Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Kristi Benedict is talking with Joseph Scott Amis, author of To Shine With Honor - Book One: Coming of Age
FQ: There is obviously a lot of research that went into the writing of this book. With your background as a fan of medieval history as well as a writer/managing editor at "Real Crusades History," how extensive was your research (vs. what you knew from your own previous studies) and what did you find to be the most useful when doing research for this book?
AMIS: I began writing To Shine with Honor as sufficiently conversant with the times, places, events and chronologies of the Holy Land Crusades to construct a serviceable first manuscript. However, further development of a work of historical fiction that would form an entertaining and engaging story, convincingly advance certain themes, and evidence a degree of academic quality made more than rote knowledge a compelling necessity.
In consequence, my research was extensive, including numerous works written by a wide variety of authors of similar historical fiction, as well as equally numerous scholarly works. In this respect, I was most fortunate to have the benefit of bona fide medieval and Crusades historians as advisors and critics over the oft-tedious path from first to final manuscripts.
FQ: What area of research was most useful?
AMIS: All of it, but the devil is in the details, and this is the area in which the kind attention of literary and scholarly friends and well-wishers proved invaluable.
FQ: Do you have a method to keep the lineage of all of the families straight, as this was such an important detail?
AMIS: The leading Coudre and Evreaux families are entirely fictional, and no particular method was needed to create them and maintain their lineages throughout the story. More difficult was ensuring that they conformed to the feudal norms of late 11th century France.
FQ: How do you decide what to include in the battle scenes to make an impact on the reader but not be overly graphic?
AMIS: Early in the process, I realized that the battle scenes had to be based on a fundamental understanding of medieval warfare, as what is commonly seen in movies, TV, and novels is, more often than not, woefully fanciful and inaccurate. To gain the needed knowledge, I relied upon proven historical sources as well as some first-hand instruction in traditional European martial arts.
With this resolved, creation of a clear image of the physical locations was the first priority, followed by a single-character point of view and concentration on the action as seen and experienced by him. Graphic violence was of course a necessity; equally necessary was keeping the 'blood and guts' aspects to a minimum, only using at points where maximum impact demanded them.
FQ: Was there any special meaning to the names chosen in this book?
AMIS: First names were chosen based on research which found those in common use at the times and locations. Surnames were most often a province of the nobility, and were usually derived from the location of ancestral landholdings. Surnames became attached to commoner families by way of occupation or by adoption of the liege lord's surname.
The only fictional name with a special meaning is that of Joseph of Reims - Joseph is my first name, and I studied and worked in the architectural profession.
FQ: Where did the inspiration for the character of Joseph come from?
AMIS: Architecture was truly a profession in High Medieval France, and the skills and knowledge that created the great historical precedents of Rome and Greece had been, like those of literature, art, and philosophy, preserved in the monasteries established throughout Europe in the late Western Roman period and into the High Middle Ages, all of which made an architect character who practices within a monastery entirely plausible.
A direct historical precedent for both Joseph and Galien as his nobleman assistant is found in William of Volpiano, a son of Italian upper nobility and a highly-educated monk. In the early 11th century, William was engaged by Duke Richard II of Normandy to design and oversee building of the base structures and Romanesque church still extant at Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy.
FQ: Do you have an interest in architecture that created inspiration for the architecture in this book?
AMIS: Indeed! I received a degree in architecture in 1977 and practiced as a professional architect before 'hanging it up' in 2006. Had architectural history been an option for a MA at the time, I certainly would have pursued it.
FQ: The locations are intriguing in this book, what was the inspiration for those locations?
AMIS: The first volume in the To Shine with Honor trilogy essentially sets the stage for the events of the First Crusade and the characters' participation. For this reason, I chose to place the fictional Barony of Mirefleurs and County of Saint-Lille in an area of France closely proximate to the present city of Clermont-Ferrand. At the time of the story, Clermont was within the Duchy of Aquitaine, the seat of a bishopric and cathedral, and where, on 27 November, 1095, Pope Urban II gave his famous address, which marked the beginning of the Holy Land Crusades.
In To Shine with Honor, Troyes is the location of a fictional 'Gothic' cathedral designed and begun by Joseph of Reims. This location was chosen because the cathedral there at the time of the story, completed ca. 950, burned to the ground in 1188, and construction of the present Cathedral of Troyes, designed in what was then called the 'New Style' or 'French Style', began ca. 1200. Though the activities of Joseph and Galien in Troyes take place a century earlier, I considered using the history of the present Cathedral of Troyes for background acceptable literary license.
FQ: To Shine with Honor is book one. How many books are you planning on writing in this series and can you give our readers a little tease on book two?
AMIS: Three books will complete the series. Book Two is nearing substantial completion, with release anticipated for late spring or early summer of this year.
Regarding Book Two, after finishing Book One, a friend commented that the ending was 'almost too happy' for a novel set in an extremely violent era. In reply, I told him to hang on to his seat with Book Two, as life gets very rough in a hurry for Galien de Coudre and everyone around him. Suffice to say that Book Two lives up and more to its subtitle, A Trail of Blood.