I had the chance to interview Ari Bach, author of the Valhalla series. He has a near infamous blog on Tumblr, facts-i-just-made-up where he posts, as you might expect, ‘facts’ that he just made up. His books have exploded in popularity recently so I wanted to talk to him about them and about his experience as a writer.
Valhalla takes place in a futuristic Scotland filled with people who have brain implants and other enhancements and where war is obsolete. It is a fast paced and sometimes graphically violent rampage through adventure, mystery and legend.
AB: The writing process was as slow as the book is fast. It took almost 20 years from inception to the release of the final book. I tend not to force myself to write on any schedule if it can be avoided, I just add material as it occurs to me, bits at a time. So writer’s block isn’t a problem, but speed is nonexistent.
JC: There is incredible diversity within the cast – do you think this is something fantasy and science fiction needs to do more of? How did you approach issues of representation of marginalised groups?
AB: I think sci-fi is probably the most diverse genre because its authors are trying to move forward with social issues more than most genres. But any genre can use more. My approach to marginalized groups was to simply include them without making a big deal of it. Most books I’ve seen with gay leads are about being gay and that turns it into their defining characteristic. In reality, any person of any group is a human being above all, so my approach is to treat them, especially in a future where homosexuality is a non-issue, like people first and to leave the elements that would be marginalized today as background, or at most as just another one of many traits that make them who they are.
JC: Valhalla introduces us to a dystopian Scotland of the future. What drew you to this kind of setting?
AB: I don’t consider it dystopian, really, just warmer, as it likely will be in 200 years. But Scotland itself attracted me to Scotland. I visited in 2005 and immediately upon coming home moved my stories there. It was for the landscape and the accents, especially the accents. I could set the book anywhere but Violet had to be Scottish, she had to have that voice. And Kyle of Lochalsh was just stunning, so it became her home, and Eilean Donan castle stuck out, so she had to be a MacRae.
JC: How long have you been writing? Can you remember some of your early stories and did any of them lead into Valhalla?
AB: A few references to my early stuff are in there, I began with grade school assignments and moved into scripts (Valhalla was a screenplay before it was a novel) by high school. The first full story I ever wrote was called “The Castle In The Volcano” and it was pretty free-form surrealism (which is natural for 10 year olds). Most of that story ended up in my webcomic, The Snail Factory.
JC: What has been your favourite part about writing? What drives you to keep writing and gets you through writer’s block?
AB: Writing itself is just fun. If I have writer’s block I put the story aside and work on something else. I only work when inspired to so it’s rarely an issue. But my new favorite part is interacting with readers. Valhalla attracts people who are somewhat like me at heart, so I’ve met more friends in the last years than I ever had before. I’m inundated with awesome, like-minded people now. All are so much fun to talk to and get to know. A lot of them seem scared to write in. If anyone is reading this but they’re afraid to write to me because they think I’m too busy or egotistically bloated, I’m not. I love to hear from everyone and answer questions and just get to meet people!
JC: Your main protagonist, Violet, isn’t your usual protagonist and she breaks a lot of tropes. What sort of tropes and clichés do you think YA needs to move away from?
AB: The reluctant, morally superior hero. Harry Potter is great but I’m sick of people like him leading the books I read. Heroes are only one subset of possible characters and they’re not the most interesting. Beyond that, the reluctant hero is only one kind of one kind of character, and they’re often the most meek and uninteresting. Beyond that, the morally superior reluctant hero is just offensive. I’m sick of every damn novel and movie ever made being about the good guy. Even in terms of heroism, the heroes in reality are often abusive short-tempered jerks who mistreat those they care for even when they try to be good. So Violet is basically the exact opposite of Katniss Everdeen, and even Vibeke is closer to Patrick Bateman than Harry Potter. People in reality are all deeply flawed and those flaws are a hundred times more interesting and moving to read about than these blanks we’re given by book after book after book. If I’ve accomplished nothing else, I’ve at least made a trilogy about the people you don’t get to read about in most YA novels.
AB: It’s the epic instalment that the other books exist for. When I wrote the original script, there was no Valhalla in it. That entire book is the backstory. The story was from Ragnarök to the end of Guðsríki with the end of Ragnarök as the beginning of the final act. So Guðsríki is that final climax, start to finish. Every bit of it is the core of why I wrote this whole series, and the climax of it, which is literally the last three words of the novel, is the pinnacle of everything. If you liked the first two books that’s cool, but they’re nothing compared to what’s coming. They were all set up for this, this is the real thing.
Thanks for talking to us!
Ari’s books are available on all the usual book-buying sites as well as the publisher’s own website.