Riffle Backstory: Q&A with THE GOSPEL OF LOKI author Joanne M. Harris

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Joanne Harris's latest novel—The Gospel of Loki—is out today, and to celebrate we've got a Q&A with the author. Read through to see how she brought mythology's favorite trickster to life, who even Loki can get along with, and which color tastes like candy...

Describe your writing process—are you an outliner, or a pantser?

I generally start with a vague destination, but I’m never sure how I’m going to get there. I find I prefer to allow for some surprises along the way – if I can’t surprise myself, then it’s unlikely I’ll be able to surprise the reader.

The Gospel of Loki is the story of mythology’s most notorious trickster. How did you go about taking such a famous character and making him your own?

We all make characters our own in one way or another. What I did with Loki was to try and reclaim the humor and the subversion from a character assimilated by Christian culture and forced into the role of Lucifer. I wanted to take him out of the world of epic poetry and bring him back to where he belongs; right here, right now, in the dark chambers of the human heart.

During your writing, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you or turned out different than you expected it to?

Loki is full of surprises. Once I’d found his voice, I let him say more or less what he wanted with it – which meant that I was constantly being surprised, both by his cruelty and dismissiveness (especially to his poor wife), and by his lack of self-awareness. Loki’s clever, but he isn’t given to self-scrutiny, and there’s a lot he doesn’t know about himself and his feelings. I rather enjoyed the fact that, while his narrative is filled with untruths, he’s actually revealing all kinds of things about himself – especially in the lies he tells.

All your characters jump off the page. Is there one you’d think you’d get along with better than the others? Why?

I don’t think anyone (even Loki) fails to get on with Idun. She’s sweet and gentle, and totally forgiving, even to whose who have wronged her. Oh, and Sigyn. She bakes.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve learned while researching The Gospel of Loki?

Most of the strange things I’ve learned have to do with the old Icelandic language (which I’ve been teaching myself so that I can read the Eddas in the original). It’s always interesting to discover a language, because it tells you a lot about the culture that uses it. Old Icelandic has some marvelous words – including one that translates as “man left to die a lonely death on a small island” and “man reduced to the level of a pig through drink.” Oh, and about twenty different words for “dead.”

What authors inspire you?

Authors with an instinctive love both of words and of story. Ray Bradbury; Shirley Jackson; Mervyn Peake; Jules Verne; Vladimir Nabokov; Angela Carter; Jenny Diski.

People would be surprised to know that…

I have a form of synesthesia that means I can smell colors. Red smells of chocolate…

What is that one book that has been on your “to-read” list for a long time but you still haven't gotten around to reading?

I don’t have a to-read list. I don’t think of reading as a duty, but as a pleasure.

What’s your favorite method of procrastination?

Telling stories on Twitter.

What books do you still enjoy re-reading/would you recommend to your readers?

Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes; Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle; Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop.

  • The Gospel of Loki

  • Chocolat: A Novel (A Vianne Rocher Novel)

  • A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String

  • Icelandic Primer with Grammar, Notes and Glossary

  • Beginner's Icelandic with 2 Audio CDs (Hippocrene Beginner's)

  • The Illustrated Man

  • The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics)

  • Boy in Darkness and Other Stories

  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (Dover Thrift Editions)

  • Pale Fire

  • The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories

  • Only Human: A Divine Comedy

  • Something Wicked This Way Comes (Greentown Book 2)

  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

  • "The Magic Toyshop"