Marie Brennan is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Waking of Angantyr Here’s the publisher’s description:
The bondsmaid Hervor is used to dead men whispering in her sleep. They’ve been doing it for as long as she can remember; it’s the living she has to watch out for. And when a new arrival at her holding triggers her into a berserker fury, she’s forced to flee the contract that enslaves her and into the arms of an uncertain future.
Unchained from the living, Hervor goes in search of a way to silence the dead, but it will take much more than grit and determination to make that happen. She’ll need the help of a ruthless viking, an ailing jarl, a mad witch, and more―for the treachery that killed her ghosts isn’t nearly as dead as they are, and the path to peace must first traverse a river of blood.
What’s Marie’s favorite bit?
My subconscious is smarter than the rest of me.
I’m not generally much of a plotter. When I’m writing a novel, there are usually some semi-fixed points I’m aiming for, but like someone driving at night, I can only see a little distance ahead of my current position. That’s fine; it’s enough to get me to my destination.
But every so often, my subconscious grabs the wheel and yanks me off the road.
That happened with Meltharkatla, a character who shows up about halfway through The Waking of Angantyr. I knew my protagonist, Hervor, was going out into a creepy forest where a blood witch was said to live. I knew this encounter would be pivotal for the story. And I knew what Meltharkatla would look like: tall, imposing, beautiful in the cold, austere manner of Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (the animated film, though Angelina Jolie and her prosthetic cheekbones make for a decent approximation).
Hervor went into the forest. She encountered some very strange things. And then Meltharkatla walked on stage:
The woman looked like she’d tried to shave her own head, and had done it badly. Patches of stubble spread across her scalp like a skin disease, along with dirt and something that might be dried blood. More dirt and blood caked the woman’s fingernails, which were all of different lengths, the shorter ones ragged like they’d snapped off. She was bony, half-starved, and clothed in rags that were literally falling off, baring one breast.
. . . that was not what I had in mind.
And as went her appearance, so too went her personality. Meltharkatla is short-tempered, oblique, swinging between intensely focused and easily distractible — none of which were what I’d intended for her.
I could have tried to assert my original plan, erasing this sudden swerve. But here’s the thing: when those moments come, when I find myself typing something completely different from what I thought was coming . . . it means my subconscious has come up with a better idea. And when it comes to storytelling, that’s the smart part of my brain. My conscious mind can stitch together plots and evaluate pacing and do all the necessary organizational work that goes into making a coherent novel, but my subconscious is where the sparks come from. If I grind those out because they don’t fit my plan, then nothing will ever blaze up in glory.
So no, this wasn’t the character I meant to have. She’s the one I needed, though, stranger and more chaotic, introducing an element of weirdness that made the story stronger. Writing Hervor’s interactions with her was a delight — a source of peculiar humor in a novel much grimmer and bloodier than most of my oeuvre. I’m glad she hip-checked my original Meltharkatla out of the way and strode on stage in her place . . . and if I ever write more in this setting, it will be entirely due to her.
Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly leans on her academic fields for inspiration. She recently misapplied her professors’ hard work to The Game of 100 Candles and the short novel Driftwood. She is the author of the Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent along with several other series, over eighty short stories, several poems, and the New Worlds series of worldbuilding guides; as half of M.A. Carrick, she has written the epic Rook and Rose trilogy, beginning with The Mask of Mirrors. For more information and social media, visit linktr.ee/swan_tower.