Promo: Masterworks Anthology Blog Hop – Down the Rabbit Hole with Kathleen Guler

Today, I'm delighted to welcome author Kathleen Guler to Ruins & Reading, as part of the Masterworks anthology blog hop. 
She's sharing a fascinating guest post about the infamous research rabbit hole. A fascinating revelation! She also tells us about her fabulous series set in the 5th century.

Kathleen has a short story in the recently published Masterworks anthology. Make sure to check it out here!

On Research—Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

by Kathleen Guler

Any writer of historical fiction can relate lots of stories about falling down the research rabbit hole. Maybe you need one little, tiny bit of information for a scene. That’s all you need to finish, and you need it now. So, you locate the item, jot it down (hopefully), and are about to insert the words into your story when, “Oh look! That’s interesting.” So you start reading, maybe take notes, read some more, find a new reference in the endnotes, find that book or article, keep reading, taking notes…and so on. By now it’s a week later and the original morsel is buried in the materials stacked on your desk.

Was the time wasted? On the surface, it might have been if the original information was needed right away to get the piece finalized and submitted. But what other material did you find out there? Could some of it be used in another story? In another part of the current story? Did you note what it was, where you saw it, so in case you want to use it somewhere, you don’t need to hunt it down again and make another trip down the rabbit hole? (I’m still looking for stuff I wanted to use but never found again because I didn’t mark it.) Either way, I don’t think any research is ever a waste of time. All of those bits of information can add up into a broader spectrum of knowledge and perspective. (Jeopardy! maybe?)

Researching my short story, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, which appears in the Historical Fiction Writers Masterworks anthology of stories inspired by artworks, was a journey that included quite a few rabbit holes. The story is based on John William Waterhouse’s Pre-Raphaelite style painting of the same title. In creating the story, I already knew Waterhouse had drawn from John Keats’s 1820 poem to inspire his images of the characters and setting. I also knew of a much older poem, also of the same title, written by French courtier Alain Chartier in 1424. Because of the style of the painting’s clothing and armour, I decided to focus on France in the year 1424 for the setting. This year fell during the Hundred Years War, fought between the French and English, mainly on French soil. When I started researching fifteenth-century France, I originally thought I would make the male character, William, English and the female character, Isabeau, French. I also had a vague memory that the French were allied with Scotland, which paired them against their mutual enemy, the English, but I did not know how long it had been in place, how formal it was, and that it had a name: The Auld Alliance. Then I found a wonderful book aptly named An Antidote to the English: The Auld Alliance, 1295-1560, by Norman MacDougall, that details the alliance from beginning to end, its relevance to the evolving political climates during its existence, and focuses on battle tactics of the allies. This source was a real treasure and gave me the ideas to make William a Scottish soldier and to have the long-standing animosity between the Scots and English play into the story. Then, in the process of this same research, I also discovered the town of Verneuil in Normandy was the site of a battle in August 1424 and the Scots played an important part in it. The battle’s timing fit into the story very well, and Isabeau became a Frenchwoman who lived there.

With the historical framework and the basis for the characters set, I started down the next rabbit hole, searching for details: what did Verneuil look like in 1424? After considerable digging, I started locating useful materials. A map of the town in the fifteenth century. Recreations of the castle and its grounds. Street views of the ruins of these buildings. Plans of how the battle proceeded. Questions followed: how much has changed? What remains the same? What is only someone’s fantasy Photoshop or AI reproduction that has no semblance to history? Corroboration of multiple sources with each other and with the physical remains of the location was key to using credible sources and tossing aside those that did not fit.

On the note about corroboration and credibility, during my research I read a general history of France written by popular historian John Julius Norwich, the intent to brush up on my knowledge of the time leading up to the Hundred Years War. Several paragraphs about England’s Edward II, his wife Isabella of France, and Roger Mortimer stopped me cold and sent red flags up like a bunch of flares. Norwich repeated several outlandish falsehoods that have been passed from one secondary resource to the next simply due to their sensationalism. He claimed Edward was gay, his marriage to Isabella was terrible, she was lovers with her ally Mortimer, and that Edward’s death was, in Norwich’s words, “hideous.” He stopped short of saying Edward was murdered by having a red-hot poker stuck up his bum, another falsehood that won’t go away. All of these claims have been thoroughly refuted by historian and fourteenth-century expert, Kathryn Warner, who has scoured thousands of primary sources related to Edward. Absolutely no evidence exists to prove those false claims, but they continue to be repeated. The passages’ presence made the whole book suspect. So that was one rabbit hole I backed out of in a hurry!

Most historical fiction writers love research. To many, it is the best part of writing. It’s a big part of why we write—to tell the stories so the past will not be forgotten.

Book Blurbs:

Into the Path of Gods (Macsen’s Treasure Series, Book 1)

In the war-torn fifth century, after the end of Roman rule and before King Arthur's rise to power, blunt-talking spy and master of disguise Marcus ap Iorwerth works for a clandestine alliance of British nobles set to depose the inept and hated high king. His efforts lead him to Claerwen, an ethereal woman with "fire in the head"--the gift of visions--and to whom he is inescapably drawn. He quickly realizes she has unwittingly become ensnared in a lethal conspiracy involving a broken marriage contract, a buildup of foreign mercenaries and a brutal warrior called the Iron Hawk who leaves atrocities and scorched earth in his wake. All appear connected to a hunt for an unnamed treasure supposedly in Claerwen's possession. She knows nothing of this treasure and though Marcus struggles to protect her, he is betrayed and disappears. Alone and homeless, Claerwen must decide whether to believe what everyone tells her, that Marcus is dead and she should go into hiding. But when a vision shows her the dreaded Iron Hawk in pursuit of Marcus, she is also challenged to journey into the path of gods—to trust the destiny laid out before her. Defying all common sense, she embarks alone on a daunting journey to find him before the warrior does. Has she truly understood the vision’s message? Or will each die alone, lost and forgotten at the edge of the Iron Hawk’s sword? And will the alliance survive without Marcus—perhaps dooming Britain’s future as well?

In the Shadow of Dragons (Macsen’s Treasure Series, Book 2)

It is said that long before the Dark Age king of the Britons called Arthur was ever heard of, his golden reign was prophesied, and after decades of invasion and civil violence had wracked post-Roman Britain, his presaged leadership offered a rare promise of future peace. Events leading to that time—some of them full of hope, more often full of sacrifice—inevitably began to fall into place… When the mysterious druid Myrddin Emrys—known in legend as Merlin the Enchanter—is certain the high king is in imminent danger of yet another assassination attempt, he summons iron-willed spy and master of disguise Marcus ap Iorwerth to unearth the conspirators and destroy their plots. Marcus reluctantly agrees to help after his wife Claerwen, driven by her otherworldly gift of visions, insists that she must accompany him on the quest. It is soon discovered that Pascentius, the youngest son of an earlier and well-hated king, is allied with dreaded Saxon mercenaries and readily poised to reclaim his father’s throne. But before Marcus and Claerwen can spoil his plans, a second conspiracy of personal revenge closes in on them. Falsely declared fugitives by the very ones they had sought to help, they become trapped in a labyrinthine intrigue between their accusers and the traitors. In a desperate race against time, they must endure hardship and profound personal loss, while pushing Britain towards freedom, peace, and the future called Arthur.

The Anvil Stone (Macsen’s Treasure Series, Book 3)

“Freedom is all that matters.” So says spy and master of disguise Marcus ap Iorwerth of his greatest dream. For years, he has courageously struggled to unite Britain’s feuding internal factions and derail the ever-encroaching Saxon threat that has made his homeland a deadly place. So when a mysterious stranger delivers a gruesome, bloodstained effigy fashioned to look like him, Marcus immediately knows it’s both a warning and a challenge. He and his wife Claerwen—whose gift of second sight makes her a target as well—run headlong into the daunting fray. Rival factions are instigating war both among themselves and with the Saxons, and while Marcus sets out to quash their treachery, Claerwen discovers another crisis. Those same factions have mounted a desperate search for one of Britain’s most cherished symbols—a magnificent sword of the ancient high kings that has been lost for decades. She knows the sword must be found; it is part of Britain’s future and will pass to a great king called Arthur who has been prophesied to come. With battle about to erupt all around, Marcus learns the stranger, an assassin bent on killing him, may be one of the last sources that could lead him and Claerwen to the sacred sword.

A Land Beyond Ravens (Macsen’s Treasure Series, Book 4)

No one in fifth century Britain knows more secrets than master spy Marcus ap Iorwerth, and that makes him a dangerous man. It also makes him a hunted one. For nearly three decades he has manipulated stubborn, irascible kings and warlords in a quest to not only unite them against foreign invasion but to stop them from destroying each other as well. And along with his beloved wife Claerwen, he has followed a greater, even more perilous pursuit to forge a clear path for the fulfilment of Merlin the Enchanter s famed prophecy that one day a great king will take command, the king known as Arthur of the Britons.

Now, with Arthur at last on the brink of adulthood and already showing great promise as a leader, Marcus discovers that the emerging Christian church is gaining enough power to dangerously shift control of Britain. At the same time Claerwen, gifted with second sight, is plagued with strange dreams that connect inexplicable doom to both Arthur and a long lost grail sacred to Britain’s high kings. As foreboding mounts, Marcus struggles to prevent the church from crushing Arthur s chances of becoming an effective king. But how he goes about it sets up the very doom that Claerwen sees. Will she be able to stop him? Or will her visions send Marcus to his own doom as well?

*Winner of the 2010 Colorado Book Award*

About the Author:

Kathleen Guler

Kathleen Guler is the author of the four-book Macsen’s Treasure Series, novels set in fifth-century Arthurian Britain. The series includes A Land Beyond Ravens, winner of the 2010 Colorado Book Award in the historical fiction category.
The author’s numerous articles, essays, short stories, reviews, and poems have appeared in Eastern Iowa Review, Steamboat Magazine, and Saber and Scroll Journal, among many other publications. She is a member of the Colorado Authors League and the Historical Novel Society. Her fifth novel intertwines a trio of related stories set in different times and places. The author lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Connect with Kathleen:


Facebook author page:

Facebook personal page:

X/Twitter: @kathleenguler