Children

No, really…

When Storytellers came out in March 2019, I kept obsessing about sales and reviews, refreshing my Amazon dashboard, checking Goodreads four times a day (HAHAHAHA more like forty). My first one-star review didn’t upset me – I knew I was bound to get one eventually and almost felt validated. I was a real, rejected author now! But, also, Storytellers was no longer my only baby and the love of my life. It quietly disconnected itself from me – I was working on my second book, Age of Fire, urban fantasy with Norse Gods in it.

I got a bit drunk on the five- and four-star reviews coming from complete strangers. They weren’t my friends or family members trying to humour me. Now all I had to do was write the next book, then the next one, and each would be better just because I was clearly really good at this.

Big mistake. Huge.

I wrote about video games, which I don’t actually play, then dumped all my knowledge of Reykjavík into it, including which supermarkets were the cheapest (Bonus) and how Icelanders socialised (in the public pools), and I felt so proud of this incredible… 

…turd.

My Norse Gods: Freya


With Children out for a month now, it really is time for something I’ve been postponing for months… apologies to Freya and Freyr.

“My” Freya is the reason why I originally – two years ago? – pitched the book as “Drag Race meets Terry Pratchett in Ásgard.” She  wouldn’t just win Drag Race, because Freya doesn’t compete. She’d send RuPaul to a nursing home and take over the hosting duties – until she got bored (halfway through episode two). She’d then announce that Keeping Up With THE Freya is where it’s at and everyone would switch the channel. In the inevitable Netflix series I cast Scarlett Johansson as Freya because I can’t stand Scarlett Johansson.

This is an unusual interpretation of the Goddess.

 

The Freya

Our Troth:

As mistress of magic and goddess of sexual love, she kindles the imagination and sparks the heart. Whereas that other great goddess, Frija [Frigg – BL], is wholesome and safe, the Frowe [Freya – BL] is sweet, wild, and dangerous.

[…] Frowe is not motherly in any way. […] To the Norse, Freyja was a goddess of riches, whose tears fell to the earth as gold and whose most common appearance in skaldic poetry is in kennings for “gold”. […]

Here’s Freya getting burnt at the stake – three times:

[Freya] is first thought to have come among the Ases as the witch Gullveigr (“Gold-Intoxication”), whose fate started the war between the Ases and the Wans: “when Gullveigr was studded with spears and burned in Hár’s hall; thrice burned, thrice born, often, not seldom, but yet she lives”

I changed the order of events. The war between the Æsir (the Gods who inhabit Ásgard) and Vanir (those coming from Vanaheim) can’t be won by either of the sides, so they declare a truce and exchange hostages. Freya is one of them, forced to move into an unfamiliar place filled with those who only just stopped trying to kill her and her kin. She is young and afraid, and wants to prove that she is more valuable alive than dead. What she has to offer is love, so when one of the Gods wants to be loved by another, Freya briskly fulfils the wishes. It turns out, though, that some have multiple suitors, others are already taken, and some change their mind five minutes later. In her attempts to avoid the Æsir’s wrath, she enrages them, causing them to fight between each other. Burning her on a stake only once is not enough of a punishment. The myths don’t seem to consider this to be a particularly memorable event in Freya’s life. She seems to just get over it.

Not in my book, though.

Children: out and proud


Children is out, and I am proud. You can buy the e-book here. There are more links and excerpts on the Children page.

When the writer finishes the book, they don’t know whether it’s any good. Will the readers stop reading on page 50? Will there even BE any readers? So, the writer has found the target audience carefully approached through various marketing means (I didn’t do that, because I’m a bit of a twatwaffle, about which in a moment), but what if a mistake was made and the Carefully Selected Potential Readers just don’t click on the links? Or they do, but don’t like the cover? They like the cover, but not the blurb? Or the worst – mutter “meh” and go elsewhere? Will the book sell any copies at all?

This is predictable to a certain degree. For instance, I am 100% certain that in the coming year Children will sell fewer copies than Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which has been out for 23 years. Whether that will mean 0.001% of Rowling’s book’s sales or 10% (in my dreams) isn’t that easy to predict, but at the end there are maybe a few thousand people in the world who know I exist at all, much less that I write books.

This isn’t the worst part though. Without a team, or at least one faithful and very well-read assistant, I don’t even know what my book is. It took me literally months to decide I would call it queer Norse adult literary fantasy, and I am still not entirely certain whether that’s correct. In order to get people to buy my books, I have to find those right people (then hope they like the cover, then the blurb…) That’s very easy though, innit? I simply find some books that are just like mine, advertise to those readers, $ucce$$ follows.

 

Also-boughts

Let’s start with the warm-up. What other books do my readers buy?

Children: TWO WEEKS

I’m the sort of person who only really understands two dates: “sometime in the future” and “OMG”. When we went on a short outing I was working on the bonus hardcover-only story, when suddenly the realisation kicked me in the face: I didn’t have time to tinker with it at leisurely pace for the next month or two, because the book will come out in seventeen days.

Just like that, “sometime in the future” became “OMG THAT’S LIKE NOW WHY WHERE WHEN HOW”.

The release date, October 3, is set and… and I won’t say anything about it not changing, because last time I had deadlines I nearly went and actually died just so that I’d have an excuse for the delay. So it might even not change, who knows. My real fears lie somewhere else…

 

Impostor syndrome

Every good writer has the impostor syndrome. Except, obviously, I’m not a good writer at all. Everyone else is. Just not me. Storytellers was a lucky strike. Now the readers will find me out.

(I asked a writer who has 21 books out and she says that she is yet to stop feeling this way.)

Maybe I failed to give justice to the Norse lore. Or the characters. Or the… uh… weather. Or trees. Or *insert every single thing that appears in the book*. I am past the stage where I feel like I’m even bad at typing “the”, because there are three and a half sentences on those 442 pages that I know are perfect, so that only leaves everything else.

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.

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?

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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