Interview with J. Boyce Gleason
Anvil of God
The Most Happy Reader is fortunate to welcome J. Boyce Gleason, author of Anvil of God, Book One of the Carolingian Chronicles, who has graciously agreed to answer some questions for us regarding both Anvil of God and his work as a writer. Boyce thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us on both the Anvil of God and your career as a writer.
Welcome to The Most Happy Reader.
On Anvil of God:
Give us an insight into your one of your main characters from Anvil of God. What does he/she do that is so important to the novel as a whole?
I think Trudi (Charles the Hammer’s daughter) is the most pivotal character in the story. She is a strong character, yet every bit as vulnerable as her 18 years would imply. Her journey to escape an arranged marriage to find love amongst her father’s enemies flips her (and the reader’s) perspective of her family, her religion, power and the impact they have had on her world.
The Carolingian Empire is not a widely known period, even in many academic circles, what brought you to this time period and place? Do you have a background in history?
I was a history major at Dartmouth College and studied the period under a great professor named Charles Wood. I was drawn to the story of Charlemagne and in particular an epic poem of the time (much like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey) called the Song of Roland. I had originally planned to write the story about Roland, but the more I researched Charlemagne, the more I fell in love with his family’s story – in particular how they came to power.
Most people know, or have heard, of Charlemagne. His restoration of the Holy Roman Empire during the midst of the Dark Ages was a feat that rulers throughout Europe (like Napoleon, for example) have tried to emulate for over a thousand years. The family’s rise to power, however, began with his grandfather, Charles the Hammer who is best known for saving Christianity by stopping the advance of the Muslim armies as they swept into Europe from Northern Africa and Spain in the mid-eighth century.
It was a pivotal time in the history of Western Civilization – for religion, for cultural identity, for military conquest and for the centralization of power. It seemed like a natural place to explore many of the same issues we grapple with as a society today.
Despite that, Anvil is a story about what happens to Charles the Hammer’s family when he dies. It’s the story about a family; struggling with the death of their father…only this family’s choices have consequences for an entire continent.
Your thoughtful and informative Author’s Note gives some insight into your research, but how much research do you undertake, both primary and secondary? I would like to add that I enjoyed your honest plot outline and character descriptions for their clarity in what was history and what was fiction.
I have to admit that the research was, at time, a heavy lift. There is not a lot that has been written about this time period and much of what I thought I knew was incorrect. Even after, I had created a timeline of all the major events; I had to recreate a clear picture of who ruled what territories at that moment in time (how old they were, what their histories entailed, who they were allied with, why they supported or opposed the Carolingians etc.). It was more than I expected.
I also travelled to each of the locations covered in the book trying to find some evidence of the time period. Needless to say, there is not much left standing from the eighth century. Every once in a while, however, I was surprised to find critical pieces to the puzzle that helped me ground the time period in a physical location.
Having said that, once the pieces started to fall into place, I felt like I began to know the characters as people – not unlike how we look at major political figures in the world today. I understood their perspective and the motivations for their actions. I like to say that we know what happened in history, but I write historical fiction to find out why.
Is the second installment of the Carolingian Chronicles in the works?
Yes. I’m about halfway through it. The current title is “Wheel of the Fates” and it picks up the family’s story about two months after Anvil ends.
When did you decide to become a writer?
Although it is my second career, I always hoped that someday I would write this book. It was a “bucket list” sort of thing (before we called them bucket lists). I don’t think I had the courage or confidence to pursue it earlier in my life. I also had to provide for my family and writing isn’t a very lucrative field to pursue.
That said, my first career required a great deal of writing and I found writing (whether opinion columns for the local newspaper, poetry, or short stories) was a creative outlet for me. As I grew older, my confidence grew as well – both that I could write and that I had something to say.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
About twelve years ago, I decided to take a stab at it. I toyed with writing a short story that pitted a young Charlemagne against the last of the Merovingian Kings. As the scenes began to unfold, I gave the characters their head and let them dictate where the story went. Somewhere along the way, the real world disappeared and the words poured out of me. Four hours later, I stopped writing. I was dripping in sweat and the scene I had written was so disturbing, I wouldn’t show it to anyone for weeks. Deep down, I knew then that I would be a writer. There was something about that purge that was both exhilarating and terrifying. (It was also the last time I let my characters fully dictate where the story goes).
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
Since I work in historical fiction, I know where the history takes the story. So, in that sense, I am working against an outline. And I do sketch out where the personal conflicts are between characters and try to follow a storyline.
It never works out that way, however. I find myself surprised by what happens on a regular basis. I am always revising based on where the characters take the story. And if they take it too far afield, somewhere that is contrary to the history, I’ll have to go back and change the character – build in a new backstory that shifts their priorities and motivation – otherwise he or she wouldn’t be true to character.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
Some people look at this story and think the history is going to be a heavy lift. I often hear people say, “I didn’t study that period in history” or “I don’t know enough about that time period.”
While this is a novel set in history, it is really just a story about a family in crisis. I once saw an interview with John-john Kennedy who was asked (for the gazillionth time) what it was like to grow up in the White House with such iconic figures as Jack Kennedy and Jackie O. John-john rolled his eyes and said, “to you, those people were mythical figures out of Camelot. To me, they were Mom and Dad.” That’s the way I wanted to tell this story – from the perspective of the sons and daughters, wives and brothers – it’s the story of their lives more than it is a history lesson.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Facebook: J. Boyce Gleason
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/jboycegleason
Boyce, many thanks for an informative interview on your novel, Anvil of God, and on your career as a writer. I appreciate your again for taking the time to share your thourghts with The Most Happy Reader. I for one anxiously await The Wheel of the Fates, Book Two of the Carolingian Chronicles.