Joe Gleason spent over twenty-five years as a public affairs and crisis counselor, helping some of the nation’s leading organizations grapple with some of the largest crises in U.S. history. Having risen to the top of his profession, he chose to follow his passion and become a writer of historical fiction. Anvil of God is his debut novel. He is currently working on its sequel, Wheel of the Fates. Gleason is married, has three children and lives in Virginia.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Anvil of God, Book One of the Carolingian Chronicles. When did you start writing and what got you into historical fiction?
I have been writing for most of my life on one capacity or another, but started writing novels about eight years ago. I had an opportunity to take a sabbatical in my previous career and decided it was time to try my hand at writing Anvil. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.
I have always been a fan of historical fiction. I read Tai-Pan by James Clavell when I was in high school and was transported in time and place to the world of Dirk Straun and the Noble House. It was great stuff. Since then I have been an avid reader.
The odd thing about Anvil of God is that I originally thought about doing it as a science fiction fantasy, but the story was too good to mess with. Besides, I don’t think I’m creative enough for science fiction.
I took a class in college with a great history professor named Charles Wood, who was one of the foremost historians of his day. We studied Charlemagne and I became fascinated by the epic poem The Song of Roland. I always imagined that when I got around to it, I would write a novel about the poem. When I started doing the research, however, I kept looking for a place to start the story. I kept going further and further back in time to find where the story really begins. I ended up two generations earlier, writing about the death of Charlemagne’s grandfather, Charles the Hammer and the struggle for power that ensued amongst his children.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
Mostly, I hope they are entertained. Although Anvil is as close to the history as I could make it, I was really trying to tell a story about a family in crisis. I wanted to discover why they chose to do the things they did. What motivated for them to fight over succession? Why did Charles daughter leave his court in the dead of night to pursue a love a half-continent away? How did she get there? Did she have help?
For history to come alive, the characters who populate it must come alive. That’s what I wanted to convey.
I also wanted to draw some parallels between the religious conflicts of the time and those that abound today.
Did your book require a lot of research?
More than I ever imagined. There isn’t much recorded history for that period of time and the accounts we do have were written by those who prevailed in the conflicts of the day. It really is a case of the victors getting to dictate the history. There also were few books that outlined the whole story. It was a heavy lift to create a timeline. To help me keep track, I color coded the entries into the timeline so I would know what source they came from. It became a very colorful document.
I also had to make choices about the names. Do I use the Germanic spelling “Swanahilde” or the Frankish spelling “Sunnichild?” “Pepin” or “Pippin” Some names were so foreign, I worried readers would have trouble keeping them straight. I shortened “Sunnichild” to “Sunni” and “Hiltrude” to “Trudi” to make it easier on me as well as the reader.
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
My muse can be a little scary, so I’m a little careful about asking too much of her. I didn’t really buy into the whole muse thing at first. Given how much I had to write in my last profession, I was fairly comfortable putting pen to paper. Although a different kind of writing, I assumed it would be much the same when writing a novel. I would control the flow of the narrative and the character interaction. I never thought it could be anything else.
The first time my muse visited, I was sitting down just to see if I could write a scene between two characters, one good, one evil. After some initial fumbling, the scene poured out of me in a gush of writing that lasted well over two hours. I was sweating when I finished it and the tale was so morbid, I refused to show it to anyone for almost a year. It scared the Hell out of me.
Now, we have a little better and more compatible relationship. She tends to try wresting characters from my control and messing with my story line. Sometimes she wins. Sometimes I do. If she’s not there when I’m writing, I just plug along until she shows up again. She really can be a help and an hindrance.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
I have a downright fear of writing. I’m not sure where it comes from (maybe the muse – see the story above), but it is ever-present before I sit down. Once I’m writing, I’m fine. My fear is an odd mix of fear of failure and fear of finding some dark part of myself, I’m not sure I knew existed. Writing unearths emotions and ideas that are very hard to explain or justify. So, more often than not, I don’t try to justify them.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I like to write in the morning. I always try to leave a short piece to edit from the previous day. It helps me break the ice of writing without having to be creative.
Once I get going, I write for three or four hours at a stretch, then stop for a cup of coffee and a couple of Vienna fingers to pick me up and then head back for an hour or so of editing. Late in the day, I find writing is a waste of time. I don’t have enough juice to keep going.
That is of course when I’m actually writing. Too often life gets in the way of my schedule. If too many days go by, I tend to drift away from it and have to struggle to make time.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
I have a website www.jboycegleason.com. You can find my blog there or sign up for it to be sent to you. I don’t blog as much when I’m writing as it serves as a diversion. I’m also on Twitter at #JBoyceGleason.
Where is your book available?
Online everywhere and on order through your local bookstore.
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