#SPFBO7 Interview – Bjørn Larssen

Bjørn, welcome to Lavender Lass Books. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and best of luck in the competition!

Children: A Norse Mythology Retelling is the first book in The Ten Worlds Cycle. Here’s the blurb:

Gods make lousy parents.

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?

“This dark retelling of Asgard’s pantheon is no rosy Marvel Universe depiction, the violence and savagery of the deities and their contemporaries being on full display. […] Children is as actually less of a coming-of-age tale as it is a study of trauma, a commentary on classism and privilege, an observation on the expectations placed on each other by child and parent, and a questioning of what it says about us when one group of people can dehumanize another.” – Grimdark Magazine

Children is a fearsome kaleidoscope of genres, it has shades of fantasy, historical fiction; it feels in parts profoundly personal and perhaps even to a degree biographical. Being primarily an SFF blogger, it would be remiss of me not to say that it is also a re-telling of Norse myths. No disrespect to authors such as Neil Gaiman or Joanne Harris, but for me, the bulk of re-tellings are more paraphrasing, in that the myths are for the most part unchanged. Mild creative liberties are taken, and there is perhaps a slight warp to the grain, but they are at heart the same stories. With Children, you get a re-telling. Bjørn Larssen retells the s–t out of it.” – Bookends and Bagends

“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 Daughter

And now to the interview:

1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
Hi Lorri, thanks so much for having me! Yes, it’s my first time – Children is my first eligible book. I’ve been watching SPFBO from the sidelines since I became a part of the indie community. Half of me couldn’t wait to join the terror fun, and the other half just cried and begged me not to do it. Then, one day, that first half got up earlier, sent the book in and cackled as the second sleepily asked “what… what just happened?”

2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
The possibilities. You can mix and match, sprinkle some magic here and there, and create whole new worlds or universes. If being human has never been quite your thing, why not shapeshift into something more comfortable and/or befriend some dragons? I am very drawn towards the medieval aesthetic, but not necessarily healthcare or facilities. Iceland’s Hidden Folk in my next book, Land, have underfloor heating and modern plumbing, a combination of geothermal power, craft, and magic.

“Fantasy” covers such a vast territory. My own last two releases can both be branded “Norse mythology retellings” – but Children (my SPFBO book) talks about child neglect, classism, and PTSD, and Creation – about avian ass-thetics and sibling rivalry that leads to creating mosquitoes. And this is just one sub-sub-genre.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
Originally I imagined that I would be an Artisté sitting in my cabin in the woods, creating, as publishing’s minions sold my books and made me rich. Then I started researching and losing my delusions. The last two drops were reading, on a famous agent’s blog, that “the marketing interns might send a debut author’s review copies to magazines,” and then a Twitter chat. The hashtag #ShareYourRejections turned into #ShareYourHumbleBrags. One of them came from a lady who’d spent nine years searching for an agent, four years for an editor, and now her book would be out next year. Fourteen years from now, I thought, as she told me to never give up on my dreams, I might be dead. And I made my decision.

I never received a single rejection, because I never sent a query.

4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
Control and flexibility. My book is exactly as I want it to be – and if I change my mind, I’ll change the book. Children had three covers by now. I returned to my debut, Storytellers, and replaced a few Icelandic words when I’ve learned a bit more about the language. My books will never go out of print unless I so decide. And nobody but me owns the rights. Of course, there is a disadvantage too, i.e. my book is exactly as I want it to be, and so I have no one else to blame if things go badly.

The challenges… treating the books as products that my company is selling. Once the book is out, it’s no longer my beloved baby (EVEN THOUGH IT IS), it’s a gizmo that needs to be marketed to the right audience. There are financial investments – editing, proofreading, cover design, layout… It’s a business and there are only twenty-six hours in a day, and you have to decide how to split them between the business side, the creative side, and the mental breakdowns.

5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
The inclusivity is a change that delights me, both when it comes to authors and characters. Bro fantasy getting sidelined. Neurodivergent protagonists, various sexualities, gender and racial identities, settings that are unfamiliar in a different way than I’m used to… There’s just so much more to choose from, to explore and learn. Space for so many more people to belong. Twenty years ago I could read about characters I wished I could be – now I can read about people like me.

I will admit I have read other authors’ replies and maybe this one is just me – the more mainstream fantasy seems to have turned more violent. I have read a book recently that I thought was MG – I asked the author and they said it was written as an adult novel, but most readers believed it to be MG, because there were no bloodied bloodsheds.

6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
My debut, Storytellers, is a historical suspense novel set in Iceland in the 1920s. I’m also working on a non-fiction project. Apart from that, I intend to explore what hasn’t been done with Norse lore yet, whether that means literary grimdark or slapstick humour. Or both at once.

7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
Unusual protagonists of all genders and subverted tropes, please. Morally rainbow characters that are neither heroes nor villains, doing their best (or worst, why not?) and failing, making mistakes and paying for them. The sort of grimdark that doesn’t come with delightfully detailed bloodied bloodsheds, but keeps me guessing until the last page. And hope, please. The so-called real world has been so consistently disappointing I need to know there are other options, ones unlike *waves at everything*

8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
I’m working on two sequels. Land will be the sequel to Children, where my bickering characters decides to move to Earth in search for the new Ásgard – and independence. Loki Runes Everything will be the second instalment in the Why Odin Drinks series (I thought I should point out this one is not grimdark) where Odin hangs from Yggdrasil with a spear in his side for nine days suffering greatly in the name of wisdom. Most of this suffering is caused by Loki’s well-meant attempts to help, as Loki hasn’t learned how to Loki properly yet.

It’s fun to switch between dark psychological explorations (and volcanoes) and Frigg slapping Odin for cheating on her in the future.

9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
Please, please, please get an editor and a proofreader, and invest in a professional cover. People judge the books by the covers, I know I do, and if your cover looks like you don’t care much about your book, why should I?

You can find Bjørn Larssen’s book on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/Children-Norse-Mythology-Retelling-Worlds-ebook/dp/B08JVFSZZX