Cynthia Ripley Miller: I’d be happy to give you a peek into this historical period, which I found fascinating. The year is AD 450. The Western Roman Empire teeters on the brink of collapse (AD 476) and into this gap step the barbarians. The Romans, with their well-organized military, regard the barbarian tribes as primitive. However, many barbarian groups have their own class of nobility, are educated and can read and write in Latin and Greek. The Germanic Franks are one of these tribes.
Also, at this time, the barbarian king, Attila the Hun, invades Gaul (France) over a dispute with the Roman emperor, Valentinian III. Rome and the Franks, who occupy this territory, fight against Attila at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains and win. The Franks, later known as the Merovingians, rise from tribal chiefs to acknowledged masters of Roman Gaul. Most of the Roman Empire is Christianized by the fifth century, including many barbarian groups. Yet, the Franks remain pagan until Clovis, who unites all the Frank tribes, becomes their first official king. He converts to Christianity in 496 and his people follow.
Domestically, the most important role for a Roman woman is as a wife and mother. Historians write that girls and boys attend primary school, sing in choirs, and go to social events. Girls from elite families learn Latin and Greek. Women from the upper classes are well educated, and at times, praised by historians for their learning and cultivation. Freeborn women are citizens, but cannot vote or hold office; nonetheless, women play an active role in trying to persuade the government to adopt certain policies. Barbarian men wear tunics with leggings and the women tunic style dresses. Roman men wear uniforms if in the military and on duty, otherwise tunics without leggings. Togas are more for dress or ceremony. Roman women wear the stola, a draped, belted dress. Barbarians like mead. Romans like watered down or sweetened wine. Although, no one will pass up what is available to them!
H: Thanks for setting the scene - that helps to get me in the right mindset. Speaking of late Roman history, what is it about this time period that draws you to writing about it?
CRM: I became intrigued with late ancient Rome and the barbarian groups while teaching history. I discovered that the Roman Empire in the fifth century was an era of violent change, rich in drama, and ripe for storytelling. What a perfect setting for conflict, classic themes, and an adventurous plot that stemmed from my roots. As a child, I heard stories from older relatives that pointed to our lineage tracing back into Italian history. I felt taken by a sense of purpose and direction. Also, signs along the way propelled me into this era, which I cannot explain but followed, but that’s another story!
H: I love to hear how authors find their muse, especially when its not one of the frequently cited subjects. On the Edge of Sunrise is the first book in your series, The Long-Hair Saga. What can you tell us about your plan for this series?
CRM: The primary name of the series ‘Long-Hair’ derives from the term applied to Frank barbarian nobles. These nobles wore their hair long to distinguish their status. My hero, Garic, is a Frank noble and First Counsel to his chieftain. Arria is a Roman envoy and a senator’s daughter.
When barbarian raiders abduct Arria, Garic rescues her—and their adventure begins. With Attila bearing down on Gaul and amidst political intrigue and a mysterious riddle, their attraction is undeniable, but forbidden. Torn between duty and desire, Arria and Garic are faced with an even bigger challenge, helping to save the empire. On the Edge of Sunrise is the debut novel that leads into a series where Arria and Garic find themselves in a variety of suspenseful adventures. My second book in the Long-Hair Saga, The Quest for The Crown of Thorns is a historical romantic mystery/suspense novel. It has an August 2016 publication date. Book three is currently simmering in my head.
H: That's exciting! There is nothing worse as a reader to wait forever for the next installment to come out! Did you do a lot of research before writing the book? What type of research?
CRM: I did quite a bit of research before I even wrote the first chapter, but I also research things along the way as well. I have several bookshelves filled with books about the Franks, the Huns, Attila, the fall of the Roman Empire, women in ancient Rome, paganism, magic, Germanic mythology, Christians in late antiquity, ancient medicine, books on Latin, the Roman world and more. I also belong to online forums where I’m able to interact with scholars and experts about this era and the ancient world. I love the library and librarians! I find the atmosphere relaxing, and I usually can find whatever it is I’m looking for. Librarians are great research assistants. If the information exists, they will help you find it. A librarian helped me to find the flora, trees, and shrubs in northern ancient Gaul. I was amazed and thrilled.
H: I agree, librarians are your best friend with research! I have learned that through various school projects. Regarding your Long Hair series, why have you chosen to write a historical romance novel as opposed to any other genre or subgenre?
CRM: As a young girl, I would often shut myself in my bedroom and devour a book, usually one set in the past. Reading classic novels was an early passion of mine. At fourteen, I chose War and Peace by Tolstoy to read for a book report. I eagerly consumed the classics, English, American, European and Asian fiction, poetry, biographies, political works and religious philosophies. As my work life became more intense, I found that I wanted to read a historical novel with an adventurous plot. I guess one might say I turned to the dark side—genre fiction! Anne Rice’s vampires brought historical settings to life and demonstrated a diversity of human traits despite their undead status. Diana Gabaldon and her Outlander series captured my attention with her vibrant characters, Scottish history, romance, and a splash of fantasy. I felt compelled to move in the direction of a well-researched romantic historical. From a writer’s perspective, fifth century Rome and the barbarian Franks filled the niche for drama, intrigue and a fresh era.
H: Wow! War and Peace! I haven't yet attempted that one yet. When you are not reading for research, what type of books or what authors do you enjoy reading?
CRM: These days, I read mostly historical novels. I’m just finishing Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart. It’s a romantic suspense novel. I read a lot of Steven Saylor. I love his mysteries set in ancient Rome and his prose is fabulous. I’m a Penman fan and I like Helen Hollick. I’m the kind of reader who will go wherever you want to take me; just hook me with a great plot (subplots always welcome) and solid prose.
H: I'm the same way, willing to check out any time or place! For those who have not read your work, how would you describe your writing style?
CRM: I like page-turners, so I’ve tried to keep my story fast-paced. I lean more towards dialogue. I also like a crisp narrative, but there’s a place, in my opinion, for a lyrical tone in narrative as well. I think my characters’ inner dialogue is at times philosophical, but that is somewhat an aspect of my personality. Introspection adds dimension to characters. I also feel that the sensuality in my romantic historical adds a pinch of spice that makes the reading even more pleasurable.
H: Awesome! Have you had any struggles in the writing/publishing process? How have you worked through these? Any words of wisdom for aspiring authors?
CRM: From the very first word on paper and until I signed a contract took about nine years. One of the ‘signs’ that kept me motivated was that people who knew me never seemed to forget I was writing a novel. They would always ask me how it was going. I felt encouraged by this and determined. I made some goals for myself. I joined several writing groups and formed my own novelist group. I surrounded myself with other writers with the same goals—to become better writers and to work towards publication. There were more than a few times, when I felt like quitting, but I couldn’t. Something wouldn’t let me. Then, one day, as I sat in my car in a library parking lot, I checked my email, and the offer was there. A London and New York based publisher, Knox Robinson Publishing wanted to publish my book. I cried happy tears.
The best advice I can offer anyone is the model for determination I used. In the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, the character Andy, played by Tim Robbins, goes to prison for killing his wife and her lover, a crime he did not commit. For two decades, he picks away at the wall in his cell with a stolen rock hammer to create a hole large enough for him to escape from prison and finally find freedom. I loved the message in this story. If there is anything you really want—keep at it, pick away at it—and you may accomplish your goal. If you don’t reach your goal, your effort isn’t totally lost. It may lead you to a new goal and maybe, an even better one. Think positively!
H: Those are some great words to live by! Thanks for sharing your inspirational story.
Cynthia Ripley Miller is the author of On the Edge of Sunrise, the first novel in the Long-Hair Sagas, a series set in Late Ancient Rome and France. She has lived and travelled in Europe, Africa, North America and the Caribbean, taught history and currently teaches English. Her short stories have appeared in the anthology Summer Tapestry, The Scriptor, and at Orchard Press Mysteries.com. She lives with her husband, twin cats, and German Shepherd in a suburb of Chicago.
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When love commands, destiny must obey. Against an epic background and torn between duty and passion, Arria Felix, a Roman senator’s daughter, must choose between Rome’s decadent world and her forbidden love—Garic, a Frank barbarian noble.
The year is AD 450. The Roman Empire wanes as the Medieval Age awakens. Attila the Hun and his horde conquer their way across Europe into Gaul. Caught between Rome’s tottering empire and Attila’s threat are the Frankish tribes and their ‘Long-Hair’ chiefs, northern pagans in a Roman Christian world, and a people history will call the Merovingians.
A young widow, Arria longs for a purpose and a challenge. She is as well versed in politics and diplomacy as any man … but with special skills of her own. The Emperor Valentinian, determined to gain allies to help stop the Huns, sends a remarkable envoy, a woman, to the Assembly of Warriors in Gaul. Arria will persuade the Franks to stand with Rome against Attila.
When barbarian raiders abduct Arria, the Frank blue-eyed warrior, Garic, rescues her. Alarmed by the instant and passionate attraction she feels, Arria is torn between duty and desire. Her arranged betrothal to the ambitious tribune, Drusus, her secret enlistment by Valentinian as a courier to Attila the Hun, and a mysterious riddle—threaten their love and propel them into adventure, intrigue, and Attila’s camp. Rebels in a falling empire, Arria and Garic must find the strength to defy tradition and possess the love prophesied as their destiny.
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