We are honored to welcome Lars Walker here today at As the Pages Turn!
Lars is a native of Kenyon, Minnesota, and lives in Minneapolis. He has worked as a crabmeat packer in Alaska, a radio announcer, a church secretary and an administrative assistant, and is presently librarian and bookstore manager for the schools of the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations in Plymouth, Minnesota.
He is the author of four previously published novels, and is the editor of the journal of the Georg Sverdrup Society. Walker says, “I never believed that God gave me whatever gifts I have in order to entertain fellow Christians. I want to confront the world with the claims of Jesus Christ.” His latest release is West Oversea: A Norse Saga of Mystery, Adventure and Faith.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Lars. Can you tell us what your latest book, West Oversea, is all about?
West Oversea is a historical fantasy, based on actual characters, which begins in Norway a little after 1000 A.D. Erling Skjalgsson, the hero, is the most powerful man in Norway until a question of honor forces him to give up his property and power. He sets out on a voyage to trade with Leif Eriksson in Greenland (he probably did actually know Leif). A storm at sea, plus supernatural forces, take them to unplanned destinations (such as America) and daunting adventures.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
My hero is Erling Skjalgsson, as I said. He’s a saga character with a lot of appeal to the modern reader, because we’re told he had a system for helping his slaves buy their freedom. My own reading of his story (and I know a Norwegian historian who agrees with me) is that he spent his life fighting for the traditional Norwegian democratic system against kings who wanted to institute a foreign-style, autocratic monarchy. The narrator is his Irish priest, Father Aillil, an entirely fictional character I enjoy writing very much. He’s my hobbit—the bridge character who helps the modern reader relate to Erling’s heroic ethic. There are also various saga characters, including Leif Eriksson, and a vicious, shape-changing enemy.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
Characters are an amalgam. I patterned Erling’s appearance on a friend of mine, who’s rather striking-looking. Otherwise he’s kind of my ideal of what a hero should be, largely based on a kid who once defended me on a playground when I was in first grade. Father Aillil is me, if I were braver and more fun.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
I collect ideas for a story until I feel I have the basic points of a narrative. Then I jump-start it, and see whether it goes where I plan or not.
Q: Your book is set in Norway, Iceland, America, and Greenland. Can you tell us why you chose these locations in particular?
I wanted to deal with the whole sweep of the Norse exploration of the North Atlantic. The Norwegian historian I mentioned, Torgrim Titlestad of the University of Stavanger, suggested in one of his books that Erling might have taken a voyage to Greenland. I’d hit a point in Erling’s career (this is actually the second book in the Erling series) where the saga doesn’t tell us what he did for a while. I figured it was a good time to open the story out.
A voyage story is all about the journey. When we travel in real life, we travel to meet new people, among whom are ourselves. We travel to discover new places, among which are our homes.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
Our characters are in Iceland. Snorri the Chieftain, a character familiar to Icelandic saga readers, is telling the story of his part in the conversion of Iceland to Christianity (according to historians, the only instance of such a conversion being accomplished by parliamentary action).
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
We rode into the steading as shadows stretched across it. We dismounted outside the hall. We could hear voices inside, wailing like Rachel in Ramah.
“They’ll be in there now,” said Kjartan. “Who’ll come in with me?”
“Everyone looked at me.
“I suppose I’d best have a look,” I said.
Houses in Iceland are thick-walled, and the screaming I’d heard from outside was as silence to the calamity of shrieks that outraged my ears as I passed through the entry and into the hall. Judging by the sound, I looked to see swarms of spirits damned being savaged by spear-wielding Azazels. What I saw was at once commoner and stranger.
The house was walled into two rooms, besides the entry. The first room we entered (the smaller of the two) was filled with the members of the household, those who yet lived. There were only a handful, and they looked as if they’d eaten little and slept not at all for days.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Lars. We wish you much success!
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.