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It’s the readers’ first impression and one of the toughest things to come up with: What do we call this book?

How do we entice the readers in a few words and give them a clue to what they are about to read? Not an easy task considering it takes 100,000 words or so to tell the story.

I struggled with the title for my third novel, which is very much a work in progress. For The Cross and the Dragon, I used two symbols of my heroine’s life. Her cross sits beside her iron dragon amulet. The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar struck me as I pondered what it would have been like for the pagan Saxon heroine of my second book to witness the destruction of a sacred monument.

I left my third novel untitled for a while but got tired of calling it Book No. 3. So I slapped in Lady Queen Fastrada, naming it after my protagonist. Problem is, few people today know who Fastrada was, although everyone has heard of her husband, Charlemagne. When I contemplated the title, I riffed off of “queen” and “royal.”

I had thought of The Cruelty of Queen Fastrada, stealing a phrase from Einhard’s posthumous biography of Charlemagne, but my take on the monarch’s fourth wife is that she wasn’t cruel by medieval standards, just made into a scapegoat after she and her widower were dead. I intended irony but worried that readers would think the book was about a bad woman doing bad things.

Queen of the Dark Days came to mind when I read a similar phrase in an academic paper. Fastrada was queen during the darkest days of her husband’s reign—an epidemic among the horses in the army, a coup attempt by one of his sons, and a disastrous canal project. The last occurred after my story ends.

But I decided Pepin the Hunchback’s rebellion against his father was indeed the darkest hour of Charlemagne’s rule, and thus the title.

There is more work to do—finishing the book is the top priority. But I finally have something to call the book. And to celebrate, I’ve posted the most recent draft of the first chapter on my website, kimrendfeld.com.

From the 19th century Costume of All Nations

From the 19th century Costume of All Nations

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