What prompted you to turn to Norse mythology? Was it the next natural frontier after Greek and Egyptian mythologies?
Norse mythology was actually my first love, even before Greek mythology. My gateway into reading was The Lord of the Rings. From there, my eighth-grade English teacher introduced me to the Norse myths, upon which Tolkien's work is based, and I have been a major fan of the myths ever since. I was also a fan of the Thor comics back in the 1970s.
I've always wanted to do something based on Norse mythology, but Percy Jackson happened to be the story that sprang to life first because my son was interested in Greek mythology at the time. Still, the idea for Magnus Chase has been with me for years. I have outlines of the general premise going back to at least 2007. In a very satisfying way, this series is coming full circle for me. Norse mythology turned me into a reader. Now, at last, I get to do my own take on it as a novelist.
Why is your hero, Magnus, 16? Is that because he has been homeless since his mother's death? Because it seems that the subject matter would be appropriate for Percy Jackson fans, too.
I liked the idea of starting Magnus a little older because I enjoyed writing from that age-level point of view in the Heroes of Olympus series. Also, his story had to fit the timeline of his cousin, Annabeth Chase, so he couldn't have been very much younger than she was. (And she is now 17.) I wanted them to know each other and interact during the course of the Magnus Chase books. You don't need to read any of the Percy Jackson books to read Magnus Chase, but if you know Annabeth from those books, this will add a lot to your understanding of her family history.
As for the readership, I am aiming at the same demographic--the middle grades. Magnus is a bit older, but the content, interest level, reading level and everything else are pretty much the same as my other books. I still consider this very much a middle-grade novel. (Though older readers, as always, are very welcome!)
As you did your research, did you come across any information that surprised you?
The main thing that struck me was how little we have in the way of primary sources. Even the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, our main written accounts of Norse mythology, have to be viewed through a certain lens, as they were written when the myths were already fading from cultural memory. Snorri Sturluson, the writer of the Prose Edda, had to distance himself from the pagan religion because he lived in a Christian society. He even tried to tie the Norse gods into the heritage of the Greco-Roman world. He tells the reader that the Norse gods were probably mortals from Byzantium who came north, appeared like gods to the locals, and became kings. I chose to ignore that theory! I was also surprised that there is no clear consensus on which worlds constitute the Nine Worlds. Sometimes Svartalfheim is a separate world. Sometimes not. Same with Helheim. The Norse have left us a lot of blank space to fill in with interpretation.
I'm a huge fan of Viking lore, and Valhalla is quite the mythical place. Yet you've added so much to the experience, with Magnus's room containing all of his favorite things. Did you have fun imagining what it might be like?
Oh, I love the Hotel Valhalla. That core idea is something I've been keeping in my mind for years. As always, I tried to stay close to the myths and be accurate with how Valhalla is described, but it wasn't much of stretch to see it as the ultimate resort hotel. The honored dead, after all, aren't meant to stay in Valhalla forever. It's simply their temporary home until they are called forth to battle at Ragnarok. While you're waiting for Doomsday, why not enjoy the room service menu, a few spa treatments, dragon fighting and the whitewater rafting experience? You have to live a little when you're dead!
A "heaven" for valiant Vikings in which they get to keep doing battle is quite a twist on the Christian concept. Is there something in the mythology about wolves doing clean-up, or was that your addition?
It is strange to think of eternal combat as a reward, but that was the Viking ideal: feast, fight, die--then get resurrected and do it all over again. It was a challenge to see if I could make this palatable to a modern audience without making it seem terrifying. I think I pulled it off, though Hotel Valhalla is definitely a different place than Camp Half-Blood! The wolves were Odin's sacred animals because they cleaned up the dead on the battlefield, so it didn't seem like much of a reach that they would also clear the bodies from the lobby if the Viking Monopoly games got a little too heated.
Magnus faces some big challenges--surviving on his own, relying upon other homeless people he trusts, then going on his instincts once he's among the inhabitants of Valhalla. How do you walk that line between humor and violence? I think learning to walk the line comes from teaching middle school so many years. Kids that age are drawn to the gross and the macabre, but obviously the teacher has to be mindful to keep it within comfortable limits. I write the same way I teach--always trying to keep the audience's attention, but doing my best to keep it at a middle-school-appropriate level. Humor is a great way to break the tension when things get violent or serious. Shakespeare was a master at this. The bloodier the murder, the more likely you'll have a fool in the next scene making bawdy jokes. (See: Macbeth's doorkeeper.)
You also let us know that Magnus will be okay, despite the dangers he faces; you describe the way passersby might observe him as a homeless person, yet it never feels didactic. How do you get the right tone? Does it all come from Magnus's (and Percy's and Carter's) voice?
Like so many of my characters, Magnus is loosely based on former students of mine. I've taught a number of homeless kids over the years. One boy lived in a car with his dad. Another girl moved from shelter to shelter with her mom who struggled with drug addiction. This is a tragic reality in our society, and it was my doorway into understanding Magnus' character. If his voice sounds genuine--and I hope it does--it's because I've known and taught kids like him, and I try to put myself in his place.
Can you give us a teaser to what's next in this series?
The plan right now is for at least three books in the series. The title for book two is announced at the end of The Sword of Summer, and the groundwork for that adventure is laid in the first novel. By the time readers finish The Sword of Summer, I think they'll have a pretty good idea what quest awaits Magnus next. At the risk of a spoiler, I think I can say: It's hammer time.
Is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like your readers to know?
Blitzen the dwarf would like readers to know that vests are making a comeback, chainmail is acceptable to wear at a formal event, and vertical stripes are wonderful for making you look taller, especially if you accessorize with a broadsword. (This will make sense after you meet Blitzen.)
Special thanks to User:Kronos300 for pointing this out to us!