Thanks for coming! Could you tell a little about yourself?
Well, to paraphrase Anne Shirley, it would probably be a lot more interesting if I made it up! I live in western Nebraska, just shy of the Wyoming border, on an acreage with probably the densest tree population in the state—which really isn’t saying all that much. I work for a local church ministry and spend the rest of my day obsessing over imaginary worlds and characters and the finer points of plot and grammar. I have a black Lab named Crazy Bob and a fluctuating number of cats (three at the moment).
What is Behold The Dawn about?
Behold the Dawn is set in the Middle Ages, in the midst of the Third Crusade—probably the most well-known of all the Crusades (think Robin Hood and King Richard). It’s the story of Marcus Annan, a rogue knight who’s trying to escape his past in the gore and glory of the tourneys—the hugely popular and hugely lethal gladiatorial battles that preceded the more familiar jousting tournaments. On the field of a tourney in Italy, he’s accosted by a mysterious monk called the Baptist, who knows things of Annan’s past that only a few could possibly know. This meeting drives Annan to the war in the Holy Land, where he is captured by Saracens and promises an old friend to see his widow to safety in a French convent. But between the unexpected relationship that blossoms between Annan and the English countess and the enemies who dog them at every turn, he’s forced at last to stop running and turn to face his past—and the God he thought had abandoned him years ago.
Who's your favorite character? Why?
It should be hard to pick, since I really love all of these characters. But Annan definitely has a special place in my heart. He’s my favorite of all the characters I’ve ever written. I love his bluff, gruff, sometimes brutal exterior, juxtaposed against the depth of his compassion and his inherent integrity.
Do you have a favorite scene?
There’s hardly a scene I don’t like—which is unusual! But I do have two scenes in particular that still give me chills when I read them. But I can’t tell you what either of them are without giving away plot twists!
Did you put any real people in Behold The Dawn?
King Richard the Lion-Heart makes an appearance in one scene, as well as Blondin, his favorite minstrel, although Blondin remains unnamed. Annan himself was inspired by William Marshal, “the greatest knight who ever lived,” who was a famous tourneyer and, eventually, an English statesman.
What inspired you to write this story?
I happened to pick up a children’s storybook about William Marshall. The melees—the huge mock battles of the tourneys—and the Crusades immediately grabbed my attention. I’ve always loved the Middle Ages, so it was hardly a stretch for me to decide to write a story based in the period.
Have you always been interested in the Crusades?
Yes, although my association with them, up until I started researching Behold the Dawn, was almost entirely based upon the Robin Hood legends, which, of course, refer to the Crusades only in passing. But the Crusades’ presence as the most significant battles of the early Middle Ages have always held an interest for me. Once I started researching them, the Third Crusade in particular, I couldn’t get enough!
Both of your books are historical. Is that your favorite genre?
I’m really not a fan of the distinction “genre.” Necessary as it may be for commercial purposes, I dislike having to pigeonhole either my reading or writing choices. I read very eclectically, in all genres. But I do have a predisposition to books that fall into the historical, speculative, and literary genres. And almost all of my own stories are either historical, speculative, or a combination of the two. So, the short answer is, yes.
You must have researched extensively for Behold The Dawn. Did you complete research before you began writing, or did the research and writing processes merge?
I outline my stories first, so that I have a good idea of what questions I’ll need to be asking during research. Then I set aside several months specifically for pouring over the mountain of books I’ve gathered on the subject.
What was the best moment while writing this book? What was the worst?
There were a lot of good moments, but the one that definitely sticks in my mind is the huge energy high I got after acing a tough scene. I went around smiling and dancing for two days! As for the worst… the beginning of the book was difficult, both because beginnings are always difficult for me and because I was dealing with some things in my own life that had me questioning whether I was even supposed to be writing.
How long did it take to write the book, from conception to the final draft?
I don’t remember when I initially got the idea for the story, but from the time I began sketching my preliminary ideas in a notebook to the final proof was just over five years.
Did you use any new writing techniques?
Actually, I did. I solidified many of my writing methods during this story. I started outlining intensively before writing the actual story. I set up a filing system for my research, so that I could easily find pertinent facts. And I started what I call the “fifty-page edit,” which has me editing the entire manuscript every fifty pages—something which helps keep me grounded in the big picture of the story.
Was it difficult writing about settings and events that you couldn't experience first-hand?
Not really. Isn’t that more or less the whole point of fiction writing and reading? I have no interest in writing what I already know about. I want to experience new places and people through my writing—not just rehash my own life. However, I’m also a firm advocate of writing what you know. That’s why research is so important, particularly for historical novelists.
Do you think you'll ever return to the setting and characters for a sequel?
I doubt it. It breaks my heart not to be able to return to these wonderful characters. But their story is finished. I’ve never been fond of sequels or series. I like stories to be self-contained. The arc of a story is best delivered in one installment.
What new projects are you working on?
I have several projects in the works. I have a completed fantasy, Dreamers Come (about a man who discovers that his dreams are really memories of another world) waiting for another round of edits. I also just started outlining my next project, a historical novel called The Deepest Breath about the passion, betrayal, and vengeance that dog two men and the woman they both love through the trenches of World War I, corruption in colonial Kenya, and the criminal underbelly of London. And I’m also working on a fun co-writing project that asks, “What if Robin Hood met Sleeping Beauty?”
What's your best advice for aspiring authors?
Don’t worry too much about “the rules.” It’s easy to get caught up in the dos and do nots, but as helpful as many of these “rules” are, ultimately you have to remember that they’re only guidelines. They’re certainly very helpful guidelines—guidelines that will probably help you invaluably if you hope to be published. But they’re not hammered-in-solid-granite laws. Writing is an art. And art, by its very definition, is a form of expression that must ultimately be free of something as confining as rules.
Thanks so much for coming!
Behold The Dawn
The vengeance of a monk.
The secrets of a knight.