Today I’m enjoying a chat with my good friend Charlene Newcomb, who writes a fascinating series of historical fiction novels set in the 12th century. Char’s books not only combine great storytelling with superb research, they embrace the hidden side of chivalry – a loving relationship between men. Char, welcome, and thanks for coming! Let’s get started.
What music do you listen to when you write (or don’t you)
When I’m not writing, I may listen to the Beatles, Queen, Billy Joel, John Denver, the Carpenters, or liberation (my 1970s all-girl rock band), to name a few.
I admire writers who can listen to music and write their battle scenes accompanied by Bach or Led Zeppelin. I can’t do it. On the other hand, I’m perfectly fine sitting in a crowded coffee shop with voices droning on around me. I can tune them out, and actually spent most of my writing time (until recently) in a local establishment.
Fortunately, I have been able to adapt to working at home and staring out at my big (and right now) green backyard listening to the birds and watching the rabbits.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Writing can be such a solitary endeavor, but one wonderful benefit of the Internet has been the chance to connect with writers all over the world through social media, and in some instances, via video chats. We share writing and marketing tips, celebrate our successes, encourage each other in hard times, and of course, solve ALL the world’s problems. (Don’t we wish!)
Locally, I started with my current writers group more than 10 years ago. We meet almost every week throughout the year. The majority of us are locals, but two attend virtually – originally via speakerphone, but now via Google Hangouts. And life with COVID-19 means we all come in virtually these days.
Feedback from my writers group has been invaluable. In our weekly sessions we do oral critiques of each other’s works. They point out the rough spots, what works or doesn’t work for them. They also tell me the things they love, which is definitely something you want – and need – from a critique group. Two of the group have editorial experience, and have given me detailed feedback on my novels. I know my writing has improved, but there’s always room for more improvement!
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections or themes between each book?
The books in my medieval 12th century series, Battle Scars, could be read as standalones, but I highly recommend starting with Book I, Men of the Cross. It delves into the horror of war and its impact on a young knight. The series is historical fiction with a romance sub-plot – and the romance is a key element. In it, the knights Sir Henry and Sir Stephan become friends, brothers-in-arms, and then lovers.
The knights return in my current WIP, but it is a secondary character from Battle Scars, Sir Robin, who is one of two protagonists. Rogue is not a sequel to the series. The reader will be able to dive right into this Robin Hood tale, which takes place in 1216 near the end of King John’s reign. The connection with my original trilogy stems from Robin’s sour relationship with John, dating back to John’s traitorous activities during King Richard I’s reign.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Make the time to write!
Specific to your newest release, what kind of research did you do, and how long did it take you?
I don’t think I ever stop researching the medieval period, mostly the 12th-13th centuries. My first in-depth research in 2008 began with a translated contemporary work called Chronicle of the third crusade : A translation of the itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis ricardi. That work, written around 1201, was an invaluable resource for Men of the Cross. I proceeded to read biographies, histories, journal articles, website posts, and books and articles on sexuality in the Middle Ages. I love following up on the references cited in those works. I’ve also been able to visit a number of places in England where Books II & III of my series take place, including Nottingham, Lincoln, and York.
When you did your research, did it change your plot or your characters significantly?
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but 21st century Nottingham Castle doesn’t look anything like the 12th century castle. I couldn’t have my characters attacking this gatehouse, which wasn’t built until the 1250s. King Richard I, the Lionheart, does besiege the castle in 1194 (in Book II of my series), but the gatehouse and walls of the lower bailey were wooden. Works like Nottingham Castle: A Place Full Royal gave me a more complete image of the setting.
Another area I read up on was sexuality in the Middle Ages since my protagonist falls in love with another man in Book I. Some critics would say I’m writing gay fantasy, or trying to place 21st attitudes in the 12th century. Certainly, the medieval Church did not tolerate same-sex relationships – and that is a huge conflict that Sir Henry wrestles with throughout Men of the Cross. The Church had tremendous influence on the lives of individuals, but people ‘broke the rules’ despite the possibility of eternal damnation. Most, I assume, asked for forgiveness, but surely there were rebels, like my character Sir Stephan, who questioned (and regularly flouted) Church teachings. As Stephan asks Henry: How can loving another person be a sin?
Quick Q & A
Tea or Coffee? Coffee AM, tea (decaf usually) PM
Dark or Milk Chocolate? Dark, or any chocolate with caramel.
When were you the happiest? I just retired from my day job as a librarian, so I think I can say “now!”
Favourite Children’s Book? I was always a Dr. Seuss fan, but also loved Winnie the Pooh. As I got a little older, I was hooked on Nancy Drew. I’m surprised I didn’t want to write mysteries!
Favourite Adult Novel? Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
Charlene Newcomb is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical fiction filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. She is currently working on a new medieval tale set during King John’s reign; and in summer 2020 will publish Echoes of the Storm, a sci fi/space opera filled with rebels and traitors and battles and romance in a galaxy far, far away (no, not Star Wars). Find her books on Amazon & connect with Char on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or her website.