Today’s special guest is Kathleen Guler, winner of the 2010 Colorado Book Award for Historical Fiction for her most recent novel, A Land Beyond Ravens
Author of the four-part Macsen’s Treasure series of historical spy novels set in fifth century Britain, Kathleen’s work has been recognized with numerous writing awards. She was named to CBS Denver’s list of Best Fiction Authors of 2010.
The other books in the Macsen’s Treasure Series include Into the Path of Gods, In the Shadow of Dragons and The Anvil Stone. They are available from Amazon.com, other online retailers, or can be ordered through any bookstore.
Rummaging Around In the Medieval Mind by Kathleen Guler, Guest Blogger
Daydreaming is a good thing. One of my grade school teachers, however, probably would disagree. She once asked, “What’s first person singular of the verb ‘to be’?” She called my name and followed with, “You look like you’re daydreaming.” I answered flippantly, “I am,” meaning I was, in truth, daydreaming and had not heard the question. Coincidentally it was the right answer. Miffed she hadn’t embarrassed me, she scowled and moved on to the next daydreamer.
I don’t remember what I was daydreaming then, but it could have been about knights in shining armor, the Three Musketeers, or that clever fellow Zorro of early California. To seek the adventure of another time and place always had a certain appeal. Is it ladies in long dresses? Hunky men in kilts? Exotic languages no longer spoken? Great sword fights?
My daydreams evolved into an insatiable interest in history and manifested in the form of historical fiction. But writing historical fiction is not simply setting a story in another time. Besides embracing the historian’s craft of research and the art of the written word, a writer needs to be able to intuit the mindset of the chosen era.
In writing the four-novel Macsen’s Treasure Series, I’ve become deeply familiar with fifth century Britain. This period lies between the end of Roman rule and the Anglo-Saxon conquest (ca. 400-600 C.E.) when Britain was divided into around fifty squabbling little kingdoms. The native culture was likely Celtic for the most part, the south was Romanized; wild Picts lived north of Hadrian’s Wall, and Germanic tribes, collectively called Saxons, were gradually spreading west and north from the southeast. The Roman church had made its initial foothold as well, shifting religious thought from Celtic and Roman paganism to Christianity. Lines blurred among these cultures, both along borders and in time.
Every author has a method of converting hoards of raw knowledge into the mindset of another era. For me, it begins with sitting alone in the dark at night, undisturbed, and taking on a character’s persona—daydreaming the character through a scene until she’s so real she’s sitting right here in the room. It’s sensing the entirety of the place, feeling the cold mist on skin, smelling the burnt-mud odor of peat fires, hearing a sword blade slash against chain mail, seeing the timber fort crowning a hill. It’s listening to the hero’s voice, deep and resonant because, like everyone else, he constantly breathes in smoke from the hearth. It’s watching his habit of raking his fingers through his hair because the norm was to wear it long. I ask: what would a warlord do when someone of his clan is killed? Follow the law? What does he think of the law? Will he strike back? If so, will his clansmen follow him without question or waste time with endless bickering?
Creative daydreaming can take the spark of an idea and give it the fire to unfold in all its power. How fascinating—and challenging—to puzzle together another era, then raise a long dead and very human story to life! It has been an amazing journey to experience these characters through the course of four books and I look forward to another journey as I begin to research my next writing project. It has even inspired me to go back to school for a Masters Degree in History.
I wonder—what would that grade school teacher say if she knew where my daydreams have taken me?
Kathleen, thank you so much for being here today. I love to read history and historical fiction, but find writing historical novels a bit overwhelming. Research takes a lot of time. You’ve given us some good insight into process. I wish you all kinds of good luck and fun getting your Masters.