I first “met” Antony Barone Kolenc three years ago when his first novel, Shadow in the Dark, was released. I was immediately impressed by Kolenc’s ability to bring history alive for young readers while also weaving topics of faith into a gripping story. Since then, my kids and I have enjoyed following Xan’s further adventures. Antony and I have chatted on his podcast about my books and I’m delighted today to have Antony share more about himself and his books with you.
TKM: Tell us a bit about yourself!
I grew up in New Jersey, going to Catholic school into my college years. Then I joined the Air Force as an enlisted firefighter and eventually went to law school and became an Air Force JAG attorney. My wife, Alisa, and I homeschooled our five children as we traveled around the United States. I retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the Air Force after 21 years of military service, and I have taught at several schools, including the Air Force Academy.
I am now a law professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida. In addition to writing the Harwood Mysteries, I like to write short stories, legal books and articles, and a regular legal column in Practical Homeschooling Magazine. I also am loving my radio show and podcast, The Shepherd’s Pie, which focuses on applying faith to our messy lives.
TKM: Tell us a bit about the Harwood Mysteries.
The novels take place in 12th century England, combining suspense, adventure, and mystery with history, faith, and coming-of-age issues. The series follows the adventures of “Xan,” an orphan who comes to live at a Benedictine abbey, where he solves suspenseful mysteries with his friends, Lucy and Christina.
In Book 1, Xan loses his memory during an attack by bandits, and he must save the abbey by solving the mystery of a shadowy figure that walks the abbey’s grounds at night. In Book 2, Xan is forced to journey with the bandit who murdered his family, and he hopes to communicate with his dead parents by capturing the ghost of a little girl rumored to haunt a cathedral.
In Book 3, when a priceless ruby is stolen from a monk on the eve of his ordination, Xan races against time and a dark magician to catch the thief. In Book 4, when a merchant appears to be cursed by a witch, Xan must save the man’s life while avoiding capture as a suspected traitor to King Henry II. And in Book 5, when a blacksmith is murdered and a troubled Crusader soldier is the primary suspect, a group of teens try to uncover the murderer before more innocent blood is spilled.
TKM: What inspired you to write the Harwood Mysteries?
I’ve always enjoyed reading, writing, and telling stories. As a father of five children, all of whom were homeschooled at least for a few years, I wanted to write a series that would be strong, clean fiction compatible with Christian values. I wanted it to be suspenseful and engaging while also dealing with deeper issues: “Who am I? What am I supposed to do with my life? Why do bad things happen to good people?”—those kinds of questions.
Medieval history is fascinating, so placing the story during the 12th century made sense, especially because kids learn about feudalism, the manor system, and the Crusades as part of their social studies curriculum. The books make good supplemental reading for that era.
TKM: Is Xan at all like you?
I suppose parts of Xan are similar to myself. That’s unavoidable as a writer. Like Xan, I tend to make a lot of mistakes and have a challenge keeping to the right path and road of faith without second-guessing myself sometimes. But I’m like many of the characters in the series. There’s a part of me in all of them, I think.
TKM: Who is your favourite author and why?
There are so many amazing authors throughout history. I grew up (and still continue) reading J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings. I would still list him as my favorite author because of his ability to create a compelling world and epic story that rings true with so many of our human experiences.
When I am writing The Harwood Mysteries, I often think to myself how great it would be to evoke some of the emotion and depth that Tolkien was able to tap into in that wonderful series.
TKM: What was the most challenging part of writing these mysteries, and how did you overcome that challenge?
The historical research and trying to get the details “right” has always been the biggest challenge for me. I have done huge amounts of research, and even consulted with an expert in 12th century English monasticism to try to get the history correct. What is frustrating is finding some of the small details that are so difficult to get right. Life was very different in many ways at the time of my novels, even if human nature was the same.
TKM: What was the most fun or most exciting part of writing Xan’s story?
Getting the final story together, once the plot has finally fallen into place, is always a lot of fun in writing these novels. I love creating fun (but plausible) characters and weaving complex plots and sub-plots into one overarching whole—especially if I can spin real-world events into the mix, too. And the idea of furthering strong Christian values turns all my fun into what I would consider a ministry of sorts.
TKM: What advice would you give to a writer just starting out?
Do NOT get discouraged by your own failures, by your own “bad” writing, and by the need to edit, edit, edit and then rewrite and edit some more. That is how we improve our craft and our final products. In the end, all that editing will make you a stronger writer for the rest of your life, and it will make your final product something that you will value all the more.
My other advice is to network with other writers and editors by joining writing groups of like-minded people. My experience in the Catholic Writers Guild was the pivotal event in my writing life. Everything good that has happened to me in writing has happened because of my association with that organization and its dedicated and aspiring authors.
TKM: Where is your favourite place to write?
I write mostly in the mornings, and often at my office desk or the kitchen table. But I’ve also written some of my novels on the living room floor, the couch, the public park, and even parts of it while sitting in a pub (but not in the morning for that one). Wherever I feel most comfortable at a given moment of my life, that’s where I like to write.
TKM: Who is your favourite saint and why?
I’ve always loved Saint Francis of Assisi for his simple and peaceful way of living, his oneness with God and nature, and his compassion for the poor. His legacy is greater and longer-lasting than almost any other figure in history.
TKM: Can you give us a peek at Xan’s next adventure?
Book 6 will be the final chapter of The Harwood Mysteries. That means I get the chance to tie up all the loose ends and to connect all the themes of the entire series, while also ending with major fireworks. And trust me, this is the biggest and boldest of the books yet. Xan and his companions will leave England and head into Moorish Portugal on the way toward the Holy Land and the Third Crusade. There, they will encounter truly the most suspenseful and terrifying mystery they have ever seen. It may very well be the best of the six books.
Thanks for chatting today, Antony! We can’t wait for Xan’s next adventure—wow!