Ha! I bet that headline had your eyebrows travelling upwards. Seriously: a lightsabre in a medieval setting? Well, no, of course not: Char may excel at writing taut action scenes in her medieval novels, but she steers clear from anachronisms, and a lightsabre in the hand of Prince John would be…ludicrous (and scarily intriguing)
I’ve invited Char to share some insight into the life of an Indie writer. Char and I share a fascination for medieval England and spent a couple of happy days together some years ago in Lincoln. Best thing about travelling with another history nerd is that no one sighs and looks irritated when you just have to rush over and take one more picture of a heap of stones which is all that remains of an ancient keep. It also helps that Char is one of those mellow peeps who takes things in her stride–a nice counter-balance to the somewhat more OCD/Uberorganised me…
In Char’s books, Lincoln plays an important role. Set in the late 12th century, her excellent series, Battle Scars, features two knights loyal unto death to King Richard. Unfortunately for them, Richard is not always around and our protagonists have to handle a manipulative and lethal Prince John. Fortunately for Henry and Stephan, they have help from a certain Robin–and Char’s take on the legends of Robin Hood is in itself reason enough to read the series. The other reason is that Char addresses a rather unusual love story–that of a man falling for another man, which in the 12th century came with A LOT of complications. The third reason is that Char presents a beautifully researched historical setting, complete with vibrant characters that reach through time to hook the reader and drag them back into a distant past.
So why the lightsabre? Best way to find out is to read on!
With that, let us throw ourselves straight into the interview.
What is the best thing about being an Indie author?
Being an indie allows me creative control of the publishing process – from writing to formatting to book design, to publication and marketing. I work at my own speed, and set my own deadlines for publication, which means a lot less stress!
What is your biggest challenge and how do you handle it?
When I’m working on the first draft, I have to work hard to turn off the ‘internal’ editor and just try to concentrate on putting words down on paper. I usually have a good idea of where the story is headed – I know how it will end before I ever put fingers to keyboard. So, getting the basics down, even if the story lacks narrative or needs some fact checking, is the best way for me to make progress. Once I get to ‘the end’ of that first draft then I can start on page one again and fill in the details.
Another challenge is self-doubt. Are these words just a bunch of crap? Who will ever want to read this? My response: I go to my writers group almost weekly and share a few pages of what I’m working on. They boost my morale and tell me the good, the bad, and the ugly.
In your opinion, what is the biggest no-no for an indie author?
There is one that comes to mind immediately: responding publicly to negative reviews. We’re told not to read the 1 star reviews, but I bet 99% of us read them anyway. They hurt. There are times when you want to hit reply… but don’t do it. Don’t complain about them on Twitter or Facebook. Vent about them privately with close friends. But do not engage with the reviewer. (Hear, hear! Once you press the reply button, you’ll have a gigantic can of worms exploding in your face)
I know for a fact that you are very familiar with—fond of, even—Richard Lionheart. What attracted you to him and his time?
My university degree is in U.S. History, so unfortunately, I only took a few courses in European history, and those were mostly post-19th century. In grade school, we only learned very broad concepts about the crusades, and I never remember the name Lionheart coming up in those. But in 2007, I was watching a Robin Hood BBC series that had a couple of episodes where Robin served King Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade. That sparked my interest in a HUGE way. Soon I was reading histories, biographies, articles, blogs, and wikis, headed down the rabbit hole of research. I had to know more about the king and the crusades.
It was more the idea of the experiences of the knights serving Richard rather than Richard himself that drew me to the 12th Century – the hardships they endured, the journey from England to the Holy Land and back. What was life like for knights on crusade?
Interesting. You have a unique twist in your historical books in that your main characters are not only comrades in arms but also lovers. How has that been received? Was the M/M romance something you set out to write or did it just “happen”?
I penned a short story with Sir Henry and Sir Stephan first, so yes, the M/M romance was there from the start. Write something different, I told myself. Stretch yourself as a writer. Be bold, take chances.
So I wrote the story about two soldiers who fall in love. I took the short piece to my writers group for feedback and they liked it! So it sort of grew: three 400+ page novels and a couple of short stories later, here we are.
Every novel needs conflict. Two men falling in love at a time when (what we now call) homosexuality was considered a mortal sin fits that bill, don’t you think? (You and I talked about sex and mortal sin in another conversation that your readers might enjoy.)
So while the romance element drives the novels, Men of the Cross (Book 1 of Battle Scars) and its sequels don’t fit neatly in the romance genre. They are historical fiction with a romance sub-plot. The books deal with the horrors of war and its impact on a young knight. There is politics and intrigue, and war, bloody battles, harsh conditions, and the comradeship that exists between soldiers. In this case, that shared experience led to love.
Sadly, the M/M romance sub-plot doesn’t sit well with some readers. I don’t know if they skipped reading the book description and just said, “wow, love that cover, knights on crusade, Richard the Lionheart,” and clicked the “buy” button.
My Battle Scars series has been called gay fantasy, that I’m just pushing the gay agenda. What, you mean there weren’t same sex couples in the 12th century? (Anna rolls over laughing. Of course there were!)
Love is love. People have been falling in love for millennia. And just as people – whether man and woman, man and man, woman and woman – fall in love in the 21st century, they fell in love in the 12th century.
Let me get down from the podium now…
Obviously something you feel very strongly about – and I’d like to reiterate that I think you’ve done a fantastic job of describing this very fragile love story, so threatened by the moralities of the time and the sheer violence of the environment.
Moving on from the medieval period, I also know you’re a major Star Wars fan. (And talk about this being a HUGE leap in time) Is it Yoda or Luke Skywalker who lured you into this world of intergalactic conflict between good and bad?
I love Master Yoda, but it was Luke who started me on the writing journey. My first attempt to write a novel was in the Star Wars universe. (And that will NEVER see the light of day.) Fortunately, I was able to write short stories in George Lucas’ world that were published in a Lucasfilm-licensed role-playing game magazine, The Star Wars Adventure Journal.
I find it intriguing that on the one hand you write well-researched historical fiction set in the early Middle Ages, on the other, you write dystopian Sci-Fi. What are the similarities between your two genres?
Both have action & adventure, intriguing characters, and strange new (or old!) worlds. They are huge playgrounds, with possibilities for so many stories.
Tell us a bit about your books and what you are working on now.
I’m working on three different projects at the moment, hoping to tie up two of them this year. One is my third short story, a prequel to Men of the Cross. It is an introduction to one of the supporting characters from the novel – my version of Allan-a-Dale. Since it’s a prequel, Allan is pretty young – only eight years old. The story is told in 1st person, something I’ve never done before!
I’m also plotting out my next medieval novel, tentatively titled Robin Hood. Guess what that one is about! This isn’t a sequel, but rather an off-shoot that features characters from the Battle Scars trilogy. I hope to be deep into the writing of this one by late summer.
The main work-in-progress is Echoes of the Storm, my sci fi/space opera. Fans of Star Wars should enjoy this one. Cover reveal will be coming soon, and I’m actually posting 2nd draft chapters on Wattpad.
Which one of your books would you recommend to someone who wanted to check you out as a writer? Why?
Of course, I would love people to read Men of the Cross, which starts the epic saga (and love story) about Sir Henry and Sir Stephan. But I do offer the prequel short story “A Knight’s Tale” for free if you sign up for my Newsletter. That introduces Sir Stephan at age 18, four years before the events of Men of the Cross.
What is your latest release and what is it about?
Swords of the King (Battle Scars III) is my latest novel. It takes place during the last three years of Richard the Lionheart’s reign. Here’s the book blurb:
Normandy, March 1196
King Richard has their loyalty.
The French would have their lives.
And John, the king’s brother, will never forget how they betrayed him.
The kidnapping of the king’s former sister-in-law sets off a chain of events that entangle the knights Henry de Grey and Stephan l’Aigle in politics and intrigue, treason . . . and murder.
What begins as escort duty for the knights becomes a chase through the Norman countryside on the trail of her son, the young duke Arthur. Assassins want him—and the knights—dead.
If assassins’ blades don’t kill them, King Richard’s war to recover his continental domains from France just might. Former enemies, like the king’s brother, are now allies. Can they be trusted?
Warriors. Heroes. Traitors. Spies . . . Lovers.
Henry and Stephan will risk their honor and the trust of the king to protect Duke Arthur. They will fight treachery and brave bloody battles, see war in all its horror, and fight their fears of losing each other, all the while keeping their forbidden love secret.
Ha, reading that had me pull out my own copy and consider a re-read… Thank you, Char for sharing the above with us. I have already read the first chapter of your Sci-Fi story and look forward to reading more!
Connect with Char
Get a free medieval short story (a prequel to Men of the Cross) when you subscribe to Char’s Newsletter: https://charlenenewcomb.com/mailing-list/subscribe-to-my-newsletter/