A conversation with
Cynthia Ripley Miller
It is so wonderful to have you back on the blog. I know you are passionate about The Roman Empire. Could you introduce yourself to my readers who are not familiar with your work?
My name is Cynthia Ripley Miller. I’m a first generation Italian-American writer with a love for history, languages, books, cooking, and the sweet Italian treat, cannoli!
I’ve lived, worked, and traveled in Europe, Africa, North America and the Caribbean. I speak Italian and admire the beauty of Italy, especially Tuscany and Cinque Terre. At a young age, I developed a passion for literature and history. Later, I earned two degrees and taught these subjects.
I live with my family, our cat, Romulus, and Jessie, a German Shepherd, in a suburb of Chicago. I support several causes, one being Puppies Behind Bars, an organization that has prison inmates training puppies as service dogs for wounded soldiers and those suffering from PTSD. My own son is currently serving in Afghanistan.
I have to admit, I adore your series. What inspired you to write Books 1 & 2 of The Long-Hair Series?
On the Edge of Sunrise and The Quest for the Crown of Thorns are the first two novels in my Long-Hair Saga series set in Late Ancient Rome and France. I was fortunate to have lived and traveled across Italy and France and felt a connection to these countries.
After reading the Outlander series—and viewing it as a romance driven plot fueled by fantasy, history, adventure, and political intrigue—and enjoying it immensely, I decided to write a novel similar in nature, but in a fresh time period that intrigued me. I expanded my research into the 5th century; an era I discovered was filled with conflict and ripe with drama. The Western Roman Empire was teetering, Christianity in the Empire had taken hold, and barbarian tribes were growing stronger, threatening the stability of the Roman government. I found it to be an amazing backdrop for an adventurous and romantic story.
Did you face any challenges when you started to research the era for your series?
My first challenge was to understand the politics of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. Attila the Hun and his army were advancing into Gaul (France) and Rome was forced to try and enlist the barbarian groups in the region to join their cause in stopping Attila. I also discovered that the Romans and their barbarian allies fought Attila at a field in France called Catalaunum or Châlons in what is considered by historians to be one of the top ten bloodiest battles in the world. I felt the battle would provide a perfect climatic point in the story.
Next, in order to represent the history and customs of these groups, I had to research them all. I started with the Franks, moved on to Attila, and then the Roman emperor and empire at the time, the different barbarian groups who sided with Attila and those who sided with Rome. Then, I looked at the religious practices (some times glossed over in historical fiction), the weapons (I learned a lot about the Hun reflex bow through personal correspondence with the leading bowyer of the Hun reflex bow in the world) clothing, food, terrain, and transportation.
I discovered small facts like the poppy but not the sunflower is indigenous to Italy. And some large facts such as the emperor at the time, Valentinian III, had a wild sister, Honoria, who sent Attila her ring and offered him her hand in marriage without her brother knowing. Valentinian refused to recognize this engagement. This rejection gave Attila the excuse he needed to invade Gaul. He claimed it was part of a dowry gift owed to him.
I actually love researching things. The biggest challenge is the time management needed to research and write the story and in today’s marketplace, to make room for social media.
It is not often you come across stories set in 5th century Europe, although they are out there! Can you tell us 3 things that set your novels apart?
Quite frankly, I view this era as ‘a best kept secret’. The era not only has the elements of the Roman world, but it’s also on the brink of the early medieval period as well. Evidence of this can be seen in the evolution of dress, weaponry, customs and religion in this period. For some reason, perhaps because it’s not a focus in history classes in the schools, it’s somewhat ignored by writers. I think this sets me in a new era ready for storytelling.
Also, in my story, there is a cross of cultures between the heroine and the hero. This may not be especially unique, but they are at odds on many levels, by ethnicity, class and religion. My heroine, Arria, comes from a Roman, Christian senatorial family, whereas my hero, Garic, comes from a tribe of Germanic Frank warriors who resisted Christianity—until their unification under King Clovis who converted to Christianity and led the Merovingian dynasty in Gaul/France. The Franks worshiped Germanic pagan gods that parallel the Nordic pantheon of gods of Viking Scandinavia. For example, the Franks worshipped Wodan and the Norse, Odin. Thunar/Donar (Norse-Thor) and Tiwaz/Ziu (Norse-Tyr) are thought to be Continental Germanic counterparts. In addition, the name for my series—The Long-hair Saga—refers to a title used by Frank nobles who wore their hair long in order for their status to be easily recognized.
I also love the idea of ‘love at first sight’. This is not a common motif in today’s romantic fiction, but I find the possibility inspiring. I’ve read about and know people who claim this has happened to them (my own mother) and who fought to be together and spent their entire lives as partners. I especially remember reading an account of a well-known person who claimed as he waited for an elevator, the door opened and this woman stood there and he thought, I’m going to marry her and eventually, he did, and they had a long and successful marriage. I found the account to be thrilling, romantic, and perhaps, destined. I believe this not often used motif can lead to a variety of plot variations and prove engaging to the reader.
Can you share with us what you are currently working on?
I’m working on book 3 in my Long-Hair Saga series. Arria and Garic are pulled into another thriller adventure, which will include mystery, suspense, and of course, romance—an Italian tradition—but one that most all the cultures of the world believe in. This time, it’s set in Jerusalem and ancient Palestine.
On the Edge of Sunrise:
Book One of the Long-Hair Saga
When love commands, destiny must obey. The year is AD 450. The Roman Empire wanes as the Medieval Age awakens. Attila the Hun and his horde conquer their way across Europe into Gaul. Caught between Rome’s tottering empire and Attila’s threat are the Frankish tribes and their ‘Long-Hair’ chiefs, northern pagans in a Roman Christian world, and a people history will call the Merovingians.
A young widow, Arria longs for a purpose and a challenge. She is as well versed in politics and diplomacy as any man … but with special skills of her own. Emperor Valentinian, determined to gain allies to help stop the Huns, sends a remarkable envoy, a woman, to the Assembly of Warriors in Gaul. Arria will persuade the Franks to stand with Rome against Attila.
When barbarian raiders abduct Arria, the Frank blue-eyed warrior, Garic, rescues her. Alarmed by her instant and passionate attraction, Arria is torn between duty and desire. Her arranged betrothal to the ambitious tribune, Drusus, her secret enlistment by Valentinian as a courier to Attila the Hun, and a mysterious riddle—threaten their love and propel them into adventure, intrigue, and Attila’s camp. Rebels in a falling empire, Arria and Garic must find the strength to defy tradition and possess the love prophesied as their destiny.
The Quest for the Crown of Thorns: Book Two of the Long-Hair Saga
AD 454. Three years after the Roman victory over Attila the Hun at Catalaunum, Arria Felix and Garic the Frank are married and enjoying life on Garic’s farm in northern Gaul (France). Their happy life is interrupted when a cryptic message arrives from Arria’s father, the esteemed Senator Felix, calling them to Rome. At Arria’s insistence, but against Garic’s better judgment, they leave at once.
On their arrival at Villa Solis, they are confronted with a brutal murder and a dangerous mission. The fate of a profound and sacred object—Christ’s Crown of Thorns—rests in their hands. They must carry the holy relic to the safety of Constantinople, away from a corrupt emperor and old enemies determined to steal it for their own gain. But a greater force arises against them—a secret cult who will commit any atrocity to capture the Crown. All the while, the gruesome murder and the conspiracy behind it haunt Arria’s thoughts.
Arria and Garic’s marital bonds are tested but forged as they partner together to fulfill one of history’s most challenging missions, The Quest for the Crown of Thorns.
Cynthia Ripley Miller
Cynthia Ripley Miller’s short fiction has appeared in anthologies and ezines. A Ring of Honor-Circle of Books Award winner and Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist for her novel, On the Edge of Sunrise, she has reviewed for UNRV Roman History, and blogs at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus and on her website.
On the Edge of Sunrise and The Quest for the Crown of Thorns are the first two novels in her Long-Hair Saga series set in Late Ancient Rome and France.