After a long and eventful military career, including battalion command in Vietnam and four tours as an intelligence officer and Russian foreign area specialist in Europe during the Cold War, Col. George Steger began a second career in academia. He is a professor emeritus in history and international affairs at the University of Saint Mary. He has written a book entitled “Sebastian's Way.”

After a long and eventful military career, including battalion command in Vietnam and four tours as an intelligence officer and Russian foreign area specialist in Europe during the Cold War, Col. George Steger began a second career in academia. He is a professor emeritus in history and international affairs at the University of Saint Mary. He has written a book entitled “Sebastian’s Way.”

1. What inspired you to write the novel "Sebastian's Way" and how did your experience as professor emeritus of history at the University of Saint Mary help you create and hone the story?
Eight years ago, my wife fell ill and eventually passed away with Stage Four cancer. I retired from the university to be with her, but it was a lingering illness. So I started to write the book just for something interesting to do. Before Saint Mary, the Army was my first career. I spent four tours working in Germany and Eastern Europe as a Russian foreign area specialist during the Cold War. I had to study a lot to do what I did, and it was easy to become absorbed in the culture and history of the people of central and Eastern Europe. When I retired, I took my Ph.D. in history at the University of Kansas and found a second career teaching Russian and European history at Saint Mary. Medieval history was one of my favorite courses. The novel emerged from both experiences.

2. What is the book about and why did you decide to focus on this period of history?
The novel is the story of two men: Charlemagne, “The Thunderer,” master of all Europe in the 8th century, who fights and rules like the pagan enemies he seeks to conquer, and Sebastian, a young warrior who challenges the king to forge a new path to peace. The pitch of the book is how difficult it is to have radically different ideas from those around you, especially if you are right and those in authority are wrong. Being different needs courage and a very good reason, and one needs to be prepared to pay the price. The background for the novel was the 30-year war Charlemagne fought with the Saxons. It was an apocalyptic conflict between Christian Franks and pagan Saxons, and it was Charlemagne’s toughest fight. If the Saxons had won, who knows what might have happened to the history of Europe and Christianity itself? But the novel is far from a mere account of Charlemagne’s conquests and battles. It is a moral tale of dramatic perplexities, of character, of faith, of the medieval world view, and, not least, of love. Though action and adventure abound, the novel is a colorful medieval stew, rich with the authentic stock of the times: savage warriors, courageous, ground-breaking clergy, salty peasants, and plenty of memorable maidens for those who love a good romance.

3. The Kirkus Reviews has called the book "a well-honed medieval history tale that will likely leave readers spoiling for the next installment" and the novel has been awarded an indieBRAG gold medallion and also was selected as one of the year's top 10 independently published novels reviewed by the National Historical Novel Society. What is the secret to writing a debut novel that receives this sort of acclaim in a sea of traditionally published literary works that flood the publishing industry each year?
I’m not sure there’s a secret. But I would say a new author needs to know the subject so well and be so turned on by it that he/she feels it must be written – in a way like the sculptor already sees the statue inside the raw marble. I love medieval history and Charlemagne is one of my favorite historical characters. So recreating Charlemagne’s world in fiction was fascinating and great fun.

4. What do you enjoy more, teaching or writing? And what advice would you give an aspiring writer who faces the challenges that you confronted in learning to navigate the highly competitive world of publishing?
I’ve always been blessed with a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the things I’ve been privileged to do. Writing is just a new page in my life and I have found it as interesting and compelling as teaching or what I did in the military. The least pleasant part of being an author, for me at least, is marketing. It’s very hard to do. But you have to do it or you don’t sell a lot of books, especially if you’re an indie writer. I would tell an aspiring writer to ‘bite the bullet’ and do plenty of research on how to push your own book. Unfortunately, it’s a business, and, like a business, a lot of it is who you know. If a new author can get good reviews and then convince somebody who’s important in the field or in academia to go to bat for him/her, it becomes a lot easier. The best plan is to do the research on marketing, make a detailed plan, figure out how much you want to spend and then concentrate on it. The bad side of all that marketing is it takes a lot of time away from writing, so you need to organize your time well – so much for writing and so much for marketing, etc.

5. Are any more books in the works and if so, will they be historical novels and will you focus on a different period in history? How can readers get a copy of the book?
I am just finishing the second book of this three-book series called "The Sebastian Chronicles." The new book is titled “The Paladin.” It continues Sebastian’s saga, taking him far afield, this time as an agent/emissary of the king. The tale brings Sebastian to Constantinople and the Byzantine court of the Empress Irene, and to the court of Harun al Rashid, Caliph of the glittering Arab Empire in Baghdad. The story involves bringing back a live Indian elephant as a gift to Charlemagne from the Caliph, all the way from the Euphrates to the heart of Europe. This amazing journey is an historical fact, but the details are sketchy, so I have taken the literary license of inserting Sebastian into the adventure. I have a website (www.georgesteger.com) and a blog site (http://georgesteger.blogspot.com). And I’m on Facebook as George Fletcher Steger. The book can be purchased online by going to Amazon.com/Books and typing in my name or the name of the book. It can also be ordered from Barnes and Noble and GoodReads or from iUniverse, the publisher. I can be contacted at snewsong@aol.com.

– Rimsie McConiga