Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Marj Charlier

Marj Charlier began her writing career at daily and mid-size newspapers before joining the Wall Street Journal as a staff reporter. After twenty years in journalism, she pursued her MBA and began a second career in corporate finance. While she has published ten novels, The Rebel Nun is her first historical novel.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The first title I worked with was The Rebel Nun of the Merovingian Kingdom, thinking I needed to make it clear that this was a historical novel set in Gaul in the early Middle Ages. But most people don’t know the Merovingians from a hole in the wall, and it’s a name that’s hard to pronounce. My husband suggested cutting it to The Rebel Nun. I think it carries a lot of water because it immediately flags the central conflict of the book. It’s about a nun who does not behave like she is expected to behave. It’s about nun versus church. And The Rebel Nun is an oxymoron that sparks curiosity: Why does she rebel? What does she rebel against? Besides, a literary agent once told me he thought it would make a fine tattoo.

What's in a name?

Clotild is a simplification of the name of my character, a real nun who is variously referred to as

Chlotilde, Chlotield, Chrododield, Chrodield, and Chrodechilde in different versions of history. I wanted to retain the Old World character of the name, but also make it easy to read, pronounce and remember. I wanted a strong name, one that could represent a heroine with moxie and intelligence.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not at all. When I was 14 or 15, I read DesirĂ©e by Annemarie Selinko, about Napoleon’s first love (perhaps wife) who becomes a queen of Sweden. It sparked an interest in European history and strong heroines. I think my teenage self would be delighted with The Rebel Nun.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings. By the time I’m at the end, I know what has to happen. At the beginning, I’m never sure what is the most effective and captivating way to pull the reader into the story. In the case of the Rebel Nun, I had jumpstarted it by composing a prologue—which some literary “experts” suggest is a cop-out for a person who doesn’t know where to start. Before I sent the novel to my agent, I removed the prologue. Right away, my agent called me and said, “I think this needs a prologue.” She was amazed at how fast I turned it out! In this case, putting Clotild into a future where she could see what other people had written about her, gave her an incentive to tell her story, and to correct the historical record. And it gave her a personality and an attitude that set the stage for the novel.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I have no experience at being anyone but myself. As much research as a historical novelist can do, we still have only our own internal dialogue and perspective on the world to draw from. So, yes. Clotild is as I would have been, had I been born in the sixth century: rebellious but a little reluctant to take risks. Independent, driven to succeed, and yet wary of my motivation. Am I doing this for others or to serve my own ambition? Clotild asks herself. I think I’ve heard that before.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

First, my own 67-year search for an efficacious dogma or philosophy that I can subscribe to has influenced how I portray women in my novels—how they think their way through the challenges, opportunities, grief and joy in their lives. Clotild faces her ambivalence about Christianity and her doubts about her mother’s religion as she seeks to find her own path and personal philosophy. Second, I worked as a journalist for twenty years, which affected what I think is a story and how I work with crucial elements of story: character, conflict, action, dialogue, pacing, and rhythm. It made me a plot- and character-driven writer, and a reader impatient with plodding prose and plotless literary novels.
Visit Marj Charlier's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Rebel Nun.

The Page 69 Test: The Rebel Nun.

--Marshal Zeringue