As winter time fast approaches, ’tis the perfect
excuse season to bury yourself in blankets and curl up with a good book. Just in time for the holidays for fans of Sam Hooker’s first book, The Peril in the Old Country, or admirers of Terry Pratchett, The Winter Riddle (Black Spot Books) will captivate and delight.
Set in the North Pole, Sam Hooker’s latest features an alliance between the Winter Witch and Santa. These characters are anything but how you expect them though. The Winter Witch Volgha would rather spend her time alone with her spells than get involved in any kingdom affairs. To her evil forces are just as bothersome as navigating social niceties. Santa too is not the jolly old man he is most commonly thought to be. Rather, this Santa is a veteran of the goblin wars, and has far more nuances to his personality. The two of this unlikely pair must join forces as war threatens their land to preserve their personal peace and save the rest from destruction.
A dark fantasy told in Hooker’s characteristic sharp wit and sarcastic tone, The Winter Riddle has something for everyone. Inventive swearing, Norse mythology and espionage spin a farcical holiday tale surely like none before.
For more on The Winter Riddle and its interesting assortment of characters, read our BookTrib interview with the author Sam Hooker.
BookTrib: The Winter Riddle is a mix of Norse mythology, witches, and even a fresh spin on the Christmas legend Santa Claus. How did you go about researching these different myths, and deciding which to integrate into your story?
Sam Hooker: “Research” is a very strong word. I’d try to come up with something more accurate, but I’ve thus far managed to avoid applying any accuracy to this story. I don’t go in for that sort of thing. While there are a few historical and mythological references thrown in here and there, anyone looking for accuracy will be very disappointed. Suffice it to say that I’ve based some of the characters on twists in the myths. I started with “who would live at the North Pole?” and poured a drink. Perhaps more than one.
BT: One of the aspects of The Winter Riddle that I most enjoyed was the sarcasm and the witty flippant style of writing you use. Are you half as sarcastic in real life as you are in your stories? How easily does this kind of farcical humor come to you?
SH: Absolutely not! I’m an entirely serious person, and I’ve printed my own certificate to prove it. My biggest problem isn’t coming up with farce, it’s injecting enough story along the way to separate myself from stand-up comedians. Nothing wrong with stand-up comedians, of course, it’s just that you’ve got to be a writer to pull off the leather elbow patches.
BT: The protagonist of the tale, Volgha, is the epitome of the reluctant hero. She would rather go about her days isolated outside the kingdom, puttering around with her magic than involve herself with saving the world or talking to people. Not to say she is ambivalent or flat on paper at all. I cheered Volgha on as a fellow introvert as she plotted spells to curdle the milk of pranksters and greeted each challenge with an engaging voice and downcast humor. How did you decide Volgha would be your reticent champion?
SH: Other than over-identifying with Volgha—I’m a puttering introvert myself, you know—she was the obvious choice. When I started writing, I’d been reading George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. Each chapter was told from a different character’s perspective. I tried writing the first draft of “The Winter Riddle” that way, but it just wasn’t working for me. I decided to switch to a single protagonist, and there was no question that Volgha would get the job. The bits I’d written from her perspective had the most interesting voice, and she touched all of the threads of the story.
BT: One of the tasks Volgha is charged with is assuring season spirits that the people do not truly intend to harm the land given their past irresponsible actions and reversing damage to nature where it has been done. In this mostly uproarious tale, is there a serious message you want readers to take away about Global Warming?
SH: Oh dear, some of my pinko lefty views have stumbled into the book. I knew I’d be discovered one day! I generally avoid overt politicization of my humorous fiction, as I labor under the assumption that my readers are as keen to hear my political views as I am to hear Kanye West say anything at all not pertaining to his music; however, the science around climate change is overwhelming and undeniable. Not that I want to expose my readers to anything serious, of course.
BT: As a male, what was it like writing a female protagonist? Did the character come easily to you or did you find the task more challenging than expected?
SH: I don’t feel that men and women are so different that one can’t write the other. Maybe other male authors get hung up on how their female characters can function with their bosoms constantly getting in the way. Female authors don’t seem to have the same trouble with their male characters’ apparatuses. I suppose I just asked myself the logical question: What would a woman do?
BT: Your Santa, a retired warrior (victor of the goblin wars) who helps Volgha on her mission, is a character readers will particularly enjoy nearing holiday season. Fulfilling his favor to Volgha brings this classic character into rollicking circumstances, including assuming the identity of a Baron/fashion designer in a showstopping gender-bending outfit at the royal court. What was your inspiration for his new portrayals?
SH: I’ve always hated that Santa is only ever portrayed as a jolly old man. Every old man was once a young one, and no young man is that well-adjusted. Just ask everyone who knew me in my twenties. Alright, thirties too. My forties aren’t off to a stellar start either, for that matter. In any case, who was Santa when he was younger? That much jolly has to be an overcompensation for some real darkness, if you ask me. As for the gender bending outfit, well, it is a humorous novel, after all.
BT: The Winter Riddle is the perfect holiday read for anyone in the mood for a laugh-out-loud yuletide tale, but what kinds of readers or fans do you think Santa would specifically seek out this Christmas to give copies to?
SH: Anyone who could never get the hang of Thursdays. People who treat fart jokes as matters of life and death. Fans of Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, and Douglas Adams.
BT: What books are currently on your nightstand?
SH: Nicholas Eames’ “Bloody Rose,” Joe & Kasey Lansdale’s “Terror Is Our Business,” J. Zachary Pike’s “Orconomics,” and Seven Jane’s “The Isle of Gold,” to name a few. It’s also my favorite month of the year, so it’s time to read Roger Zelazny’s “A Night in the Lonesome October” again. Tradition, you know.
BT: Are you working on anything now?
SH: I’m nearly finished with the sequel to “Peril in the Old Country,” which should be available in mid-2019. I wouldn’t say I’m “working” on it though, as “work” is a concept that writers go to great lengths to avoid. I’d rather say that I’ve avoided a significant number of other obligations by claiming to be too busy with my novel.
BT: What is one question you always wish you were asked?
SH: “Are you Sam Hooker?” Not only does it imply I’m famous enough to be recognized, I’m always poised to answer it with “none other!” That’s the only acceptable answer to that question, I think.
The Winter Riddle will be available to purchase November 1st.
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ABOUT SAM HOOKER:
Sam Hooker writes darkly humorous fantasy novels about things like tyrannical despots and the masked scoundrels who tickle them without mercy. He knows all the best swear words, though he refuses to repeat them because he doesn’t want to attract goblins. Sam’s previous work includes Peril in the Old Country (Black Spot Books, 2018). Learn more about Sam at shooker.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.