Interview with J. Boyce Gleason, author of 'Anvil of God'

With an AB degree in history from Dartmouth College, J. Boyce Gleason brings a strong understanding of what events shaped the past and when, but writes historical-fiction to discover why. Gleason lives in Virginia with his wife Mary Margaret. They have three sons.

His latest book is the historical fiction, Anvil of God, Book One of the Carolingian Chronicles.

Visit his website at

Can you tell us what your book is about?

Anvil of God is about a family in crisis.  It chronicles the power struggle that befalls the family of Charles the Hammer in the wake of his death in 741.  Despite Charles’s best laid plans, son battles son, Christianity battles paganism and his young daughter must choose between love and her family’s ambition. 

Why did you write your book?

I’d always dreamed of writing a book but life got in the way.  I had to support a wife, three kids, a dog and a mortgage.  And I had a good career that took up a lot of time.  The dream just kept getting deferred.  Finally, I had a six-week sabbatical and thought, “if there ever was a time, it’s now.”  Once I started the story, I knew I couldn’t stop.  I had to see how it ended.

Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Oddly enough, Anvil’s two main characters are women.  Charles’s daughter Trudi flees his court in the dead of night to pursue love halfway across the continent in the camp of his enemies.  Along the way she must grapple with the reality of her father’s violent history conquering a continent with what she has been raised to believe.

Charles’s widow Sunni moves to protect her 14 year-old son, Gripho from his older and more battle worn, half-brothers Carloman and Pippin.  They suspect (rightly) that she is pagan and refuse to sanction the potential for a pagan state.

Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

They are as close to real as I could get for the 8th century.  Most of the main characters are real people and I shaped their personalities based on what is known about them. There are two exceptions (which I note in the author’s note at the end) where a hole in the history appeared and I felt a need to fill it.

For me, it is like a putting together a puzzle.  I catalogue what I know about the person, what actions they took, and then begin to list a series of questions.  Why did they do what they did?  Was it well thought out, or impulsive? How difficult was it?  What help would she have to have?  How long would it take?

Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?

I researched the period thoroughly and know what happened in history; the trick for me is to figure out why.  So, I have an outline of where the story ends up, but I often let the characters (once they are fully fleshed out) drive the plot.  In one case, the character-driven plot opened up a whole new perspective for the novel and made it a much richer reading experience.

Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

I think the time period does.  It was a very unforgiving time.  Violence was pervasive and religion (whether Christian, Pagan or Muslim) was a central tenant of their lives.

Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?

It’s rare that I have a full-blown case of writer’s block.  With me, it is just keeping the discipline of writing every day (at the same time, for the same period). I’ve always got something else to do (like answering these questions).  Unfortunately, I’m easily distracted.

What do you like the most about being an author?

I like the fact that my work can resonate so strongly with people.  To hear how readers grieve over some characters and celebrate others is really a wonderful way to connect.  My favorite compliment is, “How soon we have Book Two?”

What is the most pivotal point of a writer’s life?

The most pivotal point in becoming a writer is to decide to write and then to sit down and begin.
The most pivotal point overall, I think, is a toss up between typing the words, “The End” and seeing your book in hardcover for the first time.   

What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?

Start writing.  It forces the mind to sort out what is important and what is not.  Really research your characters. Know who they are, why they are the way they are, what their dreams and ambitions look like, how they behave, how they talk.  Let their interactions with other drive the story.  They tell the story more than you do.  Finally, edit and edit and edit and edit.  It always helps.