Thursday, August 14, 2014

Frostborn comes to Sit.Write.Bleed! ft. Lou Anders

Words can't really measure what I want to say, so I will keep it short.

It is my pleasure today to introduce Lou Anders for this interview. A Hugo Award winner for his fantastic stewardship of Pyr books, his first novel Frostborn was an honest delight to read. A review will be coming very soon for the novel itself, but without further ado, the interview.


Sit.Write.Bleed (SWB): Lou, welcome to Sit.Write.Bleed.! So in your debut novel, Frostborn, vikings, dragons, draugrs, and gaming are joined together in this epic story about Karn and Thianna, two kids from two very different walks of life. Where did the inspiration for such a multifaceted story originate?

Lou Anders (LA): The story of Frostborn grew over a number of years. Back in 2010, I tried my hand at a sword & sorcery short story inspired by childhood reading of Fritz Leiber. It was a disaster, one that should never see the light of day, but one of the two “buddy” characters was a woman who was half-human, half frost giant. I liked her and didn’t want to let her go, even though the story itself was broken. As I worried at her (across two more short story attempts), I started to realize that I didn’t really understand her dual-heritage and I ought to think more about her back story. Somewhere in there, I realized her backstory was the story. Frost giants sent me into a Norse/Viking research frenzy, and the world started to come together. Then when I wanted to pair her with a boy her own age, I tried to come up with a counterpoint to her very physical personality, and the idea of a board gamer came to me.

SWB: One of the real strengths of the novel is the ability to describe the game play of the "Thrones and Bones" board game. What has gaming added to your life, both as a writer and as a person?

LA: I played an enormous amount of board games in a short amount of time as an adolescent, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to Top Secret, Call of Cthulhu, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Boot Hill, others. I was almost always the GM. And I certainly read more rules manuals, modules, and setting guides that I played. I think this was a foundational experience when it came to both learning to be a storyteller and broadening my imagination. Some much of our entertainment is passive, even a lot of video games that appear to be active are actually fooling the player into thinking they are exercising more decisions than they are, and RPGs strike me now as an amazingly active, player-driven form of entertainment. I want to involve my children in them for this reason. But it was a few years ago that I started to realize all of this, around the time when I discovered how many of my favorite fantasy writers were, or still are, dedicated role players. At that point I became very interested in the back and forth between playing RPGs and creating fantasy fiction. (Mind you, I’m not knocking video games, which I’m also very, very fond of.)

SWB: It is interesting to see a story focus on two main leads instead of one, especially when one considers that most coming-of-age fantasy is usually singular in its character focus. Karn and Thianna are great both as individuals in terms of their appeal to boys and girls, but where they really shine is their ability to work together and form a very organic friendship. Was that pairing something you set out to do early on or was it something that developed in the process of writing the novel?

LA: I have a son and a daughter, and I wanted to write a story with both of them in mind, with heroes both of them could be proud of. It’s very important to me that neither character is the other’s sidekick, but that they are co-equal leads. And it is very important to me that they each have strengths and weaknesses that differentiate them one from the other, but which they learn to put into service of the greater whole that is their friendship.

SWB: Let's talk about dragons and wyverns for a moment. Dragons have always held the imagination of readers, cementing themselves as an immortal trope, with wyverns just now working into the consciousness of fantasy pop culture. Why do you think that popularity has stuck through not only modern fantasy, but throughout centuries of storytelling?

LA: Dragons, done right, are more than just monsters. They are primal forces, iconic figures, majestic representations of elder days, powers in the world. One of the things I like the best about the new Hobbit films (and yes, there are things to like about them) is the way we see Gandalf’s motivation in helping the dwarves as fear that the Dark Lord might one day be able to turn Smaug to his purpose. Smaug is a game-changing power equivalent to a country or cabal of wizards in strength. He’s one of the features of the world. The archetype of entities that are very dangerous, very old, and very powerful is quite compelling. I hate when dragons are reduced to the level of regular monsters.

SWB: I know you took a trip to Norway to conduct research for the culture of this novel. How did visiting the home of the Vikings change your perceptions about them as a people and a culture?

LA: You know the first thing it did is taught me the landscape. Norway has a really unique geography, which, although I’d seen it in pictures, I didn’t understand until I was there. Geography shapes cultures, and sailing down the fjords, or standing on the mountaintops, I suddenly got it. I was working with my cartographer Robert Lazzaretti on the map of Norrøngard at the time, and I was taking photographs every day and sending them to him at night. It was a marvelous way to world build!

SWB: Stepping away from Lou the Novelist for a moment, many also know you as a Hugo Award Winner editor. What happened when you took off your editing cap and put on your writer's viking helmet? I imagine being on the other side of "the table", so to speak, led to a lot of discoveries about yourself.

LA: Ha. Maybe the first is that even though I’ve told scores of authors not to bother checking their Amazon ranking every five minutes, and know - with facts to back it up - how meaningless and futile it is - I can’t stop myself from doing it! Also, I’ve learned a great deal about writing from a decade and a half of editing, but being edited has taught me things I never knew.

SWB: So update us: when are the next two books coming, and what should we expect from the world of Thrones and Bones? More importantly, when will we see a board game?

LA: Don’t quote me on this until my publisher announces it formally, but books two and three should be out this time next year and again in 2016. Book two is on my editor’s desk, and I’m doing the research for book three now. As to a board game, the rules for Thrones and Bones are in the back of book one, and they’ll be rules for a different game in the back of book two!

SWB: Last question, and at Sit.Write.Bleed. we always end it with a fun one. What trope do you wish would disappear?

LA: There are no bad tropes, only degrees of skill in exercising them.

Cover by Justin Gerard

You can find out more about Lou and his work at these links:

Thanks for coming by and check the blog out again soon!

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