An Interview with E. L. Noel

The Threshing Floor
E. L. Noel
The Fiction Works

Author Bio

E. L. Noel has been writing for over twelve years in both the historical and science fiction genres. Several of her articles, short stories, and reviews have appeared in various magazines, on line and off. THE THRESHING FLOOR, for which she won the 2001 EPPIE Award for Best Historical Novel, was released last June.


1. Can you please tell us a little about yourself, your background, how you got started with a writing career, etc?

When I was a kid, we lived in the country where TV wasn’t available. The alternative, of course, was reading, and that’s what I did. I read everything I could get my hands on. My mom used to take my sister and I to the library about any time we wanted to go. I think that’s where the desire to write is born–in reading, in seeing a story unfold in your mind, written by a talented author who paints word pictures in clever detail and makes you hold your breath wondering if the protagonist will make it through alive.

I have to say that when I started writing, it was a decision much like any other. Although I had written fiction for most of my life, in one form or another, and had enjoyed success with academic papers, it never occurred to me to attempt a writing career until much later. When I did decide to give it a shot, I dove in blind with the attitude that I would just sit down and write a book. Seems so naive now, I know, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but that’s what happened. There’s a tremendous amount of discipline involved, far more than I had imagined. First and foremost, learning the craft was imperative. Once I understood that, I passionately approached writing, learning all I could from anyone willing to teach me. Now, it is like my life’s blood and I don’t think I could ever give up writing.

2. What are you currently working on and what are your literary goals?

I’m just starting on another historical novel. Historicals are my first love, though they don’t command the audience many other genres have captured. Mystery, romance, etc. all have avid readers, and so does straight historical fiction, but the readership is a bit more narrow, smaller but dedicated. Historical novels of the non-romance type generally probe deeper into the story characters, and that’s what appeals to me. Honor, courage, loyalty, personal integrity counted in the conduct of their everyday lives. I’m not saying they don’t count now, but they aren’t as highly prized or exemplified as they were then, and to my mind that’s where the most desperate conflicts are derived. For example, in The Threshing Floor, the story begins with one hundred Knights Templar attacking a Saracen force of seven thousand, and not one man retreated. That’s a true story. All died, of course, and some would call that foolish, but it doesn’t diminish the courage required to do it.

As for my literary goals, they are a bit hard to describe. I want very much to keep improving, to keep learning, to finally own all the “tricks of the trade”, and most of all to write stories people will enjoy and can identify with. I want very much to be able to draw a tear to the eye, a smile to the lips, produce a tug on the heartstrings. I would love for people to see my characters as examples of courage in the face of suffering, something many of us badly need in our hectic everyday lives.

3. How do you write? (That is, where do you get your ideas, do you write in an office at home, do you write full time or do you have a ‘proper’ job, etc.)

My ideas mainly come from two places. Usually for my historicals, the idea comes from an event, much like the one mentioned above. I wonder how people of that time came to make the decisions they did, and the story grows from there, centering on a specific character, usually a fictional one that I create and slip into the event. For my science fiction, I get every single idea from my husband Mike, who has this extraordinary imagination but no desire to write. The Larobi Frame, my new sci-fi, was taken directly from him, and the idea was so new and fresh, something I’ve never read or seen before. On several occasions I’ve tried to get him to write using these fantastic ideas, but he simply doesn’t want to, so I take the ideas and write the stories. Actually, we make a good team.

I do write at home, and I guess you could call it an office. It’s a little nook, really, but it’s more than I need. I write full time, although I have worked outside the home. I’ve worked for a credit union, a steady but boring job. I was an investigator for a public defender’s office and had the opportunity to work on a death case once. I found that I had the head for a legal career, but not the heart. There’s a lot of sadness and injustice in our system. I also tended bar, one of the best and worst jobs I ever had. But then, I believe you’ll find the best and the worst people in both bars and churches. I met my husband in a bar and my Savior in a church, and both have made my life rich and beautiful.

4. You won the 2001 EPPIE Award for Best Historical Novel with The Threshing Floor, that must have been a high point in your publishing career?

Indeed, it was. I am still thrilled and I hope it never goes away. There are some fantastic writers out there, and The Threshing Floor was up against some awesome titles, so I never really expected to win. I hoped, of course, but the competition was extremely tough. It was such an honor to be chosen from among that impressive crowd.

5. Why did you originally decide to publish your work electronically and would you recommend it to other writers?

It would take a lot of space to list all my reasons, but the biggest one, I think, is that all of a sudden it dawned on me that the world of print publishing hasn’t been straight forward and honest with aspiring writers. Their rhetoric has remained unchanged over the years, but their goals have altered. Money has become the bottom line, not literary excellence. Of course publishers are in business to make money, but when the literary standards of a society are controlled by an extremely small group, they should require more of themselves than they have. If a culture is known by its written word, then those who enter the publishing arena should do so with a sense of dedication beyond acquiring a buck. I think the print world has lost sight of that, though I’m sure individual editors haven’t. Placing many publishing decisions in the hands of accountants rather than editors has hurt the quality and variety of print published works. Books influence people and I think they make a huge difference in the way children see the world and the adults they grow up to be. That’s a responsibility that print publishers seem to have forgotten.

I chose electronic publishing for the reasons stated above. I had tried breaking into the print world with other manuscripts and have collected my fair share of the dreaded rejection letters, but with The Threshing Floor I went directly to epublishing, partly because it had become a matter of principle for me. Some of the best books I’ve ever read I found in electronic format. They really were fresh and new and different from the mass-produced replicas New York tends to turn out these days. Works by Alex Domokos and Rita Toews, J. B. Jones, Mary Trimble, Steve Lazarowitz, Kate Saundby, Robert L. Hecker, Bonnie Mercure and many, many others likely wouldn’t be available if not for electronic publishing, and the world would be the lesser for it. I would recommend epublishing to anyone, and have to those who have asked.

6. Your new novel is a science fiction work, but one of your books is an historical novel, do you find it difficult to work in different genres?

Actually, I don’t find it difficult at all. It seems I have no trouble writing in any time period other than my own. There’s more freedom, the lines more clearly drawn, for the kind of work I do. Although the two genres are quite different, and each has its own requirements, they aren’t separated by as much literary distance as one would think. What I find extremely hard is writing a story set in the here and now. I have struggled for over a year with a contemporary suspense novel and have thrown it in the trunk twice already, then picked it up again. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that’s where it’s headed for the third time.

7. What writers have influenced your work?

Oh, so many. I would say the very biggest influence has been William Shakespeare. His tragedies haunt me, Othello in particular, and his characters are so complex and vulnerable. The impact of greed and jealousy upon the innocent, the tragic quests for power, the devastation of war in Henry VIII, those are the things I find irresistible in any story. Then there’s C. S. Forester and his Hornblower series, fantastic tales of the Age of Sail. I’ve always loved Stephen King, and John Grisham can tell a story with the best of them. Len Deighton has also been a huge influence with his Bernard Samson series and some of his earlier works. He has such a subtle, appealing style and is incredibly adept at pulling the rug from under the reader at unexpected moments.

8. What goals do you have for the future?

Well, they haven’t changed much. I want to continue to write and sell my work. Someday I would love to be able to make a living at it, which for the majority of electronically published authors isn’t happening yet. I believe it’s in our future, though, at least for some. I would love to see my books become movies, a tall aspiration, but one worthy of hope. And I would like to see many of my friends and peers achieve the success I think they genuinely deserve.

Excerpt: The Threshing Floor

A raven wheeled high in the vault of heaven over Palestine. Sir James Greybold, Commander of Knights, watched while he waited for an order he knew would come. He longed to be nearer to God, like the raven, yet he remained with man, faithful to both, but caught between the two and bound until death’s release.

Unconsciously, he raised his hand to the scarlet Templar cross overlaying his linked mail; the emblem that marked him as worthy in God’s sight and in man’s. He shrugged his left shoulder to reposition his armor, hot in the scorching sun. The raven disappeared, lost to the vast, endless blue overhead.

Heat waves shimmered above the desert floor. War-horses stamped and shook chanfrons, anticipating battle. In the distance the shouted commands of the enemy drifted across the plain, excited and eager in tone.

Saracens darkened the hills to the west, thousands of cavaliers and bowmen. Did they, too, wait for an order to come? One he dreaded, but they hoped for?

Greybold’s sergeant-at-arms, Anthony of South Wales, leaned close, and quietly asked, “Will Gerard send us, Sir?”

Greybold dashed sweat from his brow with the back of his gauntlet and gave an honest answer, disheartening but true. “I believe he will. I doubt he will wait for aid. Renaud holds powerful sway.”

“Aye, but he shouldn’t, Sir,” Anthony said with resentment. “He isn’t Templar.”

“No. But I fear Gerard will listen.” A truth steeped in the blood of the innocent.

Anthony frowned, an expression contrary to his disposition. “They might as well fling us against stone, Sir.”

Stone would show more mercy than the Saracen, though Greybold expected no mercy of any kind. His allegiance was forever pledged to God and to King, his heart to Christ, his hands to war. He would do what was required of him.

A short distance away, two ranking men argued. With his knights arrayed behind him, Greybold sat his horse and listened.

“Send them!” shouted Renaud de Chatillon, the Prince of Antioch, cunning and mad. His fine bay charger, covered in bright silk and armor, danced and chomped at the bit. “The infidel are within striking distance.” He flung his arm in the air. “Send them!”

“We shall wait,” replied Gerard de Ridefort, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, a callow man, and heartless. The lives of all present rested in his hand.

“The infidel is gathered.” Renaud squeezed his gloved hand into a fist. “Crush him!”

Gerard shielded his eyes against the glare and glanced at the thin rank of knights. On his shoulder, the eight-point cross of the Knights Templar shone bright, embroidered in gold.

“Attack! Why do you wait?” Renaud asked.

“You forget yourself, Sir!” Color rose in Gerard’s pallid cheeks. His countenance was fiercely stern, but also revealed the softness of an easy, indulgent life. “‘Tis I who shall decide their fate.”

Renaud laughed, a high, wild sound. He sat back, folded his hands across his saddlebow, and said, “Do you play the coward then?”

Greybold’s charger shook his head and pawed the ground. The metallic rattle of shaken chanfron and reins secured by chainwork obscured Gerard’s reply.

“Strike!” Renaud shouted. “Strike! Soak the field with heathen blood.” At Gerard’s direction, the two reined their horses out of earshot. Greybold lifted the blue silk scarf tied to his sword belt, a token from the Lady Jane; a love forever lost but still treasured. He touched it to his cheek, the material as soft as her hand. Should he fall today, a likely event, who would mourn him? Certainly not Jane, a bitter truth.

Gerard issued commands to their Marshal, James de Mailly, who obediently bowed his head and backed away.

As de Mailly approached, Greybold read his expression and knew Gerard had succumbed to the urging of a mad prince.

“We have been ordered to engage,” their Marshal said, his tone dauntless in the face of certain defeat. “God be with you all.”

Greybold gave a curt nod and looked away, the order heavy as lead in his heart. He uttered a quick prayer asking for conviction and courage rather than deliverance. He prepared to take the field and face the massive force awaiting them, skilled infidels whose hands overflowed with death.


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