An Abbey as a Divorce Settlement?


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In The Cross and the Dragon, my heroine, Alda, is frustrated that she hasn’t been able to conceive a child. The stakes for her are higher than an emotion, as you will see in this excerpt.

TCATD_FINAL_SMALL“I have something to give you,” Bertrada said. Halting her steps, she reached into an embroidered pouch on her girdle and withdrew a small gold disk on a chain. “It is a medal of Saint Andrew. I did not conceive for the first three years I was married, but after I prayed to him, Charles quickened inside me.”

“I … I … thank you,” Alda stammered.

Alda gazed at the medal in her hand. It showed an image of a haloed, bearded man with an odd-looking cross in the background. She picked out the Latin words for “saint” and “pray” in the inscription along the edges. She kissed the medal.

“You have been a good wife to Hruodland,” the queen mother said, “and I pray that his seed takes hold in your womb. But if God does not answer our prayers, perhaps He is calling you to a vocation. Taking the veil would be honorable and richly rewarded.”

Alda’s cheeks burned and her spine stiffened. Should I not bear a son, she wants to free Hruodland for another marriage by offering me an abbey. Alda chose her words carefully. “I thank you for the medal and your prayers. I will heed God’s will, whatever it may be.”

Closing her fingers around the medal, she tried to push aside the doubts creeping into her mind. Is Hruodland trying to set me aside?

Although Alda is fictional, her circumstances are not. Marriage was not a sacrament, but ending the relationship the wrong way could result in a feud. If the wife willingly took the veil, both families could walk away with something. The woman would have land and people to rule and could maintain an influence in politics. This brings up another question: was a medieval woman better off as a countess or an abbess? Visit Annie’s Whitehead Casting Light upon the Shadows for my perspective.

A New Saint for My Heroine


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I had not decided I would write about Saint Wigbert until I saw this tantalizing bit in The Catholic Encyclopedia: “during an incursion of the Saxons (774) his remains were taken for safety to Büraburg.”

Büraburg? Where the heroine of Queen of the Darkest Hour is from? Let me rewind a tad and make a confession. Fastrada, Charlemagne’s fourth wife—or third if you believe royal propaganda—was from east of the Rhine, but exactly where is uncertain. I’ve seen Thuringia and the Main valley. For her to feel real to me, I needed a specific place, so I picked the hilltop fortress of Büraburg. It was a not a royal property, and just as important, it was a strategic location. A Frankish king still at war with the Saxons would want to ally himself with whoever controlled the place.

Büraburg also gave me fuel for the story. I could place my heroine there as a child while the Saxons attacked. Those traumatic events would follow her into adulthood and shape how she felt about the pagans so close to her lands and how she advised her husband. Now I learned my Fastrada was in the physical presence of a saint while stones from catapults crashed into the walls.

I originally had Fastrada revering Saint Ursula of Cologne, who with her virginal companions (by the 9th century legend has the number at 11,000) were martyred in the city but later saved it.

But Wigbert was with her in a literal sense during a crisis, so he will continue to have a presence in my version of events. For more about Wigbert, see my post on English Historical Fiction Authors.


St. Wigbert” by Klemens Löffler, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

Stations of the Cross at Buraburg

Stations of the Cross at Büraburg in 2013 (photo by By AxelHH, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Charlemagne’s Family Feud and the Fate of the Church


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Charlemagne and Pope Hadrian I

A 1493 miniature from the Chronicles of France, printed by Antoine Verard, depicts Pope Hadrian I meeting Charlemagne (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain image).

When he was merely King Charles, one of Charlemagne’s family feuds involved his ex-father-in-law, along with his widowed sister-in-law and her young sons, and the fate of the Church hung in the balance. For Alda, the heroine of The Cross and the Dragon, these were current events.

On his deathbed in 768, King Pepin followed Frankish custom and split the realm between his surviving sons, Charles and Carloman. Charles was 20, and Carloman was 17. Both were married to Frankish women Pepin had picked out for them.

The brothers did not get along. Charles put down a rebellion in Aquitaine in 769, with no assistance from Carloman. The queen mother, Bertrada, intervened and worked to ensure peace between her sons along with their cousin Tassilo, the duke of Bavaria, and Lombard King Desiderius, one of whose daughter was the Bavarian duchess.

This was a time when marriages were a means of diplomacy, and in 770, Bertrada was arranging a marriage between Charles and a Lombard princess. In the summer of that year, Pope Stephen III wrote an impassioned letter to both brothers urging them not to marry her. In 770/71, Charles divorced his first wife, the mother of his eldest son Pepin (also called Pepin the Hunchback), and married the Lombard princess.

Shortly after Carloman died (December 4, 771), his widow, Gerberga, fled to Italy with their two young sons. Meanwhile, Charles divorced the Lombard and married Hildegard, whose father ruled over land that used to be in Carloman’s kingdom. She was also from the powerful Agilolfing clan as was Tassilo. Like his father, Charles seized land from his nephews.

In 772, the same year as Charles’s first war in Saxony, Desiderius was trying to get Pope Stephen’s successor, Hadrian I, to anoint Carloman’s sons. The Lombard king seized papal cities and threatened Rome. The pope asked Charles to fulfill his father’s oath as patrician of Rome and come to his aid.

After attempts to bribe Desiderius failed, Charles crossed the Alps in the fall of 773. Desiderius fled to Pavia, while Gerberga and her sons fled to Verona, accompanied by Desiderius’s son, Adalgis. Charles laid siege to Pavia, then took a smaller force to Verona, where Gerberga surrendered voluntarily. Adalgis escaped and became an official in the Byzantine court, and years later, he would cause trouble for his ex-brother-in-law.

Charles returned to Pavia. As the siege wore on, he visited Rome at Easter, presumably seeking divine intervention. He finally won after a year-long siege, seized the Lombard crown, and sent Desiderius, his wife, and a daughter to the cloister.

History is silent on the fate of Gerberga and her sons, yet one can reasonably speculate they, too, ended up at an abbey. After all, it is how Charles’s two other family feuds ended, one involving his eldest son, Pepin; the other with the duke of Bavaria and his family.

A version of this post was originally published at Unusual Historicals on April 25, 2012.


Charlemagne: Translated Sources, P.D. King

Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernhard Walters Scholz with Barbara Rogers

Charlemagne: Empire and Society, edited by Joanna Story

The Heroine’s Hometown Is Fictional. Really.


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I’m happy to welcome my friend author Donna Cronk to Outtakes. Donna has written two contemporary Christian novels whose widowed heroine Samantha Jerrett must start over and decides to do so in a small town that feels familiar to anyone who’s lived in one, both the good and the not-so-good. Here, Donna discusses the place that inspired her.—Kim 

By Donna Cronk

Donna CronkI have no idea how one is supposed to write a novel.

Does one come up with a story outline? Start with a character or two and tell their stories? Does it all begin with a theme?

Beats me.

I can only tell you how my first novel, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast, came about, and how I continued the story with That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland.

The writing started with a place—a most specific place to me, but a place that each reader envisions in her own way. That place, whatever name you give it, is called home.

For me, home is Liberty, Indiana, because that is my hometown. Even though I’m transparent that when I wrote the books, Liberty is in my mind the backdrop for the action, I decided to call the town something else. After all, it was Liberty where my novels unfolded, but it was a fictional version of Liberty. So I called it Freedom.

I’m told that people in my real hometown try to figure out who is real, who is not, and most of all, who is the real-life nasty character—Samantha’s nemesis—the one I call Ellen.

They don’t believe me when I tell them that Ellen is made up, that she was necessary to set up conflict and move the story forward. They hear me out, then whisper, “I think I know who she is.”

I’ve had readers from other small towns tell me that surely I modeled the cover picture of the bed and breakfast after a house in their hometowns. Well, no, I didn’t.

Yet I love it when the story, characters, and plot resonate with readers from near and far. I like to think it’s because the stories are believable and the characters transferrable to people we’ve all known. Don’t we all tend to see ourselves through literature?

Union County Courthouse

Union County Courthouse in Liberty, Indiana (photo by Donna Cronk)

The first book began as a reaction to The Empty Nest. As life spun out of control when my boys left home, my longing for home, true home, got the best of me.

My husband mentioned that there’s nowhere else in retirement he would rather live than Liberty, Indiana. And that’s when I started this fictional story about a woman whose life is a mess, so she returns home. And there she gets into another mess. Place, even if it is home, doesn’t save us from ourselves.

My stories unfolded in this unique place I call Freedom. My main character went home again. And I got to go along for the ride.

Won’t you join me there?

That Sweet Place coverDonna Cronk lives in Pendleton, Indiana. By day, she is a newspaper journalist in New Castle, Indiana. By night she enjoys creating inspirational programs for women. Her novels are Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast and the sequel, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. They are on Amazon. Contact her at newsgirl.1958 [at] gmail [dot] com. Visit her website at

Yes, ‘Barbarians’ Did Have Art


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Several years ago, a then-critique partner commented on my reference to a mural in an early medieval building in The Cross and the Dragon—something like, “Weren’t they barbarians? How could they have art?”

Justice and warfare in eighth century Europe fits my modern-day definition of barbaric. Despite that grim reality, the need for art and beauty transcends time and geography. Cultures lacking our scientific knowledge and technology will display their creativity and skill, even in everyday objects like a clay pot or woven basket.

The Dark Ages was no exception to the yearning for art. In fact the Franks, so-called barbarians, had many attributes of a civilized society: poets, scholars, theologians, doctors and midwives, books and music, skilled craftsmen, and artists. Most of that without the benefit of a textbook.

So I’ve come to a couple of conclusions:

  1. A long-ago society can still be civilized, even when it lacks some of our 21st century standards.
  2. To assume a society was bereft of art denies its people their humanity.

For more about a particular early medieval art form, see my post about Carolingian frescoes on Unusual Historicals.

Carolingian Fresco of the Flight to Egypt

A fresco of the flight into Egypt, circa 825, Monastery Church of Saint John in Müstair, Switzerland (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Medieval Kids Didn’t Choose How They’d Spend Their Lives


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No medieval child was ever asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

That question reveals how we Americans value our individualism. From a very young age, we’re taught that we determine our fate.

No so in the Middle Ages. That decision was in the hands of the parents, everything from whom their child would marry to whether they’d join the clergy.

Charlemagne and Byzantine Empress Irene, for example, arranged a betrothal between his 6-year-old daughter and her 10-year-old son in 781. Seven years later, each monarch took credit for breaking off the agreement, even though the teenage bridegroom was upset. (We don’t know how the bride felt.)

That same concept applied when parents gave a young child to the Church. This comes to mind as I write another post about medieval parents who did just that. In fact, if we are to believe the source, it’s the very reason the father got married in the first place. See my post about Saint Wilgils at English Historical Fiction Authors for more.

St. Willibrord Sculpture

Wilgils’s son, Willibrord (photo by Ytzen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A New Life for ‘The Cross and the Dragon’


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The Cross and the Dragon coverToday marks an important day for The Cross and the Dragon, my debut novel about Alda, a young early medieval noblewoman who must contend with a vengeful jilted suitor and the anxiety her beloved husband will die in battle. I am reintroducing my first book baby to the world, clad in a beautiful new cover created by talented graphic artist and my friend Jessica Kerkhoff.

When the rights to both my books reverted to me, I was determined to make them available to readers again. I had invested too much of my time, my effort, and myself to do otherwise. I decided to go indie because I wanted to release The Cross and the Dragon on my terms.

And you, the readers, encouraged me. If I am to believe the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads—and why shouldn’t I?—most people who’ve read the book loved it. To those of you who read the novel when it was previously published, thank you. If you wrote a review, you have my undying gratitude. And if you meant to get a copy, but never quite got around to it, here’s your chance.

To celebrate my novel’s new life, I’m giving away a signed paperback to one lucky U.S. resident, thanks to Goodreads (check out the widget below). At the same time, I’m giving away one ebook in the format of your choice in the form of a 100 percent off coupon from Smashwords. The ebook giveawy is open internationally from now until September 5, 2016. To enter the ebook giveaway, all you need to do is agree to get an email whenever one of my books is published and leave your email address in the comments.

If you just can’t wait, ebooks are available at Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and other vendors. You can get print copies at Amazon and CreateSpace, among other vendors.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Cross and the Dragon by Kim Rendfeld

The Cross and the Dragon

by Kim Rendfeld

Giveaway ends September 05, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


Astronomy? Astrology? No Difference in the Dark Ages.


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I hope my post on Unusual Historicals won’t drive my scientifically minded friends too crazy. I’m using the term astronomy to describe a natural philosophy closer to today’s astrology. But early medieval scholars called their study of the universe astronomy.

They saw similar phenomena as today’s stargazers do—eclipses, comets, planets, constellations—but it was for a different purpose. Well, sort of. Astronomers throughout the ages sought explanations for their observations. Today’s scientists look at forces such as gravity. In the Middle Ages, scholars were trying to figure out Gods’ will and believed unusual events in the sky were omens.

See my post for more on how Carolingians saw the universe.

Ninth century diagrams

Ninth century diagrams show the division of the day and the week (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

When a Writer Must Imagine the Unthinkable



I’m nervous about my post in English Historical Fiction Authors. In an eighth-century German community, a young disabled beggar killed her newborn, to the horror of the villagers and a group of missionary nuns from Britain.

More than a millennium later, I’m as appalled as they are, yet I try to explain why the girl would do such a thing. It would be easier for me to paint the teenager as a fiend and not speculate on her motives. But I’m a novelist, and my job is to put myself inside the heads of other people, even those whose actions disgust me.

When I think of the young mother, I don’t see a monster. Rather I see an outcast with no friends or family or even a midwife, someone who might have been so deep in the throes of depression that she truly believed her baby better off dead. Her deed is still heinous, but trying to understand her makes her human.

For more, see my post on EHFA about the baby in the river.

Studies of Beggars and Vagrants

Studies of Beggars and Vagrants, between 1465 and 1559, by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Heisenberg and Schroedinger Develop Equally Valuable Ideas but Criticize Each Other


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In this installment on the history of atom theory, physics professor (and my dad) Dean Zollman features Erwin Schroedinger—best known for his thought experiment involving a box and a cat. Schroedinger found a way to visualize quantum ideas. Heisenberg, who developed a more complex approach, was not pleased.—Kim

By Dean Zollman

Dean ZollmanAs I discussed last time, Heisenberg developed his ideas without any direct reference to wave-particle duality that had been postulated by Louis de Broglie. A different approach was taken by Erwin Schroedinger (1887-1961). He took the wave ideas to heart and began working on a theory in which an electron in the hydrogen atom behaved somewhat as a vibrating string. As shown in the diagram below, a string which is fixed at both ends can support only certain vibrations which are related to the length of the string. Thus this phenomena seems to have some relation to the Bohr atom with its limit on the number energies.

Three Different Modes of Vibrations

Three different modes of vibrations for a string which is held fixed at both ends. (By Christophe Dang Ngoc, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Schroedinger needed to combine this idea with the de Broglie hypothesis to obtain a mathematical formulation for atoms and other small objects. As with Heisenberg, Schroedinger’s breakthrough would come when he took time away from his daily grind. However, his motivation was quite different from Heisenberg’s hay fever. I will rely on Arthur I. Miller, a historian of science, to describe it.

“A good friend of Erwin Schroedinger recalled that ‘he did his greatest work during a late erotic outburst in his life.’ The epiphany occurred in the Christmas holidays of 1925 when the thirty-eight-year-old Viennese physicist vacationed with his former girlfriend at the Swiss ski resort of Arosa near Davos. Their passion was the catalyst for a year-long creative activity.”

(Most historians suspect that Schroedinger’s wife, Annemarie (1896-1965), would have been aware of this liaison. Schroedinger was a well-known womanizer.)

Erwin Schroedinger

Erwin Schroedinger in 1933 (Nobel Foundation, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Schroedinger constructed his equation by using de Broglie’s concept and analogies with optics and other wave phenomena. The result was a differential equation in which one can enter information about the energy of the particle. Then solving the equation yields a wave function which provides some information about the particle’s motion. I am being deliberately vague because at the time it was not clear to Schroedinger or his colleagues exactly what information the wave function was providing.

Schroedinger on the Austrian 1000 shilling note

Prior to the creation of the euro, Schroedinger appeared on the Austrian 1000 shilling note. (By Oesterreichische Nationalbank, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Schroedinger’s equation was more appealing to physicists than Heisenberg’s matrix formulation. First, differential equations, while they can be difficult to solve, were well known entities. Newton’s Second Law is an example of a differential equation which physicists had been dealing with for about 200 years. Second, it was much easier to use in calculations than the matrix approach.

As I mentioned last time, using matrices Wolfgang Pauli needed 40 pages of calculations to obtain numbers for the energy levels in the hydrogen. With the Schroedinger approach, a couple of pages is sufficient. The solution, the wave function, can be visualized. For example, the sketch below shows part of the wave function solution for a beam of electrons striking a very thin metal plate. The top drawing represents the electron energy (blue line) with the thin metal represented by the black line. The bottom drawing is the wave function when the information from the top drawing is put into Schroedinger’s equation.  (These drawings are from one of my teaching projects, Visual Quantum Mechanics.)

Shroedinger equation

Part of a wave function. (From the Quantum Tunneling program of Visual Quantum Mechanics.)

In the early days, the wave function was thought to represent the location of the charge on the electron or the distribution of the electric charge in space. Neither were very satisfying. Eventually Max Born suggested that the square of the wave function represents the probably of finding the electron at each point in space. That interpretation of the wave function did not have a strong theoretical foundation but it stuck and made calculations using Schroedinger’s equation very valuable and useful in a variety of areas of physics and chemistry.

In describing both Heisenberg’s and Schroedinger’s approach I have used words such as developed or constructed; I have avoided derived. In physics and mathematics, we generally think about fundamental laws being derived. We start with some principles that are well established, bring them together, maybe make a few assumptions, and derive some new ideas.

For both the matrix and wave approach to quantum physics, this was not the case. To get to useful results, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, and their colleagues used a variety of analogies and other operations that made sense but could not be derived. Their work is the basis for essentially all of the physics and chemistry related to very small objects. Yet, it cannot be derived; it just works.


Within a few years it was clearly shown that the two approaches were equivalent and led to the same conclusions. However, that did not make Heisenberg and Schroedinger friends. Publicly and privately, they criticized each other. A statement from Schroedinger about the origin of his work says,

My theory was inspired by L. de Broglie … and by short but incomplete remarks by A. Einstein. … No genetic relationship whatever with Heisenberg is known to me. I knew of his theory, of course, but felt discouraged, not to say repelled, by the methods of transcendental algebra which appeared very difficult to me and by the lack of visualizability.

Schroedinger was repelled by matrix mathematics (which he called “transcendental algebra”) and the lack of a visual connection. Heisenberg, in a letter to Pauli, was somewhat stronger in his views and Schroedinger’s reliance on visualization.

The more I reflect on the physical portion of Schroedinger’s theory the more disgusting I find it. What Schrodinger writes on the visualizability of his theory is probably not quite right. In other words, it’s crap.

Of course, the letter was written in German. The translation here comes from a chapter by Arthur I. Miller. I have seen the last word (crap) translated in a variety of waysfrom poppycock to bullsh**. The German word was Mist which is generally translated as manure. In today’s usage, at least among my German friends, crap is a good translation. Some of the others are too mild, and some are too strong.

Both Approaches Have Their Place

While feelings ran high in the 1920s, both approaches are now considered very valuable. Physicists choose which to use based on what type of problem they need to solve. For most teaching situations, the wave function approach is introduced first because of its visualization capabilities. However, in some recent advanced undergraduate courses instructors have been starting with part of the matrix method.

Most importantly, quantum physics was a revolution in the way we think about matter. It provides the foundation for our understanding and allows engineers and scientists to develop and design many of our modern devices. What started with the ancient Greeks’ attempts to understand matter reached a milestone thousands of years later with the development of quantum physics.

There are still some fundamental unanswered questions about quantum physics. Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman (1918-1988) famously said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” But it has worked well for almost 100 years to explain many phenomena related to atoms, molecules, and solids.

When I began this series almost four years ago, I started with ideas from a short lecture that I had given at the Smithsonian Institution in the 1990s. Based on that talk, I expected to write about six to eight posts and be done. But I found a lot of interesting distractions along the way. Now that I have finally reached the quantum revolution, I will take a break. A lot of interesting developments have occurred in the past 90 years. Before I think more about them, I will pause for a while.

Dean Zollman is university distinguished professor of physics at Kansas State University, where he has been a faculty member for more than 40 years. During his career he has received four major awardsthe American Association of Physics Teachers’ Oersted Medal (2014), the National Science Foundation Director’s Award for Distinguished Teacher Scholars (2004), the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Doctoral University Professor of the Year (1996), and AAPT’s Robert A. Millikan Medal (1995). His present research concentrates on the teaching and learning of physics and on science teacher preparation.


What Are Things Made of? Depends on When You Ask.

Ancient Greeks Were the First to Hypothesize Atoms

The Poetry of Atoms

Atom Theory in Ancient India

Religion, Science Clashed over Atoms

Medieval Arabic Scholarship Might Have Preserved Scientific Knowledge

Rediscovering a Roman Poet – and Atom Theory – Centuries Later

Reconciling Atom Theory with Religion

Did Atom Theory Play a Role in Galileo’s Trouble with the Inquisition?

Did Gifted Scientist’s Belief in Atoms Led to His Obscurity?

Does Atom Theory Apply to the Earthly and the Divine?

A Duchess Inspired by Atoms

Separating Atoms from Atheism

Isaac Newton: 300 Years Ahead of His Time

Issac Newton and the Philosopher’s Stone

When Chemistry and Physics Split

Redefining Elements

Mme Lavoisier: Partner in Science, Partner in Life

With Atoms, Proportionality and Simplicity Rule

Despite Evidence of Atoms, 19th Century Skeptics Didn’t Budge

Mission of the First International Scientific Conference: Clear up Confusion

Rivalry over the First Periodic Table

The Puzzle of Dark Lines amid Rainbow Colors

The Colorful Signature of Each Element

Light Waves by the Numbers

Even Scientific Dead Ends Can Contribute to Knowledge

Discovery of the Electron Took Decades and Multiple Scientists

‘Wonders of the X-ray’

The Accidental Discovery of Radioactivity

Marie Curie: A Determined Scientist

Pierre and Marie Curie Extract Radium – and Pay a High Price

Scientists Delve into Radioactivity and Make Their Own Discoveries

The First Attempts to Visualize Atoms

Did Busy Work Lead to Models for Atoms?

Why Does Ice Melt? The Answer Lies in Physics.

Einstein Explains How a Dim Light Can Release More Energy Than a Bright One

How Bohr’s Famous Model of the Atom Was Created

Bohr’s Model of the Atom Answers Fundamental Questions – but Raises More

Bohr’s Model of the Atom Draws Critics

‘A First Feeble Ray of Light’ to Explain Electrons’ Orbits

Two Labs across the Atlantic Prove That Electrons Behave Like Waves

A Mathematical Approach to Atoms That Works but Is Complex