D.M. Denton, author of A House Near Luccoli and other works, invited me to participate in this blog hop and answer four questions about my writing process. A House Near Luccoli is a beautifully written book, featuring a heroine with the soul of poet and a gifted composer with a well-earned bad boy reputation. For more about this entertaining novel, read my review on Goodreads.

My Writing Process

1) What are you working on?

The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, a tale of the lengths a medieval Saxon woman will go to protect her children. Here is a draft of the blurb:

Charlemagne’s 772 battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her husband died in combat. Her faith lies in the ashes of the Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. And the relatives obligated to defend her and her family sold them into slavery, stealing their farm.

Taken into Francia, Leova will stop at nothing to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her honor and her safety. Her determination only grows stronger as Sunwynn blossoms into a beautiful young woman attracting the lust of a cruel master and Deorlaf becomes a headstrong man willing to brave starvation and demons to free his family.

Yet Leova’s most difficult dilemma comes in the form of a Frankish friend, Hugh. He saves Deorlaf from a fanatical Saxon Christian and is Sunwynn’s champion — and he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Not many novels are set in eighth century Francia, which comprised today’s France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg at the start of Charlemagne’s reign. In addition, my stories show a side of history not well known among Americans.

The Cross and the Dragon book coverThe Cross and the Dragon presents a very different interpretation of the Roland legend. The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar gives a voice to people who otherwise have none – medieval peasants on the losing side of the Frankish-Saxon wars.

Fastrada, my work in progress, tells the story of a queen who might have been made a scapegoat for the conspiracies against her husband.

3) Why do you write what you do?

I was drawn to this era by a German legend about Roland involving the origin of Rolandsbogen. Its storyline departs from the famous Song of Roland. To prevent a spoiler, I won’t elaborate, but after hearing the legend, I wanted to learn more and researched the history.

And what a fascinating history it is! Whole books have been written about it, but I will share one example to show what keeps me writing about it. In the early years of his reign, Charles seized his dead brother’s lands, a move that united Francia. To solidify his kingdom, he divorced his second wife and married a girl from an important family in his brother’s former kingdom. Charles’s widowed sister-in-law was not about to let her two little boys lose their inheritance without a fight and crossed the Alps to seek assistance from the king of Lombardy, Charles’s angry ex-father-in-law. The story gets more complicated, but eventually, Charles later found himself going to war with Lombardy to save Rome.

This is a history I feel compelled to share. On top of that, I want to give readers a different perspective than what they typically find in fiction.

4) How does your writing process work?

Although I am a creature of the 21st century and depend on my computer, Internet access, and morning coffee, I must put myself in a type of trance when I write. That means shutting off the e-mail and the social media so I can see what my characters see, feel what they feel through research and rewriting.

Even after I’ve read about historical events, what happened where, I need more. My research often delves into detail: How and where did they cross that river? What did the buildings in the city look like? How did the manor smell when fragrant herbs were strewn on the floor? What would my characters notice? When it comes to emotions, I need to see things from a medieval sensibility, but often there are remarkable similarities to modern people. After all, we’ve all loved, grieved, and experienced pure joy.

Here is one example of my writing process from The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar. First a little history: The Frankish army, led by Charlemagne, destroyed the Irminsul, a pillar sacred to the Continental Saxons. A few drafts into the novel, I realized that the destruction of the Irminsul would have been to my heroine and her contemporaries what 9/11 was to Americans. To say it in those words would have jolted the readers, so I had to think of 9/11 while describing what they saw. Here is a draft of what I came up with:

When the group reached their village at the hilltop, cries shuddered through the crowd. Longhouses were nothing more than scorched beams, and the earth on the farms was torn. The fortress’s great wooden gate looked as if a giant had ripped it asunder.

What they didn’t steal, they burned, Leova thought, stiff with fury, afraid to look to her right where the Irminsul had once stood near the river.

But she could not ignore the keening of the other Saxons. She turned, beholding the chunks of charred wood and the huge black splotch. She crossed her arms and rocked back and forth, sobbing, “All for naught, all for naught.”

Many thanks to D.M. Denton for tagging me. And now it is my pleasure to introduce three wonderful authors who will soon discuss their own writing processes.

On February 24, visit Jessica Knauss. Jessica is glad to at last call New England home. She is the author of the historical epic Seven Noble Knights, a gripping tale of family, betrayal, and revenge set in Spain, and she writes magical realism and absurd fantasy.

And on March 3, visit Tinney Sue Heath, author of A Thing Done (Fireship Press, 2012), an excellent novel in which an annoying prank snowballs into a full-blown vendetta (read my review on Goodreads). Tinney writes historical fiction set in medieval (not  Renaissance!) Italy. She lives in Wisconsin in the midst of a restored prairie and plays early music on a variety of peculiar instruments, ranging from sedate to really, really loud.

Also on March 3, check out Judith Starkston, author of the forthcoming Hand of Fire, (Fireship Press, September 10, 2014), which tells the story of Briseis, the captive woman Achilles and Agamemnon fought over in the Iliad. Judith writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. In addition to her blog, her website includes book reviews and history. She also reviews for Historical Novels Review, The New York Journal of Books, and The Poisoned Pen Blog. She is a classicist (BA University of California, Santa Cruz, MA Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin, and humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Phoenix, along with their golden retriever, Socrates.

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