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  • Amy Shannon

Author Showcase: Garth Pettersen

Q: In three words, describe yourself.

A: Energetic, sociable, self-critical

Q: How many books have you written? How many of those are published?

A: Three and three

Q: Do you have an upcoming release? If yes, tell me the title and impending release date.

A: My latest book, The Cold Hearth, has just been released—April 22, 2020.

Q: Tell me about how you come up with your titles for your stories. Do you create the title before or after you write the book, and does it ever change from the initial title?

A: I start with a working title and sometimes change it later to see if another title fits better—like a new hat, maybe. I also make a list of names as I think of them. For my series, The Atheling Chronicles, I scanned Beowulf and other early Anglo-Saxon works. That's where I found The Swan's Road. I think I found The Cold Hearth there, too, though I started with A Hearth Long Cold. My publisher suggested I shorten it so the title contained three words like the other two books in the series. I love working on titles, and naming characters, but that's another subject.

Q: Out of all your characters in all of your books, who/what (sometimes a setting can also be an important “character”) do you think is the most interesting and why?

A: I was going to say Harald, my protagonist, because he is caught between forces pushing him toward the crown and what he wants for himself and Selia, his wife, but I think some of the female characters are just as interesting.

Queen Emma was married to Æthelred the Unready and bore him two sons. But she is now Cnute's queen, married to give him legitimacy with the Saxons. Emma made Cnute agree to make their male offspring heir to the throne. Enter Harthacnute. Emma is as conniving and politically motivated as any of the figures of the time, including Earl Godwin, the king-maker. To Emma, Harald is a threat to her son's (sons') ambitions.

Ælfgifu of Northantone (Northampton), Harald's mother, is another politically ambitious woman. As Cnute's handfasted (not church married) wife, she bore him two sons, Sweyn and Harald. Although the king put her aside to marry Emma, she still has influence (perhaps sexual) with Cnute. Her aspirations for her sons exceed her caring for them, and in Harald's case, far exceed his own goals.

And then there is Godgifu, remembered in history as Lady Godiva. She is the saintly wife and mother, as devoted to her husband, Earl Leofric, as to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Q: Without quoting your back cover blurb, tell me about the last book you published.

A: So, The Cold Hearth is about Harald--second son of King Cnute—and his wife, Selia, as they attempt to settle in the English Midlands. They rebuild a hall and farm where a Danish family had been slaughtered years before. The neighbour, Erral Bordanson is suspected of the crime. While they worry about him, word comes that someone is attempting to kill the three sons of Cnute. Is it the nature of the times, or are Harald and Selia destined to be always on their guard?

Q: Quote your favorite line from one of your stories. Indicate the line, and then the book title.

A: Sometimes lines do strike me as memorable or at least apt. I have a few favourites from The Cold Hearth:

  • The best plans often come late to battle.

  • "Buried secrets rot, but their putrid stench lasts a lifetime."

· Her touch was gentle, as if she reached across the gap between the dead and the living.

· I had little defence against Selia's anger except my own, and no defence at all when she spoke the truth.

One from The Swan's Road:

· "The road is a master teacher if one has eyes to see and ears to hear."

And one from The Dane Law:

· "It is a short space God gives us and few men get to follow paths of their choosing."

Q: Tell me something about yourself that is separate from writing.

A: I ride horses and fall trees.

Q: Who are your top THREE favorite authors?

A: Rene Denfeld, Mark Helprin, and Patrick Rothfuss

Q: What is the last book that you read? (Not counting anything you wrote)

A: Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb

Q: When writing, do you have a system or something you plan, or do you just write?

A: I am a pantser—someone who writes by the seat of their pants. That said, I get an idea, create a main character, wind him/her up and watch where they go.

Q: Why do you write?

A: I write because I enjoy it. That said, I regularly resist getting down to it. I think that's because the critical part of the brain (my brain, anyway) is different from the creative part. And the critical part regularly criticizes my writing. It's kind of like being possessed.

I also write because I find meaning in defining myself as a writer. It is something I have wanted to be ever since I won an essay contest when I was eleven. If I were not a writer, I don't know what I would be. That's a question for reflection: does a person need to define themselves as something? Would I be happy calling myself I retired teacher, even though I am?

Q: Do you currently have a WIP? If yes, what’s the title, and is it part of a series or standalone?

A: I am almost finished a standalone novel called Any Man's Death. It started as a writing exercise and morphed into something greater. Set in the early 19th century, it follows the trials and travails of a South Sea islander who seeks knowledge and understanding (original title: The Islander, but there are other books with that title).

Q: Do you read your own work a lot? If so, what does it do for you?

A: I re-read when I revise. There are always things to change. Finally, you have to let it go and hope no one finds what you missed.

Q: I play music when I write, and depending on the setting or mood of the story depends on what I listen to. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what genre or artist/band do you listen to?

A: I can't play anything I can sing along to—too distracting for me. Sometimes I'll put on some Celtic fiddle music for a while, but usually I don't play music when I write. When I'm reading over lunch, I have classical music in the background.

Q: As an author, I find that the hardest thing to write (for me) is the blurb that will be on the back cover or book’s description. When you write, what is the hardest line to write, the first line, the last line or the synopsis for the book?

A: That's an interesting question. I think the blurb is difficult, because it is more of a clinical process than a creative one. You have to synthesize, present, and hook, which is very different from storytelling. I am basically a storyteller.

Q: If you could sit down and have a coffee (or your favorite beverage) with anyone, living or dead, from any era, any time, who would it be and why? (You can pick up to 3 persons).

A: There is so little known about Harald Harefoot, I would really like to know if he was half as decent as I make him out to be. Queen Emma made him out to be inconsequential and inept in the history she had written after his death.

Other memorable people I would like to talk to over coffee? Theodore Roosevelt, Pierre Radisson, my Norwegian grandfather who died in the 1930s—a whaler, sailmaker, Klondike gold miner.

Q: What does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

A: That keeps changing. At first it was to be published. Now it is to sell lots of books and have print editions published. Ultimately, maybe success would be recognition from the best writers. To have someone ask Margaret Atwood what she is currently reading, and have her reply, "Garth Pettersen's new book!"

Q: What do you want to accomplish, so when you look back at your life, you can say “I did that”?

A: I am at an age now where I do look back. There was a time when my life was extremely bleak. I'm still amazed that I got the train back on the tracks. I have a good marriage, a beautiful home and acreage in British Columbia's Fraser Valley, and three grown sons that I'm proud of. And I have fulfilled my dream of being a published author. There is so much to be thankful for.

Q: Any final thoughts that you want to give to your fans or even future authors?

A: I'd like my fans (I have fans?) to know I have no plans to stop writing. To future authors I would say:

· have fun exploring the world of words

· don't listen to the inner critic

· be attentive to the story ideas; see them and grab them as they go by (Stephen King)

· find the rhythm in a well-crafted sentence

· learn the craft of writing

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