When I first set out to write Spirit of Orn, I did it out of spite.
I took a science fiction in literature class at UCSB. That's where it all started. The class was great, in it's own right, a Valhalla of the English department where jaded trekkies could congeal into one gelatinous mass of nerdom. It was also a shooting gallery for many of the standard tropes of other literature departments like religion, psychology, and most of the Romanticism department. There was a subtle, begrudging esteem for the Early Modern Lit department, but that was pushing it.
When I took the class though, being Christian, I was pissed off by the continual critique of religious expression, which always seemed geared towards Western religions, especially mainstream Christianity. (You never read books written by well read Atheists with garages filled with axes to grind, that focus on the wholesale moralistic enslavement and perpetuation of poverty in the East through Hinduism or Buddhism.) Anyways, I set out then for the final project to write a short story about Atheism, and ridicule strong rationalism as a farce.
It was shit.
I wasn't proud of what I wrote, but what I didn't realize was that I started what would become Spirit of Orn. What was meant to be a critique was soon conceived as meta-reflection of finding identity in the American Christian subculture. After it became that, the rest followed quite fluidly.
Building the setting of Spirit of Orn was challenging. I had to find a way to make it American Christianity in the expression of subcultures, but Norwegian in the historical culture. In order to build this story I had to read Norwegian history and discover the subtle nuances that made Norwegians think the way they did. I read about the history of the Christian church in Norway, as well. Did you know that Scandinavia most readily accepted Christianity because the pagan cultures already there were on the precipice of developing more mature expressions of spirituality that the older shamanistic traditions could no longer satisfy? I also discovered that the transition between Medieval Catholicism to Protestantism was nearly seamless. For hundreds of years the people of the North were already expressing themselves in ways that did not reflect Catholic expressions of faith. Strategically worthless (at the time), there was no need for the papacy to micromanage the Kingdoms occupying Scandinavia. I found it fascinating so much so that I read the old histories and legends like Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda.
Jeg selv lært hvor til å snakke norsk!
All these things considered, learning the cultural history of the region was imperative to building my universe. Maybe that can be today's first lesson. In order to write about a foreign, distant place, you have to go there. I didn't have a couple thousand dollars, so naturally I used Google maps and tons of books to help paint me a picture. It was tedious and difficult, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. That's the joy of writing books. You just have to go and see.