Hello everyone,

Research is a constant, ongoing process while writing historical fiction. Sometimes a fascinating tidbit surfaces that might be of particular interest beyond its use in a novel. As I continue to work in the historical fiction field, I will post those occasional points of interest here. Occasionally I muse on the writing process as well along with news to keep readers informed of what's going on with my books and other writings.

Please feel free to post comments--I'd love to hear from you.

The photo above is of Snowdonia in North Wales, which plays a large part in the setting of the Macsen's Treasure Series.


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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Interview with the Steamboat Today

Local author finds mystery in history
By Margaret Hair Saturday, December 12, 2009

Steamboat Springs — Kathi Guler jumped into a 27-year writing project after what she calls “a moment of great egotism.”

“Originally, it was going to be one book, just to see if I could do it,” the Steamboat Springs author, who writes under the name Kathleen Cunningham Guler, said about her four-part Macsen’s Treasure Series.

“I had read this other historical novel that I didn’t find very good. I thought, ‘Gosh, I could do better than that,’” she said.

That was in February 1982. Sixteen years, a library of books worth of reading and a research trip to the United Kingdom later, Guler had “Into the Path of the Gods,” the first book in her series.

With almost 10 years behind her since that first release, Guler is promoting the fourth and final Macsen’s Treasure novel, a historical spy thriller called “A Land Beyond Ravens.” She will sign copies of the book and answer questions at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Epilogue Book Co.

“A Land Beyond Ravens” closes the evolution of Guler’s main character, a fifth century British spy named Marcus ap Iorwerth. Marcus and his wife, Claerwen, work through the series to unite factions to defend against a Saxon invasion.

“I’ve always been interested in history, and when I read Mary Stewart’s ‘Merlin Trilogy,’ that got my interest going,” Guler said about the series. She flipped to the further reading section of Stewart’s books and started plowing through the listed titles. Guler has built her own library of about 1,000 books on related topics, she said.

“The history behind this time is very interesting. I probably would have been an archaeologist if I hadn’t done everything else in my life,” she said.

Guler’s series takes place in the last third of the fifth century, around the time King Arthur is supposed to have lived. The mystery and lack of documentation from that time inspired Guler — who also credits some of her interest to her Scottish and Welsh ancestry — to frame her story as a spy novel with Marcus as the leading role, she said.

“He’s kind of one of these James Bond meets MacGyver meets Braveheart kind of characters,” she said. Guler hopes fans come away from the series with more than a good read.

“One thing I like for people to take away from the series is how resilient people are. Even in times of war and great stress and disaster, we’re resilient, and we try to find a way out of it. I think that’s the appeal people find in the Arthurian legend,” she said.

The Steamboat Springs Writers Group offered workshop tips for the second, third and fourth Macsen’s Treasure books. Guler moved to Steam­boat Springs in 1990 and has been a member of the writers group since 1998. At weekly meetings, Guler’s peers pointed out any gaps in plot or character development or dialogue in a way that was honest but not critical, she said.

There are ideas for a new project, possibly a series of interconnected short stories set in different historical periods, she said.

Books from the Macsen’s Treasure Series are available locally at Epilogue and online at www.amazon.com and other online booksellers, as well as at Guler’s publisher’s Web site, www.bardsongpress.com.
Photo credit: John F. Russell from Steamboat Today

Sunday, November 01, 2009

On Writing Historical Fiction

Daydreaming is a good thing. Some will disagree, like one of my grade school teachers who asked the question: “what’s first person singular of the verb ‘to be’?” She followed with, “You look like you’re daydreaming,” and called my name. I answered flippantly, “I am,” meaning I was, in truth, daydreaming and had not heard the question. By coincidence, it was the right answer. Miffed that she hadn’t embarrassed me, she scowled and moved on to the next daydreamer.

Indeed, I don’t remember what I was daydreaming about then, but it very well could have been of knights in shining armor, the Three Musketeers, or that clever fellow Zorro of early California. To escape the present world and seek the adventure of another time and place always felt comfortable back then. The truth? Still does! Inexplicably, being transported to another time has a certain appeal. Is it ladies in long dresses? Big hunky men in kilts? Exotic languages no longer spoken? Great sword fights? Sea battles? Who knows?

The daydreaming eventually led to an insatiable interest in history after watching the BBC’s “The Six Wives of Henry VIII.” Visualizing the Tudors’ lives made me understand that history examines the dynamics of people’s actions and is not the dull, dry business it’s been made out to be by countless school systems. By the time I attended university, I found my favorite studies of art, music, literature and drama were all closely interconnected by their histories. So much to discover!

Throughout the decades that followed, the fascination remains strong. The desire to communicate that interest manifested in the form of historical fiction. This took a lot of learning, patience and persistence. Writing historical fiction goes far beyond simply telling a story set in another time. It’s many disciplines: the historian’s craft of performing thorough, solid research to recreate the world of another era; the art of the written word; and the intuition—the creative daydreaming—that takes the spark of an idea for a story and gives it the fire to unfold in all its power.

After writing four books, I still wonder why certain eras intrigue me, some quite strongly. Is it my Welsh and Scottish ancestry? Dark Age Britain’s Celtic culture draws my attention the most and began doing so long before I discovered my heritage. Is it something as ethereal and unprovable as reincarnation? Sometimes dreams and images come to me so fiercely while I’m writing that they seem more like memories than imagination. Or is it the challenge to puzzle together what happened long ago and find the story within that context?

I wonder what that grade school teacher would say if she knew where my daydreams have taken me. With apologies to Descartes: I write, therefore “I am”?

Monday, October 19, 2009

USA Book News: Best Books Awards 2009

Great news! A LAND BEYOND RAVENS is a finalist in The National Best Books 2009 Awards in the Fiction & Literature: Historical Fiction category! Woo-hoo!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Literary Sojourn - 2009

I love this event! Literary Sojourn is a fabulous annual gathering held each fall in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, that brings together a handful of critically acclaimed authors to speak to about 500 attendees. This was the tenth I’ve attended. This year we had John Darnton, Jayne Anne Phillips, Linda Hogan, Amitav Ghosh and Richard Bausch speaking, plus Erin McKean as Master of Ceremonies. The authors speak on topics that can range anywhere from the writing process, to career paths, to the background of one or more of their books, to where an idea or observance created the spark that turned into a story.

I always come away with something of value. It can be a new idea of how to approach a story, a sense of validation that these highly acclaimed authors go through similar experiences that I have as a writer, or simply some inspiration. Even after many years of experience in writing, and having written and published four novels of my own, there’s always more to learn, to hone, to explore, to raise to a higher level. Being in this position, I actually find this kind of event more valuable than going to many of the writer’s conferences or workshops out there—so many of those are geared towards beginners. (Unfortunately, money and time don’t allow me to attend the better conferences.)

These are what I felt were the highlights:

Amitav Ghosh, from Calcutta, India, spoke of how so many books tell of the arrival of immigrants in new countries. He writes instead of the difficulty of leaving the old country, especially one like India that has roots in an incredibly old civilization and the land is even part of the religion. This got me to thinking about some of the things I’ve written on Celtic culture that also reveres the land. As people from Asia’s many cultures have been far flung across the world, so have Celtic people been spread in a diaspora. My own Welsh and Scottish ancestors were part of that vast migration.

Jayne Anne Phillips spoke of kismet. What an interesting surprise when she revealed that while finalizing her book, “Lark and Termite,” without foreknowledge, the name of one of the characters turned out to be nearly identical to that of a survivor of a historical incident on which the book is based. I had a similar spine-tickling experience which I’ve blogged about here before. When I needed to name a character in A Land Beyond Ravens who would eventually become one of King Arthur’s warriors, I searched through many long compilations of names associated with Arthur’s armies. The character was the son of a long dead man called Taran. In the form of Welsh patronymics, the new character would be ‘so-and-so’ ap (son of) Taran. The search paid off unexpectedly: I found a name, Glinyeu ap Taran. Yes, kismet!
(See my earlier entry:http://kathleenguler.blogspot.com/2008/09/what-was-that-fellows-name.html)

Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw poet and novelist, also hit a chord that resonated with me. She spoke of the language crows and ravens have and how they communicate with not only each other, but us as well. My husband and I experience that every day. We have somewhere between fifty to a hundred crows that live in our neighborhood. They interact with us, talking in their varied and intricate language. They leave no doubt as to what they mean, and it is not just that they want food. They enjoy companionship as well. They are intelligent, playful birds and have adopted us into their family and territory. The best highlight of my day was the gift of sitting for a few minutes with Linda and talking with her about these wonderful creatures while she signed my copy of her book, Mean Spirit.

In all, a very enjoyable, satisfying day. If all goes well, I’ll be back for number eleven!

See http://www.literarysojourn.org/ for additional information.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Announcing...Blog Tour Schedule!

I will be on a virtual book tour for my new book A Land Beyond Ravens, starting 5 October. Here are the stops I'll be making. Please stop by and feel free to leave some comments!

5 Oct: The Plot http://theplotline.wordpress.com/

5 Oct: Historically Obsessed http://historicallyobsessed.blogspot.com/

6 Oct: The Plot http://theplotline.wordpress.com/

7 Oct: Book Madness http://bookmadness.wordpress.com/

8 Oct: The Review From Here http://www.reviewfromhere.com/

9 Oct: Marta's Meanderings http://martasmeanderings.blogspot.com/

12 Oct: The Fantasy Pages http://fantasy-pages.blogspot.com/

13 Oct: The Book Connection http://www.thebookconnectionccm.blogspot.com/

14 Oct: In My Youth http://inmyyouth.wordpress.com/

14 Oct: HistFic Chick http://histficchick.blogspot.com/

15 Oct: Historical Novel Reviews http://historicalnovelreview.blogspot.com/2009/09/land-beyond-ravens-by-kathleen.html

16 Oct: The Writer's Life http://www.thewriterslife.blogspot.com/

19 Oct: Zensanity http://zensanity.blogspot.com/

20 Oct: Just Me http://jenerahealy.com/2009/09/25/a-land-of-ravens-by-kathleen-cunningham-guler/

21 Oct: Divine Caroline http://divinecaroline.com/

21 Oct: American Chronicle http://americanchronicle.com/

22 Oct: The Hot Author Report http://www.thehotauthorreport.blogalogues.com/

23 Oct: The Hot Author Report http://www.thehotauthorreport.blogalogues.com/

26 Oct: Book Tours and More http://booktoursandmore.blogspot.com/

26 Oct: Historical Tapestry http://historicaltapestry.blogspot.com/

27 Oct: Scribe Vibe http://www.scribevibe.blogspot.com/

28 Oct: Café of Dreams http://cafeofdreams.blogspot.com/

29 Oct: The Tome Traveller http://thetometraveller.blogspot.com/

30 Oct: The Story Behind the Book http://thestorybehindthebook.wordpress.com/


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Land Beyond Ravens Released 30 Sept, 2009

Today is the day! A Land Beyond Ravens is now available! Please see the link to the Macsen's Treasure Series blog for reviews, interviews and more!

Buy from Amazon.com
P.S.: Pay no attention if Amazon's saying "ships in 1 to 2 months"--they are only temporarily out of stock and will have more available very shortly, if not already!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Review by Reader Views

I was utterly blown away by this new review. With glowing reverence, he touches on all the points I hold most dear in writing historical fiction. It's especially gratifying as well because the reviewer is an expert in Arthurian lore and history and an accomplished writer himself.

Click here to read:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Give that bishop a name!

Sometimes, when writing a minor character into a historical novel, it’s not necessary to name the character if he or she isn’t terribly significant or doesn’t recur. Their purpose can be achieved through action alone. However, once in a while, research will offer an unexpected treat.

While writing A LAND BEYOND RAVENS, I needed to know if the title and function of bishop in the Christian church had come into existence by the fifth century in Britain. Specifically, I wanted to know about the area in what is now called Rhôs in North Wales. I often use the Catholic Encyclopedia for facts on early church history, although to pinpoint something in such a particular location and in so early a time is difficult, if not impossible. Eventually I determined that bishops were indeed in office then but ruled with much less authority than in later times.

Then I came across an official website from the Diocese of Bangor, North Wales, which includes Rhôs. In an article by Dr. Enid Pierce Roberts, I learned that Bangor is the oldest of the Welsh dioceses. Its origins stem from the arrival of St. Deiniol and a group of monks, who built the first church there and enclosed it and its surroundings in a wattle fence—a “bangor.” The community that lived within the enclosure included the monks, married secular clergy and lay people.

Deiniol’s arrival in Bangor is dated as AD 525—much too early for the book’s setting in the 480’s. It is also known that Christianity, especially in remote places in the kingdoms of what is now Wales, was slow to take root. However, in the Bangor area, a number of inscribed stones remain to this day that date to the late fifth or early sixth century, attesting that Christians did live in Rhôs earlier than Deiniol’s arrival.

Dr. Roberts notes that on one stone at Eglwys Rhôs (Rhôs Church), the name Sanctinus is inscribed. And…he is commemorated as sacerdos—which translates from Latin as a priest or even a bishop! A second stone mentions Bivatigirnus, also called sacerdos, and is located at Trescawen (Llangwyllog) on the island of Anglesey. On further investigation, my search was rewarded with the information that Sanctinus also had a less stuffy sounding name: Seithin. Perhaps he took the Latinized name during his rise within the church’s hierarchy. We don’t have exact dates for the two men, but that their stones pre-date the official establishment of the first church in Rhôs is significant enough that they could fit into the 480’s or thereabouts. The dates given in my books are there mostly as guideposts for the passage of time. I’d never claim that they should be taken as absolute concrete. As historian Geoffrey Ashe says: “…it would usually be pretentious to give even a ‘circa’ date…” when dealing with Dark Age Britain.

I never expected to find a name, let alone two, plus locations attached to each. What a reward! And it was especially so because one of the antagonists in the story is Cadwallon, king of Gwynedd, who had his home at Bod-ys-gollen, Rhôs, and was going to build a new capital at Aberffraw on the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn), not so far from Trescawen! Perfect set up for conflict!

Perhaps it’s a bit pretentious on my part to have attached these two historical names to a pair of minor characters, but it’s hard to ignore that these folks existed around the right time and served in a function fitting to the story. Perhaps fictionalizing them gives them actions they never would have performed. But nailing down names and places gives the reader something more to latch on to than some generic fellow simply referred to as “the bishop.” As it’s been said, the devil is in the details. Maybe in this case the details are in the bishops.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

So nice to be recognized!

What a treat! In recent months—mostly by mere chance—I’ve discovered that one or more of my novels in the Macsen’s Treasure Series has been noted in bibliographies or encyclopedias. All are in sections that highlight Arthurian fiction written by modern authors. Recognition is such a satisfying thing!

I had been aware for years that supplements to The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, edited by Norris J. Lacy, were to include mentions of my books, but I had no idea how this would come about. I doubted this book’s publisher would reissue the entire book as it is large and expensive to produce and not exactly a bestseller. However, an email surfaced from the International Arthurian Society (I’m a member) announcing updated information about the University of Rochester’s Camelot Project. Lo and behold, included was information about the supplements. They are incorporated into a series of annual books entitled Arthurian Literature, published by D. S. Brewer. Into the Path of Gods and In the Shadow of Dragons were listed in the supplement printed in Volume XXII of this series! And…The Anvil Stone will be mentioned in an additional supplement to be included in Volume XXVI, reportedly forthcoming this year. To be associated with Norris Lacy’s New Arthurian Encyclopedia is like finding the Holy Grail for an Arthurian fiction writer!

Another notation can be found in Mike Ashley’s The Mammoth Book of King Arthur, published in 2005. This one mentions my first two books, Into the Path of Gods and In the Shadow of Dragons. The Anvil Stone was published a year after Ashley’s book came out. Into the Path of Gods was also noted in Cindy Mediavilla’s book, Arthurian Fiction: An Annotated Bibilography, released in 1999. Unfortunately, neither described the books accurately, one even misspelled a character’s name. While I am grateful for these two notations, I’m also rather mystified as to why they both say the books are for “young adults.” No, the books are definitely adult fiction. If they were movies, they would certainly receive an “R” rating for sex and violence. Nowhere have my books ever been categorized for a YA audience.

And yesterday, on a more uplifting line, while browsing through Amazon.com for something completely different, I ran across Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading, by Kenneth Womack. This is a reference book for librarians and costs $400 new! But using Amazon’s “search inside the book” function, I see this eight-pound tome has five, count ‘em, FIVE! references to the Macsen’s Treasure Series. In a section on Arthurian fiction the author compares the various treatments of characters in recent novels. He mentions all three of mine at different points, plus he gets the information correct! Thank you! They are also listed in two places in the back of the book. Hot diggity!

It will be interesting to see where the series is mentioned next, once the fourth book, A Land Beyond Ravens, is released in September. Huzzah, for search engines.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Me timbers are too stout to shiver!

Since the decision came about to re-edit the first book of the Macsen’s Treasure series, INTO THE PATH OF GODS, I knew a number of historical points needed to be corrected as well as some other logistical issues. One scene that originally took place along a roadside needed to be moved to a more logical location and will now take place on a trading ship. While the updated scene provides the same storyline and character pathways, it will now make more sense and have more impact. As result I needed to check into a little seafaring history of fifth century Britain.

Unfortunately, maritime archaeological finds for that timeframe is scant. However, we do have the remains of two Romano-British ships discovered in the River Thames, one of which was located at Blackfriars beneath 20 feet of water at high tide. It was excavated in 1962-63. This ship is thought to have been built by native British shipwrights in the second century AD, putting it quite earlier than the period of Arthur, but it is also thought to be of the type already in use in Britain since before the Roman invasion. It is probably indicative of the type of ship still in use in the latter half of the fifth century.

Based on this conjecture, I have patterned the vessel in the book after the Blackfriars ship. The following list encompasses the basic facts that the archaeologists recorded.

· Built carvel style
· Hull entirely of oak
· Hull planking had massive floor timbers 12” wide, 8-1/2” thick
· Strakes were 2” thick and caulked with hazel twigs
· Strakes attached to floor timbers with special 29” nails
· Nails were driven through the strakes and floor timbers
· Ends of the nails’ shanks hammered over to embed the tip into the timbers
· No keel; two central planks instead, 2’2” wide, 3” thick
· Beam of about 22’
· Overall length about 55’
· Depth more than 7’ amidships
· Bottom nearly flat, enabling ship to rest evenly at low tide
· Chine angle 30-35°
· Oak planks covered cargo area in central part of ship
· Mast-step: a rectangular socket about one-third of ship’s length from bow
· Bronze Roman coin found in the mast-step as a votive offering
· Assumed only one square sail on one mast
· Must have been a deck, due to depth of ship
· May have been a cabin on deck in the stern
· Cargo had been building stone when ship sank

Some definitions:
Carvel-built: the planks are all flush from keel to gunwale. Planks are smooth-seamed.
Chine: the angle where the side and bottom of a hull join
Gunwale (pronounced GUN-nel): the upper edge of a ship’s side
Stem: a timber forming the front extremity of the ship
Strake: a row of planking on the side or bottom of a ship from stem to stern on the outside of the hull.

The information here comes from George F. Bass’s book A History of Seafaring, published back in 1972. The illustration shows how a reconstruction of the ship might look.
I am currently awaiting delivery of another book which will hopefully have more recent archaeological discoveries mentioned in it. If any of you maritime experts out there know of any good resources on fifth century (or thereabouts) seafaring, please feel free to send a comment with any leads. While the ship in the re-edited scene is not terribly significant, I’m always appreciative of good information. If it doesn’t suit this book, it could very well be useful for another one in the future. Knowledge is a good thing!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Renditions of Camelot: Discussion of In the Shadow of Dragons

The following is excerpted from the Renditions of Camelot discussion group (on Yahoogroups.com) . My second book, IN THE SHADOW OF DRAGONS, was the April 2009 selection.

Karen: Hope you don't mind me asking about the book cover. Are there other editions? I mean, did you put in a request for a more life-like dragon to be on the front cover, or perhaps a picture of Macsen holding a sword? Do authors have any control over the choice of the cover art that ultimately ends up on the book cover?

Mark: I like the cover. The dragon reminds me of the dragon on the Welsh flag--stylized but more detailed than the Welsh dragon.

Jacqui: I like it too. It is a cheerful looking dragon:) I like the way in which the ring of Celtic knots takes the eye around the title. I like the title design, the whole cover is clean & crisp & to the point. I think I prefer 'designs' rather than realistic covers. Oh & one more thing I like the colours - the green,red & yellow look superb:)) It looks as if Kathleen's name has been missed off the cover but the pic I used has concentrated on the artwork rather than the book (if you see what I mean!)Did you have input Kathleen?

Kathleen: (who has a Welsh flag hanging on her office wall) The dragon actually was adapted from the one on the flag. I think they did a wonderful job of it. They started out with a green dragon on a kind of creamy colored background with scales, but I insisted it had to be red. Had to really put my foot down on that one. Along with the shadow, I think it reflects the title very well. And the title, as you will see, comes from something Myrddin says, like in all the other books. :-)

Laurel: Absolutely! And it was that so recognizably Welsh dragon that attracted me to read the book 8 years ago.Now, I've promised myself to reread the first book in the series first, so I'd better get going! It shouldn't be difficult. As I recall, I could hardly put the books down...

Joan: I was especially taken by that shadow, so I'm glad you mentioned it. The whole thing is quite meaningful. This will be your first book that I have read, so I'm looking forward to it. I've saved your website link in my favorites so I can go back to it as I think of questions, etc. Jacqui, you asked about how much input the author is allowed. We've all heard the horror stories that authors have no say at all, and that may be true of the huge publishers. However, I think it may depend on how good the suggestions are (as with Kathleen's current cover). I know my small publisher told me, "Don't count on it. Authors seldom understand how to capture the essence because they're too close to it." Then she contacted me to say the ideas I requested were actually "pretty good," and her cover designer followed the suggestions almost to the letter. My point is this: Kathleen, you DID capture the essence--colors, dragon, knots, and all.

Kathleen: It did take a bit of arm-twisting, but I'm glad I had the nerve to open my big mouth. The designer actually came up with the shadow.

Jacqui: I forgot to mention the shadow which is a very good twist from the designer!! Strange that in general they don’t have to read the book! Presumably they just work on inspiration that the title gives them!!

Kathleen: How much say depends on the publisher and probably a lot with the author's relationship with the editor, and how much clout the editor has within the hierarchy (or budget committee!). I've been very lucky this way. To say an author is too close to it is kind of insulting, isn't it? Who better to give suggestions? The designer doesn't read the book and when it comes to historical periods, often has no sense at all for what's appropriate or makes gross generalizations.

Jacqui: Good heavens - yes it is. If the designer isn’t expected to read the book then the author is the only person who can give an insight into how they see the cover & what the book is about!!

Kathleen: I don't know if you're familiar with Elizabeth Chadwick's books, but I have an old copy of her "Daughters of the Grail" in mass market paperback. It has the typical 'historical romance' kind of picture with the lovely young girl (in pink, no less!) on a horse. Looks like it belongs in an eight-year old's bedroom (think My Pretty Pony toys, or something like that?).

Jacqui: We’ve had some like that on the List haven’t we:)))

Kathleen: The re-release that came out in 2006 has a much more appropriate tone to it and coordinates with all her other current books. I know she has some say in what goes on her covers, especially now that she's become very popular in the UK. I remember her saying she rejected one cover (can't remember which book) because the figure in the picture wore the wrong style clothing for the period. They acquiesced and came up with the right thing. Karen asked about different editions. DRAGONS is in hardcover and trade paperback. Both have the same cover design. I did originally request the dragon but I told them they had to make it a little different from the one on the flag due to international copyright laws. I wanted to evoke the Welsh dragon but not get in trouble for a direct copy. I knew it had to be at least 10% different because my husband had a logo from a club in his home country (Switzerland) that he wanted to adapt for our family business. The rule was 10%--change colors, put a little different clothing on a figure, stuff like that.

KipseeSox: I do have a comment on the cover too. I also really like the artwork, the Welsh looking dragon, the shadow, the knotting. But something is off for me. I think that it is the font style I don't care for, but maybe moreover, the placement of the lettering. But it's not a deterrent. It doesn't look like a romance novel so I'd certainly pick it up off the shelf.

Jacqui: Here is the link to Kathleen's website & blog: http://kathleenguler.com/ As we have you with us Kathleen, can you tell us something of your background & how you came to write this series. I remember from our discussions of INTO THE PATH OF GODS you said that you dreamt about Marcus & saw him in dreams. What was your inspiration for DRAGONS?

Kathleen: Let me give you my blog link too, as it has more info on it than the website: http://kathleenguler.blogspot.com/ I've been have much more fun with the blog than the website lately because it's so easy to add, dress up and rearrange than a website. I'd bet one of these days simple websites will fade away in favor of the ready-made blogs and sites like Facebook. I just joined facebook a few days ago--pretty easy to figure out.

Here is my 'official' bio: (which needs updating in a few places...sigh)

Kathleen Cunningham Guler is the author of the four-part Macsen's Treasure series of historical spy thrillers set in fifth century Arthurian Britain. She has twice won a Colorado Independent Publishers Award for fiction in 2002 and 2006, was a bronze medalist in the 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards, and was a finalist in the prestigious Eric Hoffer Book Award for fiction in 2007. She has also published numerous articles, essays, short stories, reviews and poems. A descendant of the Celtic nations of Wales and Scotland, the author is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the International Arthurian Society, and has studied Celtic history and Arthurian legend for nearly thirty years in both the United States and Great Britain. Her Macsen's Treasure series includes INTO THE PATH OF GODS, IN THE SHADOW OF DRAGONS, and THE ANVIL STONE. The fourth and final book, A LAND BEYOND RAVENS, will be published in September 2009.

Yes, this all started from a dream... That and my insatiable curiosity about certain periods and places in history, especially 5th century Britain. And like a bulldog, once I get hold of something, I won't let loose. Grr...

When I was getting close to publishing the first book, I was already kicking around the idea of extending into a trilogy, and the more I explored ideas, themes, characters, etc, I knew it needed four books to tell the complete story. At the time I was also intrigued (and still am) by the symbolism of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. If you read the Macsen's Treasure poem in the front matter, you'll see each piece of the treasure corresponds with one of the elements. The crown, the fifth piece, represents 'spirit' that ties the elements together.

The framework of DRAGONS follows the timeline of what happened after Ambrosius became high king, how Vortigern's son Pascentius (I've Romanized him) attempted to usurp the kingship, and goes on into the beginning of Uther's reign. Set against all that, Marcus, along with Claerwen, are thrust into the fray when Myrddin wants Marcus to thwart assassination attempts against Ambrosius. Whew!

William: I am starting the book tonight. The author's notes did a good job of setting the stage and I am hoping we will not have much trouble "catching up" where book one left off. Kathleen, did you create the poem "Macsen's Treasure" or derive it old texts? I thought it was very well done.

KipseeSox: I wanted to comment that I love it when authors add an introduction to their books, it really adds something to the story for me. I also appreciated the pronunciation guide and the map.

Jacqui: I do agree with you there:) Having an intro by the author or a preface or whatever somehow gives an insight into how they are thinking & how the book is written.

Kathleen: I'm so glad the notes are helpful. In this book and the third one we put them in front of the story instead of in the back so that readers would have a little guidance. It seemed that when they were in the back (with the first book),they were mostly ignored. The only problem with having the notes in the front is when Amazon does the "search inside the book" thing, the beginning line of the notes shows in the little preview blurb instead of the prologue or first chapter's first line. Arghhh! We're putting the notes in the back of the fourth book...

Laurel: Front or back, I always look, and read all the notes and any other material, before I start the book.

KipseeSox: Well, my first comment is WOW! Action packed! I don't often read such exciting novels - I love it! The story is really well thought out, all the twists and turns and exciting espionage. I am intrigued! I am also appreciative of the sneaky little insertions of the back story (found in Book One) that read naturally. It is easy to see so far that this is a book you can read alone. That being said, however, I've already ordered Book One and Book Three.

Joan: I'm just ready to read on to Chapter 7, and I'm thoroughly hooked. You show the actions and scenes clearly as well as all the nuances of the characters' actions and expressions. I knew from before that you would have Claerwen going along with Marcus, which I thought would be hard for you to justify, but you did it in a completely logical manner. I'm usually not crazy about omniscient viewpoint, but you carry off being in those two characters' heads with no confusion whatsoever.Wish I didn't have to quit reading to do other tasks.

Kathleen: Thank you! I am honored you're enjoying the book. Not just honored, thrilled! If anyone has any questions please feel free to ask away!

Bill: I just finished Chapter 1 and as a reader of action/adventure tales, Kathleen, I say that you do indeed know how to write action! I was immediately drawn right into the middle of it. You obviously know something about fights and about weaponry as well. It was logical for Marcus to throw aside the big sword, both because he wanted to question the attacker and also because in those close quarters it would have been more hindrance than help. I am certainly looking forward to the rest of the book. I've also ordered the first one, and I'm sure it will be equally intriguing. So many authors spend so much time getting the stage set that by the time the story begins, the audience has gone home. I'm glad to see that you are NOT one of those.

Jacqui: I agree with all Bill & the others have said about the action packed first scene. You certainly take your readers by the scruff of the neck & plunge them inot the Dark Age. I envied Marcus & Claerwen their bath, LOL Kathleen, when planning a chapter like that - how does it work? Do you plan it on paper, move by move or does the inspiration come as you write??Great start!

KipseeSox: The excitement just never lets up (not that I'm complaining)! I'm tearing my way through this novel and hate when it's time to put it away. I'll be done it soon, darn it!I, like Jac, was wondering your method of writing. Kathleen, do you come up with a plan, a summary as it were, and work off that or do you just dive right in telling the story, going back to elaborate after or what is it? I'm very interested to know the answer!

Kathleen: I've approached each one of my books differently, though now I've settled into a more defined pattern which comes with experience.With DRAGONS I just let my imagination run and wrote the first draft in about six months. Of course it needed a ton of revisions because the structure and characters suffered through the disorganized way it came about. I rewrote the last third of the book completely at least six times. (I lost count!)Now I start with a timeline of the historical setting, match a timeline of what I want the main characters to achieve against the historical part, then do a chapter by chapter outline. This guides me through the story more cleanly from the start and cuts down on some of the revisions. Of course in midst of writing, Marcus and Claerwen often lead me in other directions than originally planned and when I see they are right, I revise the outline and move on through the writing.

For me, the hardest scenes are fight scenes and love scenes. I always get stuck. For the fight scenes, I usually end up sketching in some ideas, read and re-read while trying to visualize the action, then rewrite over and over until it gets clear. It's probably similar to how a fight scene is choreographed for a movie. Can you imagine how many times they have to rehearse those complicated moves to make it look real? They probably film tons of action and have the editor patchit all together. Anyway, when I just can't make it work, I'll go watch one of those movies. (Hooray for DVD players!) "The Last Samurai" has some fabulous fight scenes. Very inspirational.

Mark: My wife learned how to set fights for the stage when she was studying theatre at the University of Missouri. The trick, apparently, is to tell a story through the fight, and have each character behave appropriately within the fight. It's handy having Adrianne around. Whenever I want to write a fight, I generally choreograph it with her, so I know the moves are plausible, writing notes as we go. Then I turn those notes into what I hope is compelling prose. You can't describe a long fight blow-by-blow, though. You have to break it up-spectator reactions, what's going on elsewhere, etc. For me, the most difficult part of writing is a battle scene. It's really difficult to get them right. The only author I know who can do it really well is Bernard Cornwell. Even Malory writes boring battle scenes!

Joan: Don't you just love when the characters assert themselves like that. I suspect that's what keeps us writing more than anything--characters who come alive and entertain their author!!!

Kathleen: Absolutely! It's probably one reason I still dream about them. They are sooooo real to me!

William: Just thought that I would add that I am enjoying the book and find your writing very articulate and descriptive. You do a great job of "painting the picture".

FYI- On fight scenes, I have found "Medieval Combat, A Fifteenth-Century Manual of Swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat" by Hans Talhoffer ( translated and edited by Mark Rector), Barnes &Nobles 2006, very useful. True, was it written and illustrated several hundred years after Arthur, but it is manual for using a broadswords and daggers and I suspect the basic techniques were similar. It illustrates many nifty moves that have not been exploited by Hollywood yet.

Kathleen: Thank you for this tip. I'm always looking for good reference books, and you're right--a lot of things do cross period lines (which are fuzzy at best). I have a book by John Clements called Medieval Swordsmanship which is also very good. Sometimes the author gets a little egotistical, as if he is the only one who knows anything, but the material is very useful.

Mark: I'm a little over halfway through IN THE SHADOW OF DRAGONS. I wanted to add that I think combining the genres of historical fiction, romance, and espionage thriller is a very clever and compelling one. I can't remember having read anything quite like that before! Very original!

Todd: Fight scenes are generally difficult for me as well; fortunately, my protagonist isn't a warrior and is likely to be on the sidelines at any of the big battles that he's present at.

Bill: Anyway, I wanted to say I've finished the first seven chapters, and am very favorably impressed. This book has all the things I like: It's an outdoor adventure, with excellent grasp of character and plotting, and it keeps moving right along. Some adventure wannabes write from an ivory tower with no real grasp of motivation, weaponry, or how to do action scenes. You excel at all. I was interested to see Marcus use a variation of the "sleeper hold." It is quite possible to render someone unconscious by pinching the carotid arteries. We cops use a variation of it called the unilateral vascular neck restraint. I've used it a few times on suspects far bigger and stronger than I, and it is quite effective without any lasting effects.

Kathleen: I was thinking Mr. Spock when I came up with that one. Hee, hee! But I think it works in this situation.

Bill: It's a fine story and I'm eager to continue with it. Good job, Kathleen!

Kathleen: Thank you! I'm very flattered! Blush...

KipseeSox: Finished the book a few days ago, So sad.

Jacqui: You enjoyed it then!!:)

KipseeSox: I was going to head into the third book...but maybe we'll do that one next year?

Jacqui: Probably if someone suggests it. Was there any particualr chapter you liked best? Who is your favourite character?

KipseeSox: I really did enjoy it, it was so exciting and I never knew where it was going next. Can't say there was really one specific chapter except that the story grabbed me right off the start (which is always a good thing). I liked all the characters really, can't say one in particular. The disguises were the funnest part. Remember when Claerwen told Marcus to cover up because his body and head didn't match, lol!

Kathleen: The disguises are a real challenge to write given the limitations on materials that could be used to create them. Also, to keep finding new disguises. But then, it wouldn't phase Marcus in the least...

KipseeSox: Myrddin was a neat character. I liked that he was the illegitimate son of a king, I don't know why...but I do. And finally Sinnoch...perhaps not my favourite character, as we didn't get much acquainted, but rather I loved how he factored into the story .....SPOILERS ALERT....I kinda had a feeling maybe he might become the adopted son they wouldn't have but was I ever surprised when it turned out he was the actual son! And, I, for the sake of the story, really appreciated that he didn't survive. I don't usually like it when a book wraps it up all so neat and pretty and everyone is gloriously happy ever after. It made the story more real, y'know?

Kathleen: Originally I thought Sinnoch would live and be important down the line in the later books, but I think it turned out better this way. He probably would have been a distraction from Marcus and Claerwen's story.

KipseeSox: Oh, and Kathleen, thank you for going easy on the lovey stuff. I know they're Husband and Wife and I was a little worried about that part...but, phew...it was a natural extension of the story, so all good. My husband has agreed to read it after I reassured him of that!

Kathleen: Glad that worked for you. The first book is heavier on it and as I am now re-editing it for the e-book version (and I still hope for a paperback edition), I will tone it down a bit so it has the same tone as DRAGONS and the others.

KipseeSox: Thankfully the book was good as a stand alone but I shall read Book One once I get it and I would like to do the third book for next year, I'll be sure to suggest when the time comes.

Bill: I'm about halfway into Kathleen's book and lovin' it, as they say about McDonald's--but it's a lot more enjoyable than a Big Mac and fries.

Kathleen: And less fattening too! LOL!

Bill: I finally finished the book and still have naught but praise for it. The plot was fast-paced, the characters believable, and Kathleen avoided some of the pitfalls of writing in third person by keeping the point-of-view narrowed to mainly two characters, rather than trying to show everyone's thoughts and actions, thus giving us a sense of "being there" with Marcus and Claerwen. Kathleen obviously knows a lot about combat with edged weapons. At the risk of being called a chauvinist, I will say that many female authors don't do their research on these matters and their action scenes lack credibility. Not so with Kathleen.

Kathleen: All that studying movie swashbucklers paid off, eh? LOL! I have a 40+ inch sword at home that I bought just to get the feel, though it's not a well made weapon. Marcus was a much better craftsman. Not that I practice with it--that would scare the you-know-what out of my husband, let alone the neighbours. When I went to the Scots Festival in Estes Park a few years back I checked out the sword booth there and got a feel for some really nice swords. Yum! And all those enormous fellows in kilts running around with Braveheart-style baldrics. Ahhhh! I was in heaven.

Bill: At first I was surprised that Marcus was only 26, but then I realized that in those times, 26 would be middle-aged.

Kathleen: He's 42 at the end of the 4th book, and now that I'm re-editing the first book, I have to go back to when he's 18 - 22. Really hard to do that. I like him best in the later years. Probably because I'm older too and can't relate to an 18 year old as easily now.

Bill: Also I was very happy to see an Arthurian adventure without magic!

Kathleen: That's why I bristle when it gets plugged into the fantasy category.

Bill: I was saddened when it was revealed that Sinnoch was dead--I was hoping to find that he was Arthur--but it was realistic to think that his kidnappers would not have let him live, knowing who he was. I found it refreshing too that Marcus was not a stone killer but avoided it when he could--probably a rare quality indeed in the fifth century.

Kathleen: I'm trying to remember how much that was addressed in the first book. Since I've only just begun the re-edit, I'm not that far yet, but it's something that probably needs to be emphasized more, probably when it's revealed he is the Iron Hawk. One of those ironic moments...

Bill: All in all, the book has all the elements needed for an excellent adventure/romance/spy story. Congratulations, Kathleen! I am happy to be a member of this august company that includes you, and now I'll get right onto reading the first book in this series!

Kathleen: This must be a record that so many of you finished a book so quickly (those who were able to get a copy early on, that is). I guess that means there was no slogging? :-)

Jacqui: Just wondering how you chose your titles ? Do they arise from the text or do you fit the text to the title?

Kathleen: Each title has come from something Myrddin says in each respective book. I chose a phrase that sums up the premise. In the first book he tells Claerwen, 'when you place yourself into the path of the gods, only they will show you where to go,' or something like that. He is talking about her visions leading her and Marcus to their destiny. It took me several tries to come up with that title and I love it though sometimes it annoys me that people think the book is about religion. Hah!

In the second book Myrddin is talking with Marcus and makes the observation that Marcus is 'content to walk in the shadow of dragons rather than to become the dragon itself.' He means that Marcus would rather work behind the scenes as a spy than seek aristocratic power.

THE ANVIL STONE was a no-brainer. Obviously it's the stone where Excalibur is hidden and Myrddin says 'now you know the secret of the anvil stone.

And...A LAND BEYOND RAVENS has Myrddin talking about Arthur's life mission to bring freedom and peace to the land and he says, "These lands have fed ravens with our dead for centuries. Arthur, at least during his time now, will raise us at last out of that endless ring of killing, and this will become known as a land beyond ravens." Sometimes the phrase in the dialogue was already set and I chose the title from that. Sometimes I already had the title in mind and just had to make sure it was somewhere in Myrddin's speech. Other times I had to coordinate them, deciding the title along with the phrasing of the dialogue. And before I decided on any title, I would do a search of amazon and google to make sure no one else was using it.

Jacqui: Thanks for explaining, I'd noticed that both titles so far had come up one of Myrddin's speeches. I think they are all good, interesting enough to catch the eye but also relevant to the stories. I particularly like A LAND BEYOND RAVENS-- looking forward to that one!

Karen: Since you're re-writing the scene where Marcus fights with a bunch of Irish mercenaries --- stopping in between to sample a Guinness and some shots of Irish whiskey, just kidding ;) ---how about elaborating on his fighting technique or "martial arts" style? We've heard about the arm-hold where he cuts off the blood flow to the head, but have you ever considered turning Marcus into an acrobatic warrior like Cuchulain, who was said to have stood upright on a horse galloping at high speed and danced atop spears stuck in the ground?

Kathleen: Sorry I'm so long in answering. (must be the stops along the way for the whiskey. Or was the scrumpy? Maybe it was the schapps... hiccup)

Anyway, in direct combat with one or a few others, Marcus is usually going to hit very hard and very fast to do as much damage as possible before he tires. That's also a way to not wear out the reader :-)He actually is rather acrobatic and known for his agility. I've had him somersault, drop and roll, and the stock whirl around and kick business. I don't know about dancing on spears--might need a new pair of boots after that, LOL! (Maybe that's one for Dancing with the Stars??? Do you get that show in Singapore?)

I think the only place he's ever used a shield is on foot in a full battle. Never in hand-to-hand combat--would get in the way when using a two-handed sword. I've watched a lot of swordplay in movies to see how they're staged. I hate the ones that are over-choreographed--they look so clumsy. I pick the best stuff from each scene and adapt them to Marcus's situation. One I liked was in "First Knight"--Lancelot (Richard Gere) uses a technique where he holds the sword with both hands, tip up, and whips it back and forth really fast before he attacks. It's meant to confuse the opponent.The throat pinch thing is more for when he sneaks up on somebody and just grabs them and quickly knocks them out. That wouldn't work in combat--too slow. Great in stealth moves.

William: It is a good read and it is hard to add to all the wonderful comments. I am about halfway - where Marcus has embarrassed Banawr and has seemingly been accepted by Pascentius. I am enjoying it thoroughly and looking forward to catching up on your other novels.

Kathleen: Thank you!

William: I always enjoy stories that take modern themes and play them in past or future settings. Stories like these reinforce my belief that the human psyche has changed little since Neolithic times.

Kathleen: Yes! I like to say that human nature will always be human nature and nothing ever changes except the technology. Like water finding its own level, people always look for something better, more happiness, more fun, etc.

William: Your story makes me wonder when the first story featuring a professional spy was written? Certainly, The Three Musketeers must be one of the oldest.

Kathleen: That's a great question. I wonder that too. Love the Three Musketeers. And the Scarlet Pimpernel. I'll have to look into that.

William: Is there an old or modern spy story that influenced or inspired you to move in this direction?

Kathleen: When I started to develop the concept for the series there wasn't any single story or character that influenced it. It was probably a combination of many things, both in the beginning and along the way. I remember my mother watched endless reruns of MacGyver. (Dang, no paperclips in the fifth century!) That must have rubbed off somewhere. Zorro. Musketeers. The Count of Monte Cristo. Braveheart. Connery's James Bond. Highlander. Mary Stewart's books. Books by the French authors Sergeanne Golon. My own Welsh and Scottish heritage (the Scottish side supported William Wallace's battle at Stirling Bridge). Probably a lot of things like that.

Joan: So-o-o glad to hear your forebears were on Mel Gibson's --er-uh-- Wallace's side!! I have always been told I have Scottish, Welch, and Irish blood--but I have no idea who they were or what they did. If must be wonderful to know. (Frankly, I know more about my Cherokee Indian ancestor.)Love your book--plan to go back and read the first.

William: I must confess that as I was enjoying your book, I was thinking that professional spies probably did not really exist in Arthur's time. Then I came across this fleeting passage in "King Arthur, Dark Age Warrior and Mythic Hero", John Matthews, Page 15, Gramercy Books/Random House 2004, concerning Vorimer, a son of Vortigern."Vortimer briefly took over his father's role and, being a far more sympathetic figure, suceeeded in raising an army to fight back against the Saxons. Indeed, he was so successful that he won several major victories against his father's former allies. Then Vortimer died suddenly - supposedly poisoned by a Saxon spy. "Perhaps spies were very active in those days of yore.

Todd: In Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vortimer is poisoned by Rowena, Hengist's daughter and Vortigern's wife - who thus takes on the classic role of "wicked stepmother". Rowena's motivation for poisoning Vortimer, though, is one of Geoffrey's clumsier moments. The obvious reason she would have for doing so is that Vortimer is defeating her father and her countrymen, and assassinating him would either turn the tide in their favor (by depriving the Britons of one of their best military leaders) or at least avenge them. Instead, however, Geoffrey has her possessed by a demon who is incensed at all the church-building that Vortimer has carried out following his victory over Hengist. Why Geoffrey came up with such a roundabout way of motivating Rowena when he had a much simpler and clearer reason at hand will probably remain an eternal mystery.

Kathleen: My guess is Geoffrey's 'reasoning' may be some of the 'ecclesiastical posturing' that's been said about him. In other words he was probably trying to impress the church (since he was a cleric) as well as the patron who was supporting his writing project. Your reasoning makes a whole lot more sense. :-)

Todd: I hadn't considered that, but it does sound plausible.

Bill: I'm not historian enough to state anything as factual, but didn't Aesop die under mysterious circumstances, and wasn't he an envoy to various other governments? Could have been there to ferret out information? I think I read that Chaucer went to other countries as a king's envoy or something like that too. Nothing says he was a spy, but it would seem to me that anyone doing those duties would certainly be expected to bring back information. Euripides was unpopular in some circles, wasn't he, especially after "The Trojan Women?" And wasn't he supposedly killed by the king's dogs in another country? Though no documentation seems to be present, or at least not much of it, it would seem possible that the gathering of intelligence would have been as important inancient times as it is now, and much harder to do since nobody had electronic devices or magic briefcases like Mr. Bond--James Bond.

Kathleen: I would venture that spies have been around as long as there have been people in powerful positions. They needed to know what their enemies were up to. And the enemies had their spies in return. The nature of a spy being secretive would also speak to the question as to why we don't know much or anything at all about historical spies. They probably didn't live long either, with all that sneaking around. (Or carousing if they were like James Bond???)It's the ones that try to set things right (Marcus!) who are a rarity.:-)))

Todd: Though he's clearly far away from history, Malory includes a touch of espionage in his "Le Morte d'Arthur". In the early part of the book, after King Pellinore has rescued Nimue from her abductor and they are returning to Camelot, they overhear a couple of knights who are spies for some of the kings who had rejected Arthur's authority; one of the knights had apparently been posted at Camelot and is making his report. He is uneasy about his discovery that Arthur has just set up the Round Table and has assembled so many fine knights as to make it almost impossible to defeat him in battle. The other knight, now on his way to court to take over spy's duties there, is less concerned, saying that he's bringing poison with him, and knows someone at Camelot close to Arthur who has been bribed by the hostile kings to administer it. The first knight warns him to beware of Merlin, lest he find out, but the second knight shrugs off the warning. Sadly, we never find out how this turned out (though obviously the poisoning must have failed) or who the traitor was.Malory also hints, when Morgause visits Arthur's court (leading to the incest that produced Mordred), that she had gone there in order to spy on him for her husband Lot.

Jacqui: I couldn’t think of a better way to describe the way you set your scenes than as 'spirit of the place'!! The descriptions of the physical landscape are excellent, especially considering you don’t know the area of N Wales well. I know you visited once, I remember you mentioning with regards to your first book but how do you get it 'so right' - you have a feel for the 'place':)) You even get the weather right!! How do you do it???

Kathleen: Must be in the blood?? It was so strange that before I knew where my ancestry really came from, I had always gravitated towards places that resemble North Wales. My favorite spot to go running (back in the old days when my joints could still take it) looked very much like one of those mountain valleys with a tarn cradled in the bottom. And where I live now in Colorado's mountains, it stays green most of the summer, compared to much of the American west that's mostly dry, dull, dusty desert. Another reminder of 'home.' You can imagine my surprise when I started realizing the similarities in the landscapes. One of those 'a-ha!' moments!I spend a lot of time looking for photos, studying topo maps, reading descriptions and watching weather webcams of the area. This helps a lot. So in a way I am fairly familiar with certain parts of the area. I wish I could have spent more time there, but could only drive through the pass (Llanberis). The mist was down about midway anyway that day. Couldn't see Snowdon even if I'd hiked up there. :-)Recently I read a discussion among other historical novelists about visiting the places they write about and I was astonished at how many have never been able to travel to the locations. They rely on other sources like I have to complement my trips. I thought more did go. I guess I was lucky to have been able when I did--the one year I had both money and time at the same moment and when Geoffrey Ashe was doing one of his tours! Hasn't happened since!

Kathleen: Since we're about at the end of the month and things have gotten quiet, I thought I would pull out the group question list, posted below. If you have any other questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to throw them out there!

1 Are the characters likable and well drawn?
2 Do you feel like you know them or do they leave you feeling like they are mere acquaintances?
3 Did you want to "be" the main character(s)?
4 Were they lively or dull?
5 How did you feel about the antagonist(s)?
6 Is the plot clear or confusing?
7 Is it interwoven with subplots that enhance or confuse the main plot?
8 Does the plot convey a theme?
9 Is the story plot-driven or character driven?
10 Did the author's setting "take you there"?
11 Was the description of time and place clear?
12 Did you find the author's writing style easy to read?
13 Is it full and descriptive? Lively? Dense? Or was it stilted? Light and quick without much depth?
14 Did you find yourself not wanting the book to end? Or did you struggle to get to the end?
15 Was the conclusion satisfying? Or were you left hanging, still waiting for a resolution?
16 Was it expected or a surprise?
17 In regards to the Arthurian theme, is the book more fantasy or historical in nature?
18 Does the author bring the legend to life?
19 Does the book feel authentic?
20 Is it a good romp?
21 Has it made you laugh or cry?
22 Does it sweep you away so you forget all else?
23 Is it a book you will want to read again?

Don't be shy. :-)

Bill: First rate to all.

Karen: Would you define the relationship between Marcus and Claerwen as being purely "platonic", or has Marcus ever thought of her as being the "ideal woman", like a medieval troubadour would think of his lady?

Kathleen: Oh heavens, they could never be thought of as platonic!

Joan: I definitely felt the romantic love between Marcus and Claerwen. No doubt at all in my mind about what erotic/romantic things went on between them in certain scenes. Why, I was attracted to Marcus myself!!! Thanks for an entertaining read.

Jacqui: No, I agree - leastways my understanding of 'platonic', which is a non-sexual but loving relationship between & man & a women. They are married after all!

Kathleen: The whole chivalry thing never plays into their characters either because that's not part of the fifth century mindset.

Jacqui: Agree again - there isn’t time to 'play' at love when daily life was so hard & in their case they were battling for survival most of the time!

Kathleen: Marcus does have a romantic side that sometimes astonishes Claerwen because she doesn't expect it in the midst of his tough guy-ness (is that a word?) I would describe them as two people who, while fulfilling their destinies, fall deeply in love and fulfill that destiny as well. They are the kind who feel their souls are connected for all time, through many lifetimes and are destined to always return to each other. Sigh...now I'm going to cry...

Jacqui: Aaah, bless - you old romantic you:)))

Karen: in answer to question #1: Absolutely! :)

I think your writing-style is unique because it's "bardic", very easy on the tongue, and you can narrate the tale aloud like you would read Shakespeare or Tolkien. To me, that's the ultimate test of a really good book.

Kathleen: What a lovely compliment! Thank you.

Jacqui: This leads me to a comment I’ve been meaning to make for ages. Kathleen's style for me is smooth & easy to read. Now how you do this I don’t know but you’ve managed to write a rip roaring adventure story which I think is quite difficult for a women but... I this is where feminine influence is felt IMO, although there is action a plenty & you don’t pull any punches neither do you dwell on the gory side of things which spoils many a good tale e.g. Bernard Cornwell for me. I think Steven Lawhead deals with action well too slight more blood & guts but no so as to be gratuitous. So well done Kathleen - another smashing book - looking forward to the other two:)

Joan: Well said, and I agree completely. I hated to see the book end and I look forward to Kathleen's next one.

Karen: in answer to question #3: Er... for some reason, no. But only because I'm not that brave, and I can't imagine myself sporting a dark moustache. LOL. :)))

Kathleen: No? Gee whiz. LOL!! I wish I had Claerwen's nerve. I think writing heroic characters is to some degree a manifestation of who we want to be, or how we would like to act/perform/etc.

Jacqui: Thank you Kathleen for letting us read & discuss your book - I hope you enjoyed the month - I certainly enjoyed your book!

Kathleen: Thank you so much for all the wonderful comments. I'm honoured to have had my book chosen and very much enjoyed our discussion.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What is "fire in the head" ??

During the course of researching the Macsen’s Treasure series, I needed to acquire a sense of the spirituality early Celtic people might have practiced before the advent of Christianity. My stories are set in Britain in the second half of the fifth century CE (aka AD for us older folks). In the more remote areas, Christianity took much longer to attain a foothold and my characters would have practiced some sort of Celtic-based paganism.

One intriguing aspect of the old belief system is the notion of shape-shifting, which I have come to interpret as some form of a shamanic altered state of mind, like a trance or hypnosis. The shamans in question would have been druids, among them bards, and one of the many functions of bards was the performance of a ‘boasting’ poem. These poems were meant to commemorate victories as well as proclaim the bard’s shamanic prowess.

“The Song of Amergin,” chief bard of the Irish, goes as follows:

I am the wind that blows across the sea
I am a wave of the deep
I am the roar of the ocean
I am the stag of seven battles
I am a hawk on the cliff
I am a ray of sunlight
I am the greenest of plants
I am the wild boar
I am a salmon in the river
I am a lake on the plain
I am the word of knowledge
I am the point of a spear
I am the lure beyond the ends of the earth
I can shift my shape like a god[1]

The last line sums up the rest of the poem—that the bard has been all of these things because he is able to shift his shape like a god, to place himself in the state of mind of those incarnations. Translations of the poem vary widely; however, one version of the last line in particular caught my attention. It runs: “I am the god who fashions fire in the head.”

So what, in all the world, is “fire in the head”? As early Celts believed the soul is housed in the head and the eyes are windows into the soul, author Tom Cowan interprets the line to mean, “I am the fire of imagination” or “I burn with visions of another world.” I feel “fire in the head” should be taken as more than mere imagination. It could also encompass visions of the future, past life memories, intuition, Akashic records, and many other forms of psychic phenomena.

Hmm. Shape-shifing. Imagination. Altered states of mind. Visions. This got me to thinking. In the series, when I began to develop the main female character of Claerwen, I knew she would be gifted with visions of the future, what we nowadays sometimes call “second sight.” Other authors have used the same device, not only in Arthurian stories, but books set in other times as well. Mary Stewart, in The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, from her trilogy about Merlin, called it simply “the sight.” Both Merlin and his mother had the gift. Elizabeth Chadwick, in Daughters of the Grail, also calls it “the sight.”

As I sketched out Claerwen’s character, I pondered using the same name for her gift. It’s a familiar term that readers easily understand. But I felt it was almost too familiar and therefore trite. What about “fire in the head?” Claerwen is not a bard or druid, but she has a deep abiding sense for the spiritual. As she learns about her gift, she comes to understand, with the guidance of Myrddin (Merlin) that she must “place herself into the path of the gods,” a kind of “stepping into her destiny,” so to speak. Her gift becomes much more than just seeing the future. So, in this regard, when I discovered the term “fire in the head,” and learned of its broad possibilities, I felt its appropriateness for Claerwen’s visions was perfect. The name stuck.

[1] Tom Cowan, Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit, 1993, HarperCollins, pp. 28-29

Monday, March 30, 2009

Renditions of Camelot Book Discussion

Come join the fun and find out what that crazy spy Marcus ap Iorwerth is up to! My book In the Shadow of Dragons will be read and discussed on the Yahoogroups Renditions of Camelot reading group all during April 2009. Join for free if you're not already a member. Copies of the book are available from Amazon.com Marketplace (look for the seller, Bardsong Press--they're having a great deal on brand new copies right now!)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Avalon: Gateway to Annwn

What exactly was the Isle of Avalon?

Most scholars agree that it was some sort of spiritual center dating from very ancient times. Its tight association with the historical side of the Arthurian legends draws us to Celtic Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries, where clues of Avalon’s existence begin to emerge from the mists of antiquity.

Literature provides the first references. Probably the most popular version was written by the twelfth-century Welshman, Geoffrey of Monmouth. In his History of the Kings of Britain, King Arthur is carried to the Isle of Avalon to rest and heal after his last battle. The magical sword Excalibur was forged there. Geoffrey further describes Avalon in The Life of Merlin as the home of the enchantress Morgaine le Fey, the island named in Welsh as Ynys Avallach, or "Island of Apples." This is apt, as apples symbolize plenty and magic in Celtic tradition.

In the Black Book of Carmarthen, one of the ancient Welsh books on which Geoffrey of Monmouth very likely based much of his History, it is said that Arthur’s tomb was secretly located in Avalon. Pagan Celts did not believe in death, but that the soul lives forever. Therefore, Arthur would not be thought of as dead, but merely sleeping, waiting for the call to his next coming. Presumably, because of its significance to the society of Arthur’s day, Avalon had very likely existed for quite some time and was considered the only place special enough to take the mortally wounded king. Why else would a leader of his great stature be taken there? No other leader before or since is associated with the Isle.

It is nearly impossible to define Avalon’s purpose without seeking its physical location as part of the same task. While no location can be absolutely proven, just as Arthur’s very existence has never been conclusive, the legends are very probably rooted in reality. Most indications infer, albeit circumstantially, that Glastonbury in Somerset, England was the location of Avalon. Glastonbury’s name is the Anglicized descendant of the Celtic (primitive Welsh) name Ynys Witrin, or Glass Isle. In the fifth century, the marshy area around Glastonbury flooded cyclically, cutting off higher ground and creating an island. In calm weather, the water would lie smooth as glass. Glastonbury Tor, a large, oblong-shaped hill rising above the town, is flanked by apple orchards, and has been for time out of mind, giving the name Ynys Avallach credence as well. And in Arthur’s day, the area was occupied by people of the same stock the modern Welsh descend from, their names, traditions, stories, and legends following.

Many theories as to Avalon’s purpose have crossed the scholarly world. Using the assumption that Glastonbury is the likely location, one of the most intriguing ideas arises from the strong sense of ancient paganism tied to the area. In the Book of Taliesin, the poem The Spoils of Annwn tells how Arthur and his knights descend into Annwn, the Celtic Otherworld, to steal a mystic cauldron of inspiration and plenty. Annwn is the realm of Gwyn ap Nudd, king of the Faeries and lord of Annwn, and the Tor is his sacred mountain. Avalon is portrayed as a gathering place for departed spirits preparing to go to Annwn, and Gwyn guards the portals. The cauldron magically provides unending nourishment and rebirth. This is the original grail which Arthur’s knights quested after so desperately, before Christian believers shifted its importance to their own purpose. Supportive evidence shows that Glastonbury Tor is artificially terraced in a pattern reminiscent of pre-Christian ritual paths, similar to others across Europe associated with Goddess worship. Archaeology has determined that the pattern is more ancient and complex than originally thought, a seven-circuited labyrinth rather than a simple spiral. There are also persistent rumors of a secret chamber within the Tor, into which people wander and return to the world mad, a trait identified with faery encounters.

In a more recent line of reasoning, author Marion Zimmer Bradley takes this interpretation a bold step further. Combining it with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History in her book The Mists of Avalon, she beautifully portrays Avalon as Morgaine le Fey’s domain. Morgaine is the last high priestess of the ancient goddess religion before Christianity takes over. She is the Lady of Lake, and Avalon is the most sacred site in Britain, the obvious location for Excalibur to have been forged, the grail to be kept, and Arthur to be taken as he lay dying from his battle wounds. It is the mystical place where one crosses from Cylch y Abred, the middle world we live in , to Annwn, the Otherworld. While Bradley’s interpretation has been presented as fiction, there is logical research behind her theory. Ancient Celtic tradition across Britain and Europe includes the belief that we are connected to the earth by an umbilical, known by the Greek term, omphalos, the "navel of the world." A cosmic axis, sometimes symbolized by an upright stone, connects the upper world of Gwynvyd (heaven) and lower world of Annwn, running through the middle world (Abred). The omphalos is considered a place of spiritual power, a center where this world and the others cross most powerfully. Consistently, Glastonbury Tor is a prime candidate as an omphalos. Its very shape is womb-like, and its persistent tradition of spirituality has always been and still is like a magnet to people of all faiths.

History is purely an interpretation of the evidence we have gathered about life in the past. Many times the "facts" are circumstantial, a combination of archaeology, literature, and human supposition; for each historian you have, each will give a different viewpoint. Into the fifth and sixth centuries, the Celtic oral-based customs prohibited writing down stories, genealogies, scientific knowledge. There is little left to forge our theories from, and we may never truly understand Avalon. Sadly, and literally, nothing was written in stone.

This article first appeared in Faces of the Goddess magazine, Spring 1998
© Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Photo © Lynne Newton

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cover art for A Land Beyond Ravens

The cover art has been decided for my forthcoming book, A Land Beyond Ravens!

Three concepts were presented and after a little tweaking and several rounds of discussions with my editor, the one posted here became the winner. It was my first choice--when I first saw it, I was totally blown away. Many authors are never consulted about the cover art on their books and end up with unsuitable illustrations. I am one of the lucky ones, to be able to give input.