Welcome everyone! In June, I focused on the topic of tropes and adaptations, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview one of my writer friends about her area of expertise! I’ve been following Karkki’s The Shield-Maiden Saga and other WIPs over on tumblr for about two years. It’s always a blast to see the new updates and lore, so I was happy for the excuse to host a Q&A, and honored to share the results with you! Thank you Karkki for agreeing to do this! I’m super excited to share her creativity with you all today. For this interview, my parts and questions are in the headings, and their responses are everything written below.
Question 1 – First, can you tell me about yourself, how long you’ve been writing, and what you write?
Thank you so much for inviting me to be interviewed! I’m Karkki, a Finnish architecture student in my mid-twenties. Other than writing I paint, sew, pet my cat and hike. I’ve been writing since I was around ten. At first it was just scenes of my OCs (I had a whole cinematic universe of them), but the first book form story I started to write, I did around 14, I think. Nowadays I write mostly adult dark fantasy, often smashed together with various different genres 😀
Question 2 – You write a lot of stories inspired by history and mythology; how did you first get into these topics?
I had a very strong Egyptian mythology phase when I was kid, like many others it seems. I was obsessed with it and I’ve always been fascinated by history. Later, in my teens I read an article about historical research on Vikings and it rekindled my interest in history and mythology. I got one of my earliest book ideas from that too, which after many twists and turns has become a historical fantasy WIP, The Shield-Maiden Saga. I gained interest in the more recent history after watching Pride and Prejudice (1995 of course) like many others.
Question 3 – How do you go about doing research?
I start with Wikipedia. It is a hole that sucks me in and won’t let me go. But even though it doesn’t contain the most in-depth and nuanced info, it’s a great way to learn of the things you want to learn about. After I’ve found interesting things I want to learn more about, I look for articles, books and videos. Depending on what I’m writing I pay attention to the credibility of the information. For historical fiction I look for multiple sources and make sure the text has proper sources. If I’m researching for fantasy, I only really focus on what is interesting and gives me inspiration.
Question 4 – How much of the research actually goes into the stories? Do you prefer to write AUs, strict historical fiction, or historically-inspired-fantasy?
All of them actually. Well, by AU I mostly mean our universe but with fantasy elements. My WIPs include historical fantasy set in Viking Age (which I mentioned) with some grounded history and a ton of fantasy elements, high fantasy inspired mostly from Regency period, Roman Empire and Finnish mythology, high fantasy inspired mostly by Victorian Era and Republic of Venice, and my newest WIP historical fiction set in Golden Age of Piracy with some magical realism. I’d say in the end a lot of the research never, at least directly ends up in the book. With historical fiction most of it is building the world and it’s in the background but might not be directly referred to. With high fantasy it’s even less as most of it is for inspiration and therefore not included as it is.
Question 5 – Do you get the idea for the story first, and then do research around the premise, or do you get story ideas from your research? Top down or bottom up?
My writing process is very messy 😀 I usually get a very broad idea I vibe with. Then I start researching it and get a lot more ideas and the story starts to shape up as I’m researching. I sometimes also read something not related to writing and inspiration hits. With high fantasy it’s usually more top down, I research something specific I need ideas.
Question 6 – What are your favorite historical periods and mythologies?
I have always a hard time picking my favorite anything so I’ll have to mention several. My favorite historical periods are the between World Wars period, Victorian Era, Golden Age of Piracy, Italian Renaissance, Late Medieval Period, Viking Age, Classical Rome, Ancient Egypt, Edo and Meiji periods in Japan and the Warring State Period in China. For mythologies: Finnish, Sámi, Egyptian, Celtic, Japanese, Slavic and Etruscan mythology. There’s a lot more historical periods and mythologies especially outside Europe I’m really interested in, but don’t know enough yet to say if they are my favorites or not. I am in the process of learning about the things I never learned in school.
Question 7 – What are some of your favorite tropes from mythology to use in your own writing?
One of my favorites, that I can’t stop using, is the concept of spirit and or magic residing in blood. I’ve come across it or something similar at least in Norse, Finnish and Sámi mythology. In Norse myths there’s stories of drinking the blood of an animal and gaining some of their abilities. In Finnish mythology though, the magic is described to be specifically inside bones, where the blood gets created. Another related trope I enjoy a lot is magic and spirit being one and the same. In Finnish mythology humans have three souls, one of them is an elf, also known as luonto (nature) or väki. Väki means both folk and power. The elves are often referred to as “väki”, but so is magic. It’s where humans gain their magical abilities.
One last trope I’ll mention is the very common trope of natural spirits. There’s the Finnish elves and Greek nymphs and many many others. I just really love anthropomorphic nature.
Question 8 – Do you subvert any of the classic tropes that you adapt?
One thing I like to do is include evil spirits and reveal they are not that evil actually and include good spirits and show them to be more questionable. Nature can see evil sometimes in it’s hostility, but it never really is. It’s always neutral. A specific instance of a subverted trope I’ve done is how I included Tyrfing, a cursed sword from Völsung Saga into The Shield-Maiden Saga. The sword is not actually cursed, rather it has an imprisoned elf inside, who just happens to be very bloodthirsty and sadistic.
Question 9 – How do you fit magic systems into your historical elements?
I often base my magic systems at least partly on mythology. I always make sure though that the magic system never works exactly like in mythology (or the internal mythology of the world). Mythology is born to explain the world people don’t understand so it would lose a lot of cultural context, if it was an accurate description of the world. When I create my own world, I often start with a magic system and then think about what kind of mythologies different cultures would build around it and other natural phenomena. When I use real world, I start with the existing mythologies and think how the magic would really work. I often combine different mythologies and add my own spins, as I don’t want to give the impression that any one culture got it right. I also often use a softer magic system. I feel like it better conveys the feeling of how science and magic worked back then. People didn’t know how they worked, but by trial and error they found some things that worked often, but not always.
Question 10 – Do you have any advice for other writers looking to build a historical-fantasy-scifi story?
First of all, if you take inspiration from the history of a culture you are not part of, do your research extra well. And if you’re writing historical fiction, double that. Use sources by the culture, since you’ll easily get a very biased view from the sources written by outsiders. If you are planning a world of your own, I’d suggest taking a broad look at a lot of different cultures and eras even if you know what period you’ll take inspiration from. It’ll give you a feel on the ways societies and cultures shape and what things are not universal.
But the main point is to have fun with it. If you don’t like researching, no worries, there’s no rule that says your fiction has to be historically accurate. Though if you don’t already know the culture intimately this approach might not work well. At the end of the day though, there’s no rules in writing at all. Read about the things that interest you and emphasize them in your writing. It shows positively when you lean into your passions.
11 – Where can we find you and your work?
I tell about my writing progress and WIPs more or less regularly on my Tumblr blog @kittensartwriting! I’m always happy to find more like-minded writing buddies!
Thank you so much to Karkki for agreeing to be a guest on today’s post! I enjoy picking my friends’ brains with overly specific questions about certain things, so it was fascinating for me to read through all the detailed thoughtful answers with SO MANY brilliant ideas behind them. I’m thrilled to be able to share it with my readers too. If you liked reading about her process, I highly recommend checking out the rest of Karkki’s work and supporting her WIPs! You absolutely won’t regret it. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next week! 🙂