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Q & A with Lee Swanson

Q: How long have you been writing?

A: I really only began my career as a full-time novelist after I retired (for the third time!) in 2019. 

Q: You seem to have an affinity for the ocean. Have you always lived in watery places?

A: Not really. During my time in the military, I spent more time in landlocked locations, although my initial postings in Fort Lewis, Washington and Fort Ord, California would certainly qualify. Currently splitting my time between coastal Maine and the Mexican central highlands strikes an even balance. Despite being physically distant from the sea, my thoughts and ideas often take me there, however.

Q: You’ve had a variety of careers over your lifetime. Is there something about that variety that helps your writing?

A: Certainly! If I wouldn’t have joined the Army, I probably never would have strayed too far from our Oregon dairy farm. Spending time in Europe and visiting many of the historical places I had read about in books brought them alive for me. The excitement of living in Europe prompted me to become a Department of Defense teacher in Germany after I retired from the Army. The opportunity to continue my teaching career in England brought new places to explore, not as a tourist but as a resident. So, I feel the opportunity to experience the settings of my novels firsthand has definitely improved the quality of my writing. 

Q: What is your writing regimen like?

A: I usually try to engage in the writing process every day for at least a couple of hours, usually between 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM. Of course, actual writing may not occur, as considerable time can be taken up in research as well. If the words are flowing, I will definitely keep going. I always write alone in my home office, unless I’m asking my wife, Karine, for an opinion or advice. I don’t keep a notebook with me, per se. I spend a lot of time mulling over things on long walks with our dog, Banjo. The trick is to remember everything I decide when I get home! I always write on my laptop, except for jotting a quick note to myself if I get a brilliant idea in the middle of the night.

Q: Do you outline your novels?

A: No, not really. I make it a habit to always know how I want to begin and end each novel before I start. The story then becomes a bit like a white-water raft trip; you know you’re going down the river, but you have no real idea as to the twists and turns you’ll take along the way.

Q: Name a challenge that arose while writing your series.

The challenge is always research. I pride myself on the historical accuracy of my work. So, sometimes, I get absolutely stopped dead by a small detail that I don’t want to chance getting wrong. For instance, how cold was the London winter of 1310? After much research I found that, according to contemporary sources, "dancing took place around a fire built on the ice and a hare was coursed (chased) on the frozen waterway.” 

Q: Is there something specific that you want readers to walk away with when they finish reading your stories?

A: Well, first and foremost, I hope they enjoy a rollicking good story. I also want them to have an understanding of the way people truly lived in the time and place in which the novel is set. 

Q: If you couldn’t write, how would you express yourself creatively?

A: Well, I was heavily involved in amateur theater for years, as an actor, director, and set designer. I was also a very active member of the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA) medieval reenactment group for several years.

Q: Who are your favorite novelists?

The first adult historical fiction novel I recall reading when I was about ten was Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Ken Follett and Philippa Gregory are two of my all-time favorites. More recently, I think Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen is superb, having always been keenly interested in this extraordinary 12th century saint. My guilty pleasure is Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series. 

Q: What’s next for Lee Swanson? 

A: Well, I’m working up the gumption to begin the fifth novel in the No Man is Her Master series, which will be set in the years 1312 to 1314. I don’t want to give away too much, but you can expect Christina to once more venture north on horseback.

“Fifth novel, you may ask?” The fourth has already been written and is currently grinding through the editing process. Piers Gaveston figures prominently in this one.

At the conceptual stage is a new series involving a young merchant’s apprentice accompanying his master on a trading journey to Novgorod, ‘Rus in 1315.