Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Day 2 with Author Kim Rendfeld

Welcome back for our second day with author Kim Rendfeld! Kim has a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and legends, which set her on her quest to write The Cross and the Dragon and other tales set during Charlemagne’s reign.

Kim will be giving away one copy of The Cross and the Dragon to a commenter this week (U.S. resident). All you have to do to be eligible for the drawing is answer this question: What is the relationship between Hruodland and King Charles in The Cross and the Dragon? (Hint: the answer is in the first chapter, posted on

Kim, historical fiction requires so much research. What’s the most interesting (or unusual, or funny) thing you’ve done in the name of research for a book? Or, what’s one of the most challenging things about researching books set in the time of Charlemagne?

Charlemagne lived in an era when few people could read and even fewer could write. The monarch himself could speak multiple languages but couldn’t take notes. That reality leads to a paucity of information from primary sources, and the ones that exist are from writers who didn’t let a little thing like facts impede their agenda.

On top of that, many of the fortresses, palaces, and other structures no longer exist. Even the landscape has changed. Forests have been chopped down, marshes were drained, and rivers changed course.

Fortunately, we have the work of scholars who’ve read, translated, and analyzed medieval Latin, and I’ve turned to their work for information. (Historical novelist’s disclaimer: any mistakes, goofs, and misunderstandings are mine and mine alone.)

Perhaps, one of the most unusual things has come in the research for my third book. Still in a rough state, it will feature Queen Fastrada, Charles’s most influential and hated wife.

Through interlibrary loan, I borrowed a large archaeological report in German on the Frankish fortress of Büraburg, even though I don’t speak or read German. But the report has photos and maps, and I used Google Translate to glean enough information on what that fortress and its inhabitants were like. We know Fastrada came from East Francia but not exactly where. For her to become real to me, she needed a hometown, so I chose Büraburg, which was on the frontier between Frankish and Saxon territory.

Some writers love plotting, some like writing that first draft, and others enjoying researching or digging into the revisions. What's your favorite part about writing a book, and why do you think it is?

I typically enjoy the revisions after the first draft. Now that I have the security of knowing what will happen, I can delve deeper into what the characters felt, thought, and saw. I can make analogy to today but challenge myself not to mention the modern reference. It’s like exploring a path a second time and noticing details that escaped you before.

Great analogy. What are one or two of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching a novel?

One thing that strikes me is the strength and influence of the women in early medieval times. Don’t get me wrong. I would never want to live in an age where betrothing 4-year-olds was acceptable or wife beating was a right. However, these women were not delicate flowers awaiting rescue.

Just a couple examples: In the 770s, King Charles’s mother, Bertrada, was a diplomat working to avoid civil war after her husband died and 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’s ex-father-law angry over the divorce from wife No. 2. (Remember that soap opera analogy?)

On a lighter note, I was surprised to learn that medieval people bathed! And they thought it was a healthy practice. The aristocrats bathed once a week—not as often as most 21st century Americans but much more than I was led to believe while I was in school. Palaces were required to have baths, and abbeys had baths for the residents, guests, and the sick. (Some people abstained from bathing, but that was to atone for sin, similar to fasting.)

Soap opera, indeed – we never know what we’ll find until we start digging. If you could be any character from another historical novel, who would it be and why?

I am a creature of 21st century America, accustomed to having rights as a woman and being able to speak freely, even if someone is offended. I feel overwhelmed with helplessness if the power goes out or the Internet won’t work. While I try to see the world through medieval people’s eyes, I simply can’t imagine myself as a character in a historical novel.

You spent many years as a journalist and your current job allows you to “get paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing.” How does working in that sort of day-job world help or hurt you when it’s time to work on your fiction?

Journalism taught me to get to the point, worry more about communication than cleverness, strive for accuracy, question sources, and meet deadline.

I also needed to unlearn a few habits when writing fiction. Journalism by its nature is emotionally distant. The narrator is supposed to be objective, present all sides of the story, and not assume what someone is thinking. Fiction is about manipulating emotion and sympathy. You’re inside someone’s head, feeling what they feel.

What would you like readers to gain from reading your books?

Above all, I hope they are entertained, and if I’ve done my job right, they’ve learned something new about our past and gained a deeper appreciation of our present. Medieval people saw the world differently than we do, but whatever era we’re in, we’ve all loved, grieved, and felt anger, hope, and joy.

Any final words?

I am grateful to all the people who helped me make The Cross and the Dragon what it is. I owe a lot to my critique partners and the crew at Fireship Press. Most of all, I appreciate the support of my family, especially my beloved husband, Randy, my own knight in shining armor.

Thanks so much for joining us at Novel PASTimes! And, visitors, don’t forget about your chance to win a copy of The Cross and the Dragon (U.S. residents only, please). Here’s the question again that you’ll need to answer in the comments:

What is the relationship between Hruodland and King Charles in The Cross and the Dragon? (Hint: the answer is in the first chapter, posted on

To learn more about Kim and her books, visit her online:

Twitter handle: @kimrendfeld


Lis said...

Hruodland is King Charles's kinsman.

Interesting book idea!

Susan P said...

Wow, I love the research you have done and your love of history. This book sounds intriguing! Hruodland is the nephew to King Charles. :) Love the first chapter of this!!
lattebooks at hotmail dot com

Kim Rendfeld said...

Lis, the story refused to leave me alone until I wrote it.

Susan, glad you enjoyed the first chapter. I enjoyed the writing and the research.