I am often asked how I ended up writing both history and fiction. There's no easy answer. I've been writing stories since before I could actually read (copying sentences from the comic strips, where I didn't know what they said, and announcing what they meant). Medieval history is so fascinating in its own right that I've been involved in it my entire adult lifetime.
At the moment, the number of my published history books is slightly ahead of the number of my novels, but they're both decently large numbers. I think I must just love to type.
For the history, I use a slightly different version of my name than I do for the fiction. I'm using my "fiction name" on this blog because it frees me from the compunction to use footnotes, and I assume no one reading a blog wants to see footnotes. (But why not? says the historian in me. I love footnotes! especially in Latin. I'm not kidding.)
It's important to keep the two personas separate, even though most of my history colleagues know I write fantasy. I wouldn't want another medievalist seeing that I (the historian) had a new book out called "The Witch and the Cathedral," and think, "Doubtless an insightful close analysis of the relationship between medieval learned religion and folk practice--I think I'll assign it to the graduate students in seminar." (Tom Kidd is responsible for the above delightful cover.)
For that matter, some of the titles of my medieval history books might suggest fantasy to the hard-core fan, though they might wonder why the "latest installment" of my series is going to set them back $75 in hardcover….
I do try to incorporate real medieval social history into my fantasy, even though, as discussed in previous posts (click here and here), the Yurt series, my main series, is set in a version of what the nineteenth century might have been like if the Middle Ages had not ended. And because I'm a medievalist, I've got a real church. I've never liked fantasy where the priests are all either dimwitted fools or else scheming hypocrites. In both the real Middle Ages and in my stories, there were both good priests and bad ones.
The fiction is just enormous fun, but I could never give up history. For one thing, in writing stories, I'm looking into myself. In doing history, on the other hand, I'm connecting with real people. That they've been dead for 800 years doesn't change the fact that they have an awful lot to say.
(Click here for more on the relationship between medieval history and fantasy.)