Death, Beauty, and Samantha MacLeod
My friend, the very talented Samantha MacLeod, has a brand new book out, and I’m excited to share it (and her) with you. Using primarily Norse mythology as a backdrop, Sam writes breathtakingly lyrical stories that breathe new and unexpected life into the old gods and the mortals who cross their paths.
Sam was a great sport and let me interview her, so settle in and take a moment to get to know her a little better.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Right now, Tuesdays and Thursdays are my “work” days. I teach for a few hours in the morning, then try to finish up my grading, and then head to my office (a local Portland coffee shop) for smut writing! I’m with my toddler the other weekdays, which means I can sometimes squeeze in a few hours of writing (if he deigns to nap), and I usually try to spend my weekends outside.
Do you have any collections?
Do books count? 😉
I have way too many books of every genre, and I’m especially pleased with my small collection of antique and vintage cookbooks. My absolute fave is Helen Gurney Brown’s 1969 Single Girls Cookbook: How to Stir up a Little Seduction in the Kitchen, which has got to be the most entertaining cookbook ever published.
Do you have any hobbies?
Yes, too many hobbies! In addition to writing, I’m a gardener, I fish, hike, and camp, and I occasionally build furniture. I also bake a lot of cakes. Sometimes I even stir up some seduction in the kitchen… 😉
Do you have any bad habits?
Of course not! *wink, wink*
City or country?
I’ve done both, and I’ll side with the country. I like trees more than people.
Coffee or tea?
I never drank coffee until I was 26, in graduate school, and working in a coffee shop. Now I’m coffee in the morning, herbal tea in the afternoon.
Morning or night person?
As much as I hate to admit it, morning. Yes, this makes me officially boring.
Get things done early or procrastinate?
Hand in hand with being a boring morning person, I do tend to get things done ahead of time. The things that I remember, anyway… I’m 37, and I still have to pull the occasional all-nighter.
Introvert or extravert?
Introvert. Nine times out of ten, I’d rather hang out with trees.
What do you like best about writing?
In his fantastic book On Writing, Stephen King describes stories as found things, and he compares writing a story to discovering something hidden, like unearthing a fossil. That’s how writing is for me. I love that sense of, “Oh! So this is what happens next!”
What do you like least?
The paycheck! Ha! *sob, sob*
Do you have a day job in addition to writing?
Why yes, I’ve got several. I’m a part-time philosophy professor, a part-time reading and writing instructor for immigrants in Portland, Maine, and a part-time stay-at-home mom. Oh yeah, and a part-time writer…
What was your favorite childhood book?
Maybe it’s not exactly a childhood book, but I was obsessed with Clan of the Cave Bear in grade school. I dressed as Ayla for Halloween when I was ten (I wrapped myself in towels and carried a baby doll on my back).
Death and Beauty is another foray into Norse mythology for you. What is it about the Norse Pantheon that draws you back again and again?
I swear I did not set out to become obsessed with Norse mythology!
In part, the Norse myths draw me in so much because there’s so much empty space. We only have two surviving texts about the Norse pantheon, and they’re barely more than outlines; they cover what happened, but there’s almost no character development. Neil Gaiman, in the forward to his recent book Norse Mythology, says it’s almost as if the only surviving record of the Greek myths were the stories of Hercules and Theseus.
So, we’ve still got all the intimate details of Greek mythology. We know Zeus and Hera were unhappily married; we know Aphrodite cheated on Hephaestus. But we don’t have those details for the Norse myths. We know Loki had a wife named Sigyn, but that’s all. How did they end up together? Were they happy? Did they love each other?
It’s those blank spaces that keep pulling me back to the Norse myths!
What do you like best about Baldr?
Baldr, in my story and in the myths, is the guy who has it all. He’s Baldr the Beautiful, the son of the All-father Odin, and he’s also invulnerable. Beloved, beautiful, and impervious to harm…what could possibly go wrong?
In my story, Baldr is a respected diplomat, one of the most important figures in Asgard. But he was never given a choice. He serves his father Odin because he has to, not because he wants to. And he has to die before he can begin to ask himself what kind of a life he really wants.
What do you like best about Hel?
Hel is such an interesting character!
The daughter of the equally interesting trickster god Loki, she has absolute dominion over an entire realm; I’d argue she’s one of, perhaps even the, most powerful female figure in Norse mythology.
Of course, the myths don’t say anything other than, “Loki’s daughter Hel rules Niflhel,” so she’s also a blank space. How does she feel about ruling the dead? Why is she there? And why didn’t she return Baldr the Beautiful to the land of the living?
Those are the questions that drove me to write this story…
What other characters in your story are you especially fond of? Why?
Well, my very favorite Norse god Loki does make an appearance, and he’s much younger than the Loki we meet in The Trickster’s Lover. It was interesting to revisit a character from a different perspective, and at a very different point in his life.
Thor also makes a brief appearance in this story, which surprised me. I think he’s got more to say in the future.
What’s up next for you?
Finishing my next novel!
I’ve got yet another Norse mythology inspired novel in the works. This one is about Loki’s son Vali, who was turned into a wolf when Loki was imprisoned beneath the earth and then vanished completely from the mythology. In my novel he meets Karen McDonald, a wildlife biologist in Yellowstone National Park who’s trying to bury her own traumatic past.
I don’t want to make any commitments, but I’m hoping to have that novel out in the fall(ish)…
Now, let’s check out Death and Beauty.
Baldr the Beautiful is dead.
Desperate to get back to his privileged role as Óðinn’s favorite son, Baldr strikes a bargain with Hel, the terrifying half living and half skeletal queen of the realm of the dead. He offers her the only thing he’s got: knowledge from the living world. Hel gives him three days. If he can teach her something new, she will return him to the realms of the living.
But the icy Hel seems completely impervious to Baldr’s charms. What’s worse, she already knows everything. By the end of the third day, Baldr realizes he’s only got one chance left to impress her.
Returning to his former life looks like it’s going to depend on Baldr the Beautiful seducing the most formidable woman in the Nine Realms.
The branch trembled, making the delicate green leaves and white flower clusters dance. A single petal shook free to sail across the bright blue sky. It was so beautiful, caught in the golden light of late afternoon. I couldn’t understand why someone was crying.
The flower petal tumbled through the sky, heedless of the voices below. I liked it. I liked it all, the bright sky, the white flowers, the audacious little green leaves. I tried to turn and follow the petal through the sky, but my neck wasn’t quite working. It didn’t matter anyway. Soon the brave little petal would be swallowed by the blackness creeping into my vision, turning the sky into a little, shrinking circle, growing farther and farther away, until it was entirely gone—
Darkness. Darkness and voices, a soft rush of motion. Then something harsh and acrid, like battlefield smoke, stung my nostrils, and my head spun. I tried to open my eyes.
“What happened?” I moaned.
Someone clucked above me. “Don’t move just yet, my boy.”
The voice sounded old and only mildly sympathetic. I ignored it, pushing myself up to sitting. My head throbbed and my stomach surged, making me gag. Soft hands grabbed my arm, dragging me back to the bed. Her grip felt weak, but I didn’t have the strength to resist.
“Where am I?” I whispered, once my stomach stopped roiling.
“You’re dead, dearie.”
I shook my head, making the room spin. “No. That’s not possible.”
She clucked again. My eyes were adjusting to the gloom, and I could just make out a hunched figure tending to a fire. “Oh, that’s what they all say.”
“No, you don’t understand. I’m—”
“Baldr the Beautiful,” she said. “Óðinn’s favorite son. Yes, yes, we know all about you here.”
“But I can’t die. My mother is Frigg. She traveled the Nine Realms, and everything she found—”
“Promised not to harm you. I know. I heard all about it.”
The old woman turned and gave me a sympathetic, tired smile. She looked like a nice woman, but of course you never can tell. “But your mother couldn’t possibly have gotten a promise from every single thing.”
She hobbled a bit closer to the bed, her arms outstretched with a rough wooden bowl in her hands. “Drink this, dearie. It’ll help.”
I tried to push myself up to sitting. Again, my head and stomach revolted, throbbing and churning. The old woman chuckled sympathetically.
“It takes some getting used to, being dead,” she said. “Tell you what, Baldr the Beautiful. Why don’t we talk about the last thing you remember, hmmm?”
Born and raised in Colorado, Samantha MacLeod has lived in every time zone in the US, and London. She has a bachelor’s degree from Colby College and an M.A. from the University of Chicago; yes, the U. of C. really is where fun comes to die.
Samantha lives with her husband and two small children in the woods of southern Maine. When she’s not shoveling snow or writing steamy sex scenes, Samantha can be found teaching college composition and philosophy to undergraduates who have no idea she leads a double life as an erotica author.