Monday, January 10, 2011

Rummaging Around In the Medieval Mind by Kathleen Guler, Guest Blogger

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, other online retailers, or can be ordered through any bookstore.


Rummaging Around In the Medieval Mind by Kathleen Guler, Guest Blogger

Thank you, Patricia, for inviting me to write a guest post. I’m honored!

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.

For more information about Kathleen and her books, visit her website. Kathleen blogs about writing and her novels at Lighting up Britain's Dark Ages.


irishoma said...

Hi Kathleen,
Thanks for your insight into writing historical fiction. I love the idea of using creative daydreaming to bring your characters alive on the page.
Thanks, Patricia, for hosting another entertaining visitor.
Donna Volkenannt

Margot Kinberg said...

Patricia - Thanks for hosting Kathleen.

Kathleen - You are so right about the value (creative and otherwise, in my opinion) of daydreaming. Our most productive thoughts and greatest inspirations can happen when we set ourselves free mentally.

Holly Ruggiero said...

My best ideas come when I've been daydreaming. Daydreaming has a great value for writers.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks for stopping by, Donna, Margot, and Holly. I'm having great fun tracking down more and more fine writers (especially the ones from Colorado) and spreading the word about their work.

And Kathleen, I forgot to mention how much I like the cover art for your book. It's really nice.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I have an excuse to drift off into a daydream now? Cool!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Alex -- I have a favorite chair for daydreaming, but I like to call it "thinking" instead. Sounds more productive...

Kathleen Guler said...

Hi Everyone!

The one thing I haven't figured out with daydreaming is how to write down an idea when it comes to me in the shower. :-) Maybe waterproof pen and whiteboard if there's such a thing?

Pat--thanks about the cover. That is my favorite out of the whole series and it's received many nice comments. All four books will be in most ebook formats soon and they're redoing the cover for Into the Path of Gods for the ebook version. Haven't seen it yet, but I hope soon.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I should imagine writing historical books can be quitge different from any other type of book
Thanks for a most interesting post.


Kathleen Guler said...

Hi Yvonne,
Yes, historical fiction is probably not necessarily any more difficult that writing any other type of book, but it does take a different effort with all the research that goes into it. Much more than just facts, it must involve the social history as well. Fun stuff!

Mason Canyon said...

Daydreaming is a wonderful thing. Without it, I'm afraid we would be short a lot of books if authors didn't daydream. Best of luck to you Kathleen.

Patricia, thanks for introducing me to a 'new to me' author and an interesting series.

Thoughts in Progress

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks, Kathleen, for joining us today. It's been a pleasure getting to know you.

Marian Allen said...

Patricia, thanks for having this wonderful guest!

Kathleen, I love your "I am" story! And I'm right with you on how you get into your character and setting. My husband, fortunately, understands that when I'm sitting very still and staring vacantly, I'm working hard. :)

Marian Allen

Monti said...

Daydream! That's what writers do. Thank you for showing us where your daydreams have taken you. I imagine your teacher would be both astonished and proud!

Thank you, Patricia, for another interesting and accomplished guest!


Kathleen Guler said...

Thank you so much for all the wonderful comments. I've enjoyed meeting with you.

And thank you again, Pat, for inviting me. It's been a pleasure.

May all your daydreams take you to the places you wish to go!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia and Kathleen .. really interesting .. I'm learning so much being amongst writers! I daydream in the car - just had to do two long trips to Cornwall and back - over six hours each way .. and in between driving .. the mind wanders along - as you say good thoughts come out - clarity sometimes.

I love the way you 'conjour up' your character .. sounds so interesting and I look forward to reading your books.

I wonder if you've ever seen the silent movie on Joan of Arc - which I saw here in Eastbourne with the pianist accompanying the story line - that was amazing and Neil came and gave a talk to us at a local village hall .. I posted about it .. as I found it fascinating - the pre sound era of movie watching .. and the ability of a pianist to accompany the 'script' .. --- if you feel like having a glance ...

But really what I wanted to say was the movie was extraordinarily evocative of Medieval France .. with the smells, feel, atmosphere .. I was totally drawn in to the movie - I've never experienced anything like it before or since!!

I put a few links in to the post which may be of interest .. this is a fascinating post - thank you both .. Hilary

Kathleen Guler said...

Hi Hilary,
Thank you for the lovely comments. I totally agree about atmosphere in a movie or book. Some of those silent films are wonderful. TCM (Turner Classic Movies) has a silent movie night each week--I'll have to check if they are showing the Joan of Arc film. I'd love to see it. All the best...Kathleen