WINNER of the Hemingway Award for 20th Century Wartime Fiction WINNER of a Maincrest Media Award for Historical Fiction FINALIST for Book Excellence Award for Military Fiction. Based on actual events and eye-witness accounts, "Where Eagles Never Flew" shows you the Battle of Britain from both sides of the Channel through the eyes of pilots, controllers, ground crews - and the women they loved. RAF Battle of Britain Ace Wing Commander Bob Doe called it "The best book about the Battle of Britain I have ever seen!" USAF General Heaton noted: "This is a great book that any pilot or would-be-pilot will love. The description of the flying scenes is so accurate, I can easily imagine myself in all of the air-to-air battles." Summer 1940: The Battle of France is over; the Battle of Britain is about to begin. If the swastika is not to fly over Buckingham Palace, the RAF must prevent the Luftwaffe from gaining air superiority over Great Britain. Standing on the front line is No. 606 Squadron. As the casualties mount, new pilots find a cold reception from the clique of experienced pilots, who resent them taking the place of their dead friends. Meanwhile, despite credible service in France, former RAF aerobatics pilot Robin Priestman finds himself stuck in Training Command -- and falling for a girl from the Salvation Army. On the other side of the Channel, the Luftwaffe is recruiting women as communications specialists -- and naïve Klaudia is about to grow up.
The best novels are those that pull us into the story by creating an emotional bond between reader and characters. We readers keep reading because we care about what the characters and what happens to them. Since most of us are imperfect and have self-doubts, we find it easier to identify with characters that likewise have flaws and insecurities. In this scene we see the situation in an RAF squadron at the height of the Battle of Britain through the eyes of the "terrifying" new CO -- a man the pilots call "the Butcher."
As John Steinbeck noted in "The Moon is Down," armies are made up of young men and young men need young women. It's a fact as old as warfare itself, and the Luftwaffe was no exception. "Where Eagles Never Flew" shows the Battle of Britain from both sides of the channel highlighting both differences and similarities. One of the latter, was that the Luftwaffe pilots were just as attracted to the Luftwaffe's women auxiliaries as the RAF was to the WAAF.
One of the most striking lessons I have learned from studying history is how human nature doesn't really change. Technology, architecture, dress and manners change. Religions and political systems rise and fall. Laws and social standards evolve. But underneath it all human beings remain fundamentally the same frail creatures full of dreams and doubts, ambitions, jealousies, compassion, hatred and love. Nothing is more eternal than the attraction of the sexes, and while the rituals and language of love may change, the underlying excitement, hopes and insecurities remain. I think women from almost any century would identify with Emily in this passage.
Round characters have a past as well as a present. They have family, friends, memories and emotional baggage. When writing novels about military action, it is easy -- not to say common -- to overlook the past of the participants in large part because men at war are focused on survival. The "war" takes front and center. Unless writing a pure action thriller, however, novels benefit from round characters. That means stepping back from the action to get inside the characters hearts. Not only the current emotions are important, but their past and their wider network of emotional ties. Most of the pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain were very young -- meaning 18 to 21. Their ties were more to parents than to wives. Here an example.
Historical fiction, as opposed to literary fiction, generally has a large cast of characters dictated by history itself. The Battle of Britain may have been won by the "few" -- but that was roughly 3,000 airman and five times that many support staff and ground crews. Although my novel focuses on four pilots particularly (two RAF and two Luftwaffe), it seeks to honor the historical record with a host of secondary characters representing those supporting roles -- controllers, intelligence officers, girl friends and, the all important, ground crews. Describing their situation and contribution contributes to the authenticity of the book -- and incidentally gives credit to men too often forgotten.
Good characters have their own opinions, they don't just share the opinions of the author. In historical novels, the characters aren't politically correct either. Ancient Roman citizens didn't think there was anything wrong with slavery. Medieval lords were not advocates of democracy. The women of earlier centuries had no particular desire to look, dress, act or work like men, much less be killed in combat alongside them. What characters think tell the reader about them -- not the author. In this excerpt, we get inside the head of a young - but by no means fanatical - Luftwaffe pilot.
Aspiring writers are warned against "head hopping" -- and with good reason. If a writer wants the reader to identify with one or another character, it is important to draw them into that character's mind and feelings. Changing abruptly and without warning to a different point-of-view can be disconcerting at best and confusing at worst. Yet there are times when rapid changes of perspective -- predicated by clear signals to the reader of what is happening -- can be highly effective in building a sense of tension or excitement. Here my final example, still using the single event: the Luftwaffe assault on Portsmouth of August 12, 1940.
Rigidly clinging to a single point of view when telling a complex story is the literary equivalent of bigotry. No object, no event, and no person is so uni dimensional that all viewers see exactly the same thing. There are different ways of seeing everything from political developments to food and fashion. To write a novel from the point of view of a single character is to deny the reality and legitimacy of other points of view. It is to deny that other people might see things differently than the protagonist and suggests that the protagonist is always right. Today's excerpt depicts the identical event as the previous too excerpts -- the air assault on Portsmouth of August 12, 1940. This excerpt, however, is seen through the eyes of civilians on the ground rather than pilots engaged in the battle.
Although popular nowadays, writing an entire novel from a single point-of-view (POV) is like filming a full-length movie using a single camera. Imagine just how boring and claustrophobic that would be! It is the change from panoramic to up-close images, from one angle to another that makes for great cinematography. Authors should not handicap themselves by chaining their narrative to a single POV. Last week's excerpt described the opening of the Luftwaffe offensive on August 12, 1940 from the POV of the Luftwaffe. Today's excerpt shows that same even through the POV of an RAF fighter squadron tasked with defending British airspace against the Luftwaffe.
It has become fashionable to write books from a single point of view. Yet, using different points of view gives a novel depth, shadows and contours that are simply impossible, if the reader sees everything through the filter of the same character. Different points of view does not mean "head hopping," however. It means distinct and separate scenes in each of which a different POV is used. Within each scene, the POV is consistent and clear. In a series of book bubbles I'm going to show what I mean using the (historical) bombing of Portsmouth on 12 August 1940 as described in "Where Eagles Never Flew." Today: the Luftwaffe's POV.
Another way to spot cartoon characters in novels is that they never need to learn anything. The peasant, who has walked all his life, swings himself nimbly into the saddle of a high-strung warhorse and dashes away in complete control. The maiden grabs the sword of her assailant and, although she has never held a sword in her life, now wields it with brilliant finesse. Real people -- and so the protagonists in good fiction, on the other hand, have to learn the skills. Precisely because flying aircraft is a skill requiring years of intense training (though you wouldn't know that from reading most books about WWII!), I made a point of placing one of my characters in RAF Training Command.
One of the key differences between good writing and bad is the complexity and credibility of the leading figures. Characters are as nuanced, subtle and flawed as real people, while cartoons are flat, exaggerated caricatures. Increasingly the protagonists in contemporary fiction are merely cartoons.One can spot them easily because they are always the most beautiful/handsome, most intelligent, most skilled, most successful of people. In war novels, the "heroes" always preform superhuman feats almost before they are out of diapers. My characters, in contrast, have to learn to walk before they can fly, they have self-doubts, they make mistakes, and they can be afraid. Meet Ginger Bowles, RAF fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain.
Americans tend to be individualists and self-reliant, but major successes are almost always the result of a collective effort. That was true of the Battle of Britain too. In earlier excerpts, I drew attention to the role of the factory workers building the fighter aircraft so essential to defeating the Germans and to the ground crews who maintained those aircraft. Today's excerpt looks at another component of success: the RAF's excellent command and control apparatus. This excerpt shows a Sector Control room, where incoming enemy aircraft were plotted and from which fighters were directed to intercept them.
Churchill famously honored the RAF fighter pilots -- the Few -- who prevented the Nazis from invading England in the Summer of 1940 by denying the Luftwaffe air superiority. Too often forgotten is that the pilots could not have done anything without serviceable aircraft, and that meant that the ground crews, who kept the fighters repaired, re-fueled and re-armed are nearly as much heroes as the pilots themselves. No, they weren't risking their lives in the same way, but they were working nearly around the clock and for a lot less pay. I try to give the ground crews of RAF fighter squadrons a face -- and an honorable place -- in "Where Eagles Never Flew."
Doing research for a comparative study of women pilots in WWII led me to the memoirs, biographies and diaries of many women who served with the air forces of the U.S., U.K, Germany and the Soviet Union. Regardless of nationality, one thing seemed to leap off the page: young women who chose to be associated with the Air Force of their respective country were especially attracted to pilots. Sadly, the diary entries and memories also reveal the frequency with young men took advantage of the situation -- even if they were already married. This was such a recurring theme that I felt I ought to include it in "Where Eagles Never Flew."
It is now three quarters of a century since the Second World War. For those of us who grew up surrounded by the films, literature and legends of it, it doesn't seem all THAT long ago -- until we stop to think about the changes to the world since. Particularly striking are the changes in how young people interact. In WWII most unmarried women still lived at home. "Nice girls" did NOT go out with strangers. They did not smoke or wear trousers. They certainly did NOT kiss on the first date. Double-dating was the practically the norm, while ballroom dancing was the most popular form entertainment. A good novel set in this period needs to respect these differences. In this excerpt, I highlight the difficulties for a young woman who is a little past the prime age for socializing.
Winston Churchill immortalized the role of RAF fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain with his famous phrase "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few." Nothing should detract from what those young men did. But they didn't do it alone! They needed ground crews, controllers and aircraft too. Aircraft had to be built and the factories were under attack. In this scene, an RAF pilot flying a aircraft back to the factory for servicing encounters more than he expected.
It is often forgotten that many in Britain -- particularly in the Foreign Office and within the Conservative Party -- favored coming to terms with Hitler after the surrender of France in June 1940. The Battle of Britain would never have happened, if these men had held sway rather than Sir Winston Churchill. In this excerpt, set at a front line RAF station in June 1940, those sentiments surface in an unexpected place.
During WWII, the RAF used the term "Lack of Moral Fibre" (LMF) to describe pilots and other aircrew who failed or refused to engage the enemy. Since the war, the causes and consequences of LMF have been the subject of much popular literature such as Len Deighton's "Bomber" and Joseph Heller's "Catch 22." While the tern nowadays is most commonly associated with aircrew flying bombing missions over Germany, Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain also confronted cases of LMF -- leading AVM Park to be a firm advocate of the policies surrounding it. This scene depicts the first suspicion of LMF arising a front line squadron during the Battle of Britain.
Obviously, no one man won the Battle of Britain, but AVM Park certainly could have LOST the battle, if he had failed to deploy his scarce resources effectively. Park was a very different character from Goering -- unassuming, soft-spoken, focused and fiercely dedicated to his pilots. In this excerpt, I describe Park visiting a airfield just hours after it was attacked by the Luftwaffe. This is something Park did several times in the course of the Battle -- and in the manner described here. The excerpt both depicts Park and highlights some of the key issues he faced.
"Where Eagles Never Flew" follows the fortunes of an RAF and a Luftwaffe squadron during the Battle of Britain. Fighting on the frontlines, the men flying rarely had any interaction with the commanding officers who decided the strategy. Yet Herman Goering, C-in-C of the Luftwaffe, was a larger-than-life figure who loved the limelight. Confident of victory, he sought "photo ops" that featured him with his bomber crews and aces. When the Battle didn't go as expected, he also found scapegoats -- the fighter pilots. In this scene a fighter pilot recovering from injuries in hospital is visited by one of his colleagues -- who has just had an encounter with Herman Goering.
Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding was without doubt one of the most important leaders of WWII. His role was absolutely critical in winning the Battle of Britain, and the Battle of Britain was pivotal in long-term Allied survival and success. Yet part of the reason Dowding has been forgotten was that --although brilliant and conscientious -- he did not have charisma. He simply did not have the kind of personality that enabled him to connect readily with his young pilots, the political leadership or the general public In this excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew," Squadron Leader "Robin" Priestman, commanding a frontline Hurricane squadron at the height of the Battle of Britain has been caught on camera kissing a famous socialite -- and he doesn't think it is going to go down well with the C-in-C of Fighter Command...
During the Battle of Britain pilots on both sides of the conflict were increasing young and inexperienced. Arriving at frontline squadrons with less than a score of hours on the operational aircraft they were supposed to fly, they were often more focused on flying than fighting -- a factor that often cost them their lives. In "Where Eagles Never Flew" I wanted to emphasize both the inexperience of many pilots and remind readers that flying isn't easy. It is not a skill like riding a bicycle that any and everyone can pick up in a few hours. In my next two book bubbles I'm going to feature young pilots with flying issues. Today's bubble is set in northern France where Luftwaffe Jagdgeschwader 23 is engaged in flying escorts for German bombers raiding England in July 1940.
Women played a key role in the armed forces during World War Two. In my last book bubble, I highlighted WAAF in the Battle of Britain. Notably, ii was in exactly this same period that the Luftwaffe, too, expanded its reliance on female volunteers that served in the women's auxiliary to the Luftwaffe. In this scene, two teenage recruits t -- Luftwaffehelferinnen Rosa and Klaudia -- arrive at their first wartime assignment. It is the summer of 1940, and Nazi Germany seems utterly invincible.
While my creative writing springs from internal inspiration that is utterly unrelated to "market forces" and "popular demand," that does not mean that readers have no role or no influence. On the contrary, while I can only write what is in me, the responses of readers to my books profoundly influences the creative process at a secondary level. An excellent example of this is my recent release "Where Eagles Never Flew." This book was originally published 14 years ago, but the enthusiasm of readers -- including veterans of the Battle of Britain -- inspired me to undertake a new edition with photos and to engage in active marketing of the book. In honor of the WAAF who did so much to encourage me, an excerpt featuring WAAF.
Recent events have highlighted serious generational conflict with young people supporting Democrats and democracy by far higher margins than their parents, many of whom favor fascism and a Trump dictatorship. It's easy in tense times to think that such generational contrasts are exceptional. Yet even in the Second World War, a period when one would have thought common views prevailed, some families were still politically divided. This excerpt looks at one such family -- and introduces the female lead in the book, Emily Pryce.
In the air war during World War Two, victories claims on all sides were greatly exaggerated. In one famous case, USAAF gunners on B-17s during a raid claimed to have shot down 101 Luftwaffe fighters. Luftwaffe records which became available after the war show that the Luftwaffe lost exactly one (1) fighter that day. Yet the exaggerated claims were rarely a function of outright lies. Aerial combat was fast-paced and highly confusing, leading to many false and multiple claims. This excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew" is intended to highlight the issue.
As John Steinbeck observed in "The Moon is Down," armies are made up of young men, and young men have a compelling interest in young women. No political system or national emergency has ever managed to eradicate that -- even when they wanted to. The pilots of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, despite facing incredible pressure and huge casualties did not lose interest in the opposite sex. Flight Lieutenant Robert "Robin" Priestman was injured flying in the Battle of France and in this excerpt is on convalescent leave with is widowed mother and maiden aunt.
Akin to hope are other coping mechanisms that humans have evolved for dealing with terrifying situations that temporarily block our view of the future. During the Battle of Britain, RAF squadrons on the front line (No 11 Group) suffered 50 - 70% casualties. The pilots coped by not acknowledging the losses (no shows of grief, no mourning), by living frenetically, and by consuming abnormal amounts of alcohol. In this excerpt, No 606 (Hurricane) Squadron celebrates the squadron's 100th victory - that is the 100th Luftwaffe aircraft shot-down since the start of the war by a pilot of 606 squadron.
At the start of a new year, we often make New Year's resolutions about 'turning over a new leaf' or 'starting anew' with something. Other times, circumstances put us in a new situation -- e.g. going to college or starting a new job. It can be very frightening. In this excerpt, two young men have just reported to their first operational fighter squadron after a year in training. Both are Sergeant pilots joining an elite Auxiliary Squadron, and the date is late June 1940. The Battle of France is over, and the Battle of Britain is about to begin....
Christmas has become such a secular feast -- a time of "jiggle bells," snowmen, bright lights, Santa Claus and reindeer, Christmas trees and decorations and, of course, consumption -- that the religious origins are largely lost. I wonder what percent of the population actually prays at Christmas. We are more likely to pray in a crisis -- when we feel threatened and overwhelmed. In this excerpt, a young man in the midst of a chaotic war -- The Battle of France 1940 -- is reminded of the need for prayer.
They opposed Hitler's diabolical regime on moral grounds. They sought to defend human dignity and restore the rule of law -- at the risk of their own lives. Traitors to Hitler, they were heroes to the oppressed. They remain an inspiration to anyone fighting against immoral and corrupt governments anywhere in the world. Adolf Hitler seems to have captivated all of Germany, yet even as one Nazi victory follows another, individuals with integrity and compassion remain opposed to him, his regime and all it stands for. People like Philip, Alexandra, and Marianne. They feel isolated and hopeless until they discover each other -- and learn that their concerns are shared by men in the highest echelons of the German High Command….
From the day when, aged four, my father led me through the Coliseum in Rome with the words "This is where they fed the Christians to the lions," history had been the inspiration for my novels. No encounter was more fateful than my unexpected discovery of the German Resistance to Hitler. Contrary to popular myths, German Resistance pre-dated the war -- let alone Germany's defeats. Furthermore, it was based not on nationalism but on ethical objections to an abhorrent regime. Once I discovered the German Resistance and became friends with many survivors of this movement, I lost ten years of my life trying to understand it -- and then explain it to others in books both fiction and non-fiction.
Nazi Germany was the first state to be condemned for crimes against humanity. Yet Germany had a history of enlightenment and tolerance. How was a civilized state so utterly gutted of basic morality and compassion? By 1941, Germans who opposed Hitler and his regime were a tiny minority, isolated from one another by fear. There were few places where one could voice criticism. Yet one of those places, paradoxically, was within the German General Staff. In this excerpt, German staff officers and a civilian secretary with legal training discuss the latest of Hitler's outrages -- and how the country has sunk so low.
WINNER OF: JOHN E. WEAVER EXCELLENT READS AWARD for Historical Fiction: Medieval READERS' FAVORITE BOOK AWARD 2016, Silver for Christian Historical Fiction FEATHERED QUILL BOOK AWARD 2016, Silver for Spiritual/Religious Fiction CHAUCER AWARD 2016 FINALIST for the M.M. BENNETT's AWARD for Historical Fiction BRAG MEDALLION Hollywood made him a blacksmith; Arab chronicles say he was like a king. He fought Saladin to a standstill, yet retained his respect. He was a warrior and a diplomat both: The true story of Balian d'Ibelin. Book II The Kingdom of Jerusalem is under siege. The charismatic Kurdish leader, Salah ad-Din, has united Egypt and Syria and has now declared jihad against the Christian kingdom. While King Baldwin IV struggles to defend his kingdom from the external threat despite the increasing ravages of leprosy, the struggle for the succession threatens to tear the kingdom apart from the inside. In the high-stakes game, one man stands out for his loyalty to the dying king, the kingdom and Christianity itself: Balian d'Ibelin.
Novels thrive on conflict, and thus a good antagonist is nearly as important as a good protagonist. But the antagonist in a war novel is not necessarily "the enemy." When writing historical fiction set in wartime, I have found it far more effective to make "enemy" characters that are subtle, complex and even sympathetic. This excerpt describes the first personal encounter between Balian Baron of Ibelin and the Sultan Salah al-Din. They are opponents and enemies, but they respect one another as humans. In contrast, Ibelin's antagonists are those in his own camp such as Guy de Lusignan, Humphrey de Toron, and the Templar Master, whose actions are selfish or shortsighted.
Writing good fiction requires a spark of inspiration -- and then lots and lots of hard work. It requires research, writing and re-writing again and again. This isn't just a matter of "word-smithing." It is also about experimenting with different approaches to the same theme. Over the years, I have analyzed core themes from many different angles. One of my favorite themes is leadership and courage. Whether I am writing about Squadron Leader Priestman in the Battle of Britain, King Leonidas of Sparta at Thermopylae, or Balian of Ibelin in the crusades, I try to analyze and show what leadership is -- and it isn't all heroics on the battlefield. Sometimes it was listening to others -- as in this scene.
On the first Good Friday, Christ allowed himself to be tortured to death for the sake of mankind. He lived and died in accordance with what he preached: to love our fellow man and place the welfare of others ahead of our own. So on this day I wish to share an excerpt describing the sacrifice by another historical figure. Balian d'Ibelin had received a safe-conduct from the Sultan Saladin to remove his wife and young children from besieged Jerusalem -- on the condition that he remained in the city only one night. The Sultan did not want the popular and experienced military leader to remain in Jerusalem to stiffen the defenses of those trapped inside. Balian swore an oath to abide by these terms.
WINNER OF SEVEN LITERARY AWARDS including: BEST BIOGRAPHY 2017, Book Excellence Awards BEST CHRISTIAN HISTORICAL FICTION 2017, Readers Favorites BEST SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS FICTION 2017 Feathered Quill Book Awards HONORABLE MENTION/FINALIST FOR MILITARY/WARTIME FICTION Foreword INDIES A lost kingdom, a lionhearted king and the struggle for Jerusalem. Balian has survived the devastating defeat at Hattin and walked away a free man after the surrender of Jerusalem, but he is baron of nothing in a kingdom that no longer exists. Award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader brings you the finale of her acclaimed Jerusalem trilogy. Haunted by the tens of thousands of Christians now in Saracen slavery, Balian d’Ibelin is determined to regain what has been lost. Richard the Lionheart and Balian d’Ibelin clash ― and cooperate ― as they struggle to regain Jerusalem and the tens of thousands of Christians now in Saracen slavery.
I have never deluded myself that my books are "for everyone." First, I tend to write about topics that people have never heard of -- the German Resistance to Hitler, Spartan diplomacy, the crusader states.... Second, my books are based on scholarly research. That means there is neither magic, nor monsters, nor sexually liberated, sword-wielding superwomen in Sparta or the Middle Ages. Third, my books are complex with multiple story-lines and a large cast of characters. Fourth, I reject political correctness in favor of accuracy. Obviously, I'm a niche writer for a very small audience of sophisticated readers. And that's just fine with me. This excerpt is typical -- many characters and complex issues at a historically documented event.
As a professional diplomat,one learned to be sensitive to emotional states. Only if we understand relative states of strength and weakness, urgency or patience, commitment or disinterest can we be effective. The pandemic coincided almost perfectly with my retirement, and I have found the period of rest and enforced isolation highly restorative and regenerative. I have never been so productive, and the added time to read, research and reflect upon my work has been hugely beneficial. This excerpt focuses on a diplomatic exchange between the legendary and powerful Richard the Lionheart and the impoverished but still influential Balian, Lord of Ibelin. Different states of mind...
The last US election was traumatic for many of us. A look at the medieval equivalent might, therefore, be entertaining. he Kingdom of Jerusalem did not have a hereditary monarchy. Rather, the ruler was elected by the High Court, composed of the feudal elite -- i.e. those that held land as vassls of the crown. While the court favored the close relatives of the preceding monarch, there was no strict adherence to rules of primogeniture. In 1190, the ruling queen of Jerusalem died. She left behind a husband and a half-sister as possible successors. Her husband had led the kingdom to an unnecessary and devastating defeat three years earlier, while her sister was married to a man the chroniclers call "effeminate." The barons and bishops of Jerusalem had a difficult choice to make.
A landless knight, a Byzantine princess and a leper king— The story of Balian d’Ibelin in the years before his fame. Balian d’Ibelin saved thousands of women and children from slavery and brokered peace between Richard I and Saladin. Arab chronicles described him as “like a king,” and his descendants dominated the history of the Holy Land for the next century. Yet he inherited neither land nor titles and we know nothing of his youth. What made him the man he would become? In this comprehensive revision of the first book in the Jerusalem Trilogy, Schrader evokes the underlying currents and powerful personalities that shaped the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. She weaves history with hypotheses to create a credible, if fictional, backstory for a hero: Balian d’Ibelin.
My goal as a novelist has always been to inspire people to go on living. Yet, writing historical fiction entails writing about many ugly things because the record of mankind is filled with much barbarity, misery, and despair. Serious historical fiction does not disguise, distort or hide these aspects of history. Rather, it uses the darkness skillfully and selectively to highlight positive features of human nature itself. Tragically, rape has been a fact of life in all ages and societies. In this excerpt, a child victim of rape has tried to kill herself and a girl her own age and an older woman combine forces to give her back the desire to live.
It is still commonplace to people to allege that women in the Middle Ages were "chattels" -- an utter idiocy without any basis in fact. Medieval women were actually very powerful -- none more so that dowagers, who retained control over large, inalienable properties, controlled troops and castles and could not be forced to re-marry. Here is a dowager queen exercising her influence at a crucial moment in history -- and all based on a true incident recorded in primary sources. Maria Comnena, Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, 1177.
Politics can make strange bedfellows. We see that every day. Not only does the President of the United States cuddle up with socialist dictators, Evangelicals "Christians" embrace corrupt liars and philanderers, preferring greed over compassion and charity. Well, things weren't so different in the Middle Ages -- they certainly weren't any WORSE. In this scene the pious, restrained and rational William Archbishop of Tyre finds himself on the same side as the notoriously impious, violent and passionate Reynald de Chatillon.
Loathsome characters that any decent person finds repulsive and an insult to mankind are not new to politics. While the last four years have been an ordeal for anyone with a shred of moral integrity, the reality is that corrupt, egotistical madmen litter the pages of history. Reynald de Chatillon was one such man. Here we see him as he emerges from fifteen years in a Saracen prison.
With a flick of his pen the current occupant of the White House destroyed the principle of "advancement by merit" in our civil service. In its place, he maliciously erected "patronage" -- a euphemism for corruption. The system of rewarding friends and relatives -- because of their alleged greater "loyalty" -- is ancient. Here's an example of how it works. The queen mother advises her 15 year old son on who to appoint to positions of power and influence.
As a writer I am often asked where I get the inspiration for my works. The answer is: life itself. Being a writer of history and historical fiction, all my books are based directly on the human experience. I don't have to invent plots or characters -- simply take the bare bones fossilized in the historical record and bring those real people "back to life." What that means is that I extrapolate -- and if necessary invent -- the thoughts, emotions, motives and psychology of my characters. I do the latter based on my personal experience with humans living today. I hope many readers will be able to relate to this excerpt describing the awkwardness of the early stages of a relationship -- when status, jobs and misunderstandings often get in the way of one's dreams.
We tend to think of espionage as a "modern" phenomenon -- Enigma, MI5, the CIA, the KGB. Yet gathering information about one's enemies is as old as war itself. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, surrounded by hostile neighbors and always outnumbered on the battlefield, intelligence was particularly important. Yet, spying is by nature clandestine and rarely finds its way into the history books unless something goes spectacularly wrong -- for one side or the other. In this scene, the young king Baldwin IV discovers he has an intelligence network he didn't even know about.
It is often presumed by modern novelists that women in the Middle Ages were weak and powerless. Indeed, it is still common to refer to them as "chattels" --- an absurd notion that I have debunked repeatedly in various publications. In fact the opposite was true. Women could be rulers, lords, abbesses and guild masters. They could inherit and own land and businesses. Women of the feudal class were very powerful, and widows particularly so. Sometimes they exercised power directly as feudal lords commanding men, defending castles and the like. Sometimes their influence was more subtle, often as intermediaries and advisors. In this excerpt, the dowager queen of Jerusalem visits her step-son, King Baldwin IV, after a year away from court.
Change can come gradually or abruptly. Sometimes we hardly notice that we have drifted off course. At other times, change is forced upon us by a cataclysmic event. When the foundations on which we have built our future, suddenly collapse, he have no choice but to rebuild elsewhere. When the road we have been traveling is abruptly cut off by a landslide, we must seek a different route. These apparent catastrophes sometimes offer opportunities that we are thankful for in retrospect.... In this excerpt, a 19-year-old suddenly finds herself a widow. With her husband's death, she has also lost her status. She is no longer the reigning queen. Yet other doors are about to open...
When I was a teenager "popularity" was hugely important. I wasn't at all popular, so I tried to tell myself it wasn't all that important to be "popular" at school. Yet friends mattered. We often use the number of friends we have as an indicator of our likability. Nowadays there is even a tendency to confuse Facebook "likes" with friendship --but that is a totally different topic. The point here is that while young people in the Middle Ages might not watch their daily count of "likes" on Facebook, they still wanted to be liked. Some had it harder than others. Take the example of this teenage queen....
I was one of those horribly boring kids, who obeyed the rules. I didn't cut class. I didn't talk out of turn. I raised my hand, and I did my homework. Dull, dull, dull. It was the kids who smoked, and talked-back who were cool. Of course, if you were too cool, you might get into real trouble and then drop out and.... well, probably wouldn't end up with a great job and a good income. Adolescence is a age of rebelliousness and we don't want to squash it entirely -- just keep things under control a bit. That was particularly true when the teenager was a king...
Who you know or are seen with can be dangerous even in our own time. It is not advantageous to a respectable career, for example, to associate with dubious characters or anyone suspected of crimes or drugs. In some circles or communities, the wrong religion or political affiliation will lead to social isolation, if not worse. Race remains a barrier to equal opportunity. In the Middle Ages, when government was personal, personal ties and relationships were everything. In this excerpt, I look at the subtle -- and not so subtle -- ways relationships affected access to power, and life itself. The excerpt is a dialogue between the powerful Baron of Ibelin (Barry) and his landless younger brother Balian
Some of us think we know why we are here on earth. I know of people who were called to medicine or religion certainly and relentlessly. For me, I realized I had to write since grade school. I don't mean I "wanted to be writer," I mean if felt compelled to write. I do not write for the sake of writing, but because a force beyond me insists that I tell certain stories. I don't know why. I often don't even understand the internally salient points of my writing until it is finished. When I write I am a messenger more than a creator. I am receiving a message from one world and transmitting it to his world via the written word. But not everyone is so lucky as to know what their life is about. Many people don't feel they know -- until some traumatic experience shatters their world and makes them re-examine themselves. In this excerpt, a year in Saracen captivity has taken a toll on the young Aimery de Lusignan, but he is about to discover more about himself.
Elections can be very tiresome -- particularly when they seem to be eternal as in the U.S. And even with out elections there is the constant party rivalry and intrigue, the plotting and planning for regime change. There are times when it is easy to think things would be simpler with an old-fashioned hereditary monarchy. At least they had the advantage of being stable, right? After all, kings (or queens) could live for 30, 40 even 50 years, and the succession was theoretically established by primogeniture. Of course, things are rarely as simple as they seem. Kings could die quite suddenly and sometimes the succession was not as clear as it seemed.
With no cure for COVID19 yet available, we can only protect ourselves by what we call "social distancing." The process is not so different from what the victims of the once incurable disease of leprosy suffered in centuries past. In the Middle Ages, a person with leprosy was "socially distanced" from family and friends. Even -- or especially -- a king's son found himself cut off from human contact, hidden, and almost completely isolated. Baldwin IV of Jerusalem endured that "social distancing" from the age of 8. In this scene, however, he finds someone willing to risk contact with him....
Kathy pointed out that with so many people working from home and using video conferencing, we are being given glimpses into each other's homes. The line between private and professional spheres is blurring. While this seems like something new, in earlier ages people often lived immediately above or behind their place of work. Families -- including young children -- worked together. In the Middle Ages -- before such concepts as the "Divine Right of Kings" and the pomposity of the baroque age -- royalty too was more accessible and integrated with their own household. That had its advantages and disadvantages. In this excerpt an look inside a royal household in 12th century Jerusalem.
With four thousand new books appearing on amazon each day, it takes courage and inner conviction not to become discouraged about publication. Every author hears words of "advice" from countless well-meaning friends and colleagues warning that it is impossible to get noticed "out there." Oh, no one means to disparage your work, much less you as a writer, but we're told to "be realistic." What chance does any one of us have to be found, reviewed, and read? Yet if you have story to tell -- a story you care about -- you persist. Not only is Balian's story one of those I am determined to share, he too started life with nothing -- but the doubts and disparagement of his older brother.
The name Balian d’Ibelin may be familiar to readers from the Ridley Scott film "The Kingdom of Heaven." Although a brilliant piece of cinematography, the film was full of historical inaccuracies, including almost every about the character Balian played by Orlando Bloom. The historical Balian was much more interesting than the Hollywood version. Yet while the historical record provides many facts about the mature Balian, it tells us very little about his youth. This novel, the first in a series of four, sets the stage for what will come in the later volumes. It imagines what made Balian the kind of man he would become in those critical years 1177 – 1192. It takes the known facts and weaves a plausible story around them.
BEST HISTORICAL FICTION 2020 -- FEATHERED QUILL BOOK AWARDS Emperor Frederick II has restored Christian control of Jerusalem, but the Sultan brags he will “purify” Jerusalem and drive the Christians out as soon as the ten-year truce expires. The common people of the Holy Land show their contempt for the Emperor and his treaty by pelting him with offal, while the barons resist Frederick’s absolutism and demand rule of law. Filled with resentment and bitterness toward his impertinent subjects, the Emperor vows to destroy the family that embodies the independent spirit of Outremer: the Ibelins. While the Emperor’s deputies will stop at nothing to fulfill their orders, the Ibelins must gain allies at almost any cost. Yet with the Pope now on the side of the Emperor, Balian’s marriage becomes a spiritual weapon turned against his father.
The Greek word for summer is literally the "good time," and the Greeks have a special relationship with the season. All eating is transferred outside onto terraces, beaches or tables under the trees. Feasts of wine, fresh grilled fish or octopus,endless varieties of appetizers and bread drenched in olive oil are shared. The balmy nights are filled with the sound of chatting voices, laughter, and live music. Greek popular music has a single theme: love. Young love, old love, lost love, forgotten love, remembered love, renewed love... "The Emperor Strikes Back" may be set in the 13th century, but one thing I have learned as a historian is that some things never change -- summer, the aqua waters of the Mediterranean and sexual attraction are some of those things.
One of my uncles was killed flying for the RCAF over Berlin in Jan. 1944. He was 23 and I wasn't born for another ten years, but I grew up knowing about "Uncle Ken." When I lived in Berlin, I periodically put roses on his grave - alongside the other six members of his crew. Four days ago, while researching my current book on Bomber Command in WWII I came across a video made by a man whose father had also died in the skies over Berlin. The video, the text said, was about his ten year journey to find out more about the father he had never known. I clicked on it. Of all the hundreds of crews it might have described, it was about my uncle's. In this excerpt a different unexpected kinship tie is discovered, one even more binding.
When I run into a problem with my writing, I've found that the best means of solving it is to leave my desk behind and go for a long walk in the countryside. That's much easier when the weather is warm and sunny. (Snow, sleet, rain and cold never did much for me!) The arrival of spring makes it easier for me to get outside and in so doing shake off confusion, frustration and stale writing. This excerpt is just one example of a scene that had been stumping me for a while. It was historically necessary, but I couldn't seem to find the right way to approach it. Then after a long walk in beautiful surroundings, I returned with a whole new perspective and a fresh narrative.
It will probably come as a surprise to many that the "crusaders" produced some of the most exquisite art of the Middle Ages. Sculpture, mosaics, frescos, miniatures, icons and more -- all distinctive and revealing cultural influences from France, Italy, Byzantium, Armenia, Syria and Egypt and more. Even more surprising, although illuminators were anonymous, we know that women worked in scriptoriums and ateliers. A female artist in the crusader states? I give you Eschiva de Montbelliard! In his scene she is showing her work to the Patriarch of Jerusalem in her atelier -- and showing the power of art to capture our emotions.
Words can be descriptors, or labels or titles. They can tell us about the material and immaterial facets of the object described. Words together can tell us entire stories -- and sometime one single word is enough to convey a world of meaning. In this excerpt the Lord of Beirut arrived in the town of Casal Imbert after his army, led by three of his sons, has suffered a humiliating defeat.
For some of us, quarantine during the Covid19 Pandemic has been a lot like being under siege. We couldn't go anywhere, the enemy was "out there" threatening to break in to our safe world, and the risk of supplies running out was always in the back of our mind. The opportunity to get away from our home -- even at the risk of encountering the enemy -- was usually welcomed with open arms -- at least by some of us. In this excerpt, the citadel of Beirut has been under siege for months, and the need to know what is going on outside outweighs the risk -- at least for some.
Modern writing often neglects description. Perhaps it is because of the speed of communications and the sense of hurry? We have become used to 'tweets' and 'sound bites' -- no time for anything but the essentials. So, many modern novels don't take the time or space to set the scene -- unlike works of the 19th century, where descriptions could last for pages. For me, the key is finding a balance between evoking an image and keeping the story moving. Critical to the effective use of description is the relevance of the data provided. Yes, it is about an image and helping the reader see where your characters are, but it is also about setting a mood and the interplay between environment and character. This excerpt is, I believe, self-explanatory.
The same set of facts told from different perspectives can look completely different. As everyone knows, one man's "terrorist" is another's "freedom fighter." Perspectives -- and so narratives -- are shaped by subjective factors: our values, our expectations, our ability to identify with protagonists, but also our own goals and desires. Sometimes we see what we want to see rather than what is objectively there. In this scene, two brothers fight over the correct response to an event -- until the motives of the one are revealed by the other.
In times like these it is easy to get wrapped up in our own worries. It is easy to forget to tell people what they mean to us. Yet it is precisely in times like these that we should make the extra effort. Small gestures can mean a lot. In this scene a squire takes leave of his knight on the eve of battle.
Sometimes we compartmentalize "creativity." We think of it as "art" and forget that we need it in our daily lives as well -- whether it is to make a special meal or surprise our partner with an unexpected sign of affection. Yet arguably, there is no human endeavor in which creativity is more essential than in the "art" of war -- especially when one is out-numbered and the terrain favors the enemy. Then it is only the creative genius of a commander that can turn a seemingly inevitable defeat into a victory. In this expert, a young man whose father and king are about to engage in a desperate battle, is looking for a creative way to change the shape of the confrontation to come.
We all too often worry about things we can't change. What we can do, however, is make sure we don't repeat our mistakes. If I'm worried about not doing well on an exam, I study harder. If I'm worried about getting sick, I take care of myself. In other words, avoiding unnecessarily trouble comes from anticipating it and learning from past mistakes. That's what this scene is all about.
There is a child within me that has a temper tantrum when suddenly forces beyond my control interfere in my life. This was to be my first London Book Fair and I had a full-page catalogue entry -- all for nothing now! A complete wash out! Scream! A good reminder that no matter how much we think we are in control of our lives, much remains beyond our control. In this excerpt, a young king is also confronted with developments beyond his control and he has to face his helplessness.
I have a nephew who has been working on the same novel for the last 16 years. I'm sure that when he finally releases it the entire literary world will stand still with awe -- or not. Chances are, he will never publish because there is always just one more improvement that will make it "perfect." On the other hand, I rushed "Knight of Jerusalem" to press for reasons that seemed good at the time. Now I have a book on the market that is weak and flawed -- so much so that I'm working on a complete rewrite. Every writer struggles with the inherent tension between the search for perfection and the need to let go. We can't have our cake and eat it too. We have to make choices. In this excerpt a young man faces a very different kind of choice -- but one that is just as difficult, if not more so.
We all have a tendency to feel sorry for ourselves when we aren't feeling well. In my experience, men are the worst -- a little sniffle and a cough and suddenly they act as if they are on the brink of death and can't lift a finger in household or office. No doubt they see it differently. Seeing a common cold as a dire illness, however, is a self-indulgence that many people, past and present, could not afford. So much worse could happen to them as this excerpt -- based on historical events -- makes clear.
My main characters are real historical figures whose character is recorded to a greater or lesser degree by their actions, words and commentary of contemporaries. All I can do is bring these character to life by giving them greater contours, more depth, interpolating between events and generally trying to get inside their minds to understand and explain why they did may have done what they did. It is the secondary characters, the supporting cast, which are based on people I have known and met personally. Eskinder is very much a product of my encounters with stern fathers in Ethiopia.
Asked about "what it takes" to be a successful author in today's market, I can only answer: A lot! It takes persistence, obviously, and commitment, a willingness to invest time not only in writing but in marketing and social media. It takes courage -- being willing to publish rather than waiting to "be discovered." It takes hard work, long hours, a thick skin, a sense of humor....Perhaps the most important thing, however, is being able to distinguish between constructive criticism (that enables you to write better) and destructive advice (that leads to chasing the latest fad.) In this excerpt my female protagonist is asked to make a choice...
It is a tragic feature of human nature that we often do not fully appreciate something -- or someone -- until they are gone. A major component in the grief many feel at the death of a loved one is regret -- regret for not knowing them better, not spending more time with them, for not valuing them as, in retrospect, we realize we should have done. In the excerpt, the Lord of Beirut has received news that his army has been ambushed at night, while he was in Acre negotiating a peace settlement. Three of his sons were with the army and their fate is unknown. He sets out to find out what happened.
Sometimes we have to grow up very fast. Kathy Meis mentioned going abroad at an early age, and for many of us that experience of being taken from our familiar surroundings and put in a new environment is singularly maturing. At fifteen, my parents moved to Portsmouth, England, but the closest international school was in London. I went to live in a boarding house, and was only home with my family on weekends. In the Middle Ages, youth was expected to grow up faster. At fifteen, many girls were already married while in many kingdoms (Holy Roman Empire, Jerusalem) youths came of age at 14 or 15. In this excerpt, Guy d'Ibelin, aged 15 just like I was in London, has a -- rapid -- maturing experience.
Relations between siblings are unique and complex. Depending on age differences, the number and kind of shared experiences, and a variety of other factors we can have exceptionally close and enduring relationships -- or be virtual strangers. The most dangerous and deceptive aspect of sibling relationships is that because of shared childhood memories, we often fail to recognize changes -- or simply assume that we know our sibling better than we actually do. Yet at their best, siblings can be the truest friends we have, precisely because they learned to love us regardless of who we have become since. In this excerpt, a brother and sister are reunited after being separated by a siege -- and other events that have changed them both.
We are most easily deceived by our own hopes. What I mean, is that if someone offers us something we want, we are rarely as skeptical or as cautious as we should be. That's why promises of tricks to "get rich quick" always find suckers no matter how patently ridiculous. It's why an entire industry has grown up around authors desperate to sell their books.... In this scene, the Lord of Beirut is tempted by what he wants most: peace.
Sorry, I don't like picturing the future precisely. I've learned that there are far too many factors that impact our lives to enable us to envisage out situation a year from now. Maybe other people have more predictable lives. I don't. Likewise, my characters -- all historical figures -- demonstrate how futile it is to plan too far in advance. The actions of distant emperors and popes and the fortunes of war drove their fates in wild and unpredictable zig-zags. For example, in this scene the heir to the wealthy barony of Beirut is confronted with the unexpected: his year-old marriage has been decreed invalid by the pope and he finds himself abruptly excommunicated. Something the wealthy son of privilege would certainly not have expected a year earlier....
At this time of year, we are wont to reflect on what we have achieved or failed to achieve in the previous 12 months. We often make "New Year's Resolutions" about what we want to accomplish -- or at least do better -- in the year ahead. As we go through this healthy exercise, however, it is wise to remember that we need to be careful what we wish for -- just in case our wishes come true! In this excerpt, Bella d'Ibelin has been besieged in Beirut for four months by Sicilian mercenaries loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. She is holding out with an inadequate garrison in hope of relief from her father, the Lord of Beirut. Suddenly, Bella's prayers for rescue appear to have been answered....
The traditions of my childhood were imported from Denmark. We celebrated Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. We had a beautiful, formal dinner at my grandmother's. The women wore formals, the men tuxedos, and the only lighting was from candles. There was no radio or TV: we sang the carols ourselves. But as an adult, moving around the world as a diplomat who knew the carols of my childhood? And how relevant was a candlelight dinner in the tropics with fireworks going on outside and African music in the streets? In the excerpt, two men in a castle under siege debate the value of a tradition.
... is a luxury. It is for the comparatively rich and secure who have "holidays" and money for presents and big meals and decorations. For many people around the world there are other priorities -- like putting food on the table or staying safe. Historically, many Christmas' were marred by famine, flood, killing cold, or war. In this excerpt, the Ibelin landing in Syria at or around Christmas 1231 is described.
This past year, my first in retirement, has been one of change and astonishing promise. In the last four months I have landed two important book deals with commercial publishers. The first was with a Greek publisher for the translation and release of my biography of Leonidas of Sparta on the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae. The second was with Pen & Sword for not one but two books about the crusader states. But not all years are so good and sometimes we look back with regret or mixed feelings -- as the hero of "The Emperor Strikes Back" does in this excerpt.
It is in our darkest hour, when we feel lost and helpless, that true friendship shines like a light. How often, when all seemed lost, has a friend reached out a hand and helped? Maybe just with advice or a shoulder to cry on, but by showing concern, understanding and solidarity making it possible to get up and keep going. In this scene, the Lord of Beirut had just learned that his only daughter is trapped in his castle of Beirut, while the castle is under siege from the Imperial Marshal Riccardo Filangieri.
... that can't think of at least three ways to spell every English word. -- Benjamin Franklin. I do not suffer from a "poor mind" by that definition! Spelling has never been my strong point, which is why I spend a fortune to have two editors look over all my manuscripts before submitting them. And there are words like "disseize" -- or was that "dissieze"? The illegal confiscation of a medieval fief, which forms the very core of the conflict between Emperor Frederick II and the Lord of Beirut in my current series of novels. Oh, well, I try to avoid the word when I can find alternative ways of speaking about the issue....
Goals can be short-term or long-term. We can attempt to cover a certain distance on a jog or read a certain number of pages, or visit someone particular on a given day. Or we can plan to get a PhD, or to become a doctor, or walk on the moon. Sometimes in the pursuit of these long-term goals we make mistakes.... The hero of "The Emperor Strikes Back" has several long term goals, and one of them is securing papal approval for his marriage which is technically within the prohibited degrees of kinship. Here he speaks with the Papal Legate and Patriarch of Jerusalem, who had issued him a dispensation that has since been challenged.
The light of dawn is usually something we can count on. We know exactly the time each day the sun will rise at any location on earth. Yet there are circumstances when that light is not so certain after all. One of those is when a sailing ship is damaged in storm at sea. Such a situation often tests our strength, patience and faith as in this excerpt, while rescue is like the breaking of a new day.
Courage has many faces and going beyond one's comfort zone takes many forms. As a historical novelist whose works are based on historical events, I'm always hesitant to "go too far" with interpretation and invention. When the city of Beirut fell to the forces of Emperor Frederick in 1231, Beirut and all his sons were in Cyprus. Only a skeletal garrison remained in the citadel -- and this alone held out against the vastly superior forces of the Emperor. But where was Beirut's daughter? The historical chronicles are silent on the subject. I decided to give Bella a role....
There are times in our lives when we have to take a stand -- for or against something -- whether it is in our "best interests" or not. If something -- a principle, an institution or a person -- is important enough to us, we have to stand up for them -- or regret it the rest of our lives. When the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II sent a large army to intimidate and force the submission of his vassal the Lord of Beirut, the baron chose rebellion instead. His three eldest sons, all youths barely out of their teens, stood by him. It may not have been a difficult choice, but it took courage nevertheless.
Three years after the wreck of his ship, a sailor returns home. He knows that he was presumed dead, and he travels now under an assumed name with a fake identity. But he has returned to Acre because it was where he left his bride -- who believes herself to be his widow.
Being prepared isn't always a matter of being prepared for the weather, lost baggage or a missed flight. It can also mean being prepared for the consequences of your actions. Humans being what they are, we are often blinded by our ambition, our dreams, our hopes -- and a too optimistic assessment of our own capabilities and influence. In this scene, a man's younger brother tries to warn him that what he is about to do could have negative long-term consequences, but he is far too sure of his own cleverness to listen.
We like to celebrate our victories -- both large and small. I'm no exception. A new award? Bring out the champagne! A new release? Let's go out to dinner! Indeed, I've learned to celebrate precisely because life sends us setbacks and defeats as well as victories. So we must celebrate the positive gifts before the bad times hit us again. Yet I have also learned not to celebrate too soon. Sometimes victories that seem just around the corner don't materialize at all. In this scene, the young Balian d'Ibelin has celebrated and consummated his marriage -- only to run into a little snag...
A major theme of "The Emperor Strikes Back," as in the first book in this series "Rebels against Tyranny," is the right of subjects to defend themselves against arbitrary government. Throughout the series, the Lord of Beirut is pitted against an autocrat that attempts to take his titles and his lands from him without bringing charges of wrong-doing much less giving him the right to defend himself against the charges. In this excerpt, the Lord of Beirut puts his case to the highest court in the kingdom, the High Court composed of the entire knightly class, and defends his rights. Unfortunately, the Holy Roman Emperor doesn't care about the judgement of the court and continues his attacks -- the actions that form the rest of the novel.
Do you remember your childhood dreams of "growing up"? When you were ten or eleven did you know what you wanted to "be" when you grew up? Were you true to your dreams? I had a cousin who always knew he wanted to be an architect -- and is. For as long as I can remember I wanted to write novels. Yet most of my siblings and cousins took different paths from the ones imagined at 10 or even 20. And even those of us who remained true to our childhood dreams often had moments of doubt like Bella in this excerpt.
...you are about to be married to the man of your dreams, but you are still deathly afraid? Eschiva is an heiress, a widow and desperately in love with the man she has promised to marry now. Yet there is something that terrifies her....
Modern man has learned to measure the force of nature. We have different categories of hurricanes and measure earthquakes on the "Richter Scale." Furthermore, while we still cannot tame them, we can explain and sometimes even predict natural catastrophes -- like the course of a hurricane. In contrast, for our ancestors in the 13th century, nature was far more intimately and directly related to the Will of God.
Anthropologists tell us that the concept of family is one of the most universal features of human society. Indeed, we share the concept with other primates and animals. For humans, the definition of family unit may vary greatly from small units consisting of man, wife and children, to larger "clans" including more than three generations and cousins of all kinds. Likewise, authority within a family may vary greatly, but the sense of belonging is fundamental to all. In this excerpt an abandoned child finds a home.
I think all of us know that life is like the seasons. Just as there is a time for strawberries and a time for cider, a time for the fire and a time for the beach, there are times to be sociable and times to be alone, times to learn and time to teach. Knowing the right time to get married is one of the most important moments in life. In this excerpt, the young heir to the lordship of Beirut needs to convince his father that this is the right time too.
The German military-philosopher Carl von Clausewitz pointed out that wars are not the result of aggression -- but rather the RESISTANCE to aggression. Any bully is happy NOT to fight -- as long as he gets his way. It is only when we stand up to bullies, that we have conflict. The problem is, even if only defending one's self, conflict has consequences that aren't pretty. In this excerpt the daughter and eldest son of the Lord of Beirut clash over how to respond to injustice.
Going to school may be the common experience of American kids today, but it wasn't always that way. Through much of history there were no public schools and education was a privilege of the rich. In the same way, through much of history, unwanted children were simply driven out of their homes, or dumped on the side of a road. In this opening scene from "The Emperor Strikes Back" a priest draws the attention of one such child to a wealthy benefactress, hoping she will take an interest in the child as an act of charity.
Launching a new book is always a risky business. No matter how hard you try to get everything "right" and no matter how much you believe in your own book -- once a book is launched it is the readers and reviewers that decide its fate. "The Emperor Strikes Back" was released this past week. The prologue sets the stage. Here the Master of the Teutonic Knights, Herman von Salza, confronts the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II -- and the later reveals his plans.
SILVER (2ND Place) for HISTORICAL FICTION, FEATHERED QUILL BOOK AWARDS 2019. FIRST IN CATEGORY (FINALIST) CHAUCER AWARD FOR HISTORICAL FICTION 2018. BRAG MEDALION HONOREE. Emperor Frederick II, called "enlightened" by historians yet decried as a despot by contemporaries, unleashes a civil war that tears the Holy Land apart. The heir to an intimidating legacy, a woman artist, and a boy king are caught up in the game of emperors and popes. Set against the backdrop of the Sixth Crusade, Rebels against Tyranny takes you from the harems of Sicily to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, from the palaces of privilege to the dungeons of despair. This is a timeless tale of youthful audacity taking on tyranny―but sometimes courage is not enough....
Just as imperfect heroes make better characters in serious fiction, so do imperfect heroines. The flaws should give them character and contours. That's possible in a beautiful body, of course, and some of my favorite characters have been beautiful women, who abused the power that gave them. In this novel, however, the hero Balian is a "ladies man" and extremely good-looking. I thought it would be more intriguing if he could fall for a woman who was not a beauty. Ergo, Eschiva is plain. In this scene, Balian is confronted with a copy of the "Odyssey" in Greek -- which is the reason he cannot read it, despite being literate in French and Latin.
Despite the popularity of cartoon super-heroes, I believe that complex, flawed heroes are not only more realistic but more enduring. In a market where 4,000 new titles are released each day and on average each title sells 50 copies or less, writing about a cardboard superhero isn't a winning formula. Flat perfection is not unique. A hero with imperfections, on the other hand, can be made as individualistic as real human beings --- and that is what, I believe, will attract and hold people's interest in the long run. Balian of Beirut, unlike his wise father and diplomatic grandfather, has been much criticized by historians for his many faults. Yet it is largely because of them that he is one of my favorite characters. In this scene his father holds up a figurative mirror to show him his impetuosity.
The relationship between fathers and sons can be fraught with complexities. Despite love and trust, tensions often develop due to excessive expectations or because of rivalries with siblings. The father-son relationship is particularly difficult for the sons of famous or powerful fathers. These young men grow up in a world in which nearly everyone expects them to take after their father. Yet they may be very different in temperament, skills and character. John, the old Lord of Beirut, was one of the towering figures of the early 13th century, a man who defied an emperor, and stood up for the rule-of-law. His son Balian was very different and their relationship was complex. Here an excerpt highlighting their relationship.
In the age of Tweets, books are increasingly judged by "sound bites" rather than their content. A majority of contemporary books start fantastically only to dissolve into shallow, stereotypic characters, doing dumb things in a bland or senselessly twisted plot without meaning. As a judge for literary contests, I've seen that most books nowadays don't have rounded characters or thematic depth, much less subtlety and nuance. Still, no matter what comes later, a writer is compelled to produce an opening scene that "hooks" the reader. Since my books aren't about saving the world from a meteor, or taking revenge against a mass murderer or any other popular, modern cliche, it's hard to compete. My books are based on historical events and they revolve around characters, so the important aspects of an opening scene for me are 1) introducing the main character in a sympathetic way and 2) setting the historical scene. Here the opening of "Rebels against Tyranny."
...the more things stay the same. Most kinds of human behavior -- from jealousy and greed to intrigue and altruism -- have been around as long as humans Donald Trump wasn't the first pathologically dishonest, corrupt, and delusional leader in the history of the world. Nor was he the first to think he was "the greatest" in everything he did. In the 13th Century, Frederick II Hohenstaufen was so convinced of his amazing greatness that he called himself "The Wonder of the World." As now, so too in the 13th century, the loyal followers of "der Fuehrer" believed his self-serving “facts” (read: lies). In this scene one of the Emperors' staunch supporters, the Marshal of the Teutonic Knights, runs in to resistance from men not blinded by "der Fuehrer's" concocted MAGA-style arguments and still committed to the rule-of-law.
Good novels focus more on the subjective than the objective world of their characters, telling not only what happens but also exploring the feelings, fears, hopes, and ambitions of the character. Furthermore, a good novelist doesn't merely tell the reader what a character is feeling, they evoke in the reader the same mood. There are various methods for this, but I find a selective description of the environment surrounding the character is one useful tool. In this excerpt the task was complicated by the fact that the main character's mood contrasts with that of those around him. I had to depict the main character's melancholy amidst a feast enjoyed by his companions.
This past week the world lost one of the best contemporary writers of historical fiction: Sharon Kay Penman. One of the things I liked best about Penman's books was her attention to character development starting in childhood. Too many books present characters as if they were all Venus -- formed whole and perfect from the foam of the sea. But people are often fundamentally formed by childhood circumstances and events. Penman showed us this brilliantly with her Richard III and Edward IV. Here, I show the childhood of another king: Henry I of Cyprus. Henry would later be one of Emperor Frederick II's most tenacious enemies. The seeds of his hostility, I believe, go back to when the Emperor held the thirteen-year-old Henry a virtual prisoner during the Emperor's sojourn in the East.
The past year was a humbling experience for me. I thought I was on the brink of a great "break through." For the first time in my life, my titles were to be represented at the London and Frankfurt book fairs. Even more exciting, the release of my biography of Leonidas in Greek was to coincide with a host of official events marking the 2,500th anniversary of Thermopylae. I was scheduled to participate in panel discussions and give talks in various locations. It was not to be. COVID19 closed both book fairs and all the public events marking the anniversary of Thermopylae. I have been humbled. Today's excerpt describes an historical event that humbled two young noblemen. It is seen through the eyes of their father.
It is easy to dismiss "art" as a superfluous luxury, an unnecessary waste of time and resources. As an artist, I have often questioned the point of what I was doing. At times I felt the need to apologize for taking "time" for my work. Indeed, carving out time for creative writing meant sacrificing something else -- time with family and friends, time informing myself about current affairs, time advancing my career. Yet most of the time the compulsion to create proved more powerful than my doubts, and I persisted. In this excerpt, an artist undergoing a crisis of doubt about her value is encouraged to continue creating.
Throughout most of the age of chivalry, a knight was only effective if he was mounted on a sound and well-trained war horse. Contemporary records attest to the fact that the relationship between a knight and his horse -- and between squires and grooms and the horses they tended -- could be intense and powerful. There are accounts not only of humans grieving for the loss of their trusted horse but vice versa, of horses becoming despondent with grief at the loss of a beloved rider. The following excerpt is based on a 13th century account of judicial combat in Cyprus written by the philosopher, poet and knight Philip de Novare.
Common people fighting injustice have found many ways to protest over the centuries. Violent rebellions might make a larger mark in history, but they were not necessarily more effective than non-violent methods. Non-violent protests often communicated displeasure and forced change more effectively than open rebellion -- they are simply less likely to be remembered in the general history books. This excerpt is based on a true incident. It would be wrong to say it sparked a civil war, but the attitude of the people of Acre -- so eloquently expressed by pelting the Holy Roman Emperor with offal and entrails -- encouraged some barons to defy the hated emperor.
...on where you are and what you've experienced. I'm lucky. I'm living in a country that cares about people -- even old people -- and about saving lives rather than the economy or the 'freedom' to endanger others. Not everyone was that lucky. Some people lost loved ones. Unnecessarily. Because of failed government and brutal selfishness on the part of fellow citizens. Because hatred and selfishness have been made 'respectable' and 'presidential.' So today my excerpt is about death and its consequences, because for those that lost someone the 'new normal' is about coping with death and sometimes economic devastation as well.
Book sales, we are told, have increased almost 800-fold in the midst of the Corona Virus pandemic. We are lucky. Books are readily available today and can be delivered electronically to our e-readers. In the Middle Ages, books had to be meticulously copied by hand. They were correspondingly fewer in number and expensive to acquire, while literacy was likewise significantly lower than today. For those in the echelons of society that could read and afford books, however, they offered as much of an escape from our "real life" worries as they do today. In this scene a noble maiden in the service of an emperor remembers the importance of books -- especially for women.
For an artist, art is not a hobby. It is not something to do "for fun" in your "spare time." It is an obsession and a necessity. It is something you make sacrifices for -- no TV, less social life, less social media, less demanding jobs, fewer kids... I have been writing since I was in the second grade. I have never had a phase in my life when I was not writing. I cannot STOP writing -- even when I am depressed and frustrated by lack of commercial success. Lack of success only compels me to work harder, to look for better ways to reach my readers -- because I CANNOT stop. The day I stop writing, is the day I die -- if not physically than spiritually and intellectually. In this excerpt from "Rebels against Tyranny" an artist in crisis is helped by a young man she hardly knows -- and this, more than his other virtues, is what wins her heart.
The American Revolution was viewed by its leaders as a rebellion against a tyrannical government. Many of the issues that concerned the colonists then continue to concern us today -- the right to due process before the law, representation in the legislature, fair distribution of taxes. It was the discovery that many of these same issues sparked an early rebellion against tyrannical government that attracted me to the history of the Crusader States in the early 13th century. This scene is, I think, self-explanatory.
All of us have known "tyranny." Not necessarily the political kind with a capital "T," but we have been tyrannized by perfectionist bosses, or by the "popular" clique at school, or by the expectations of a family that does not like or respect our choices. People are tyrannized every day -- for their race, their sexual orientation, or simply for the way they dress. In this excerpt, a young German Templar is set upon by knights of the Holy Roman Emperor simply because he is German and -- in the minds of his attackers -- he is a "traitor" to the Emperor because the Knights Templar oppose the Emperor's policies.
I have always been a very "audio" person. I learn something better when I hear it, than when I see it. I remember what I hear better than what I simply see. At university, I couldn't afford to miss a lecture like other students did. Maybe this explains why I hear my novels as I write them. For me, the way what I write sounds is almost as important as the content. I love alliteration, and I love the rhythm you can give a sentence -- or a whole paragraph. Obviously, make text sing is easiest when writing descriptions since speech has to be reflective of character and most characters are poets or troubadours. Here's a random sample -- read it out loud to appreciate it most!
We all (I hope!) have memories of someplace special we used to go in summer. For my family, it was my grandmother's house on the coast of Maine -- wooden clapboard painted white, black shutters, sagging a little with age, and surrounded by the cawing gulls and the hammering in the boatyard out back. Boy kings experienced summers a little differently....
Most of us have experienced it -- a vacation to someplace "exotic" like a Caribbean Island -- and suddenly not only our surroundings but our feelings are transformed. Inexplicably, those around us are more attractive and exciting -- and so are we. In this excerpt, the "cold, boring and plain" (Emperor Frederick II's assessment) Eschiva de Montbelliard is returning to the Holy Land by ship. After being confined to her cabin for days, she is allowed on deck for a meal of fresh fish when the ship puts into the Venetian-controlled, Greek island of Kythera.
It is well known that our environment impacts our mood -- a sunny day, for example, can lift spirits and make us more optimistic. Yet in periods of severe crisis, the reverse is also true: our mood can alter our response to the world around us. The heroine of this scene, a manuscript illuminator, has been rescued from a shipwreck in which she lost her step son -- and all her illustrations of the last year. Her world seems very dark and purposeless...
The 13th century legal scholar and historian wrote in his autobiography that he was tipped off about an assassination attempt by one "whom cared not whom it might displease" -- a sentence too sparse for historians to even speculate. Yet the would-be assassins were none other than the Emperor's regents for the under-aged King Henry I -- and the latter was their prisoner. He was privy to their decisions, yet his heart was with their enemies and the would-be victim. For a novelist that's good enough to make a storyline....
My husband always promised me I could have pets when I retired from the Foreign Service and stopped moving around the world every two to three years. That date came in December and in March we adopted two dogs from the same liter. They have enriched our lives beyond measure. They will also undoubtedly find their way into one of my books one day because the relationship we have with animals is nothing new or unique to the modern world. Men have lived together with dogs as far back as the stone age. In the Middle Ages too there were very much a part of daily life -- some spoiled, some working, some loved, some abandoned. This episode tells of a special dog....
It was a trip to Cyprus more than 20 years ago that sparked my interest in the crusades. Indeed, one could say that the castles of St. Hilarion and Kantara together so captured my imagination that I'm STILL writing about them. They both feature in my current series of books -- quite actually as they were historically significant in the early 12th century and played important roles in the struggle between the Holy Roman Emperor and the barons of Outremer. This excerpt tries to put into words the way St. Hilarion looks -- but I conceded a single photo is probably more effective. (But for that you'll have to go to my blog at: https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8683681702039130081#editor/target=post;postID=8736322548062587556;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=21;src=link)
In 1228, Balian d'Ibelin, the youngest son of the Lord of Beirut was held hostage for his father's good behavior. According to a contemporary account, he and his brother were "put in pillories, large and exceedingly cruel; there was a cross of iron to which they were bound so that they were able to move neither their arms nor their legs..." They were not released for weeks, by which time they were "so miserable that it was pitiful to behold." That kind of treatment leaves scars -- both mental and physical. In this scene, after a year of avoiding physical activity that might cause damage to his tortured back, Balian demands a joust with his brother.
For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, I offer nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. My aim is to deliver complex and engaging characters that bring history back to life -- as a means to better understand ourselves. A perfect example of this is Emperor Frederick II. He is widely eulogized as a "remarkable" monarch, "ahead of his time," a liberal, tolerant man, who obtained Jerusalem by treaty rather than war -- as if there hadn't been 109 other treaties with the Saracens in the course of the previous 130 year! His eulogists ignore his dark side. Here I try to give Frederick contours by getting inside his head at his moment of triumph.
We all communicate in different ways and different styles. Some of us are more "wordy" than others. In this excerpt, the Lord of Beirut is brought a letter from his younger son, who is on Cyprus while the rest of the family is in Syria. Beirut reads the letter aloud to his other children. His heir, Balian, has another letter too -- from the woman he loves. She too is on Cyprus.
As a novelist, I never would have dared dream up an incident like this. It's so bizarre that were it not recorded historical fact, any reviewer would be justified in calling it "absurd." Yet it IS recorded fact. This is how the Holy Roman Emperor -- the Wonder of the World -- left the city of Acre after making a treaty with the Sultan of Egypt that served the Emperor's purposes rather than those of his subjects in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
King Henry I of Cyprus was only 18 months old when his father died. His mother chose to remarry, abandoning him to the care of "baillies." Based on subsequent actions, Henry was fond of his first baillie, Philip d'Ibelin. However, roughly a year after Philip's death, he found himself in the hands of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen. Henry would later rebel against the Emperor and use his entire army and treasury to rid himself of Hohenstaufen influence. In this scene, however, he is still a helpless child.
This incident is recorded in a 13th Century Chronicle. I have done little more than "translate" late it into more familiar phrases and syntax for the modern reader. It illustrates both how very exciting history is (no need for dragons and fairies in my book!), -- and also the eternal loyalty of our equine friends.
The heroine of "Rebels against Tyranny" is another one of those women in history who has left very little more than a name. We know her parentage -- her mother was a Princess of Cyprus, her father the Regent by right of his wife. We know the names of her husbands, and her eldest son. We have a single sentence from a chronicle describing a highly exceptional deed -- but that doesn't happen until the next book in the series, so no spoilers here. And we know that her husband endured excommunication and defied his father rather than set her aside. Otherwise she was a blank sheet of paper. Meet my Eschiva de Montbelliard.
"Rebels against Tyranny" has just won Silver (2nd place) in the 2019 Feathered Quill Book Awards and a major reason was the leading character, Balian d'Ibelin (the younger). Feathered Quill wrote: "The heir to the Ibelins is a great character for the reader to “walk beside” as dungeons and palaces are entered ...This thrilling hero is, as always when it comes to Schrader’s works of art, one of unforgettable strength." KIRKOS reviews too singled him out for praise, writing: "The well-meaning but flawed Sir Balian is a great central figure—a bit like William Shakespeare’s portrayal of the young Prince Hal." Only his father wasn't so convinced. Meet Balian:
Writing to learn likely strikes many as putting the cart before the horse. Surely one doesn't write about something unless they already know about it? True. But that is precisely the point. If I am intrigued by a topic (period, culture, event etc.) enough to want to write about it, then I am setting myself on a course of study. In order to be able to write about this topic, I will have to do my research. I'm not someone who can just dash off a short-story based on a casual thought or a snippet of information I've stumbled across. I envy those who can write like that! But I'm at heart a historian and I can't write even a short story without knowing about things like how people dressed, kept warm, what they ate, how they traveled, what their religious beliefs were likely to be etc. etc. So it was a spark of curiosity that gave birth to my latest book "Rebels against Tyranny." It was the question about how could there have been a crusade condemned by the pope, led by an excommunicate, that recovered Jerusalem -- yet earned the leader of the crusade only hatred from his own subjects?
Just as day follows night and spring follows winter, darkness and death are often the heralds of new life. The death of those close to us inevitably alter the circumstances in which we life and so open opportunities for making changes to our lives. In this excerpt from "Rebels against Tyranny," Eschiva de Montbeliard has just buried her husband, killed unexpectedly in the Battle of Nicosia. Her maid asks her want comes next.
Living in America today it's easy to get cynical about politicians. We have all seen enough examples of orchestrated events in which one party or the other fires up their "base" with speeches and promises. It's easy to bemoan this as degeneration from the "good old days" when politics was honest and politicians selfless. In fact, very little has changed over the millennia. No one was better at manipulating a crowd than the orators of ancient Athens. But today I share a scene of political manipulation from the 13th century. It is, as always, a matter of responding tot he demands of the base, and of directing those demands and taking leadership of the "movement."
Christmas is a time when Christians try to be together with family. It is a time to celebrate together -- and create memories that we will cherish of our loved ones when we are apart or separated by the grave itself. It is a time that reminds us of the importance of families. In this excerpt, other circumstances have reminded the powerful Lord of Beirut of the importance of his sons.
Nothing is more fundamental, important or more difficult than character development. Good characters that EVOLVE in the course of a novel are what distinguish a book of quality (dare I say literature?) from a book of light (or dark) entertainment. That's why I was so thrilled that Kirkos Reviews wrote: "Sir Balian is a great central figure—a bit like William Shakespeare’s portrayal of the young Prince Hal..." That is to say he is realistically flawed, particularly to start with, but he grows into his role. In this scene, Balian's absence from a siege has almost ended in disaster - and his demanding father has just arrived on the scene.
The modern world has turned formerly religious holidays into frenzies of consumption. Black Friday, Cyber Monday -- or is it Cyber week? Soon we'll not be able to open any page of anything print or electronic that doesn't tell us how few days there are until "Christmas" -- by which they men "D-Day" for buying presents. The "Christ" has long ago been taken out of "Christmas" by a pretense of respect for other religions that is really only an adulation of shopping, spending, buying -- and, oh, and maybe giving a little too. It wasn't always that way. Religious holidays were once times for reflection, as my main character does here.
Now at Thanksgiving we are all reminded of how much we owe others and God for the good things in our lives. Yet some of us must also thank others for life itself. That is the situation of my hero in "Rebels against Tyranny." Released at last from Imperial captivity (where he was badly abused) he discovers more about who was behind his rescue.
While the historical record forms the road map of my novels, determining the over-all direction and important milestones, my novels are enriched just as a map is made more complete, by the secondary "roads" and byways -- the subplots. In the history of the baronial revolt against Emperor Frederick II, the "highway" (main plot) is dictated by the actions of the leading rebels: John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, and his sons. Yet historically the Ibelins did not stand alone; they were strongly supported by the Genoese of Outremer. Yet we know almost nothing about individual members of that community. So I invented some! Meet Giovanni Gabrieli and his daughter Cecilia.
When writing historical fiction about real characters, an author is heavily dependent on a fictional supporting cast. The biography of the historical character provides the skeleton of the character and historical events determine the main contours of the plot, but to flesh out the historical figures, interaction with characters that the author completely controls -- i.e. fictional characters -- is often extremely useful. These characters help an author explore the blank spaces left by the historical record. For novels set in the medieval period, squires are an obvious candidate for this device. We know they existed, and they had to work hand-in-glove with their lord. They knew their "principal" intimately, but we know nothing about them. Meet Rob, Balian d'Ibelin II's squire!
In earlier excerpts I've looked at fathers and sons, and the often stormy relations between brothers close in age. Today's excerpt focuses on sisters and brothers and the misunderstandings they can have. Bella is Balian's only sister, and she wants to help one of her best friends...
Brothers close in age are often as much rivals as friends. That hasn't changed over the centuries. My characters Balian and Baldwin d'Ibelin are just a year -- and a world of temperament -- apart. The "good" son Baldwin has just found his "bad" brother Balian dicing in a tavern.
As I mentioned in my last bubble, intra-family relations are some of the most fascinating components of good fiction. This excerpt exposes both a father's feelings for his sons and his acute insight into the relationship between them.
One of the things I love writing about in my novels are intra-family relationships. Its one of the things that doesn't seem to change much over time or across cultures. Yes, of course, the power-relationships could be different. In some societies fathers (or mothers) have much more power, but I've found in my many travels and interviews that the complex mix of feelings is less impacted by external factors than personalities. In this scene, the son and heir (Balian) has had a clash with his father and his younger brother comes to find him and bring him home. I hope many readers will find the feelings and responses familiar if not from their own lives than from the lives of friends.
One of the things I love about writing historical fiction is that it gives us (authors) a chance to give historical figures, who have become nothing but a name in a history book, a face -- a voice -- feelings. Yes, what we write is speculative, but it can hardly be worse than a blank silence. So it is with Yolanda (also Isabella II) of Jerusalem, the second wife of Emperor Frederick II. She was married at the age of 12 and dead before she was 16. Her husband humiliated her on her wedding night by preferring to seduce one of her ladies. He was said to abuse her so badly that she lost a child.. She certainly miscarried the baby she had at age 14, and she died in childbed at 15 -- giving her husband an heir which he used to tyrannize her kingdom. Thus, although she was technically an "Empress," her fate was hardly better than a slave's. We know almost nothing about her. Although she has only a cameo role in "Rebels against Tyranny" I wanted it to be a memorable. I hope I succeeded!
It is historical fact that Sir Amaury Barlais hated the Ibelins with a blind, visceral emotion unrelated to mere politics, but the reasons for that history have been lost in the mists of time. As a novelist, however, I needed to understand him better. In the following scene I get inside Amaury's skin as he sits in a dungeon after being arrested for attempted murder.
I can't tell you how many times people have told me "history is boring." Or they justify reading fantasy because its "more exciting." I can't understand either attitude because I have always found history full of amazing, exciting and inspiring events. The scene below is based very literally on the account of a 13th century historian. In that sense, it's fact, not fiction.
It's hard to be the son of a celebrity. We know that from Hollywood and politics in our own time. Yet I hadn't expected to be confronted by the problem -- until I started work on a new series and discovered that the best historical figure to serve as the central protagonist of the new series had exactly the same name as the hero of my last series, the Jerusalem Trilogy. The new series has a totally different focus (civil war in the crusader states) and different themes (absolutism vs. feudalism), but the hero is a grandson of the Defender of Jerusalem, Balian d'Ibelin -- and was named for his grandfather. Despite bearing the same name the historical was a very different man, and so my character had to be too. Here's the opening scene.
FINALIST FOR THE ERIC HOFFER AWARD FOR HISTORICAL FICTION, 2019, FINALIST FOR BOOK EXCELLENCE AWARD, HISTORICAL FICTION, 2018 John d'Ibelin, son of the legendary Balian, will one day defy the most powerful monarch on earth. But first he must survive his apprenticeship as squire to a man determined to build a kingdom on an island ravaged by rebellion. The Greek insurgents have already driven the Knights Templar from the island, and now stand poised to destroy Richard the Lionheart's legacy to the Holy Land: a crusader foothold on the island of Cyprus.
People usually think of romantic love when lamenting its fickleness, but brotherly love too can be less than constant. When the younger brother is a deposed king and the older a more capable but titleless man, the mix is particularly volatile. Guy de Lusignan lost the Battle of Hattin and so the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He was deposed by his barons, but given Cyprus by the English King. He arrived an embittered and dissatisfied man. Aimery de Lusignan, on the other hand, would one day transform Cyprus into a prosperous and stable kingdom, yet first came to Cyprus with nothing and had to beg his brother for a place at his court. The relationship between the brother was rocky.
Life has a habit of getting in the way of art. We all have to eat, after all, and need a roof over our heads, and most of us are a lot more demanding that. Art rarely pays the bills. So there's our real job, and then there are friends and family and community obligations.... Yet as a writer, I have always found that life's distractions often contain the germ of inspiration, and unexpected interruptions can prove surprisingly beneficial to one's craft. In this excerpt, a struggling young artist has an unexpected visitor that sets off a chain of events -- ultimately to his benefit.
Each soul is like a sailing ship buffeted by the winds of fortune, yet able, by adjusting course and trimming sail, to set a course and reach a destination. Adverse winds can force us to tack back and forth. Rocks may force us to temporarily change course. Hunger, thirst or damage may drive us to, temporarily at least, seek a different destination. Yet, we are neither completely helpless nor completely in control of our lives. Forces beyond our control beset us constantly, but by learning how to sail we can achieve our destiny. This excerpt, based on an historical event, highlights that concept.
Thirty years ago, a terrorist attack in Egypt induced my husband and I to alter our holiday plans at short notice. Knowing almost nothing about it, we flew to Cyprus instead. At sundown as the aircraft banked over the shoreline, we looked down at palm trees silhouetted against glittering golden water and as sense of peaceful wonder enveloped me. I soon discovered while Cyprus had been dominated by Egypt, Rome, Byzantium, and Turkey for a thousand years, for a mere two hundred years it had been an independent kingdom. This brief period had seen a flourishing of art, culture, trade, and prosperity-- and it had all started with Richard the Lionheart. My imagination was captivated and my love affair with Cyprus in the crusader era began. Since then I have written four novels set in crusader Cyprus. This excerpt describes the critical moment when the man who was to forge Cypriot independence makes the decision to go there.
Much of my inspiration for writing comes from life itself. I was lucky to have traveled a great deal and that my work as a diplomat brought me in contact with a wide variety of people and situations. Yet the principle is the same for anyone. The reactions and interactions of humans that we see in the world around us should be -- must be! -- the basis of what we write in our novels. If we describe things we have ourselves experienced we are far more likely to write an authentic-sounding scene and book. This excerpt, set in distant Cyprus at the end of the 12th century, actually describes an event I personally experienced in Ethiopia. Obviously the actors were different, but the actions were essentially the same.
An author employs a variety of tools to convey to the reader the elements of a story: the setting, the action, the characters and the themes. All these "tools" consist of words deployed in different ways, e.g. description, dialogue, commentary, analysis. Yet before the first word is put upon the page the author needs to make strategic decisions about exactly what specific events, actions, people, places and perceptions will be described -- and from which point of view. Yes, I know, use of first person has become the default for most writers today -- and it explains the poverty of many contemporary novels. While the first person can be a brilliant method of writing psycho-drama and literary fiction, for most forms of fiction it is as if a film were produced by a single cell-phone. In contrast, by thoughtfully employing different narrators a novel gains breadth, contours, nuance and power. In this excerpt, the narrator is only a secondary character -- the younger brother of one of the leading characters. But by seeing the world through his eyes for a short time, the reader gains insight into his resentments and growing paranoia -- something the main characters fail to adequately understand.
In my experience the most difficult transitions are not the exterior ones like new places or jobs but interior ones like growing up or growing old. One of the most difficult of all is watching children grow up while we feel unchanged. In this excerpt, a father has to let his son take an important step toward independence an adulthood.
A complex novel always resembles a puzzle. It is composed of a variety of story-lines focused on different characters that interact with one another in complex ways yet must present a coherent picture to the reader. When complete, it all makes sense. When disassembled, it can seem rather chaotic -- at least to the author trying to keep all the balls in the air without letting reader interest drop or getting the reader confused. I've found that the hardest scene to write is usually the first because I have so much in my head that it is hard to know which elements to highlight. A beginning needs to meet so many different criteria! It must capture attention and interest, introduce characters, set the scene and hint at the issues at stake. Here's one of my favorite first scenes:
This was supposed to be my break-through year. My Leonidas trilogy was to appear in Greek in Athens on the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae. Not only that, I had a literary agent for the first time, who was going to represent me at the London and Frankfurt Book Fairs. None of it happened. The book fairs were canceled -- as were all the events surrounding the 2,500th anniversary of Thermopylae. It's disappointing -- but its not going to stop me from writing and publishing. In this excerpt, a young widow has to accept both her loss and her need to keep on living.
When we see people suffering or in need, we are often moved to pity and charity. That is good -- but it is different from compassion. The foundation of compassion is understanding and empathy, which entails respect rather than pity. In this excerpt, Humphrey has long felt looked down upon by his former father-in-law Balian. The offer of assistance and help triggers a reaction that surprises both men.
It often seems as if finding time to think -- really think -- is one of the most difficult tasks in an age of instant communication. Our phones follow us everywhere. SMSs and emails peep their presence at the convenience of the sender, not ours. Yet if we don't find the peace to think, we are condemned to react rather than act and will always be chasing after events rather than shaping them. Thought is also essential for self-reflection and analysis. At their most profound, thought connects us with the divine. In this excerpt, an isolated prisoner is forced to confront himself.
This week we're supposed to share a joke. I have two: After a week of lock-down a man looked at his dog and his dog looked back and said: NOW do you understand why I chew your shoes? A friend suggested we have all turned INTO dogs: "We pad around the house all day looking for food, we're afraid of visitors, and we get wildly excited if we get to go for a drive." In tribute to 'man's best friend' this excerpt in which John d'Ibelin, a fourteen year old squire serving Aimery de Lusignan, gets a little help from the stray he's rescued.
My novels are very character-centric with the main focus on character development and interaction. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of my novels are inspired by people. Yet places, too, inspire the imagination. I firmly believe that my interest in history and historical fiction started at the age of four when my father took me to the Coliseum in Rome. “This,” he told me, “is where the Romans fed the Christians to the Lions.” Now that was fascinating to a four-year-old! I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to imagine where they had kept the lions? where the Christians? Was there no way to escape? What if a lion got loose among the spectators? You see how rapidly this can become a novel? Of course, at four, no novel evolved, but the process of thinking about the places I visited as the site of historical events and the stage for personal drama had started. The view from the Castle of Kantara was one such place that inspired me. In this excerpt, the wife of Aimery de Lusignan has just spent her first night on the island of Cyprus. She has had a bad night in an unfurnished chamber at the run-down castle of Kantara. She is frightened of the future but is attracted by a stairway.
The relationships between mothers and their teenage daughters is full of complications, emotions and tensions. I know I wasn't an easy teenager for my mother, and watching my friends try to deal with teenagers of their own is an never-ending soap-opera which I prefer observing from the outside! So now image that your teenage daughter is a ruling queen and her husband has just arrested one of your husband's best friends.... Welcome to Maria Comnena's world.
Hooks to draw the reader into a novel don't come naturally to me. I much prefer developing characters and relationships carefully and thoughtfully to throwing them at the reader like a cartoon. Likewise, my novels are based on historical events, and the very point of writing about history is to explain it -- the antecedents of events, the complexity of relationships and the breadth of impact -- not things that readily lead to a simple into of dead body and the question "who done it." No, I'm not fond of the "snapshot" approach to life or books, but I have learned to use a "Prologue" that tells of an event that the book will explain or expound upon. Here's the opening "hook" for "The Last Crusader Kingdom."
Heroes, as I have noted in earlier entries, do something exceptional. They show unusual kinds of courage and the help others in some way. But sometimes even the greatest heroes fail....
The villains of a novel may, for plot reasons, play a consistently negative role. That, however, is not the same thing as a character being purely evil or having base motives. In "The Last Crusader Kingdom" the heroes face a fanatical opponent capable, by the end, of kidnapping women and children. Yet he is not simply "evil." To help the reader understand better the motives for his action, I provide a little background.
Those of us privileged enough to have had pets know just how important they have been in our lives. It was no different in times past, and so dogs and horses often have important roles in my novels. In this excerpt, the young squire John d'Ibelin encounters an exceptional dog.
The main female character in all three books of the Jerusalem Trilogy and "The Last Crusader Kingdom" is Maria Comnena, a historical figure. In the course of the four novels she goes from being a reigning queen still in her teens, to a grandmother in her late forties. My introduction to her in each book reflects her changing status and role. In this excerpt from the last of the four books in which Maria plays the leading female role, she is forty-years-old and her oldest son, John, is already in service as a squire.
When writing historical fiction, helping the reader to see unfamiliar environments is always a challenge. I need to tip off the reader about what the environment looks like -- without bogging down the narrative and a slowing the pace of the action. In this sample, I hope the reader can picture the incident without feeling lectured to, yet with enough words so it doesn't sound like a work crew on the nearest interstate. At the same time, I hope the reader can picture the two protagonists as well. Successful?
Because my novels are historical fiction, the setting of the action is often not readily imagined by my readers. I can't say: "At the nearest McDonalds..." Or "It was a typical trailer home..." This means I often need to describe the environment of action more than if the novel was set in our own time. After all, how many of you know what a typical urban dwelling in late 12th century Acre looked like? At the same time, I can't allow descriptions to get in the way of the narrative or I will bore (and so lose) the reader altogether. Here's an example of how I try weave the descriptions into the action.
When Henri de Champagne, the young King of Jerusalem, stepped backwards out of a window to his death in Sept. 1197, no one could afford to give his widow, Isabella, time to grieve. In this scene, Isabella's step-father, Balian d'Ibelin returns from Cyprus to join his wife and step-daughter in their hour of grief -- only to be confronted with political reality.
Although Henri de Champagne had driven Aimery de Lusignan from his Kingdom of Jerusalem on unjustified charges, the two men later reconciled. Champagne's three daughters by Isabella of Jerusalem were betrothed to Lusignan's three sons. In this excerpt, Eschiva d'Ibelin, Aimery's as yet uncrowned queen, has still not fully recovered from her kidnapping.
In one of the more bizarre incidents in history, Aimery de Lusignan's wife, Eschiva, was captured by pirates from Cyprus a little less than a year before he was crowned King. She was taken to a petty tyrant's regime in what is now Turkey, and her release was effected by Leo of Armenia through a combination of threats, diplomacy and audacity. In this scene, Eschiva and her children find themselves in the hands of their rescuers on their way to a place they've never been before.
In 1195, a pirate ship seized the wife and children of the King of Cyprus from a coastal estate. In this excerpt, the King Aimery de Lusignan, who has been frantically awaiting news of his wife and children, receives a stranger at his palace in Nicosia.
It is 1195, and King Henry of Champagne has just offered Balian d'Ibelin an important post in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But Balian has other options....
The establishment of a crusader kingdom on the island of Cyprus was not just of strategic and maritime importance. It offered tens of thousands of Christians who had lost their homes and livelihoods to Saladin's invasion a place to make a new start. In this excerpt, an apprentice mason, enslaved after the Battle of Hattin, and now working as nothing but a day-laborer, seeks out his former master-builder. The latter lost a hand at Hattin and is now a beggar.
Balian d'Ibelin has married his eldest daughter, Helvis, to a man 20-years his senior in order to secure her future. His younger daughter, Meg, seizing the opportunity following a tournament in which her brother John has competed successfully to broach the subject of her own (future) marriage with her father.
Wealth, title and privilege have their drawbacks too. When young John d'Ibelin falls in love with a local girl, his father the Baron of Ibelin forbids him from seeing her again. Of course, that didn't work with teenager in the Middle Ages any better than it does today. So John ran away with just his horse and his dog to go courting....
Humphrey of Toron was a tragic figure. He is remembered for what he lost: his fief, his freedom and his wife. His wife, heiress to Jerusalem, divorced him to marry a man better able to defend her kingdom for her. Humphrey having lost everything to which he had been entitled by birth and marriage, fades from the pages of history. In this excerpt, I hypothesize what might have happened to him -- and an critical encounter with his former father-in-law: Balian d'Ibelin.
While Aimery de Lusignan struggles to gain control of a rebellious Cyprus, his wife -- isolated among Greek servants -- miscarries a child. She is convinced he will now discard her as once her father discarded her mother. Praying for death, an woman looking very much like the Virgin Mary appears -- and then....
Richard the Lionheart sold Cyprus to Guy de Lusignan, and at the latter's death less than two years later, Guy named his brother Geoffrey his heir. Aimery -- who had brought Guy out to the Holy Land to make his fortune, who had supported his usurpation of the crown of Jerusalem, fought with him at Hattin and suffered captivity with him -- was left out in the cold. In this excerpt from "The Last Crusader Kingdom" Aimery has returned to Acre, broken by his brother's ingratitude.
Aimery de Lusignan has been imprisoned for High Treason by the king of Jerusalem, Henri de Champagne. In this excerpt, he receives a visitor in his prison cell: Balian d'Ibelin. Ibelin brings word that the Champagne is willing to release Aimery -- on one condition.
The magic of castles is nothing new. For most of us today, exploring castle ruins is associated with trying to understand the past. It is a means to discover clues that help us better imagine an age gone by. But for contemporaries, exploring castles was like exploring a battleship or a space station: it was discovering the latest in military technology as well as inspiring the imagination with the great deeds that had -- or would be -- performed here.
Ruling a medieval kingdom was not a matter of doing whatever one liked. Medieval society was extremely legalistic and a king, above all others, was expected to enforce (and so respect) the law of the land. In this excerpt, Henri de Champagne, who has become King of Jerusalem quite unexpectedly, is confronted with the limits to his power set by the laws and customs of his new kingdom.
In this scene, 13-year-old John has just witnessed the arrest of the man he is serving as a squire: the Constable of Jerusalem, Aimery de Lusignan. And the first thing he thinks of doing is going to his father for help. Find out why.
The establishment of Lusignan rule on the Island of Cyprus in the late 12th century was by no means a bloodless and peaceful enterprise. In this excerpt, a Greek Orthodox monk who has witnessed atrocities committed men fighting for Guy de Lusignan, confronts his superior -- and learns a unexpected lesson.
Leonidas, the Hero of Thermopylae. In 480 BC he would defy an army half a million strong. But who was Leonidas? As the youngest son of King Anaxandridas, he went barefoot and hungry like the other Spartan boys in the infamous Agoge. Now, a young man, he has only one goal, to be the perfect Spartan citizen, A Peerless Peer. In search of a wife, Leonidas courts a beauty, But another young woman knows she is destined to be his queen: Gorgo This is their story.
Sparta was elected to lead the coalition of Greek cities opposing the Persian invasion in 480 BC not only on land but also at sea. Compared to Athens and Corinth, Sparta’s navy was small, but Sparta’s naval tradition was considerably longer than numbers suggest, and Sparta’s perioikoi marines may have enjoyed a strong reputation for competence since they often fought alongside the Spartans. Find out what that might have looked like at in this excerpt. The Spartans have been asked by their coalition partner Corinth to provide protection for a fleet of merchantmen bringing grain across the Aeginan during the Ionian Revolt. After a storm, many merchant ships are damaged and barely able to sail. Leonidas is in command of their defense.
An Athenian symposium was very different from a Spartan syssitia, and Leonidas feels like a fish out of water when the "central attraction" arrives.
There was nothing inevitable about the election of Leonidas leader of the Greek coalition that defied Persia in 480 BC. In my biographical novel of Leonidas, I hypothesize that well before 480 BC he had won a reputation among the Greek city-states for not only military competence but also fair treatment of Allies. In this excerpt from "A Peerless Peer," I show Leonidas in action in a Spartan diplomatic coup: luring the city-state of Mycene out of Argos' sphere of influence and into their own.
One of the most significant differences between Sparta and Athens was in the different treatment of girls. In Athens they were from birth confined to the inside of the house, not allowed to engage in exercise, and not fed the same diet as the brothers. Nor were they taught to read and write. They were then married as soon as they reached puberty. Spartan girls, in contrast, were fed the same wholesome diet as their brothers, took part in sports, and went to school where they learned to read and write. In this excerpt 8-year old Gorgo, encounters her first Athenians.
Leonidas, the hero of Thermopylae, was the youngest of four Agiad princes. He never expected to be King of Sparta. For the bulk of his life he was just an "ordinary" Spartan, a Peer. In this excerpt, Leonidas is just 21 years old and a new citizen. He has not distinguished himself in any way -- until now.
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