Please welcome Kim Rendfeld, whose new historical novel THE ASHES OF HEAVEN’S PILLAR (Fireship Press) released this month.
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 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 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.
Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). 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.
I’ve known Kim for several years, and she’s a lovely person as well as a talented author, whose novels blend compelling plots with historically-accurate worlds and characters with whom I quickly form emotional bonds – in short, if you don’t already know her books and like historical fiction, Kim’s an author you should read.
And now, with no further ado: on with the questions!
What inspired you to set your novels in 8th century Europe – specifically, in Saxony and Francia?
I blame it on a legend I heard about Rolandsbogen, a ruin on a high Rhineland hill. To avoid introducing a spoiler for anyone who has yet to read THE CROSS AND THE DRAGON, I will say only that this tale about Roland involves lovers separated by a lie.
I learned of the story during a family vacation, and it followed me home. It would not leave me alone until I sat down in front of a computer and started writing. Never mind I knew little about the Middle Ages and had only heard of Charlemagne in middle school.
But, oh, what a fascinating history it is, enough for me to write two novels and start on a third.
Your newest novel, THE ASHES OF HEAVEN’S PILLAR, is a companion to your 2012 release, THE CROSS AND THE DRAGON. How do the novels relate to one another, and do you think readers would benefit from reading them in a particular order?
The two books share a few characters, but each one can stand alone. Even though they cover many of the same historical events, the protagonists are different – in religion, ethnicity, and social class – so the stories are different as well.
THE CROSS AND THE DRAGON centers on Alda, a young Christian Frankish noblewoman who must contend with a jilted suitor bent on revenge and the anxiety of her husband going to war. THE ASHES OF HEAVEN’S PILLAR, which has a pagan Saxon peasant as a heroine, explores the issues of slavery and religious conversion, neither of which could fit into the first novel.
If someone chooses to read THE CROSS AND THE DRAGON first, they will understand a minor backstory in THE ASHES OF HEAVEN’S PILLAR a little bit better, but they will not feel lost if they decide they’d prefer to read ASHES first.
What is the most important piece of writing advice you have for debut authors?
If you’re about to introduce your first book baby to the world, realize you probably will need to set your writing aside for a while to focus on promotion. As time-consuming as it is to write guest posts, publicize on social media, and so on, you will get to know some great, supportive people. But understand that promotion never really ends, and you will need to balance promotion, writing, and those other things that fulfill you. Frankly, I still struggle with this. I have a full-time job and must decide do I write a blog post? Update my website? Work on the next novel?
An addendum: If you contact reviewers, be nice. They are doing this for the love of books. If they rave about your book, say thank you. If they say it was a great but have one criticism, still say thank you. If they point out many issues, pretend they don’t exist. Never, ever, ever argue with a reviewer. It will only make you look petty and drain energy that you should be using for your creativity.
If you’ve yet to receive an offer, focus on writing the best book you can. Blogs and social media are great, but they should exist for your books. And if you get an offer and you don’t have an agent, pretty please with sugar on top have a publishing attorney review it. Chances are legalese is not your first language. You need an advocate who understands this stuff.
THE ASHES OF HEAVEN’S PILLAR tells the story of Leova, a Saxon widow who must protect her children and survive as a captive following her husband’s death and the destruction of her home. What did you find most difficult, and most rewarding, about telling Leova’s story?
A lot of aspects of medieval society present challenges. One example is the justice of disfigurement and amputation – brutal to us in the 21st century – was normal to them. Another is how soldiers in the battlefield might not give much thought to the warriors they killed. Heck, they might even brag about it.
I had qualms about how the Continental Saxons might have treated war captives, whose fate was either be sacrificed to the war god as a thanksgiving for victory or be enslaved. As a woman of her times, Leova doesn’t protest. In fact, she believes sacrifice is necessary to win favor from her deities and offers one of the family’s bulls if the Saxons win the battle. I worried readers would lose sympathy for my heroine but felt I owed it to them to be true to my understanding of the history.
Sharp-eyed readers will notice my qualifying words such as “might have treated,” “likely,” and “my understanding.” The reason is that only a few fragments of the Continental Saxons’ religion survive. The Church did everything it could to obliterate a religion it saw as devil worship, and the Saxons didn’t have a written language as we know it.
So much of what we know comes from contemporary Frankish sources, which depict the Saxons as faithless brutes and treat war captives like booty. This gets to what I find most rewarding. With Leova’s story, I hope I’ve restored humanity to these people, who are history’s losers and don’t have a voice otherwise.
Can you tell us about a neat piece of research or information you found, but didn’t find a way to include in the novel?
One of my deleted scenes has Leova doing laundry, a process that involved a bat, a trough, clay, lye, and some water. The laundress would clean the laundry by beating it with a bat. The scene was deleted because the novel was obese, topping 154,000 words. It needed to lose weight to a pleasantly plump 109,000 words, and that scene did not add to readers’ understanding of the story.
Do you have a favorite scene from THE ASHES OF HEAVEN’S PILLAR? If so (and if you can tell us about it without revealing any spoilers!), what makes that scene stand out for you?
There is a series of scenes in the middle of the book where Leova and her son, Deorlaf, have a chance for freedom but only if they leave Leova’s daughter, Sunwynn, behind. To make matters worse, Sunwynn might be punished, perhaps kicked out of her lord’s household and reduced to begging or whoring. Still, Sunwynn urges her mother and brother to seize their opportunity, but Leova and Deorlaf agonize over what to do.
You will have to read the book to find out what happens. Those scenes stand out because they reveal the affection the characters hold for each other, their willingness to sacrifice, and how they are growing. Deorlaf especially has matured from an angry preteen to young man who understand his choices have consequences.
Can you give us a hint about your next project?
I tell my husband I’m spending time with my favorite 8th century royal dysfunctional family. My third novel features Fastrada, Charlemagne’s fourth wife and queen when the monarch’s oldest son, Pepin, tried to overthrow his father.
In my research, I stumbled across a reference to Queen Fastrada’s cruelty as the cause of the conspiracies against Charles, but nothing is specified. And the sources ignore a few facts such as Pepin’s resentment at being cut out of the succession and his mother and her family’s bitterness over the divorce.
So I would like to delve into who Fastrada was and how this dispute over an inheritance threatened the kingdom.
Where can readers find out more about you, THE ASHES OF HEAVEN’S PILLAR, and your current virtual book tour?
Today, I’m also visiting Judith Arnopp and talking about why the era of Charlemagne has inspired me.
Guest posts and interviews on my schedule for the rest of this month include:
Wednesday, September 24: Contributing Post at English Historical Fiction Authors about Alcuin and his letters revealing why the Saxons aren’t converting.
Thursday, September 25: Guest Post at Regina Jeffers, arguing that not all medieval women were chattel.
Thursday, September 25: Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, September 26: Interview with Ginger Myrick
Monday, September 29: Interview with Karen Randau
Tuesday, September 30: Guest Post at Fall in Love with History, about early medieval midwives and their special place in society.
After that, I’ll scale back a little (remember that part about promotion never ending) but I will visit Deborah Swift’s Royal Free Fiction and Anna Belfrage’s blog in October.
And now, the speed round:
Cappuccino or Espresso?
Cappuccino. Milk is an enrichment.
A night at home or a night on the town?
At home with my husband. I’m a classic introvert.
Comedy or drama?
Drama, although I could be persuaded to watch a smart comedy.
Cookies, fruit, or ice cream?
How about chocolate cookie dough ice cream with strawberries?
Thank you, Kim, for joining me here today to talk about your writing and THE ASHES OF HEAVEN’S PILLAR. I’ve read the book, and loved it, and I hope that my readers will read and love it also!
THE ASHES OF HEAVEN’S PILLAR is available in ebook and trade paperback formats. Find or order it at your local bookstore, or online at Amazon. com (U.S., U.K., and Canada), Barnes & Noble, or the Kobo Store.