What do Vikings and present-day folk in small-town West Virginia have in common?
They both thrive in the head of award-winning author Heather Day Gilbert, whose fiction can immerse readers into either world. Heather’s newest Viking historical, Forest Child, released this month, and she’s offering a free ebook copy to a randomly-chosen commenter on this post. [Draw closed Nov. 25, 2016.]
Janet: Welcome, Heather, and congratulations on your newest release. In both of your genres, you create heroines we can relate to, strong yet vulnerable. Except for your novella, Out of Circulation, they’re each married women. How important to you is exploring the relationship dynamics this brings to each story?
Heather: Thank you for those kind words on my characters, Janet! Ever since I started writing novels, I’ve had a burden for writing about married women and their struggles. Married characters have just always been intrinsically interesting to me… all the way back to those Janette Oke books that featured them. I feel that married love is so much deeper and more powerful than dating love. When we’re married, we see each other at our worst, we sacrifice for each other, we grieve together… and yet if we do it right, our love grows even stronger because we are fully committed to each other.
Janet: So true, and since part of the reason we read about others’ struggles is to learn for our own, we should be seeing a lot more of this. Along with the relationship themes, your novels also involve a fair bit of action. Which aspect of the writing comes easier: the characters or the plots?
Heather: Definitely the characters. Then I have to plug them into a rough plot (my plotting is really loose and involves chapter highlights) and then ask myself what would this character really do in this situation?
Of course, with mysteries, you have to stretch it a bit, because if I were off chasing baddies and having showdowns with cold killers like Tess Spencer, I daresay my hubby would force me to stop my sleuthing “hobby.” Although Thomas Spencer tries to do this, he hasn’t quite succeeded.
Often, my characters surprise me with what they say and do. There is this line that Ref says to Freydis in Forest Child that I didn’t see coming, yet when I typed it, I knew it was exactly what he would have said. It was both brutally honest and quite vulnerable, and it made me mad, just as it did Freydis. (if you read it, try to guess which line that is—you might know, Janet! 😉 )
Janet: Forest Child is, what, your fourth novel in print? You’ve said this was the hardest novel to write – why so? And was it worth it in the end?
Heather: Hm. It’s actually my fifth in print (God’s Daughter, Miranda Warning, Trial by Twelve, and Out of Circulation preceded it). Yes, this was definitely the hardest one I’ve ever written, for several reasons. First, I had to build the simple Icelandic saga accounts of Freydis into a fleshed-out story. That involves matching up timelines, events, and even some wording.
Second, what Freydis did in the saga accounts was something so horrific, it took me over two years to really come up with reasons why a woman would be driven to such actions. I honestly prayed God would give me ideas about that, and He did. While the reason shocked me somewhat, I knew it was a perfect catalyst for her actions. Historically, Freydis was domineering, she was wild, she was a warrior, she was rude, and the list goes on and on. The true challenge was drawing this character so readers could empathize with her.
Finally, I had to fully get into Freydis’ head because I write in first person present tense, which meant I had to be her for a while. I was kind of afraid her way of thinking might trickle into my own thoughts, but as I wrote her, I realized that in some ways, we were already similar. Acknowledging that was rather terrifying, but ultimately it turned into something that was freeing, for me and for her. So yes, I feel the angst of writing Forest Child was worth it and I know the story turned out exactly the way it needed to.
Janet: You did a fantastic job making Freydis both shocking and relatable. I think her inner vulnerability, which she didn’t even see at the start, made a strong connecting point for readers. And for me, even the worst of what she did seemed like a perfectly natural outflow of her character.
As well as vibrant characters who make realistic choices, how important to you is each novel’s setting?
Heather: In the Viking novels, setting is obviously crucial (from describing the Viking voyages to their foods and longhouses), so that requires a lot of research on my part. I wish I could visit the Viking locales in Newfoundland, Iceland, and Greenland, but I haven’t been able to yet. I do the best I can with photos and my imagination.
I have noticed that in every one of my books, there is a forest scene. I think it’s because I spent a lot of time in the woods growing up. My West Virginia mystery/suspense is really what I know, because I grew up in WV and I live here now. The ways of the Appalachian people, the winding mountain roads, the issues this state is having with drug addiction… all these things play into my contemporary stories. I don’t go into paragraphs of descriptive detail, a la Thomas Hardy (whose writing I love, BTW), but I hope I include enough description that my readers can see the books playing out like a movie in their heads, which is what some reviewers have said.
Janet: Your forest scenes feel alive to me, likely because the ones of my childhood are similar. Now, my favourite question: What might happen if Tess from your Murder in the Mountains series met the Viking heroines, Gudrid and Freydis?
Heather: Oh my word! I can’t imagine! Tess would probably get along okay with Gudrid, since they both had traumatic childhoods and they might have similar issues. But Freydis and Tess… boy, that would be a clash of the titans! Let’s just hope neither of them would be armed! LOL!
Janet: Could make for an interesting time! Heather, thank you so much for visiting today, and for these fantastic reads. The care you invest in your writing shows in the finished books.
Heather is offering one free ebook copy (epub or mobi format) to a randomly-selected commenter on this post. Entries close at midnight, Nov. 25, EST. To enter, scroll down to the comments field. Just for fun, share something you either know or wonder about the Vikings.
Viking warrior. Dauntless leader. Protective mother.
Determined to rise above her rank as the illegitimate “forest child” of Eirik the Red, Freydis launches a second voyage to Vinland to solidify her power and to demand the respect she deserves. She will return home with enough plunder to force her brother, Leif, to sell her the family farm in Greenland.
But nothing can prepare her for the horrors she must confront in Vinland… and nothing can stand in her way when her family is threatened.
In her race to outrun the truths that might destroy her, Freydis ultimately collides with the only enemy she cannot silence—her own heart.
Historically based on the Icelandic Sagas, Forest Child brings the memorable, conflicted persona of Freydis Eiriksdottir to life. This immersive tale is Book Two in the bestselling Vikings of the New World Saga.
HEATHER DAY GILBERT, a Grace Award winner and bestselling author, writes novels that capture life in all its messy, bittersweet, hope-filled glory. Born and raised in the West Virginia mountains, generational story-telling runs in her blood. Heather is a graduate of Bob Jones University, and she and her husband are raising their children in the same home in which Heather grew up. Heather is represented by Rebeca Seitz and Jonathan Clements of SON Studios in FL.
Heather’s Viking historical novel, God’s Daughter, is an Amazon Norse Bestseller. She is also the author of the bestselling A Murder in the Mountains mystery series and the Hemlock Creek Suspense series. Heather also authored the Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher. Find out more at heatherdaygilbert.com.
Fun interview, Heather and Janet! I enjoyed it. What amazes me about Heather’s writing (aside from the fact that it’s good!) is that she can shift from historical fiction to contemporary romantic suspense. She’s so talented she writes both equally well, and she obviously has a love for both genres.
I agree, Karin, and Heather’s writing style in the two genres is so different, because she suits it to the type of story she’s writing. I confess I’m envious…
You two are making me blush! Thank you so much!
When my husband and I visited Newfoundland-Labrador a few years ago, we felt that the geography itself had a unique and strong personality. We bought books, of course. One of them was a very large reference book about the Vikings. I confess that I have never read a book by Heather Day Gilbert. Although I realize it is Book 2 in a series, I’d love to read this most recent one and see whether I once again experience that almost mystical location.
Patricia, Heather is amazing at establishing setting. I’m sure you’d enjoy that aspect of the books. I think you’d like her present-day mysteries in West Virginia, too.
Patricia, I truly wish I could visit Newfoundland! I did research it a lot, as well as Greenland/Iceland, although the climate was different in those locales around AD 1000. You can easily start with Forest Child and then swing back to God’s Daughter if you like it. Both books have different heroines (first person POV), although their lives are connected in both stories. And these were real women, too, who sailed to North America!
I’m currently at work on a Viking novel and have read the saga. Forest Child sounds intriguing! Does Christianity make an appearance in it? I was impressed with the Christian conviction expressed by Gudrid(?) in the Icelandic saga.
Eleanor, God’s Daughter (book 1) has a stronger Christian thread throughout, because Gudrid, the heroine, is already a believer. She doesn’t have a Bible, but she has some past teaching. Freydis spends most of Forest Child resisting Christianity, so it’s present but not internalized. Heather can explain it better than me!
Cool that you’re working on a Viking novel, too!
Hi, Eleanor. I truly hope you can read both God’s Daughter and Forest Child and compare them to Eirik the Red’s Saga and The Saga of Greenlanders. Yes, Gudrid was historically known as a Christian Viking, which is why I knew I wanted to tell her story–how WAS Christianity then, when Bibles weren’t easily available yet these Vikings were taking stands for God? And with Freydis’ story, I followed the trajectory of her life until the sagas ended, and then I added to that so it was a more satisfactory ending to the series. I’d love to chat sometime about your approach to the sagas and what you’re writing! My email is heatherdaygilbert (at) gmail (dot) com. BTW–God’s Daughter is only 99c for Kindle until Sunday!
I must get it! I’ll email you!
This is SO cool! Thanks for doing it!
Hmmmm…. something I know about Vikings… Oh! I know! They had an affinity for mushrooms. What is really funny is they liked to eat this red (I think it was red anyway) one before battle/raids because it made them mad/violet/crazy/worked them into a frenzy (from my understanding the behavior it provoked in them is one of things that caused the most fear in their opponents… and seamed to be there signature when fighting). In fact, there are even records of the Vikings being so frenzied (on the ship before they landed to fight/plunder) that they where not only making a ruckus, but they where even biting their shield because they could not wait to fight! And when the woman eat these mushrooms… lookout (that was scary… and funny;).
Think… Hulk, or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (but more violent)
Well-described! I hadn’t heard about these mushrooms before reading this series. Scary things!
Thank you! I have not read the series yet… but I love Vikings!
Yes, the berserker “shrooms.” I do have those in both books. Not something to be trifled with.
Okay… now I HAVE to read your series! I cannot believe I forgot it was the berserker’s who ate them! It should be easy for me to remember because it makes them, you know, berserk. Hahaha ;). I just don’t remember what the name of the mushrooms ;]
Here’s a post I did on the mushroom topic when God’s Daughter released: https://redwoodsmedicaledge.com/2012/04/18/research-driving-you-berserk/
Awesome! Thank you SO much!!!
Thank you to everyone who took part in the conversation — it’s been fun! And congratulations to Patricia Anne Elford, who wins an electronic copy of Forest Child!