Hi Kim and welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I enthusiastically enjoyed your debut novel The Cross and the Dragon, which took place in Francia in 778 near the early reign of Charlemagne, and our wonderful interview then. I’ve looked forward to having you back again. With the debut of your companion novel, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, it’s a great time to ask you a few more questions about your newest writing endeavor and what’s been going on with you this last year.
How has your launch been going for you?
Kim: Glad to be back, Erin. The schedule has been a whirlwind, a good whirlwind of reviews, interviews, and guest posts. It’s rewarding to see this novel so well received.
Erin: That’s wonderful news! Come in and have a seat and let’s make some tea. It’s still pretty muggy, so I have fresh brewed iced tea available or lemonade? Maybe peach or raspberry tea or strawberry lemonade? Pick your pleasure.
Kim: All sound delicious. How about raspberry iced tea?
Erin: Wonderful choice, I’ll pour and let’s get started! But first, let’s peek at your cover again…
Q: Did you have plans in the works for The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar when writing The Cross and the Dragon? Do they connect to one another, or are they stand alone works?
A: When I wrote The Cross and the Dragon, I intended it to be a stand-alone book, but when I finished the manuscript, I went through an odd form of grief, one that could only be dealt with by writing another book. At first, I was going to feature two nuns I had met in Cross and Dragon, but I couldn’t get a plot to coalesce. I also wanted to delve more deeply into the events from the Saxon side, and three secondary characters, a Saxon family sold into slavery, kept telling me I’d needed to write their story. I surrendered.
The two stories overlap a little, but each can stand alone.
Q: How much research did you need to do for The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar and how long did it take you to write it?
A: It’s difficult to quantify the research. The events are the same, but the culture of the Continental Saxons presents a challenge. They didn’t have a written language as we know it, and the Church made every effort to obliterate their pagan religion, which it considered devil worship. Among other things, I used translated primary sources from the Franks, academic papers, folk tales, and even the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.
How long it took to write is also not easy to calculate. I was writing Ashes while I sought a publisher for Cross and Dragon and sometimes would set it aside to revise my first novel. My estimate is five years.
Q: Are you a writer who outlines and follows painstakingly or a more “go with the flow” type of author?
A: If I tried to outline, I’d get stuck. With the second novel, I drafted a few chapters, then wrote an outline. Then threw everything away when the Saxons hijacked the plot. I wrote another outline and probably got about a third of the way through before casting that aside and going where the characters dictated.
Q: What types of historical discoveries have you made during your research that you want to share with readers? What themes of this time period interest you the most?
A: When I decided to write a novel set in the days of Charlemagne, I knew very little about the Middle Ages and had only heard of the monarch in middle school. So I was surprised by much of what I learned and could write an entire book. In the interest of brevity, I’ll provide just two examples. On a lighter note, medieval people did in fact bathe and considered it healthy. On the more serious side, Charlemagne’s most bitter wars were fought against pagan peoples.
I’m drawn to what the primary sources don’t say. Most authors depict the Saxons as brutes and treat war captives as booty. Historical fiction is a way to fill in the gaps and restore humanity to these people.
Q: The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is set during the destruction of the Irminsul. Can you explain for readers what that meant to the Saxons? How did they cope with the new wave of Christianity and what did it mean to them?
A: Your questions are what I wanted to explore in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar. Since the eighth-century Continental Saxons didn’t write anything down, what I’m about to say amounts my best guess based on research. While we don’t know what the Irminsul was made of, where it was, or even if there was only one, it was sacred, perhaps emblematic, to the Saxon peoples. Its destruction might have been to the Saxons what September 11, 2001, was to Americans.
Some Saxons might have already practiced Christianity before Charlemagne’s first war in 772, but the Frankish annals complain again and again about how the Saxons broke their oaths, reverted to paganism, burned churches, and killed indiscriminately. Alcuin, a scholar and courtier in Charlemagne’s palaces, provides a more nuanced explanation. He sees a lack of education about the faith and more enthusiasm for collecting tithes than preaching as reasons for the Saxons’ stubborn rejection of Christianity.
Q: Did many need to convert to survive? What was it like for them to give up the only gods they had ever known?
A: In the earlier wars, Charlemagne might have seen conversion, especially of the Saxon leaders, as a means to ensure they kept their promises of peace. If someone is going to swear a loyalty oath, they invoke the divine, and whose deity do they swear by? To Charles, there was only one.
However, when the First Saxon Capitulary was issued in 782, refusing baptism was a capital offense as were pagan practices such as burning the dead. So, many Saxons might have accepted baptism to survive. Even though the vow required them to renounce their gods, the Saxons did not give them up entirely. Folk tales reflect that. The Germanic goddess Mother Holle punishes the lazy. Nixies are still evil creatures who live near water.
My heroine’s practice of praying to whoever might listen was common.
Some readers familiar with the period will cite the 782 execution of 4,500 leaders of a Saxon rebellion. While appalling to us in the 21st century, that incident likely had more to do with avenging a terrible defeat at the hands of the Saxons rather than an extreme attempt to force conversion. Charles had no choice if he wished to maintain alliances and stability without his own country.
A) Why was Charlemagne battling in Saxony? What was this like for people on both sides?
B) Your novel focuses on a family that was forever changed due to the wars. Did you create your characters based on fact or as fictional based on what might have been happening to any family at the time?
1) The Franks and the Saxons had fought each other long before Charles’ first war. Perhaps, Charles saw the Saxons as a military threat when he decided to invade in 772; perhaps, he wanted to protect Church interests. He might have had the Irminsul destroyed because it was a way to show the powerlessness of the Saxon gods.
I imagine the Franks saw themselves doing God’s will as they served their country and fought ancestral enemies. Many of the soldiers were teenagers and their compensation was what they pillaged from the conquered. To the Franks, the Saxons made an oath, handed over hostages to ensure the peace, and then soon broke their vows.
The Saxons went through years of war, destroyed homes and crops, and if we are to believe Alcuin, priests exacting heavy tithes. To them, their promises were exacted at knifepoint and therefore invalid. No wonder they rebelled when they got the chance, but they did it in a brutal way.
Neither side is innocent, and vengeance was ingrained in both cultures.
2) Leova and her children are products of my imagination. The primary sources rarely address peasants or pagans, so to know what the wars were like for an ordinary family, I had to make one up.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of medieval history? What areas need to be explored further?
A: Medieval women were not damsels in distress awaiting a knight to rescue them. Although arranged unions and marriages for girls age 12 or 13 made the period less than ideal, women tried to influence their reality and shape the events around them. Your readers may recall Queen Mother Bertrada, whom I wrote about in March for your Women in History series (you can read that HERE). After her husband died, each of her two sons inherited a kingdom, and she worked tirelessly to prevent sibling rivalry from escalating to civil war.
One thing that make medieval times fun to write about (but not live in) is how the personal and political were intertwined for royal families. Charles’s decisions on whom to marry had national and international implications. At the beginning of Cross and Dragon, Charles is about to go to war with the king of Lombardy, his ex-father-in-law angry over the insult to his daughter.
Q: Do you have plans to write more books in this “series” or will you write about other historical times and places?
A: I am working on a third book about Charles’s fourth wife, Fastrada, who was queen when Pepin, the king’s eldest son by his first wife, rebelled. A couple of primary sources blame her cruelty but never say what she did, and they seem to ignore that a son cut out of succession might resent it enough to stage a coup. After I finish this book, I will listen to what the muse tells me to write next.
Q: What are some of the books you read to increase your knowledge and improve your writing style? These can be research books or favorite authors that you admire the writing style of or both!
A: My library includes Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne, translated by Evelyn Scherabon Firchow and Edwin H. Zeydel; Carolingian Chronicles, which includes the Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers; P.D. King’s Charlemagne: Translated Sources, and Pierre Riché’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, translated by Jo Ann McNamara. For The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, I also used The Continental Saxons from the Migration Period to the Tenth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective, edited by Dennis Howard Green and Frank Siegmund.
I like to think of my writing style as my own. But in recent months, I’ve been leading a writers group at my day job, and we’re using William Zinsser’s On Writing Well as a guide. It reinforces concepts I’ve learned in 25 years of journalism and public relations such as simplifying language, eliminating clutter, and being genuine with readers.
Q: Who are your favorite women of history, from any time period?
A: Tough choice. There are so many women to admire.
We have Queen Bertrada, whom I mentioned earlier. There are also abbesses like St. Lioba, who assisted St. Boniface in strengthening and spreading Christianity in Europe. If we fast-forward a millennium and then some, we see Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who both fought for women’s right to vote but died before that right became part of the Constitution. There’s Eleanor Roosevelt, who didn’t want to be first lady but used her position to advance human rights. And let’s never forget Rosa Parks’s brave and peaceful protest for civil rights.
Q: Who is your favorite female character from either of your books (or one from each) and why?
A: I’m glad I can choose one from each. Otherwise, it’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. Alda is my favorite character from The Cross and the Dragon. I like her intelligence and cleverness, but most of all, I admire her courage. In The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, my favorite is Leova, a mom so determined to protect her children she is willing to sacrifice her honor and her safety.
Q: Where can readers connect with you?
A: Readers can visit my website, kimrendfeld.com, where they can also read the first chapters of either novel. They’re also welcome to visit my blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like me on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, follow me on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, find me on Goodreads at goodreads.com/Kim_Rendfeld, check out my Amazon page at amazon.com/author/kimrendfeld, or contact me at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.
Erin: Thank you, Kim, for stopping by today to talk about your new book. I wish you much success with your writing. We need more medieval historical fiction on the market!
Kim: Thank you, Erin, for inviting me. I enjoyed this opportunity to share my writing process and some of the fascinating history behind my books.
Purchase Kim’s new book at:
The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, Synopsis~
- File Size: 4818 KB
- Print Length: 368 pages
- Publisher: Fireship Press LLC (August 26, 2014)
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
- Language: English
772 AD: 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 Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. The relatives obligated to defend her and her family sell them into slavery instead.
In Francia, Leova is resolved to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her own 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. This companion to Kim Rendfeld’s acclaimed The Cross and the Dragon tells the story of an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances.
Advance Praise for The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar~
“Carolingian Europe comes alive in Kim Rendfeld’s sweeping story of family and hope, set against the Saxon Wars. Her transportive and triumphant novel immerses us in an eighth century world that feels both mystical and starkly real.” – Jessica Brockmole, author of Letters from Skye
“A captivating historical filled with rich detail, compelling characters, and a well-paced plot that keeps the pages turning to its very satisfying end. A true delight for fans of historical fiction. I couldn’t put it down.” — Susan Spann, author of the Shinobi Mysteries
“The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is refreshingly set in a less familiar medieval period – soon after Charlemagne has conquered a portion of today’s Germany and its people. The characters are refreshing also, common folk instead of the lords and ladies who are the usual inhabitants of historical novels, and how they adjust to their new condition is fascinating. Altogether, this book was absorbing from start to finish.” – Roberta Gellis, author of The Roselynde Chronicles
Kim Rendfeld, Biography~
She grew up in New Jersey and attended Indiana University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English, with a minor in French. If it weren’t for feminism, she would be one of those junior high English teachers scaring the bejesus out of her students, correcting grammar to the point of obnoxiousness. Instead, her career has been in journalism, public relations, and now fiction.
Kim was a journalist for almost twenty years at Indiana newspapers, including the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, The Muncie Star, and The News and Sun in Dunkirk, and she won several awards from the Hoosier State Press Association. Her career changed in 2007, when she joined the marketing and communications team at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She gets paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing, and thoroughly enjoys it. She is proud to have been part of projects that have received national recognition.
Kim lives in Indiana with her husband, Randy, and their spoiled cats. They have a daughter and three granddaughters.
To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com. You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.