Happy Monday everyone. I’m happy to introduce you to historical romance author Kathleen Kirkwood. Kathleen brings a rich world to life in each of her novels. Hope you enjoy her time with us today.
Welcome to my blog Kathleen. It’s great to have you here.
Thank you so much for inviting me.
Let’s start with that question every author is asked in an interview. When did you first start writing?
I confess, I wasn’t one of those authors who were writing as soon as they could hold a crayon. I was drawing pictures. By age 12, I was enrolled in art classes and painting with oils on canvas. Everyone expected me to be a professional artist one day. Writing came much later, yet the seeds were always there. I’ve always loved a good story and there was plenty to inspire me in the historic area where I grew up – lots of tales of from centuries past, including many ghostly ones!
After High School, I surprised everyone by not pursuing a degree and career in studio art. Instead, I studied Art History (major) & History (minor and then studied at the masters level). So my love of history and art blended together, and the courses opened me to a wider (and very visual) view of the past and more wonderful stories of peoples and cultures across the ages. I also acted in community theatre, stateside and overseas. That influenced my writing as well, especially regarding dialogue, pacing and staging. When I did put paper to pen for my first novel, it was natural to gravitate to what I loved – History and the Historical genre.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
LOL, call me the “Juggler.”
I love brainstorming a new novel. It is the possibility of all worlds, and I like to keep the process fluid. It begins with the kernel of an idea — something that captures my imagination — and I start tossing possibilities around in my head. When there is an “aha” moment – something gels that really clicks and excites me – I toss it onto a skeleton outline form. Yes, the good old traditional outline form. Story ideas — where they fit into the plotline — don’t always come in sequence. Plus, some ideas arrive in “bits and parts,” and others can show up as full-blown scenes. The challenge is to capture ideas before they go “poof” and are lost, and then to put some order to them. This approach –throwing ideas onto a skeleton outline (my “spaghetti on the wall, see if it sticks”) — helps me to build the spine of the story and keep track of the myriad details.
Let’s face it, we all have to deal with the brains we have and how we process things creatively. For myself, when brainstorming a new storyline, I find if I write my ideas down in sentences they go to “concrete.” My brain latches on to what it sees on the page (or screen) and only wants to play with that. A more fluid approach, juggling “what ifs,” spinning out the kernel of an idea every-which-way-from-Sunday, and then throwing it on a skeletal form (no full sentences allowed until the fleshing out phase) works very well for me.
I love historical romances that are different, and yours are out of the box in different medieval time lines we don’t often see. Tell us what attracted you to writing in these time periods.
I guess you could say that the “seedlings” for my 10th century HEART trilogy began in Iceland where I lived for several years. It was there that my interest in the Vikings was fired, and I began studying them in earnest. It is a rugged land, settled by 9th century Norsemen — mainly Norwegian chieftains who brought with them a strong literary tradition. Two-thirds of the Norse sagas and Eddas that survive were recorded in Iceland. The Icelanders also kept the purity of the language, and it is said school children can still read directly from the old texts. When I left Iceland I was able to bring many wonderful resources with me — translations of course. These were very useful while writing the trilogy. Since the Scandinavians spoke easily among themselves in the 10th century (their dialects being a variation of an original tongue), my Danish-born Vikings speak “Old Norse” (Íslensk) in the book. Thankfully, an Icelandic translator who worked at the U.N. made the translations for me — for a small sum, of course.
The inspiration for my other novels sprang from a variety of different sources. Again, it goes back to what captures my interest. For my Scottish historical, inspiration came from my reading of “time slips”, a paranormal phenomena (in theory) of two doors opening and closing between times. Suddenly, I envisioned a very specific scene set in the heart of an ancient castle. I quickly started spinning out the story (lots of “spaghetti on the wall”!) and went in search of where and when to place it. A SLIP IN TIME found the perfect setting in the remote Highlands and, utilizing the “time slip” element, the h/h step back and forth between the 15th and 19th centuries with two separate, then intertwining stories. What fun!
What do you feel draws you to writing historical novels above other subgenres within romance?
It’s simply in the blood.
I grew up in historic Southern Maryland surrounded by history and simply love it. Maryland was one of the original thirteen colonies and many of the pre-Revolutionary homes still stand today, my aunt and uncle’s being one of them. Naturally, there are many tales attached to them, including haunting ones. The Civil War played out, literally, where I lived, which was also home to one of the Lincoln conspirators (later hanged) and the center of the Confederate spy network which fascinated me. Both of my parents were involved in local restoration activities. Mom loved history of all centuries and places, and thanks to her book club selections, there were always wonderful books with historical themes to read in the home.
When I was growing up big sweeping historical novels as well as movies were in favor such as Ben Hur, Spartacus, and Gone with the Wind (which I didn’t see until a teenager). I loved these big, sweeping, larger-than-life dramas. I guess it’s natural that I’d gravitate to write in that direction with my own novels and I really do love the research. It was while I was writing THE VALIANT HEART that a friend gave me a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’ SHANNA. I fell in love with that book and read all of her others before going on to read Cynthia Wright, Jude Deveraux (her early medievals), and more. It was while reading SHANNA that I realized I was writing Romance. At that point, I sought out other writers and connected with RWA National and our local chapter WRW (Washington Romance Writers) which served the D.C. metropolitan area, including Virginia and Maryland.
So, short answer— it’s in the blood. Funny thing is, when I try to find a Contemporary storyline to write about, I go utterly blank. When I switch to a historical timeline – any period – I always hit a rich vein of ideas. Guess it’s just the way I’m wired.
Tell us a little about your Heart series.
THE VALIANT HEART is set at the foundation of Normandy when the Frankish king granted lands to the Norse chieftain, Rollo, buying himself a watchdog against the other Viking raiders. My heroine, an heiress to lands just forfeited, is brought from monastery to wed Gruel Atli, an old grizzled warrior and brother-in-law of Rollo. Of course, fate intervenes in the person of Rurik, the old warrior’s son. At the heart of this story is the coming together of the Vikings and Franks as they melded into a new people — the Normans.
While researching VALIANT, I became fascinated with the Viking trade activities and travels to Byzantium. That spawned the hero’s brother’s story, THE DEFIANT HEART. Following a raid on Ireland where the heroine and her cousins are seized, the story sweeps from the Danish slave market of Hedeby, across the Baltic to Kiev, through the Steppes where we meet tribesmen (they have lassos!), and on to Byzantium before returning to Normandy. (It’s a “big” book.)
Next, I wanted to bring back an evil character who I hadn’t killed off. I turned my sight on England and King Athelstan’s court for THE CAPTIVE HEART. It’s a mistaken identity/kidnap story that ultimately takes us to ireland
A fourth book is planned, picking up on a character from CAPTIVE and will involve the epic battle Brunanburh when the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes battled for control of England. That will be THE GALLANT HEART.
Have you considered writing novels in other genres either within or outside romance?
Aside from one concept for a Contemporary that will probably never get written, (so many ideas, so little time), all my novel ideas are for Historical periods. I’d characterize my Viking Age novels as “action/adventure Romance.” They are large canvases (plots and subplots and lots of nefarious characters running about) and are Romance because there is a love story at the heart of them.
On the other hand, I also write Late Victorian paranormals, such as SHADES OF THE PAST which features antique photography, wonderful English country houses and ghosts who inhabit them. A SLIP IN TIME (which also travels between the 19th and 15th century) utilizes the “time slip” phenomenon. I have another time-abberation story in the making and more ghosts to come, this time with American settings (19th century).
My other medieval, HIS FAIR LADY is set in the reign of King John and is a medieval “Pygmalion” of sorts. I also have a Welsh medieval up my sleeve, slightly predating “Braveheart’s” time and with the same English king, Edward I. (More sword play and nefarious characters!)
Has your degree in Art History assisted your writing in any way?
Absolutely. Art History encompasses so much more than studying paintings. It includes art, architecture, artifacts from everyday life — a study of people, their times, beliefs, etc. Art History has provided me a wonderful background — a highly visual one — to draw upon. Along with my History minor, I was required to do a LOT of research and writing for various papers and exams, so that aspect doesn’t intimidate me. I love the research. Pulling myself out of all the interesting things I find is more the challenge. The books do need to get written!
You’ve been to Iceland! Did you enjoy your time there? What surprised you the most about living there?
Please pop over to my blog (www.kathleenkirkwood.blogspot.com) where I’m currently doing a thread on my time in Iceland. That will continue for several more postings (once a week) plus I’m including photographs from my time there and even some recipes.
My husband and I and our two young children lived in Keflavík, Iceland for two full years (1972 – 1974) both on the economy and on the NATO base. We enjoyed our time there very much and made a point to travel about the island and see all we could. Some of the amazing things we experienced there was the midnight sun (Iceland’s year is divided between 6 months of light and 6 months of darkness), winter whiteouts, the aurora borealis, the moonscape interior where astronauts once trained, the geothermal activity that rises in steam from the earth, a whaling station (still active then) and the eruption of the volcano, Heimaey, on the Westman Islands. Loved the freshness of the fish and the wonderful cheeses. One regret was that I didn’t buy one of the calf-length coats (with hoods) made from sheepskin with the fur turned inside. As one friend said, you go naked, wearing only that in a winter whiteout and still be warm. The price was $200 then. I’m guessing the price is out of sight these days. I did learn to knit Icelandic sweaters, however. Very warm.
Have you encountered a point in your writing career where you just wanted to chuck it all and do something else?
LOL! Every time I can’t seem to get the words I’m after to dislodge from my brain, and I feel like I’m hitting my head against the proverbial wall. When the words do finally begin to flow, the joy returns. Chocolate helps massively.
I did experience a bit of a burn out a while back and took a “time out.” That small hiatus turned into eleven years. So much has happened meanwhile, most notably the technology advancements. So now I’m back, wrapping my head around all the changes as I bring out my back list and add new works that have patiently waited for attention. Chocolate, of the dark variety, is being stockpiled.
What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer just getting started in the publishing world?
If you are interested in writing historical novels, don’t be afraid of the research. Wade in and paddle around. Enjoy!
Getting the “time frame” pinned down is important before diving into the research. Then, go for the larger “picture” and telescope down to the specifics. The usual rule of thumb is to know the history on either side of your dates by at least 20 years. Location, the history of the place is important, then there’s the everyday life issues – clothing, transportation, housing, how does one cook, light the indoors at night, etc.
Language and dialect may pose a challenge in any century. My favorite go-to resource is ACCENTS, A Manual for Actors, by Robert Blumenfeld. (Two CDs are included with the book).
Remember the old question: “How to eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.” Don’t be intimidated by the research Take it one bite at a time and enjoy the journey.
What’s coming up next for you?
Currently I’m bring out my “HEART” TRILOGY in digital and print — May, June, and July – on the 15th of each month. That will be the last of my back list to release.
Next, I’m turning to PIRATES’ MOON, a late 19th c “time aberration” with an American setting (Maryland’s Chesapeake/Potomac). The hero, together with his ship and crew were battling pirates in the early 1600’s when a fierce storm arose and blew them all of course and into the Devil’s Triangle. Now, once every quarter of a century, on the night of the blood red moon, the ghostly ship and crew sails forth from the mists of time to take on flesh and blood from the waning to the waxing of the next full moon.
Please tell us where we can find all the information on your books and how readers can connect with you.
It can be found on my Website: www.kathleenkirkwoodhistoricals.com
And on my Blog: www.kathleenkirkwood.blogspot.com
Being a bit of a “foodie,” I enjoy recreating historic recipes that appear in my books. Be sure to check out the “Author Notes” page for “Recipes from the Past.” I’ll be adding a recipe for Icelandic Pancakes there and on my blog, plus information on Viking cooking.
Thanks so much for stopping by to talk with us today, and we hope to see you again soon!
Thank you! And happy writing to all.