I am very pleased to host guest blogger, K.M. Weiland, and her recently released novel, Behold the Dawn. Here, she answers some of the questions about her book and writing process that I felt my readers might like to ask. — Milli
What inspired Behold the Dawn?
I happened to pick up a children’s picture book about William Marshall, the “greatest knight who ever lived.” He was a second-born son who had to make his fortune by competing in the tourneys—the huge mock battles which were the predecessors of the slightly more civilized jousting tournaments. Despite being repeatedly banned by the popes, tourneys remained wildly popular until high mortality rates forced the sport to evolve into the more familiar (and much safer) jousting tournaments. After a long career as one of the most renowned tourneyers of the age, Marshall finally hung up his spurs and headed for the Holy Land to seek absolution.
I’ve always been drawn to the Middle Ages, and I was instantly intrigued by these gladiatorial battles and their juxtaposition with the Crusades. From there, my imagination just took off!
How long did it take to write?
From the day I began my outline to publication was a journey of five years. I spent about six months outlining and researching, a year writing, and the rest of the time alternately letting the project sit and editing it. For some reason, I usually can’t gain enough objectivity to really see a project until I finish the next one. So I was also actively writing my next story during that time.
What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
The beginning. The first fifty pages of any project is almost always the most difficult part for me. Even though I outline extensively, everything changes when I sit down to begin that first chapter. Acclaimed short story writer Josip Novakovich explains it well when he says, “The plot outline is like a game plan in basketball or football. It can look good on a chart, but once the ball flies, it does not suffice…. The plan is not sacred: it shifts, depending on the position of the players on the field and on the flight of the ball in the wind.” As my writing journal bears out by way of a whole month’s worth of disgruntled, frustrated entries, it took me awhile to settle into the story’s rhythm. For a while there, I even despaired of ever making it work. But, eventually, things started falling into place. Ironically, from about the fifty-page mark on, this one of those stories that just flow.
How do you strike a balance between research and getting the writing done?
In between outlining and actually writing the novel, I set aside several months strictly for research. Since I’ve already outlined the story, I have a good idea of what questions I need to answer in my research, and by the time I actually start writing, I’ve established a solid base of facts on which to build my fiction. Of course, I’ll likely encounter new questions as I go, but most of these are easily answered with just a quick trip to Google.
While writing Behold the Dawn, did you have any really deadening episodes of fear of writing? If so, how did you get through it? (And, if not, what is your secret?)
Oh yes! “Really deadening” just about covers it, in fact. All novels have their own adventures, their own quandaries, and their own vacillations between doubt and sheer terror. But Behold gained its own black mark of infamy as the story that had me questioning whether or not I should actually be pursuing writing at all. At one point, early on, I even decided to just drop the story and take a break, so I could figure myself out. But the story would not let me go. I was back at it again the very next day.
So I guess the pithy answer would be that I just kept working through it. I didn’t stop; I kept writing every single day. And praying and pondering and banging my head against the keyboard a few hundred times a week! But perseverance won out. I battled past the period of doubt and emerged stronger for it.
Do you have a writing rhythm that fits into your average day? Or do you just write whenever you can carve out some time for it?
I’m a bit of an organizational freak. I like to have my day scheduled down to the minute, whenever possible (which has been less and less often this past crazy year!). I write for two hours every day, from four in the afternoon to six. I chose this time because it allowed me to get all the other chores of life out of the way and gave me something to look forward to at the end of the day. My writing is definitely routine, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have to carve out time. I guard my writing time with a machete and a flamethrower. Woe to the poor fool who dares infringe upon it!
While writing your novel, what did you hold before you as the burning goal? Was it word count? Reader satisfaction? Resolution for your main character? A little of everything?
I don’t focus on word count. And I try to think about the readers as little possible, since knowing that someone else is going to be reading and judging my work is a terrifying thought! Honestly, I write, first and foremost, for myself. And I push on toward “the end” simply because I want the satisfaction of finishing. I don’t allow myself to move onto a new story until the current one is completed, so I always have that sense of eagerness to begin something new, in addition to the pleasure of finishing in itself.
Do the fears of your main character relate to any of your fears about your own writing?
Unconsciously enough, my fictional themes invariably seem to reflect my own life. Behold the Dawn features the theme of a new beginning in each day, of wiping out the mistakes of the past, and trying again. And I definitely encountered plenty of that in writing this book. Writing novels is a long-distance marathon. You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, focusing on the terrain directly in front of you, breathing in, breathing out, and doing your best to ignore how impossibly far away the finish line seems.
What advice would you give to a writer who is just starting out in this genre?
First and foremost, my advice to the author of any genre is to embrace the joy of writing. Embrace the quirkiness, embrace the adventure, embrace even the uncertainty. Art of any kind isn’t worth pursuing without passion. So never forget why you’re writing. If ever you wake up and discover that the passion is gone, then it probably isn’t a lifestyle worth continuing. So cherish your passion, and nurture it.
As for specific advice for historical novelists, I would, of course, stress research—but not at the expense of imagination. The key to successful historical fiction is to so seamlessly combine what you know to be true with what you imagine to be true that the readers can’t tell where truth and fiction are joined.
—–About the Author: K.M. Weiland writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She is the author of A Man Called Outlaw and the recently released Behold the Dawn. She blogs at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and AuthorCulture.
Behold the Dawn
Synopsis: Marcus Annan, a tourneyer famed for his prowess on the battlefield, thought he could keep the secrets of his past buried forever. But when a mysterious crippled monk demands Annan help him find justice for the transgressions of sixteen years ago, Annan is forced to leave the tourneys and join the Third Crusade.
Wounded in battle and hunted by enemies on every side, he rescues an English noblewoman from an infidel prison camp and flees to Constantinople. But, try as he might, he cannot elude the past. Amidst the pain and grief of a war he doesn’t even believe in, he is forced at last to face long-hidden secrets and sins and to bare his soul to the mercy of a God he thought he had abandoned years ago.
The vengeance of a monk.
The secrets of a knight.