Q: Helena, the protagonist in THE PILGRIM, is a strong and determined, yet flawed and hurting woman. She’s someone anyone – particularly women – can relate to. When you researched, did you discover some of those elements about her “real life” character, or did you “read in” those qualities as you recreated her fictitious persona?
Davis Bunn: There were a few character points that all of the legends about Helena agreed upon. She did live on what is now the Dalmatia coast while her husband the general went off with the Roman army.
He did divorce her, and then retired to a villa filled with young maids. As the husband vanished from history, the disgraced wife, a woman without title or future, grew into a figure that still holds power today.
Another element on which all the legends agree is that Helena had a vision, just like her son Constantine, only hers said that she was to go to Judea on pilgrimage.
From that point on, almost everything is in disagreement. So I picked and chose. And to this I added three questions:
Answer: She traveled as a real pilgrim would. Without entourage.
Q 2: What internal state might reflect this outer atmosphere?
Answer: I decided to make the timing of her journey be while she was recovering from the divorce. As a Roman woman of means, she was expected to hide herself away in disgrace. Instead, she travels to the ends of the empire on a quest from God. And she takes with her all the emotional baggage that makes her human.
Q 3: How does this woman respond to God’s call at such a time of crisis?
Answer: To me, this was the biggest challenge in the story. Creating a woman obeying God, and yet doing so in utter human frailty.
This has been my own personal experience: that God does not call us when we are content and life is good. God calls us when he wants us to act, and the most important part of this act is relying on God for guidance and strength.
In other words, Helena needed to be weak. Just like us.
The Pilgrim releases July 17, 2015, from Franciscan Media.
Questions for my readers:
Has God given you a quest? How are you responding?