I've read many of Christine Morgan's stories in anthologies over the years, and had the pleasure of sharing space in an anthology with her once. Morgan's latest collection through Word Horde, The Raven's Table, came out recently. I had the pleasure of an interview with her regarding what inspired the collection, more about her writing, and her future projects.
AB: Some of the stories I read in The Raven’s Table I’ve also read elsewhere. What was the impetus to compile the collection?
CM: Accumulation, mostly ... the first Viking story I wrote was "The Barrow-Maid," ten years ago. I went through a phase I think of as "Viking ALL the things," in which whenever I was tempted by a themed anthology call, I'd see if I could combine the two, which is how several of these others came about. Over time, as I kept writing them and selling them and people kept liking them, I'd get asked when I was going to do a collection. Which sounded like a great idea to me, and having the chance to work with Ross at Word Horde sounded like an even greater one!
AB: Some of the stories have a story told within the story, such as “To Fetter The Fenris-Wolf” and “The Vulgarity of Giants”, have a distinctive style to them that seem reminiscent in ways to the Prose Edda. What inspired that style?
CM: Including those saga-style tales, particularly when I could relate them to what was going on in the larger story, was something I thought would be fun and add depth. And also give me a chance to play around with that kind of poetry. I enjoy poetry, but whenever I try to do the rhyming sort on my own, it tends to follow the Dr. Seuss structure. Also, since the oral storytelling was so inherent and important to the Norse cultures, it felt right being able to hearken back to that original tradition.
AB: What is it about the Norse myths that inspire your writing?
CM: I've been a mythology fan since I was a kid (starting with Greek), got into the fantasy role playing games as a teen, developed a big interest in history as well as anthropology and sociology, had a big thing for ships (pirates of course, and tall ships). Those elements all converged and clicked with the Norse myths; they had it all. In a unique, different way from more traditional fantasy, too ... the culture, the combination of strict laws and wild savagery, the role of strong women, a sense of meritocracy where even someone low-born could rise to greatness, and lords needed more than a title to keep the respect of their people.
AB: What elements of the Norse myths do you think garner so much interest right now?
CM: We finally got some major big-budget successful fantasy movies, in the form of The Lord of the Rings. Quibble however much the fans might, and angst about nerd stuff becoming mainstream (ugh don't get me started), those were the big push we needed, hitting right when the Harry Potter generation was coming of age and a generation of D&D players were all grown up. D&D was heavily derived from Tolkien, Tolkien took a lot of his inspiration from the Norse and Anglo Saxon tales, so ... from there we have a bigger interest in Norse myth. Well, and the Marvel versions of Loki and Thor probably had something to do with it. Suddenly, there's the Vikings show, there's further attempts at cinematic versions of Beowulf (don't get me started there either), and here we are.
AB: In reading The Raven’s Table I personally enjoyed your ability to make parts of the culture understandable without having to go into long exposition to do so. Are there any particular challenges that came with researching the Norse that brought you to that point?
CM: The biggest challenge is how little actual information we have ... things weren't written down until hundreds of years later, after a few invasions and language changes and who knows what all else. A lot was lost. At the time, they'd be telling these myths and stories with the reasonable assumption everyone in their audience knew what they were talking about, so there wasn't seen to be a pressing need to go into a lot of backstory and detail. But then, along comes someone looking to piece it together after a couple centuries, and nobody wrote down the details. As for making it understandable and relatable, my educational background was in psychology, and part of the fascination for me is viewing other times and cultures through the same basic lens of human experience, the commonalities like basic needs of food and shelter, like relationships and family, emotions, aspects of life everyone can connect with on some level.
AB: What are your favorite resources for research of Norse culture and myth?
CM: I have a shelf of go-to books, many of which are aimed at kids, those explore-Viking-life kinds of things ... roleplaying sourcebooks like GURPS: Vikings, for instance ... lots with pictures and illustrations ... the Eddas both Prose and Poetic, various sagas ... I'm a big fan of the Viking Lady Answer Page website ... my academic hero is Professor Michael D.C. Drout, who is a total rockstar when it comes to Tolkien and Alfred the Great and Beowulf ... Nancy Brown's books and the Icelandic tours she does (some day!) ... Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series, particularly The Pale Horseman on audiobook because the reader is phenomenal.
AB: Outside of Norse myth, what are your favorite streams of inspiration for stories?
CM: Historical horror and dark fantasy seem to be very much my thing, where I'm happiest and at my best as a writer. Ancient Greek, Egyptian, Meso-American Aztec/Maya ... I love mash-ups of the myth-meets-Mythos sort where I can combine mythology with Lovecraftian elements ... the classic fairy tales have also always been a huge inspiration; I find them extra fascinating because so many of these, they were created and told by the women, by the mothers and grandmothers, they addressed those home-and-hearth fears as much as the sweeping epic adventures.
AB: What are you working on right now?
CM: As I type this, I'm most of the way through the first draft of a story called "Jade Thunder Warrior," which is Aztec/Maya-themed. Really hoping to have that one finished up this week. Coming up after that are a few stories for anthology calls and invitation-type projects, and I am overdue on my personal deadline for a novella of Medusa smut, and have a few languishing novels needing revisions and resubmission. I also edit, and am about to send the fourth Fossil Lake anthology (SHARKASAURUS!) to the printer, with the fifth one (WERE-WHAT?!?) opening for submissions this summer. So, no shortage of things to do!
You can discover more of Morgan's work at her website.