When Ms. Rendfeld asked if I wanted to do an interview, honestly I had a hard time coming up with questions because of being so blown away by her story. Where the heck do I even start?! The scope of her novel is mind blowing. I was sucked into her narrative within pages. As a mother it spoke to me, wrenching my heart into knots. For a moment there, I thought it would break only to have my greatest wish granted. As a storyteller, Ms. Rendfeld wove a tale of magic, loss, hope and love.
Keep me on your list for any other advances copies, I am so interested!
Here we go!
ME:How did you come up with the plot for The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar?
KR:When I finished my first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, I was went through an odd sort of grief that could be handled only by writing another book. I was going to feature two nuns I had met in my debut and have the Saxon family as minor characters so that I could explore slavery and the events from the side of the Continental Saxons.
I wrote a few chapters and an outline but was still having trouble with a crafting good plot for the nuns. The Saxons’ backstory of loss and betrayal consumed more and more of my interest. The Saxons were demanding I tell their story, and I finally surrendered.
ME:How did you flesh out the characters?
KR:I had a rough sketch in my mind of the characters and knew that I wanted Leova and her children to have three different reactions to the destruction of the Irminsul. Eighth-century Continental Saxons didn’t have a written language as we know it. To get a grasp of their culture and mindset, I turned to folk tales collected by the Brothers Grimm and reread the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf.
The characters developed further as I wrote the book, my critique partners pointed out what was missing, and I made revisions. I had written a second outline but ended up throwing it away about a third of the way through. The characters hijacked the plot.
ME:What drew you to this period?
KR:I blame it on a legend. During a family vacation in Germany, we heard a tale about the origin of Rolandsbogen, an ivy covered arch on a Rhineland hill. To avoid introducing a spoiler for anyone who has yet to read Cross and Dragon, I will say only that it involves lovers separated by a lie. I could not get that story out of my mind and felt compelled to sit at a computer and write about it, never mind that I knew little about the Middle Ages.
ME:Any modern messages you want readers to walk away with?
KR:What strikes me is how much people have in common. Despite different time periods and cultures, we’ve all loved and grieved, felt great anger and great joy. I hope we can understand that even if someone disagrees with us on religion or politics, they are still human beings and deserve to be treated with respect.
Where do you get all those tiny little details? You have spells, fabrics, daily routines, etc. Wow. Your book will be how I compare all others.
I’m fortunate scholars have done research that I can use in my fiction. What I’m about to talk about is a sampling.
Daily life books such as Pierre Riché’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, translated by Jo Ann McNamara, and Daily Life in Medieval Times (three books in one) by Frances and Joseph Gies provide a treasure trove of information.
But I’ve turned to several other places. People on their own faith journey to practice a religion similar to the Saxons and the Norse posted their research online, including centuries-old spells. I borrowed a little language from Beowulf for one that I used in the book.
I’ve flipped through books via Google Books and, when I thought a source might be golden, used interlibrary loan. That’s how I got my hands on The Continental Saxons from the Migration Period to the Tenth Century: An Ethonographic Perspective, edited by Dennis Howard Green and Frank Siegmund, and “Capturing the Wandering Womb” by Kate Phillips in the April 2007 The Haverford Journal.
I got my information about tuberculosis from Sheila M. Rothman’s Living in the Shadow of Death, an excellent book about what it was like to live with this chronic disease in 19th century America.
Google is my friend. My search of “hemlock case study” led me to Enid Bloch’s “Hemlock Poisoning and the Death of Socrates: Did Plato Tell the Truth?” in the 2001 Journal of the International Plato Society. The answer to the author’s question appears to be yes. Bloch’s paper recounts a 19th century researcher who experimented with hemlock on himself – twice. Yikes! I’m willing to do a lot of research, but I draw the line at drinking poison.
Thank you Ms. Rendfeld and I look forward to your next publication with great delight!