Hello Readers and Writers!
Today we would like to introduce you to an author whose fate sealed his writing career. An accident which left him chair-bound, propelled him into writing and he never looked back. This Historical Fiction and Fantasy author avoids "default" fantasy characters and doesn't want to just include diversity in his stories by "checking the diversity boxes". His goal is to destroy defaults and make his characters truly multifaceted.
Introducing Bjørn Larssen!
When did you start writing as a career?
First of all, thanks so much for having me!
I’ve spent most of my thirties saying “I could write a book if I only had time/felt like it,” then proceeding to not writing. It wasn’t until I had an accident that left me chair-bound that I actually started writing. I was in pain all the time, but when I sat on a profiled chair the pain lessened, and I could still use my laptop, and I was bored. Once I started, on January 1, 2017, it turned out that the main obstacle on my way to becoming an author was me not writing. I have never stopped since. Why spend time in just one world when there are so many to choose from?
What's your current work in progress?
I am working on a book called Land, the sequel to Children – Norse grimdark fantasy. In my spare time, I am also sketching (very slowly) a series of novellas, How to Be a God. I was inspired by a thought I had – when the Norse Gods came to be, they didn’t know what they were capable of and how it could be done. They had to find out by trial and error. Where Children and Land could be a collaboration between Pedro Almodóvar and Michael Cunningham, How to Be a God is how what I imagine Douglas Adams would have done with the Norse mythology.
You write Historical Fiction and Fantasy. What led you to write in this genre?
The historical fiction book, Storytellers – the one I began to write in 2017 – came from a dream that wouldn’t leave me alone until I finally gave up and wrote the book. It turned out that I didn’t have another one like this in me (I need more interesting dreams). But even before I started writing anything at all, I wanted to explore the Norse Gods, lore, universe. I am a heathen myself, so I’m writing what you could call fan-fic about my own faith. Thankfully, my Gods have sense of humour. Although Freya will probably never speak to me again.
Tell us about your novel Children: A Grimdark Norse Mythology Retelling.
Children is a retelling of selected Norse myths from the point of view of the Gods’ children, rather than Gods themselves. What do those heroic and hilarious stories sound and look like when you’re the victim or the joke? What do the Gods do at home? How does it feel to know that you will probably never amount to more than “the son of” while you can’t stand your father, who happens to be the God of thunder?
It’s a dark book, but it’s also funny. Well, as funny as you can make abuse, addiction, classism, death(s), neglect… and sociopathic deities that see everyone else as tools to get what they want. Hmmm, sounds hilarious, I know… but APART from all that, I swear it’s really funny.
This book is part of a series. Tell us a little about the future of The Ten Worlds.
Nine out of then are the heathen cosmogony worlds. The tenth is Earth. That means I can move between historical fiction – the Gods, elves, wights were always a part of history, of “real life" in that period – and modern urban fantasy, if I feel like it. Land is historical fantasy, a retelling of the discovery of Iceland with Gods and Iceland’s Hidden Folk forming most of the cast. The third book in the series, Vanguard, will most probably be a retelling of Icelandic Sagas, the story of a dark elf who moved to Earth in his quest to become a Viking leader. I seem to be stuck with the Norse Gods and their universe, but it’s a wonderfully rich and creative space to get stuck in.
How have your writing skills grown since Storytellers, your first book was released?
With Storytellers I just wanted to write a good book. I didn’t necessarily have any goal or any idea what I was doing. I just wanted to still be proud of it five years later – it’s been two years and I’m still happy with it. With Children I wanted to evoke emotions, to give justice to the people living inside my head rather than produce relatable characters. I wanted to make the readers feel uncomfortable, to ask them questions they’d be scared to see answered. And to make it as visceral as I could.
After Children came out, some of the reviewers mentioned that they needed to take breaks – but they always came back. My gay protagonist made straight men cry. As I read that, I thought “mission accomplished”. Storytellers is a damn good novel (he said modestly). Children is my soul.
How do your books rebel against the status quo?
Every time I read a review of Storytellers or Children that contains a variation on the phrase “I have never read anything like this before” I know I did a good job.
One of my protagonists, Magni, the son of Thor, is a muscular, white, cis man. As expected. He’s also emotional, complex, gay, autistic, and a pacifist in a universe built on violence. The other, Maya, is a shapeshifting sorceress, who wants nothing more than to fulfill her desires, right after she figures out what they are. One thing she knows for sure is that they don’t involve a romantic or sexual partner. Those two aren’t exactly what I would call “default” fantasy characters. But they aren’t there for diversity or representation purposes either. They are who they are.
“Diversity,” to me, reinforces the default instead of pushing it. Instead of changing that default, we add extras. A person I know, one that would fall into the “diverse” drawer, said that sometimes it feels like the writers are ticking boxes. Once the required diversity level has been reached, the writer – or perhaps mostly the publisher – has to make sure the “representation” comes out looking good. I don’t want my characters to represent anything or anybody – and I don’t want to check the diversity boxes. One of the reasons why I self-publish is wanting to write books that don’t add extra toppings to the default, but destroy it.
I have been strongly advised against giving my gay characters any negative traits, as that would make bad representation. Grimdark fantasy and this sort of representation are mutually exclusive, because grimdark is about people who are flawed, imperfect, make mistakes. Neither clear heroes nor villains, they are often forced to choose between the bad and the worse. They make mistakes that come with consequences both for them and those around. Like we all do.
Magni’s and Maya’s identities are not plot devices, selling points, superpowers or tragedies. Magni doesn’t represent the queer community or the autistic community. If anything, he represents me, but really, he represents himself.
Do you have any plans to write outside of your current genre?
I’m sort of semi-working-ish on a non-fiction book, a collection of personal essays, perhaps a memoir. I’d like to try and explain what it feels like to live inside my brain. I’m still unpacking, though – I only just moved in there 43 years ago. I haven’t realised how much of Children was self-therapy until months after it came out, and something tells me more is coming. I’ll write and publish this one when I’m ready, which is not yet.
You've had a variety of jobs and hobbies throughout your life, my favorite mention being that you were once a blacksmith! How have your varied careers and hobbies affected your writing?
I loved blacksmithing and still do! That was, and to be honest still is, my dream career. If not for that injury, I would have probably been a full-time blacksmith now… and there would be no books, both of which happen to have protagonists who work as blacksmiths.
One of my interests, something that I have never pursued professionally, is psychology and understanding of the human mind. The great variety that forms humanity. I think that especially in The Ten Worlds few of my characters could be accused of being neurotypical, and this is a direction I’m going to explore further. I can see myself studying psychology at some point in the future.
Talk to me about the path you chose in publishing.
As I was working on Storytellers, I was also researching legacy publishing, the agent/editor/publisher system. I had the delusion that there would be some sort of team taking care of the marketing and making sure money regularly arrived on my account, while I, the Artisté, sat in my cabin in the woods, creating. When it turned out that I would still have to do most of the marketing myself, that I would have very little say in how my books would be presented, my agent could stop talking to me because I dared to send TWO emails in one month, and that it would be the publisher who'd ultimately decide what my book would become, I realised the only thing traditional publishing had to offer me was validation. Being the “real author” and being eligible for “real prizes”. 2020 even introduced “zero advances,” which are exactly what they sound like.
The last drop was a tweet, a cheerful announcement by a lady who took nine years to find an agent, the agent spent another four years searching for an interested editor, and her book would come out next year. While happy for her, I remember thinking “I might not be around fourteen years from now”. I have never received a rejection from an agent, because I never sent even one query.
What are you reading currently?
Right now I am re-reading, for the umpteenth time, Joanna Chmielewska’s books – deliciously hilarious crime stories that can be blamed for my inability not to add humour to everything I’m writing. There’s a very exciting historical fiction anthology, Betrayal, featuring some of my favourite authors and a few I don’t know. I’m also about to start on Lenny Kravitz’s memoir, now that I finished Mariah Carey’s. And there’s Children of Ash and Elm by Neil S. Price… I have a bit of an eclectic taste.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
Mess. I mean, more Norse history and mythology, more Iceland, unpredictable characters, and, hopefully, fun.