Thursday, December 22, 2011

Religious Hysteria and the Black Plague

Lovely bones make a lovely face, and underneath the fictional flesh of each historical novel lie the lovely bones of history. The English Historical Fiction Authors (EHFA) blog gives historical novelists a chance to share their historical work and reach out to their readers. Each day the site features a nonfiction post by a historical novelist, usually related to some historical topic they have researched for their novel.

Today, I have a post over at the EHFA blog that ties in with the research for my book I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince. It's titled, "Scourge of Europe: The Religious Hysteria Created by the Black Plague."
Death has always been one of the most frightening prospects faced by mankind. The fear of death even has its own word to describe it—thanotophobia. In a society where a third to a half of the people around you have succumbed to death within the past year, the terror of knowing that you might be next can become overwhelming. It can drive a person to bizarre and unthinkable acts as he tries to ward off death’s icy grip from descending on his own shoulder. This is what happened in the mid-fourteenth century, during the years of the Black Plague. The world went wild with thanotophobia, and the country of England was no exception.... (read more)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Questions for a Self-Published Author: Interview at Ashley Barron's Blog

In September and October I had the chance to do several interviews with historical fiction bloggers on my virtual book tour for Road from the West. Most of the questions involved the inspiration for and the plot of the book and there were a few personal questions about my life outside of authorship.

Today I have an interview of a totally different nature over at Ashley Barron's blog, a fellow self-published author. This interview focuses mostly on my publishing journey and the hurdles I have overcome to get my books out to readers.   The decision to self-publish, how I market my books, how I use social media--those are all topics I get to address in today's interview. If you're interested in a candid story of an indie author's path to publishing, head on over to Ashley's blog to get the scoop.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Butt-Kicking Beauties: Fighting Females in History

When my husband and I go to the movies, his favorite part  is watching the previews before the feature film starts. Me? Not so much. I hate how many thirty-second horror previews I have to close my eyes (and plug my ears) through, and I always groan when I see spots for another action movie with a 110-lb super-chick beating up tough guys three times her size. "This is so unrealistic!" There are many areas in which women are equal to, or even superior to men. Physical strength does not happen to be one of them. "Why, oh why," I wonder, "do today's movie goers want to watch something this ridiculous?"

Well, it turns out that today's movie goers aren't the only ones who appreciate butt-kicking beauties.
Xena, warrior princess, may have made her debut in the twentieth century A. D., but she belongs to an ancient sisterhood of fighting females that go all the way back to the twentieth century B. C.

The Amazons executing their
(male) Greek prisoners 
The Amazons, of course, are the most famous members of this sisterhood, a tribe of women warriors who lived near the Black Sea. Homer mentions them briefly in the Iliad as "those who fight like men." Other Greek writers talk of Penthesilea, the Amazon queen who comes to Troy with the intention of killing Achilles. Fearlessly, Penthesilea slays many of the staunch Achaean warriors and fights a deadlock battle with Telamonian Ajax. But when it comes to Achilles? Well, the great, Greek hero is able to knock her over with one blow and kill her. To his credit, he feels bad about it afterwards.

Penthesilea's sister Hippolyta shows up in a plethora of Greek myths, many of them contradictory, but my favorite version of her story is the one retold by Mary Renault in The Bull from the Sea. Theseus, king of Athens, takes an excursion out to the Black Sea and runs into the fearsome Amazon tribe, led by Hippolyta, a beautiful queen who can ride, hunt, rule, and fight as well as any man. After defeating Hippolyta in single combat, Theseus marries her and brings her home to Athens...although there is not necessarily a happily ever after in store for them.

The Roman poet Virgil, familiar with the fighting female motif, includes the colorful character of Camilla in his epic, the Aeneid. As the princess of the Volsci, one of the neighboring tribes to the Latins, Camilla helps King Turnus fight against Aeneas and his band of invading Trojans. Virgil describes her as a phenomenal runner, though not so keen on the domestic arts:

Last came Camilla, of the Volscians bred,
leading her mail-clad, radiant chivalry;
a warrior-virgin, of Minerva's craft
of web and distaff, fit for woman's toil,
no follower she; but bared her virgin breast
to meet the brunt of battle, and her speed
left even the winds behind; for she would skim
an untouched harvest ere the sickle fell,
nor graze the quivering wheat-tops as she ran;
or o'er the mid-sea billows' swollen surge
so swiftly race, she wet not in the wave
her flying feet.

Camilla acquits herself as well as any Amazon would on the battlefield. But unfortunately, while she is distracted with all her kills, one of the Trojans manages to slay her with a sneak attack.

In the medieval and renaissance eras, this familiar character of the woman warrior was not forgotten. While doing research for my First Crusade trilogy, The Chronicles of Tancred, I ran across an Italian epic from the sixteenth century titled Jerusalem Delivered. The poet, Torquato Tasso, tells a highly fictionalized story of the heroes of the First Crusade, showing no scruples about inventing characters and events to embroider the tale.

Clorinda, the Muslim warrior-maiden, is one such fictional character. The description given her is strikingly like that of Camilla.

She scorned the arts these silly women use,
Another thought her nobler humor fed,
Her lofty hand would of itself refuse
To touch the dainty needle or nice thread,
She hated chambers, closets, secret news,
And in broad fields preserved her maidenhead....
While she was young, she used with tender hand
The foaming steed with froary bit to steer,
To tilt and tourney, wrestle in the sand,
To leave with speed Atlanta swift arear,
Through forests wild, and unfrequented land
To chase the lion, boar, or rugged bear....

Clorinda dies in Tancred's arms
Like the warrior princesses of Greek mythology, Clorinda enjoys a good deal of success against her masculine opponents, attracting the love and respect of Tancred, one of the Crusader lords and the hero of my trilogy. Tragedy, however, is not far off. During a night battle where the brave and beautiful Clorinda sets a Crusader siege tower on fire, she encounters Tancred unrecognized and loses her life to his sword. Tancred's grief over mistakenly killing Clorinda is even more profund than Achilles' sorrow over slaying Penthesilea, since the poet has taken the trouble to provide a pre-existing relationship between the two.

Unrealistic or not, it seems that societies throughout time have enjoyed the motif of the "women who fight like men." There is one marked difference, however, between the warrior women of the old world and the butt-kicking beauties of today's movies. In the ancient and medieval epics, the female fighter--despite her success against many lesser men on the battlefield--can never quite measure up to the prowess of the hero, often dying in her attempt to defeat him. In the modern version of the motif, the Lucy Lawless's, the Angelina Jolie's, and the Yvonne Strahovski's can actually hold their own against all comers, and even prevail.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Meditation on Infant Mortality

The standard figure given for infant mortality in the Middle Ages is thirty percent, although some historians' numbers go as high as fifty. Thirty children out of every hundred, dying before their first birthday--a staggering amount of tiny graves.

* * * * *

At the beginning of this week, I was intending to do a Thanksgiving Day post about my son Adam, giving thanks that he has had no complications since his surgeries for biliary atresia in January. But on  Monday night, as my husband and I sat bleary-eyed in the emergency room at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, we realized that he was having his first complication.

He had registered a low grade fever off and on for the past five days and been exceptionally fussy. Maybe he's teething, I thought. (Isn't that every mother's rationale for unexplainable baby behavior?) Then, on Monday afternoon, I changed his diaper and discovered that his stool was white--an indication that his bile ducts might no longer be working. His doctors suggested taking him to the lab to get some blood work done. And so, instead of running to the grocery store to get eggnog, and allspice, and Thanksgiving Day hors d'oeuvres, we zipped down to the doctor's office and had Adam's blood drawn. It would take a day or more to get the results. I was worried, but David reminded me that there was nothing to be worried about...yet.

* * * * *

by Giotto
One popular misconception about the Middle Ages is that since so many of their children were certain to die, medieval parents refused to become attached to their offspring. In her article "The Medieval Child: An Unknown Phenomenon?", Sophie Oosterwijk refutes this notion. She points to the popularity of the Madonna and Child paintings, a clear representation of an affectionate mother. She also provides a wealth of other evidence that medieval parents were "fond of their children," despite the likelihood that they would lose "at least some of them to diseases or accidents."
Miracle reports and other types of documents attest to the lengths to which parents were prepared to go to obtain healing, rescue or salvation for their children, as well as to their grief when their efforts proved futile. The popularity of the theme of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents and its vivid depiction in medieval art and drama also suggest that medieval people viewed child death with anything but indifference.
It was not uncommon for a woman to bear ten children. It was not uncommon for nearly half of them to die in infancy. It was uncommon for the woman to feel no sorrow for their passing. She was still a mother, after all, and though she lived in a hard place and a hard time, that did not make her heart a heart of stone.

* * * * *

When Adam's fever spiked to above 100 degrees that night, I called the advice nurse. After reviewing his file with the doctor on call at Doernbecher, they instructed me to bring him in to the emergency room. "It could be nothing, or it could be really bad. With his history, we don't want to take any chances." 

The blood work we had done earlier was upgraded to "stat." We arrived at Doernbecher and waited in the emergency room for several hours for the blood work to be completed. When the lab delivered the results, the liver numbers were way higher than normal, giving evidence of a possible liver infection. The next step was an ultrasound to see if there was some sort of blockage in Adam's bile ducts. The ultrasound was inconclusive. Meanwhile, Adam's fever began to go down. While the doctors conferred into the wee hours of the night about whether they should admit Adam or send him home, David tried to get our scared and screaming boy to go to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, another doctor or nurse would come in to poke and prod him into resuming his screams.

I sat in the recliner, too exhausted, too uncomfortable, and too anxious to sleep. Were his bile ducts really blocked? Was the surgery that had seemed so successful no longer working?

* * * * *

Edward I and wife Eleanor
Oosterwijk gives this anecdote about King Edward I of England:
One example of the supposedly indifferent attitude of medieval parents towards their children is the chronicle description of Edward I's reaction while on crusade at hearing the news of the deaths of first his son John and then of his father, king Henry III of England. According to the chronicler, Edward grieved far more for his 64-year-old father than for his five-year-old son and, when asked to explain the reason, he replied that the loss of a child is easier to bear as one may have many more children, but that the loss of a father is irremediable. This has often been taken as the typical medieval response to the death of a child; indeed, Edward himself was due to experience such losses all too often, for only six of the (probably) fourteen children he had by his first wife Eleanor of Castile reached adulthood. 
However, what has often been overlooked is the fact that Edward's reaction, instead of being typical, was in fact seen as unusual even if proper and devout; the episode illustrates surprise at his behaviour both on the part of Charles of Anjou, who asked him to explain it, and on the part of the chronicler, who considered it significant enough to record. Although it may have been exemplary of Edward to mourn so much more for the death of his aged father (which actually made him the new king) than for his own little son, it seems at the same time to have been considered far from normal.

* * * * *

The doctors decided to put Adam on antibiotics in case his liver was infected. He would spend the night at the hospital and undergo more imaging in the morning to locate the assumed blockage. I drove home at 3am, hoping that my seven-months-pregnant body could get a few hours of sleep. David stayed at the hospital to deal with more doctors and more disruptions to Adam's sleep.

The Psalmist says that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." And so it happened for us. By the time I got back to the hospital at 9am, Adam's fever had disappeared. The white bowel movement proved to be an anomaly. The head GI doctor told us that if there was some sort of sludge blocking his bile duct, it seemed to have gone away. Whatever had sent his liver numbers up in the lab tests was probably just a minor infection. They released us from the hospital at noon that day and we went home to sleep, sleep, sleep.

* * * * *

by Masaccio
Oosterwijk says:
Medieval reality might have been a far cry from our own twentieth-century idea of childhood as a joyous and carefree phase of life -- in itself rather a modern Western idealization-- but the medieval popularity of the Virgin and Child could only have worked if people recognized its fundamental truth: the bond of affection between mother and child. 
* * * * *

At the beginning of this week, I was intending to do a Thanksgiving Day post about my son Adam, giving thanks that he has had no complications since his surgeries for biliary atresia in January. At the end of this week, I can finally make my Thanksgiving Day post, and praise God that Adam's adventure at the hospital was short-lived and far less serious than it could have been.

The standard figure given for infant mortality in the Middle Ages is thirty percent. The infant mortality rate in today's United States is currently less than one percent. It is a blessed thing to be a mother in this country and in this century. It is truly a thing for which we can give thanks.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Same Name, Different Person

Suppose that you're in a conversation with a friend talking about a mutual acquaintance named "John." An outsider comes up, listens in for a few minutes, then says. "Oh, I know a John too. They're probably the same person." You both stop talking and stare at the newcomer flabbergasted. Does he really think there is only one person named John in the entire world? 

This naivety is not something you often encounter in conversation. But somehow, in the world of historical fiction, it is a conclusion that readers often jump to, especially if a character has a name that is unusual or unfamiliar to them. 

Tancred of Lecce
During my recent blog tour, countless people who heard that "Tancred" is the main character of my book Road from the West said, "Oh, Tancred! I read about him in Sharon Kay Penman's latest book Lionheart." Sorry as I am to sever this (possibly advantageous) to SKP's novel, my sense of historical accuracy has been begging me to exclaim, "No. You did not!" My Tancred was an obscure Italian marquis who eventually became Prince of Galilee and Duke of Antioch after the First Crusade. SKP's Tancred was a distant relative, called Tancred of Lecce, who ruled Sicily and lived nearly a century later during the time of the Third Crusade.

The name Tancred, although incredibly unusual to the modern ear, was a popular one in this Norman family. Their original Norman ancestor, a shadowy figure named Tancred de Hauteville, was born in Normandy shortly after the French king bestowed it on Rollo and the other Vikings. Tancred of Hauteville was renowned mostly for the deeds of his progeny, begetting twelve superlative sons from two successive wives. One of the chroniclers records that whenever William the Conqueror was feeling unmotivated to conquer, he would remember the doughty deeds of the family from Hauteville and stir up his spirit to attempt greater things. These sons of Tancred de Hauteville would eventually spread across Europe and establish princedoms for themselves in Italy, Sicily, and the East. 

Two of the sons to travel to the sunny south were Robert Guiscard (the "Fox) and Roger de Hauteville. While Robert focused his activities on driving the Byzantines out of Italy and then making an expedition toward Constantinople itself, Roger focused on driving the Muslims and Byzantines out of Sicily and setting up a kingdom there. It is from these two brothers that the two easily-confused Tancreds descend. 

Tancred and Erminia, by Nicolas Poussin
Robert Guiscard's daughter Emma married an obscure Italian marquis named Odo the Good, and from their union arose Tancred, the hero of my novel, a dedicated leader of the First Crusade. Roger set up a dynasty in Sicily leaving the throne to a tangled web of sons and grandsons until it was eventually seized by his (illegitimate) great-grandson Tancred of Lecce. 

Although it may be tempting to assume that every historical figure with the same name is the same person, a simple request for Wikipedia to "disambiguate" the name can keep you from being the "newcomer" to the conversation. A simple reference to a historical timeline can keep you from confusing the King of Sicily with the Prince of Galilee.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Christians must Write and What They must Write about

This summer my alma mater, New Saint Andrews College, held a writing conference/workshop called Three Days in the Wordsmithy. I seriously considered attending, but what with David's work and the problem of finding babysitting, those plans failed to come to fruition.

Yesterday, I saw that CanonWired has released a video of Douglas Wilson's introductory talk at the conference, titled "Why Christians must Write and What They must Write about." Normally, I avoid watching Internet videos the way my husband avoids eating vegetables (why would you want to waste time watching a video when you could read/skim an article much more quickly?), but I made an exception and watched this one through to the bitter end. The end turned out to be the best part, so I'm glad I made it that far.

Wordsmithy | Why Christians must write, and what they must write about | Doug Wilson from Daniel Foucachon on Vimeo.

Just in case you also have an aversion to watching videos on the Internet--or don't have 26 minutes of time to spare--let me give you Doug Wilson's summary of the main points (in bold), with my notes following them.

1. You can't teach writing, but you can learn it. God has gifted some people with the ability to become good writers. The best writing teacher in the world can't make a gifted writer out of an ungifted person. Buy writing books and study them, but don't think you can force God into granting you a talent which he hasn't bestowed. If, however, you are truly called by God to be a writer, develop that calling and don't hide your talent in the ground.

2. Why should you write? Because Jesus is the Word and you're a Christian. Christians are inherently "people of the book," and people who must love words. All Christians are called to literacy, but some are especially gifted in the world of literature and should use those gifts to bless the rest of the Body of Christ.

3. How should you write?

  • Pursue godliness - write with a Christian worldview
  • Be interested in the world God has made - interested people are interesting
  • Be observant - look around you; don't bury your head in the sand
  • Love words - I love that he said this!
  • Love words in time - or as he puts it another way, love "narratival unfolding"
  • Be critical of your own work - and let others critique it; the only thing that should offend you is when there's not enough red marks
  • Adopt as your subject matter the cosmos (i.e. everything) because God put it here for you to write about - a great reminder that anything is fair game to write about, as long as you keep the first point (pursuing godliness) in mind

So that, in a nutshell is the great start to the conference I never got to attend. If the first talk is any indicator, it sounds like the whole event was full of good pointers for Christian authors, whether novices or experienced in their craft.

* * * * *

And while we're on the subject of Christian authors, I'd like to give a shout-out to Daniel Wilson, a former high school student of mine and an aspiring author. This talk from the Wordsmithy conference reminded me of the tagline of Daniel's blog, "A writer's mission to create worlds with words, just like his Heavenly Father once did." I love that line!

Daniel's on another mission right now to gain 100 followers. Head on over to his blog and check it out--and if you like what you see, be sure to add yourself with Google Friend Connect.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Birthday Boys

True Confessions: This month I decided to challenge myself to meet the same writing word goal per day as all the NaNoWriMo's (to make a total of 50,000 words per month). I am currently at around 14,000 words--which puts me at about 8,000 words behind where I'm supposed to be. Sometimes real life just gets in the way of writing fiction...and I have to remind myself that that's OK. And sometimes, it's even better than OK--it's the way things should be.

The NaNoWriMo website suggests using your "free" weekends to rack up huge word counts of 5000 words a day. For me, the weekends are actually the hardest time to get any writing done. There's always some family activity or outing that's more important. We've spent the last two weekends partying for the twins' first birthday. Their actual birthday was on Saturday, November 5. A few friends and relatives dropped by with gifts and balloons--the balloons were quite a hit.


That night we took the boys out for dinner at Bugatti's, the only semi-nice Oregon City restaurant that seems to be able to stay in business.

On Sunday, after church and after afternoon naps, we headed over to Aunt Amy's so she could take the twins' one year portraits. By the time we got there, there was only about half an hour of sunlight left (thanks to the time change). But the sunset and the twins all cooperated beautifully, and Amy got some lovely shots. I frequently thank my lucky stars that we have such a talented photographer in the family.

Adam on the left, Oliver on the right


This weekend we had the "official" birthday party over at my parents' house. The boys were very eager to open their presents and quite pleased with the cake Aunt Abigail made them.

It's a new day now, and I should be writing. But what am I doing instead? Trying to find a place to store all the new toys, using OxiClean to get chocolate cake out of white shirts, and uploading pictures of all the festivities.

Did I mention that sometimes real life gets in the way of writing fiction? And I have to remind myself that that's OK....

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Boring the Readers to Tears

Some readers, who would rather jump off a bridge than read a nonfiction history book, will enthusiastically pick up a historical novel because, "It's not history--it's a story." Other readers have slightly more interest in history itself, but have selected the novel because they want to get a "feel" for a time period without being deluged with too many names and dates. Without being elitist, I think I can say that very few readers are as interested in the forests of historical minutiae as the author herself is. But that's why the author chose to become a writer of historical fiction--because she loves to uncover every last detail from her chosen period of study.

As a historical novelist, I must wrestle with how to convey this love of history to the readers. How do I include historical background, introduce historical characters, and portray historical details without boring the readers to tears? How do I relay the history in a realistic manner that fits seamlessly into the story, instead of simply giving an information "dump"?

Frequently, authors will use expositional characters to give the needed historical information to set up their plot. A character who is new to a particular setting is ideal for this kind of exposition since that character's ignorance is nearly as great as the reader's. I was noticing while reading Sharon Kay Penman's book Lionheart how she helps the reader "meet" several of the English peers through the character of Isabella Marshal (William Marshal's new wife). Isabella has never visited the court before, and so her husband must explain to her who all the important players are that surround King Richard's household.

A similar narrative device is to have one character explain events to another character who was absent when they took place. In Elizabeth Chadwick's book The Scarlet Lion (which, coincidentally, has many of the same historical personages as Lionheart), Isabella Marshal spends a great deal of time isolated on the family estates in England and Ireland. Whenever her husband William returns for a visit from the court, he brings her (and the readers) up to speed on all the political events of importance.

Lindsey Davis uses first person narration in her detective novels, and we get to hear the story through the mouth of the cheeky Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco. Falco's supposed audience is a provincial member of the Roman Empire who may not know the ins and outs of Roman government, geography, politics, etc. By condescending to explain these things to the bumbling provincials, Falco can also (realistically) describe the needed information for the ignorant reader.

By using a mixture of these narrative devices (and not overusing one of them), an author can create the necessary historical skeleton on which to hang the body of her story.  An author can craft a well-researched historical novel that reads nothing like a nonfiction book.  An author can share her love of history without boring the reader to tears.

* * * * *

What other narrative devices have you seen used effectively? Which ones have fallen flat?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Defending the Indefensible? Rodney Stark's Case for the Crusades

One of the most interesting things about studying history is learning the popular version of the story, and then learning that things are not so simple as they seem. As part of my research for the Chronicles of Tancred trilogy, I've been reading God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. In this book, author Rodney Stark debunks many of the popular myths surrounding the Crusades and gives a justification for one of the most poorly reputed military actions in history. This book provides a good balance to the typical view of the Crusades--"Bigoted and land-hungry European Christians brutally attack Muslims minding their own business." Rodney Stark's provocative statements fly in the face of much of the popular rhetoric concerning the Crusades, and while I don't necessarily agree with every stance Stark takes, each chapter of the book provides interesting fodder for thought.

One of Stark's most important claims is that the Crusades were not unprovoked. He describes the Muslim aggression during the 7th-11th centuries, showing how the forces of Islam conquered Christian territory from Jerusalem, to Spain, to Italy, all the way up to the walls of Constantinople. For Stark, the Crusades were a response to this Muslim expansionism.

He also makes a point of showing that the Christians in the conquered areas (the majority of whom failed to convert to Islam) were treated very poorly by their Islamic overlords.
A great deal of nonsense has been written about Muslim tolerance--that, in contrast to Christian brutality against Jews and heretics, Islam showed remarkable tolerance for conquered people, treated them with respect, and allowed them to pursue their faiths without interference. This claim probably began with Voltaire, Gibbon, and other eighteenth-century writers who used it to cast the Catholic Church in the worst possible light. The truth about life under Muslim rule is quite different.... --Chapter One: Muslim Invaders
Related to this idea of tolerance, Stark also addresses the issue of Muslim enlightenment and intellectual sophistication. He looks at the technology and scientific advances of the period and concludes that:
The belief that once upon a time Muslim culture was superior to that of Europe is at best an illusion. To the extent that Arab elites acquired a sophisticated culture, they learned it from their subject peoples.... --Chapter Three: Western "Ignorance" versus Eastern "Culture"
These subject peoples included Nestorian Christians, Zoroastrians, and Indian Hindus. Stark argues that "Muslim" advances in medicine, literature, mathematics, etc. are entirely due to the ingenuity of the conquered races/religions.

After holding a microscope up against common myths regarding the Muslims, Stark moves to dispel some common vilifications of the Crusaders. Historians have a tendency to ignore Muslim intolerance and to harp upon the Crusaders' behavior toward people of other faiths (particularly the Jews). Stark points out, however, that the Church did not intend for the Crusaders to harm the innocent:
It is worth noting that the pope [Alexander II] was very concerned that the knights setting out to fight the Muslims not attack Jews along the way. Having directed that the Jews be protected, he subsequently wrote that he was glad to learn "that you protect the Jews who live among you, so that they may not be killed by those setting out for Spain against the Saracens...for the situation of the Jews is greatly different from that of the Saracens. One may justly fight against those [Saracens because they] persecute Christians." --Chapter Two: Christendom Strikes Back
My own reading of primary sources definitely corroborates this section of Stark's book. In the early stages of the First Crusade, when mobs of "Crusaders" in the Rhineland tried to exterminate the Jews, it was the bishops of the Church who hid the Jews and protected them. The Church which called the Crusade did not condone all actions that were done in the name of the Crusade.

Another issue Stark addresses is the incompatibility of modern expectations of piety with medieval expectations. In my book Road from the West, some have seen it as odd (or hypocritical) that Tancred--after feeling guilty for killing Christians--sets out to make amends by slaughtering Saracens. To modern sensibilities, true piety means a commitment to non-violence. Is it possible that Crusaders who continue to cleave skulls in two can be truly religious? Stark writes:
Many skeptics have noted that the pilgrimages often failed to improve the subsequent behavior of pilgrims.... The issue seems to be the expectation that an authentic pilgrimage ought to have fundamentally transformed a pilgrim's character and personality--or at least to have changed an individual into a far more peaceful and forgiving sort of person. But that was not a typical outcome. Instead, most of the fighting men who went on a pilgrimage returned as fierce and ready to do battle as before.... That even very pious knights found pacifism incomprehensible may puzzle some having modern sensibilities, but that assumption was fundamental to Pope Urban's call for a Crusade. --Chapter Five: Enlisting Crusaders
Although some may quibble with aspects of Stark's research, I found this book incredibly refreshing. Instead of merely accepting the dogma of 18th century historians, Stark places the Crusades in their historical context and finds a different way of looking at them. As one of the quotes on the back cover says, Stark's "greatest achievement is to make us see the crusaders on their own terms," an achievement which I hope to emulate in my trilogy The Chronicles of Tancred.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Two Favorite Crusader Knights

Yesterday was not only All Hallows Eve, but also Reformation Day which commemorates Martin Luther's dramatic publication of the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517. Our church held its annual Reformation Day celebration last night, and attendees decked themselves out in medieval and renaissance garb. It's been several years since I found the time to come up with a costume for myself, but it was the first year I had kids to dress up. Adam and Oliver went as Crusader Knights--I guess I must have the Crusades on the brain, or something....

Snacking on their swords....
Holding onto his "treat bag"

Thanks to Amy for the pictures!

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Most Feared Punctuation on Earth

I'll admit it: I'm extremely partial to semicolons. That's not to say I like them when they're used poorly, and I have been known to substitute an em-dash in a pinch. But, as one of my dear proofreaders can attest, I do tend to throw out semicolons like rice at a wedding (or like rice used to be thrown at weddings, before it was deemed hazardous to birds).

Today I ran across a funny article by The Oatmeal titled, "How to Use a Semicolon: The Most Feared Punctuation on Earth." If you're struggling with the rules of semicolon-age, or just want a good laugh, head on over there to read the rules, see the examples, and enjoy the funny illustrations. You can learn why, "The ice cream truck man drove by my house today; he had big, hairy knuckles" is a prime candidate for semicolon insertion, whereas, "I fought the bear and won. Also, I never kiss plague rats on the mouth," should stick with the more humdrum punctuation of a full stop.

I also enjoyed the explanation of how the semicolon can be used as a "super comma," enabling you to create descriptive lists such as this one:
My favorite people include Samuel Slaughterjaws, a famous unicorn hunter; my uncle Wilfred, a world champion at mayonnaise eating contests; and Nikola Tesla, the most awesome dude to ever fire a lightning bolt at an angry peasant.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The End of the Road

The flavor of today is bittersweet. On the one hand, Road from the West received an excellent review from The True Book Addict who called it a "well-researched and captivating account." Yesterday, the same blog offered a giveaway of my book and featured a guest post I'd written titled, "Modern Perceptions of the Crusades." What could be more exciting for an author?

On the other hand, today marks the close of the Road from the West blog tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, and I'm a little sad to see it end. It's been a fabulous month and a half traveling the blogosphere with reviews, giveaways, guest posts, and author interviews, stopping at around 25 of the best book blogs out there. Amy Bruno, from HFVBT, has been the consummate professional in organizing this blog tour, keeping me apprised of every detail and making sure books are mailed, interview questions are answered, and reviews are posted on time. If you are a historical novelist looking for a publicity outlet, I strongly recommend HFVBT.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the bloggers who participated in my book tour! The help that you give to authors is invaluable as we reach out to find an audience for our work. I've greatly benefitted from both your criticisms and your accolades, and I've discovered some new favorite blogs that I'll definitely be visiting now and again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Challenging a Millennium of Scholarship

I ran into an interesting article yesterday (via the Medieval News blog) touting a new nonfiction book by historian Peter Frankopan that will be "countering nearly a millennium of scholarship" about the First Crusade. In his new book, The First Crusade: the Call from the East, which is slated to come out in 2012, Dr. Frankopan argues that the focal point of the Crusade's origins was in the Byzantine Empire's desire to regain territory, not in Pope Urban's preaching. The Europeans who came to fight came as mercenaries for the Byzantine emperor Alexios. It was only later that Western propaganda turned the military action into a fight for Jerusalem.

The article (originally published in the newspaper The Australian) doesn't go into too much detail about Dr. Frankopan's new findings, but these paragraphs give a small picture of what his new book will propose:

For Dr Frankopan, the First Crusade was therefore not a religious war, but instead a "very specific, targeted military expedition against the cities of Nicaea and Antioch", two former Byzantine possessions that the crusader army swore an oath to hand over to Alexios. Jerusalem was just a carrot. 
The Crusade mythology that emerged from all this was a result of what happened next, Dr Frankopan claimed. Some of the Norman commanders refused to hand the newly conquered cities over to the Emperor. 
To justify this course of action, and a subsequent attempt to launch an expedition against Constantinople, they embarked on a propaganda war of "horrific vilification" against Alexios and his Empire. Urban successfully used the recapture of Jerusalem to cement the power of his papacy and Alexios was written out of the historical record.
I am very curious to read this book once it is released (my Amazon Wish List has been updated accordingly). Dr. Frankopan's claim is an interesting one, but it seems that he would have to discredit dozens of Western sources which attribute the Crusaders' original motivations to their desire to retake the Holy City. Perhaps Emperor Alexios thought he was getting an army of compliant mercenaries, but Urban, Bohemond, Godfrey, and Tancred thought otherwise....

Reviews by Molly - Author Interview

Today I have an author interview over at the blog Reviews by Molly. Molly asked me an assortment of interesting questions: how I chose to write historical fiction, what avenues I use for marketing, and whether I prefer my cake with or without ice cream. Head on over to her blog if you'd like to see my answers to her questions!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Erin Reads - Review

Today Road from the West received a really good review over at the blog Erin Reads. It's always fun to see that someone really enjoyed your work.
Rosanne Lortz writes in a style I’ve found rare in my admittedly limited experience with historical fiction. Over flowery language and paragraphs that drip with details, Lortz favors simple prose and sparse yet effective bits of atmosphere. Rather than describe exactly how something is done or precisely what a scene looks like, Lortz writes just enough that the reader knows and can picture what is happening yet has plenty of room to utilize her imagination. In this respect Road from the West reads a bit like contemporary fiction does, the author assuming the reader and characters share common points of reference that make extended explanation unnecessary. I found nothing lacking in Lortz’s approach and enjoyed how she let Tancred’s story be the novel’s focus.
This is the last week of the virtual book tour for Road from the West. It's been a fun month and a half and I've loved getting feedback from bloggers and comments from the historical fiction community.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Reviews by Molly - Review

I hope you're not getting tired of seeing review excerpts from the virtual book tour for Road from the West! There is only one week left of the tour, and it has been so much fun to work with all the book bloggers and with Amy Bruno from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Today Road from the West is being reviewed over at Reviews by Molly. Here is an excerpt:
There is so much to say about, devotion, redemption, love, much more, including the spoilers, so I'll stop. I will say this, READ IT. If you are a history lover, a Christian, or just wanting to know more about a time in history that many people don't look back on, then get a copy NOW. Ms. Lortz' passion for her history knowledge shines through. She brings a life-like story to her readers, creating a 4 Book worthy start to a fantastic new series. I can't wait for the second book in Tancred's story! FANTABULOUS work, Ms. Lortz! 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Words and Peace - Review

Today, Words and Peace is featuring a review of Road from the West as part of my virtual book tour.
I think the author did a fantastic job at retelling the historical setting and what happened with lots of accuracy – I read since a few things on this crusade to compare (you could read this article for a first introduction). I especially enjoy the way she focuses on the character of Tancred. She manages to make him a very human and lively character, inserting in the novel some elements of romance which fit nicely.
Emma, the reviewer at Words and Peace, is also an artist who specializes in painting on rocks. I've been enjoying looking through her galleries this morning, and I especially love this nativity painting of the infant Jesus. It's making me all excited to start decorating for Christmas....

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Owl Bookmark Blog - Interview and Giveaway

The Owl Bookmark BlogToday, as part of my virtual book tour, I am being interviewed over at The Owl Bookmark Blog where I get to answer questions like, "What was the easiest part of writing Road from the West?" and, "What do you have planned to write next?" Rumor has it there's also a giveaway in full swing, so if you still want to win a copy of Road from the West, head on over there to enter.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Three Reviews + Kindle Nation Daily

I neglected to post yesterday, so today I have three new blog reviews of Road from the West to tell you about. The first is over at A Few More Pages:
....I definitely would like to continue reading about Tancred's adventures, and since this book only takes us part-way on the Crusaders' journey to Jerusalem, I am looking forward to picking up the next book in the series. There are too many questions still left to be answered: Will Tancred make it to Jerusalem? Will Alexandra win his heart? Will Bohemond gain the riches and power he is after? I must find out what happens!
The second review is at By the By Books:
Lortz's narrative is wonderfully written. The writing is very simple, but in a good way. I felt that this section of history, which is almost 1000 years old, was fresh and easily understandable for today's reader....
The Owl Bookmark BlogAnd the third review is over at The Owl Bookmark Blog, a website which has the most whimsically delightful header:
It is very obvious right off the bat that Lortz did her research and probably is as familiar with the Crusades (all of them)as she is with the back of her hand.  This novel is full of historical facts and anecdotes as well as a very realistic setting that allows Lortz's historical prowess to show....
 In other news, Road from the West is the featured sponsor over at Kindle Nation Daily today. KND is a website with a large e-mail subscriber list that alerts Kindle owners about great finds in the e-book world. The site owner, Stephen Windwalker, is a pleasure to work with, and we've really enjoyed the ads that he's put together for both I Serve and Road from the West.

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