11 March 2021

Special Guest Interview with Cynthia Ripley Miller, Author of A Sword Among Ravens (The Long-Hair Saga Book 3)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

AD 455. Arria Felix and her husband, Garic the Frank, have safely delivered a sacred relic to Emperor Marcian in Constantinople. But now, Arria and Garic will accept a new mission. The emperor has asked them to carry the sword of King David of Israel to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where Arria will dedicate it in her murdered father’s memory.

I'm pleased to welcome author Cynthia Ripley Miller to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book. 

A Sword Among Ravens is a romantic historical mystery/adventure set in the 5th century late Roman Empire in Jerusalem, and the third book in my series, The Long-Hair Saga. My heroine, Arria, is a Roman senator’s daughter known in Rome for her deductive abilities. Her husband, Garic, is a barbarian noble and First Counsel to his Frank tribe of warriors. They have accepted a mission given to them by Emperor Marcian, ruling the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). They will carry an ancient relic, King David of Israel’s sword, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Along the way, they face many challenges and dangers. 

Their young daughter goes missing, a brutal killer stalks their path, and cold-blooded thieves are determined to steal the sword for their own gains. But when Arria is confronted over where the sword should truly rest, old friendships, loyalties, and her duty to the emperor are put to the test. Arria and Garic find themselves caught in a treacherous mission wrapped in murder, mystery, and the power of love and redemption.

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I’m definitely a ‘plotter’! I usually start with an idea, and then I move to the main characters I envision. I’ll describe their situation and characteristics on paper. I think about what they must have or attain, what they are willing to do, or how far they will go to achieve this goal. I try to define the central conflict and their ‘hero’s journey,’ individually and together. 

I like creating exciting connections between leading and supporting characters as well. At times, I let the muses lead me, and often it’s not where I intended to go! Practically, I use graphic web organizers (somewhat similar to a storyboard) or synopsis to help me plot my way through the book. I like twists, mystery, or intrigue to run through the storyline and a HEA (Happily Ever After). 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

You may have many challenges in working your way to publication, but stay fearless. Pay attention to the industry’s demands, read, write, and participate in arenas that will help you grow, but at the same time, block out the noise. I decided to push through the market fads and write in a time that intrigued and excited me and at my own pace. A book takes me about two years to write. Years ago, while at a conference, some editors and agents advised against writing fiction set in WWII and early America and to publish several books a year. And yet, today, books set in WWI and WWII are quite popular. I decided—like the writers I admire—I would focus on quality over quantity, persevere, and enjoy myself. 

From my first word typed on paper to the day I signed a contract was almost nine years. In that time, I revised three drafts, researched, sent out queries, partials, and manuscripts, and attended conferences. I worked a full-time job and lived in a household with four kids and a dog, two cats, a few gerbils, and a goldfish!  

However, one of the ‘signs’ that kept me motivated (and sane) was that people who knew me never seemed to forget I was writing a novel. They would always ask me how it was going. I felt encouraged by this and determined. I made goals for myself, and I joined several writing groups and formed my own novelist group. I surrounded myself with other writers with the same goals—to become better writers and to work towards publication. There were more than a few times when I felt like quitting, but I couldn’t. Something wouldn’t let me. Then, one day, as I sat in my car in a library parking lot, I checked my email, and the offer was there. A London and New York publisher, Knox Robinson Publishing, wanted to publish my book. I cried happy tears.

The best advice I can offer anyone is the model for determination I used.  In the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, the character Andy, played by Tim Robbins, goes to prison for killing his wife and her lover, a crime he did not commit. For two decades, he picks away at the wall in his cell with a stolen rock hammer to create a hole large enough for him to escape from prison and finally find freedom. I loved the message in this story. If there is anything you really want—keep at it, pick away at it—and you may accomplish your goal. If you don’t reach your goal, your effort isn’t totally lost. It may lead you to a new purpose and maybe, an even better one. Think positively!

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books? 

I particularly like blog tours to raise awareness. I enjoy it when a reader reaches out to me because they’ve read about me, a review of one of my books, or a Q & A like this one. Author and library fairs also help raise awareness as well as social media platforms.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research. 

In my third book, A Sword Among Ravens, I brought back a Jewish character from book one kidnapped as a young man from his home in Palestine. Part of this story takes place in Jerusalem. As I was researching 5th century Jerusalem, I discovered that in 324–25, Emperor Constantine reunited the empire after winning the Civil Wars of the Tetrarchy. 

Within a few months, the First Council of Nicaea (first worldwide Christian council) confirmed the status of Aelia Capitolina (the name given to Jerusalem by the emperor Hadrian in 130AD) as a patriarchate (offices). This was when a significant wave of Christian pilgrims and immigration to the city began. I was unaware that Jerusalem for a time had been given a Roman name. The city is believed to have been renamed Jerusalem in 324.

I also learned that in 325, the ban on Jews entering the city remained in force (first enforced by Emperor Hadrian after the Simon Bar Kokhba revolt). Still, they were allowed to enter once a year to pray at the Western Wall on ‘the ninth of Ab,’ a Jewish holy day. This revelation posed a dilemma for my Jewish character, Samuel. I needed him to be able to enter and move around the city. However, this historical obstacle forced me to create a new scenario, which in the end, added extra tension and drama to the story. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? 

I think the fight scene at the top of David’s Tower involving multiple people was the most complex scene to write. The weapons were not the problem. By book three, I was very familiar with the types of swords, knives, and axes of the era. It was describing several people paired against one another and fighting at the same time on a rooftop that seemed difficult. It’s much easier to watch swordfights on film, but creating it in words so the reader can visualize is a challenge—one that I jumped into eagerly but where research was necessary.

I enjoyed searching for and interacting with experts who write on swordsmanship, and I actually participated in a sword-fighting class at a conference I attended. Also, while researching the Hun composite bow for my first book, I found the world-leading bowyer for this weapon and contacted him. He graciously offered to read my scenes describing its construction. I was thrilled. It never hurts to ask for advice. Although the fight scene was challenging to write, I found it immensely rewarding when my Beta readers told me it worked.

What are you planning to write next? 

I’m actually toying with an idea I have for a fantasy book. It’s still germinating, but I have two main characters in mind and partially on paper.

Cynthia Ripley Miller

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About the Author

Cynthia Ripley Miller is a first generation Italian-American writer with a love for history, languages, and books. She has lived in Europe and traveled world-wide, holds two degrees, and taught history and English. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthology Summer Tapestry, at Orchard Press Mysteries.com, and The Scriptor. She is a Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist with awards from Circle of Books-Rings of Honor and The Coffee Pot Book Club. She has reviewed for UNRV Roman History, and blogs at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus. Cynthia lives outside of Chicago with her family, along with a cute but bossy cat. Find out more at her website, www.cynthiaripleymiller.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @CRipleyMiller


  1. Such an interesting interview.

    Thank you so much for hosting today's blog tour stop.

  2. Thank you for the interview. It's much appreciated!


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