I’m happy to announce the publication of my tenth book, a contemporary novel, The Sum of our Sorrows.
People often ask me how I get an idea for a particular book. Sometimes, I’m able to be very precise in my response and at other times, it’s not as easy.
I first got the idea for “this novel” well over a decade ago. I put those words in quotes, because then, it was a very different book, and what swirled about in my brain, I wasn’t ready to put down “on paper.” Not then.
In November of 2019, I finally felt ready to write the story, which has gone through quite a metamorphosis in my head before I wrote the first word. My original idea was to paint an intimate portrait of a relationship between two specific characters.
Years after my initial concept, I decided that the female protagonist would follow the storyline of song lyrics I wrote in another lifetime. My song, “Dear Sweet Melanie” was about a teenager whose mother had died and her entire life was lost because her father forced her to take on the role of mother to her sisters. The song (later recorded by a friend) was only meant to paint a mini portrait, whereas the story in this book is far more expansive and stars a very different person.
Lily Sheppard, the main character in The Sum of our Sorrows, has a similar story, but Lily is stronger than the tragic character of Melanie. Lily’s story is also more modern than my melodramatic song, which was more akin to Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” for those of you who can remember that far back.
As I began to write Lily’s story, it became clear that this book would be about the entire Sheppard family, far more complex and nuanced than I had intended. I needed to tell the story of this family, front and center, and that all of the plots and plot twists I’d had for the end of the book had to be gone. They were no longer relevant and no longer mattered. The Sum of our Sorrows had morphed into something very different … good different, and very soon it became a story I was passionate to tell.
In today’s world, where so many of us have lost loved ones and are having trouble moving on, and dragging our grief like heavy chains, The Sum of our Sorrows, as it is now, became a very important one for me to write.
Here’s the blurb:
In an idyllic suburb in Northern California, tragedy strikes the Sheppard family when Abby, the mother of three daughters and wife to Dalton, is killed in a car accident. Charlotte, the middle daughter, is in the car with her mother and survives without physical injury but remains deeply scarred on the inside.
Dalton tells Lily, his eldest daughter, that she must sacrifice long-awaited college plans and put her life on hold to take care of her sisters. Lily is torn between her devotion to family and an increasing need to find her place in the world — but how can she leave, knowing her family may crumble? Will her presence eventually cause more problems than it resolves?
The Sum of our Sorrows reveals how the aftermath of a family tragedy can precipitate sorrows never imagined. It is a tale of grief, hope, healing, coming-of-age, friendship, and survival. It is also a love story of two broken souls living through pain in search of better days and the renewal of one’s spirit.
The Sum of our Sorrows is available in paperback and Kindle editions. It is also free to read in Kindle Unlimited.
TweetBjørn Larssen is a Norse heathen made in Poland, but mostly located in a Dutch suburb, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one, following this achievement several decades later with his first book containing multiple sentences and winning awards he didn’t design himself. His writing is described as ‘dark’ and ‘literary’, but he remains incapable of taking anything seriously for more than 60 seconds.
Bjørn has a degree in mathematics and has worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland. He owns one (1) husband and is owned by one (1) neighbourhood cat.
Time to chat with Bjørn!
What is your latest book?
Children, Norse adult literary fantasy, is a retelling of selected Norse myths through the eyes of Magni, the son of Thor, and Maya, the foster daughter of Freya and Freyr. I didn’t like how Neil Gaiman did it in his Norse Mythology, so I decided to do it myself, then it kind of escalated and became this dark, violent, funny thing… exactly like the lore itself. Only with more words. And mint tea.
Is Children part of a series?
Yes. There are nine worlds in the Norse lore. In the series the Gods and their subjects will discover that it’s possible to travel between the Nine and good ol’ Earth, which gave the series its title – The Ten Worlds. Where Children is mythic fantasy, the second book in the series, Land, will be a re-telling of the discovery of Iceland based on historical sources, only with some Gods added.
Once those two are out, I intend to move on to a series of novellas called How to Be a God, which will take us back to the beginning of the Universe, when the Gods didn’t know their own job descriptions yet. They might all fall under the umbrella title The Ten Worlds or not, depending on how confusing it all becomes.
What are the special challenges in writing a series?
Each book, especially the first one, locks certain things in place. To go with a random example, if in book one I make it clear that the protagonist can’t use magic, in book three this limitation must either stay in place or I must come up with a convincing explanation why things have changed. Once I get to, say, book five I may find out that I am stuck because of something I have written years ago without giving it enough thought. I have already made peace with the fact that in a few years I will probably have to rewrite both Children and Land to get rid of omissions and/or inconsistencies. The literary equivalent of Starbucks cups and plastic bottles in the last season of Game of Thrones.
How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?
The first book, Storytellers, came to me in a dream – a cliché, but also truth. The story wouldn’t go away for years until I finally decided to write it down. It turned out to be historical suspense, making me an accidental historical fiction writer. Now I am working on novels, novellas, and stories based on my faith – I am a Norse heathen writing fanfic about my Gods! So it’s all going to be “Norse mythic-ish something something”.
By the way, before I actually got to writing anything I imagined myself as a rom-com writer. I tried and found out I couldn’t do it. I have a lot of respect for those who can. It’s too difficult for me, I overthink everything and I am yet to write a relationship between two characters that isn’t toxic in at least one way.
Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?
I use Scrivener, which is special software for writers, allowing to split the text into chapters, scenes, and sections. This is less useful for me than I expected, because it turns out that I can’t write out of order. I have spoken to a neurologist who suspects that I was born with neurological memory damage, which might explain both my inability to jump between the scenes and the fact that I don’t revise, but rewrite everything. The published version of Storytellers was its 21st draft, Children went through 29. Every time I ended up going from the beginning to the end. This is neither a healthy nor a recommended way to write, but apparently that’s how I roll.
How many unwritten books are in your head? How do you decide which ones come to life now and which ones stay on the back burner?
Now that I finished Children I should be starting on Land, but it requires lots of research and I am lazy. I started a few of the How to Be a God novellas, but haven’t completed any of them, except in my head. I have a non-fiction project in mind as well, a primer to Norse faith. How to Be a Heathen 😉 (Oh wait, this is a good title. Going to write it down.)
Last year I spent a few months working on another book that would form a part of the same series – The Age of Fire. After a few drafts and one round of beta reads I put it on the back burner, because I realised that I couldn’t do it justice quite yet. The Age of Fire is also going to be the grand finale of the series and starting a series with the last book seems too random even for someone as scatterbrained as me.
I also want to make the lesser known Icelandic Sagas more popular, write fiction based on Icelandic history in the Viking times, plus there’s a cosy mystery I am supposed to be writing with a Well-Known Writer Who Wishes To Remain Anonymous… If anything, I’d like to have a few less ideas. And more self-discipline.
Do you ever act out your scenes while writing to help you gauge how authentic it feels?
One-on-one fights. I’ll go to my husband and say, “my love, I need you to lie down and when I sit on your chest you will roll to the side, throwing me off. You have to land on top of me, choke me with one hand and grab my wrist with the other, so I can’t stab you… crap, I have one leg too many. Head butt me in the nose? Can you do that for me?” That sort of thing. I assure you nobody gets hurt, except for my characters later. I call this “choreography”.
(I think I just understood why I can’t write romance.)
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
Maya in Children surprised me by being in it at all. She was originally a character in The Age of Fire, the book I shelved. Children was supposed to be all about Magni, but Maya just decided to move in. I tried to write her out and she wouldn’t leave! Quite often I feel like I’m not writing her dialogue, I’m writing it down. And the worst thing she has done to me… She was claustrophobic since the very first draft. She revealed to me why that was on draft 28, causing me to add a very strong scene… and rewrite everything again.
The characters dictate the plot most of the time. I work really hard on fleshing them out, but the side effect is that sometimes when I need them to do something, the character just gives me a look and says “it’s so cute when you have ideas”. Half of the Children rewrites were caused by Maya deciding that she wouldn’t do what I wanted her to do, no negotiating, just nope.
What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received? The best? Any advice you’d like to offer to readers?
The worst – you must write every day to be a Real Writer, even if you know you’re writing rubbish. It’s not exactly motivating when writing becomes a chore. Like blocking an hour every day to feel horrible about myself. Especially as I know when it’s not going well.
The best – once your editor is done with the book, sent it to a proofreader who hasn’t seen the text before. You’re still going to end up with a typo or two, but there is hope there won’t be eight on the first page. At some point our eyes begin to slide over the text rather than read it, we know it too well. And the last thing you want are twenty reviews opening with “I could not continue reading past page five, even though the book showed promise, because it was filled with typos…”.
My advice – don’t read your reviews on Goodreads/Amazon, but if you really want to, don’t engage with them. When I get a blog review I always make sure to thank the blogger for their time and work, whether they liked the book or not. But Goodreads is for readers, who have the right to their opinions, no matter what they are. Look up “Yvonthia Goodreads” to find out why I’m saying this.
Do you know anyone who has ever received any auto DM on Twitter (with a link) who was happy about it?
Absolutely not. If you’re using Twitter, please, please, PLEASE don’t send automated DMs. I made a mistake once of responding to the person, saying that I didn’t appreciate the link, and he berated me for not appreciating his help. Since then I report auto DMs as spam and block, no matter who sends them.
Would you like to write a short poem for us?
I don’t think I can
Because I’m not a poet
I love haikus, though.
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
Driving. I know. I spent most of my adult life living in Amsterdam, where owning a car is a liability rather than an advantage. The real reason, though, is that I honestly can’t imagine how people manage to look in all directions at once and change gears and use the steering wheel and do the other, uh, drive-y things.
What makes you angry?
The simultaneous existence of billionaires and people who can’t afford food or life-saving medicine.
What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?
The Hours and The Hours (by Michael Cunningham). I re-read and re-watch both at least once per year.