Judith Lindbergh Finds the Vikings’ Soft Side

I’ll be going to see Judith Lindbergh read from her debut novel, The Thrall’s Tale, tonight at Coliseum Books (a joint event with Marisa de los Santos). I’d heard Lindbergh had spent over a decade researching the Vikings, so I was curious to hear some of her thoughts on what it’s like to live with a subject for so long. This is what she had to tell me….

lindbergh.jpgThe interesting thing about the Vikings is that, for me, as the author of a novel about them, I never really liked them very much. Well, that’s not exactly true. I never liked the public image of the Vikings. It was almost embarrassing: the stereotypical brawny warrior, horned-helmeted (a detail that is archaeologically unfounded, by the way), filthy and brutish, more beast than man. I do not dispute the facts of the Viking raids, or the Vikings’ male-centered ethos, or the numerous sagas depicting wild, raging battles fought by ferocious warriors. But as a 21st-century woman, I wanted to get past these testosterone charged images. I wanted to find a way to the Viking heart, assuming it was in there at all.

The poem, Hávamál (The Sayings of Hár) is part of The Poetic Edda. It outlines in detail the worldview of the Norse, as spoken by Hár, “the One-Eyed” god, one of the many appellations of the great god Odin. Much of the poem reads like passages from the biblical Proverbs, with Hár/Odin giving counsel to his listeners of all that is right and wise in a man’s behavior. The overtones are fatherly, and the focus is on the man’s world where hospitality, moderation, loyalty, wisdom, and self-control are key.

All hail to the givers! A guest has come
Say where shall he sit?

Such extravagant geniality seems simply pretentious, but it was also self-interested, I realized. The guest might as easily be a stranger as a well-loved friend. If a man didn’t welcome and treat his guests fairly, how could he count on such hospitality when he himself traveled through distant lands?

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30 January 2006 | guest authors |

John Falk on Keeping It Real

When I got a postcard two weeks ago announcing the paperback edition of John Falk’s Hello to All That as being “in the tradition of A Million Little Pieces,” I chuckled to myself: Hell of a time for that comparison to be making the rounds. But then I got to thinking that Falk, who’d written about his battle with chronic depression and his experiences as a Sarajevo war correspondent, probably had something to say about the art of telling the truth about your life. So I asked, and I received, and I pass along to you…

johnfalk.jpgYou could be drunk, in a writing workshop, or maybe just sitting on the can. The point is that great insight, that magical inspiration can hit you just about anywhere. Maybe you can’t put it into words just yet but you suddenly know, can feel in your gut actually, that somewhere in your past there unfolded a series of events that meant something, really meant something. They all fit together. You then think of all the people you knew, all the crazy, colorful scenes in your life. There is a story there, a great story. Man, this can be good, you think. You run it by your friends and family. They all agree: You really should take a crack at writing a memoir.

For most people it’s about here, or maybe after two or three trips to Starbucks with your laptop, that the whole enterprise unravels. Why? Because you just can’t capture on paper that initial inspiration. The words fall short. The details overwhelm. Your life wasn’t as coherent as it seemed and what was an inspiration quickly becomes drudgery. It’s here that the more sensible among us order that final mochachino and split back to living their life instead of writing about it.

For the rest, you dive deeper. Keep writing. Month after month. Year after year. You chase that rabbit, that initial inspiration, word after damn word. As you learn more you start thinking in character arcs, acts, conflicts and resolutions. It’s a necessary step, of course, the only way to impose that timeless story structure on what had been until now a rambling retelling of your life.

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30 January 2006 | guest authors |

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