With an AB degree in history from Dartmouth College, J. Boyce Gleason brings a strong understanding of what events shaped the past and when, but writes historical-fiction to discover why. Gleason lives in Virginia with his wife Mary Margaret. They have three sons.
His latest book is the historical fiction, Anvil of God, Book One of the Carolingian Chronicles.
Visit his website at www.jboycegleason.com.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Joe. Can you tell us what your latest book, Anvil of God, Book One of the Carolingian Chronicles is all about?
Anvil of God is about a family in crisis. It chronicles the power struggle that befalls the family of Charles the Hammer in the wake of his death in 741. Despite Charles’s best laid plans, son battles son, Christianity battles paganism and his young daughter must choose between love and her family’s ambition.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
Oddly enough for this genre, Anvil’s two main characters are women. Charles’s daughter Trudi flees his court in the dead of night to pursue love halfway across the continent in the camp of his enemies. Along the way she must grapple with the reality of her father’s violent history conquering a continent with what she has been raised to believe.
Charles’s widow Sunni moves to protect her 14 year-old son, Gripho from his older and more battle worn, half-brothers Carloman and Pippin. They suspect (rightly) that she is pagan and refuse to sanction the potential for a pagan state.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
They are as close to real as I could get for the 8th century. Most of the main characters are real people and I shaped their personalities based on what is known about them. There are two exceptions (which I note in the author’s note at the end) where a hole in the history appeared and I felt a need to fill it.
For me, it is like a putting together a puzzle. I catalogue what I know about the person, what actions they took, and then begin to list a series of questions. Why did they do what they did? Was it well thought out, or impulsive? How difficult was it? What help would she have to have? How long would it take?
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
I researched the period thoroughly and know what happened in history; the trick for me is to figure out why. So, I have an outline of where the story ends up, but I often let the characters (once they are fully fleshed out) drive the plot. In one case, the character-driven plot opened up a whole new perspective for the novel and made it a much richer reading experience.
Q: Your book is set in Quierzy, France and Laon, France. Can you tell us why you chose these cities in particular?
The history took me there. Quierzy today is a small farming community northeast of Paris. In the eighth century it was the primary home of Charles the Hammer and his court. (Back then, the court often used to travel with the army so others could also lay claim to that honor). Queirzy is where Charles the Hammer died, and so is the primary location of much of the early action. Laon was site of a siege led by Charles’s son Carloman against his stepmother and his half-brother Gripho. The siege frames much of the second half of the book.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
I think the time period does. It was a very unforgiving time. Violence was pervasive and religion (whether Christian, Pagan or Muslim) was a central tenant of their lives
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
Charles’s unwilling daughter Trudi is expected at a fête to announce her engagement to Prince Aistulf of the Lombards. Her stepmother is trying to excuse Trudi’s absence due to a fictitious stomach ailment only to have Trudi arrive unexpectedly behind her.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
My favorite line is: “In the breadth of that moment, she finally understood the desire to be desired.”
Here’s a short excerpt:
No one saw the second beast charge. It, too, followed the path of the V, although this time no shields were banged and no spears were thrown. The large animal crashed through the wood unchecked, heading directly for Odilo and Trudi. They, like everyone else, had been watching the fallen knight and remained unaware of the danger until the boar lunged at them.
Without a word, Odilo stepped to the right. Trudi spun away to her left. Then, in a fluid motion, their arms lifted and fell together, impaling the beast between them. It twisted under their spears, thrashing wildly as neither blow was a killing stroke. Odilo leaned down on the shaft of his spear, trying to drive its point further into the animal’s shoulder. As he pushed into the animal, it surged forward in an attempt to gore his leg. Trudi, having lost hold of her spear, drew her sword. The blade flashed above her head. She brought it down on the beast’s neck with both hands, severing its head in one stroke.
The hunters were stunned into silence. Blood spewed over Trudi’s legs and pooled at her feet. With a visceral shout Odilo swept Trudi into his arms and raised her high above his head. The knights cheered and banged their spears against their shields. Odilo put Trudi down and bowed theatrically to her. The cheers only grew louder.
He had never seen a woman wield a sword like that. Her strength and speed surprised him. She laughed, embarrassed at the applause, and he found it oddly compelling that she could be both strong and vulnerable. He studied the lines of her face and the curl of her hair. He took in the fullness of her lips and the light in her eyes. She was powerful, he realized unexpectedly, and quite beautiful.
One of the hunters stepped forward and put his foot on the animal’s carcass to remove Odilo’s spear. Liberating it, he shoved the tip into the base of the boar’s neck. With a shout of defiance he lifted the boar’s head high above Odilo and Trudi in celebration. Blood rained down over both of them.
Q: Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?
It’s rare that I have a full-blown case of writer’s block. With me, it is just keeping the discipline of writing every day (at the same time, for the same period). I’ve always got something else to do (like answering these questions). Unfortunately, I’m easily distracted.
Q: What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?
I’d sit outside the Café Lippe in Paris with my wife and have a glass of good red French wine and watch the world stroll by us.
Q: Which already published book do you wish that you had written and why?
I wish I had written Tai-Pan by James Clavell. Long live Dirk Straun!
Q: What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors regarding getting their books out there?
Start writing. It forces the mind to sort out what is important and what is not. Really research your characters. Know who they are, why they are the way they are, what their dreams and ambitions look like, how they behave, how they talk. Let their interactions with other drive the story. They tell the story more than you do. Finally, edit and edit and edit and edit. It always helps.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Joe. We wish you much success!
Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.