Interview: Nancy Kimball, Author of Chasing the Lion

KimballChasingTheLionDear Dabbers, please welcome Nancy Kimball to the blog. We chat about gladiators, pet dogs, the Colosseum, tough jobs, and so much more. Enjoy!

You’re a self-proclaimed hero-addict and enjoy characters that start out broken and wrecked and rise from that to glory and success. What is it about these characters types that keep you coming back for more? Care to share some examples (from books, movies/TV, or history)?

Oh yes, wounded hero is my absolute reader (and writer) drug of choice. What resonates with my soul in these types of stories is that there is no one so far gone God cannot redeem them. Whether the painful past/present was self-inflicted by poor decisions or circumstances inflicted by others through oppression—and sometimes both, as in the case of my own heroes—there is always hope for redemption. Even if the circumstances won’t change, or get worse, the character can and should change so that in the end, good conquers evil, hope is reborn, and that redemption comes. This is a pillar to my own work, and something I lived first-hand in my own personal story and faith journey.

Some of my favorite examples are Edmond Dantes in Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Christo, Maximus in the Ridley Scott film Gladiator, Job from The Holy Bible, Angel from Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, and Ambrose Young from Amy Harmon’s Making Faces.

What is the first book you remember reading on your own?

Shane by Jack Schaeffer, the classic western. I was about ten years old and came across some old books that belonged to my grandfather, who had recently passed away.  I’d never seen him reading anything but the newspaper my whole life, so I knew these books must have been pretty special if he’d read them and kept them. The skinniest one had a cowboy on the front so I was sold. It was the first time I remember being in a story, like I was there, and was the characters, not just reading about them. I still have that paperback too, held together with scotch tape and love.

You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (real or imagined, living or dead)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?

Oh that’s easy. My friend Megan Legrue. She has been on Spartan runs, color runs, numerous 5Ks, a half-marathon, is a cross-fit person, and a never-quit encourager and a constant source of support and unconditional acceptance for as long as I’ve known her. She’s who I want next to me in the zombie apocalypse, LOL! At the end of said obstacle course, there would absolutely be a celebratory pint. In my dreams I get to taste Caecubum wine, which was reputedly one of the finest vintages produced in the Ancient World—not from Greece surprisingly, but in Rome. Unfortunately Caesar Nero destroyed the vineyard that produced it when he built the canal to Ostia. So an ice-cold Dos Equis would suffice nicely.

Conventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?

The favorite aspect for me is connecting with readers. Because I do very limited self-promotion, preferring instead to let targeted paid advertising and reader word of mouth carry my sales and readership growth, I primarily interact with readers through direct contact through my website or replies to my email newsletter. When I do “come out and play” it is typically on Facebook.

I was very blessed to learn early in this business that relationships take time, and technology is instant, thanks to a great book Guerilla Marketing for Writers. So in reader and author groups and organizations, I build relationships where there is common interest in something—whether it is my faith, another book or author, writing, Ancient Rome, audiobooks, how hot Jim Caviezel will always be no matter how old he gets, or whether or not Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen was a better Darcy.

Least favorite part of self-promotion? Blogging. So consequently, I stopped doing it. But what really annoys me is when author acquaintances over-shoot with self-promotion and saturate social media to the point I have to unfollow/unfriend them. So I make sure to try to never be that person either.

What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

Oh gosh. It was actually a commercial building renovation project I was overseeing two years ago. The ramifications of the decisions I had to make daily, and the success and failure of not only the project but preserving the business relationships involved, rested completely on my shoulders. I’d never found myself in that position before professionally and it was baptism by fire, especially when everything about an already bad situation continued to worsen as the process wore on. I was so stressed out it was making me physically sick, and I wanted nothing more than to just say “I can’t do this” and walk away or hand it off to someone else, but I couldn’t. Not without losing my job which I love. I had to just get through it—with a lot of prayer, a lot of chocolate, and knowing that if this didn’t actually end up killing me, it was going to make me stronger.

That is exactly what my writing process is like. Also how I survived the seasoning process as an author to develop that famous (or infamous) rhino-hide that creatives need to make it in any artistic endeavor. When rejections piled up, or I got miserable contest scores and difficult criticism from industry professionals, or after two failed NaNoWriMo attempts in back to back years, there was so many times I just wanted to quit. Throw in the towel and walk away. Thank God I didn’t, for myself, the readers who embrace my work, and the creative partnerships my author life has blessed me with.

Now, when it feels like I’ll never get the next book finished or am struggling with the self-doubt every author has no matter how many five star reviews or bestsellers or awards behind them, I can cling to the knowledge I’ve been here before. I can make the choice to remember the slain giant behind me instead of fearing the enemy army before me. That reminder comes from the David and Goliath story in the Holy Bible, but really came alive to me as a battle cry for life through the novel Day of War by one of my favorite authors and human beings, Cliff Graham.

You have a pet dog, Eric T. How did he come to be part of your life? Does he serve as a muse to any of part of your writing process?

I came home from work one day and there was this stray puppy on my porch, all ribs and feet. I was NOT going to even feed him because then he wouldn’t leave. I was not in a place financially to care for a dog, and I had a hole in my heart still from the loss of the dog I grew up with and had for fourteen years. So no way was I keeping this dog. No freaking way. Not gonna do it.

Well it’s true if you want to make God laugh, just tell him YOUR plans. Three days later, I was shopping for a crate, collar, leashes, toys and food, making vet appointments, and now I can’t imagine life without him.

Eric is not a muse. When he’s not getting the attention he wants, he will literally bring his toy and drop it on my keyboard. While I’m typing! What he does do is love me unconditionally and sense when Mommy is coming apart at the seams, always there to lick tears from my face, put his head on my knee in comfort when I’m low, and happy dance in greeting every time I get home because he missed me so much. I don’t believe in coincidences, knowing instead those are God things. God sent Eric T. to me in a very, very dark time in my life. And I’m so grateful, even though Eric T. chewed up every single pair of shoes I owned the first three months I had him. And a throw pillow. And the flowerbed in the back yard. And most recently in a fit of anger at being left alone too long while I was volunteering at church, he chewed up my cover model’s wig for the photo shoot for book 2 of my series. But even so, I love him like crazy and he is a constant and tangible reminder to me how much God loves me.

What nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell, How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them by Mittelmark and Newman (which is fabulous and I highly recommend it to all aspiring novelists), Ancient Rome by Nigel Rogers and The Gladiators: History’s Most Deadly Sport by Fik Meijer. I also reached out to Dr. Kathleen Coleman, one of the worlds’ most recognized and renowned experts on gladiators (she was the technical and historical advisor to Ridley Scott for the film Gladiator). Dr. Coleman was kind enough to give me access to all of the off-prints and resources I requested, which was generous in the extreme. I made the hero of Chasing the Lion left-handed as a tribute to her and her work to preserve and deepen our understanding of gladiatorial history.

What are the top 3 historical time periods and locations you would like to visit?

The Flavian Amphitheater, known today as the Colosseum, in Rome. But not in the first century, that’s for sure. At that time Christians were being persecuted like ISIS is doing now in Egypt and the Middle East. Visiting Rome and standing in the Colosseum is at the top of my bucket list.

I’d also like to visit the Old West in the late 1800’s. California during the gold rush or Oregon in the height of the wagon train days.

Susan, I tried really hard (for about ten minutes) to come up with a third one, but that’s pretty much it—Rome and the Old West. That says so much about me, LOL.

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

The Odyssey by Homer (which my all-time favorite movie ever, Oh Brother Where Art Thou? Is based on), Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, War and Peace, Moby Dick, The Diary of Anne Frank, any Larry McMurtrey novel, Ovid’s Sorrows (which he wrote after being banished from Rome), and Pliney the Elder’s Natural History. Although sharing that makes me feel someone is going to appear out of thin air and revoke my author card, so great question, Susan!

KimballChasingTheLionBook blurb for Chasing the Lion:

From the blood-soaked sand of the Roman arena, a divine destiny will rise.

For as long as Jonathan Tarquinius can remember, everyone has wanted something from him.

His half brother wants him dead. His master’s wife wants his innocence. The gladiator dealers want him to fight—and die—for their greed. Rome’s most famous prostitute wants his love. And the gentle slave girl who tends the wounds on his body and the hidden ones on his soul longs for him to return to his faith.

What Jonathan wants is simple. Freedom.

But God wants something from Jonathan too—something more than anyone would ever imagine. The young warrior’s journey will push him to the limits of human endurance and teach him that true freedom is found within. The greatest battle Jonathan must ever fight will not come in the arena, but deep within himself as he is forced to choose between vengeance and mercy—with the fate of an empire and the life of the woman he loves hanging in the balance.

Places to find Nancy Kimball

Goodreads

Website

Amazon

The Blood of the Gods by Conn Iggulden

IgguldenBloodOfGodsWhy I Read It: I love this series, so I had to. It was a NEED.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Roman Empire fans.

Narrator: Michael Healy

Publisher: Delacorte Press (2013); AudioGO (2013)

Length: 433 pages; 13 hours 54 minutes

Series: Emperor Book 5

Author’s Page

Note: I originally requested this novel via Netgalley, but had technical issues that took a while to get a response from Netgalley in order to download the book. While waiting for the response, I also requested the audiobook via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!). So, this review covers both as I listened to the audio and used the ebook to review favorite sections.

Following on the heals of the assassination of Julius Caesar, The Blood of the Gods follows Octavian (Julius’s nephew and adopted son and heir), Marc Antony (Julius’s loyal friend), and Marcus Brutus (Julius’s childhood friend and assassin). Conn Iggulden gives us a very good historical fiction that closely follows known historical facts. But he goes beyond that, bringing faces, emotions, and test of wills alive on the pages of this book. For a time, the Liberators, including Brutus, hold all the political power. Marc Antony must join with Octavian to try to punish those who killed his dearest friend. Octavian sets his two closest friends, Agrippa and Maecenas, in charge of building a navy and helping gather and command his army.

This was a very exciting book, and part of that is because it is based on very exciting times. The rest of it, is because Iggulden brings these historical persons alive on the page. Octavian’s unwavering belief that Marc Antony is his friend because of past allegiances and their current striving to bring the Liberatoris to justice becomes one of his flaws. He can’t see how dangerous Antony may be or that he may be merely a temporary ally. Luckily, Octavian has two stout friends, lots of money, and Roman military at his back. Meanwhile, Antony scorns the outstretched friendly hand of Octavian, which wasn’t his smartest move in all of history.

I loved the rebuilding of the fleet after the current fleet was given to one of Octavian’s enemies by the Liberatori-heavy Senate. Agrippa gets his chance to shine, having the ‘honor’ to build the ships, gather enough men to man them, train them on a large lake, and then have the men dig a channel to the sea, upon which they shall fight their first sea battle and hopefully win. Yeah, it can be a little tough being Octavian’s friend. But it really was fantastic, even if you are familiar with the time period and know how it plays out.

But the goodness doesn’t end there. We get a few insights into the real-life recurring illness from which Octavian suffered. We also follow a few of the Libertoris around, seeing from the inside how they cope with the turn of events. Many of these men lead otherwise honorable lives, have wives and children, and joined in the Ides of March because they believed they were freeing a nation. Overall, this is a very well-rounded, fully engaging novel.

Alas, Iggulden says in his afterward that while Octavian’s life and deeds could fill another lengthy series, he plans to leave it here. I was saddened to hear this as Iggulden himself points out that Octavian has been misrepresented many times as a weakling and/or coward when the historical record is clear that this was not the case. So who better to educate the masses than Iggulden himself? So, for now, I will keep my fingers crossed that perhaps in time he changes his mind and gives us another 3-5 volumes on the life of Octavian.

The Narration: Michael Healy had a very clear diction and even pacing. However, there was often little to no distinction between characters and he often did not imbue exciting scenes (think climatic naval battle) with any sense of excitement or urgency.

What I Liked: Damn near everything; the various covers for this book all came out really well; the characters were real – flaws, hopes, ambitions, poor choices, fears, etc. ; the afterword, in which Iggulden lets the reader know when and why he deviated from historical facts.

What I Disliked: The narration wasn’t all that it could have been; it looks like this will be the last book in this awesome series :(.

What Others Think:

Historical Novel Society

For Winter Nights

The Social Potato Reviews

Emperor: The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden

Why I Read It: It’s the conclusion to a much enjoyed series.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you are into ancient Roman history, Julius Caesar era, then this is a great series for you.

Narrator: Paul Blake

Publisher: AudioGO (2009)

Length: 15 hours 22 minutes

Series: Emperor Book 4

The Gods of War picks up right where The Field of Swords leaves off: Pompey has set himself against Caesar. Pompey has seniority, the Senate backing him, Caesar’s daughter for a wife, and, he believes, the will of the Gods. Caesar has his Gaul battle-hardened troops and a good grasp of the effective use of propaganda. Conn Iggulden spent the bulk of this book on the conflict between these two powerful men and how it nearly tore Rome apart. Julius must live through the betrayal of one of his generals; Iggulden portrayed the motivations and character of both sides in that conflict. I truly enjoyed listening to the author’s rendition of how this bit of history unfolded. Pompey and the Senate flee Rome for Greece, where Caesar must follow, leaving Mark Antony in charge in Rome.

The conflict brings the two Roman armies to blood. Octavian, a young relative of Caesar, is given his chance to show his ability at commanding men in battle and his skill shines through. It was good to see Octavian become a man in this last installment in the series. The conflict eventually spreads to the shores of Egypt, to which about the last quarter of the book was dedicated. Due to the fascination with Cleopatra, this may be the most well-known episode of Caesar’s life (remember that Elizabeth Taylor film?). Julius actually took a holiday in Egypt, for roughly 6 months, traveling the Nile, sightseeing, and most likely bedding the young ruler of Egypt. They eventually had an offspring, which raised all sorts of conflict back home in Rome, to which Julius had to eventually return.

If you ever watched or read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or the more recent HBO series Rome, then you know how this story ends. I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who missed out on this classic story, but I will say that I was very satisfied with the book. I felt that the motivations, fears, hopes, and desires of all the main characters were well laid out, giving the reader a very plausible rendition of how and why history fell out the way it did.

Paul Blake provided a decisive and strong voice for Julius Caesar. I also appreciated that he used the Latin pronunciation for the Roman names (such as using the ‘w’ sound for names spelled with a ‘v’). However, I sometimes could not tell when he was using his feminine voice and would have to pay extra attention to the dialogue to track when Cleopatra or another female was speaking.

What I Liked: I have long been fascinated with this period in history and I was well satisfied with this author’s rendition of it; the internal conflict of those who love yet envy Caesar was well portrayed; the battles, while detailed, were not overly gory.

What I Disliked: I would have liked to hear more about Mark Antony and why he was so favored by Caesar; the ladies were few and had limited roles and unfortunately limited depth in this series.

Emperor: The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden

Picabuche with my book.

Why I Read It: For fun.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Whom I Recommend This To: Roman history buffs and action-seekers.

Publisher: HarperCollins (2003)

Length: 624 pages

Series: Emperor Book 1

I love this section of history, and not just for all the dramatized literature, TV, and movies the life of Julius Caesar has inspired. So it would be hard for me to not enjoy a historical fiction based on this man’s life. The Gates of Rome does not disappoint. Conn Iggulden captured the early life of one of histories most studied characters. In this book we follow Julius as a young boy on his family’s country estate up to his early 20s and the beginning of his military career. As a boy, his childhood friend Marcus and he meet together many trials and tribulations. Tubruk, the estate manager, tries to keep them out of trouble, but it is hard work when they are constantly getting into scraps with the neighboring farm kids. Julius’s mother has suffered from some mental malady since giving birth to him and spends much of her time sequestered away. Julius’s father spends most of his time at Rome politicking. Tubruk has his hands full indeed.

As the boys age, the start their combat training under the tutelage of an ex-gladiator, Renius. He is tough, mean, unsympathetic. The boys had plenty of opportunities to die by his hand. After a slave uprising, both boys, now young men, go to live with Julius’s uncle Marius, a mover and a shaker of Rome. He has an unsettled on-going dispute with another Consul of Rome, Sulla. The two detest one another. As Julius comes of age in the world of politics and intrigue, Marcus and Renius join a legion that spends quality time in the far reaches of the Empire fighting to expand the borders.

This book was more than I expected. So much of Julius Caesar’s life is on record that this story could have had a very textbook feel to it. However, that was not the case. We saw how the boys grew to men as real people and not as some dry historical figures attached to statistics, dates, and places. I am eager to begin the second in the series.

What I Liked: That double boxing match with Julius and Marcus pitted against older, more experienced soldiers; Julius’s roof-top antics in the name of love; Marcus’s fight with one of the blue natives; Sulla’s character (in a bad way).

What I Disliked:  The love interest in Alexandria seemed a little forced; all the women are love interests or mentally deranged.