This week’s #SPFBO Author Interview is with Daniel E. Olsen.
Daniel is a Danish writer holding a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature. When not searching for inspiration in musty tomes, he travels around Europe looking for castles to explore and calling it research. His first novel, The Eagle’s Flight, is available for free on his site, which also includes extensive background information on the setting of his stories. Other than writing fiction, he also writes a blog discussing literary theory, usually as it pertains to fantasy, and is currently writing a blog series discussing the image of the hero in Western society, from mythology and up to modern times. Follow him on Facebook to be updated on new blog posts.
What drew you to self-publishing?
I wanted the freedom of controlling the creative process from start to finish. Thanks to my background in Comparative Literature, I have some experience with the publishing industry and a large network that I knew I could rely on, effectively acting as editors for my book, but leaving me in charge nonetheless. I also wanted to make my book free as an e-book, and I knew no publishing house would be interested in that. It was important to me to make this project about the book entirely, though, and never about the money.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Perhaps as a sign of hubris, I am trying to do both. My books are very long, in part because each is divided into what I call chronicles. Each chronicle is to some extent a self-contained story set in one or more specific realms, but it has ties to the others and shares characters with them. Also, events in one realm may trigger consequences in others. This way, I try to give the reader the joy of reading a story from start to finish several times within the same book, but I still tell a larger, over-arching story.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was about 16, I was entertaining a group of small kids as a part of community outreach. These kids were full of energy, constantly running and shouting and playing as you expect. We took a small break from activities to feed them, and meanwhile, I told them a fairy-tale. I chose one that my father used to tell me, which I always found funny and engaging. For 10 minutes, these kids sat entirely silent and made not the tiniest noise; they were so caught up in the story, they barely breathed. The moment that I said, “The end,” it was as if releasing a spell that had paralysed them. They leapt up and ran in every direction, back to playing as before. I remember vividly the discovery of how telling a story could capture someone’s attention so completely, and I have often used this trick since on nephews and nieces when I want them to be silent and sit still.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
My fantasy setting is somewhat typical being medieval in nature, but I do extensive historical research on pretty much everything to add as much detail and realism. I am always reading historical works before, during, and after writing, because anything might be useful. As an example, I once read an article about the exact workings of a trebuchet, and it inspired me to include a story about a siege engineer inventing the trebuchet in my world, and the ramifications that this new siege weapon would have on the existing power balances in the realm.
Apart from historical research, I also delve a lot into cultural research. What we consider standard, European medieval fantasy is very much based on medieval France, and I do have that present in my setting. Being Scandinavian, however, I also focus on Norse culture as inspiration for my world, and I have furthermore included Greek, Persian, and Arabic cultures. All of these require extensive research to represent societies, characters, speech, etc. in an accurate manner that makes their inclusion more than just a gimmick and presents my world as a realistic setting full of cultures – just like Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa was in the medieval ages.
How do you select the names of your characters?
That is another type of heavy research. With each character, I determine their origin in my world, and which language group that makes them belong to. English is an amalgam of languages with Norse, French, Greek, Latin, and many other influences, and to make my English-speaking world a realistic representation of that, I give all those languages a presence somewhere. I have also decided the history of tribal migration and the like as the backstory for the world, determining language shifts, cultural dominance, etc. Thus, a nobleman may have a Germanic name that is spelled in a French manner, simulating how the Germanic-inspired tribes in my world dominated the Romanic-inspired tribes, becoming the upper class of that society. A servant from that same place would have a proper French-inspired name, on the other hand.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I do, usually requiring historical or esoteric knowledge. For instance, one character at one point purchases mistletoe, ostensibly to be used for a ritual. Due to the course of the story, we never return to this mistletoe, and it isn’t mentioned again. A friend of mine, who is a sharp reader, figured it out, however. Mistletoe is extremely poisonous, and so my friend realised that the character was planning on poisoning someone, but the story just never progressed in that direction for that to happen.
If the etymology allows for it, I also on the rare occasion name a character with a reference in mind. For instance, a bard in one story is named Troy, presumably named after his birthplace, the city of Tricaster. However, his character is also an homage to Chrétien de Troyes, the French poet who arguably had the biggest influence on the spread of the Arthurian legends and is the creator of Lancelot and the Holy Grail. Another example is in the book I am currently writing, where I will include a knight with African-inspired origin named Sir Maurice, based loosely on the historical Saint Maurice.
To learn more about Daniel check out his website: