Interview & Giveaway: The Rebel Nun by Marj Charlier

Happy Friday, dear readers! Today on the blog I am very happy to welcome Author Marj Charlier! She is currently on Blog Tour for The Rebel Nun and graciously agreed to stop by and chat! I hope you enjoy getting to know Marj and don't forget to enter to win a copy of her book!

Hello Marj and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about The Rebel Nun!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I have had a few careers in my life, first “practicing” journalism for 20 years, including 12 at the Wall Street Journal; another 20 years in corporate finance, a short stint in corporate philanthropy, and finally, semi-retirement as a hybrid publisher and novelist. I have been writing for a living all my life, and it’s still the one thing I’d rather do with my time—other than reading, perhaps. Since retiring, I have written 12 novels. The Rebel Nun is my first historical novel, but I have more coming.

What inspired you to write The Rebel Nun?

As I was walking my dog one morning in the woods near my former home in Washington State, I was listening to a lecture from The Great Courses, and the professor’s brief mention of the rebellion at the Monastery of the Holy Cross whetted my curiosity. I had to find out more. It turned into a bit of a rabbit hole, but when I came out, I had a story I was really proud of.

What research did you undertake when writing The Rebel Nun?

I spent about three years researching The Rebel Nun and material for two other novels from the same time period. The research continues. I have built a library of physical books and at least 100 academic papers on early Christianity, Germanic pagans, the Merovingian dynasty, the early monastery movement, the Germanic diaspora of the third-through-sixth centuries, women in the Middle Ages, and slavery in the Middle Ages, just to mention a few of the period topics. I also borrowed many rare books from the library through interlibrary loans, something that was possible before COVID. I hope it will be possible again, soon.

What would you like readers to take away from reading The Rebel Nun?

That feminism and women’s yearning for choice and independence aren’t new phenomena; that women in the Middle Ages—not just male philosophers and writers—were introspective, thoughtful, philosophical and spiritual. We have little evidence of what women thought about, wanted or strived for, because they didn’t have the voice or the pen that men did at that time. But it is not unreasonable to believe that they weren’t much different from us. After all, human brains haven’t evolved much in the past 1500 years. I’m adamant about this because a famous adjunct professor of creative writing advised me that The Rebel Nun didn’t work because “women weren’t that introspective” back then. I’m not sure why he thinks that, but I am certain he is wrong!

What was your favorite scene to write?

The scenes of Clotild and her Aunt Hilda in her Uncle Guntram’s palace—relaxing, reading Greek classics, eating figs and cheeses. I loved writing it because it was such a relief from the misery and depredation that had proceeded it. I have to add that my second favorite scene was her first encounter with Alboin on the road back to Poitiers after their trip to Tours. I liked that scene because I wanted Clotild to be a total woman who reacted to Alboin’s presence, not just rebel. She was more, but not less, than her convictions. My readers have told me they found Alboin to be a welcome, albeit not-historically accurate, addition to the story.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

The battle with the count’s men in the monastery. I abhor violence in books and movies, but I knew I had to write this. I didn’t want any of these women to suffer, and it was brutally hard to make it happen. A reader I respect very much asked me why I didn’t have Clotild figure out a way to avoid the conflict. Brains, not brawn, she suggested. But the battle was part of history, and to avoid it would have been too much of a betrayal of Clotild’s story.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was 10 years old, I wrote a letter to my favorite author, Sydney Taylor, who wrote the All-of-a-Kind Family books. She wrote back to me, sending a black & white glossy photo of herself. I’ll never forget what she wrote: “Thank you for telling me you like my books. No author could ask for anything more.” The day I got her letter was the day I decided to become an author, and I wanted people to like my books. (Sydney died of cancer at 73 in 1978. I wish I had kept in touch with her.)

What does your daily writing routine look like?

There is no routine. I have lots of other responsibilities—as does any woman of the household—and I have to go with the flow. I prefer to write in the morning when my mind is fresh, but I also like to read in the morning when I don’t fall asleep over a book so easily. So, it’s a balance. Reading is very much a part of my routine. I try to read about fifty words for every one I write, or basically, to read about 50 books for every draft I write. (I also write three or four book reviews a month for Midwest Book Review.) I tend to write in spurts—say 30 straight days of at least 1500 words a day, and then a month where I only rewrite and tinker with what I have. When the words are flowing and I’m glued to the computer, I hear my husband in the background admonishing me to “get up and move” every once in a while. It’s hard, though, to leave the page at those points.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

My greatest challenge is to not get discouraged. It is very hard to make a living writing novels (versus writing for newspapers or writing speeches for CFOs), and even when you find an agent and a publisher, it is such a struggle to be financially successful. (Few of us are.) As I have always depended on myself financially, I don’t have any choice but to make this work. I have not overcome this challenge yet.

Who are your writing inspirations?

I am inspired, first of all, by the strong women in history who persevered under conditions much more difficult than ours. As for contemporary writers, Madeline Miller, Christina Baker Kline, and Geraldine Brooks are the ones who have inspired me. I choose those three because the skill with which they create characters in historical settings without overburdening the reader with too much historical detail and setting. I understand the importance of both of those elements, but I like stories to move along, and I want to “hear” what the characters are thinking as they experience their lives.

What was the first historical novel you read?

Desirée by Annemarie Selinko when I was 12 or 13. Five years later in college, I majored in international studies and minored in French (my other major was journalism, of course). After I read Desirée, I knew I wanted to write historical novels. It only took me 50 more years to get there!

What is the last historical novel you read?

A Feigned Madness by Tonya Mitchell about Nellie Bly’s investigative research into Blackwell’s Asylum in the late 1800s. I found the ersatz romance digressive, but the author’s depiction of treatment of “inconvenient” women in mental institutions at the time is devastatingly shocking.

What are three things people may not know about you?

I am fascinated by pre-Incan South and Central American cultures, I was born a Quaker, and I have celiac disease. (Yes, it’s a real thing.)

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

Bringing historical women to life again and giving them a voice. Also, the research—discovering things that make people say “I didn’t know that” with genuine interest.

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

Anything from the Bronze Age through the early Middle Ages. I try to read less about the Roman Empire, as so much is widely known, and more about time periods people are less familiar with. I also like historical fiction about women in the American West—Sandra Dallas’s novels, for example.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

Play and walk with dogs, hike, golf, read, and share a bottle of wine with friends. Did I mention dogs?

Lastly, what are you working on next?

I have completed The Candlemaker’s Woman, a novel about a young girl caught up in the Germanic mass migrations of Late Antiquity, and I will continue to tinker with it up until the editor stops me. I am now writing the second draft of the sequel to The Rebel Nun and researching a new novel about a woman who married into the Visigothic kingdom in Spain and contributed to its shift from Arianism to Catholicism.

That sounds fascinating! Thank you so much for spending time with us today!

The Rebel Nun by Marj Charlier

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Blackstone Publishing
Hardcover, AudioBook, & eBook

Genre: Historical Fiction

Marj Charlier’s The Rebel Nun is based on the true story of Clotild, the daughter of a sixth-century king and his concubine, who leads a rebellion of nuns against the rising misogyny and patriarchy of the medieval church.

At that time, women are afforded few choices in life: prostitution, motherhood, or the cloister. Only the latter offers them any kind of independence. By the end of the sixth century, even this is eroding as the church begins to eject women from the clergy and declares them too unclean to touch sacramental objects or even their priest-husbands.

Craving the legitimacy thwarted by her bastard status, Clotild seeks to become the next abbess of the female Monastery of the Holy Cross, the most famous of the women’s cloisters of the early Middle Ages. When the bishop of Poitiers blocks her appointment and seeks to control the nunnery himself, Clotild masterminds an escape, leading a group of nuns on a dangerous pilgrimage to beg her royal relatives to intercede on their behalf. But the bishop refuses to back down, and a bloody battle ensues. Will Clotild and her sisters succeed with their quest, or will they face ex-communication, possibly even death?

In the only historical novel written about the incident, The Rebel Nun is a richly imagined story about a truly remarkable heroine.

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'The Rebel Nun is a boldly imagined story of one early medieval woman's struggle against the societal forces that constrained her. It draws on historical sources that briefly mention -- and condemn -- the insurrection that two noble nuns led within their abbey, in Poitiers, in 589. On the basis of this sparse information, Marj Charlier imagines the incident from the perspective of one of these nuns, the noblewoman Clothild, and embeds these events within the larger story of Clothild's life. The result is an engaging and thought-provoking tale.' --Samantha Kahn Herrick, Associate Professor of History, Syracuse University

'Marj Charlier takes an obscure sixth-century tale and turns it into a stunning story of a nun caught up in the misogyny of the early Christian church. Led by Clotild, a king's bastard daughter, a group of nuns attempts to rescue their monastery from the all-male church hierarchy. Extensively researched and rich in historical detail, The Rebel Nun tells of a time when women were chattel, when priests questioned whether females had souls. Charlier's artfully written account of Clotild's struggle to save her medieval sisterhood from the dominance of kings and bishops is a perfect novel for today's women.' -- Sandra Dallas, New York Times bestselling author

'Vividly imagines one of the most fascinating events to occur in sixth-century Gaul, bringing into focus the complexity of the early centuries of Western Christianity as the Church struggled to define its positions on clerical celibacy, the role of women, pre-Christian traditions, and its relationship to secular power. Scholars have long been fascinated with Gregory of Tours's account of how a rebellion of nuns from the monastery of the Holy Cross in Poitiers supposedly resulted in acts of murder, plunder, and unplanned pregnancies. It is a moment that has been calling out for a writer to do it justice in a work of historical fiction, but which feat no one has dared to attempt -- until now. Marj Charlier's The Rebel Nun brings the sights, sounds, and smells of this event and its aftermath to life in a richly imagined story that is firmly rooted in equal parts rigorous historical research and inspired, creative imagination.'' --Dorsey Armstrong, PhD, professor of English/medieval studies at Purdue University, and lecturer for The Great Courses (The Medieval World, The Black Death, and others)

'What could lead nuns to armed rebellion?...This thoughtful imagining of the underlying causes and characters involved in the revolt centers on Clotild, the leader of the insurrection...Charlier carefully constructs a narrative that positions Clotild, a pagan at heart despite her outward piety, as a reluctant revolutionary who pushes for fairness in a Christian world increasingly dominated by men. With power available to so few women, Clotild dares to imagine freedom, despite its cost.' --Booklist

'The Rebel Nun is a gripping, well-told story of women fighting against a church and society dominated by men who are determined to defeat them in body and spirit. A great tale that will immerse you in a world so different -- and not so different -- from our own.' --Philip Freeman, Fletcher Jones Chair of Western Culture at Pepperdine University, author of Saint Brigid's Bones

'The Rebel Nun is a wildly original, suspenseful account of a group of nuns in medieval France who must endure hardships and treachery from both outside and within their walls. It feels both historically authentic and startlingly contemporary, and I loved every word of it.' --Elizabeth Stuckey-French, author of The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

'The Rebel Nun is a gripping tale of heroism and audacity in the least likely of guises -- a renowned cloister under the heel of the medieval church. With meticulous research and in exacting detail, Marj Charlier brings to light the remarkable exploits of Clotild, who leads her fellow sisters on a daring escape that culminates in bloody revolt, and a place in history.' --Denise Heinze, author of The Brief and True Report of Temperance Flowerdew

'The story of a community of women in crisis and the power they found through their will to save themselves, The Rebel Nun tells the fictional truth behind the historical rebellion of the Holy Cross nuns in 589 CE, as recounted in her latter days by one of the rebellion's leaders, Clotild ... Rich in facts and foreshadowing, the historical novel The Rebel Nun finds in the nuns' rebellion, and in Germanic tribal paganism, an inspirational morality tale and historical precedent for modern women to connect with their own powers, no matter the stakes.' --Foreword Reviews

'The Rebel Nun is a well-written window into the life of a sixth-century royal bastard and the changing landscape of holy power structures. Charlier writes a strong voice for Clotild, with vivid descriptions of a daily life that brings readers along into her world. The research shows, and Charlier does an excellent job of seamlessly integrating the historical record with her own fiction.' --Historical Novels Review

'A startling look into a world I never imagined visiting -- a sixth-century nunnery, where one bride of Christ only a generation away from paganism breaks her vows of obedience to the church's male hierarchy and makes it her mission to battle the corruption of bishops oppressing the sisters of the Holy Cross. A well-wrought yarn reflective of historical fact.' --Darryl Ponicsán, author of Eternal Sojourners

About the Author

Marj Charlier began her writing career at daily and mid-size newspapers before joining the Wall Street Journal as a staff reporter. After twenty years in journalism, she pursued her MBA and began a second career in corporate finance. The Rebel Nun is her first historical novel, and her eleventh published novel.

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Blog Tour Schedule

Wednesday, April 14
Feature at Reading is My Remedy
Review at With A Book In Our Hands

Thursday, April 15
Review at Two Bookish Babes

Friday, April 16
Excerpt at Madwoman in the Attic

Tuesday, April 20
Excerpt at Coffee and Ink
Review at The Enchanted Shelf

Wednesday, April 21
Review at Crystal's Library

Thursday, April 22
Excerpt at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Monday, April 26
Guest Post at Books, Ramblings, and Tea

Tuesday, April 27
Guest Post at Novels Alive

Wednesday, April 28
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Thursday, April 29
Review at Novels Alive
Review at Into the Hall of Books

Monday, May 3
Review at Passages to the Past

Friday, May 7
Review at Bookramblings

Monday, May 10
Review at Rajiv's Reviews

Friday, May 14
Feature at Books, Cooks, Looks
Interview at Passages to the Past


Enter to win a copy of The Rebel Nun by Marj Charlier!

The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on May 14th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

The Rebel Nun


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