Monday, March 05, 2007

Make-Believe Monday with Diane Komp

Today on Make-Believe Mondays I'm pleased to introduce a dear friend of mine. Diane Komp (affectionately known as Doctor Di) and I met at the Antioch Writers Workshop several years ago and I'm thrilled that her book is finally in print.

Diane, tell us a little bit about the manuscript you’re working on now.

Diane: “The Healer’s Heart” is a modern setting of the life of St. Luke, who was, like me, a physician and writer. I asked the question, “If Dr. St. Luke were alive today, what kind of medicine would he practice, who would he chose for companions and where in the world would they hang out?”

My fictional “Luke” became the head of the AIDS program at Yale Medical School (where I was on faculty for more than 20 years). The best traditions say that Luke was a Greek converted to Christianity by the Apostle Paul. I wanted an engaging, larger than life Paul.

In the novel he appears as an African-American preacher who serves as chaplain to the AIDS team. I wanted the novel to climax in one of the most dangerous countries in the world and I wanted that country to be related to the American slavery story (through genealogical links to both Luke and Paul).

This took me to Sierra Leone, a country in the throes of a ten-year civil war (readers may have seen the historically accurate current film “Blood Diamond.”) In Sierra Leone, Luke seeks the answer to a question posed by his grandfather in an unpublished story of their family history: . If you have no cause worth dying for, do you really have a reason to live?

Debra: Diane, the work you do over there fills me with admiration. So many people talk about problems in our world, yet never lift a finger.

Ray Bradbury said, “We are cups, constantly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” How do you keep your creative cup filled?

Diane: For “The Healer’s Heart”, I filled my cup in Sierra Leone. My fictional doctor was going to be dropped out of Yale’s ivory tower into the bush to practice medicine. To authenticate this journey, I volunteered to work in mobile clinics in Sierra Leone bush. Before I left for Sierra Leone, I updated my will and drafted the Sierra Leone portion of the book. Although my will stayed intact, I had to throw out everything I wrote from stateside research. If I had not gone to Sierra Leone, I could not have written that part of the book.

When I came home, I tipped the cup and poured out a new character, Brima, the local nurse with whom Luke works. The character is based on a real nurse named Brima with whom I worked. Parenthetically, I got hooked on the people and have gone back to Sierra Leone annually to work. Of course, this has filled my cup with sequels.

Debra: Oh, the stories you can tell... and now we'll be able to read some of them!

Is there a point when your characters begin to come alive and you can see and hear them?

Diane: Early on, I “see” and “hear” my characters, but like Dr. St. Luke, I did not want to overwrite the physical features of my characters. The biblical writers only included physical characteristics when it furthered the plot of a story, not just to paint a picture. When I read Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostle, I appreciate the freedom the author gave me to put faces from my circle of friends onto his characters.

Although I have vivid pictures of my characters, I want to give my readers the same freedom. There are minimal but plot-important features of Luke, his wife, Paul and Brima in the book, all of which advance the plot. For example, as Luke struggles with his father’s terminal illness, he looks in the mirrors and reports the physical similarities he sees to his father. When we (and Luke) first meet Theodora, we learn of her remarkable resemblance to Botticelli’s model for women of mythic importance. Paul, whose personality is larger than life, is “plagiarized” from an African-American pastor in my community whom I saw vividly as I wrote. (Anyone who knows Rev. Woody recognized him in the book.) And, I describe Brima as slim and sinewy “like one of those African runners who always win the Boston Marathon.”

Debra: I'm looking forward to reading this book. I can only imagine how facinating these charcters must be!

Diane, thank you for visiting with us here on Make-Believe Mondays to share a bit of the magic of creation and imagination with our readers.

to learn more about Diane and her work.

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