FQ: What was most useful in your research for the Norse Gods?
JAMES: The primary research was my childhood copy ofNorse Gods and Giants by the D’Aulaires (reissued as D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths). Plus Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Thor stories from the 1960’s.
CHARLOTTE: I always read them growing up and we would sometimes make up stories about the different gods. Then one day I just randomly created Fire since I was also reading the Thor comics and thought there should be more super-heroish stuff; he has flame powers. And he has the three Norns for moms – because, why not?
JAMES: We made up games about the Aesir Kids before we started writing. As far as primary sources, I’ve read the Eddas of Snorri Sturlusson (in translation, of course). Parts of Tacitus’s Germania inspired our presentation of Vanaheim, the realm of the other or rival Norse gods. I’ve found some food for thought online in the videos of Maria Kvilhaug and Dr. Jackson Crawford. Oh, and going to Viking festivals was great! One time when she was 12, Charlotte hurled six spears in a row into a target. That helps make everything real for both of us.
CHARLOTTE: I threw axes, too. And a fish.
JAMES: But where we went off from mythology in a new direction, that was usually you.
CHARLOTTE: Right. In the myths, Fenris the giant wolf is a monster. I wanted him to be a lovable giant puppy since I always wanted a dog. And I made up the groblins (the beings who live underneath Vanaheim).
JAMES: And you didn’t name Skogurvegg and Tryggvin (the Vanaheim counselor and his teenage assistant) but you invented the characters and how they looked. And Ice (the frost-wielding jotun girl) was your idea, too. One of the main characters, Gersemi, isn’t much more than a name in the myths. You gave her a character, and that special vine in her hair. The key myth that inspired “The 18th Rune” was the war between Asgard and Vanaheim, a warrior culture versus a more Nature-oriented one. Neither side could beat the other, but Asgard, home of the Aesir, clearly got the better deal in the truce. The best gods from Vanaheim moved to Asgard and Odin’s brother Hoenir ended up ruling Vanaheim. The myths suggest there might be some lingering resentment in Vanaheim, so that’s what we based our book on – kids going to a place where they’re resented because of things that happened in the previous generation. Can you overcome that? If so, how?
FQ: All of the children characters are quite unique, especially when compared to their famous parents - what was the process for developing them to keep them so unique?
JAMES: Thank you! First, we tried to figure out who these kids were based on a very few clues in the myths. A kind of reverse-engineering. Take Thor’s daughter Thrud. Her name means “might,” so you figure she’d be super-strong. Her name is on a list of Valkyries, so we figured that would be her career goal. If you want to be a Valkyrie, you like horses (flying horses) and armor and you want to be decisive; but you’re not interested in romantic relationships.
CHARLOTTE: So she and Fire are just friends. Forseti is the son of Balder, the non-violent god of light, and according to the myths, when Forseti grows up, he’ll be a great judge among the Aesir. So he had to be “the smart one,” who tries to reason things out a bit more than the others.
JAMES: Everybody’s character is based on where they come from.
FQ: Where did the inspiration for the two mortal children Tjalfi and Roskva come from?
JAMES: They’re real! That is, they’re mythological. Their origin is told in the Prose Edda—long story short, Tjalfi accidentally hurt one of Thor’s goat’s legs, so he and his sister left their farm to become the thunder god’s sidekicks. It’s part of the story of the giant Utgardsloki. In that story Tjalfi is said to be an extremely fast runner, so super-speed was obviously his power in Asgard—and he’s clearly a little impulsive, but always well-meaning and totally loyal to Thor. In other Norse stories or poems, Tjalfi helps Thor fight a kind of stone robot and some werewolf-women – we may have to re-tell those sometime! There are no surviving stories of Roskva, though. So we had to give her a character and a power. I thought about super-hearing, which at first may not seem like much, but in “The 18th Rune” she can not only keep track of events miles away, but focus on a person’s breathing and heartbeat to tell whether or not they’re lying.
CHARLOTTE: I was kind of forcing him to find as many kids in the Norse myths as we could – it’s a lot harder than Greek because there you can just say “Oh, well, this god had a half-kid.” That really does not happen here so we got most of them from myths. I de-aged some of them by a few years.
FQ: With all the lineage of the characters in this book, did you have to keep your own log book to keep it all straight?
JAMES: For me, who was related to who wasn’t as tricky as remembering who was doing what where! I re-read The Hobbit again just to see how Tolkien handled 15 characters at once! Not to mention some close readings of The Avengers and The Legion of Super-Heroes.
CHARLOTTE: I can usually keep track of like 10 characters at a time and I come up with about 80-85% of what each character will be doing and where, and who might be related to who and then my dad does the rest.
JAMES: I didn’t use a log book, but there were a lot of post-its!
FQ: Did you plan for this to be a multi-series project when you wrote the first book?
JAMES: Nope! We did think we’d put out a few smaller stories in the “Aesir Kids” universe, but about a year after we published Book 1, Charlotte informed me that “everything has to be a trilogy.” And we got to work. And Vanaheim hadn’t really been used very much in other books, so that seemed like a good way to continue the adventures in a different world.
CHARLOTTE: Yeah it was definitely not in the plan.
JAMES: But then you changed the plan.
CHARLOTTE: Well, I read a bunch of novels that were all trilogies so I went “DAD OH MY ODIN WE HAVE TO WRITE 2 MORE BOOKS!!!!” and he basically went “Yeah, okay.”
FQ: Which character did you enjoy writing about most?
CHARLOTTE: Probably Thrud. It’s like a perfect girl who doesn’t have to be feminine and can still kick monster butt. I was a Viking (I always thought it was her) for two straight Halloweens.
JAMES: You’re a lot like Thrud. But you have a better temper.
FQ: The landscape in Vanaheim is very important in your story - was there any specific inspiration for that land?
JAMES: Nothing is directly copied from life, but I remembered the woods and fields when I was a kid going to summer camp in Maine. But the scene where everyone rolls down a hill actually comes from a much smaller spot where I used to do that behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Chieftain’s Hall was somewhat inspired by a huge wooden lodge Charlotte and I saw in Yellowstone.
CHARLOTTE: it is not really so much being inspired but being in what is quintessentially the perfect forest. There can be a connection be we have to remember that this is not Midgard. We can mash up stuff, but at the same time, it has to be completely new, it’s the world of the gods after all.
FQ: What is the easiest part of a story for you to write, the beginning or the end?
JAMES: I find that it always helps to have the ending in mind before you write. In the case of The 18th Rune, Charlotte had a version of the last line of the book in her head from the beginning – and Charlotte can be very insistent on some things. So from the time we started writing, everything had to build towards that last line. I think we rewrote the last two or three chapters more than any other section, to get to the end fairly. It’s the unraveling of a mystery, and so we had to have the clues laid out, and we had to have more than a dozen characters figure out the mystery together. AND – because it’s also a cliffhanger, we wanted to make sure that Book 2 was satisfying in itself while still making readers want to go on to Book 3...which will be out in 2018.
CHARLOTTE: In all the trilogies I’ve read the first book has to be what could be a standalone, the second has to end with a cliffhanger, and third has to have an epic battle. I really wanted that to be the ending before we had even written the plot, characters, anything. Sometimes there is that one line you know has to be in the book and you find a way to make it work.
To learn more about The 18th Rune: (The Aesir Kids, Volume 2) please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.