Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review, Interview, & Giveaway: An Uncommon Crusade by Caron Guillo

Only God can save them now...

Elisabeth, Simon, and Hugo join an ill-fated commoner's crusade to Jerusalem in search of wealth, glory, and redemption. But their dreams are destroyed when Elisabeth and Simon are sold into slavery and Hugo finds himself adrift at sea.

From the dark forests of thirteenth century Germany, through treacherous alpine passes, to a sprawling estate in Egypt, three lives become linked in a desperate journey.


This novel is based on the Children's Crusade of 1212, which I'd never heard of before. I was fascinated by the concept of tens of thousands of children leaving their homes to follow a twelve-year-old, Nicholas of Cologne, in his dream of marching to the Holy Land and reclaiming it for Christendom. I can barely imagine the faith of these kids to embark on such a huge journey!

Caron Guillo took this little piece of history and wove a tale of poverty and desperation surrounding these children and youth. The first half of the book follows the accepted history fairly closely, but dwells on several specific characters and what it must have been like for them. The second half of the tale follows three characters after the crusade fails. Did they still have faith? Did they still seek Jerusalem? How did their circumstances affect their lives? Did they ever find one other again?

Thus, the story takes on a life of its own and provides space for fiction to flourish.

I'm pleased to have the author of An Uncommon Crusade visiting International Christian Fiction Writers today.

Caron, when did this piece of history lodge in your mind and beg to be the foundation of a novel?

Several years ago--15 at least--I read an intriguing novel about the crusades which sent me to the encyclopedia in search of more information on the topic. At the end of the World Book article, I came across a few lines about a children’s crusade that ended in tragedy, most of the participants either dying prematurely in the Alps or being betrayed and sold into slavery in Africa.

I actually gasped and re-read the paragraph three or four times. What in the world would possess children to set off on such a misadventure or their parents to allow it?

Sometime later when I had the tools and time to research the subject properly, I discovered that at the forefront of the so-called children’s crusade was a charismatic and egotistical young commoner named Nicholas, that most of the “crusaders” were young adults, and that parents were generally terrified of the movement, seeking to protect their children from a disastrous end.

I couldn’t let the story go. Why would unarmed, untrained, unfinanced peasants think they could accomplish what professional armies had not? How desperate or deluded must an individual be to join such an ill-fated mission? And what about all those young people sold into slavery? How did they live with the consequences of their mistakes?

I began to envision a young woman who would do anything to win freedom from her past. A young man who dreams of rising above his lowly status to change the world. A would-be warrior looking for a fight, and perhaps a bit of fortune.

And so began my exploration into the lives of three young commoners who thought they had nothing left to lose.

How did you find blending the historical character of Nicholas of Cologne within the fictional tale?

Not much is known about Nicholas--the so-called leader of the crusade--or whether he really existed. There was enough, however, to indicate that he might be fun to write. I hope I found a balance in his character--someone readers can feel at least a grudging affection for.

The other truly historical characters in the novel do not play a major role in the story. I wrote the story that way intentionally--I wanted this to be a very personal tale about people readers could relate to, and from the feedback I've received, I think that's been the case for a number of folks.

I love to hear which character this reader or that most identifies with, and why. It's very easy for me to imagine how the three protagonists--Hugo, Elizabeth and Simon--would have reacted to the leaders and other historical figures around them. They were peasants, and as such, they knew their place.

I often tell people I write "history lite." I don't think that's a negative thing. My work is well-researched and historically accurate, but I dwell less on the historical details and more on the plot. I found myself striving for a timeless tale. And I've had a number of readers tell me that they found the story gripping, even though they don't normally read historical fiction. That makes me happy.

This story takes place in Germany, Italy, Egypt, and Palestine (to name only a few of the settings). Have you been to these places? What kind of research went into the settings?

I have traveled extensively through Europe and, as a tour manager, lead tours to Italy a number of times each year. I've traveled along the Rhine River, walked the rocky Mediterranean coast of France, soaked up the sun-kissed terrain of Italy, felt the heat of an African sun, and those experiences are great assets to my writing. But I've not been to Egypt or Palestine, and so I put quite a bit of effort into researching these settings, as I do each aspect of writing an historical novel of this scope--one that spans three continents over a decade of time.

I want to know whether women actually wore silk in Paris in the year 1212. What does iron gall ink smell like? I even watched videos on how to butcher a pig! Thank goodness I have a fairly strong constitution. To research, I used the Internet, written sources, and personal accounts from fellow travelers. I'm a bit of a research nerd, and so I had nearly as much fun writing as researching.

Thanks so much for visiting today, Caron! And our readers will also enjoy the chance to win a copy of An Uncommon Crusade, the winner of the 2011 Next Generation Indie Award in the religious fiction category. For details on how to enter our giveaway, dear readers, see below.

Caron Guillo has been married for twenty-seven years to a spunky man who never lets it get boring. They have three children—ages 23, 21 and 16—a daughter-in-law, and one grandson. Caron and her husband are transitioning from full-time ministry to vocational mission work in North America.

Having lived in 8 states, Caron has spent the last decade in the Texas Panhandle. A lifetime of travel has taken her to 16 countries on 4 continents. She is a Certified International Tour Manager, and leads small group tours to Italy.

Caron also loves hiking, chocolate and big views. Preferably all at once.

Valerie Comer's life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local foods movement as well as their church. She only hopes her creations enjoy their happily ever afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughter.

She is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency and has recently sold her first work, a novella entitled Topaz Treasure, to Barbour Books. Visit her website and blog to glimpse inside her world.

If you'd like to put your name in the hat for a copy of An Uncommon Crusade, please add your email address with your comment before Sunday, June 12, replacing @ with (at) and .com with (dot) com.

"Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws."


  1. Sounds like a fascinating novel! Please put me in the draw. lisamckaywriting(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks.

  2. What a fascinating premise for your novel. Sure want to add that one to my to-be-read list.

  3. Ooops, forgot to leave my email address in case I win.

  4. Please add me to the draw. auntnextdoor(at)hotmail(dot)com

  5. Hi,

    At my aussiewriters blog I give away two books every month, but I never get to see them myself. I'd love the chance of a free book in my favourite genre. I also write Biblical fiction:-)

    wendym_s (at) bigpond (dot) com

  6. As a home educator I am always on the lookout for something new to garner interest in my boys. This sounds facinating! Thank you so much for the giveaway. Enter me :-)


  7. Would love to have a copy for my teenage grandchildren to read. (After grandma has perused, of course.) judith (at) judithrobl (dot) com.

  8. a wonderful posting...thanks for the opportunity to read this beautiful novel :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  9. This sounds like a fascinating book. I can see how you were drawn into the subject matter while researching. I loved reading about how it took root in your mind and your heart. I will definitely add this book to my TBR list.

    sdjohnson (at) praisemail (dot) com