Interview: Greg van Eekhout
As promised in my Norse Code review, I return with more on my trip to Mysterious Galaxy to see Greg van Eekhout at his very first book signing. Actually, my personal adventure is probably of significantly more interest to me than to anyone else (be sure to let me know if you really want to hear about the picnic table graveyard or the devious parents). So, I pulled together some questions based on what Greg talked about at the signing, and he was kind enough to answer.
Steven: I was going to ask about the Norse mythology sources you mentioned, but it was pretty easy to find: searching for Norse mythology, I found the Edda entry on wikipedia and numerous editions of the poetic Edda and prose Edda on amazon. Is there a particular translation/edition of the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda you particularly recommend?
Greg: I don’t really have a preferred translation. I used the Norton translation of the Prose Edda because that was the first thing Amazon spat out at me, and my copy of the poetic Edda is this decrepit, disintegrating thing translated by Patricia Terry. I picked that one because it was only $3.95 at the used bookstore.
S: When asked if you’re planning on writing more with these characters, you demurred, pointing out that you destroyed the world. That’s really only half of the story. You left our world in a state that gives you a unique world to play in–a fork off of the trunk of standard Norse mythology. (I was left with much the same feeling at the end of Norse Code that I had at the end of Sean William’s The Crooked Letter … An apocalypse in the the world we recognize as ours results in the world we recognize as the author’s unique creation.) Do you have any thoughts of where you’d jump into the world you just created if given the chance?
G: Well, you’re right, I purposely tried to end the book in a decidedly “endy” fashion, because it was conceived and written as a stand-alone. But I also tried to give myself threads and possibilities for continuation in the event that readers were interested experiencing more with these characters or with the world of the book, such as I left it. Without giving away spoilers, there’re more stories in this particular version of the Norse universe, and I’d be more than happy to tell them. Maybe people will bug my publisher about it, or maybe the book will sell well enough that they’ll be amenable.
S: You seemed intrigued at your signing that the Edda contradicted itself, giving you openings to explore in your writing branches that didn’t contradict the source material. What are your thoughts on the differing accounts told by Wolves till the World Goes Down and Norse Code?
G: In Norse Code, reality branches in different directions, just like the limbs and twigs of the World Tree, and I guess you could use that as a metaphor for the writing process. There are always choices at every turn: what a characters says and does, what happens in the plot, what word you use, just jillions of choices, and as you continue to work on a story you get to see alternate universe theory played out on the page. In one reality, Baldr is a good guy. In another, he’s a bad guy. In one, Hermod has a huge role to play and gets to be the star of the book. In another, he doesn’t even merit a mention. “Wolves Till the World Goes Down” is just different from Norse Code because of a jillion choices, big and small. Also, I wrote them years apart and I didn’t feel like just writing a longer version of the short story, and Norse Code is about 15 times the length of “Wolves,” so things were bound to go differently.
S: In addition to Wolves till the World Goes Down being available online, the prologue and first 3 chapters are available online, but not all together in the same place. This spreading out of the preview seems to have many benefits, including SEO (search engine optimization) and actively engaging the audience (having to put even a slight effort into tracking down all the pieces). Any thoughts on all of this? ( prologue, chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3 )
G: The chapters are on different sites because Tor.com and my publisher, Random House, demonstrated some amazing, innovative thinking and cooperated in a way that benefited me, and hopefully benefitted them by bringing Suvudu.com readers to Tor.com and vice versa. There’s plenty of cross-linking between Tor and Suvudu, so it’s not difficult at all for people to click from chapter to chapter. In general, I’m in favor of putting lots of free material online and giving readers a chance to sample as much of the book as possible. I have anecdotal evidence that it’s working. I’ve heard from people who didn’t like the cover but were convinced by the sample chapters to buy the book anyway. So, having parts of the book available at different popular sites is really cool. As for SEO advantages, I don’t know one way or the other, honestly. I’m not a code monkey. I’m just a word monkey.
S: Obscure question … In the final moments of the book, you chop off three of Hermod’s fingers. Is this a evil plot to allow you to actually draw him faithfully? (You’ve mentioned on your AISFP interview that you can’t draw hands) BONUS: feel free to doodle the resulting 2 fingered god hand.
G: I can’t even draw a two-fingered hand. I can almost draw a mitten.
S: I’m listening back through your AISFP interview as I type up these questions, and at that point you hadn’t gone through the editorial process for Norse Code. Having gone through that now, were there any major changes that you’d be willing to share or even just some thoughts on the process?
G: I’d done so many revisions before submitting the book that there weren’t many more drastic changes to make. Juliet Ulman is a sharp editor, and she helped me hone, polish, and clarify. Some editors are dictatorial, but Juliet saw her role as helping me realize my vision of the book. A lot of it isn’t so much about red marks on the page, but about conversation, just talking about the book and thinking out loud. I was really happy I got to work with her while she was still at Bantam. It wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought it’d be.
S: I’m channeling Munin here, but I noticed that my copy of Norse Code was a second print run. (On the bottom of the copyright page, there is a string of numbers, counting down from 9. Every time the publisher goes to press, they lop off one of the numbers. All the copies I saw at Mysterious Galaxy had 9 through 1, but the copy I picked up on the 18th from a random Barnes & Noble only had 9 through 2.) I obsess over this when I’m looking for a first edition, but I’m also overjoyed to see a book I like sell enough copies that they have to make more. There’s no real question here … I did say I was channeling Munin.
G: Okaaaaay! I’m glad there was a second printing before the book hit the stands, but I’m not sure why that happened.
S: With a couple day’s reflection is there anything in particular about your first signing that stands out?
G: It was really fun to talk to readers about the book. I’ve talked to other writers, my agent, my editor, friends and loved ones, but this was the first time I really got to blab about Norse Code to people I didn’t know, and since I invested a lot of time and effort in this book, I could talk about it forever. But I won’t. Because people would get sick of me really quick. The other thing I took away from the signing is the importance of independent bookstores. Mysterious Galaxy was awesome. This was my first ever signing, and they took pains to put me at ease and make me feel welcome. I didn’t feel like I was there to sell the ShamWow. I felt like I was among people who love books. It was awesome.
No longer the Interview
While previewing this post the first sentence got even longer “…to see Greg van Eekhout at his very first book signingbook, on the effects the current political situation has had in the schools. Neil didn’t need to read it.” It took me a moment to realize that this was Tumbarumba in action, Birthday by John Phillip Olsen to be exact. I’ve been enjoying the Tumbarumba experience and I’ll have a review of the anthology once I finish uncovering it.