Monday, July 6, 2015

Interview with Bruce Macbain, Author of Odin's Child

Today I am very happy to have Bruce Macbain, author of Odin's Child, on A Literary Vacation! He's stopped by for a Q & A and to tell us a little bit more about his novel. So enjoy and be sure to continue afterwards for more information about Odin's Child and the rest of the blog tour!

Hi Bruce! Can you tell me a little about the setting and characters of “Odin’s Child”?
Odin’s Child” is set in the Viking world of the 11th century, at a time when Christianity was triumphing everywhere over heathenism. But my hero (the book’s narrator), Odd Tangle-Hair, is a stubborn young pagan who refuses to convert. Everything that happens to him subsequently stems from that fact, especially from his intense love-hate relationship with his heathen father,  Black Thorvald.
Why did you decide to make a pagan your hero?
For dramatic reasons. In the same way that I suppose Margaret Mitchell, in Gone with the Wind, chose to make her hero and heroine Southerners. When you tell a story about a clash of cultures where there is a winner and a loser, and the losers  know they’re doomed yet struggle on, that is always where you find the drama and pathos. Winners are boring, losers engage our emotions.
What sort of person is Odd Tangle-Hair? You have called him “a thinking man’s Viking.” What do you mean by that?
He is a complex mixture  of good and bad traits. From his father Black Thorvald he has inherited (besides his black, shaggy hair and powerful build) a strain of melancholy—even of madness—and a sometimes ungovernable temper, which gets him into trouble. I’m sure he is the only fictional Viking you will ever meet who suffers from PTSD! On the other hand, he has a good heart, is a loyal friend, and is brave and resourceful, as a hero should be. He is also a gifted poet and a natural linguist. He is curious, inquisitive, and he reasons about every new thing that comes his way.
Who is your target audience for this novel?
Well, naturally, anyone who likes historical fiction, especially of the Dark Age. In particular, though, I’m hoping that modern heathens will like the book. There are quite a few of them around. They have dozens of online communities and several interesting websites. I reached out to them with a query asking them to tell me why they converted to heathenism from whatever they were brought up as. I got back some very heartfelt and thoughtful responses. You can read about it on my blog.
You have a doctorate in Greek and Roman history and  your two previous novels were mysteries set in ancient Rome; what made you switch to the Vikings now?
I think I owe it all to Prince Valiant. You’re probably not old enough to remember that wonderful strip from back in the golden age of comics. The art work by the great Hal Foster was fantastic, teeming with Vikings, barbarians, Arthurian knights, and  what-have-you. I grew up on it. And I have an autographed drawing of Prince Val by Foster, given to my father, which hangs on my wall now, right above my computer. You can see a photo of  it on my blog too.
Say something about the research you did for “Odin’s Child” and the other books in the Odd Tangle-Hair trilogy.
The starting point for any Viking novel has to be the literature of Medieval Iceland: the sagas, which recount the family feuds and battles of those early Icelanders, and the Eddas, which are collections of myths, poems, and wise sayings. Even though these works are a century or more removed from the time they purport to describe, they are still the best—really the only—source for details of daily life, beliefs, and attitudes of the Viking Age.
“Odin’s Child” takes place in Iceland, Lapland, Norway, and Finland. Where does Odd go next?
The second novel, The Ice Queen, takes Odd (and his one-legged friend, Einar Tree-Foot) to Russia to serve in the retinue of young prince Harald the Ruthless. (This will be published in November). The concluding novel, The Guardsman, will take Odd to Golden Miklagard, that is, Constantinople, where he joins the famed Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperor. And then, finally, back to Iceland again, where he started from.
There are elements in your story that read like fantasy: for example a berserker who is half wolf, a sorceror and a witch, and prophetic dreams. Would you call this a fantasy novel?
No, it sneaks right up to the line but doesn’t cross it. Odd, of course, as a man of his time, believes in the supernatural, but he is also enough of a rationalist to always hint at a more mundane explanation for uncanny events.  So the reader can take his choice.
 You’ve written academic history as well as fiction; which kind of writing do you prefer?
Oh, fiction is much more fun—but harder. You have to do all the same research for both but with fiction you’re not allowed to be boring.
 When you write fiction, is your inner historian ever at war with your inner novelist?
All the time. When I ‘bend’ a fact (shall we say) in a novel in order to make the story better, I always battle with my conscience.
So, if you do ‘bend’ a fact here and there, what do you think is your responsibility to the reader?
To come clean. A reader is entitled to know what he has or hasn’t learned of actual history. Mind you, ‘actual history’ has to be put in quotes when we’re talking about the Viking Age. The sources are half-fiction to begin with. But I always include an author’s note at the end of my books confessing to whatever sins I know I committed.
Can you name one or two authors who have influenced your style?
I love nineteenth century fiction—Dickens above all. I find him creeping stealthily into my writing if I’m not careful. I really do struggle to keep that under control.  And, too, I like modern authors who sound nineteenth century such as Patrick O’Brian (the Aubrey-Maturin novels) and George MacDonald Fraser (the Flashman novels). I’ve learned a lot about writing from all of them.
What sort of things do you read for pleasure? Is your reading mostly confined to the periods you write about?
No, anything but. I read a lot of history and biography, mostly modern; and some contemporary fiction, including mysteries.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I actually don’t have a lot of spare time, but I do like to cook. Every couple of weeks I will produce an extravaganza for me and my wife, which usually involves seafood and dozens of ingredients. It takes me all day and the kitchen is a shambles, but there are plenty of leftovers.
Thank you so much, Bruce, for stopping by today! Your Q & A above is fascinating and I love the fact that you don't mind "bending" the facts to ensure your novels are as entertaining as they are historical, and that you include an author's note to let readers know when you've done this. For me, this is a HUGE plus because I always want to know the true history surrounding the characters.
Publication Date: May 26, 2015
Blank Slate Press
Formats: eBook, Trade Paperback
Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction

Driven from the flaming ruin of his Iceland farmhouse, young Odd Tangle-Hair, the only survivor of a feud in which his family is slaughtered, steals a ship, rounds up a rag-tag crew and embarks on the Viking life. He swears one day to return, rich and powerful enough to take vengeance on his enemies. But how far off that day seems!
His father, Black Thorvald, had once been a chieftain in Iceland. But in the year 1000, when the country adopted Christianity, Thorvald denounced the new faith and shut himself up in his hall, shunning the world and shunned by it. Odd fears that the worm of cowardice that unmanned his father has infected him too. He has inherited from Thorvald a shock of black hair, a gift for poetry, and an allegiance to Odin, god of battles and magic. But Odd is heir to darker traits as well—a hint of madness and a temper which will sometimes cost him dearly.
Fate carries him and his men to a shamanistic healer in Lapland, to bloody religious strife in Norway, to the lair of a witch in Finland, and finally to the borders of Russia. Here Odd will leave his comrades behind to join the retinue of a Norwegian princeling who is fleeing to the court of Yaroslav, Grand Prince of Rus. New dangers wait for him in that faraway country.
Eager, curious, quick-witted—and sometimes wrong-headed—Odd Tangle-Hair recounts his story with candor, insight, and always an ironic sense of humor.

Buy the Book


Praise for Odin's Child

“Meticulous research and poetic writing make Odin’s Child a multilayered masterpiece…It brings medieval Scandinavia vividly alive. Written with passion, peopled with superbly realized characters, I was gripped from the very first page of this historical novel.” -Carol McGrath, author of The Handfasted Wife and The Swan-Daughter

“[Macbain’s] writing is vivid and compelling, and his understanding of Norse and Icelandic culture and history is woven deftly throughout the tale. The cast of characters is well-fleshed out and Odd makes for a wonderful protagonist. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I eagerly await its sequel. Highly recommended.” -Historical Novels Review, Editor’s Choice

Excerpt from Chapter One: The Stallion Fight at Thingholt


On that day in May, as we rode to the stallion fight at Thingholt, my fate showed itself to me. A raven flew low across the sky into the rising sun and the moment I saw it I knew that Odin had spoken to me and that he would give me courage for the thing I had secretly made up my mind to do. Only now, half a century later, do I see what a long text was folded into that swift vision.

The spring of my sixteenth year had come early to the South Quarter of Iceland, with hot-cold days and thunderclouds sweeping up over the mountains. The stallions, smelling the air, trembled and kicked against their stalls. At this season if you stake out a mare where the stallions can smell her, they will fight like berserkers to get at her, and a great one will die before he breaks and runs.

Black Grani was such a one. This was his fourth spring and the time had come to bring him to the South Quarter Thing and fight him. Thorvald, my father, grumbled and held back, but I gave him no peace, until, at last, he flung up an arm, which meant ‘yes’.

Although my brother Gunnar and I had set out early from the farm, the day was far gone before we came in sight of Thingholt plain and heard the distant shouts of men and the whinnying of horses. We left Grani and our mounts at the horse lines and walked across the sparse heath into the holiday crowd. And as we pushed our way through, there were some who knew us. A few old men came up and in low voices asked to be remembered to our father. But one red-faced woman, seeing us, cried, “Jesu!” and dragged her little daughter from our path.

About the Author

From boyhood, Bruce Macbain spent his days in reading history and historical fiction. The Greeks and Romans have held a special fascination for him and this led to earning a master’s degree in Classical Studies and a doctorate in Ancient History. Along the way, he also taught English as a
Peace Corps Volunteer in Borneo. Later, he taught courses in Greek and Roman civilization at Vanderbilt University and Boston University, and published a few dense scholarly monographs, read by very few. Recently, he has turned to writing fiction, a much more congenial pursuit. He has previously published two historical mysteries set in ancient Rome, Roman Games and its sequel, The Bull Slayer. Now, he has turned his attention to his other favorite folk, the Vikings. Odin’s Child is the first novel of a trilogy, Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga, which follows our hero—a wanderer, poet and warrior—from his tiny Iceland farm to the Great Palace in Constantinople. It will be published by Blank Slate Press in May, 2015.

Bruce spends his spare time in the kitchen, cooking spicy food.

For more information please visit Bruce Macbain’s website. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads.

Odin's Child Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, June 29

Review at A Book Geek
Interview at Shelf Full of Books
Spotlight & Giveaway at Unshelfish

Tuesday, June 30

Interview at Brooke Blogs

Wednesday, July 1

Review at Book Nerd

Friday, July 3

Spotlight at Layered Pages
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Monday, July 6

Interview at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, July 7

Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, July 8

Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, July 9

Review at Bookramblings

Friday, July 10

Review at Just One More Chapter


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