top of page

Author Interview and Book Excerpt with K. M. Butler, author of "The Raven and the Dove"

Author Bio:

Twitter: @kmbutlerauthor

Purchase links:

Bio: K.M. Butler studied literature at Carnegie Mellon University and has always had an avid interest in history. His writing influences are The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay and Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two daughters. His wife is his first and harshest editor, while his daughters always want his stories to feature more blood and talking animals, but never at the same time.

Book Blurb:

“K.M. Butler’s debut is written with the swagger and finesse of a much more experienced author. A more thoughtful and complex story than the usual Viking novel fare, this book still manages to pack enough action, intrigue, and conflict to carry us happily to the shield-shaking, sword-swinging conclusion that stands up to the best in the genre.”J.C. Duncan, author of A Song of Steel

"This well-crafted tale of love and battle transports the reader back to the early days of Viking Normandy, a world populated by fearsome shield-maidens and valiant warriors. Grounded in historical fact and replete with authentic detail, this book will resonate with readers who love fiction set in the Viking Age."Johanna Wittenberg, author of The Norsewomen Series

"Butler balances action, description, and character development deftly; the pacing is excellent. History is neatly inserted primarily through conversation, without feeling like an ‘info-dump’, and the world the author invokes feels both well-researched and real, without jarring anachronisms. The Raven and the Dove is an impressive first novel, one written with skill and craft." Marian Thorpe, Discovering Diamonds review

890 A.D. Shieldmaiden Halla hungers for death in battle and a place in Valhalla until a Frankish sword shatters her expectations of a glorious end. In the space between life and death, she instead confronts the emptiness of a wasted life.

Hiding from the Norsemen among shattered abbeys and abandoned towns in northern Frankia, Christian landowner Taurin fears the day a dragon-headed longship rediscovers them and drags his people away as slaves.

Their worlds collide when Jarl Rollo of Rouen annexes Taurin’s town and appoints Halla as ruler. United in an uneasy political marriage, Halla and Taurin must confront their conflicted feelings and their peoples’ mutual hostility. Tensions strain their fragile marriage. Christians who refuse to obey a woman stoke rebellion. Glory-seeking Norse raiders terrorize Halla’s domain. If they can’t unite, the threats surrounding them will tear apart their new family and swallow both of their peoples in war and ruin.

Book Buy Link:

Book Excerpt:

An hour later, they found Oleg’s river where it converged with the Seine. Along the western shore sat the blackened ruins of a sizeable town.

Dismounting, the three Norsemen led their horses through the wide street passing through the ruins. While a few weeds sprung up amid the empty dirt, an army could still navigate it six abreast without difficulty. The burned remains of wooden buildings with solid stone foundations flanked either side.

Halla appreciated the subtle signs of a thorough raid. Broken doors and objects scattered outside the buildings had survived the fire. Discarded chests and disintegrating satchels littered the path from the buildings to the main square. Broken barrels, overgrown with mud and thick grass, sat in a ragged pile in the center square.

“Is this the town Oleg mentioned?” Revna asked.

Halla shook her head. “This happened decades ago.” Rain over the years had caused the thick ash to run, leaving gray waves in the dirt. She saw no bodies or bones of either people or livestock. Someone had buried them.

They continued walking until they came upon a large, half-fallen structure. One side remained tall enough to suggest it had once stood at least five man-heights. Though the top had collapsed in on itself, she could not mistake the shape.

“This was their church,” Halla announced.

A substantial set of docks clung precariously to the shore of the intersecting river. It bore no blackening of fire, but time had rotted the wood in several places. Halla suspected it would collapse if she tried to stand on it.

Jorund gazed at the far shore. “I see no settlement on the other side.”

“This isn’t the town we’re looking for,” Halla decided.

Revna soothed her horse with a gentle pat. “Are we supposed to wander all Midgard?”

“Only until we find this town,” Halla chirped. “The jarl gave us a task. Let’s do it and get back home.”

The tributary river was much narrower than the Seine, and as they penetrated farther north, Halla felt the darkness of the forest closing in on her. She cast anxious glances every few strides. This region resembled the Vire immediately before Berengar’s riders had attacked and almost killed her. But this area held no great Frankish lords or cities or monasteries worth sacking, only a silent landscape dotted with ancient ruins.

As the three mailed riders carefully followed the snaking path of the river deeper into lost country, the woods gave way to open stretches. Crops grew in long strips and farmhouses dotted the tops of the gradual hills.

“This is no wasteland,” Halla muttered.

And then, rising up from the horizon, she saw columns of thick gray smoke that indicated a forge, beloved of Thor. A blacksmith’s fire meant a settlement. Jorund nodded and they dismounted in silence. Spreading out, they guided their mounts forward for a closer look.

They discovered the edge of a town of several dozen buildings just north of a small marsh. Halla could distinguish not only the looming church, but the central square as well. Though large for a wilderness town, it was smaller than even a single neighborhood in Rouen. Its size suggested a number of people lived there year-round, though.

When they gathered on Jorund again, he asked, “Did you see any soldiers?”

“Some wore swords, but I saw no mail,” Revna said.

“Wooden market stalls,” Halla added, “probably serving farmhouses like those we passed coming in.”

Jorund ran his fingers over his whiskers. His gaze settled on Halla. “Are you well enough to fight?”

“I’m fine.” She refused to sit back while others risked their lives.

Jorund nodded. “Then let’s introduce ourselves. Revna, guard our flank. Halla, watch for archers.”

“They’ll be surprised and terrified,” Halla assured. The Franks were always terrified and often surprised.

“That’s what concerns me,” he replied. “I mean to talk to them, not frighten them into doing something stupid.”

“Stop worrying.” Revna grunted. “Whether they will attack us or not was written long ago. Go boldly to your fate.”

How often had that sentiment preceded recklessness? Halla resisted the urge to cradle her wounded stomach. The setting sun painted the walls of the buildings in bloody red and deep purple. An ill omen.

No. She refused to live in fear until her final day.

The three warriors led their horses through the grass and down the main street. Almost immediately, a Frankish woman began to scream as she rushed toward the church. Revna fell back a step and checked behind them while Halla searched the distance for mustering soldiers.

Several townsfolk fled into the buildings, but a few gathered before their church as Halla and her companions approached. The town’s blacksmith drew a hammer from his apron and repeatedly adjusted his grip. Upon seeing Thor’s instruments, Halla gestured reverently. That seemed to confuse and frighten him further. His discomfort made her smile.

They stopped twenty paces from the church door in front of the largest group of Franks.

Halla saw few women. Perhaps the rest waited nearby with bows. Eyeing the buildings, she saw no movement behind the cracks of the sealed shutters.

Off to the right, a man wearing the robes and plain cross of a Christian monk strode forward, accompanied by two others. The first of his companions had short black hair, neatly trimmed, and a bare chin. The rich blues, reds, and greens of the brocade edging his wool tunic suggested considerable wealth. He glared at Jorund with obvious contempt but ignored both Halla and Revna.

His eyes widened when he noticed her studying him. After a few heartbeats that sounded in her ears more loudly than she would have expected, he shifted his gaze to the landscape behind her.

He was searching for further danger, just as she had! Who would have expected such wisdom from a Christian? She felt a pang of regret that she would have to kill this handsome man first in case of trouble. He had already demonstrated too much presence of mind to let him linger in a battle.

“Jorund?” Revna clenched the hilt of her sword.

“Easy.” Halla placed a hand on her shoulder as she assessed the crowd. Only the two men beside the monk carried swords.

“Odin, guide my tongue.” Jorund stepped forward and extended his hands, palms up. He began in slow, deliberate Frankish. “Hail to you, people of the Caux. Who is your chieftain?”

Author Interview:

1. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I’d love to say I’ve undertaken wonderful trips, but my pilgrimages tend to be of the online variety. Drone footage, travel tapes, and documentaries are invaluable for getting a sense of a place. It’s one thing to talk about the mouth of the Seine. It’s another to appreciate how much wider it is than your average river. If my budget could permit it, I’d love to travel extensively before writing. It just isn’t possible with a family, children, and a full-time job.

2. Tell us the best writing tip you can think of, something that helps you.

Get beta readers. The more diverse, the better. They can identify weaknesses you may not notice, particularly if (like me), you tend to focus on tree-level instead of forest-level when re-reading your stories. When they criticize your story—and they will—consider their opinions with an open mind. Reflect first on the advantages of taking their advice, not the problems it would cause or the work it’d involve. After my betas, I added half a dozen scenes to the middle of The Raven and the Dove and cut another half-dozen, and it made for a stronger story.

3. What are common traps for aspiring writers? Advice for young writers starting out.

I’m a passionate believer in the importance of outlining. We aren’t just throwing a story arc out there, we’re adding subtext, theme, and metaphor. That requires careful planning. For every novel I write, I build a detailed outline broken down by scene (I divide the book into chapters after it’s written; for me, the operational unit is the scene).

Before I wrote a word of The Raven and the Dove, I put together a 23-page, bulleted-list scene guide that laid out everything that would happen in each of the novel’s 69 scenes. I start with major events, then flesh out the scenes that lead into and emerge from them. I don’t just limit the content of each scene to what happens, but also the emotional beats and effects they have on the characters. Some scenes even list the consequences that affect later parts of the book, anything that helps in the writing of the scene.

This has a huge advantage in preventing significant plot revisions. It’s a massive time-saver.

4. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

In retrospect, I’d tell myself not to waste my time with traditional publishing. My writing style is traditional, not trendy, and I wouldn’t characterize my novels as “beach reads”. Nor do they align with any of the hip publishing trends. Finding a traditional publisher is hard enough under the best of circumstances, and I wasted a lot of effort on the querying process.

5. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Marian Thorpe and Renée Gendron are prolific writers and just generally great people. They both helped refine the novel as beta readers. Marian asks thoughtful questions that is that kind of beta reader I mentioned above. Renée is a very careful, detail-oriented editor who points out inconsistencies and really excels at helping a writer bring out the story they want to tell. More recently, I’ve also began corresponding with J.C. Duncan, who has a great level of Medieval expertise and really understands pacing and emotional appeal. All three are phenomenal writers in their own right, and they really helped me improve my novel.

6. Can you give us a quick review of a favourite book by one of your author friends?

I’m going to plug Renée here. Typically, modern stories aren’t my thing, but I had the good fortune of beta-reading her The Game Wardens Match. She does a great job with establishing tone and tension, and the relationship between James and Mirabelle is tender, vulnerable, and authentic. I found myself thinking about it for months after I read it. Even now, nearly a year later, I can recall scenes from the book. A novel that sticks with you is magical thing, indeed!

7. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Oddly enough, interior formatting really opened my eyes to the way a story unfolds. It’s one thing to write in Microsoft Word, with 1” margins and an 8.5” x 11” page layout. But when you see it laid out on a 5.5” x 8.25” page, your perception of it utterly changes. Paragraphs I thought were too small looked just fine, and some of those paragraphs took up the better part of a page. I’m more relaxed about paragraph flow now than I used to be. Now, when I edit, I modify the margins to resemble a printed page, so I can better appreciate what I’m putting my reader through!

8. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Hands down, cover design. A cover is your reader’s introduction to your story. Few readers are going to take a risk on a poorly designed cover. Cutting Edge Studios designed my cover, and they were worth every penny. They were phenomenal professionals. I came to them with the idea of having my character in the middle between Christian and Norse elements, but they executed it in a way that introduced a subtext of danger with the smoky clouds and the color scheme that really brought it to life. I highly recommend them.

9. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I loved banter, particularly in the old movies like The Thin Man. I used to watch them on Saturday afternoons on Turner Classic Movies. Some of those lines between Nick and Nora, delivered with their classic smirks, were the very definition of smooth. My mother also once explained the differences between, “I wasn’t clear,” “We had a misunderstanding,” and “You misunderstood.” That really set my mind thinking, not just for fiction, but every aspect of social interaction. The words we choose are deliberate, and they reveal things about us we may not even intend. That’s fascinating to me.

10. What’s the best way to market your books?

Word of mouth is so critical to all of our decisions. Rarely do we purchase anything without first consulting someone’s opinion, whether through personal recommendations or prior reviews. I strongly recommend that authors send out advance copies and solicit reviews before publishing. The best promotion is done with someone else’s words. Podcasts and review sites are excellent, and worth their weight in gold. Also, authors who self-publish need to advertise on Amazon Ads. It makes a big difference, particularly for debut authors.

For social media, keep in mind that your followers need to get something out of your posts, or they’ll unfollow. I generally groan when I see authors repeatedly posting, “Buy now!” Reposts of reviews or other folks’ opinions are critical. It’s not engaging and doesn’t really provide anything interesting to the reader. Rather, talk about interesting aspects in your research, questions you ran up against, or creative decisions you made. Generate interest by being interesting.

11. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Oh, research never ends. It’s vital for any historical novel. I regularly read nonfiction history and narrative nonfiction. All of my novels begin with an interesting tidbit from history. It could be a person in an emotional situation, a curious fact, even an invention. The idea for The Raven and the Dove came from a book I was reading about the Normans. I knew I wanted to explore the tension between the Norse and Christians, and I started reading extensively to understand the whole range of Norman history. In the end, I focused on that very first moment, the first spark of a new culture.

From there, I had to learn everything I could about the characters and tensions of the times. I read about the Siege of Paris, Berengar of Neustria, and Rollo. Slowly, a story started forming. From there, I started researching social structure, religious practices, trade networks and commerce, available fabrics… even the cart and wagon technology available at the time. All of that contributed to the sensibility of the times, a sense of authenticity unique to that particular time period.

As I fleshed out my scene guide, new questions popped up. Did the Franks of that time use a two-field or three-field farming rotation? What was the cut of dresses? How did women wear their hair? What was the ritual Norse used for blessing their farms? Each new scene involved additional research. That continued right up until the final revision. In fact, I think I may have even reviewed some of the Norse religious practices during final layout.

12. Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

You know, I really do. To write historical fiction, you need to strip away all the modernity and place yourself in another mindset, one wholly foreign to the way we think. That’s a humbling experience. It forces you to realize how intelligent people were in the past. Everything they did was for good reason. It connects you to the entire stretch of human history in a eye-opening way. You start to realize that everything’s been done before. You strip away the oversimplifications the modern education system teaches and you begin to see what it is to be human. Some folks also use writing to purge their demons, to explore their own traumas. I don’t really do that, although fragments of personal experience naturally work their way into my stories. But, it can be a powerful experience, overall.

13. Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

It’s cliché, but Stephen King’s On Writing contained a lot of interesting concepts. In particular, I recall his line, “The first draft is telling yourself a story; the second draft is removing everything that isn’t the story.” That statement has helped me punch through some passages I thought were garbage as I was writing them, only to go back and realize they were quite good.

14. What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?

When writing about a historical figure, they’re lending you their story. That creates an obligation to use them in respectful ways. They were real people with hopes and fears. How would you feel if someone put out a hit piece on you? To the greatest extent possible, a historical novelists has to be careful to capture the essence of historical figures (I’m sidestepping the argument over how much we can know anything definitively about the past).

I think back to the HBO series, Rome, which did not treat its subjects respectfully. Servilia, Atia, and Octavian all wildly deviated from their historical counterparts. Not only does this teach false history—the greatest crime a historical story can do—but it insulted the memories of those figures.

Some writers will claim that’s just artistic license. Bull poop. It was lazy writing that sought to exploit real people in order to sensationalize. You can take a controversial position amid ambiguity, but it has to be compatible with known history and supported with evidence, even if it doesn’t make its way into the story itself. Otherwise, you’re not shining a light on the past—the point of fiction—by creating something new and trying to claim false credibility.

15. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

It’s always exciting to read new reviews, even the bad ones. Sometimes, you can identify a clear bias, but those are rare. More often, readers raise good points I keep in mind while writing future novels. Not everyone will like a given novel. The Raven and the Dove tackles serious issues, and doesn’t provide easy answers. That isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay.

16. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

My first editor is my wife, and she is ruthless, and she’s always right. Listening to her feedback is painful at first, but over time I start to see the possibilities. As we discuss it further, we always come up with adjustments that not only address her concerns, but improve the overall theme and story. Honest, brutal feedback is vital, but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear at first.

17. Tell us about your novel/novels/or series and why you wrote about this topic?

I’m drawn to moments of transition of all kinds: personal, social, political, philosophical. As I wrote The Raven and the Dove, I was captivated by that moment when the Norse and Franks started living beside each other in Normandy. What did the first Franks think when Norse settlers started plowing the fields next to theirs? The first time they tried mead? What did they think when the Norse started slaughtering animals and sprinkling their blood on their faces? It had to be messy, it had to be terrifying. Yet, no one ever told that story, even though the Normans transformed the political and social scene of Europe and, through it, the world.

I was fascinated by the way they addressed their cultural differences, an issue that’s particularly relevant now. Liberals and conservatives seem to be living in entirely different countries, with strikingly different world views, yet we share more similarities than the Norse and Franks. Their story was one I felt needed to be told, not as a cautionary tale but as an example of how open-mindedness and cooperation can strengthen a people. If they could do it, we can too.

My next novel explores young Henry Tudor as a 14-year exile transforms him from a boy desperate to be left alone to a man who feels he has no choice but to overthrow a king and claim a crown. That’s a big change, one that existing Tudor novels haven’t really explored, opting instead to focus on the glamour of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. Again, it’s a moment of transition, when the crucible of personal hardship transformed the world.

18. What is your favourite line or passage from your own book?

In chapter 15, I got the chance to write my own skaldic poem chronicling Jarl Rollo’s efforts in northern Frankia. It involved a very strict rhythmic style with a heavy focus on alliteration and a repeated final line. One section focuses on Halla’s virtues. As she listens, Halla experiences a moment of pure, Norse delight. But this poem also ends up hurting her relationship with Taurin in a very real, tangible way and sets up the third act. It was a delight to write, pairing her joy with her husband’s anger in a very emotionally satisfying way.

19. What was your hardest scene to write?

I always struggle with how much to show in sex scenes. I feel uncomfortable writing them, and even more so when I contemplate my relatives reading them. The Raven and the Dove contains both “fade to black” and explicit scenes. For the scene following Halla and Taurin’s marriage, I chose to show it all to emphasize the sense of strangeness as Taurin confronts Norse culture. Thematically and contextually, it made sense to show his emotions as he completes his descent into Halla’s world, but it was still difficult to write.

20. Tell us your favourite quote and how the quote tells us something about you.

I love Napoleon’s, “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” In the end, we don’t know with certainly what living in the past was like, even history as recent as the 1950’s. Memory twists with time, political and social propaganda twists interpretation almost immediately, and no medium we have today captures every aspect of a time period. Ultimately, even a well-known time period contains enough ambiguity to carve our a unique story.

All of my stories deviate from established history in some way. The Raven and the Dove posits an argument for an early settlement of Normandy that was virtually complete by 911. My upcoming novel, The Welsh Dragon, advocates for a minority opinion on who murdered the Princes in the Tower.

Historical fiction is about pulling back the curtain on what we know if history to get at the deeper, hidden truth. To see what is unseen, to feel what history neglects. Ultimately, we can’t know the truth. We can only recreate a story that fits with the sentiment of the times and resonates with the complexity of authentic human nature. If we accomplish that, we’ve done right by our past.

93 views1 comment

1 Comment

Kyrie Yujing Wang
Kyrie Yujing Wang
Jan 26, 2022

Wonderful tips for new authors like me and what an inspiration to see how much research the author has done while writing his book! I have deep respect that he chose to tackle serious issues in his book, particularly the interaction between Christians and the Norse. Writing anything involving Christian history seems to me like a touchy subject.

Despite the seriousness, this line made me laugh: "And the nakedness of his chin revealed firm muscles beneath, not the flapping excess of a life of luxury. She wondered if the rest of his body was equally sculpted." I am intrigued. Will buy this book!

bottom of page