Today I’m fortunate to have an interview with Kim Rendfeld, author of the recently-released historical novel THE CROSS AND THE DRAGON (Fireship Press, 2012).
I’ve known Kim for over a year now and have been looking forward to reading her novel, which is set in Francia during the early years of Charlemagne’s reign.
I’m delighted she was able to join us here at the blog today!
And so … on with the questions!
1. Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?
I’m part East Coast and part Midwest. I grew up in Ridgefield, New Jersey, with my mother but spent my summers in Manhattan, Kansas, with my father, stepmother, and brother. The following story comes from my dad. I don’t remember it, but it sounds like something I would do.
My dad is a physics professor at Kansas State and specializes in physics education. When I was about 8 (in the 1970s), we were walking down the halls and looking into large lecture halls. Hundreds of students, one person speaking in front.
Me: “What are they doing?”
Dad: “They’re learning physics.”
Me: “Do they just sit there?”
Dad says that question had an effect on his teaching. He has made a lot of efforts to make sure his students don’t just sit there, even if they’re in lecture halls.
2. What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always enjoyed storytelling, going all the way back to playing with dolls and puppets, some of which I made. Then I moved on to cartoonish sketches for a few years. Around the time I was a teenager and learned how to play Dungeons & Dragons, another type of storytelling, I tried my hand at the written word.
3. If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?
Stop trying to cram everything you know about eighth-century Francia into one book! Readers want a good story, not a long, journalistic article and certainly not a textbook. You don’t need to show off your research and prove how smart you are. And for pity’s sake, trust the reader.
4. Will you tell us a little about the legend that inspired your novel, The Cross and the Dragon?
This legend is a very different interpretation of Roland (Hruodland in the novel), best known as the stubborn hero in “The Song of Roland.” What comes next is a spoiler, so if you’d like to avoid it, skip to the next question. This legend involves Rolandsbogen, now an ivy-covered arch on a hilltop near the Rhine. Roland builds the castle for his bride and goes off to war in Spain. He survives the attack in the Pyrenees, but his wife is told he died. Not wishing to marry another, she takes a vow of chastity and joins the convent on Nonnenwerth, a Rhine island. Hruodland comes back too late and spends the rest of his days at his window trying to catch a glimpse of her to and from prayers.
This legend is not true. The historic Hruodland died in the attack, which was nothing like the events depicted in “The Song of Roland.” But the story would not leave me alone until I sat at my computer and started typing.
5. Historical novels often require a lot of research. How long did it take you to research The Cross and the Dragon, and what is your favorite part of historical research?
I so much wanted to tell this story that I plunged right into writing the first draft and then I researched details such as daily life. This is not how I do my nonfiction. For this novel, I simply can’t calculate how much time I spent researching. My creative process was a mix of writing (well, more like rewriting) and research, especially when members of my critique group had questions.
I love discovering the details of daily life, learning how people actually lived, because it makes the time period real for me, but I also enjoy reading the letters in translation. Suddenly, it’s not who did what when to whom, but real human beings trying to make an argument, such as a pope trying to persuade two Frankish kings that neither should marry the daughter of his enemy. He’s really upset.
6. Do you have a favorite author? If so, who and why?
It is hard for me to choose a favorite author. As long as the story is good, I’m an easy-to-please reader, regardless of genre.
But when I was a teenager, I was enchanted by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series to the point where Middle Earth felt like it had actually existed. I would start off every summer reading the books, starting with The Hobbit. Even if intellectually you know elves and dwarves and hobbits are imaginary, Tolkien has a way of making them real and sweeping you up in the story, even if you’ve read it several times.
7. Authors of historical fiction strike a balance between historical accuracy and storytelling. How do you decide where to draw the line between fiction and history?
Novelists have an obligation to be true to the characters, their cultures, their daily lives, and the major events. It is disservice to the reader to have 21st-century people in period clothing. A medieval woman would not say, “I can’t marry him. I don’t love him.” In that era, affection was not a reason to marry, although there were couples who were fond of each other.
However, the key word in historical fiction is fiction. I am a novelist, not a scholar. Readers ultimately want a good story, which is the deciding factor for me. Yet, perhaps because I am a former journalist and want the truth to be known, I will include a confession, I mean a historical note, at the end to let readers know where I fudged things.
For instance, any portrayal of Hruodland is fictitious. He is mentioned only once in a contemporary biography of Charlemagne.
8. What is the last book you read, and what made you choose it?
I just finished Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell, whose writing I like. I enjoy medieval settings, and in this novel, Cornwell has a rarely used one, today’s England as the ninth century slides into the 10th.
9. How long did it take you to write The Cross and the Dragon, and what did you find most difficult about the writing process?
How long the manuscript took to write is a complex answer. I worked on the story for a year or two and thought it was done. A year later, I was fortunate to join a critique group who informed me that it wasn’t done, that it read like a very good outline. Oh, and my characters were too modern, and I didn’t have enough conflict and got mired in back story. Time for an overhaul and an outline, about two-thirds of which got thrown away. A couple of years later, I thought I had a finished book. Wrong again.
Off and on over for several years, I would work on it again, sometimes setting aside my second book for a little while. It was a mix of rewriting when I got a useful rejection and sometimes more research to blend in historical characters and events.
The most difficult part was shifting from the journalistic voice to that of a novelist. My day job is now in a university public relations office, but I spent 17 years as a newspaper reporter and editor. In news, the writer is objective, letting both sides tell the story, and allowing readers to make their own conclusions. By nature, news writing is distant. In fiction, you’re intimate, in people’s heads, feeling their joy and their pain, and you manipulate your readers’ sympathies and emotions.
10. Do you have another project in the works? Where will your writing take you and your readers next?
My next project is tentatively titled The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, which I wrote while trying to sell The Cross and the Dragon. In my research, I came across Charlemagne’s bitter wars with the Continental Saxon peoples. I wanted to tell their side of conflict and give a voice, even a small one, to history’s losers. So, readers, I’m taking you back to the eighth century.
Ashes features a pagan, peasant Saxon mother who is left with only her two children after Charlemagne’s first war in Saxony. She has lost everything else—her husband, her home, her religion, and even her freedom. The story follows the family as they recover from this devastation and seek justice against the kin who betrayed them. Their biggest dilemma is what to do when they realize a Frankish friend killed my heroine’s husband.
11. Do you have any upcoming signings or readings?
Since most of my sales are online, so are most of my promotions, but I have a couple of live appearances in New Castle, Indiana, about 50 miles east of Indianapolis.
During the Friends of the Library book and craft sale at the New Castle-Henry County Public Library, I will be among east central Indiana authors signing books from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. November 17.
I will be at the New Castle library again on December 15 for an author chat. The time has yet to be decided. I will post details on my website, www.kimrendfeld.com, and my blog, www.kimrendfeld.wordpress.com.
And now, the speed round:
– Plotter or pantser?
– Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and beer (not bourbon) at night.
– Socks or no socks?
Depends on the time of year. From March to October, the sandals come out. But feet get cold during Indiana winters.
– Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
Cats, both of whom are spoiled.
– For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Italian. You can never have too much garlic.
Thank you, Kim, for joining us today! It’s been a pleasure having you here on the blog!
Francia, 778: Alda has never forgotten Ganelon’s vow of vengeance when she married his rival, Hruodland. Yet the jilted suitor’s malice is nothing compared to Alda’s premonition of disaster for her beloved, battle-scarred husband.
Although the army invading Hispania is the largest ever and King Charles has never lost a war, Alda cannot shake her anxiety. Determined to keep Hruodland from harm, even if it exposes her to danger, Alda gives him a charmed dragon amulet.
Is its magic enough to keep Alda’s worst fears from coming true—and protect her from Ganelon?
And a little more about Kim Rendfeld:
A former journalist and current copy editor for a university public relations office, Kim Rendfeld has a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and legends, which set her on her quest to write The Cross and the Dragon. She lives in Indiana with her husband, Randy, and their spoiled cats. They have a daughter and two granddaughters. For more about Kim, visit www.kimrendfeld.com.