Q&A with author Mike Vasich, writer of “Loki”

I’m very selective with the books I read, and far more selective with the books I recommend, but after thoroughly enjoying LOKI (read review here), by Mike Vasich, I can’t stop talking and thinking about the epic battle scenes in this book. So much so, that I wanted to get to know the man behind the mighty pen. Author Mike Vasich—he’s also an English teacher in Michigan—was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule and answer a few questions, where he let us inside his world and gave us a glimpse
behind the magic.

  • I’m always curious what drives an author to write the books they choose to write. What was it about Norse Mythology, and in particular about this character, Loki, that made you want to write about that world and more specifically about this character?
    I have always loved mythology and comic books. My introduction to them was reading the Thor comic books, and I thought Thor was just great. I really wanted a hammer like that! Now I have several, by the way. When I got older, I picked up a great retelling of the Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland, and I devoured the stories. When I became a teacher, I incorporated those myths into a Norse myth unit in my class, and I’ve been teaching it for about ten years or so. What I like about the Norse myths are the bleakness of the landscape and the fatalistic attitude of the gods. Their world kind of sucked, but they didn’t complain about it. Instead, they continued to strive for the best, whether that be in battle, drinking, or life in general. I think they virtually define the term ‘heroic’, and I like to compare them with the the Greek gods in the following way: the Greeks gods are like Superman. They’re invincible, immortal, and can’t really be harmed. The Norse gods are like Batman. They can–and do–die, but they go out and fight anyway. Heroism requires the chance of defeat, and there really isn’t one for Superman. Batman—well, he’s just a dude in a cape (who keeps a small boy in a cave). He risks his life every night when he goes out.
    Since I’ve been teaching the myths, I’ve grown attached to the character of Loki. He definitely gets the dirty end of the stick in some of the myths, and the other gods treat him poorly, even when he helps them. Eventually, he turns on them, but there isn’t a satisfying reason for why. I imagined that the character got sick of being treated like garbage despite his service to Asgard, and the narrative really took off from there.  I also really like the fights. Norse myths have lots of fights.
  • What was your favorite part of the book to write?
    Do you have a favorite scene?

    Sigyn holds a bow over Loki's head in an attempt to keep the venom from dripping on him

    There are several scenes in the book that I really enjoyed writing. The first scene, where the snake is dripping venom on Loki, is one of them. That was actually the first part of the book I wrote. I loved the image of this character getting tortured, and having the reader wonder why it was happening. In that scene, Ragnarok is about to be set loose, but after that the narrative shifts back in time, and half the book is learning how he got there in the first place.
    I liked the scenes with Freyja, as well. They were different to write because I had to get into the head of this female sex goddess, but one who is also a badass. For instance, I loved the scene where she was getting ogled by the dwarfs and then she snaps one of their necks. She epitomizes beauty and danger to me, and also a kind of callous arrogance. She, like the other gods, are all flawed, which I find to be fascinating in a character.
    I would say the final battles were also great fun to write. The whole book came together at that point—all the loose strands mostly tying up in the facing off of the enemies. I had a great mental picture of those final battles, and I took perverse joy in killing off so many characters in such brutal, yet heroic, ways. I think the gods themselves would’ve liked the way I knocked them off.

  • Is there a favorite line?
    My favorite line has to be “Meandering tributaries of putrescence crossed her face“, or something like that. It’s when Loki meets Hel in Niflheim. I’m no poet, but that seemed like a very poetical line to me. I like big words, especially when they fit the scene really well.
  • As you know, I was brought to the book after watching the film Thor, so the extent of my Norse Mythology knowledge is that one Marvel film (and now your book). With that said, how much of the book is based on actual Norse mythology? Were there certain areas that needed to be filled in? Did you find that you needed to add characters?
    The narrative follows the actual myths very closely. I used the myths to structure the story, which meant I had to pick which myths to use and which ones to exclude. Unlike a novel, myths are only really loosely connected, so some really good myths had to be left out. For instance, most of Thor’s myths were left out because he was not really as integral to the story. That was tough because I love the Thor character, and he’s the most known of the gods, but it wasn’t his story.There are differences, of course. I wanted the novel to be more ‘contemporary,’ so I had to make some changes. In the myths, the gods do things that don’t really make sense from a contemporary, realistic sense, and so I had to alter scenes so they fit in better. For instance, Balder is killed in the myths when his blind brother is tricked by Loki into throwing a mistletoe dart at him. That didn’t work for me because 1) mistletoe is pretty flimsy, and 2) Hod is a minor character who I didn’t really use, so it didn’t make sense to have such a big event with such a minor character. Besides, the thrust of that scene is that he is killed by Loki—Hod is simply his tool. I changed it so that Loki kills him directly via a mistletoe-ish poison, and I think that made his actions more nasty and sinister.
    Another example of a difference was with the Einherjar, Odin’s warriors. In the myths, they are lifted from the battlefield and taken to Valhalla. They fight all day and party all night, and those that fall rise the next day to do it again. In my story, they become zombie-like creatures. I reasoned that when they rose, they were not healed of their injuries perse. So if they lost a limb, they rose without a limb. It made them more ghoulish and creepy, and by extension, made Odin more of an ambiguous figure since they are his warriors.
    The only characters I added were the few mortal Asgardians who interacted with the gods. I needed them to move the plot along here and there, like when Tyr is fighting his retainers. I also wanted to give the reader the sense that Asgard was filled with people and not just the gods. Since there are a limited number of gods—like 12, I think—I obviously had to add more characters. I did, however, pull their names from actual Viking sagas, so they are accurate as far as I know.
  • Now, tell me a bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
    Well, I’m a middle school English teacher, so writing is kind of second nature, I guess. I got semi-serious about writing in college, and I ended up publishing three short stories in small circulation magazines. I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but I was intimidated by the length and commitment. I had started several novels before, but they always fizzled, and I wondered if I’d ever actually do it. I remember telling a friend when I was in my late thirties that my goal was to have a novel written by the time I was forty. That deadline creeped up on me, and by the time I was 39, I started on it. Ten months later, I had the rough draft finished, to my surprise.
  • What kind of a writer do you consider yourself to be?
    I jokingly tell people I’m a lazy writer, but I think the truth of it is that I’m a bit perfectionist in that area. And this is NOT a good thing. My main problem has been that I want to be able to do it perfectly the first time around, and when I can’t, I tend to get discouraged. Because I expect it to be perfect, I’m sometimes so frozen with indecision that I can’t even begin. I stare at an empty screen or do chores around the house in an effort to avoid writing. I have had to work very hard to change that tendency, but I’m not always successful.When I do get going, I can sometimes get into a flow. Usually, it’s when I consciously tell myself to just write whatever down; so long as I am creating words, more words will come. I have had to realize that most of what I initially write is going to be crap, but that within the crap there will be some good ideas that I can work with. Now that I have two novels done, I know that I can write more. That first hurdle has been surpassed, and I think it will be easier for me to write successive novels. Now, please note, that ‘easier’ doesn’t mean ‘easy.’  It’ll still be a giant pain in the ass and tons of work. But I like setting myself a challenge. Meeting that challenge is what makes me feel accomplished.
  • Do you have any favorite writers?
    I don’t know if I have a favorite writer exactly. There are lots of writers I like and whose work I admire. I know people who like to read everything that a particular author writes. I, on the other hand, like to read a sampling so that I can try authors I haven’t read before. With that in mind, here are some books/authors that really impress me: Sharon Shin, Archangel. Stunningly original and engaging world building, and characters that nearly leap off the page with their realism. Dan Simmons, Hyperion and Song of Kali. Simmons is endlessly inventive, funny, literary, suspenseful, action packed, and scary. His villain, the Shrike, is one of the best ‘monsters’ ever. Clive Barker, Weaveworld and Books of Blood. Barker is the best writer I’ve seen at making the ordinary into something magical (and usually sinister). His horror short stories made me grimace (in a good way).
  • What other works are you currently working on?
    I am currently working on a sequel to my YA novel, Sword of Lies. It is tentatively called, Sword of Truth, and is set partially in Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. I created a Japanese character that I really liked for a short story I wrote about twenty years ago, and I’ve been looking for a novel to put her into. I finally figured out how to do that with this new one. And Sword of Lies ends with an implied threat to the characters—my way to tell readers that there would be a sequel. My wife hated the idea and thought I should end it happily. I told her that I’m dark and disturbed, and that she ought to know that by now.

If you’re interested in buying LOKI or Sword of Lies by Mike Vasich, head on over to his page on Amazon.com

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