Today I’d like to welcome Eric Schumacher to Ascroft, eh? Eric is here to tell us about his new novel, War King.
Welcome Eric. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel.
ES: First off – thanks so much for having me on your blog.
My novel, War King, is the third novel in my series about the Norse king Hakon Haraldsson, or “Hakon the Good” as he is also known in history.
It is AD 954 and a tempest is brewing in the North. Twenty summers before, Hakon wrested Norway’s throne from his murderous brother, Erik Bloodaxe, but he failed to rid himself of Erik’s family. Now the sons of Erik have come to reclaim Erik’s realm and avenge the wrong done to their father and their kin.
They do not come alone. With them marches an army of sword-Danes sent by the Danish King, Harald Bluetooth, whose desire to expand his realm is as powerful as the lust for vengeance that pulses in the veins of Erik’s brood.
Like storm-driven waves, the opposing forces collide in War King, the action-packed sequel to the award-winning God’s Hammer and Raven’s Feast.
What prompted you to write about this historical event?
ES: This book and its predecessors are less about one event and more about the life and struggles of Hakon Haraldsson. While we don’t know all of the facts of Hakon’s life, we do know that even if marginally true, Hakon’s story is filled with challenges. The first two novels were about him fighting for and fighting to keep the throne of Viking Age Norway – a feat he takes on as a Christian teenager. His youth, his desire to remain Christian despite his people’s faith in the “old gods”, and his struggles to take the throne presented all sorts of conflicts about which to write.
In War King, we see Hakon as an older, wiser king whose kingdom is being besieged by his own family and by the Danish king, Harald Bluetooth. We know these events to be true, and I couldn’t wait to tell my version of how Hakon navigates those challenges. But lest you think it is all about conflict and strife, the novel includes some softer moments too.
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
ES: Part of the problem with the early Viking Age is that there are few written sources. Those that exist sometimes contradict each other. As a writer, I had to take what few facts we know to be true and do my best to stick to those facts as guideposts for my main plot. To enrich the story or to fill in the gaps (and there were many!), I have included some scenes, some characters and some events that are fictional. I have done my best to make that fiction plausible, and have explained my reasoning in the historical notes at the end of the novel.
What research did you do for this book?
ES: A ton. I’ve read many of the translated older texts, histories and sagas from roughly that time period, and have devoured as many recent history books about Norwegians, Danes, and Anglo-Saxons as I can get my hands on. Five years of research went into the first two books of the series, and another year went into this most recent novel.
Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel? Which is more difficult to write? Which do you prefer to write and why?
ES: Hakon the Good is, of course, a real historical figure. I have also resurrected many of the characters we see mentioned in ancient texts as supporting characters for Hakon, such as Jarl Sigurd, Jarl Tore, Toralv the Strong, Egil Woolsark, and others. But, I have also created a few of my own characters to act as Hakon’s supporting cast.
I find writing about Hakon the most difficult but also the most rewarding because there is so little we know about him, yet I really want to make him believable and real and engaging. Doing that is hard, but it is an historical puzzle that I love solving. The supporting cast is a close second to Hakon in terms of enjoyment, solely because there are no constraints to their creation save for making them human. I can let my imagination run wild in creating them.
In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?
ES: For places, I mainly rely on my senses. When I am describing a hall or an outdoor setting, I refer to research and pictures, but I also think about things like the weather, the smells, the sounds, what one might see or hear in that place. I also try to couple that place with the person to whom that place belongs. For example, if the owner of a hall is slovenly, so too might his hall be disorderly or in disrepair.
For people, I do a write-up on them prior to embarking on my story. I don’t just describe them physically; I describe their personalities, their backstories, their idiosyncrasies, their relationships, their pressures, their word choices, and so forth. The things that make them real and three-dimensional. I may not use all of these things in my writing, but it helps me form a clearer picture of who they are, and hence, what they might say or do.
There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?
ES: I have only ever written about a male main character, so that is hard for me to answer. That said, in each of my books I have a lead female supporting character, and I thoroughly enjoy writing about them too. I generally like strong characters, whether male or female. Not necessarily physically strong, but possessing an inner strength. Finding that in my characters is fun. I also enjoy how that inner strength emerges in the relationships between my characters. Usually, it presents a lot of interesting conflicts and avenues to explore.
Thanks for answering my questions, Eric, and good luck with War King, your latest novel in the series about the Norse king Hakon Haraldsson.
War King is available online at Amazon.
About Eric Schumacher: Eric was born in Los Angeles in 1968 and currently resides in Santa Barbara, CA with his wife, two children and dog. He is the author of two historical fiction novels, God’s Hammer and its sequel, Raven’s Feast. Both tell the story of the first Christian king of Viking Norway, Hakon Haraldsson, and his struggles to gain and hold the High Seat of his realm.