It became apparent after meeting Thea that perhaps she was a touch more talented than I was at her age, or at the very least more disciplined. Currently attending University, somehow she has found the way to not just write and draw her own comic book series, but also publish her first book, The Illuminated Heart.
Despite my dreaded envy of her artistic abilities, Thea has managed to craft an entertaining comic filled with equal parts adventure and humor. Performing her awesome introduction in front of a crowd of a salamander, Kara finds herself swept into a quest to help the salamander open a portal back home. It feels like one part Adventure Time, one part classic saturday morning cartoon strips in the back of the newspaper, Kara the brave is equal parts endearing and entertaining. The story has a lot of heart, and I like everyone else eagerly await forthcoming pages.
But I didn’t take to Thea because of her comic abilities (mostly); rather it was her book the Illuminated Heart that made think there was something special to her talents.
The Illuminated Heart is a retelling of one of the greatest fairy tales ever. Thea retells East of the Sun, West of the Wind, the story about a princess and a polar bear. In this case, Dagny, after the death of her brother, blames God for taking him far too soon. This blame and questioning of faith worsens as her dead brother, Kaj returns as a draughar, who causes catastrophe after catastrophe for her family.
A polar bear shows up and offers to help the family and protect them. Dagny volunteers and her life changes forever. If you’ve read the fairy tale, you have a bit of an idea what happens, so I won’t go into heavy spoilers here. I will say that I believe this story has even more heart than the fairy tale. Thea explores one of the hardest questions of believing in a God that allows bad things to happen in a way that is refreshing.
In truth, I don’t think there is anyone that believes in God that doesn’t ask this question sooner or later. Dagny’s answer to that question was something that resonated with me very much. I won’t spoil it, but I will say, if you ever have doubts, this is a great book to read and understand. Thea did an outstanding job with this.
The other aspect I’m really impressed with is the design of the book. The cover was done by Philip Pocock, but the rest of the book was completely put together by Thea, who once again, did outstanding work. The book is available at Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Illuminated-Heart-Thea-van-Diepen/dp/0991699351/.
We met in Edmonton and I asked her for a conversation. What follows is just a hint of the things we discussed. I enjoyed our conversation and got the impression Thea did the same thing. Up the way, I hope we do this again sometime.
Joshua Pantalleresco: First off, just want to say that The Illuminated Heart was something I needed to read. There was this one line where you had God say “I am with you”. I needed to hear that.
Thea van Diepen: Thank you!
JP: And the short story? Hilarious.
JP: I do feel like you let me a little bit down. They weren’t the zombies I was expected.
TvD: Draugar are cool though right? Usually when people think about a story about God, those kind of monsters aren’t in there.
JP: I disagree. The Bible is filled with stories like this!
TvD: Well, yes.
JP: One thing I really kind of believe with the Bible is that the people in those stories were like us. Their struggles with their own demons are what makes it work and relatable. Even the best of us struggle. Look at Solomon for example.
TvD: David’s family was basically a soap opera.
JP: Tell me about it… but I think Solomon’s tragedy was the women he chose to marry.
TVD: I think he did that the way he did that because it worked for him you know? He would avert conflicts by marrying these women and the kingdom grew and prospered. This worked for him. When he was warned not to marry this one, and he was like, “Why? It’s worked before…”
JP: There was definitely that. But I also think there was a bit of the “I’m the king and I can married who I want” vibe to that. His dad did the same thing.
TvD: David did a guy killed to marry his wife. After sleeping with her and feeling guilty about it, that is. That whole family had a lot of drama to it.
JP: My favorite books aren’t really the Old Testament. My favorites are the four with Jesus. I loved that he simplified the ten commandments down to three.
TvD: Three? I thought it was just two.
JP: I remember three, but heck, educate me.
TvD: Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was. His answer was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself”.
Speaking of love and the Bible, in ancient Greek, there were four different words for love. There is eros, which is romantic, sexual love. There is philos, which is the kind of love you have for family and friends. There’s another one I forgot, and that one has to do with obligatory love. Then there’s agape, which is most often translated as unconditional love. It’s about valuing people and seeing the value in them no matter what, and I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of love that Jesus was talking about there.
JP: Huh. I’ll have to read that again. The first four books of the New Testament are just neat all together. Can you imagine being those four living in that time?
TvD: I remember that there’s at least one place where it says that Jesus did so many miracles that it would be impossible to write them all down.
JP: I think what blew my mind was that only one of the four books talk about him resurrecting the dead. Think about it. He raised someone from the dead! It was no big deal.
TvD: Have you read Acts?
TvD: Probably my favorite moment in acts is when Paul is speaking and this kid, who was sitting in a second-storey window, falls asleep during the sermon and then falls out of the window and dies. Paul just heads right down, raises the kid from the dead, and goes right back to what he was saying as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. “Just raised a kid from the dead, no big deal. Moving right along…”
JP: Wow! I forgot about that… this hasn’t been the conversation I expected.
TvD: Yeah. I was expecting to get more into the book stuff. Not that I mind, it’s been interesting.
JP: We’ll get there. In fact, let’s get there now. So where did the idea of doing something like The Illuminated Heart come to mind?
TvD: You mean besides the fact that East of the Sun, West of the Wind is my favorite fairy tale? Well, when I was a kid, my family moved to Alabama, and I ended up going through depression. I would often yell at God before going to bed, and all I wanted was for him to say something to me, for him to hold me in a way that I could feel. But I didn’t hear anything or feel anything. He was speaking, for sure, but I was so set on him only saying what I wanted to hear that I didn’t let myself hear what he was actually saying.
I didn’t really realize it for years later when I went to do this story I couldn’t really get it started. No matter how much I tried, it would just get stuck. I eventually had an experience where everything from Alabama just came flooding back and I yelled at God again, realizing as I did what I’d really been thinking and feeling at the time. So, instead of trying to make God say what I wanted Him to say, I just listened and let go. And then I could hear what he’d been saying to to me then: “I’m with you. Please don’t hurt yourself.”
Once that happened, the story just came together. I wrote the whole thing in about two weeks.
JP: It’s amazing how quickly the story comes together. Can I ask why you guys went to Alabama?
TvD: My dad wanted to go to Bible school there. So we went, he got his degree, and we came back here.
JP: Interesting. Were you guys tempted to stay at all?
TvD: There were thoughts, but in the end we wanted to go back.
JP: Have you lived anywhere else besides Edmonton?
TvD: Other than Alabama, no.
JP: Would you?
TvD: Maybe BC. I could see myself leaving Edmonton for there at some point. It’s a maybe. Right now, though, I’m more focused on university.
JP: What are you taking?
TvD: I’m majoring in psychology with a minor in linguistics.
JP: So you’ll be able to figure out how to solve people’s problems and write cool stories?
TVD: Exactly! Lol
JP: So I want to talk a little bit about your designer tendency. You did an outstanding job.
TvD: Thank you! A friend of mine named Philip Pocock did the cover, and I did the interior design and illustrations.
JP: I love the little drawings in there. So I got to ask you, what exactly is your favorite thing to do – write or draw?
TvD: …I don’t know.
JP: You can make it a tie.
TvD: It’s not that. I really don’t know. (laughs) No one has ever asked me that, to be honest. I’ll have to think about it.
JP: It’s okay to just call it a tie.
TvD: I don’t know if it is, though… I definitely have more experience writing. There I think I know more of what I’m capable of.
JP: Do you have more fun drawing things?
TvD: I really have no idea. Hmm, now I’m going to be all distracted by that. I’m going to have to think about it hard.
JP: Fair enough. But you did design the whole Illuminated Heart book?
TvD: The inside, yeah. I looked at other books I have before I put it together to make sure it looked right.
JP: I really think you did a good job.
TvD: Thank you! Oh, have you had a chance to look at my comic yet?
JP: I just skimmed it, so I got a bit of the gist. It was funny. [Author’s note; this was as of this conversation. I’ve read the story since.] Did you write and draw it?
TvD: I did. It’s not my best work, because it’s done on a tablet, and I’m still getting used to that. I have a deviantART page that shows more of what I’m capable of. I’ll send you a link when this is over.
JP: Fair enough. I imagine you’ve had to use a lot of programs to get into this.
TvD: Oh yeah.
JP: What programs have you had to use? I took a magazine course in Arizona so I became familiar with photoshop, indesign and the like.
TvD: For the interior, I used iStudio. My favourite program I’ve used in this process, though, is Scrivener. I love Scrivener.
JP: I’ve yet to use that. How is it?
TvD: It’s fantastic. Before, I had to have all my documents separate and scattered about. With scrivener my outline, novels, manuscripts are all together in one file. It makes things so much easier!
JP: Sounds like a great program.
TvD: It really is.
JP: It’s amazing how much you’ve learned to do on your own. I really like your webpage for example.
TvD: Thank you. Although it’s up for a redesign soon…
JP: Why is that?
TvD: It’s just time to do something different. I like my site, but it just doesn’t fit so well anymore, so it’s time for a change.
JP: Cool. When will the changes be up?
TvD: Um. When they’re up. I just came back from the Edmonton Expo and, just before that, I launched The Illuminated Heart, so I’m taking a break. But it should be soon.
JP: That’s cool. I’ll be sure to update when it’s ready. Still, I think you did an awesome job!
TvD: Thank you.
JP: No worries. Speaking of your university experience earlier, I really don’t know what to tell anybody when it comes to college.
TvD: What do you mean?
JP: I just look at the whole college thing differently now that I’m older. Don’t get me wrong, I love to learn and enjoy the whole experience of the classroom. I’m just looking at the experience as a whole and starting to wonder.
How many years do you have you taken?
TvD: I’m in my last year, and I’m doing my degree in five years. If I want to just get my Masters, that’s another two years. If I just settle there, I’ll be able to do psychology in Alberta, but not anywhere else in Canada. Or probably the world, but I’m not sure.
JP: Do you see yourself leaving Alberta?
TVD: Possibly. Like I said, I can see myself living in BC, possibly, depending on how things go. I’m not against the idea, at the very least.
JP: So you need a PhD for that?
TvD: Yes. Which would take four years if I did it separately from my Masters. If I did a Masters and PhD as one thing, it would take four years, which would be two years less in total.
JP: Okay, but you’re making my point for me. It’s taking you about ten years to get a PhD? Let’s assume you are taking loans for that. What are you looking at? Fifty, sixty thousand dollars in debt?
TvD: Well… I’ll be graduating without debt.
JP: That does make you get farther ahead. Well done! I feel you’re so much more mature than I was at your age.
JP: But even so, student loans affect you. Even though you’re not getting them, it is those very loans that dictate the prices to get an education. The way it goes, it’s not your income that determines the price of your education, but the rate of loans.
TvD: I haven’t thought of it like that. But yeah, that makes sense.
JP: So at a decade, is it worth your time? Strictly from a money and time aspect only, not the classroom itself.
TvD: I see where you’re coming from. I think you need university for some things for sure. No one wants people who are half trained or less when they are doctors or engineers or psychiatrists. That said, I don’t think it should be that getting a Bachelors degree only qualifies you for flipping burgers. Something is wrong with the whole system when that is the case.
JP: Totally agree there. But what do you think will happen? If things go as they are, will people go to school?
TvD: It’s an interesting question that’s for sure.
JP: Do you feel that it’s worth it?
TvD: Yes. I mean, not everything I’ve learned is something I plan on using, and I also took some courses just for the heck of it. My favourite course was for my linguistics minor, and it was about writing systems. We got to learn about how all these different systems work, and the homework was so much fun. It felt like play. It had nothing to do with my degree, but I’ll totally be using it in future stories.
Some information, though, I’ve gotten over and over again ad nauseum.
JP: What about Freud?
TvD: I learned about him as more of a historical figure, but psychologists really don’t like talking about Freud. He’s kind of embarrassing.
TvD: Yeah. He’s kind of like the crazy uncle that everyone else talks about and you kind of just wish they would forget about him and move on.
JP: That doesn’t seem quite right. It’s not like he had a lot of people to model himself for.
TvD: He had some…
JP: True, but not a ton. He was kind of like one of the first. He set a path for people to follow, or not follow as the case may be.
TvD: He’s considered the father of psychoanalysis, not the father of psychology. I forget who that was. But embarrassment is the right word. He came up with some pretty weird theories.
JP: Fair enough. Seems a little harsh though.
JP: So who then?
TvD: B.F. Skinner. I’ve heard about him in nearly all my psychology classes, and many linguistics classes, too. He had the idea that behaviour could be explained without the mind. Like, he thought that we didn’t really have a mind, per se, and that everything that we know is learned, like language. I don’t agree with that.
TvD: This is my linguistics minor here coming out. Babies, up until they’re about nine months, can hear every sound distinction made in every language in the world, so they’re basically born prepared for everything. But, as they grow up, and as they’re exposed to what becomes their native language, they end up only being able to hear only the distinctions in that language. Someone from Japan for example cannot tell the difference between la and ra. To them, they are the same sound, even though they’re clearly different to us. But a young enough baby would be able to hear it. Here me say ta and ta (the second is retroflex, where the tongue is curled back). You probably can barely hear the difference I’m talking about, and only when you’re concentrating. The baby can hear it like a native speaker.
JP: That’s actually really neat. Thank you. I learned something.
TvD: No problem.
JP: This has been an interesting conversation.
TvD: It really has. Not what I expected.
JP: I never plan these things. So what’s coming next?
TvD: Right now it’s the site redesign. After that, there are a couple of projects in the works.
JP: Are they ebooks or more books?
TvD: Definitely. My next book out will be the first in my first series, and it’ll be available as both an ebook and a paperback.
JP: I’m glad to hear that. Once again, I really enjoyed the Illuminated Heart. I really needed to read that. Thank you and good luck. I hope to get to talk to you again sometime.
TvD: Me too. You’re an interesting conversationalist.
JP: Thank you and good luck!
TvD: You too!
A few of the drawings here come from Thea’s page at Deviant Art which can be found here: http://irionuib.deviantart.com/. I really am not sure which way people could go, but it’s clear that Thea is quite talented in the artistic realm as well with decent range. Check out her deviant art and help her answer her own question.
Thea’s Webpage is located at http://www.expectedaberrations.com. There you can also find her comic, Kara the Brave, which is naturally awesome and can be found at http://boredkidscomics.expectedaberrations.com Make sure you subscribe to her mailing list. Her author page on Amazon can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Thea-van-Diepen/e/B0098LHKE6/ and her twitter handle is @XpectAbberation . I want to thank Thea for her time and effort and wish her the best in her education and her writing career. I think both show a lot of promise, and at some point, I will have to do another interview sometime down the road. Until then, check her out. You will not be disappointed.