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Interview with Antony Barone Kolenc

Antony Barone Kolenc is no stranger to solving mysteries. As a professor of law and homeschooling dad of five, he gets lots of experience using both his analytical and creative sides every day. His award-winning series, The Harwood Mysteries (Loyola Press), has recently released The Fire of Eden, another fantastic example of how he puts his creative mind to work for young readers.

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Let’s start with finding out what led you start writing fiction for young readers while balancing homeschooling and continuing to teach law?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I've dabbled in writing fiction most of my life, with mixed success. When we were homeschooling my son as a teen, I spoke with him extensively about the idea that eventually became The Harwood Mysteries historical fiction series. As homeschoolers, we wanted there to be great fiction that could introduce kids to history in a fun and exciting (even spooky) way—Harry Potter in a historical setting without any questionable themes or material. That was the genesis for the series. It was meant to be a fast-paced mystery-adventure that also doubled as historical fiction and could be used in any homeschool or private school curriculum as supplemental reading.

How has your experience as a lawyer influenced your writing?

As an attorney and law professor, I discovered that English history is quite relevant to the law because America inherited the English common-law tradition and system. That is what really sparked my interest in writing a book in medieval England. I also was able to put some of my legal sense to use in writing these books. For instance, in the first book in the series, Shadow in the Dark, there is discussion about the sheriff referring a case to the royal courts, and we see that as a young boy, my main character would be unable to testify because he would be considered “incompetent” as a minor to give testimony in court. Instead, the book ends with a mini-trial (informally) in front of the sheriff, where the true villain’s identity is revealed in the story.

You also have quite the collection of nonfiction works related to law and military policy. Do you find it challenging or refreshing to write both fiction and nonfiction?

I enjoy writing both fiction and nonfiction. As a lawyer and professor, I have a constant obligation to publish scholarly legal articles. That is fun in its own way, but writing fiction has become my passion. I also enjoy writing a column for homeschoolers about legal issues in Practical Homeschooling magazine. That allows me to marry my love of the law with my interest in homeschooling.

What inspired you to explore the world of 12th century England?

Not only was medieval England the genesis for our legal system in America, but the time I chose to write about is a fascinating time in history in general. We are at a time in Christianity where the Church and State (i.e., King Henry II) are in constant opposition, as the State attempts to control the ministry. This is hundreds of years prior to the Protestant Reformation, of course, so there isn’t that kind of split in Christianity yet. The time period allowed me to explore the system of feudalism, monastic life, church-state conflict, and (in just a few years) the Third Crusade. So there’s a lot going on both educationally and of fascinating interest during this time.

In the beginning of your books, you offer an explanation of what historical fiction is. Why was this important for you to include?

Loyola Press came up with the great idea to tie the books as closely as possible into education, which would make them a great fit for homeschoolers or social studies teachers in private Christian schools. The historical discussion at the beginning and end of each book sets the learning table for students. It also connects to a series of curriculum companions that Loyola Press also developed and released for free on their website to go along with the series. My dream would be for these books to be supplemental readings in most middle-school or high-school curricula for homeschoolers or private schoolers.

What do you hope young readers will take away from The Harwood Mysteries series?

Hope. Redemption. Forgiveness. Most of all, faith—that (unlike what we’re told today) we don’t have to divorce from our lives. My main characters—Xan and Lucy—are living during a time and in a place where the notion of faith permeated every aspect of life. Young readers can see that we can integrate faith into our lives organically, as my characters do as they struggle with the age-old question for teens (and adults): “What does God want me to do with my life?”

Throughout the Harwood series we follow the life a young boy named Xan. Is he a reflection of anyone in your own life, or was he inspired by a person from history?

He is a reflection of me in many ways, I guess, as are several other characters. Like Xan, I too lost my father when I was young, and that loss was keenly felt by me and my family. So I can identify a bit with how Xan felt when the bandits attacked his village and killed his parents. I can also identify with Xan and Lucy in struggling to figure out God’s path for my life.

Xan has to face a number of tragedies. How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture when writing his story?

Like many Christians, I’ve struggled to live out the Gospel throughout my life. Thankfully, God is merciful and forgiving. Many of the spiritual lessons Xan and Lucy encounter in the series are lessons I’ve learned over time, though put into advice from monks and nuns to my youths. In many ways, writing this series has been a blessing to my own faith and has helped me see the right path in my own life more clearly.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?

Networking with other Christian authors has been the biggest boon to my writing career. I would not be published today with such a wonderful publisher as Loyola Press if I hadn’t made connections with other Christian authors. They were able to introduce me to those who eventually got me my contract with Loyola. As I said, I’ve been writing fiction my entire life—but I only started getting better at it when I was mentored by other writers, especially those who shared my faith and provided encouragement.

What is one piece of advice you would share for writers who are starting out on their own author journeys?

Don’t give up! Find a great writing group and encouraging group of Christian authors to share your writing life with. And, finally, don’t be afraid to edit and re-edit and re-re-edit your work—no matter how good you think it is, it needs more work…trust me.

What’s up next for you? Can we look forward to another volume in The Harwood Mysteries series?

Yes! Book IV should be released in summer 2022, and I am working on Book V right now! If I have my way, I’ve got a series of nine books planned, including a trilogy that takes place during the Third Crusade in 1189-92.
As a teen, Tara Ross first discovered how hope-filled prose can change the entire trajectory of a person's life. Case in point: her life. She now has the joy of sharing this truth with youth every day - as a Speech-Language Pathologist, youth ministry worker and YA author.
Her debut novel and blog, were created to ignite sparks of faith for Generation Z. You can follow Tara on Instagram (tara.k.ross) or twitter (tara_k_ross) for more book reviews, tattoo-worthy quotes, and updates on her publishing journey.

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