dyrek was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and has lived in over 30 addresses. Her father was a preacher then an Air Force chaplain. Along with her four brothers and mother, who was a missionary's daughter from Southern Rhodesia, she spent most of her growing up years traveling, adjusting to new schools, different cultures, and the usual chaos at home, while dreaming of living in a castle or aboard the Starship Enterprise.
She earned an undergraduate degree in psychology and two masters degrees, one in psychology and one in library media education. She's had many jobs, declaring a new career with each move, ranging from an emergency room counselor to a graphic illustrator for the C.I.A.. She is now the librarian at a middle school for 1400 students.
Her only son was born in Asia. He spent his youth in Central America and came of age in Europe and is now teaching in China. She has a fat grey kitty named Hildegard, "Hildy". She lives contentedly with her husband and cat on three wooded acres in Tennessee, in a home fondly christened, "Traveler's Rest".
Quite frankly her characters write the stories. She only hopes they will continue to let her eavesdrop in on their conversations and intriguing lives.
G. M. Dyrek
“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy, then an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant and, in the last state, just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” ~Winston Churchill
Interview Questions from a Podcast...
Audio Commentary on 12 March 2012
1. Trace a little bit of your career and how you got involved in writing.
I suppose you could say, that I’ve led a very schizophrenic life. My careers have been many and varied, changing with each move. I’ve been a printer’s assistant; a waitress; a day care teacher; a nurse’s aide; a mental health worker; a psychometrist; an emergency psychiatric counselor; a graphic designer; a secretary; an art tutor, freelance illustrator; a substitute teacher; a house designer; a school librarian and of course a writer.
With a father in the Air Force and a husband in the CIA, my life story up until recently has all been about moving and redefining myself to fit in with my new circumstances...
However, looking back, it wasn’t until my late twenties, when we were living in Okinawa, Japan that I seriously tried my hand at writing stories.
It all began, one evening, when we were at a party and a Chinese Linguist began reading everyone’s palms for entertainment. When she read my palm, she said I had within me, literary genius. I remember correcting her, feeling convinced she had it all wrong and was really only acknowledging my artistic talents and temperament.
However, her words stirred something in me. Maybe it is what I needed to hear at that time in my life, someone expressing confidence in my abilities. Surprisingly, that incidental encounter, encouraged me to launch into writing.
And now, Looking back, I can see the inevitably of this decision.
I’ve heard it said that your are your truest self at age seven...
I can remember living in Germany, in these huge multi-family stairwells.
This was in the late 60’s when children played outdoors.
There I was confidently directing plays with the neighborhood kids...pretending our wagons were pioneer wagon trains heading west... There were Indian attacks, yellow fever epidemics and kidnappings, a lot of gruesome plot twists.
And then a few years later, when my twin brothers were born, I remember putting them to bed each night, telling them continuing stories of a mischievous raccoon named Bandit ...So, without consciously acknowledging it, for most of my life, I was an undiagnosed storyteller.
2. What is your process of developing characters?
Frankly, the characters develop themselves. Writing for me, is like a haunting; the characters are very real and insistent. When I am writing I feel as if I’m eavesdropping in on my character’s intriguing lives and all I’m doing is simply taking notes, listening and watching what they do.
Several of my characters actually lived in the past...When I was in grad school I stumbled upon the historical Hildegard of Bingen, a Leonardo Da Vinci of the 12th century.
The more I read of her, the stronger I felt her presence and the need to tell her story in a way that would bring alive this turbulent time, and give young women especially, proof...that there were amazing women in the past...contradicting history's biased assumptions.
Hildegard accomplished so much and it was after she turned 40:
She wrote three books of theology;
Two scientific books of healing;
Painted haunting illuminations of her visions;
Composed over 75 ecclesiastical songs;
Wrote a play;
Was an Abbess of two monasteries, both she had founded;
She preached widely well into her 70’s;
And corresponded and advised kings and popes...critical of the corruption within the church.
All that is said in history of Volmar is that he was Hildegard’s trusted scribe. To me, his story is equally as remarkable; for if it hadn’t been for his encouragement, Hildegard would have been ignored or worse accused of heresy and possibly burned at the stake for her visions and critical appraisal of the church’s failings.
So, creating an atmosphere where these two young people could thrive and set about solving mysteries seemed real and urgent in my mind, it was the right time for just such a story to be born.
3. How did you come to the idea of crafting a medieval murder mystery?
We write, I believe, what we are most passionate about...My love for murder mysteries began when I was pregnant with my son; most people crave certain foods, well, I started craving murder mysteries. I loved the way they dissect the human spirit...human beings are multi-dimensional and it has always fascinated me that within each of us lies this horrific capacity for evil.
I think that is why teens especially find these stories so compelling; for they themselves are learning to control their own impulses and anger and to make sense of this world. Let’s face it, we live in a violent time, simply look at our evening news broadcasts...and all the crime shows which dominate primetime television and the nature of the video games they play...we’ve certainly have taken our youth beyond the age of innocence...
My story opens 900 years ago, during a similar tumultuous time following the First Crusade...Most of the story takes place at the monastery of Disibodenberg...I suppose, as a preacher’s daughter, I’m comfortable writing in a religious setting...and during this time, it was the place to be for learning, healing, and sanctuary.
In the opening chapters of the book we meet the heroine, a young Hildegard of Bingen. She has the gift of prophecy and is the seer in the story; and Volmar is her trusted scribe...
The story begins with a ten year old murder...Hildegard hears of it first-hand from a dead monk...his story becomes intricately woven into a nefarious plan instigated by two visiting Knights Hospitallers who are searching for the legendary Spear of Destiny, the Roman spearhead that pierced Christ on the cross.
This relic, with the powers of heaven, also has a curse and three more murders occur before the story is over.
All of this said, murder mysteries may be the most hopeful of all the various genres; for, in the end, it is possible to conquer evil, or at the very least keep it at bay until the next installment...
4. A lot of authors, on their personal websites, don't tend to incorporate videos related to their works. Why did you make that decision?
I had a lot of fun creating my own website and all the book trailers. I see it as a natural extension of my book. All the new tools for digital storytelling excite me, combining my greatest passions. It is simply writing and illustrating using a new medium, creating for our readers a more immersive, deeper experience.
5. How did you end up working for the CIA?
I think I fell into a trap most of us find ourselves some time or another in our lives. It took me forever to settle on a major in college. My undergraduate and graduate degrees were in clinical psychology. I ended up working in state institutions with schizophrenics and the mentally retarded. I also worked as an emergency room crisis counselor and found my sensitive artistic nature a liability. At night I remember dreaming of the tragedies I witnessed and knew instinctively, I’d made a huge mistake in choosing this field.
So when my husband came home and informed me that there was an opening in the graphics department at the CIA, I set about and hastily prepared a portfolio showcasing my artwork. I interviewed with them and was thrilled when they hired me on as an illustrator. I worked with them until I followed my husband overseas.
6. What would you say is the best and worst part of your current job?
Let’s see, the best part of being a middle school librarian is... I get to work with kids. The worst part is... I get to work with kids. It is true when they say that working with middle schoolers is like spending the day, herding cats.
Seriously though, I love my job, for I get to reacquaint students with the pleasures of their own imaginations and developing curiosities.
There’s so much competing for their attentions these days...video games, movies, social networking sites...often they don’t take the time to imagine for themselves what it would be like to live in worlds like Narnia; Middle Earth; Alagaësia; or DiscWorld. Everything is scripted so much so; I fear, if it isn’t happening instantly, they grow impatient and bored. Writing, reading, dreaming and creating are all leisure activities. They take time, and in this era of instant messaging and MTV, many young people are missing out on these pleasures.
I let my students know that at an early age I read widely and obsessively and that for me, books were my great escape from the chaos at home. Looking back I see now how much I depended on books to survive the constant stresses of moving and to understand how unbelievably intriguing, is this place we call home.
7. What advice do you have for someone looking to emerge as a writer?
Aside from the usual advice to read anything and everything, to immerse yourself in stories. And of course be persistent. And not to wait to write, simply write, for the words will come.
I suppose writing needs to be labeled with one of those surgeon general health warnings...
Writing is a lonely pursuit, you need to be content with yourself and your characters, for they will be your constant companions until the novel is finished. and, I’m not sure if writing is a choice...it seems to me it chooses you, like any hereditary susceptibility...you will have to make the best of it, for unlike most career choices, when you are suffering an attack, it consumes your every waking hour.
My pleasure...thank you so much for having me!