Fear of Death vs. Fear of Hell


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In the 750s, Saint Lebwin needed to make a decision: stay in his native England and its familiarity or sail to a foreign land and preach to a possibly hostile audience.

His hagiography says God called Lebwin to be a missionary, but Lebwin hesitated. He might have known about Saint Boniface’s martyrdom in Frisia. Perhaps, Lebwin admired Boniface for his faith and bravery, and believed Boniface was assured his place in heaven. But Lebwin might not have wanted to meet his end that way.

Medieval people were afraid death like the rest of us.  Maybe even more so, because the priests’ sermons often included eternal punishment for those who disobeyed. Or suffering for a while in Purgatory. Fear for the fate of his soul might have motivated Lebwin the third time God admonished him to go to the Continent.

Once he left home, Lebwin remained committed to his mission, despite the dangers. For more about him, see my post on English Historical Fiction Authors.

Saint Lebwin

An illustration of Lebwin by Frederick Bloemaert, between 1635 and 1650 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

No Such Thing As Medieval Journalists


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Writing a guest post comparing historical novelists and journalists reminded me of another consequence of a society having only a select few who can write: no fair, independent truth-tellers.

In Charlemagne’s day, writing was left to the clerks. Charlemagne himself could read but not write, despite some attempts later in life to scratch out letters on a wax tablet. Those clerks served the Church or were employed by an aristocrat. Their purpose was to do what the boss wanted, not provide a fair, objective account of events for the masses.

Not that it would make much difference for medieval folks. While secular and Church nobility formed alliances with royalty, commoners had no say in who would lead them. As imperfect as our politics are today, our citizenry does have that say, and the independent voices of journalists are critical in decision making.

Journalists aren’t perfect—no one is. And I, a former newspaper reporter and editor, am the first to criticize short-sighted corporate decisions in the interest of the next quarterly profit. But the people who shared the newsroom with me were honest professionals verifying their facts and trying to tell all sides of a story.

For more about how novelists and journalists face similar issues, see my post at Home Row.


Not a journalist: Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne is far from an objective account (15th century, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Coming Nov. 2, 2016: ‘The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar’


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When the rights for my first two books reverted to me, my goal was to get both of The Ashes of Heaven's Pillarthem back up on the market on my terms. So, it is with pleasure that I announce The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar will be rereleased Nov. 2, 2016. The ebook is available for preorder at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes. Like The Cross and the Dragon, Ashes will also be available in print at Amazon and other vendors. If you’d like an email when the print book is available, send a note to kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

I wrote Ashes as both a companion and a counterpoint to Cross and Dragon. Unlike journalism, fiction is telling a story from a distinct point of view, which by its nature means others are excluded. My heroine and hero in Cross and Dragon are Frankish Christian aristocrats, and I wanted to know what the history was like for the pagans in Continental Saxony, especially the commoners. A family of Saxons hijacked the plot of my second book, and Ashes was born. Here is the blurb:

Can a Mother’s Love Triumph over War?

772: Charlemagne’s battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her beloved husband died in combat. Her faith lies shattered in the ashes of the Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. The relatives obligated to defend her and her family instead sell them into slavery.

In Francia, Leova is resolved to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her honor. 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 and is Sunwynn’s champion—but he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband.

Set against a backdrop of historic events, including the destruction of the Irminsul, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar explores faith, friendship, and justice—a tale described by reviewers as “transportive and triumphant,” “captivating,” and “compelling.”

If you’d like to know more, you can read an excerpt and the first chapter at my website, kimrendfeld.com.


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 donnacronk.com.

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.

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