Friday Features: On Growth, The Journey, And Ragnarok
By Genevieve Gornichec
One thing I always say to fellow writers who want to pursue traditional publishing is that, whether you’re drafting, editing, querying, or out on submission, everything will happen in your own time. In my case, I chose to sit on my debut novel for seven years before trying to get it published; at the time of its US release this past February, it’s been just about ten years since I wrote the first draft.
The reason is that I never thought The Witch’s Heart—a reimagining of Norse mythology centering the giantess Angrboda, mother of three peculiar children by the god Loki—would be my debut. It seemed like a part of my soul; more so than anything else I’d ever written, and I wanted to keep it close. But after querying two other manuscripts for five years and amassing hundreds of rejections, I worked up the courage to finally put it out there and, against all odds, it paid off.
In retrospect, I’m glad things happened the way they did. Had I chosen to try getting The Witch’s Heart published sooner, it may have ended up a completely different book, because I was a completely different person.
As a writer, you’ve probably found this mirrored in your own work. You look back on things you’ve written over the course of your life and find that they heavily reflect the time in which you wrote them. Sometimes, for better or worse, your old writing transports you back to that time, and you suddenly realise how different you were back then and how far you’ve come.
This is especially true for me with The Witch’s Heart. Part I of the book has remained largely unchanged since 2011, when I was a university student writing in my dorm room, trying to imagine what it would be like to be an ancient giantess with three unique children and an absent trickster for a husband.
Meanwhile, Parts II & III, which make up the last third of TWH, have been completely rewritten—twice—in the past two years. In fact, my contract with Penguin Random House was conditional upon that rewrite, which was a true act of faith on their part. My editor loved the book but was not a fan of the way I’d ended it, and she was convinced I could come up with a more satisfying conclusion for readers without compromising my source material.
Without spoiling anything, Norse mythology ends in a literal apocalypse: Ragnarok. How do you make ‘everyone dies at the end’ into even a remotely satisfying ending? And how do you give your characters agency when their fates are predetermined?
I had a lot to think about in order to answer these questions. For starters, I’d written the first draft, and all revisions up to that point, with the sole goal of making a story that could theoretically fit into the background of the myths as we know them. We know very little about Angrboda, except that she has three children with Loki and then they get taken away by the gods because of the roles they’ll play in Ragnarok.
In those original drafts, Angrboda just gives up in the end. I had planned to include her story in another series I was working on (and have since shelved), because I didn’t know what else to do with her. What can you do when your main character loses everything, with seemingly no hope of getting it back?
Unfortunately, ‘She just gave up. The End.’ wouldn’t fly in a standalone novel. In rewriting the ending, I had to find the heart of Angrboda’s story, had to make her struggles mean something and give her back her power.
To do that, I had to push her out of her comfort zone, by pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I had to explore all my options—her options—and the key to it all ended up being her greatest antagonist: a certain one-eyed god who has never been particularly forthcoming with his motivations (as anyone who’s read or written Odin probably knows).
In the end, Angrboda’s struggle to reforge her identity over and over again is not something I could have pulled off ten years ago. As a writer, I was simply not ready. And, hey—one or ten or thirty years from now, I’ll probably look at The Witch’s Heart and say, “I could have done so much better now that I know x, y, and z.” But it’s out there, and I can’t change it; I can only accept it and continue to improve and do the best I can do in the moment.
Because that’s the nature of both our craft and life in general. Whether you’re drafting, editing, querying, or doing all three on different projects, your time will come when you’re ready, no matter how old you are. The fact that we’re always growing and changing is reflected in our work. And while it’s always OK to look back at where you’ve been, don’t let it stop you from moving forward and finding the heart of your own story.
Connect with Genevieve at genevievegornichec.com
The Witch’s Heart is available to pre-order on Amazon, release date 4th May 2021.
‘The Myth, Legend & Lore Podcast’ will be having a special episode in April with author Genevieve Gornichec & The Witch’s Heart. Catch up with the podcast here: mythlegendlore.podbean.com
One thing I always say to fellow writers who want to pursue traditional publishing is that, whether you’re drafting, editing, querying, or out on submission, everything will happen in your own time.