Please join me in welcoming B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Glen Craney to A Literary Vacation today! Glen is a novelist, screenwriter, and journalist. He holds degrees from Indiana University-Indianapolis School of Law and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He practiced trial law before joining the Washington, D.C. press corps to cover national politics and the Iran-contra trial for Congressional Quarterly magazine. The Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences awarded him the Nicholl Fellowship prize for best new screenwriting. He is also a Chaucer Awards First-Place Winner and a three-time Foreword Reviews Book-of-the-Year Award Finalist. His debut historical novel, The Fire and the Light, was honored by the National Indie Excellence Awards as best new fiction.
Hi Glen, and welcome back to A Literary Vacation! To start off with, please tell us a little about your book, The Spider and the Stone.
Thanks for inviting me back, Colleen. My historical novel tells the story of James Douglas and Isabelle MacDuff, two Scot patriots who championed the cause of King Robert the Bruce during the 14th century wars of independence against England. Most people know about William Wallace from the movie Braveheart. My novel begins during that tumultuous time and unfolds the next thirty years of Scotland’s struggle, ending with the death of the fearsome knight who became known as the Black Douglas. Last month, the Chaucer Awards committee named the novel a First-Place Winner in Category Historical Fiction.
My paternal family is Scottish (my maiden name is Macdonald) so I love learning more about the country’s history as well as the complicated, brave and sometimes ruthless clans. What drew you to setting your story here? With all the fascinating people populating this time and place in history, what made you concentrate on James Douglas’s story?
You’re a fellow MacDonald! I’ve been told the Craneys are from the MacDonalds of Clanranald. You’ll be proud to know the MacDonalds played an important role in the unlikely triumph of Robert Bruce. Angus Og MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, was Bruce’s ally and fought alongside the king and Douglas.
The inspiration for the novel came to me in a vivid dream about knights, a victorious king, and a battle fought aside a stream near a place called Bannockburn. I traveled for research to Scotland assuming Robert Bruce would be my protagonist. Once there, I learned about James Douglas and Isabelle MacDuff, a countess from Fife who turned against her clan to crown Bruce at Scone. By the time I boarded my flight home, I knew those two would be my main characters.
I see that The Spider and the Stone is not only a story of the battles and allegiances that changed Scottish history but a love story. What made you include this aspect and how does this particular component influence the historical outcome?
Reading the histories of that period, I found hints that James Douglas had carried on a mysterious love affair while retreating with Robert Bruce’s haggard band of rebels to the Isles after being ambushed at Methven. Only a few Bruce women, including Isabelle MacDuff, accompanied the Scot survivors. By a process of elimination, I began to suspect that Douglas had fallen in love with the MacDuff heroine, who would become lionized as the Lass of Scone. To my knowledge, no other author has suggested this possibility. Without giving away the plot, I can say that much of what happened during the Bruce era began to make sense to me when viewed through this love affair.
Historical fiction happens to be my all-time favorite genre and I find myself going back and forth between what periods of history are my favorite to read about. Is the Medieval period your favorite time period to write and/or read about, or do you enjoy jumping around as I do?
I don’t have a favorite period. I’m always drawn to a good story regardless of the era. That’s probably the result of my journalism background. I’ve set novels in times and places as varied as 13th-century Occitania, 14th-century Scotland, 15th-century Portugal, World War I, and the Great Depression in the United States. My current work-in-progress is an American Civil War story.
What goes into the researching of a story like this? With historical fiction I know there is a balance of true history and fictionalization by the author. How did you balance the true facts you discovered and where you ventured into the realm of fiction?
I tend to read more nonfiction than fiction, mainly for research and because I’ve always been interested in what actually happened. Why then do I write novels? I’m fascinated by the gaps and inconsistencies in our historical knowledge. I strive to stay true to “facts,” but that doesn’t stop me from exploring mysteries, new explanations, and possibilities. To approach the deeper truths in history, an author must delve into motivations and reconstruct conversations that have been forever lost to us.
Tim O’Brien, who wrote novels about the Vietnam War, penned my favorite maxim in this regard: “A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” If a novelist can offer a plausible alternative to the traditional historical narrative, he or she should simply alert the reader in the author’s notes to the variances and justify the reasons for adopting them. That’s why it’s called historical fiction, not academic history.
What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing and the rest of your life?
If I’m not in a research phase, I usually write in the morning and edit in the afternoon. There are times when I look to be doing nothing, but creative artists know this is essential incubating time. The real balancing act for me is between writing and marketing. It can be tough to shift from left to right sides of the brain.
What drew you towards independent publishing as opposed to seeking out a traditional publisher?
With my first novel, The Fire and the Light, I envisioned a cover emulating a medieval tome with an interior parchment feel and Tarot chapter images essential to the story. Set during the 13th century Albigensian Crusade, the novel revolves around a family of Cathar heretic women called the Esclarmondes. I knew it was unlikely a traditional publisher would agree to my design concept, so I started my own imprint. In 2008, the head fiction buyer for Barnes and Noble loved the finished book so much that she placed the largest order my distributor had ever received and had it displayed on the new hardback fiction shelves in the front of B&N’s stores. That kind of exposure was--and still is--rare for an indie author. After that success, the online magazine IndieReader published a feature story calling me a “self-publishing pioneer.” I sold the last of the first-run hardbacks and brought out a new paperback edition last year.
How did you discover indieBRAG and what does it mean to you to have The Spider and the Stone (as well as The Yanks are Starving) awarded the BRAG Medallion?
I learned about indieBRAG from fellow HF authors who are members of Facebook groups. With the emergence of POD and digital publishing, the good news is anyone can now publish a book; the bad news is anyone can now publish a book. The greatest challenge indie authors confront is the stigma of inferiority caused by books rushed into the market without professional design and editing. IndieBRAG offers an invaluable vetting service to readers who might otherwise shy away from indies. With the rapid changes in the industry, I’m confident the walls between indie and traditional publishing will continue to crumble.
Thank you, Glen, for taking the time to stop by and answer my questions! You can learn more about Glen and his books on his website, blog, Facebook, and Goodreads. You can purchase The Spider and the Stone at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.
A Message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Colleen has chosen to interview Glen Craney, who is the author of The Spider and the Stone, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ® , a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Past Encounters merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.