Sunday, March 27, 2011
Interview with Historical Fiction Author Jeff Foltz
Hello Jeff. Your novel is “A story of Motherhood and War.” Please tell us about your new book.
Norway, 1203. A mother’s compulsion to protect her children is timeless and primal. War is insidious and ageless. Birkebeiner is a story of both.
What an intense novel! Where did you get your inspiration?
The cover of the book is a portrait painted by Knud Larsen Bergslien in 1869. Its title is Skiing Birchlegs Crossing the Mountain with the Royal Child (Norwegian: Birkebeinerne pa Ski over Fjeldet met Kongbarnet).
I’m an avid cross country skier. The first time I skied in the largest cross-country ski race in North America, The American Birkebeiner (8,000 skiers), I saw this portrait. It more than intrigued me. It dragged me in. “These guys are not babysitters,” I said. “Who are they and what are they doing with that kid?”
Inga, the two soldiers in the portrait, Torstein Skevla and Skjervald Skrukka, and the event are revered by modern Norwegians, as are the Birkebeiner. The name Birkebeiner was used by the bishop’s army, called the Croziers, as a term of derision. It means “Birch Legs”. In the early part of the war, the army that opposed the bishop was made up of poor farmers who couldn’t afford horses, mail coats, good weapons, or adequate clothing. The farmers would wrap their lower legs with birch bark to keep the snow out. The Croziers would yell “Run Birkebeiner, run Birch legs”, chiding them as their inept opposition turned tail. But the Birkebeiner army gained experience and got better and, when they started to win their share of the battles, started to call themselves Birkebeiner. They turned a derisive epithet into a proud hallmark that endures in Norway to this day. Some of you may recall that the stadium at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, was called Birkebeiner Stadium.
Roland Merullo said, “Brilliantly researched, fully imagined, and finely written, this story examines both the tenderness of family relationships and the viciousness of war--a mix of human extremes that is achingly timely.” What kind of research did you do?
I traveled to Norway to ski terrain my main characters skied, to see the countryside they saw and to experience the kind of arctic weather they endured. I also researched with Cornell University’s Nordic History Library, spent hours in the Oslo National Library and in the Holmenkollen Ski Museum in Oslo, Norway. I enjoyed every second of it.
What a wonderful story to read! Now it’s time to tell us something about the real you that we’ll never forget.
I love my workouts. They’re part of my lifestyle. In the spring, summer and fall, I scull (row) at 6 AM on beautiful Lake Megunticook in Camden, Maine and in the winter, what else, I wax up the boards and head for the ski trails.
What an awesome thing to do! Sounds fun! Thank you so much for this interview. It was fun getting to know you and learn about your book.