Great news! Anvil of God has been selected as a historical fiction finalist in Foreword Reviews “Book of the Year Awards”
Check out the link: https://botya.forewordreviews.com/finalists/2013/historical/
From the news release by ForeWord Reviews:
“ForeWord Reviews the only review magazine solely dedicated to discovering new indie books” announced the finalists for its 16th Annual Book of the Year Awards. Each year, Foreword shines a light on a small group of indie authors and publishers whose groundbreaking work stands out from the crowd. Foreword’s awards are more than just a shiny sticker on the front of a book; they help connect the best indie books to readers eagerto discover new stories written by previously unknown authors.
“In the next two months, a panel of over 100 librarians and booksellers will determine the winners of these prestigious awards. A celebration of the winners will take place during the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas on Friday, June 27 at 6 p.m. with awards in over 60 categories, cash prizes for the best in fiction and nonfiction, and widespread recognition.”
ForeWord Reviews covers the rapidly growing independent, alternative, university, and self publishing industries. Its magazine is distributed quarterly to 7500 librarians and booksellers and is also available at most Barnes & Noble newsstands and by subscription.
“Welcome to English 5.” A small sardonic smile lit Professor Ermarth’s face, suggesting a deeper meaning than her words conveyed. In the innocence of my youth, however, I ignored any instinct to run, took my seat in Sanborn House, and flipped open my college-lined, spiral notebook.
Every student at Dartmouth was required to take English 5, preferably in the first year of study. And having a profound fear of writing, I figured I would stress less if I took the course fall term and got the requirement out of the way. It was the first class I attended and seemed pretty tame until Professor Ermarth closed her book at the end of class. “Your first assignment, due Monday, is to write a five page paper on the first four chapters of Paradise Lost.”
Have you ever read Paradise Lost? Not an easy thing to decipher, much less about which to write. Turns out, we had to write one paper each week. The good news was, that if we didn’t like the grade we received, we had the option to rewrite the paper – as many times as we’d desired. The only grade that would count would be the last version submitted.
Although anxious about the volume of writing, this sounded feasible to my seventeen-year old, virgin ears. I spent the next few days deciphering the first four chapters of Paradise Lost, wrote my paper and called home to tell my folks that all was well.
And it was, until I got back the graded paper. It was covered in ink. Every sentence was edited – several times. “Wrong word choice.” “This makes no sense.” “You already said this.”
I got a “D+” – not the way I planned to start my college career.
After a few bouts of despair, I took solace from the fact that others had received similar grades. I also knew I could rewrite the paper to receive a new grade. I already had another paper due, however, and from Ermarth’s comments on the first paper, it was clear the second paper wouldn’t fare much better than its predecessor. I had to redraft my second paper as well as the first – and in those days we had to type everything on a typewriter that had no self-correcting features (we used liquid paper to cover our mistakes). I put in a few late nights to catch up.
I got a “C-” on the rewrite and no grade on the second paper.
“What’s on the pages seems much ado about a small point, namely that the form of the work is a device to involve the reader. This is true of any work in any language, and so in effect you say nothing in saying this. The language isn’t bad, considering how hard it is to write well without an argument to develop…much of your argument here is merely assertion, which of course is no argument at all.”
Ermarth had given us the opportunity to suggest our grade. I had given myself a B-.
“Your evaluation seems optimistic.”
I called home in a panic. I was in over my head. Even after my Dad’s pep-talk – “They wouldn’t have let you in if they didn’t think you could do the work.” – I wasn’t so sure.
I went back to writing, now with a new third paper and two re-writes behind it. I began to think the professor was sadistic – until I realized that she had to grade every paper we submitted. Okay, so I figured, maybe sadomasochistic.
I got to the point where I was writing or re-writing (and typing) a paper each night. And I, who never had gotten a “C” in my life, was relieved to get a “C+” on any of my first drafts.
I rewrote the Lost paper five times (for an A-/B+, thank you). I rewrote one on Camus’s The Fall four times (never choose an existentialist subject with an English professor) and was relieved to get away with a gracious C+.
Needless to say, English 5 did nothing to help my fear of writing. After ten weeks of sweating through paper after paper, I ended the term with an exhausting B+. It was the last English class I took at Dartmouth. As you can imagine, I now consider this an enormous personal loss. Dartmouth had some of the finest English professors (including Ermarth) on the planet. More risk averse than I am today, I was foolish and cowardly to pass them by.
I still have a fear of writing, although it is less pronounced than it was during my freshman year at college. I could not have imagined then, during those early autumn walks to class in Sanborn House, that I would wind up a writer. But, somewhere in the back of my mind, I must have had my suspicions. There are only four files from my days at Dartmouth still in my writing desk. Ermarth’s edits of my English 5 papers is one of them.
The following interview with me originally appeared January 21, 2014 on Flashlight Commentary (http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot.com).
Welcome to Flashlight Commentary. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Anvil of God.
It is a story about what happens to the family of Charles the Hammer when he dies. The power behind the Merovingian kings (recently made famous by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code) Charles wants to take the throne for his children. Only one thing stands in his way. He is dying. He tries to bequeath the kingdom to his three sons and marry his daughter off to a Lombardy prince (to secure his southern border), but the only thing to reign after he dies is chaos. Son battles son, Christianity battles paganism and his daughter must choose between love and her family’s ambition.
What inspired you to write this story?
I had studied Charlemagne in college and read the Song of Roland, an epic poem about one of Charlemagne’s greatest knights. I remember thinking that it would the basis for a great novel. I always thought that if I were to write a novel, I would start there. Years later when I finally decided to write it, I had to decide whether to follow the true history of Charlemagne and Roland or follow the legend. When I did the research, I fell in love with the history.
What research went into Anvil of God and did you discover anything particularly surprising while investigating the background material for you book?
Researching that period of history is a bit of a challenge. There are very few sources that bring all the pieces together into one place. I had to research Bavarian history, Alleman (German) history, Thuringian (Flemish) history, French history, Italian history, Church history. Then, after I had put the timeline together, I struggled with where to start. I couldn’t seem to find a good place. I kept moving back in time to discover something compelling that would capture my (and the reader’s) interest. I found that the story kept getting more interesting, the further back in time I moved. I ended up so far back in time, that the Anvil doesn’t even mention Charlemagne – it is the story of his parents and the conflicts that led to the family’s rise to power.
What drew you to this particular period and why use it as the backdrop of your story?
One story in particular captured my interest. Charles the Hammer’s daughter fled his court to find love amongst his enemies. It was, according to some historians, the biggest scandal of the Eighth century. How could that have come to pass? How did they meet? When did they fall in love? How did she get away? How did she cross the continent on her own? She must have been quite a character. When I read her story, I knew I had found a place to start.
Another question from my research begged an answer. I knew that Christianity had become the dominant religion on the continent (the Merovingian kings converted two centuries earlier), but so much of the Church history of that time period had to do with converting the pagans (and/or suppressing the pagans). How could that be? St. Boniface, who is a main character in the story, made his mark doing missionary work in what is now Germany and Bavaria. If Christianity was so dominant, why was all that missionary work necessary?
That led me to make the conflict of religions (and the power associated with it) a key factor of the story.
The historic record for this period is sketchy at best. How did you approach composing a novel from a story with so many unknown elements?
Actually, by writing the novel, I got to fill in the gaps. I knew what happened, but I didn’t know why. And you can’t understand why unless you figure out what motivates the people who shaped the history. So, when you get down to it. Anvil is a story about a family. And by telling their story – what motivates them, and the choices they make – the history falls into place. I didn’t try to write the history, I tried to tell the story of a family in crisis. Only this family’s choices affect an entire continent.
You probably have many, but is there one scene that you particularly enjoyed writing?
I enjoyed bringing to life a religion about which we know very little. Having been raised in the Catholic Church, I was very familiar with the rites and prayers that surround that faith. What rites and prayers would bring the pagan faith to life? There is a scene about mid-way through the book with a sibyl that seemed to come out of nowhere for me. It was so otherworldly, that I took great delight in writing it.
What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author?
The sex scenes were difficult, at first. So much has been written about sex – and so much of it poorly – that I struggled with finding the right tone. I didn’t want to have the characters kiss and then fade to black. I felt like it was dishonest for me as an author to shutter such a big window into their characters.
But the language for sex has been so overdone, I agonized over the first scenes I wrote. A writing professor eventually helped me out. She said sex between two people is so intimate that people create their own language for it; they establish their own rituals. So, if you are writing about sex, it must be intimate to that character. It must use language that that character would use. Writing about sex should provide a unique insight into the character. If you are writing to titillate you reader (or yourself for that matter) you are doing it for the wrong reasons. After I understood that, it became easy.
Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the overall story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on?
There were a lot of scenes that never made the final cut. My problem, as an author, (or so my editors tell me) is that I like to tell ALL the story. I take out the mystery. You see the story from every perspective. What they’ve taught me, is that sometimes it is better for the reader to wander around in the dark – just like the characters – to build some suspense for the resolution.
Fortunately, I have some good editors. Unfortunately, some of my favorite scenes had to be cut.
If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
I would love to meet Charles. The man was a force of nature. He literally conquered a continent and saved Christianity in Europe. Bradius would be my second choice because his character is so complex. I’d love to see the world from his perspective – as painful as it is. I’d also love to meet Sunni, but I doubt she would take time to bother with me. She too was a force of nature and didn’t suffer fools lightly.
What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work?
I hope they put down the book and say “Wow! What a great story.” Then, I hope they say, “I can’t wait for Book II.”
Finally, what is next for you? Any new projects waiting in the wings?
I’m about halfway through Anvil’s sequel “Wheel of the Fates” which picks up the story two months after Anvil’s conclusion. I’m also working on a novel that is somewhat closer to our timeframe and perhaps more familiar to readers. It’s called “Sin of Omission.” It’s the not-so-pretty story of Ben Franklin as a young man.
When I was in the fourth grade, Miss Nichols introduced a new girl to our class named Laurie MacElhenny. She had brown hair, hazel-green eyes, freckles and more importantly, a father named, Hugh. Also known as “Crazy Legs MacElhenny,” Hugh MacElhenny, was a celebrated open-field running back signed by the New York Giants. They had just moved to our small town. The news of Laurie and her father rippled through Todd Elementary School in a wave of whispers that could defy the speed of any technology available today. And, of course, every boy in the fourth grade immediately fell in love with her, myself included.
This was no hormonal crush. I was only nine at the time – there wouldn’t be a whiff of testosterone until I was well into the eighth grade – but my “love” for Laurie was no less intoxicating. I, and the rest of the fourth grade boys, had a fixation on her that was all consuming. None of us ever spoke of this to her, of course. In those days, we loved from afar. But, she was all I/we could think about. I even wrote a poem.
Not a good idea when you have two older brothers.
I knew it was risky. They were always on the lookout for any sign of weakness they could exploit. But I was confident. The poem was safely hidden away, one among three hundred sheets of white, lined paper bound inside my mammoth, grey, three-ring, school binder.
“What were you writing the other day?”
“I saw you.”
“It was nothin.”
“Gimme that notebook.”
Still, I was cool. There was no way they would flip through every page. They didn’t have the patience. My face was a mask of unconcern.
Until they found it. And started reading it aloud. With every bit of drama worthy of Elizabethan actors. To this day I can still feel the flush of my cheeks turning crimson.
I learned at an early age that while our thoughts are our own, what is put down on paper is for everyone.
And therein lies the nature of writer’s block. You. Will. Be. Judged. In the mind, our thoughts are free to float and swirl with reckless abandon. Ideas ebb and flow like the tides. Suppositions and arguments twist with the winds of our subconscious. Distilling these myriad notions into one thought, one focus, one sentence is a declaration. It says, “This is who I am. This is what I believe.” Writing defines us.
And that can be a scary. When I first sat down to write Anvil of God, I didn’t know where to start. I tried to imagine a scene between Charlemagne’s father and the last of the Merovingian Kings…just to create some character interaction. Four hours later, I shut down the computer. I was shaking. The characters had run amok and the scene I had written was so disturbing that I couldn’t look at it for three days. I had written that? (It still scares me).
I understood then what writers talk about when referring to their “muse.” (Okay, mine is a dark muse, but it’s still a muse). When I had recovered from the shock, I knew there was no going back. Writing opens a window to the soul.
And yet we do it. We put ourselves down on paper, knowing that we will be judged.
It takes an enormous act of hubris. What could I possibly have to write that is worthy of being read? It’s a very high bar.
Hence the blank page.