Publishing a book comes along with a whirlwind of interviews and blog posts, so I thought I would compile an easy-to-read, condensed version as sort of a lightning round of FAQs.
20 questions. Short answers. Let’s get started!
What was the inspiration for The Last Shadow Warrior?
This is a question that I think can be answered in lots of different ways, which is good because it’s also naturally the most frequent question that authors are asked. But at its core, I’d have to say my main inspiration was the story of Beowulf. I first read it a long time ago, but when I picked up a copy of The Lightning Thief much more recently, the gears really started turning in my brain and eventually became my pitch for the book: Percy Jackson meets Beowulf.
Do you need to have read Beowulf to follow your story?
Nope. I mean, those familiar with the story will likely have some moments like, “Oh, I see what he did there,” but no knowledge of the original story is necessary.
How did you choose the book’s setting?
Minnesota has the largest concentration of people of Scandinavian descent in the U.S. (nearly ⅓!), so it felt like a natural setting for a story packed with Vikings and Norse mythology. And the mysterious private school that Abby attends there has the name “Vale Hall” as a nod to Norse mythology.
And your main character Abby Beckett is one of those Vikings, right?
Yes, she’s descended from a line of Viking warriors known as the Aesir who are a sort of ancient secret society charged with protecting humanity against these monsters called Grendels. Except she hasn’t figured out yet what her special abilities are, or even if she’s got any at all.
That word “Aesir” comes up a lot in the book. How do you pronounce it exactly?
I’ve heard it different ways, but I like Neil Gaiman’s pronunciation that basically sounds like a combination of the words ACE + EAR. My website SamSubity.com actually has a pronunciation guide for this and other Norse words that kids might not be familiar with. Another they’ll see a lot is “knattleikr” (kin-attle-eye-kur) which is a sport that Abby plays.
And knattleikr is a real sport, right?
Totally. The Vikings used to play it over a thousand years ago and there are a few enthusiast clubs still today that attempt to recreate the game, but we don’t really have any historical descriptions of how it was played or the equipment used. So, like me, they made up their own rules.
It sounds like you included a lot of real history in the book. Are there any other examples?
Absolutely! I compiled a “Fact vs Fiction” guide for teachers on my website to help kids identify the historical stuff in the story. In fact, one of my characters, Grimsby, is named after a small town in England that was settled by Vikings.
That reminds me: You’ve mentioned that you like to include easter eggs throughout your stories. Is there a favorite that you can share?
I do think it’s fun to include little things that maybe just your family and friends will get. About halfway through TLSW, Abby visits Vale’s library which is named “F.J. Feola Library” after a great friend of mine who passed away from cancer several years ago. He always wanted to write his own book, so I thought putting him in one was the next best thing.
You also mention a lot of other books and authors in your story from Shakespeare to Dr. Seuss. Were you always a big reader?
Definitely. I read anything and everything when I was growing up. In third grade, I read around 100 books in a month and won the grand prize for my class which was to meet McGruff the Crime Dog.
McGruff the…Crime Dog?
He took a bite out of crime. It was mostly an 80’s thing.
Anyway, I imagine you probably wrote a lot too?
I did write a lot of short stories and fan fiction of my favorites like The Hobbit. But the authors I read as a kid from Tolkien to Beverly Cleary seemed like almost mythical figures, so I didn’t imagine I could actually ever be one. Then as I got older, my creative outlet took a detour into inventing toys and games before I started writing seriously again around five years ago.
Inventing toys and games sounds like fun. Can you share any that you’ve created?
It was a ton of fun, but I could rattle on about it for hours, and this is supposed to be a quick FAQs, so…back to books?
Sure, okay, what has been your favorite part of being a debut author so far?
Definitely connecting with kids. I love to see them inspired to read and even write their own stories after encountering mine. After one virtual class visit, one of the girls wrote me afterward to say that she had a question but was too shy to ask in class. That would have totally been me at that age. So for those shy, quiet kids, I want to encourage them to find their means of self-expression, whether it’s writing, art, or something else entirely.
Is that why writing for kids appeals to you?
For sure. And I love the hope that’s inherent in the stories. Also the fun. I mean, in what other category can you put a Ping-Pong playing sea monster in a book and your readers don’t even blink?
And you’ve probably had some odd questions from kids, right?
Yeah, you really have to be ready for anything when you’re talking with kids. One wanted to know what I had for lunch. That led to a discussion on the merits of carnitas vs. carne asada tacos. It was random but really fun!
So what did you have for lunch?
Leftover lasagna, which happens to be my favorite food. Not the leftover version specifically. Like, well, you get what I mean.
I guess even authors have trouble with words sometimes. But speaking of food, you do have a lot of it in the book…
Maybe I was hungry from all those long writing sprints. But I think kids like to read about food too. So I have some authentic Scandinavian dishes like lutefisk (think fish Jell-O) and aebleskivers (powdered, jam-filled doughnut holes) as well as a Viking Slurpee machine nicknamed Slurpus Maximus that offers some, well, unique flavors.
What do you hope kids get out of The Last Shadow Warrior?
Hopefully they find it to be a fun ride, and at a deeper level, one of the central themes is around Abby feeling like she’s constantly trying and failing to live up to everyone’s expectations, including her own. But by the end she learns that there are lots of different ways to define a hero, and I hope her story helps kids find the hero in themselves too.
Do you only write middle grade?
The first kids’ book manuscripts I wrote were actually picture books and chapter books. My first one came from an incident where my toddler sneezed in my face when I was taking his picture. People ask me sometimes where my ideas come from, and in that case the idea literally hit me in the face. I still have the picture of him in mid-sneeze, and the manuscript which I titled “How Do You Achoo?” So maybe I’ll see my name on a picture book eventually too. But…most likely not that one.
What’s been your least favorite part of being a debut author?
Honestly, all the self-promotion. I’d much rather talk about all the other wonderful books from my debut author group The 21ders than my own. But I so appreciate all the people who are still reading this interview at this point and who already have or plan to read The Last Shadow Warrior.
What’s next for you?
In Beowulf there are essentially three “bad guys,” so my original concept had TLSW as the first book in a trilogy that mirrors the original saga. So I’m hoping for the chance to write the second (and third) books if enough readers connect with the story.
You can find Sam online at SamSubity.com and on Twitter or Instagram at @sjsubity, and his debut novel The Last Shadow Warrior (Scholastic Press) in bookstores everywhere on May 4.