Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Interview with an Author: Glen Craney and "The Spider and the Stone"

Please help me welcome Glen Craney to the blog today. His novel "The Spider and the Stone" is a fascinating account of Scotland in the time of English repression and clan upheaval. It is very well written and I enjoyed reading it. Here is a quick summary...

As the 14th century dawns, Scotland’s survival hangs by a spider’s thread. The maniacal Edward Longshanks of England schemes to annex the ancient kingdom to his growing realm. But a slight, dark-skinned boy named James Douglas—inspired by his headstrong lass—refuses to move from the monarch’s path. Here is the thrilling story of the war and forbidden love that saved Scotland and destined the founding of America.

Welcome Glen! First off... Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you turn to writing?

First, thanks for inviting me to join your marvelous blog, Caroline. 

I came to writing novels in a roundabout way. I grew up in Indiana and worked as a trial lawyer in Indianapolis for a few years. I took a sabbatical from the law practice to attend Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and quickly discovered that I'd rather dig up stories than sit in boring depositions. After New York, I join the Washington D.C. press corps and covered national politics and the Iran-contra scandal as an editor-reporter for Congressional Quarterly magazine. 

For fun, I enrolled in a screenwriting class at Georgetown University, and the instructor encouraged me to pursue movie writing. On a whim, I moved to southern California and eventually won the Nicholl Fellowship prize for best new screenwriting, which is awarded by the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences. After snagging a Hollywood agent and pitching my ideas to studios, I took the advice of my late mentor, Harry Essex, a renowned writer of old Hollywood, and turned my screenplays into novels. I'm often told that my books have a cinematic bent, so that's probably the reason.

Scotland seems to be getting a lot of attention in historical fiction world lately. Were you inspired by this sudden interest or have you always been interested in the topic?

This year marks the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, Scotland's greatest military victory. And in September, the Scots will vote on their long-anticipated referendum for independence from the United Kingdom. Those of us with Scottish heritage worldwide have have greeted the Bannockburn commemoration with much celebration. Although the battle plays an important role inThe Spider and the Stone, the novel's release this year was purely coincidental.

The ghosts of Auld Caledonia apparently tapped me to write this novel. I don't know why, but I often get inspiration for my books in dreams. About ten years ago, I awoke from a vivid one in which I was a mounted knight fighting a duel near a stream with a black-robed hag who was armed with a sickle. In the midst of this death struggle, the dream shifted to a photograph of me standing with six other knights around a seated king in a pose of celebration. Below the photograph, a caption read: "Americans aid the King at Bannockburn."

Baffled, I went on a quest to decipher the dream's meaning. Within weeks, I was in Scotland walking the fields below Stirling and around the famous burn of Bannock. I thought I had traveled there to research a novel with King Robert Bruce as my protagonist. But two weeks later, when boarding the plane for home, I had two new main characters returning with me: Sir James Douglas, the Bruce’s friend and commander who terrorized northern England with his dashing raids; and Isabelle MacDuff, the Countess of Buchan, who turned against her clan to crown the Bruce. Their story unfolded so quickly in my mind that, when I got off the plane eight hours later, I had my novel outlined.

So who is your favorite character in the novel?

James Douglas, nicknamed the Black Douglas by the English, is a fascinating hero, but Isabelle MacDuff hasn't received the recognition she deserves. I have a special fondness for Isabelle. I don't want to give away the story line for readers, but she paid a horrid price for her decision to put Scotland's freedom ahead of her personal welfare. In my opinion, history has given short shrift to the role that Scot women in general played in the wars of independence. I hope Spider helps corrects that injustice.

Do you have any other works in progress?

I've had three other novels released this year, although all have been years in the making. Unlike many authors who stay within a particular era and genre, I can't avoid chasing a good historical tale wherever it leads me. 

The Yanks Are Starving recounts how a charismatic hobo led twenty thousand jobless World War One veterans into the nation's capital in 1932, only to be driven out by General Douglas MacArthur and the regular U.S. Army troops. The Virgin of the Wind Rose is a historical thriller about two espionage conspiracies, a half-millenium apart, that converge to expose the real identity of Christopher Columbus. The Lucifer Genome, which I wrote with fellow Columbia grad John Jeter, is a mystery-thriller about a holy relic and a desperate chase for the oldest human DNA on earth.

Currently, I'm at work on a novel set in Georgia during the last days of the American Civil War. I can't get into specifics, but if I were in a Hollywood producer's office, I'd pitch it as A League of their Own meets The Patriot.

Who is your favorite author?

My dirty little secret is that I read so much for research, my list tends to be mostly non-fiction. Robert Caro is a master at biography. When I do have the opportunity to enjoy good historical fiction, I've found that Sharon Kay Penman and the late Nigel Tranter rarely disappoint.

And finally, if you could live in any time period, what would it be?

If I could play centerfield for the Yankees, I'd choose the golden era of New York City baseball, the 1950s. Seriously, I'm not much of a romantic when it comes to historical eras. Life was so brutal and disease so rampant until the latter half of the last century that I don't know why anyone would want to trade our existence with that of another time period.

Thanks again for stopping in Glen. Getting to know is a worthy pursuit in my mind! "The Spider and the Stone" is now available at Amazon in both Kindle and paperback editions. To learn more about Glen and his other literary endeavors, please visit his website.

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