11 December 2016

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: J. K. Knauss on SEVEN NOBLE KNIGHTS

This week, we're pleased to welcome author and Unusual Historicals contributor J. K. Knauss with her first historical novel, SEVEN NOBLE KNIGHTS, a saga of family, betrayal, and revenge in medieval Spain.

We're giving away two signed print copies and three ebooks of Seven Noble Knights free. Just enter the Rafflecopter giveaway at the bottom of this post or Thursday's wedding scene excerpt for a chance to win. 

Spain, 974. Gonzalo, a brave but hotheaded knight, unwittingly provokes tragedy at his uncle’s wedding to beautiful young noblewoman Lambra: the adored cousin of the bride dead, his teeth scattered across the riverbank. Coveting his family’s wealth and power, Lambra sends Gonzalo’s father into enemy territory to be beheaded, unleashing a revenge that devastates Castile for a generation.
A new hero, Mudarra, rises out of the ashes of Gonzalo’s once great family. Raised as a warrior in the opulence of Muslim Córdoba, Mudarra must make a grueling journey and change his religion, then chooses to take his jeweled sword to the throats of his family’s betrayers. But only when he strays from the path set for him does he find his true purpose in life.
Inspired by a lost medieval epic poem, Seven Noble Knights draws from history and legend to bring a brutal yet beautiful world to life in a gripping story of family, betrayal, and love.
**Q & A with J. K. Knauss**

How did you come to write about medieval Spain?

For the longest time I pursued my two passions, writing and Spain, separately, as if the twain could never meet. It wasn't until after I'd completed a PhD in medieval Spanish literature that I realized I could approach this material in a more exciting way. My dissertation advisor had remarked, "You like to tell stories, don't you?" It was finally time to do something about it!

Said to be the sarcophagi of the seven noble
 knights, San Millán de Suso.
Photo by J. K. Knauss 
Tell us about the legend on which Seven Noble Knights is based and how you became fascinated with it.

The first time I heard of the seven noble knights was during a faculty-led tour of Córdoba during a fantastic study abroad semester. "This is where they hung the heads," the professor said, pointing to an archway. That was too gruesome to interest me at the time. The next time I encountered the legend was during my PhD studies. The events may really have happened in the late tenth century, and the story ended up in thirteenth-century historical writing. In the early twentieth century, scholars noticed the historical prose rhymed and maintained a poetic meter in places! Yes, the story probably circulated orally as an epic poem or song, and yes, one character throws a bloody cucumber at another. Everything about this legend is fascinating. Many places, aside from that archway in Córdoba, lay claim to some aspect of the heroic yet familiar, dearly beloved characters.

The crest of Salas de los Infantes shows
nine of the legend's characters.
Photo by J. K. Knauss 
Are many of the characters drawn from history?

I had a lot of fun making up a few supporting characters based on my historical research and the needs of the drama. I don't think the hero of the novel, Mudarra, ever existed. The epic poets or the historians likely created him to satisfy their deep-seated need for revenge for the protagonists. That gave me the freedom to develop his character from an automatic revenge machine into a thoughtful, talented young man with doubts and desires of his own.

On the other hand, the Count of Castile, Caliph Hisham, and Almanzor, acting governor of Andalucía—heads of state—are all verified in the historical record. The González family of the region of Lara held a high status throughout the Middle Ages, and in chancery records we find mention of Gundisalvus (Gonzalo), one of my protagonists, and one Flammula, the likely namesake of my villain, Doña Lambra.

How did you find all this out? 

Picking up medieval law codes, chancery records, and history books might not appeal to many, but in me they have a rapt audience. I think the joy of finding an unexpected tidbit that illuminates an obscure literary passage (like the bloody cucumber) comes through in a vivid, exciting novel. 

Although Seven Noble Knights is realistic and historically accurate overall, there are ghosts in Part Two. Do you consider this magical realism? 

Seven Noble Knights is the first fiction I've written that strives for strict realism. There are, in fact, magical occurrences in the source materials. In the interest of historical realism, I explain a man regaining his sight with a detailed account of medieval eye surgery, and rather than claiming that a broken ring magically fuses together, I have the ring reforged. The medieval sources don't mention ghosts, but I based my ghosts on research about medieval Islamic and Christian beliefs about spiritual manifestations. The ghosts are real to the characters, so they're medieval realism, rather than magical realism. 

Seven Noble Knights will debut December 15 in Kindle, with softcover to follow January 16, 2017. Preorder it here.

And remember to enter below to win one of two signed print copies or three ebooks of Seven Noble Knights free.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
J. K. Knauss earned her PhD in medieval Spanish with a dissertation on the portrayal of Alfonso X’s laws in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, which has been published as the five-star-rated Law and Order in Medieval Spain. A driven fiction writer, J. K. Knauss has edited many fine historical novels and is a bilingual freelance editor. Her historical epic, Seven Noble Knights, will debut on December 15, 2016, from Bagwyn Books, and she is working on the sequel. Her contemporary paranormal Awash in Talent is now available from Kindle Press. Find out more about her writing and bookish activities here. Follow her on  Facebook and Twitter, too!