Today, I had a chance to have a discussion with George Steger, author of Sebastian’s Way. I am fascinated by the middle ages and all the changes throughout that time period. You can read my review HERE. Then enjoy the interview, as George provides some really good answers to my probing questions.
Hi, George and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I am happy to have you here to discuss your writing and your book, Sebastian’s Way! How has the Kansas winter been treating you?
George: Thanks, Erin. The pleasure is mine. As for the weather, I’m fine with Kansas in winter. As a boy, I grew up in the relatively constant summer of Louisiana, I like the change of seasons. I like the smell of winter and the quiet. As one of the characters in my novel says, “The Winter Earth prays and we listen.”
Erin: Let’s have a seat and get ready to discuss some historical goodies. Grab a warm drink, as no matter it’s a bit chilly. At least it is here in Ohio! Let’s get started!
Q: I know you had an international Army career and are now a history professor in the U.S. Both of these most likely either influenced or came about from your love of history. But how has any of it inspired your book, Sebastian’s Way?
A: When I was in the Army I was a Russian foreign area specialist. The Cold War was on then and they kept sending me back to Europe. I spent four tours there as an intelligence officer, working in Germany and Eastern Europe. I had to study a lot to do what I did, and it was easy to become absorbed in the culture and history of the people of Central and Eastern Europe. When I retired I took my Ph.D. in History at the University of Kansas and found a job teaching Russian and European history at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth. Medieval history was one of my favorite courses. The book emerged from both experiences.
Q: How long did you have to research Charlemagne’s era in order to pen your novel? How long did it take you to write your debut novel?
A: I never intended to be an author and probably wouldn’t have except for one of those tragic events that turn your life around. I guess everybody experiences them. Out of the blue, Mary Jo, my wife of many years, was diagnosed with Stage Four breast cancer. I retired from the university to be with her, but it was a lingering illness that lasted five years. During that time I needed something to keep my spirits up and occupy my mind, so I just began to write Sebastian. Happily, Mary Jo collaborated with me for a while. When she passed on, I took a month and went to Spain with my son Ben to walk the Camino de Santiago, the famous medieval pilgrimage trail. It was there I put the rest of Sebastian’s Way together in my mind, and when I got home I finished the book. So I guess the answer is: It took me five or six years. But it was really kind of an accident.
Erin: Oh, my goodness, George. How touching and please accept my sympathies. I am so happy you were able to complete something that she helped you with and that you and your son were able to go on that adventure together. What an amazing story!
Q: Have you been working on other books to continue the story? Do you have a planned series?
A: Yes. I found a great freelance editor in Jenny Quinlan of Historical Editorial; she got totally into the book with me and showed me how we could turn it into a series. The book cover says “Book One of the Sebastian Chronicles.” When I’m not trying to market the first book, I spend time working on the second, which will be called Sebastian’s Will: the Torchbearer. There will be three books in the series, and a prequel, to be called The Horse Master, which will be about Attalus, a character from the first book.
Erin: Jenny Q is amazing and I’m sure she did your cover too…because it is really nice as well! I am excited to read the rest of your series.
Q: What is the most amazing thing you learned during your time researching this era?
A: The background for the novel was the 30-year war Charlemagne fought with the Saxons. It was an apocalyptic conflict between Christian Franks and pagan Saxons, and it was Charlemagne’s toughest fight. If the Saxons had won, who knows what might have happened to the history of Europe and Christianity itself?
Q: What are some things that the modern era would learn if anyone time traveled back to the medieval ages? What lessons learned could they return with to make a better world?
A: The Middle Ages were a thousand years long. It was the transition period between the ancient and modern worlds. In that time, so much happened that impacted on Europe and the way American culture and society were shaped. To name just a few things: the way law checks government (Magna Carta), the seeds of capitalism, the birth of systematic education for many, the founding of charitable institutions, even a breath or two of representative government (the first Parliament), the enormous growth of Christianity, as well as the way we talk, dress, and even think. And for those of us who love books, what would we do without the ideas and great stories that came out of the Arthurian legends, the tales of Richard the Lionhearted and Robin Hood, Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, Abelard and Eloise, the Vikings, Black Death, 100 Years War, Joan of Arc, Crusades, Chaucer, Dante Alighieri? It’s long list. Whether all that made a better world is a very subjective question. Depends on what you think. One thing for sure, the world became a lot more complicated.
Q: Why is Charlemagne such a common name from history still in this day? What gave him lasting prestige? Even if most people don’t really know much about him, they know OF him. What would you tell some about the King who wasn’t historically inclined?
A: Well, he was called “The Great,” even before he died. Not too many monarchs got that distinction. I think he was one of the greatest rulers in European history. He was full of life and ideas. He had supreme confidence in himself and a strong sense of purpose. He firmly believed God had called upon him to create a Christian world and rule it well and justly. And when he died Christianity had indeed triumphed all over Europe. Unlike most monarchs of the time, he genuinely cared for his people and wanted to raise them up to a fuller and more prosperous life. To that end he encouraged every innovation in agriculture and revolutionized writing with the Carolingian miniscule. He instituted extensive educational opportunities and fostered learning in every way, assembling as his advisors the most impressive collection of wise men since the halcyon days of classical Greece or Rome. He pulled Europe out of its barbarian roots and gave it unity for a time. Over the 45 years of his reign, he shifted power from its old center in the Mediterranean to the promising lands north of the Alps and created almost by himself the concept of Europe.
Q: Who else should be remembered from this time period more than they usually are in common society?
A: Ye gods, there are so many—hundreds if you consider the whole thousand years. But if we just look at the time of Charlemagne, I would say his chief advisor Alcuin of York (whose attitude toward advising the king was the model I used for Sebastian) was Charlemagne’s muse and inspiration. I suspect it was Alcuin who was responsible for the more sophisticated way that Charlemagne began to look at the world and the business of ruling. Another fascinating figure but one not thought of so much in terms of purely European history was Harun al Rashid, the Caliph of Baghdad, who ruled the Arab Empire during its golden age. Perhaps you would know him mainly as the central figure in Scheherazade and The Thousand and One Nights. He was, I think, also an inspiration for Charlemagne and one of the most innovative and interesting men of his time.
Erin: Oh true, that is a wide realm to choose from, but those are great thoughts.
Q: What is your favorite part of this time period that makes you passionate to write about it?
A: I like the early Middle Ages because that was the chaotic time after the fall of the Roman Empire that the world began to change and become something vastly different. The center of Western Civilization moved north of the Alps and began to be shaped into the culture and societies that we Europeans and Americans inhabit today.
Q: What are two things you’d really like a prospective reader to know about your series?
A: I think I’d like to emphasize how difficult it is to be different from those around us, but it is only by having the courage to be different in pursuit of some ideal or goal that the world (maybe just the little world around each one of us) does change and become better.
The second thing that readers should know is that Sebastian’s Way is not just an action-packed military adventure story. While it is action-packed, it is also a period drama, with some strong women and a good dose of romance mixed in with a tale of courage, honor, and morality. I expected a military fiction, but what I found was a well-rounded, action-packed period drama.
A compelling and imaginative fiction, Sebastian’s Way is a realistic, romantic, and engrossing tale of valor, morality, and honor.
Q: Do you have any plans or ideas for future historical novels other than your Sebastian series? If so, what time periods, people, or themes?
A: Not at this time. I’m just a first-time author, and there’s a lot on my plate already. We’ll just have to see how things work out.
Q: Where can readers connect with you?
A: I have a website (www.georgesteger.com) and a blog site (http://georgesteger.blogspot.com). And I’m on Facebook as George F. Steger.
Q: Where can your books be purchased?
A: From Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, GoodReads, and from the publisher iUniverse.
Erin: Thank you so much, George, for stopping by today to talk about your book. I’ve appreciated your answers and look forward to the rest of your series!
George: Well, many thanks to you as well, Erin, for your kind interest in Sebastian and for making me think. I also want to thank your readers for their interest. I feel honored that they took the time to read about Sebastian and what it took to create him. I hope they will find him interesting enough to join me in continuing his story.
Sebastian’s Way, Synopsis~
In a dark age of unending war and violence, one young warrior opposes a mighty king to forge a new path to peace…
During the savage Frankish-Saxon wars, the moving force of his age, Karl der Grosse, King Charlemagne, fights and rules like the pagan enemies he seeks to conquer. But in the long shadow of war and genocide, a spark of enlightenment grows, and the king turns to learned men to help him lead his empire to prosperity.
One of these men is the unlikely young warrior Sebastian. Raised in an isolated fortress on the wild Saxon border, Sebastian balances his time in the training yard with hours teaching himself to read, seeking answers to the great mysteries of life during an age when such pastimes were scorned by fighting men. Sebastian’s unique combination of skills endears him to Charlemagne and to the ladies of the king’s court, though the only woman to hold his heart is forbidden to him. As the king determines to surround himself with men who can both fight and think beyond the fighting, Sebastian becomes one of the privileged few to hold the king’s ear.
But the favor of the king does not come without a cost. As Charlemagne’s vassals grapple for power, there are some who will do anything to see Sebastian fall from grace, including his ruthless cousin Konrad, whose hatred and jealousy threaten to destroy everything Sebastian holds dear. And as Sebastian increasingly finds himself at odds with the king’s brutal methods of domination and vengeance, his ingrained sense of honor and integrity lead him to the edge of treason, perilously pitting himself against the most powerful man of his age.
This fast-paced adventure story brings Charlemagne’s realm to life as the vicious Christian-pagan wars of the eighth century decide the fate of Europe. Filled with action, intrigue, and romance, Sebastian’s Way is a riveting and colorful recreation of the world of Europe’s greatest medieval monarch.
Author George Steger, Biography~
A native of Louisiana, the author followed a long tradition of young men from the Deep South by seeking to improve his prospects in the military. From a green second lieutenant in the famed 101st Airborne Division to battalion command in Vietnam, Colonel Steger spent most of the rest of his military career in four European tours as an intelligence officer and Russian foreign area specialist, working on both sides of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. He traded sword for plowshare in a second career in academia and is now Professor Emeritus of history and international affairs at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas. The motivation to write Sebastian’s Way came from his experiences in both war and peace, from fourteen years in Germany and Eastern Europe, and from his love of teaching medieval and other European history courses.
Steger is an avid hiker and trail biker, and much of the story of Sebastian came out of time spent in the woods and fields of eastern Kansas. In memory of Mary Jo, his wife of many years, he and filmmaker son Ben spent a recent summer trekking across Spain on The Camino de Santiago, one of Europe’s oldest pilgrimage trails. He lives and writes in rural Kansas and has four other grown and gifted children.
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/sebastianswaytour
Tour Hashtag: #SebastiansWayTour