Children: they\’re coming

My second book, Children, will be released on October 3, if 2020 lets us stay around that long. You can add it to your Goodreads TBR list already.

 

In a few words…

Magni never wanted to be like his father, a murderous, absent, cheating alcoholic: Thor – the feared and beloved God of thunder. When Thor destroys everything and everyone his son knows and loves, Magni vows to stop the violence. His dream is to bring peace and prosperity to the Nine Worlds, then settle down with the man he loves. But is it possible to remain good in a place this bad? How do you escape cruelty in a universe built on it, or the shadow of your father when everyone calls you by his name?

Maya knows she’s a failure and a disappointment to her foster-parents. How could a child raised by Freya and Freyr – Goddess of love and God of sex – have no interest in the greatest of pleasures? Obviously, it couldn’t be the torture they subjected her to, or treating her as a tool that might someday be useful. Maya, her rage at their games more powerful than she knows, wants freedom to pursue her own destiny. But how do you forge your own life away from your God-parents when you’re nothing more than human?

A retelling of the Norse myths unlike any other, Children will answer all the questions you never knew you had about the heathen Nine Worlds… before leading you into the Tenth.

 

What others think:

“A haunting, brutal, and emotional coming of age story, steeped in Norse mythology and written in spare but lyrical prose, Children is a book that demands to be felt rather than read. Its hard-hitting story and dark humor combine to make this a grim book with lots of heart, a book that will stick with me for a long time.” – Angela Boord, author of Fortune’s Fool

“Faced with gods who are interested only in their own goals, happy to use their own children to further their ambition in the face of a foretold end, Children can be read as allegory or fantasy. Drawing on established Norse myths but adding a unique interpretation, Larssen’s tale made me wince with witnessed pain, and cry, and, once or twice, snort with laughter. His evocative prose will linger in my mind for a long time. Not a book easily forgotten.” – Marian L Thorpe, author of Empire’s Reckoning

 

Cover

On the RockStarlit BookAsylum blog I talk about the evolution of the cover and title changes. On Whispers and Wonder Justine Bergman talks about the Tree logo designed with her husband, Brad.

The book will be released as an e-book, paperback, and hardcover featuring extra material (to be confirmed). There will be a surprise deluxe edition as well, but I’ll confirm that when I have it in my hands.

Children: The title and the warnings

The reaction to the teasers and posts about Children – the first book in my new Ten Worlds series – has been great so far. The readers of Storytellers in particular have made it clear that they can’t wait. It’s the most wonderful compliment I could dream of. It also makes me somewhat uncomfortable, because this book is… different.

I have rewritten Children 28 times, compared to Storytellers’ 21. The plot never really changed. I gradually pushed the book further and further onto the dark side without even realising I was doing it. Only when I saw it through a reader’s eyes again I realised what I’ve done. She read the book twice – a much earlier version a few months ago, then the 28th draft last week. Faced with the (hopefully) final version she first told me that she needed a Scotch and some rest, then quoted a bit and said, “I literally had to get up and walk away from the screen for a while.” Neither of those passages were disgusting. I just worked and worked until I felt I’ve found the right words to describe the characters’ feelings. It seems to have worked. It’s just that those characters are not happy.

Once I was finished with the last rewrite and sent it to my editor, I jumped at Debbie Young’s Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series and devoured six books in… four days? I’m the one who wrote Children and I still needed an escape from the place that I discovered existed somewhere deep inside me.

The second to last section of this post contains a list of trigger/content warnings, some of which are spoilers.

My Norse Gods: Frigg

The Ten Worlds will be less of a series and more of a universe I am building based on the Norse lore and surviving resources, which I then alter to fit my needs. Today I’d like to introduce you to Frigg, the wife of Odin – if I were in charge of casting the inevitable TV adaptation, I’d choose Tilda Swinton.

 

Frigg is – to quote Our Troth:

the most motherly […] she is the closest thing to an All-Mother the Northern folk know.

Frigg does not get a lot of space in the Norse lore, sometimes even being seen as an aspect of Freya (I disagree with this). Baldr is the only child of hers that is actually named. The long-haired, peace-loving, gleaming Shining One, dies in rather awkward circumstances. After Ragnarök, when the worlds of the Gods come to an end, some of them survive – and so do a man and a woman – led by Baldr, the long-haired, bearded, peace-loving embodiment of goodness, one who returns from the dead, the son of God (and Goddess). Those stories have been written down by Christians after the Viking era was long over. Some scholars believe that Baldr is a kenning for Jesus, added to the Sagas/myths by Christians to symbolise the fall of the Norse Gods and the rise of… well, Jesus. I agree.

I removed Baldr completely from my version of the pantheon. Frigg’s description of ‘the most motherly’ coming with lack of clarity as to whose mother she is exactly made me wonder: what if the answer was ‘nobody’s’? What if the one who craves motherhood the most, becoming its embodiment, the Goddess mothers and pregnant women call upon, were unable to have children of her own?

Children of the Gods: Jötunheim, jötnar, and Lay of Thrymr

The Norse lore and cosmology are incredibly complex. While we don’t have a holy book of any sort, heathenry is called “the religion of research” for a reason. There is much more to it than the few myths Neil Gaiman retold in his Norse Mythology, and Snorri’s Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. Those writings, both academic and not quite so, ranging between analysis of each line of Völuspa and summaries of Norse shamanist techniques, need to be read through two filters. The first is that there are no written resources from the actual Viking period – it’s taken centuries before the sagas have been written down by Christians. The second – everyone who took it upon themselves to interpret them had an agenda of their own (disclaimer: so do I, only I’m not pretending that I’ve written an academic book). So I read perhaps 1% of what is available, tried to strip it from modern additions, reminded myself that a lot of the Viking-era resources are items the archeologists labelled “religious artifacts” (which translates to “no clue, really”)… then altered what needed to be altered in order to turn that sliver of knowledge into what is hopefully an entertaining, if dark, novel.

When the first round of beta-readers provided me with feedback, they pointed out that they often got lost among all the Gods and worlds and races. I was surprised to hear that despite Chris Hemsworth’s chest there were still people who didn’t even know who Thor was. I have added an index at the beginning of the book, or rather Loki did, where the Gods and the worlds get brief introductions. Finding the right balance between “I don’t understand a thing” and “here’s 50 pages describing the roofs of Heimdall’s hall” has been difficult and I have no clue whether I’ve managed. Here on the blog I’ve been writing a bit more about the Gods – this time I’m going to try and tackle a whole world…

 

Jötunheim

Jötunheim – the home of the jötnar, one of the heathen Nine Worlds, is where the book begins. The popular mistranslation of the word “jötunn” (singular for “jötnar”) as “ice giant” is something I blame Marvel for. In my book it’s also something of a racist slur when used by other peoples. The most accurate/literal translation of “jötnar” would be “the Eaters”.

In my book Jötunheim consists of two parts, the East and West. The Easterners, traders and sailors, are the ones the elves and humans tend to know. That part of Jötunheim is also the coldest, covered in snow and ice through most of the year. The mocking phrase “ice giants” was coined when the elves and human failed to understand the jötnar’s refusal to leave their home land for warmer pastures. Surely, they mocked, that meant that the ice giants loved the cold just as much as the dwarves of Svartálfheim adored spending their lives in their underground forges?

I decided to finish \’Children\’ before the end of next week…

…then I went and almost died, which would have been a pretty good excuse had I missed the deadline, but also slightly awkward.

It’s been three days. (Good Gods. THREE. DAYS.) I’m stuck trying to process what happened. Maybe I am over-dramatising or remember some parts wrong because of the fever, I tell myself. Wait, but if I had that much of a fever… well, I didn’t really feel like I had it, so maybe it doesn’t count? Then a realisation hits me: those hours, or maybe minutes, when I thought I was falling in and out of sleep? I was falling in and out of consciousness. The stormtroopers, or whoever they were, might have been very quiet, respectful, and even kinda sad when they kept entering and flanking my bed again and again and again and again… I wonder, was it more minutes or hours? I remember I tried to look and one of them covered my watch, so I couldn’t see. Can a hallucination do that, or was I actually hallucinating my attempt to look, but I actually couldn’t move my hand?

Isn’t this the sort of thing that only happens to other people? I’ve already collected spine injuries, an impressive collection of mental health problems, how about other people take their other people stuff and leave me alone to do boring stuff like finishing books?

CW: The following contains medical talk (I took out the most gruesome bits) and me not dying. It’s also a mess representative to the state in which my mind is as well.

Guest Post: An Empire on the Edge of History

Guest post by Marian L Thorpe, whose Empire’s Reckoning is out today. Purchase links at the end of the post. My completely non-objective score: 6/5.

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Empire’s Reckoning is my 5th title and 4th full-length novel set in my fictional, alternate world, a world that bears a strong resemblance in many ways to northern Europe after the fall of Rome…and yet is not. Not in geography, or in all social constructs, or in its history. But it’s so close…

One of the most frequent comments in reviews of my work is that it reads like historical fiction, and I call it historical fiction of an alternate world (actually I’m fairly sure it was Bjørn who coined this phrase). But the reason that it reads like historical fiction is because it is solidly and thoroughly grounded in history, except when it isn’t. But because it has such a solid historical underpinning, the bits that are speculative inventions – like the society separated by gender for all but two weeks a year, and the resultant lack of heteronormative assumptions about sexuality and family structure– don’t seem, perhaps, so outlandish.

(Even that society has some underpinning in history, based in loose terms on the social structure of Sparta, although my society has no slaves, and marriage per se does not exist. The begetting of children is another matter!)

What I’m supposed to be writing about here is how I integrate real history into my fictional world, and this is a bit like when people ask me to write about world-building, because the two are inextricably linked – and the real answer is I don’t know. I don’t do it consciously. But I can analyze the history integration better than I can the world-building. Part of the answer is simply this: I’m 62 years old, I’ve been reading history since I was about 6, and I just have a head full of information that magically tumbles out when I need it. I also have an ability to make odd connections – think laterally, I think is the proper term.

Somewhere in my teens, my father, an amateur historian of the Tudor and Plantagenet eras, imparted an important lesson to me: history is most interesting when we look at its effect on common people. Social history, not just political history. (My main character Lena echoes this: “Not so long ago, really; a year, or less, Cillian and I talked of finding the voices of common people in history. He suggested perhaps the danta (sagas) were the best place to look.”) I set out to write a story about how political developments – warfare, treaties, alliances – affected one young woman from a small fishing village. I also wanted to explore issues of social justice in a  speculative way. I needed a framework for that story, and I didn’t want it in any historically well-documented period. So I put it in what has been known as the ‘dark ages’, the early-medieval period after Rome’s empire shrunk and when learning and intellectual discourse were once thought to be lost.

After that, well, it was a matter of using recognizable aspects of late-Roman and early-medieval Europe: the division of Britain by Hadrian’s Wall; the Viking expansion; the Justinianic plague; the Battle of Maldon…a dozen more…and weaving them together to create a political stage to inform and drive the choices my characters have to make: personal choices about loyalty and ethics, love and betrayal that both reflect and contrast the choices being made at a larger level in their world. I thought about what personal conflicts my characters needed to face, and then borrowed bits and pieces of history to create those conflicts.

Then, well, I needed languages. I like words, the look of them as well as the sound. So I ‘invented’ a few languages – not whole languages, just words here and there – and on the page they look like the languages they’re mirroring: Linrathan looks like Gaelic; Marái’sta looks like Norse; Casilan looks like Latin. Sometimes the words are genuinely in those languages, but most often they’re derivative, like my word scáeli, meaning bard: it looks like skald, it looks like the Irish scéalaí, (storyteller), but it’s made up. But because it looks right, it strengthens the connection to the world I’m reflecting.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the writer who has been most influential in teaching me to use history this way: the Canadian historic fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay, whose books I have read over and over, absorbing how he brings the recognizable known into his world: a world just slightly twisted on its axis, a world with two moons, and a little magic, but still, almost, Europe.

Apparently, this all works, at least in many readers’ minds. When the bookblogger Joules Barham described my books as set in “an Empire on the edge of history”, the phrase resonated immediately. That’s what I write.

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Photo credit: Temple of Hercules is by MarkV, licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Empire’s Reckoning is out now. Amazon: https://relinks.me/B086SFY7WB – all other retailers: https://books2read.com/u/4AzV90

No, I haven\’t learned any languages this week

I will tell you a secret: the release date I had in mind for Children of the Gods was May 28. I have booked my editor for the final pass at the end of March/beginning of April, the proofreader – first two weeks of April, I have planned to send the ARCs (advanced review copies) to reviewers around April 15-20. I even said the words of doom: “for once, I have realistic deadlines and nothing can go wrong”.

Then 2020 happened and honestly, I have not predicted that when I was setting my totes realistic deadlines.

I am writing this on May 6 [and 7 – Ed.]. I haven’t even finished chapter six (out of ten) yet. Yesterday I thought I was finished, then, a few hours later I re-read what I had written and, uh, it’s not finished. My editor has chapters 1-4. My proofreader, who is an angel, forgave me for not having sent her anything but apologies at the beginning of April. Or May. The banner on my Facebook page says ‘summer 2020’, because September 20 is still summer and I’m trying to think positive.

In the last few days some of the people I know started displaying worrying symptoms. One of them said that it felt selfish to go to a grocery store to buy wine. Another felt horrible for eating sweets all on her own. A few haven’t exercised for a week or taken a shower for three days. This makes them believe that they are practically evil. I told them not to be silly, but I’m all talk and no action – I’ve been feeling horrible about not writing fast enough, so I’ve been forcing myself to work more and faster, so now I can’t write at all. My body and brain refuse to cooperate. Every day I must nap at random times, because my mind just switches off and all I can do is scroll Twitter and click little hearts. I go to bed fully dressed, hide under a duvet and a weighted blanket, and shiver from the cold. Apparently this is normal during endless exposure to stress and anxiety that can’t be lessened by taking a holiday, because taking holidays is currently on the list of things that are even less likely to happen than me winning the lottery.

Children of the Gods: Consent

The book is nearly ready. “Nearly” means at least two more months, as I am still finishing the second half while my editor is working on the first, then once we’re both satisfied the text will be sent to the proofreader, and only then I will really be able to announce the book’s completion. It’s been over a year so far, because I started in April 2019. (What a world we used to live in. You could shake hands and stuff.)

It is not a light, relaxing read. I’d describe it as similar to Storytellers, only darker, and with Gods and magic in it. Genre-wise I’d go with literary queer Nordic mythic sometimes-grimdark-but-mostly-not psychological a-bit-coming-of-age-but-really-not-YA sort-of-fantasy, which doesn’t appear to be an Amazon category for some reason. The tagline “it’s hard to be this good in a place this bad” is not an understatement.

There is a scene in the book that I have rewritten at least forty times by now and I’m still not 100% certain that I got it where I want it to be. I’ve had it looked at by more beta-readers than anything else I have ever written. I can see it being triggering enough that it might require a mention in the book’s description, which is why I will tell you what it is now, and continue after the skip – so, TW: it’s a sex (NOT “erotic”!) scene between a grown man and a naive fourteen year old. It’s the opposite of graphic, but very suggestive. Is it consensual? The point of the scene is to show why the boy can’t give consent, as he doesn’t even know what that is and that he is allowed to refuse it.

Click “continue reading” to continue reading…

My Norse Gods: Thor

The most important thing I need to say: Thor is not blonde, doesn’t shave, and does not have six nipples, as the Marvel Comics and movies would make you believe. As nice as Chris Hemsworth is to look at, in the inevitable blockbuster movie based on Children Thor will be played by Kristofer Hivju. (Picture above: the premiere of season 6 of Game of Thrones)

Now that we got that out of the way, let me introduce him to you. Thor is mostly known as the God of thunder and lightning, but he’s also the God of blacksmiths (obviously), and the patron of farmers, someone to call upon to hallow a new dwelling and during a marriage ceremony. He is the son of Odin and Earth herself, and disrespecting Earth, particularly forests, is disrespecting Thor himself. His is the Nature that does what it wants, instead of being rearranged by humans to fit their needs. A heathen who leaves plastic bottles or beer cans in a forest should not expect friendly treatment either from the Gods or me if I see that. One does not want to see what Thor is like when he’s furious, or hear what I have to say if I see someone throw a plastic bottle on the ground.

Speaking of humans, Thor is the God most beloved by them, often referred to as “Father”. As a father figure he is a no-nonsense, non-toxic, strong, emotionally available one. He’s not a dumb simpleton, as he is often presented and misunderstood; he’s got the simple man’s wisdom, free from agenda or politics, generally assuming that the simplest solution is the right one. His by-names include “Deep-Thinker” and “Deep-Souled” – which makes me think of the Icelandic farmers spending their evenings writing poetry. He tends to do what he considers to be fair, rather than what the law states.

My Norse Gods: Odin

If I were in charge of casting a movie based on Children, Odin would be played by Sir Ian McKellen just because Sir McKellen did an incredible job playing Gandalf and Tolkien barely bothered to change anything when he decided to simply rename Odin to something else for his little Lord of the Rings books.

 

Who is Odin?

Odin is the most complex of all the Gods and Goddesses in the Norse pantheon. Not for nothing does he have more than a hundred kennings (by-names), among which you will find ‘The Mad One’, ‘The Furious One’, ‘The Inspired One’, ‘The Desired One’, ‘The Terrible One’, and ‘The Old Bastard’. He is a poet, a healer, a magician, a warrior. When calling upon Odin it is advised to use the name referring to the Odin you would prefer to experience. Prefer, because if he feels otherwise you might be in for a surprise of your life. Possibly your last.

The Marvel movies put the All-Father in the position of the “chief God” to make it easier for people without experience in polytheistic religions – the Father, the Son, and the holy… uh, Loki. The truth is more complicated. In the Norse times, the God considered to be the “leader” differed depending on the region. In Iceland, for example, the favoured Gods were Thor and Freyr, with Odin rarely present in the Sagas (although by no means unknown). Since each of the Gods was associated with certain personality traits, Iceland focussed on the Gods unrelated to wars. In other parts of the world Odin or Týr were the “chieftains”.

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