F. Scott Kimmich
Dog Ear Publishing (2019)
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (04/19)
F. Scott Kimmich was born in Indianapolis and is an honors graduate of Haverford College. He is a winner of the French Government Scholarship and taught English conversation at the high school level in Chartres, France. After a career in advertising, Kimmich is retired and lives with his wife Kate Tepper in Norwalk, CT. They have 4 children and 6 grandchildren.
Kimmich is the author of the Ordeal by Fire trilogy, a trilogy of novels based on the Albigensian Crusades. The Magdalene Malediction is the final book in the trilogy.
Hi Scott, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views! Tells us, what is The Magdalene Malediction about?
It is the last book in a trilogy – Ordeal by Fire – set during the Albigensian Crusade, when French invaders goaded by Pope Innocent III descended on the lands to the south intent on exterminating its “heretical” inhabitants and seizing their property. Three generations of a Provençal family attempt to resist the French onslaught. In the Magdalene Malediction, the cousins Odon and Rainier along with the beautiful Miranda and the son of Robin Hood are captured by corsairs on their way back to Provence and end up in Moorish Spain, where Miranda loses her heart to a Moorish potentate. After attempting to return home, they become enmeshed in a deadly war between the Moors and the crusading Jacme I of Aragon with tragic consequences. Home at last, they find that their parents have been condemned and the story hurtles towards its end.
What inspired you to write the story behind the Ordeal by Fire trilogy?
My mother was born and raised in Provence and could sing songs in the old language which was spoken instead of French in the 13th century. One of the strong traditions in the Midi of France today is that three Maries, including Mary Magdalene, came ashore on what is now the southern coast of France. A huge basilica was built over her tomb in the 12th century. Hence the background story that Miranda was a descendant of Mary Magdalene as revealed in the second novel of the trilogy.
Another reason for writing the book was my disgust with the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan brought on by misinformation and fake news. These wars, seeking regime change, created huge casualties and suffering among civilians, showed that war against terror or against heresy is senseless and criminal. The US used torture much as it was practiced by 13th century crusaders.
In the ‘80s, Baigent’s Holy Blood, Holy Grail came out and it influenced Dan Brown’s great The Da Vinci Code. But I was more set on writing a story that was less esoteric and far more historical. If any one expects the occult, my books don’t deliver it beyond the legend of Mary Magdalene. Rightly or wrongly, I chose a different path.
What is it about this era that fascinates you?
Centuries before Hitler, the Church encouraged genocide. Thousands of so-called heretics were burned alive. The Albigensian Crusade was a lesson that went unheeded and has been re-enacted many times since. It also gave rise to the Inquisition which was the model for East Germany’s Stazis.
Finally, the eclipse of a language and its culture. is like the boom of a doomsday drum. The decline and fall of the troubadours were like withered flowers set on a gravestone. I am a hopeless romantic.
It’s obvious a lot of work was put into your novels. Tell us about the research process.
I thought I would play it safe and use Michel Roquebert’s L’Epopée Cathare (The Cathar Saga) in five volumes. I knew he had avoided all of the esoteric and occult blather that sullies much of what has been written about the medieval “heretics” widely known today as the Cathars. I also used relatively recent histories of the Albigensian Crusades written in English.
As I was finishing The Magdalen Malediction, I ran across internet articles demonstrating a split between medieval historians. There was a French camp of historiographers who questioned whether the famous ‘heresy” had been invented by the medieval church (fake news) in order to control regions and depose certain rulers (regime change) in favor of those more conducive to direction from the Church.
There were, of course, “traditionalists” who dug in their heels at such 21st century “heresy”. This camp believes that there was a Cathar heresy with a dualistic Godhead, a Good, spiritual God of love, and a materialistic God of Evil, a heresy that came from the east migrating along trade route through the Balkans and into Europe.
I found Mark Gregg’s A Most Holy War to be a well-developed case not only against the Pope-inspired Crusade, but against the existence of Cathars at all. He is backed by Bob Moore’s The War on Heresy.
Faced with these historical choices, I decided to purge references to Cathars and dualism from all my books – which required considerable rewriting.
What do you love most about writing historical fiction?
I enjoy history, it is fascinating, and it’s a lot of fun to weave my story into a given historical era or episode. The Albigensian Crusade is barely known in this country but in France, my books would be best sellers.
And your least favorite part?
I like to be historically correct and I hope the rewriting I chose to do persuades you that I am willing to engage in digging my way out of a hole.
What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
A very good question. Figures who lived 800 years ago may be fair game for fictional treatment, for putting words in their mouths, for having them perform what might in reality be preposterous. One of the characters, Arnaud-Amaury the head abbot of the Cistercian order, is someone whom few historians admire, so I have transformed him into an arch villain if he wasn’t one already. I have no qualms for having done so.
Similarly, I have created an unlikely dalliance between the Count of Toulouse and the Queen Mother of France, Blanche of Castile. In reality, Blanche bore her husband 13 children, and after he died, she may well have suffered loneliness in bed, for which the count, being ten years younger than she, would have been a godsend. They both might have chuckled over my account, whether or not they even knew each other. There were other rumors that suggested she was a merry widow.
Finally, I do have King Jacme I of Aragon acting like a blackguard. I’ve read most of his memoirs, and he is a strutting braggart in my opinion, despite his real accomplishments.
What do you like to read?
I love fiction and I believe it can add dimension to our lives. I also read history and keep up with the world, mostly on the internet. I subscribe to the Nation and the New Yorker. I like to read good political essays. I am very disappointed with the mainstream media, whose greedy corporate owners have decimated their news staff..
Which authors have inspired your own writing?
I don’t think anyone has inspired my writing, but I immensely enjoy Dickens, Hardy, Galsworthy, Shaw, Faulkner, Cozzens, Dahl, Mower, Stegner, Rushdie and Irving.
If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?
Start early in life and keep at it.
As the final story in your Ordeal by Fire trilogy, describe what you felt when you finished writing The Magdalene Malediction.
I was sad to be leaving a family with whom I was closely attached and had played God.
So, what’s next? Do you have another project in the pipeline?
Maybe something that took place in the South during WWII.
What advice can you give aspiring/emerging authors, based on your own experience?
Keep at it, set aside a couple of hours a day. I read a book on writing fiction by Stephen King and highly recommend it.
Scott, thank you so much for joining us today at ReaderViews.com. It’s been a pleasure getting to know more about you and your work!