writing

Why Bjørn Writes

My upcoming book, Why Odin Drinks – a collection of four novellas, including Creation – is what would happen if Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and Hobbes – of the Calvin and Hobbes fame – decided to tackle Norse mythology. It’s sometimes bittersweet, because Pratchett; absurd, because Adams; and thoughtful, because Calvin and Hobbes. I aimed at writing a book that could be read on various levels – from cackling at peeing dispensers and Odin’s masculine wiles to contemplating various facets of the human condition.

Then reality went and up-ended my proportions somewhat.

Out of the four novellas, Creation is about life; Loki Runes Everything – about control; Fashionteller – about consequences of knowing too much about the future. The last story, The Well of Wise Dom takes a look at greed. What happens when you understand too much, know too much, predict too much, try to control the outcome, change the inevitable? This is what happens, apparently:

“All-Father…”
Odin smirked, the wrinkles around his lips deepening. “I was too stupid to know that I was right. You need to start wars to end them. Sacrifice lives to save them.”
“This isn’t…”
“Frigg will tell me what I need to know,” Odin said coldly. The knuckles of his bony hand, gripping the staff firmly, whitened. “The only way to stop a great army is to have an even greater army. I will know what and when to expect. I will be there.”
[…] “That can’t happen!” Mímir erupted. “When you stir wars, they’ll lead to bigger wars. The more deadly weapons one side uses, the worse the other will invent.”
“Exactly,” Odin nodded. “I’ll lead the leaders. I’ll outwit the wittiest. And I’ll always have the best, the strongest, the hardest.”

Three days after I sent the final version of the book for proofreading, Russia invaded Ukraine.

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.

Is this even \”writing\”?

There are three sorts of writers. Plotters, who come up with the plot first, then write their characters to follow it. Pantsers, who kind of grip to the edge of their seat and watch what happens. And Artistés, who develop characters that become so real they refuse to do what we want them to.

Storytellers got 21 rewrites and took me 26 months to write, because I haven’t learned yet what sort of a writer I was. I had my plot, a few important characters, and multiple stick figures. When my editor said to me “the only differences between your female characters are whether they’re pregnant or not” I felt, as a noted feminist, that there was a massive challenge in front of me. But when I started giving them personality traits, they stopped doing what I wanted them to.

Guðrún no longer wanted to devote her life to being a figure in the background whose task was listening to others. She turned out to be assertive, fun, selfish, strong, and didn’t suffer fools gladly. Once she started talking and acting, the other characters needed to become alive as well. Including the fools. Mannerisms, clothes, duties, habits, attention to hygiene, attitude towards religion, neuroticism… In the meantime I had a plot, or thought so. Things kept going out of control until I figured everyone out, even characters that only appeared once for approximately 15 seconds. Only then the pile of paragraphs finally started feeling like a book.

This was my first clue that I was going to be an Artisté, but I didn’t know that yet. I just thought I had no idea what I was doing. (That was true.)

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?

Work in progress, or the creative process

I’ve been asked to provide some insight into my creative process. This made me feel like a total ~*hipsté-artisté*~ – I never really sit down and open my laptop thinking “ooh, it is time indeed to engage in my creative process” – but it coincided with a curious event.

The book I am now working on, Children, will tell the stories of Magni, the son of Thor, and Maya, raised by Freya – and the stories of Thor donning a wedding dress to recover his stolen hammer; of a giant blacksmith building a wall around Ásgard, the world of the Gods; of Loki seducing the blacksmith’s horse, then giving birth to the eight-legged stallion Sleipnir; Thor’s duel with the giant Hrungnir and his subsequent dealings with the wise Gróa. The follow-up, Land, will tell about the first journey from the Nine Worlds into the tenth, a journey the goal of which will be the discovery of the new Ásgard.

At this point Children is slowly heading where I want it to be and Land is a sketch of a first draft with plot outline. Land will take much less time, since it will be a sequel, but by now I have rewritten Children more than ten times. I don’t even feel ready to send it to my editor. A part of my creative process is that I’m an obsessive perfectionist.

 

The great unknown

My beta readers reported that they were confused by the names of the Norse Gods and the setting(s) – the Norse Nine Worlds. I was surprised, because I believed that everyone must have seen the Thor movies. Not that I’d recommend them as a primer on heathen faith. This added an extra part needing to be written: an index and possibly a companion e-book. It was also another conformation that the beta readers are indispensable. Sometimes when I rewrite something ten times I forget that I took things out and it isn’t until a fresh pair of eyes lands on the text that I find out what I’ve done.

A Special Communication from Bjørnheimr

It’s not you, it’s me.

I know I’ve been quiet. I’m going to do my best to improve communication between us from now on, ‘k? I’ve been going to therapy and I feel I’m almost ready to…you know? You don’t know? Communication, Bjørn… well… yeah, I’m almost ready to commit to posting on the blog again. Don’t leave me! We can work it out!

I fought the law and I won!

Some of you know I was stuck in a legal case for a very long time. It didn’t seem so bad at first, except for the fact that I am allergic to officials and lawyers, but I had #faith that I would simply win. That didn’t happen. The appeal took forever and a day, and my allergy got worse. Then finally I got the letter, found out that I won the case, and realised how little else I actually accomplished in those last months. I mean, apart from finishing, designing, then publishing a book, promoting it as well as I could, working on its soundtrack, dealing with legal stuff and with health issues both mine and those of my family members, working on the next book(s) about which in a moment, accidentally networking (I am allergic to the word “networking”, but it transpires that being nice to people on social media and interacting with them is also called “networking”, even if I am not wearing a suit), preparing a large online contest (I am, uh, just about to start working on it, but I’ve done a lot of thinking, OK?), and I just got tired typing this…

*a brief nap follows*

….yaaaaaawnyway, now that the case is over I am experiencing a strange empty feeling. I got so busy with it that I forgot what I was even fighting for, until I got it. In my head the upcoming decades were a parade of lawyers and hearings. I was keeping myself busy half-heartedly rewriting the same work in progress, then in the last weeks things slightly escalated, and now I am writing four books at once.

*awkward silence*

New Ásgard, who dis?

The first and second are two parts of the same story, but each of the books is a different genre. The first part is historically accurate fantasy, the second – historical fiction with fantasy elements. (This translates to “less Gods and worlds, more mortals and discoveries of Iceland”.) For the first part I took certain Norse myths and sagas and decided to expand them into a novel, as the way they were originally written tends to be a bit like this:

The troll stole my mead
So I killed him
And his hamster
The end.

My take is a bit more of…literary fantasy, if that even exists. I’m less interested in the troll-killing part and more in motivations (what’s so damn special about this mead?), personalities (are trolls nice and fluffy?), side characters (how did the hamster feel about the whole ordeal?). Still, fantasy is fantasy, and while I have a tendency to describe the battles as “once everything was over…”, some readers might not appreciate that.

The second part largely concerns itself with the discovery of the new Ásgard, also known as Iceland, by Hrafna-Flóki. This is where the historical accuracy becomes really important. On one hand, the research will help with the worldbuilding thanks to the fact that Earth already exists and so do the maps. On the other, there are currently ten books staring at me menacingly from the side table. I’m…just about to start on them very soon…

The book is finished

Exactly as the title suggests, the twenty-first and final draft of Storytellers arrived from my editor this morning.

The dream I had many years ago inspired the first draft. I was somewhat sick, but not too sick to type, so I wrote it down within the first two weeks of January 2017. At the end of September 2017 I sent what was in my head the final version to the editor, asking only for grammar and spelling corrections. Sixteen months later we both declared the book ready. January 1, 2017 – January 28, 2019. Exactly two years and twenty-eight days.

Obviously, I didn’t spend every single day working on those drafts. When the book was with the editor, I busied myself writing an outline for another book that didn’t work, two drafts for God of Fire which is now in my “perhaps one day in the far future” folder, and recently started rewriting the Norse mythology as a character-driven epic fantasy series. I don’t mind revealing that, because the idea is the easiest part of writing a book…

Idea

It all starts with the idea. Many people say they have no ideas. I believe this, generally, to not be true. If you ever looked at your ex and thought “I wish you’d fall into a sewer during the first walk with your new girlfriend”, you came up with an idea you could elaborate on. You, or rather your heroine who would definitely not be you at all, could curse the ex – every time he went on a date, something awful would happen to him. Instead of a werewolf, he could be a wererat or a werecockroach. If you had a conversation and came up with the perfect answer half an hour earlier, you came up with an idea you could write down. Once you had enough of those mini-ideas, you could start writing.

Resolutions not welcome

‘Tis almost the time to start working on New Year’s resolutions. But I’m old and decrepit, and have enough experience with those. Before you make NY resolutions, be aware that:

  1. You’ll probably decide New Year’s Day is a holiday anyway, then Jan 2 is when you have to go to work which is UNFAIR, then the weekend is coming, and you’ll reluctantly get to it on Jan 7, already feeling guilty. (Or is it just me?)
  2. You’ll totally adhere to them for approximately 17 days. (Or is it just me?)
  3. Your reserve to avoid sweets will begin to crumble when your significant other tells you his colleague Jerry did something. At this point your brain will start flashing BEN & JERRY in huge, red lights. (Or is it just me?)
  4. Your decision to go to the gym five times a week will begin to crumble when you realise how many weeks there are per year. (Or is it just me?)
  5. You’ll be ready to start preparing NY resolutions for 2020 around the 25th of January, 2019. (That will NOT be me.)

Instead of resolutions, this year I am trying to have goals. The nice thing with goals is that they’re not a binary 0/1 made it/failed sort of thing, unless you decide to torment yourself by thinking like this, at which point you’ve made New Year’s resolutions, then called it something else.

Imagine that on January 1 you give yourself a goal to become a bazillionaire. (Note the lack of “…before December 31st”.) At the end of the year, you find yourself being a mere multi-millionaire. If it were a resolution, being a mere multi-millionaire would constitute a big FAIL. Since it’s a goal, you’re doing tremendously well. Also, you’re now my best friend and can I borrow $100,000 please?

Without further ado, here are my goals for 2019…

Writing while depressed

I’m writing about depression, because they say “write what you know”. But this advice probably applies to most of us who suffer from various sorts of chronic or recurring illness.

A while ago, I saw a recommendation for a book. I will not quote the title or the author for obvious reasons. The gist of the advice provided was “I know it’s difficult, but you just need to work harder and everything will be hunky dory” coupled with “…and if you don’t work hard enough, then it’s your own fault, enjoy your depression”. (Oh, and “buy my books”.) I managed to get to page 11, therefore I am not qualified to give the full masterpiece a 1-star review. On page 11 the author took someone’s suicide note and applied his wisdom to it, noting – I am paraphrasing, don’t google that – that perhaps if the dead author in question had access to useful resources, such as that book, everything might have been fine. The quotes that appear on previous pages can be summed up with “oh, I get depressed, but that’s awesome because it gives me so much insight into myself and improves my creativity, I am so grateful for depression!”.

This is not depression. It’s called navel-gazing. For a person suffering from actual depression this book is actively dangerous.

Depression is an illness that often kills.

Again, there’s no need to quote names of people who were famous, successful, appeared perfectly happy, had money, family, whatever else you could possibly dream of, then died of depression. Their loved ones – and people who have never experienced depression – called them cowards for committing suicide. They didn’t understand that it wasn’t “committing suicide” any more than dying of cancer is “committing suicide”. Death is the final result of the untreated depression and is often brought forward by the sort of good advice provided in the book I mentioned above.

So…what is a creative person supposed to do when they’re depressed?

Storytellers: the progress

As I might have mentioned once or twice, I am (hopefully) getting close to finishing my first novel, Storytellers, historical suspense with fantasy elements set in Iceland between 1885-1920. Here’s an honest confession about my delusions…

Drafts

Having read approximately 15823098 articles on writing, I was under the impression that a book is written in three drafts. The first is for the writer. The second is for beta-readers. The third is when everything gets fixed, becomes perfect, and I get my first Pulitzer Prize.

Things didn’t turn out that way.

On January 1, 2017, I started working on the first draft of the story I’ve been carrying in my head ever since I dreamt it years earlier. I vomited rather than wrote that first draft. It took me two weeks to produce roughly a hundred thousand words. At this point, I didn’t know yet where the book would be set, so I went for generic “village” and “ocean” terms. But of course, I was already starting to get obsessed with Iceland. When I read Independent People and Wasteland With WordsI realised it was the perfect setting. In fact, it seemed as if Gods created Iceland with the sole purpose of helping me write the novel.

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