Sunday, May 10, 2015

Author Spotlight: Erin S. Riley, "Odin's Shadow" (Sons of Odin Series Book 1)

I recently had the opportunity to read and review an ARC copy of Erin S. Riley's book, "Odin's Shadow", which is the first book in her "Sons of Odin" Series.  With the second book, "A Flame Put Out" due for release in August 2015, I wanted to take the time to learn more about Erin and her phenomenal series. 

Book Title: Odin's Shadow
Book Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance, Viking Era
Book Audience: Mature Audiences due to Violence and Sexual Situations

Book Description: Selia is a girl on the verge of womanhood, frustrated by the confines of her gender and resentful of the freedom her brother boasts of. Intelligent and resourceful in a time when neither is valued in a female, she longs for an escape from her sheltered existence. Fascinated by the tales of Viking raids told by her maidservant, her hunger for independence is fed through the stories of heathen ferocity she hears at the woman’s knee.

A decision to sneak to the city’s harbor to view the Viking longships leads to an encounter with Alrik Ragnarson, a charismatic Viking warlord whose outward beauty masks a dark and tortured mind. With the knowledge that her father is about to announce her betrothal to a man she doesn’t love, Selia marries Alrik and within a day is on the longship bound for Norway and a new life.

While Selia’s relationship with her new husband grows, her friendship with his brother Ulfrik grows as well. And as Alrik’s character flaws come to light and tension mounts between the two brothers, Selia begins to have misgivings about her hasty marriage . . . especially when a secret from the past is revealed, one that threatens to destroy them all.

What made you decide to become an Author and write a book series?
I have a very active imagination and I’ve always written stories in my head. But other than creative writing projects I did at school, I never wrote any of it down. I have an unusual ability to make up stories on the fly, so I had a lot of fun with this when my kids were little. Stories about the tooth fairy (my daughter) and Bigfoot (my son) were frequent requests on long car trips! I think I would have been a traveling storyteller if I lived in the days of old. 

I had surgery in 2010, and my surgeon told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to be still for 8 weeks. I’m not a person accustomed to being still! So I decided to write a book to keep myself occupied. The story had been written in my head for a few years by that point, so it was just a matter of getting it all written down on the computer.  The first draft of Odin’s Shadow was written in those eight weeks. 

The three books in the series are a continuation of the same storyline begun in Odin’s Shadow. After the main three books are completed, I plan to write 7-8 additional Viking books featuring other characters introduced in the first three.

Why did you choose to write a Historical Romance and what are some of the difficulties associated with the genre?
I don’t consider Odin’s Shadow to be a typical historical romance. I like to think of it as historical fiction with romantic elements. Although the relationship between the main characters is the overarching focus, there is so much more going on in the book than just romance. 

I’m a very eclectic reader, and I find I enjoy just about any genre as long as the book is well written. But I know many readers of historical romance prefer a more formulaic novel than the books I write. That’s why I market my books as both historical romance and historical fiction, so people know what they’re getting in to!

What is your favorite part of “Odin’s Shadow?”  What was the hardest part to write?
My favorite part is near the end, when Selia grows a backbone and finally decides what she wants. She tells off several people who have presumed to make decisions for her. All she’s wanted from the beginning of the book is to be her own person and not be under anyone’s thumb. It felt good for Selia to just let it out and basically tell her brother and Ulfrik to go to hell. However, being that Selia is very young and has been sheltered for most of her life, she doesn’t have the life experience to know what a good decision actually is. So, although she makes a decision for herself at the end, she will end up dealing with the ramifications of this decision for the next two books.

The hardest part to write is when I’m in Alrik’s POV. Alrik is easy to write when his behavior is described from another POV, but to actually get in his head is exhausting. Writing him feels like holding on to a time bomb.

Your main character Alrik is a dangerous Viking leader with a brutal nature.  What were some of the problems in creating such a dark character?  Where there times when you thought he was too dark?
My characters come to me fully developed, like flesh and blood people, rather than me making them up bit by bit until I get something I like. Alrik Ragnarson is dark, yes.  But that’s who he is and I can’t change him into something more palatable. He has a mental illness in an age when there was no treatment or medication, so he tries to self-medicate with alcohol and various ways of intense physical release. Many of the things he’s done are blood-chillingly awful. Yet he’s not a one-dimensional villain, either--he has some redeeming qualities, too. Selia tells him she loves the good in him more than she hates the bad. If he was all bad, the book would be so much less interesting!

Readers may argue that Selia is making the wrong choice by loving Alrik because he is a tyrant.  What do you say to readers who may question this type of complex relationship?  What drives these characters to fight for their relationship, despite all of the challenges that they must face?
My answer to that is:  remember there are two more books in this series! The story of Selia, Alrik and Ulfrik is far from over. These characters are very complex. Everyone brings “baggage” from childhood and early relationships, and my fictional characters are no exception.  Selia is eighteen years old in book one and she still has some growing up to do. She thinks she made the right choice, and she thinks she can help Alrik be a better person. She feels that she herself is as broken as Alrik is, and perhaps by loving him unconditionally she thinks she will be worthy of unconditional love in return. Those readers who have “been there, done that” in an unhealthy relationship might have a different take on her decision. But again, this is book one. There is much more to come.

Looking ahead to the next book, “A Flame Put Out,” what should your fans expect to see from their favorite characters?  What kinds of trials will they have to endure and will their relationship continue to be tested?
A Flame Put Out reveals the fallout of the decisions that were made in Odin’s Shadow. Selia will be dealing with huge ramifications of her ultimatum to Muirin. We learn a little more about what happened with their father on the day of Selia and Ainnileas’ birth. Ulfrik makes a reappearance, now in the war band of the last person you would expect to see him with. Alrik is dealt a blow that sends him deeper into the darkness. Selia is a mother now, and has her children to think of. Her relationship with Alrik sorely tested, will her desire to keep her children safe outweigh her original decision to stand by her man?

Author Biography: Erin S. Riley has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a graduate degree in clinical counseling. She is also a board certified lactation consultant and has had extensive training in maternal-child health. Since Erin was a child, she has been fascinated with human nature and what motivates behavior. Erin's books feature complicated, imperfect characters who love deeply, make reckless decisions, and try again until they get it right.

A lifelong lover of books, Erin taught herself to read at the age of four and hasn’t been without a book since. She is an equal-opportunity reader of fiction and non-fiction, and her shelves are filled with books on psychology, archeology, anthropology, and general history. The social history of women and their place in society across the ages is a favorite reading topic of Erin’s.

Erin is drawn to any creative pursuit, from making hand-stitched quilts to producing mini-movies for family and friends from home videos. But writing has always been her passion. When Erin isn't writing, she enjoys spending time with her two wonderful children, reading anything she can get her hands on, watching football, and renovating her house with her husband of 17 years. 

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