Nancy Marie Brown—The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

Real Valkyrie

Real Valkyrie


Nancy Marie Brown
St. Martin’s Press, August 31, 2020, $29.99
ISBN 10: 1250200849, ISBN 13: 978-1250200846
ebook ISBN: 978-1250200839

Brown reports:

I was smitten by the warrior women in the History Channel’s Vikings show. Having published three books about women in the Viking world, I knew many legends of the sword-and-spear-carrying valkyries. Could they be real? The answer, I knew, lay in how we define the gender roles of the past. Are they defined by data or assumptions?

How do archaeologists sex a Viking warrior’s grave? In early 2016, I asked one to suggest a grave (preferably of a woman) that I could study in detail. He looked at me funny. “I can’t talk about that—yet.” A study in progress, he said, would change the entire conversation.

Nancy Marie Brown, photo by Jóhann Sigfússon/Profilm

Nancy Marie Brown, photo by Jóhann Sigfússon/Profilm

I was developing a different project when news broke in September 2017 that a classic Viking warrior grave in Birka, Sweden, had been DNA tested and found to be female. On my agent’s advice, I shelved the other project and quickly wrote a proposal to describe the life and times of the Birka warrior woman. And then I rewrote it and rewrote it until the editor of my previous book at St. Martin’s Press bought it. I planned to explore not only what we know about powerful women in the Viking Age, but also how we know it.

The advance was not adequate to fund my research and travel, but in my experience, advances are never enough. I always regard writing a book as an investment in myself.

If I’d known Covid would disrupt my publisher’s schedule and give me an extra year to write, I’d have spent more time before lockdown traveling the Viking routes east. By the time I knew the East Way would be the focus of five chapters, I could travel from Sweden to the Silk Roads only virtually. That said, it’s amazing what resource material now finds its way to my desk in Vermont. Ten years ago, finishing this book during a pandemic year would have been impossible.

My advice for aspiring authors: Always have a year’s expenses in the bank, including a travel budget. In freelancing, you never know when the next check will arrive.

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Hero image by Bohdan Chreptak from Pixabay.

August 26, 2021

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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