I wrote NORTHWORLD because Beth Fleisher, a wonderful editor, told me as I rose after we'd had breakfast at a convention that if I ever wanted to do something for a larger house than Baen Books, she at Ace would like to see it.
I sat down again. we--my wife, son, and I--had just gotten back from Iceland. I had an idea for a very complex series Of SF novels using Norse myth as their basis. I told Beth that, and added that I wanted $100,000 for the trilogy. (I'd gotten $22.SK when I last wrote a contract, but that had been some time earlier and my books were doing well.)
Beth said, "Let me be clear on this: you'll do all three books for a hundred thousand dollars, not a hundred thousand per book?" I agreed that those were my terms, but added that while a turn-down was fine, I would get very angry if Ace made a lowball counteroffer. (see my comments on The Forlorn Hope.)
Beth came back in two days with agreement in principle. I didn't think the Archangel Gabriel could've gotten the Ace bureaucracy to move that fast. (I said above that Beth was wonderful. she still is, but I regret that she's no longer editing.)
I then got down to plotting what I knew was the most complicated book of my life, as well as the work that would determine my career as a writer. I wrote reams of notes (as I always do), but the pieces didn't fit together the way they usually did. I got very depressed.
Then I had my teeth checked; learned in the midst of getting a crown that one tooth was cracked straight down through the roots and had to come out entirely; and when it did, immediately found my brain worked again. I'd been in constant low-level pain for about six months. I wasn't consciously aware of it, but it had short-circuited the higher reaches of my mind where the plotting took place.
While I was writing Northworld, Beth called to ask what the book was about because they needed to put a cover on it. I sent her a scene of people dueling in powered personal armor. Beth called back in a week. "We had a cover conference on your book," she said. "We're going to put a tank on the cover. Is there a tank in the book?"
I told her that there would be, now that I'd been told about the cover. And there is.
I made what I thought was a pointless change from my normal procedure by adding a short afterward to Northworld. For years my friends Jim Baen and Mark Van Name had been urging me to do that, telling people the literary and historical background of the work. I regarded this as silly: the story was the story, good or bad; and no better or worse because it had a background in history, classical literature, or (here) Norse myth. But I did it anyway, because Jim and Mark are very smart and unquestionably have my best interests at heart.
Lo and behold, all the reviews of Northworld noted the intricate play of Norse myth in the novel. well, yes; I'd precised the Elder Edda, the Prose Edda, and the Volsungensaga before I even started to plot. But I always work that way: I'd outlined all of Procopius' works save for The Buildings before I started plotting my first novel, The Dragon Lord. The only difference with Northworld was that I told the reviewers what I'd done; and, being told, they were able to see what I in my innocence had thought was obvious.
Live and learn. I frequently write explanatory essays now. I'm extremely proud of the three Northworld books (Northworld, Vengeance, and Justice; reprinted in one volume as The Northworld Trilogy by Baen Books). They aren't gentle works, because they catch the feel of a world of ice and fire; but they're some of my best writing. The viewpoint character, Nils Hansen, is a highly emotional man who doesn't let emotion or anything else get in the way of what he sees as his job. I found it easy to identify with a man like that.