Resistance Reading: An Introduction

library-425730_640When I was in my 20s, I read extensively about Germany in WWII. I was seriously dating a Jewish man, and seriously considering converting to Judaism. At the same time, I was reckoning with my vaguely Germanic family background. My obsessions (now bearing fruit as a trilogy of long novels) are in Germanic history and myth, the same myth twisted by the Nazi party for its own imagery.

The question, the obsession, the object of my search, was how could they do it? Would I, asked to do what German soldiers, SS officers, ordinary people, or highly placed officials, do what they had done, or would I resist? I didn’t know. It’s easy to tell yourself you would, but you don’t know until you’re in the situation. So I read widely, vast numbers of books about genocide and its perpetrators. About Nazi doctors, and SS officers, about ordinary Germans, and resistance fighters. I learned that after the war, many said that they had feared being killed if they resisted, but I also learned about many who refused orders, and were only transferred to a different unit. Resisting did not carry the penalty that many feared it did. Denmark, conquered, discovered this, and saved their Jews, going almost unpunished as they did so.

Masha Gessen, a reporter in Putin’s Russia for many years, made a list of how to deal with encroaching fascism, authoritarianism, whatever you want to call it, and one of the items on the list is, “Don’t obey in advance.” Require them to make their threats, loudly, where everyone can hear.

I hope that all of us who fear that the election of Trump is the beginning of the end of the American experiment, and the rise of an authoritarian superpower are overreacting. I hope that people can laugh at us in four, eight, twenty years. I want to be wrong with all my heart.

But I don’t want that hope to blind me to what is really happening. To mistake the desire for things to be okay with them actually being okay.

When Trump was elected, I was despondent, for reasons both selfish and, hopefully, not. I’ve never wanted to find out what I would do in extreme circumstances, if I had to choose between my life and what I believe is right. Or even between my comfort and my beliefs. I wanted to be an author, and maybe teach creative writing. Or go back to working at a tech company if I couldn’t sustain myself with writing–but no matter what, to enjoy the fruits of privilege, to vote and give to charity sometimes, to sign petitions against injustice, and maybe sometimes go to protests. To read political news and get angry, but rarely do more than that.

When Trump was elected, I realized that not only could I not do that in the future, but that I shouldn’t have been doing that in the past. That I am incredibly lucky to be able to ignore the problems that grind other people down, take their lives, their livelihoods, see them facing horrific injustices, and only engage on my own schedule.

I didn’t want to think about putting my body between police and Muslims. Or being put on a list of dissidents. Or having to flee, or help others flee. I still don’t. I want to prevent us from getting there.

In researching my novels, I learned that vikings believed that the day of a person’s death was ordained, but between birth and death, they had a good deal of free will. But if you’re going into battle, you may as well fight bravely. If it is your day to die, then you will die bravely. If it is not your day to die, then you will gain honor and glory for fighting bravely. Easy to say, hard to do.

Every culture tries to grapple with death in its own way. In the affluent west, for us lucky, privileged few, we don’t have to think about it very often. Trump’s election has given me, and many others, a glimpse of a chaotic future, a preview of life asking us questions we don’t want to have to answer, and fear that we may not answer bravely.

Masha Gessen also says that one of the advantages we have over the Jews in the ghettos, who did not know if it was better to collaborate somewhat with their Nazi captors, to provide lists that today determine who will be fed, and tomorrow determine who will be killed, or to resist, is that we have history to draw from. We know what has been tried and what has worked or failed to work. If we look, we can see the signs, the patterns of history being written again in our present times, and we can choose a different path. Authoritarianism thrives on making accomplices, and whithers without them.

In the coming years, I will be reading books of the resistance, books of history and philosophy that teach us how to resist, how to hope, how to have moral courage, books that tell us what has worked and what has failed. This is in addition to doing daily, weekly, and monthly actions, because my antidote to despair is doing–not just reading and writing, but turning that reading and writing into action.

My first book, which I just finished reading, is Hope In the Dark by Rebecca Solnit, and it has indeed given me hope, which I hope to pass onto you in my next post.

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Draken Harald Harfagre Part 2

As soon as I got home from touring the Draken Harald Harfagre, I wanted to find a book to tell me all about it, and I found this beautiful volume available from The Wooden Boat Store. The book is about the building of the ship, from examining the archaeological evidence, to finding the trees to build the ship, to the sail, the ropes, the carvings, and the modern conveniences like radar and a motor that make it a little less of a risk to sail.

The book is in both Norwegian and English, and full of beautiful full-page pictures of the process of building the ship. It is put together in the “clinker-built” style of 19th century boats. It’s called “clinker” because hundreds of nails are used, and then the ends of the nails are hammered by hand which makes a clink noise until they are pounded round by the hammer’s blow. It takes approximately 100 blows on each nail.

The Draken Harald Harfagre is the first modern viking ship built by ship-builders instead of archaeologists. Viking ships that have been unearthed often have curved keels, but it’s possible that the keels warped after being under ground for over a thousand years. After doing tests with small mock-ups, the builders discovered that a straight keel performed better.

The sail is made of silk, which is lighter than the wool that most viking ships would have used. In the Viking Age, silk would have had to be imported at enormous cost, but it was not unknown for a king’s ship to have a silk sail. The Draken Harald Harfagre uses hemp rope, which is not historically accurate, but the two materials used for rope in the Viking Age, lime bast (bark from a lime tree) and seal skin, were not practical or humane.

Perhaps my favorite anecdote was from tree selection. They cut down a tree from a Danish forest, cured it and began sawing it, and found a musket-ball in it from the Napoleonic war! It’s such an amazing palimpsest of history, and also gives an idea of how old the trees that went into ships were.

The ship has many “knees”, which are single pieces of wood with a right angle bend in them, that secure the sides of the ship to the bottom. I should have realized this by looking at them, but was very interested to learn that all of those knees are carved from a section of root where it meets the trunk, and they have to find just the right angle. The knees are extremely strong and heavy.

Sourcing the timber was a challenge–many of the best trees were found in Germany, not Norway, since Germany has done a better job with its forestry over the centuries. The builders worked with German forest rangers to select trees that were not so old they were protected by law, and also whose removal would not threaten the forest’s ecology.

The book is a bit of an investment, but totally worth it to me! Not only are the construction techniques interesting, but the personalities of the team that built it emerges, and they are all charming.

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Draken Harald Harfagre Part 1

The author, wearing a very appropriate shirt to tour the Draken Harald Harfagre. #vikings #vikingship #drakenharaldhårfagre

A photo posted by Linnea Hartsuyker (@linneaharts) on

In September, the replica Viking Ship Draken Harald Harfager came to Manhattan. I went out to meet it when it came in, and later got to walk around the deck. The Draken Harald Harfager is a re-creation of a viking war ship (“draken”), and was the first re-creation made and designed by traditional boat-builders rather than archaeologists.

The crew on board all had interesting things to say about what it was like to crew the ship. Many were from Norway and other Scandinavian countries, but a few were from the US and other countries. I learned that it took all hands to raise the sail and took twenty minutes, for without pulleys, the crew have very little mechanical advantage. The sail, which was silk, plus the yard, weigh over 2 tons.

Here are pictures from my tour of the deck. As soon as I got home I bought the official book about the making of the Draken Harald Harfager, which was fascinating, and which I will review in more detail in my next post later in the week.

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Comfort Reading: College Novels

I love it when novels invite me into a group of interesting people and let me feel like one of them, a member of a clique of interesting, elegant, off-beat people. Sometimes it’s people with a secret, as the groups in Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, The Witching Hour by Anne Rice, and even Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. In the case of the novels below, it’s being in college together. I read all of these for the first time in high school, and even after my own college experience was nothing like any of these, I have still re-read each of the books below more times than I can count, finding comfort in these ivory towers.

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

Tam Lin (which I first read in an edition with a  gorgeous cover by Thomas Canty) is a retelling of the folktale/ballad of Tam Lin, but set in a small liberal arts college in Minnesota in the 1970s. Our heroine, Janet, is the daughter of a Classics professor, and ends up friends with an odd, interesting, difficult group of people, who she eventually discovers are more than what they seem. The book takes a long time to get there, though, and for me, most of the pleasure is hanging out with the group of people, who discuss literature and poetry and theater all the time, and if they must discuss any of the sciences, they always have an apt quote from a literary giant (or Gilbert and Sullivan) to express their frustration. But beware the Classics department…

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Really beware the Classics department at Camden College, in Donna Tartt’s first novel. This is a psychological novel about a group of Classics students at a small Vermont liberal arts college in the 1980s who murder one of their classmates on the very first page. Over the next 500 pages, the reader learns why they killed him and, in my case, grows sympathizes with them, even while finding them monstrous. The clique in this novel is so seductive and our narrator so hungry for acceptance, it is clear why he ends up going along with and participating in the murder, and that leaves the reader feeling horribly, deliciously complicit.

Fool on the Hill by Matt Ruff

It’s impossible to describe this novel, set at Cornell in the 1980s, set among every landmark I know so well from growing up in Ithaca and then going to Cornell University. There is a writer who can do magic, a muse, a Tolkein fraternity, a motley assortment of knights on horses and motorcycles, sprites invisible to the human eye, a dragon, a dog searching for heaven with a world-weary cat who helps him, and finally a war that takes place on planes both ridiculous and deadly serious. I wanted to be one of the Bohemians when I first read this book in high school, and though Risley did not want to let in an Engineering student (single tear), I believe I am a Bohemian now.

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Three Pieces of Good Book News

It’s honestly very hard for me to get excited even about good book news right now. I’m feeling very grim about the future of both the US and the planet, but life does go on, and hopelessness is dangerous. So here are some pieces of good news for The Half-Drowned King.


The Half-Drowned King is available for pre-order on, due to be released August 1, 2017.



The Half-Drowned King and its sequels will be published in:

United States and Canada by HarperCollins

Germany by Ullstein

Spain by Salamandra

Italy by Giunti

France by Presses de la Cite

United Kingdom by Little, Brown

And now I can add Netherlands by Luitingh Sijthof! (The Dutch contract is for the first book, with the sequels if it does well. So if you know any Dutch people, urge them to buy it next year!)



The other news is my German cover, which I think is wonderful.


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Make a Difference Friday

I am scared and sad. If you don’t understand why, or you think it’s sour grapes, please read this–the author said the why better than I could. And this. We are scared and sad for a reason. We feel as though half the country has voted to take rights away from the other half. And while individual voters have been saying that is not why they voted for Trump, that is what he promised.

Something I’ve decided to do is take a least 2 hours once a week, to engage in some online activism and letter-writing. I’m documenting that in case anyone else wants to do similar things. My work will be organized around a few things:

  • I believe that a lot of the press mainstreamed or ignored Trump’s bigotry and racism, and blew Clinton’s minor mistake with the email server out of all proportion. I want to encourage the press to do a better job.
  • White people especially need to call out racism where we see it, and let people know it’s not okay, that we do not want it done in our name. It proliferates when people think it is okay.
  • We need to protect those who will be most harmed by the policies that have been promised by Trump: disabled people who may lose ACA coverage, LGBT+ people who will face greater discrimination, black people who will face violent policing, Muslims who will be harassed or barred from the US, Latina/os who will be deported. We need to stand up against those policies.

I also plan to do in-person activism in NYC. If you’d like to join me, please request to join this Facebook group.

I’ve started a separate blog to record what I’m doing, so after today this will not be on my main book news/writing blog. If you’d like to use my letters and ideas, please do. Here are my activities today:

  1. Join and donate to ACLU
  2. Subscribe to the Washington Post–support some of the best journalism from this election
  3. Help Foster Cambell in a run-off election in Louisiana for a Senate seat that could flip the Senate to the Democrats.
  4. Electoral college petition and letter
  5. Voice my support for the Right To Know Act that mandates police accountability in civilian interactions.
  6. Sign up for Our100.
  7. Ask president Obama to immediately appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court
  8. Put on a safety pin to show solidarity.
  9. Sign an Open Letter from American Jews

…I realize how little this is. I realize I’m doing this to fend off my sense of helplessness and despair. I accept if that is all it is, because even one more day of not giving in to helplessness and despair is some kind of victory.

For all the details and links, please visit my new Making A Difference blog.


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Announcing the US Cover for The Half-Drowned King

The crown will be in gold foil.

One of the things people always ask about book publishing is how much say I get in the cover, and the answer is that I don’t get much, but I didn’t want much. I appreciate good design, but I’m not a visual artist. When people asked me about the cover, I always said I just hoped it didn’t involve a woman clinging to the ankle of a bare-chested viking warrior–but I’d be happy with that if my publisher really thought it would get the book into the hands of readers who would like it. I maybe pictured the prow of a viking ship, maybe with some misty figures. I never pictured something as beautiful as what HarperCollins did above.

I was consulted quite a bit in the development of the cover. We considered adding more viking imagery (knot work, an arm ring, etc.) but eventually decided on this, with the clear symbolism of the crown, and I love it.

There will be different covers from all of my overseas publishers, so I will share those when they are available. But here is what you will hopefully see in Barnes and Nobles, airport bookstores, people’s hands on the subway…and it has my name on it!

Here’s the full cover jacket.
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Andre Dubus III Master Class on Character

One of the perqs of being an alumna of the NYU Creative Writing MFA program is invitations to the master classes given by visiting writers in the afternoons during the school year. When I was working full time, I didn’t take advantage of any of them, but yesterday I attended my first, a master class on “Writing With Character” led by Andre Dubus III, writer of The House of Sand and Fog and Townie among other excellent books. He was an extremely generous speaker, making a point to learn all of our names and appreciate the little bits of writing and personality that the attendees could share in a 2-hour session. The session itself was inspirational, and I agreed with a lot of what he had to say, though I am also going to quibble with it a bit.

The purpose of the workshop was to talk about writing character, which is one of the hardest parts of writing fiction, and the most rewarding for a writer and a reader. People have said that there are only a few basic plots, but it’s characters that give books and stories their infinite variety. I don’t entirely agree with that, but I do believe that in the best literature, the plots seem to arise inevitably out of how the very specific characters act and react to the situations they are in, and in so doing create new situations.

He had us do three writing exercises during the class:

  1. Describe 10 people who are close to you, using only the sense of smell.
  2. Pick 5 of those people and describe how they are illuminated–the lights that shine on them.
  3. Pick 3 of those people and describe the sounds around them.

I picked several people, but the one I am most pleased with is my mom:

My mother’s sweat smells the same as mine.

Her sewing machine–with a long arm for quilting–has a light in it that shines white on her hands as she works. Outside, the overcast sky reflects on the lake, sending cool gray light in through the window.

With her is always the sound of small machines–the sewing machine, of course. Mixer, bread-maker. The fan of the convection oven. Before she retired: the centrifuge, the agitation bath, the inhale of the fume hood, the exhale of the sterile hood, and in the background the clicking of the Geiger counter I used to pretend was a microphone when I visited her in the lab.

(My mom will tell you that her sewing machine is not a long-arm. And probably also that she mostly used a sterile hood, not a fume hood.)

One of the interesting things about writing characters in historical fiction is how few of the signifiers that you find in my paragraphs above about my mom, are available to me. In this modern world, we make hundreds of choices about what to wear and how to spend our time that illustrate who we are. Those choices are extremely different in a historical setting, and have different meanings. In some ways that means painting with broader strokes. In some ways, that means putting my characters in more extreme situations where we can see their characters emerge from how they react to battle, death, illness. It also requires showing what signifiers mean in my historical context: the choice of sword, spindle, arm-bands should mean more to you after you read my novels than it did before.

Andre talked about how authors, including himself, have taken images like the above, followed them, expanded them, until a story grows from them. He talked about the growth of The House of Sand and Fog from following one of the main characters through her morning. He talked about the difference between “imagining” and “making stuff up”, where imagining is following an image, expanding it to all sense, seeing it, exploring it, going where it leads. And making stuff up is forcing it, making it happen.

He was also opposed to outlining, which he thought was part of working mechanically, rather than letting go.

I think the way he talked about discovery and imagining is a wonderful way of thinking about that dream state of creation. I have some stories and ideas that have evolved from one image like that. In the case of The Half-Drowned King and its sequels, I knew I wanted to write about Harald Fairhair and the founding of Norway, but it wasn’t until I realized he wasn’t my main character, but instead that was his right hand man Ragnvald, and saw a pivotal scene between them in my mind, how fraught it was and everything it meant to them, that I could begin writing this trilogy.

That scene won’t even happen until the third book. I’ve worked backward from history and character and imagination into the characters who we meet in the beginning of The Half-Drowned King. So I think that image exploration can go backward and forwards.

I also do believe in outlining, but as a tool, a map, a guide for the imagination. I still imagine and explore and record what I see there. I outline at the beginning when I am imagining too fast to write the novel’s prose. I outline when I’m stuck, to create more of the map that lets me imagine further. In the case of historical fiction, I am working with various battles and events that have to happen, but those helped me create the characters that I continually imagine and explore. But the outline is never more important than the novel’s truth.

Andre also talked about an author needing a good bullshit detector for their own work, an ability to know when something is wrong or not truthful. I think it comes in many different forms, but one of the ways I know mine is going off is when I’m not interested in a part of the story. That means it’s not truthful or it doesn’t belong. Another way is when every time I think about or read a part of my novel I feel a slight discomfort, and that usually means I’ve taken the easy way out, rather than, again, being truthful.

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Halloween Book Recommendations

I have a bit more time to make blog posts in this period between novels. I’m going to outline the sequel to The Sea Queen and then make some plans for researching other novels. But I’m taking this week mostly off. While I was working on The Sea Queen, I was working every day, including weekends, so it’s going to be nice to take a little break, catch up on some reading. And since Halloween is in a couple days, here are some scary, creepy, and horror novels I highly recommend.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

No one can beat Shirley Jackson for psychological horror. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of a wealthy family in a small town that, at the outset of the novel, only has three members remaining because, six years ago, all the others were poisoned. The novel is narrated by the younger daughter, who lives in a strange world of her own, full of rituals she uses to hold the outside world at bay. I don’t want to say too much for those who haven’t read it, but this is one of the best examples of an unreliable narrator I’ve ever encountered.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I’m a total wimp about horror movies, so I’ve never seen any of the many movie versions made of this novel. I don’t know how they could live up to the psychological terror of the novel, though. It is a deceptively simple story of a group of people going to explore a haunted house, and how the house works on their perceptions. The strength of the novel is in how well-drawn, and rather horrible, all the characters are. While there are supernatural elements, the book left me with the feeling that these people would have created their own doom without a haunted house to help them along.

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

This is one of my favorite novels of 2016. This is a series of linked novellas about a black family in the 1950s, dealing with racism and Lovecraftian horrors. H. P. Lovecraft was one of the fathers of modern horror, and a hideous racist. The horror of his stories often comes from a fear of the other, and of the mixing of pure blood with unpure. Ruff, along with Victor La Valle in The Ballad of Black Tom, turns Lovecraftian tropes on their head and uses them to comment on racism. The scariest moments in Lovecraft Country come from racist police officers, not supernatural threats, and that is part of the point. I recommend both this and La Valle’s book, but if I had to pick one, it would be this, because it also has a humorous rebelliousness threaded through it. I like my horror with a helping of gallows humor and absurdity.

Sabriel and sequels by Garth Nix

Sabriel begins a series of novels about the Abhorsen and the Old Country. The Abhorsen is a necromancer who uses his or her powers to fight the dead and put them to rest. The Old Country is a country full of magic, and beset by evil necromancers and sorcerers, old elementals imperfectly bound, an order of seers who live in a glacier, and a lost dynasty of kings. It is a YA series that mixes horror and heroism, with a touch of school novels as well. I recently re-read the first three books in the series, and found them just as engaging the second time around.

The Sonja Blue Novels by Nancy A. Collins

Vampire fiction has been done to death, right? These novels, written in the late 80s, are original no matter how many vampire novels you’ve read before. They go deep into the horror aspect of vampires, which I really appreciate. Vampires have been metaphors for all kinds of societal concerns through the centuries, but I think they are at their most effective when they stand in for people who give up their humanity for power. Our heroine, Sonja Blue, is a half-human vampire, who kills other vampires, while trying to find the vampire who made her and ended her mortal life. Nancy A. Collins has developed a complete cosmology that incorporates vampires, zombies, ogres, incubi, and even seraphim. Sonja Blue’s encounters with vampires and with her own darkness are gruesome and graphic. I’ve read them several times, and I am always horrified by the violence and depths of these novels. What keeps me coming back, though, is the hope they offer. Sonja Blue’s world is dark but not irredeemable, and even her worst monsters have glimmers of humanity.

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My Second Novel!!!

Today I sent a draft of The Sea Queen to my agent. It is 193,000 words long or 650 double spaced 12pt Times New Roman pages in MS Word. I love reading long novels, so it’s not surprising I would like to write them too, but DANG. That is long.

This is a huge milestone because this is only the second novel I’ve ever finished to the point where I am willing to let someone else read it from beginning to end.

Steps so far:

  • Very rough outline
  • Write 70% of the rough draft (120,000 words)
  • Re-outline with much more detail
  • Re-write/write first draft (170,000 words)
  • Let sit for 2 weeks
  • Read quickly, make notes about overall structure
  • Do slow, detailed edit from beginning (193,000 words)
  • Do quicker read-through for typos and infelicitous sentences
  • Send to agent!

It is due July 2017 to my editor at HarperCollins. At that point it might still need a few edits but it should be mostly ready for copy-editing. The Sea Queen will probably be released in Summer 2018. My next steps, I hope:

  • Agent reads it and gives me big picture feedback
  • I make changes based on that feedback
  • Repeat these steps as necessary
  • Send to editor
  • Editor reads it and gives me big picture feedback
  • I make changes based on that feedback
  • Repeat these steps as necessary

I probably won’t get feedback on The Sea Queen for several weeks, so I’m going to take a few days off, then maybe do a rough outline of the final book, The Golden Wolf, and then maybe dive into a novel I have mostly complete that is not part of this trilogy. I don’t want to do too much work on the third book when plot aspects of book 2 may change a lot.

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