An Interview of Susanne Dunlap, author of THE SPIRIT OF FIRE

Susanne Dunlap has just released THE SPIRIT OF FIRE, the second installment (already!) of her acclaimed ORPHANS OF TOLOSA trilogy, set during the 13th century during the crusade against the Cathar heresy, in a place that would soon become part of France. She kindly agreed to answer a few questions.

What made you choose a French setting, and this era?

Well, first of all, I’m a huge Francophile! Also, what really got me interested in the place and time was learning about the amazing women troubadours who wrote poetry and music for only about 80 years at that time. This region (now called Occitanie) wasn’t part of France at the time, but an autonomous that was a patchwork of baronies and counties, whose lords owed fealty to the count of Toulouse, the King of Aragon, the Holy Roman Emperor, and sometimes, yes, King Louis IX of France. It was a time and place that was comparatively tolerant of different religions, and there was no primogeniture. Unmarried women had to be left an equal share of the property when someone with land died. They had their own language, as well — Occitan — which is closer linguistically to Catalan and Spanish than French. This was all destroyed and later subsumed into France. Although there’s been a movement to bring back Occitan, and street signs etc. are now in both French and Occitan in that part of France.

What are the challenges of research like for that period?

Anything from the 13th century is a challenge because there are limited sources. However, that does give a writer a lot of latitude for inventing things, which I took full advantage of!

What surprised in the course of your research?

I was actually very surprised about the winemaking tradition in the region. Wines were drunk the year they were made; there was no aging and storing of vintages. And the region has really wonderful wines now—much better value than those from the well-known terroirs.

What makes the story of the orphans of Tolosa relevant to today’s readers?

I think this biggest thing is that the story revolves around religious persecution, wars against a peaceful sect, the Cathars, who were Christians, just not Catholics. I think it’s important to be reminded of the many atrocities committed in the name of religion at all times in history.

What are the challenges of writing a trilogy?

The biggest challenge is in creating a story that’s big enough to stretch across three books!

After the success of Game of Thrones, do you see a blurring of the line between accurate medieval historical fiction and fantasy?

I don’t know, really. I still think historical fiction and fantasy are quite separate. And although I did my research thoroughly and the historical events in my trilogy happened, all my characters are fictional as are most of the smaller events. But no dragons. I draw the line at dragons.

Thanks for the interview! And merry Christmas to you as well! Or, I should say, joyeux Noel!

Joyeux Noel to you, Susanne, and to all the readers of Versailles and More!


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