When I was in college, I studied history. I had one professor who was a fixture at Dartmouth named Charles Wood. The students called him “Chuckling Charlie Wood” because he had a pleasant nature and was very approachable. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was one of the foremost medieval historians in the world. We studied the Dark Ages and Charlemagne and an epic poem called “The Song of Roland.” It was not unlike Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” It was an enchanting tale of one of Charlemagne’s greatest knights who dies in an ambush set up by one of his fellow knights.
I was surprised by how little I knew of the poem and even more surprised that it had not inspired a novel or a movie based on its story. I decided then, that if I ever were to write a novel, “Roland” would be the subject.
I had always imagined that “one day” I would write a novel. But after I graduated and I started a career and then a family, “one day” became “some other day.” Sixty-hour workweeks, three kids and a mortgage kept me focused on my job, youth sports, teacher conferences and paying the bills. I never gave up on the idea of writing; I just never seemed to have the time.
Years passed and the idea of writing a novel became even more remote. Then one day my boss announced a new perk, a sabbatical. Based on the length of service, employees could accumulate leave time for up to six weeks. I qualified and immediately applied. Given my longevity I was given all six weeks. Six weeks is a long time. It was more time off than I had ever taken and it stretched out before me like the road to paradise. I could travel; I could hit the beach; I could do just about anything I wanted. I chose to start my novel.
I pulled out some of my old history books, bought some new ones and started to build a timeline of events leading up to “Roland.” What I learned was there were two histories. Charlemagne and his allies created one history. It is what we, today, would call propaganda. The other history was pieced together by modern historians and offered a more objective take on the time period. I would have to choose between the legend of Charlemagne and the history.
I chose the history. Which posed a new problem. Where do you start such a story? I researched and researched through dozens of sources, looking for where the story should begin. I began to work backward in time looking for that hook that would capture the essence of the story. Charlemagne as a young boy? Charlemagne’s father, Pippin? Charlemagne’s grandfather, Charles the Hammer?
I happened on a small reference to a scandal that involved Hiltrude, the daughter of Charles the Hammer. In the dark of night, she fled her father’s court to escape an arranged marriage to seek out love amongst his enemies. It was considered the scandal of the eighth century.
I had found the hook. Trudi (as I would call Hiltrude) became the focal point of my novel and the starting point for the story that leads me to the Song of Roland. What I didn’t know at the time was that there are a limited number of pages that a publisher will allow new writers for their first book. By the time I had finished Trudi’s story (and the story of her family) I was well over the number. Anvil of God would have to be the first installment on the story leading up to Roland. I’ve still got a ways to go.
Although self-published, Anvil of God has been well received. It has been given a “starred” review by Publishers Weekly, a “highly recommended” review by the Historical Novel Society and named the “Best Historical Fiction Novel of 2014” by the Independent Publishers Awards (the IPPY). Anvil also is currently a finalist in ForeWord Review’s “Book of the Year” award. I can only hope that Book II fares as well.
With an AB degree in history from Dartmouth College, J. Boyce Gleason brings a strong understanding of what events shaped the past and when, but writes historical-fiction to discover why. Gleason lives in Virginia with his wife Mary Margaret. They have three sons.
His latest book is the historical fiction, Anvil of God, Book One of the Carolingian Chronicles.
Visit his website at www.jboycegleason.com.