Linnea Hartsuyker // The Cagibi Express Interview

Linnea Hartsuyker can trace her family lineage back to the first king of Norway, and this inspired her to write her debut novel, The Half-Drowned King, the first book in her trilogy about the Vikings, which was published by HarperCollins in the United States and internationally in six other countries. Linnea grew up in the woods outside Ithaca, New York, studied engineering at Cornell University, and later received an MFA in creative writing from New York University.


Cagibi: Hilaire Belloc, the early twentieth century Anglo-French writer and historian, wrote, “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

Linnea Hartsuyker: ​I think I’d disagree, or disagree about there being a strong distinction between them. I like to build plenty of wandering time into my travel, since the most interesting things happen when I wander. When I wander, I try to cultivate a spirit of openness, noticing, moving without an agenda. I try to wander when I’m home as well. I like to let my interests wander, to follow obsessions—right now I am reading everything I can get my hands on about funeral traditions all over the world—and see where they lead.

Cagibi: Name some of your favorite distractions when you travel somewhere.

Hartsuyker: Books, books, and more books. The greatest thing about the digital age is being able to carry a library with me in a few ounces of plastic and silicon. Sometimes the location that I read a book changes its meaning, or makes it stick more. Reading Cruddy by Lynda Barry by a pool-deck in Belize kept its horrors from being overwhelming, but also prompted me to see the decay beneath the bright, tropical surface.

Cagibi: A cagibi, loosely interpreted, is a space such as a cubbyhole, or a space where you store things. Or the workspace in which authors write. For ourselves we’ve translated it as “any shelter, no matter how tiny, that allows for big imaginings to take shape.” Pick what kind of cagibi would be best suited for your creative process: a) a super organized cubbyhole b) a super messy tool shed c) any restricted space d) a space as vast as the universe.

Hartsuyker: Physically I prefer an organized cubbyhole, although I also like it to have a vastness within view. If the body cannot wander, since typing while wandering is challenging, a good view gives the mind a chance to wander.​

Cagibi: Please explain your choice in previous question—we are dying to understand your creative process.

Hartsuyker: ​Metaphorically, the super messy toolshed is where I work. I begin to write after I have filled my toolshed with tools: outlines, brainstorms, research, character notes, but then I put them aside, and write knowing they are all there, and will come to my hand when I need them.

Cagibi: How does traveling to a new place influence your writing? In what ways do you incorporate travel experiences into your writing?

Hartsuyker: I do some travel with a research purpose, and some with only the desire to be in a new place. Either way, the physical memories of the place, the feel of the place, serve as new footing when I write. I have seen or imagined things when traveling that are still patiently waiting for their turn to show up in my work.

Cagibi: Do you use your work as an excuse to travel?

Hartsuyker: ​Whenever possible! Writing historical fiction gives me excellent excuses for research travel, but since I plan to incorporate experiences and images gathered while traveling into fantastical fiction in the future, I think I will keep using that excuse forever.

Cagibi: Do you use travel as an excuse to not work?

Hartsuyker: I have trouble working when I travel, but I tell myself it’s not an excuse, it’s because my work thrives within a certain amount of routine. I can work while I travel, but it is distracted, poor work. I am better off storing up my thoughts, feelings, and memories while I travel, and letting them out when I can sit still again.

Cagibi: Did you ever have to hide in order to write? Where, and how long did you stay in there?

Hartsuyker: ​When I first started to write seriously, I could have no one else in my apartment when I wrote. The endeavor felt so fraught and fragile that anything could spoil the magic. As I gained experience and confidence, I was able to write in the same apartment as another human, as long as they were in a different room, and then finally could share a space and still escape into the writing. Now I can mostly write without hiding—the only exception is when I’m sitting next to a stranger on a flight. That is still too close for comfort.

About Linnea Hartsuyker’s The Half-Drowned King

Linnea Hartsuyker’s debut novel, The Half-Drowned King, has just been released in paperback. It was an Indie Next and a Barnes & Noble Discover pick, and was named the best historical fiction book of 2017 by the American Library Association. From the publisher:

The Half Drowned King book cover 250w.jpgAn exhilarating saga of the Vikings that conjures a brutal, superstitious, and thrilling ninth-century world and the birth of a kingdom—the debut installment in a historical literary trilogy that combines the bold imagination and sweeping narrative power of Game of Thrones, Vikings, and Outlander.

Centuries ago, in a blood-soaked land ruled by legendary gods and warring men, a prophecy foretold of a high king who would come to reign over all of the north. . . .

Ragnvald Eysteinsson, the son and grandson of kings, grew up believing that he would one day take his dead father’s place as chief of his family’s lands. But, sailing home from a raiding trip to Ireland, the young warrior is betrayed and left for dead by men in the pay of his greedy stepfather, Olaf. Rescued by a fisherman, Ragnvald is determined to have revenge for his stepfather’s betrayal, claim his birthright and the woman he loves, and rescue his beloved sister Svanhild. Opportunity may lie with Harald of Vestfold, the strong young Norse warrior rumored to be the prophesied king. Ragnvald pledges his sword to King Harald, a choice that will hold enormous consequence in the years to come.

While Ragnvald’s duty is to fight—and even die—for his honor, Svanhild must make an advantageous marriage, though her adventurous spirit yearns to see the world. Her stepfather, Olaf, has arranged a husband for her—a hard old man she neither loves nor desires. When the chance to escape Olaf’s cruelty comes at the hands of her brother’s arch rival, the shrewd young woman is forced to make a heartbreaking choice: family or freedom.

Set in a mystical and violent world defined by honor, loyalty, deceit, passion, and courage, The Half-Drowned King is an electrifying adventure that breathtakingly illuminates the Viking world and the birth of Scandinavia.

Appears In

Issue 2

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