Interview with Kathleen Cunningham Guler, author of "A Land Beyond Ravens"

Could you please tell us a little about your book?

A Land Beyond Ravens, as all the other books in the Macsen’s Treasure Series, is a historical spy thriller set in fifth century Britain. It continues the story of master spy Marcus ap Iorwerth’s efforts to keep the country free from oppressive Saxon dominance and to aid in the fulfillment of Myrddin Emrys’ (Merlin) prophecy that a great king called Arthur will one day take the crown. In this, the final installment, Marcus discovers the emerging Christian church is gaining enough power as an independent faction to dangerously shift control of Britain. At the same time, his beloved wife Claerwen, gifted with second sight, is plagued with strange dreams that connect inexplicable doom to both Arthur and a long lost grail sacred to Britain’s high kings. But as Marcus struggles to distract the church, he and Myrddin also set up the very doom Claerwen sees. It seems they accidentally set things in motion that will send a lot of folks off chasing something called a grail…

Who or what is the inspiration behind this book?

The period of fifth century Britain is unfortunately bleak in offering facts for the purpose of writing historical fiction. While I don’t write alternative history, I do ask a lot of “what if?” questions to try to fill in those glaring blanks with logical explanations and motives. The original barebones sketch for A Land Beyond Ravens required the story to include a grail sacred to the high kings, a sense of the growing influence of the Christian church in Britain, and that Arthur would finally become high king. A few other notes floated around involving the main characters of Marcus ap Iorwerth and his wife Claerwen, as well as Myrddin. That, and the framework that history and legend provided as a backdrop, was all I had when I started writing. The main “what if?” turned out to be: what if the seeds of the quest for the Holy Grail were planted long before the adventure began? What if those seeds were planted on purpose? What if it was by accident?

Who is your biggest supporter?

The critique group I’ve belonged to for the last eleven-plus years supports my efforts more than anyone. They are a talented and diverse bunch, fearless in offering advice, constructive criticism and encouragement.

Your biggest critic?

Ditto the previous answer. Good, solid, complete criticism is more constructive than any praise.

What cause are you most passionate about and why?

I love seeing kids enthusiastic about reading (thank you Harry Potter!) and would like to see illiteracy wiped out for good. It’s time to get away from useless, mind-numbing, time-wasting, beer-drinking, so-called entertainment that makes “Screaming Mimi’s” out of people. People do have intelligence—they just need to learn that an activity like reading can provide far better entertainment if they use their minds! Just my two cents.

In the last year have you learned or improved on any skills?

I learned how to create my own book video! It’s posted on my blog:

Do you have any rituals you follow when finishing a piece of work?

Most writers never feel their work is truly finished. There’s always one more word change or another thought that comes to mind after it’s been sent in. James N. Frey, author of How to Write a Damn Good Novel, wrote “You will know when your novel is finished. You will feel like throwing up whenever you look at it.” When I get to that point, I set the manuscript aside for two to four weeks, let my mind rest, go do something else, then come back to it with (I hope) fresh eyes. I will read the entire piece out loud to myself. Sometimes I’ll record it and listen back to it to flush out anything else that needs tweaking. Then I take to the post office, gaze at the envelope like it’s my kid going off to kindergarten, maybe even give it a light kiss (the clerks think I’m nuts), and send it off to my editor with a silent prayer to the gods she will like it.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently re-editing Into the Path of Gods, the first book in the series. Since it came out more than ten years ago, my writing style has matured and my editor asked me to update the book. The whole series will be re-released in electronic form next year and possibly trade paperback as well. I’m also in the beginning stages of researching my next project, which will be a novel-length work of several interconnected stories, each set in a different time period.

Do you have any advice for writers or readers?

To writers: I would say, if your characters are telling you to go in a different direction, listen to them. They are probably right. Marcus has often dragged me around kicking and screaming where I’d never planned to go. When I gave in and followed him, the pieces of the story finally made sense. I had been trying to force him into situations he never would have gotten himself into. Sometimes I think he’s smarter than I am. In fact, I’m sure of it.

What do you feel is your biggest strength?

I’m not afraid to throw out something that doesn’t work. When I drafted my second book, In the Shadow of Dragons, I dumped the last third at least six times before I felt it was right. I also threw out eight chapters in the beginning of the third book, The Anvil Stone, and started over. The first chapter was good, but I hated the plot line after that. So I restructured it (listening to Marcus again) and found the direction that ultimately paid off. I believe there are many aspiring authors who refuse to revise. It’s an essential part of writing, just like research, and can be as enjoyable and satisfying as the initial writing itself. It’s where the craft of writing becomes art.

What do you feel sets this book apart from others in the same genre?

A Land Beyond Ravens creates a completely different voice for fifth century Britain. The Arthurian portion is on the fringes of the main story, which is a combination of historical fiction and spy thriller. I never wanted to do another retelling of the legend because that’s been done over and over.

What is the most important lesson you have learned from life so far?

Stubbornness can be a good thing. It can be bad too, depending on the scenario, but if you want to achieve a goal in this tough world, persistence is key.

Is there anything you regret doing/not doing?

In some ways I wish I’d had the guts to pursue a career in archaeology. I love the exploration of the physical remains of history and trying to puzzle together what it all means. It would have also given me the opportunity to travel and possibly live in other countries. I have an art degree, which I don’t regret at all, and probably have enough work in history and literature to have earned degrees in both of those as well. I can’t say I truly regret anything in my life—I love this journey of writing historical fiction and hope to continue on it as long as I my mind has sense.

What is your favorite past-time?

Hiking the beautiful Rocky Mountains that surround the place I live in northwest Colorado. If only I had more time for it!

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Just that I’ve been blessed with a good life and along with it the gift of writing. I’ve learned to run with it, not squander it. It was meant to be.

And please know I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you today.


About the Author

Novelist Kathleen Cunningham Guler is the author of the multi-award winning Macsen’s Treasure Series. Drawing on a long background in literature and history as well as her Welsh and Scottish heritage, she has published numerous articles, essays, reviews, short stories and poetry. The author is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the International Arthurian Society and participates in various writing organizations.

You can visit her website at

A Land Beyond Ravens

About the Book

No one in 5th century Britain knows more secrets than master spy Marcus ap Iorwerth, and that makes him a dangerous man. It also makes him a hunted one. For nearly three decades he has manipulated stubborn, irascible kings and warlords in a quest to not only unite them against foreign invasion but to stop them from destroying each other as well. And along with his beloved wife Claerwen, he has followed a greater, even more perilous pursuit—to forge a clear path for the fulfillment of Merlin the Enchanter’s famed prophecy that one day a great king will take command, the king known as Arthur of the Britons.

Now, with Arthur at last on the brink of adulthood and already showing great promise as a leader, Marcus discovers that the emerging Christian church is gaining enough power to dangerously shift control of Britain. At the same time Claerwen, gifted with second sight, is plagued with strange dreams that connect inexplicable doom to both Arthur and a long lost grail sacred to Britain’s high kings.

As foreboding mounts, Marcus struggles to prevent the church from crushing Arthur’s chances of becoming an effective king. But how he goes about it sets up the very doom that Claerwen sees. Will she be able to stop him? Or will her visions send Marcus to his own doom as well?



Kathleen Guler said...

Great news this morning! "A Land Beyond Ravens" was honored as a finalist in The National Best Books 2009 Awards in the Fiction & Literature: Historical Fiction category!

Thanks for letting me share about my book!