Donna Woolfolk Cross Interview

July 9, 2009 interviews
the author of Pope Joan

It was a special treat to interview Pope Joan author Donna Woolfolk Cross the summer before the release of the new movie of her novel, filmed in Germany and Morocco. Plus, I couldn't resist asking about her next novel.

Johanna Wokalek as Pope JoanAfter living so long with the great-hearted, brave, intellectually curious Joan while writing the novel, what was it like to watch Johanna Wokalek portray your character?

Love the adjectives you use to describe Joan--they're spot-on! I admit I was worried when I first arrived on-set that no actress, especially not a relative "unknown", would be up to the task. But the first scene I saw filmed allayed my concern; Johanna is TERRIFIC in this part. What a wealth of emotion she can communicate in her expressive eyes! In many ways, she reminds me of a young Cate Blanchett.

The forested German landscapes and the already-decaying magnificence of ninth century Rome are such strong presences in your novel. Where was the movie filmed to capture these settings?

Constantin Film had an extraordinary find--the tiny, well-preserved tenth-century town of Querfurt, Germany (my novel is set in the ninth century, but back then progress was veeerrrry slow, so the difference between ninth and tenth century backwoods towns was very small). Such a place could not exist in the former West Germany, which saw rapid development after the ruin of WWII. But Querfurt is in the former East Germany, so it survived relatively intact.

The Rome sequences were filmed in Morocco. Modern Rome can't be used for a ninth-century setting, for it's too altered. So the early medieval city was re-created in the sands of Morocco. The set designer, Bernt Lepel, is brilliant--I'm ready to nominate him for an Academy Award right now!

Readers who loved Pope Joan are eager to read your next novel. Can you give us a hint of what it's about?

It's about another "great-hearted, brave, intellectually curious" woman from history, this time from 17th-century France. I admire my next heroine for the same reason I admire Joan. The best way to explain this is with a quote from George Bernard Shaw: "Reasonable people," he said, "adapt themselves to the world the way they find it. Unreasonable people persist in trying to change the world to suit their own vision of it. Therefore, all progress depends on unreasonable people."

Following this definition, Joan was certainly an unreasonable woman. So is my next heroine, whose name, I'm sure you've noticed, I have artfully not mentioned--for my agent says she'll cut out my tongue if I do!

Review of Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

See listing for Pope Joan at Powell's Books

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