A Chat with Lou Anders about World Building, Influences and What Makes FROSTBORN so Special (PLUS: Giveaway!)

Lou Anders‘ research on Norse mythology while writing Frostborn turned into a love affair with Viking culture and a first visit to Norway. He hopes the series will appeal to boys and girls equally. Anders is the recipient of a Hugo Award for editing and a Chesley Award for art direction. He has published over 500 articles and stories on science fiction and fantasy television and literature. Frostborn, which Publishers Weekly described as “thoroughly enjoyable” (starred review), is his first middle grade novel. A prolific speaker, Anders regularly attends writing conventions around the country. He and his family reside in Birmingham, Alabama. You can visit Anders online at louanders.com and ThronesandBones.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter at @ThronesandBones.

Lou was kind enough to chat with me about Frostborn!


Kristin Centorcelli: Lou, let’s talk Frostborn. Will you tell us a bit about the book, the world that it’s set in, and why you decided to write it?

Lou Anders: Frostborn is the story of Karn Korlundsson, a boy growing up knowing he will one day inherit the responsibility of running a large farm but who would much rather play the board game Thrones and Bones, and Thianna, a half-human, half-frost giant girl, who at seven feet tall, is picked on horribly by her peers in the frost giant village for being so short—they don’t let her play any reindeer games, you could say—and wishes she could expunge her human half. The two of them are driven out of their individual homes by unforeseen circumstances and meet in the icebound wilderness, where they help each other survive, learn about themselves, and overcome monsters and two separate sets of bad guys. Frostborn is the first book in the Thrones and Bones series, and it is a middle-grade fantasy series written for boys and girls ages eight and up. It was just recently released by Random House Children’s Books new imprint, Crown Books for Young Readers (headed by the brilliant and famous Phoebe Yeh), and I have been blown away by the reaction to it thus far.

The story of Frostborn takes place in the Norse-inspired lands of Norrøngard and Ymiria, where the humans and frost giants live respectively. This is the northern-most tip of a vast continent that is home to about thirty different countries, who are roughly approaching their equivalent of the High Middle Ages, but we confine ourselves to the edges in book one and only begin to see the larger world in books two and three. That being said, one of my beefs with some fantasy worlds I’ve encountered is the way in which each kingdom or country seems to be an isolated, discrete entity without much influence exerted from neighboring or even distant lands, and while the story of Frostborn confines itself to Norrøngard and Ymiria, I think readers will get a sense of a wider world beyond the pages intruding on its history and culture.

As to why I decided to write it—that had a lot to do with having two children, one of whom is in the middle grade reading age range and one of whom will be in a few years, and wanting to write something they could read and enjoy now. This desire combined with my growing suspicion/realization that the children’s book category may be the most fun! Also, I should stress that it is very important to me that Karn and Thianna are co-leads. Neither character is the sidekick to the other. Wanting to write a strong female protagonist for my daughter had a lot to do with the creation of Thianna.

KC: What did you enjoy most about writing for a younger audience? What were the challenges compared to other writing that you’ve done?

LB: My other writing has largely been confined to other media, so it is hard to compare. I have written theatrical plays (produced in small Chicago stages), screenplays (two were optioned but sadly not filmed), a nonfiction book, over five hundred articles for various film and television magazines, and a half-dozen short stories, but this is my first published novel. As such, it’s the single most fulfilling piece of writing I’ve ever produced! As to the challenges, I don’t know that the challenges of writing any book length work differs greatly from any other, in that you always sit down at the start knowing you are committing yourself to a year or so of work, during which you are going to labor like crazy largely in isolation while everyone else is off watching Game of Thrones, True Detective, and The Walking Dead and pointing out just how much cool stuff you are missing out on, while you experience nights where you stare at a half-dozen broken words on a mostly white screen and wonder if it will ever come together in the end. But you do it because the end point is worth it in a way that merely consuming culture can’t be.

As to what I enjoy most about writing for a younger audience? Maybe it’s capturing the joy I felt the first time I followed Lucy through the wardrobe or played the riddle game with Bilbo. Maybe it’s knowing they were all wrong when they told me I’d have to grow up one day! Maybe it’s being able to share this with my kids, and kids everywhere.

KC: What kind of research did you do for the book?

LB: Oh, this is a can of worms! Before I ever penned the first word of plot, I spent three months building the world and researching the culture. I wanted to build a world that was large enough I’d only have to do it once. By which I mean, I wanted to construct an entire planet, rich and varied and detailed and living enough that I could set any and every fantasy novel I might ever choose to write somewhere on its globe. The first thing I did was sit down for two weeks plus with Pro Fantasy’s Fractal Terrains 3 software, and spend hour after hour massaging geography until I had exactly the planet I wanted. I then zoomed in on the aforementioned tiny corner of one continent, where I began to work on the history and creation mythology of Norrøngard and Ymiria. I wanted to really understand those cultures, so while I was researching the history of the Norse peoples, I was also plotting out a five thousand year fictional history of my Norrønir. And, of course, when I came to their equivalent of the period of the Viking raiders, I suddenly realized that this “isolated” edge of the world wasn’t so isolated anymore. I very quickly found myself mapping out the Norrønir’s encounters with their neighbors, and their neighbor’s neighbors, and their neighbor’s neighbor’s neighbors, until I had all of their histories too! During all of this, I’m reading a lot of books, both nonfiction and fiction, some for details on Viking culture, others for ideas on structure or how to handle specific elements of plot. And I watched the Great Courses series on the Vikings, as well as several other documentaries. And I had friends advising me on aspects of sword nomenclature, Norwegian pronunciation, etc… It was only after I had some forty or fifty thousand words of world building that I started to plot the novel. Then, during the actual writing, I engaged Robert Lazzaretti, famed cartographer for D&D and Pathfinder and other RPG properties, and started working with him to translate the work I had done in Fractal Terrains 3 into professional, RPG-style maps. The world building didn’t end there either. After the book sold, I was lucky enough to get a chance to visit Norway. I spent nine days there, sailing the fjords and ascending the mountain peaks, and while I was in Norway, I would take pictures then upload them to Lazzaretti. It was an incredible experience to be able to walk the landscape by day and then use what I’d learned to shape the in-process map of my land at night. I’ll treasure that for opportunity forever. Now, I know this level of aforementioned research isn’t for everybody—isn’t necessary for every project—but it’s what works best for me and frankly I love it. And of course, it doesn’t stop with book one. I’m elbows deep in research now.

But, I should stress that while I have about sixty thousand words on the planet to date, only the tiniest tip of the iceberg makes it into the novels. Most of that information is for me, a bedrock to underpin the small glimpse you see, so that what I do show has an authenticity to it that I couldn’t conjure if you didn’t believe I’d walked around that planet and returned to tell you of it.

KC: World building is very important in a book like Frostborn. What are a few of your favorite literary “worlds”?

LB: When I was young, the two juggernauts of imaginary places that loomed large in my mind were Tolkien’s Middle Earth and the World of Greyhawk from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I had almost an entire shelf of books about Middle Earth, including books on the making of the 1978 animated Lord of the Rings film directed by Ralph Bakshi, J. E. A. Tyler’s Tolkien Companion, a huge coffee table edition of The Hobbit with art from the 1977 American animated television special from Rankin and Bass, and everything else I could get my hands on. I also had the 1980 “folio edition” of The World of Greyhawk from TSR, with it’s 34″ x 44″ color map of the Flanaess. My mother helped me mount this on a huge piece of plywood and laminate it, and we drove it in her station wagon to whoever’s house we were gaming at for the weekend. Even though we didn’t really need the map, having it there in front of us grounded the game, giving it a sense of place that undoubtedly helped formulate and cement my love of imaginary worlds. Edgar Rice Burrough’s Mars, Michael Moorcock’s Young Kingdoms, and Fritz Leiber’s Nehwon were all important as well. These days, the Four Nations of Avatar: The Last Airbender loom pretty large in my mind, as does the Continent of Laent of James Enge’s Morlock Ambrosius stories and novels. I’m also a big fan of role-playing game settings and love Pathfinder’s world of Golarion and Kobold Press’ brilliant Midgard Campaign Setting. I’m also eagerly awaiting my hardcovers of the two volume Guide to Glorantha as well as the Argan Argar Atlas from Moon Design Publications. And of course I’ll buy The World of Ice & Fire when it is out, and, by the way, I hope somebody will soon Kickstart a big fat setting guide to Tekumel, from the Empire of the Petal Throne RPG, because I’d love to check that out.

KC: Besides Frostborn, of course, what are a few books that you would readily recommend to a younger audience? What were a few of your favorite books as a child?

LB: I think I’ve pretty well covered my childhood favorites. As far as current favorites, and recommendations for kids from modern children’s novels, I really like Harry Potter, John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband Chronicles series, Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon books, and what I’ve read of Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet graphic novels. I’m under-read in Lloyd Alexander but I keep drawing favorable comparisons to him, so I want to correct that omission soon (and I did love his novel, The Arkadians).

KC: You’re no stranger to cons and interacting with fans. What have you enjoyed most about being part of the SFF community?

LB: Being around so many smart and talented people is such a privilege. I have so many friends in the field now, as well as colleagues and friendly acquaintances that I respect so deeply. Beyond that, I think that I am happiest when you put me on stage in front of an audience and ask me to enthuse about the things that we all love. If I have a Super Power, it’s my ability to communicate profound appreciation for works of art and literature to a live audience.

KC: What’s next for you this year, and beyond?

LA: Well, I’ve just started working on the initial revisions to the sequel to Frostborn, and I’m in the research phase for the third book in the series. I’ve already built and playtested the board game that will accompany the second book, and there’s an RPG that I designed which is set in the world of Thrones and Bones which was playtested last year at GenCon at a table of exclusively fantasy authors that I am cooking up on a slow burner. I’ve also printed up a set of faux-trading cards of four of the characters from Frostborn that I give out at signings, and while I initially just meant them as a cool bit of publicity swag, I’ve been thinking of ways I could make them “no longer faux.” So, board game, card game, role-playing game, book. That’s a lot on the immediate plate. As to things beyond the next year or so, you have to let me keep some secrets.


GIVEAWAY: Win a Copy of Frostborn by Lou Anders

Courtesy of the good folks at Random House, SF Signal 5 (count ‘em) copies of Frostborn by Lou Anders to give away to 5 lucky SF Signal readers!

Here’s what the book is about:

Fantasy fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series will embrace this first novel in an adventure-filled, Viking-inspired series by a debut author.

Meet Karn. He is destined to take over the family farm in Norrøngard. His only problem? He’d rather be playing the board game Thrones and Bones.

Enter Thianna. Half human, half frost giantess. She’s too tall to blend in with other humans but too short to be taken seriously as a giant.

When family intrigues force Karn and Thianna to flee into the wilderness, they have to keep their sense of humor and their wits about them. But survival can be challenging when you’re being chased by a 1,500-year-old dragon, Helltoppr the undead warrior and his undead minions, an evil uncle, wyverns, and an assortment of trolls and giants.

Readers will embark on a sweeping epic fantasy as they join Karn and Thianna on a voyage of discovery. Antics and hair-raising escapades abound in this fantasy adventure as the two forge a friendship and journey to unknown territory. Their plan: to save their families from harm.

Debut novelist Lou Anders has created a rich world of over twenty-five countries inhabited by Karn, Thianna, and an array of fantastical creatures, as well as the Thrones and Bones board game.

And here’s how you can enter for a chance to win:

  1. Send an email to contest at sfsignal dot com. (That’s us).
  2. In the subject line, enter “Frostborn
  3. Please provide a mailing address in the email so the books can be sent as soon as possible. (The winning address is used only to mail the prize. All other address info will be purged once the giveaway ends.)
  4. Geographic restrictions: This giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S.
  5. The giveaway will end Monday, August 25th, 2014 (9:00 PM U.S. Central time). The winners will be selected at random, notified, and announced shortly thereafter.

Good luck!

8 thoughts on “A Chat with Lou Anders about World Building, Influences and What Makes FROSTBORN so Special (PLUS: Giveaway!)”

  1. I engaged Robert Lazzaretti, famed cartographer for D&D and Pathfinder and other RPG properties, and started working with him to translate the work I had done in Fractal Terrains 3 into professional, RPG-style maps.

    Aha, *that* explains the maps!

  2. Hi guys, I’m misunderstanding. What is the exact TO: address for entering the contest. Every variation I am trying isn’t working.
    Thanks.
    KLW

    1. The email address is constructed in a way to discourage spambots.

      Address it to: contest at sfsignal dot com

      …but replace “at” with the “@” symbol, and replace “dot” with a period “.”

    1. Absolutely, Lou. The style and choices of a map are choices that point toward the mapmaker’s intention and goals. Given how much you worked hand in glove for this map, it also points to the text

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