Forging destiny beyond Gods' shadows
All Magni wants is peace and quiet, but when your father is the God of thunder, you don’t get to live the life you want. When Thor destroys all his son knows and loves, Magni vows to bring prosperity and end the violence… forever. But can you escape cruelty in a universe built on it, or the shadow of your father when everyone calls you by his name?
Maya, her rage more powerful than she knows, wants freedom to pursue her own destiny. Neither torture nor blackmail can make her obedient or pretty enough for Freya, her foster-mother and Goddess of love. Fighting for independence and revenge, can a mere human win a game where Gods dictate the rules?
2020 Stabby Nominee – Best Self-Published/Independent Novel
2022 Queer Indie Lit Award
The book includes strong language, depictions of sexual, physical, and emotional violence. For full list of triggers, which may contain spoilers, see: https://www.bjornlarssen.com/children-tw
The story of Children
After my debut, Storytellers, was published, it left a gap inside my soul. My beloved Gunnar, Juana, Guðrún, even Sigurd left home and went into the wide world. I grieved for them. I wondered if this was how parents felt when their children left their nests and suddenly it was quiet in the house and nobody left dirty socks in the middle of their bedroom or yelled “you just don’t UNDERSTAND me, Mummy!” Then it dawned on me that I might have not had ideas for a Storytellers sequel, but I was allowed to write whatever I wanted.
I have always known I would write about the Norse Gods, the lore, the Nine Worlds. Now that the Storytellers reviews started coming, and they were really good reviews, I went from insecurity to what I would later call “the Morrissey” – believing I was such a very stable genius that anything I’d write would automatically be great. The first idea that happened to pass by was a retelling of Ragnarök, the Norse version of the Apocalypse.
The Age of Fire told the story of Gareth, a character designer hired to work on a revolutionary, ultra-realistic game in which the Gods would prevail over Ragnarök – think Norse apocalypse – changing the ancient prophecies. As the work on the game progressed, Gareth’s dreams became so realistic he could no longer tell what was and wasn’t reality. His body began to change – he no longer needed to eat or drink, turning into a muscular hero one would see in a video game. When Gareth realised he was a character in the game himself, he couldn’t tell who the player was. Was it Odin, Loki, or someone else? Could Gareth change the ending he didn’t know?
I think this subgenre of fantasy is called LitRPG now. The readers love it, provided it’s good. Mine was unbearably bad. Not the “could do with some improvement” sort of bad – it was a guide to Reykjavík with a fringe of plot. I asked a few friends to beta-read it. One of them has never spoken to me again. (I’m not kidding.) Most of the kind people who were sent this masturdpiece simply never mentioned it again. The two who plodded through all of it gave me feedback that was simultaneously harsh and not harsh enough.
Taking a break from working on The Age of Fire gave me time to realise how awful it was. It was blackmail material sort of bad. I hope that the poor souls I sent it to accidentally (or not) deleted the files and forgot they ever existed. However, something good came out of this project. First, I learned a painful, but necessary lesson. Second, I met Maya.
One of the employees of Ásgard Games was a thin, nervous young woman who always wore black, looked like she cut her hair with manicure scissors without bothering with a mirror, and wore lots of silver bracelets. She only ever stopped being sarcastic when she was scared or sad. Maya was also very assertive. I’m not very assertive. When I started working on Children, Magni’s book, Maya took a look and announced she liked it. She wasn’t just moving in, she wanted half of it for herself. I had little to say. Maya had lots. She also had trust issues, so it took her forever to reveal her story, bit by bit, over the course of 14 months.
Children underwent 29 rewrites before it was completed. I thought the 28th draft was The One and I felt really relieved, because my favourite part of writing a book is no longer writing it. Then, on a random evening, as I was taking a shower, Maya finally decided to tell me why she has been claustrophobic since the very first draft. I jumped out of the shower, grabbed a bathrobe, nearly fell off the stairs, and started writing it down.
I made her claustrophobic – “I made her,” heh heh – because I needed her to leave a window open in the first chapter. I later incorporated her claustrophobia into a few other scenes. I never knew, though, that there was a very deep, important reason which added a massive conflict and will shape half of the sequel. Where a few scenes (the hot tub scene and the forest scene, for those who have read the book) were rewritten 40-50 times until I felt I got them right, this scene got one revision and was ready to go.
When I was working on Children I felt…nervous. In the book I re-tell selected Norse myths from the point of view of Magni, son of ultra-masculine Thor, and Maya, ward of Freya – the Goddess of love. Magni is gay; Maya – asexual and aromantic. Certain people like their Norse Gods blonde, heterosexual, and hateful. I met some of those people at “Viking festivals” and their swastika tattoos did not symbolise divinity and spirituality. Those are not nice people willing to peacefully discuss differing opinions. I was sent a death threat once, and while I laughed it off – I found it a year late in Facebook’s “Other Messages” inbox I never realised existed – I haven’t quite forgotten.
I thought of changing the book to make it – safer. Maybe it didn’t need to have two queer MCs. Perhaps Magni could only be gay in his heart, off-page. Was it necessary to make Loki genderfluid? I shared those worries with another author, who responded with a question. “Do you want to write a safe book, or do you want to write the book you want to write?”
I permitted 1% of me to worry while the other 99% worked on a book I could be proud of. No compromises were made. Magni and Maya became exactly who they wanted to be. The three of us wrote the book we wanted to write. One of us was still nervous, though. What if…? I decided the blurb would say that Magni “wanted to settle down with the man he loved.” This would have been perfectly fine, had my motivation been different. What I was doing was adding an indirect “content warning – contains A Homosexual.” If Magni wanted to settle down with a woman, I wouldn’t have mentioned it.
I took it out. I felt awful about this one cowardly sentence. If I made the whole book “safe,” I would have probably binned it at that point. I have always wanted to write gender and sexuality like Michael Cunningham, in whose books they’re just traits like any others. Maya has black hair, wears leather trousers, is asexual and aromantic, likes long baths, and can use magic. Magni is red-haired and red-bearded, a massive bear of a man who looks 40 and is 14, gay, gentle, autistic, sad, lonely. I don’t think of myself as “representation” – I don’t like the word – why would I treat my beloved friends Maya and Magni this way? They’re here, they’re queer, and… and so they are. *shrug* Maya would be the first to say that if someone doesn’t like it, it’s not her problem.
And, let’s face it, she’d never allow me to get away with a “safe” book.
Being a self-published author means being free to do whatever I want. The side effect of this is that I have no marketing department or the sort of editor to pull my reins and stop me from doing whatever I want. This is now I ended up with a book best described as “dark, psychological, allegorical Norse mythology-based literary fiction with Gods and magic in it.” Apparently this is not an official genre.
I thought that it didn’t fit the “fantasy” genre – or rather that I had no right to appropriate the word. After all, there are no battles in this book. The only sword in it is used for comical purposes. (This is not to say that there is no violence in Children, but it’s not violence as you know it from epic fantasy novels.) It took me a long time to realise that fantasy is a vast genre encompassing lots of sub-genres. So I settled on “literary Norse fantasy” and came up with the first cover in the gallery, code name Firebeard.
It definitely stands out. It also doesn’t really work. There is nothing about it that says “Norse” – I know that the red-bearded man is Magni, son of Thor, but without putting a caption on the cover I can’t explain it to the reader. And if there is one thing my editor taught me, it’s that if the readers don’t know what I mean, I did a bad job. I will never be able to visit every person who bought the book (I hope there never comes a time when I can and it takes me less than a few days…) and tell them “this is what I actually meant and you didn’t get it.” I retitled it Children of the Gods, which both solved the problem and, as I soon found out, overlapped with a series of (back then) 49 “erotic romances” about vampires that, to make things worse, became homophobic as it progressed. (Not that I would like to share a title with 49 vampire erotica books that didn’t become homophobic as the series progressed…) So, nearly last minute, I returned to Children – and to the problem of having an unclear cover.
I have, luckily, commissioned The Tree logo from Brad Bergman. It depicts the Norse Tree that carries all the Nine Worlds, Yggdrasil. Instead of making it a small series logo I turned it into the actual cover. The initial reviews praised the cover – some reviewers actually bought physical copies just because of this cover. Then, gradually, the sales dropped to a trickle. With a critical eye, I looked at the book. My critical eye was too much in love, still, but I had a bad feeling it wasn’t working, so I showed it to a group of authors who had no idea what it was, asking for feedback. “Epic fantasy” was the consensus. Nobody noticed the Norse elements surrounding the tree. Truth be told, when I look at this cover now, I wouldn’t have noticed either.
Slightly depressed, I asked the writer group I was a member of what they would associate with the book and an answer I really liked was “a grim fairytale.” Using a tree image with thick, mossy roots I created the third cover, which I really liked. It stood out from the others by being understated. This wasn’t a cover that screamed for attention, it was a cover that sat in the corner waiting to be noticed. It killed the sales completely. Perhaps if I were George RR Martin people would look into corners in case my books hid there. My lovely understated cover was so understated that it became invisible.
I polled people to see what they associated with Norse mythology. Thor’s hammer, obviously, was the main answer. Thor’s hammer does play a role in the book, but putting it on the cover would be incredibly misleading for reasons everyone who reads it will know. Also, there is only one Mjölnir. Putting it on the cover of book one in a series means having nothing left for the follow-ups. Luckily, one or two people mentioned Odin’s ravens and I could work with that.
By superimposing various images I created less of a grim, more of cold fairytale effect for the background, placing the raven on top. The Raven edition was published in April 2021 and later came second in the cover contest section of Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off contest. The red The Tree cover is now a collector’s item. The Grim Fairytale one isn’t even a collector’s item, because outside of one proof copy I have ordered none was printed or sold. It was yet another reminder for me that graphic design and cover design are two very different jobs.