Today, I am happy to welcome C.J. Adrien to my blog. Mr. Adrien is a French-American author of Viking historical fiction who, like me, has a passion for Viking history. His Kindred of the Sea series was inspired by research conducted in preparation for a doctoral program in early medieval history as well as his admiration for historical fiction writers such as Bernard Cornwell and Ken Follett.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you have been writing?
I’ve been writing stories almost my whole life. The first short story I wrote I must have been ten or eleven, and it was in French since I lived in France at the time. After moving to the U.S., I had to learn how to write in the English, and that took some time, but by high school my writing got me invited to be an editor of the school newspaper, and that set me on a path to study journalism in college. I, of course, came to my senses in college and switched over to history by my second term.
As far as writing full-length novels, I started putting together the beginnings of my first book during my second year in college. I remember my roommates thought I was completely crazy; they’d never heard of a 19-year-old author, and these were the days before Kindle. But, inspired by my studies, and by my family heritage, I kept writing. I finished the first draft of the manuscript when I was 22 but did not publish until I was 25.
What is a little-known detail about yourself that readers might not know?
I am a fitness freak. In college, I not only aspired to be a writer and a historian, I also wanted to compete as a bodybuilder. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition at 23 that prevented me from competing—it was simply too dangerous. Even after corrective surgery, my cardiologist warned me that playing with my electrolytes the way bodybuilders often do could be fatal. So, today I focus on being healthy and train six days per week. In fact, the elliptical machine is where I do some of my most productive thinking and planning out of my novels!
What originally got you interested in Vikings?
When I was twelve years old, I saw pictures of my paternal great-grandfather—a towering man in his day—and he was described to me by my grandfather as a “big Viking”. When I asked him why he had described his father in that way, he told me to ask his sister, Nadette, who had taught history for many years. Luckily, she was retired and living across the street, so I gave her a visit. That was the first day I became aware of the Viking raids in France, and in particular, the Vendée region. It had been in our family lore that the island was once colonized by the Vikings, and they might not have ever left. My paternal grandfather’s family all have blue eyes and light hair, which are definitely not native traits of that region.
Looking back, this was the catalyst for my fascination with the Vikings. I sought to discover whether our family lore is true. The more I looked, the more I found, and the more I realized that the story of the Vikings in this small part of the world had all the hallmarks of a fascinating story. It was a journey of self-discovery, of tracing back my roots, and ultimately the story of how I came to write a novel about the Viking raids along the Loire, and the invasions of Brittany.
Do you have a favorite Viking character from history?
Yes. Hastein, supposed son of Ragnar Lothbrok, the infamous scourge of the Somme and Loire. It is he who is thought to have used the island of Noirmoutier as his base to launch raids in France, Spain, and as far as North Africa and Italy. I would argue that, despite how little we know about him, that he is the most notorious Viking in history, and the most accurate embodiment of what it was to be a Viking in the 9th century.
Hastein was described by the Chronicler Dudo of St. Quentin as, “accursed and headstrong, extremely cruel and harsh, destructive, troublesome, wild, ferocious, infamous, destructive and inconstant, brash, conceited and lawless, death-dealing, rude, everywhere on guard, rebellious…double-faced hypocrite and ungodly, arrogant, seductive and foolhardy deceiver, lewd, unbridled, contentious rascal, aggravate towards the starry height of heaven an increase of destructive evil and an augmentation of deceit.” Evidently, he made quite the impression!
I have read plenty of books about Vikings that would be considered mature subject matter. Why did you take the YA route?
I started my professional life as a history teacher. My goal has always been to not only tell a good story but to also inspire those who read my work to research and learn more about the subject I present. While mature subject matter certainly draws readers, I wanted to write a story for young adults to get them interested in medieval history. When I wrote my books, I knew I wanted them to be different from the rest of the pack, to reach an audience that had not before been reached. I thought of my students, and the style of narrative they enjoyed and adapted my story so that it could keep their attention. If one former student approaches me in 20 years to explain to me everything I got wrong in my book, it will have all been worth it because I will have inspired him/her to go out and take ownership of their learning and explore their curiosity.
I think an important point to consider here also is the idea that the Vikings had been more violent than other people of the time. This is simply not true. The dark ages were inherently violent, and so was the rest of the medieval period. Adapting a Viking story to a young adult audience is no different than doing so with any other time period, in my opinion. In fact, I’ve read a few historical fiction books for young adults focused on World War II, which is without question the most violent, or “mature”, time period in human history.
Can you tell us 3 reasons why someone should pick up your series?
- It’s an opportunity to learn about the Vikings in a region of the world that has never been done before.
- It’s something you can read with your kids (13 and older).
- It’s not been made into a movie yet, so your kids can’t “cheat” if you want them to read.
Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
I am currently writing the first novel in my next series, tentatively titled “Scourge of Frankia”, that will follow the life of the Viking Hastein. It will begin a few years after the end of my second novel, and is being written from Hastein’s perspective. We know what the monks thought of him, but how did he think of himself?