Today, I’m very pleased to welcome my good online-writing buddy, K.M. Weiland. I frequently link to K.M.’s blogsite, Wordplay, so she’s not a stranger to Word Wanderings. Please join me in welcoming her! We’ll be having a two-part interview, and trust me, you won’t want to miss any of it, so be sure to come back on the 14th for the second part! First, we’ll be discussing her latest release, Behold the Dawn.
Liberty Speidel: Thank you for visiting Word Wanderings today, K.M. It’s a joy to have you here! First off, please share a little bit about Behold the Dawn.
K.M. Weiland: Behold is an epic story of war, revenge, unexpected love, and the haunting secrets of a knight’s past. I think it has a little something for everyone, especially those who enjoy gritty medieval stories.
LS: Can you elaborate a bit on the characters?
KMW: The protagonist, a knight named Marcus Annan, is a sixteen-year veteran of the tourneys. After partaking in a tragic internecine war at an abbey where he was paying penance for the accidental deaths of his sister-in-law and her unborn twins, he retreats to the one thing he knew best: warfare. For the last sixteen years, right up until the story opens, he’s been on the run from his past, trying to blot it out in the violence and glory of the tourney fields. Along the way he becomes one of the most famous and feared tourneyers in Europe.
He’s a man who walks his own solitary path, and his only companion is a smart-mouthed, headstrong Scottish lad named Peregrine Marek, who became indentured to Annan after Annan saved him from prison and paid off a shopkeeper from whom Marek had been stealing. Marek was one of those characters that just popped off the page. He became a perfect foil for Annan’s grumpiness. I had lots of fun with their dialogue exchanges!
On his journey to and through the Holy Land, Annan also encounters a mysterious monk named the Baptist, who has both reform and revenge on the brain; Lady Mairead of Keaton, who is entrusted to Annan’s care after the death of her husband, one of Annan’s only friends; a Knight Templar named Warin, torn between his conscience and his duty; a very nasty Norman named Hugh de Guerrant; and Bishop Roderic of Devonshire, who was the abbot at the monastery Annan ran from sixteen years earlier.
LS: You set Behold the Dawn during the Third Crusade. What made you decide to set a book during this time frame?
KMW: Any story gets better when you put swords in it! Actually, the story was inspired by William Marshall, who is known as “the greatest knight who ever lived.” What originally caught my attention was his participation in the tourneys—the huge mock battles that were the predecessors of the slightly more civilized jousting tournaments. Tourneys originated in late 11th-century France as a form of heavy cavalry training and quickly evolved into a dangerous and hugely popular sport. It was surprisingly gladiatorial. I was intrigued by the violence and its effect on the men who participated. As I delved deeper into my research, I realized the Third Crusade would be at the story’s heart, since it would no doubt have attracted many of these tourneyers because of the Church’s promised of absolution to anyone who fought as a Crusader.
LS: Did you find it difficult to write a tourney scene? How did you go about trying to make it as authentic as possible?
KMW: I loved writing the tourney scenes, and I dearly wish I could have stuck more of them into the story. The book opens in the middle of a tournament in southern Italy, so I got to dive right into the strange world of the tourneyer. I researched tactics, setting, and such. I find it all so fascinating that it was hard to rein myself in!
LS: In doing research, what was one of or a few of the more surprising things you learned about this era?
KMW: I’m deeply fascinated by medieval history, so I found pretty much everything I discovered interesting. Perhaps what stuck with me most, however, was the general spiritual degradation of the period. Christianity, as a whole, was in one of the most benighted states in its history. Ignorance and superstition reigned among the people, while corruption and confusion undermined the Church. It was a very dark time, really.
LS: The history of the church in this area is also fascinating to me: to know where it came from to see it fall to the point it did. Do you have a favored resource or two you’d like to recommend for others interested in learning more about the era?
KMW: I highly recommend Jonathan Sumption’s The Age of Pilgrimage. Also Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours by Fredric Cheyette, The Crusades by Zoé Oldenbourg, The Story of Christianity by Justo L. González, and The Mediaeval Mind by Henry Osborn Taylor.
LS: Was there any point while you were writing this book that you really felt it wasn’t going to come together? If so, how did you handle this quandary?
KMW: Oh, yes! I think I have this feeling in every story I write. The first fifty pages are always murder. I struggled with my beginning chapters for quite a while on this one, fiddling with story elements, throwing things out, only to drag them back in. I wish I had a magic pill for this, but the only solution I’ve found is simply to keep writing. Eventually, I always work my way out of the rut, and things start falling together.
LS: Do you budget your writing time? If so, how so?
KMW: I set aside two hours a day, five days a week for my fiction writing. It’s something I’m very religious about maintaining. If I don’t force myself to write every day, then nobody else is going to do it for me. I truly believe in the importance of regular writing. You have to treat it as a job and make a point of showing up on time every day. The really neat thing about this is that once you get in the habit of writing at a specific time every day, your brain accustoms itself to being creative—and procrastination and writer’s block are beaten before they even get out of the gates most days!
LS: How much research do you put into your books before you begin to write them?
KMW: Unlike many authors, I’m very regimented in the way I approach each story. I start by spending several months (or however long it takes) sketching my rough ideas, answering my “what if” questions, and filling plot holes as best I can. Then I interview my POV characters. Then I write an in-depth outline (usually at least one notebook’s worth). By that time, the story has pretty much taken shape, and I know what questions I’m going to need to answer in my research. I collect all the material I find and spend the next three months reading, taking notes, and filing my findings.
LS: You’re primarily a historical novelist. So far, do you have a favorite era?
KMW: I’m admittedly a bit of a Mexican jumping bean when it comes to subject matter. I have so many things I want to explore that I have no intention of boxing myself into a particular genre or era. So far I’ve written about the 19th century Wyoming Territory (A Man Called Outlaw), the Third Crusade (Behold the Dawn), and a fantasy novel with a contemporary setting (Dreamers Come, yet to be published). But, all that said, I do have to admit to a special fondness for the Middle Ages. Its strange juxtaposition of nonchalant brutality and fairy-tale romance fascinates me endlessly. I’m sure I’ll write at least one more medieval story before I’m through!
LS: How about an era you would like to set a story in?
KMW: Asking me that is like turning a kid loose in a candy shop and telling him to pick just one sweet! However, I do have some tentative story ideas set, respectively in the early 20th century during the Dawn of Aviation, a contemporary time-travel fantasy, and a superhero story set roundabout the Regency era.
Thank you, K.M., for sharing today! Be sure to come back next week on the 14th for the second installment of our interview.
Until next time,