BB: Hi, Kim! Welcome to my blog and thanks so much for being here. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
KR: My career has been in journalism and for the past few years, public relations. In my current day job, I am the chief grammar cop, I mean, copy editor at a university marketing and public relations office. Yet I have a lifelong love for fiction, especially stories involving history and magic, and have never outgrown my fascination with folk tales and legends, which is what started me on my quest to write The Cross and the Dragon.
BB: Why are readers going to love The Cross and the Dragon?
KR: The novel has many appealing elements: medieval politics and details of daily life for fans of historical fiction, a love story for romance readers, and a talisman, the characters’ belief in magic, and sword fights for fantasy readers.
What I love most is the characters. The heroine, Alda, is a spitfire but a truly medieval young woman. Hruodland is a loving husband but like most men of his time does not completely trust his wife. And the villain, Ganelon, is someone the readers can love to hate.
BB: I will agree, it did have it all. I was impressed with the historical detail in the book. And I loved Alda.
Can you tell us about the research you did for the novel? Any particularly interesting you learned?
KR: I could not have re-created life in eighth century Europe without the work of scholars who translated primary sources from medieval Latin and analyzed them. My library includes Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne translated by Evelyn Scherabon Firchow and Edwin H. Zeydel; Carolingian Chronicles, which includes the Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers; P.D. King’s Charlemagne: Translated Sources, and Pierre Riché’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne. (Historical novelist’s disclaimer: any mistakes are mine and mine alone.)
The history is fascinating. King Charles’s personal life rivals a soap opera. At the beginning of The Cross and the Dragon, he is twice divorced, married to wife No. 3, and about to go to war with his ex-father-inlaw, the king of Lombardy, who is threatening Rome. I didn’t make any of that up. By the way, that is the simplified version of the history.
Another thing I discovered is that medieval women were not delicate flowers awaiting rescue. Frankish Queen Mother Bertrada was a diplomat working to ensure peace between her sons, both of whom were kings, as well as Rome and Lombardy. When Frankish King Carloman died, Charles seized his younger brother’s lands. But the widowed Queen Gerberga was not about to let her young sons lose their inheritance (or give up her power as regent) without a fight, even if it meant forming an alliance with the Lombard king, Charles’ ex-father-law angry over the divorce from wife No. 2.
A more fun fact: medieval people bathed. Aristocrats would take a bath once a week. OK, that is not as often as most of us in 21st century America, but it is more frequent than my teachers led me to believe.
BB: Wow, now I understand the historical accuracy of the novel. You did quite a bit of research.
Why did you choose this time period for your novel?
KR: I was drawn to this period by the legend behind Rolandsbogen, castle ruins on a high Rhineland hill.
(Spoiler alert) The story is that Roland (Hruodland in The Cross and the Dragon) built the castle for his bride and went off to fight the Saracens. The bride heard false news that he had died in battle and joined the cloister on the Rhine island of Nonnenwerth. When Roland returned, he spent the rest of his days gazing out the castle window, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. (End spoiler) The tale is not true, but it would not leave me alone until I started writing, even though I knew little about the Middle Ages.
The real history continues to fascinate me, enough to write more than one novel set in Carolingian Francia.
BB: Is there a particular scene that you enjoyed writing? Or a scene that was difficult to write?
KR: The scenes that deeply move me seem to write themselves, and they often involve grief. Perhaps it is that loss is universal. Regardless of the time we live in or our worldview, we have all felt that hurt. When Hruodland’s father dies, I grieve with him. And I share the scouting party’s pain and confusion when they encounter a massacre and wonder why God let this happen.
I enjoyed writing Alda and Hruodland’s reunion after a long, forced separation. I could not help but share their joy over someone they thought was lost being restored—or their sorrow that their happiness might be taken away.
BB: I thought you did an excellent job of conveying the emotions of the characters in these scenes as well.
Do you have a favorite character from the book? Why?
KR: My favorite character from this book is Alda. There is a lot to like about her: she’s strong-willed, intelligent, wise, and compassionate, but what I admire most about her is her courage. Her love for her Hruodland is so strong that she gives him her most precious possession, a dragon amulet, to protect him, even though she believes it makes her more vulnerable. And she will put herself in a dangerous situation for her husband’s sake.
BB: Alda is my favorite too. I admired her spunk and yet she was so devoted to Hroudland and her family.
Since this is your debut novel, do you have any advice to give aspiring writers?
KR: Be open to critiques of your work, even when it’s something you don’t want to hear. The Cross and the Dragon went through lots of revisions.
I owe much more than I can ever say to my critique partners, who patiently read drafts of my stories. My fellow novelists were supportive but also pointed out what wasn’t working for them.
Still, I wasn’t done. When I got a useful rejection—defined as an editor specifying why she passed on the manuscript—I paid attention and (again) made revisions. Not an easy process, but the book is better for it.
The other advice I would give is that with all the emphasis on promotion, such as having a blog and an active presence in social media, remember that writing a good story is most important. Finish and polish your manuscript first before worrying about how to find an agent or get the attention of editors.
BB: What are you currently working on?
KR: I recently signed a contract with Fireship Press for my second novel, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, a companion to The Cross and the Dragon. We’re still working out the production details, but I would like to share the most recent draft of the blurb.
Can a mother’s love triumph over war?
Charlemagne’s 772 battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her husband died in combat. Her faith lies in the ashes of the Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. And the relatives obligated to defend her and her family sold them into slavery, stealing their farm.
Taken into Francia, Leova will stop at nothing to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her honor and her safety. Her determination only grows stronger as Sunwynn blossoms into a beautiful young woman attracting the lust of a cruel master and Deorlaf becomes a headstrong man willing to brave starvation and demons to free his family.
Yet Leova’s most difficult dilemma comes in the form of a Frankish friend, Hugh. He saves Deorlaf from a fanatical Saxon Christian and is Sunwynn’s champion—and he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband.
Readers who would like to see more can check out an excerpt here, and the first chapter here on my website, kimrendfeld.com.
BB: I certainly look forward to reading The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar.
Can you tell us a bookish memorable moment you've had either as an author or a reader?
KR: During the recent Historical Novel Society conference, I got a pleasant surprise. A panel called “Historical Fiction Off the Beaten Path” [http://teacake421.livejournal.com/132133.html]—defined as an unusual setting, protagonist, style, etc.—included The Cross and the Dragon among the recommendations. It was gratifying to see my book in a list that also includes Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross, Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray, and Illuminations by Mary Sharratt.
BB: Congratulations! I'm sure it was very gratifying to be recognized alongside that group of authors. :)
Thanks so much for joining me today, Kim, and for sharing The Cross and the Dragon with me!
About KimKim Rendfeld has a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and legends, which set her on her quest to write The Cross and the Dragon.
She grew up in New Jersey and attended Indiana University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English, with a minor in French. If it weren't for feminism, she would be one of those junior high English teachers scaring the bejesus out of her students, correcting grammar to the point of obnoxiousness. Instead, her career has been in journalism, public relations, and now fiction.
Kim was a journalist for almost twenty years at Indiana newspapers, including the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, The Muncie Star, and The News and Sun in Dunkirk, and she won several awards from the Hoosier State Press Association. Her career changed in 2007, when she joined the marketing and communications team at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She gets paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing, and thoroughly enjoys it. She is proud to have been part of projects that have received national recognition.
Kim lives in Indiana with her husband, Randy, and their spoiled cats. They have a daughter and two granddaughters.