SBBT Stop: Greg van Eekhout

Vaneekhout_bw-small-1 Greg van Eekhout has been writing excellent short stories for years now, which is why I'm so glad to host him here to discuss his debut novel–welcome to the dark side, Greg. Watching the caffeine-fueled, coffee shop-enabled birth process for Norse Code on Greg's blog was so much fun that I was almost afraid it wouldn't live up to my expectations. I picked up my copy Saturday at our local indie bookshop and have already finished–I say without reservation that you should all run out and buy your copy IMMEDIATELY (or just click the handy link to Indiebound). It's a crazy fun and witty read, just the brew of the modern and the mythological I love best.

GB: You know I love the process porn and my blog's readers have not been getting a lot of that recently. So, let's start with process. Tell me about Norse Code–how was it written? Did your process change for this book, different motivations, challenges, typewriter, etc.? I also want to know how you came up with such a great title.

GVE: I like to write in coffee houses, with my laptop and a big Americano. That's pretty much my process. Other than that, it's just a matter of grinding it out. I had a 9 to 5 for about half the time I worked on the book, so I was at the coffee house before work for at least an hour a day. After I left the day job, I taught college English composition part time and did contract work, so my schedule became less structured, but I try to treat writing as much like a day job as I can.

Norse Code was written on the skeletons of two short stories. The first, "Wolves Till the World Goes Down," (in Starlight 3) is about what the gods do when Ragnarok arrives. The second story, which I never finished, was about a valkyrie who works for a genomics firm. Her job is to track down blood descendants of Odin and recruit them to serve in Odin's army. For the longest time, the book was called "Greg's Damn Norse Novel," so I needed a real title before sending it out. I'd had a lot of suggestions from friends: Valhalla Boulevard, A Norse is a Norse of Course of Course, A World Tree Grows in Reseda … My friends are special. I settled on Norse Code, which was the working title of the unfinished short story, at the last minute. I'm not sure I made the right choice.

GB: You did! It's a great title. So, what attracts you to Norse mythology? It does seem like a way underused mythos. What were the strangest things you found out while researching?

GVE: What Norse mythology has going for it is Ragnarok, and I love the idea of Ragnarok because INorsecode  grew up in Los Angeles, which is sort of a natural disaster in progress. Some of my earliest memories involve earthquakes, the house next door burning down and singeing our place, a gas main explosion during recess near my elementary school, stuff like that. And the thing that makes Ragnarok really interesting is that some gods know exactly how they're going to die, some gods know they're destined to survive and preside over the re-booted universe, and some gods aren't mentioned in the Ragnarok prophecy at all and have no idea what's going to happen to them. Right there, you've got all these questions about predestiny and free will and making the most of your numbered days. These are very human issues, which means the gods and the mortals in my book are dealing with the same stuff.

I have to admit, I'm not a great researcher. I do just enough to get by. With Norse mythology, however, the primary sources are limited, short, and readable. What I failed to find in my research was an analog for Beta Ray Bill, from the Walt Simonson issues of The Mighty Thor. I would have loved to have gotten Beta Ray Bill in there, but it would have been shoe horning.

GB: You also write excellent short stories and have for years. Do you approach a story differently than a novel? Or is every piece its own different thing? I know you write a lot in coffee shops–is caffeine your secret?

GVE: Aw, thanks for saying that nice thing you just said about my short stories! I usually don't have very much to go on when I start a story: a bit of an idea, maybe some language. Then I sketch in some parts, a scene here, a passage there, and just keep adding to it until I've got a beginning, something like a middle, and an end. When I've got that, I go back and sculpt it into something that has a proper shape, with a character arc and rising tension and a resolution. I can't work the same way with novels. Those little bits I'd be sketching in would be too far apart from one another, and the connective tissue would be stretched too thin. So for novels, I need a much more developed vision. Honestly, I'd love to get to a point where writing novels is more like writing short stories, and I can be more relaxed and spontaneous. I've written dozens of short stories and only three novels so far, so maybe I'll get there.

And, yes, caffeine is essential. When coffee beans go extinct, there will be no more stories from me.

GB: What are you working on now/what's next?

GVE: I've got a middle-grade contemporary fantasy being shopped around right now, and I've got a good chunk written of a contemporary fantasy for adults based on my short story, "The Osteomancer's Son," which is about a California run by masters of osteomancy, or bone magic. Imagine an Eastern herbal medicine, based on consuming exotic animal parts, with the addition of Pleistocene megafauna and extinct hippogriffs and unicorns and such. It would be so groovy if both books sold, because I'd love to have a career in both categories, and also I could use some money.

GB: Tell me what you've been reading/watching/listening to lately that you'd like to pimp? (OR, alternately, what you've been hating on.)

GVE: I've maintained a lifelong interest in comics, but lately the bug has bitten me big. The Immortal Iron Fist (Brubaker/Fraction/Aja) stands out as a recent favorite. And Kazu Kibuishi's one-page Copper stories are sublime ( Most of the prose fiction I'm reading these days comes from my friends. T.A. Pratt's Spell Games is a terrifically fun book with a breath-taking ending, and Magic Thief: Lost by Sa rah Prineas is a terrific read with a great cast of characters that expands, complicates, and improves upon the first volume in the series. I've got some really talented friends.

Visit today's other SBBT sites (links to come):

And a quick reminder that the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys to build a library for boys incarcerated in the LA County Juvenile Justice System is still going on.

3 thoughts on “SBBT Stop: Greg van Eekhout”

  1. Glad to discover Greg and his blog through this interview! I think it’s cool that he blogs about writing + his drinks and snacks while writing.
    Your questions were great Gwenda!

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