I am a Viking.

My Alma Mater | Western Michigan University

Universities can do strange things to people. Some people drink and party. Some people study hard and become successful and rich. I started a registered student organization devoted to watching Viking movies.

When choosing a dorm for my freshman year at Western Michigan University, I went in blind. Some people say that it is safer to be roommates with someone you know, but I didn’t want to end up hating someone that I knew from high school. I was assigned to live with a group of sophomores in the Honors College dorm, Eldredge Hall. As it happened, one of those sophomores was from my hometown anyway, though I had not seen him in many years because he went to a Catholic high school.In addition to having our hometown in common, we had a common heritage of being part Norwegian (a very small part if I am honest). For some reason, we bonded over this fact and the Valhalla Norwegian Society (VNS) was born.

This film is officially endorsed by the Valhalla Norwegian Society.

At first, the VNS existed solely to watch movies about Vikings. We watched The Longships and The 13th Warrior and then The Longships again. While watching, we would drink ginger beer (the closest thing to mead we had at the time) and say things like “By the Hammer of Thor, this ginger beer is delicious,” and “By Great Odin’s Ravens, I love this film!” And then I decided that we needed to evolve as a group and become recognized by the University.

Why?

Because that is where the money is.

I discovered that if a student group is registered with the University, that group can apply for funds from the student government for things like scholarships and events. All that was needed was for the VNS to come up with a constitution and to have a President and a Vice President. Thus, we wrote a constitution and I became the president and my roommate the Vice President.

We got a mailbox in the student government offices and were featured in the student newspaper and on the student radio station. It wasn’t long before we had tripled our membership (to six) and were holding joint events with other registered student organizations.

Lego asked me to model for this minifigure.

It was fun for a semester, but as these things do, it fizzled around exam time. The following year, we didn’t bother re-registering because we didn’t have time to fill out the necessary paperwork to apply for scholarships for ourselves. I’m not sure the student government would have allocated us the funds anyway.

But for that one semester, it was real. And because it was real, I still list that I was the President of the Valhalla Norwegian Society on my CV. I am a Viking.

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Lego Inspiration for Writers

Lego, if you are reading this, please don't stop my subscription just because I am not a child. Thanks.I got my bi-monthly issue of Lego Club Magazine in the mail yesterday. I had to lie in order to get it. The magazine is free, but in order to be on the mailing list, you have to be under a certain age. I hope my confession here absolves me of lying to Lego (but in no way hinders my continuing to get the magazine).

I am a Lego fan. I always have been. From a young age, I’ve known the pain from stepping on a Lego brick. My mom can attest to the annoyance of vacuuming up the smallest Lego pieces or the sound of me mixing through my collection in order to find the one correct piece. My wife will tell you that Lego sets still show up on every birthday list I write, and how we have a room that is difficult to use because of the Lego sets that I have set up there. You get the idea.

I bring this up because I wanted to talk about story inspiration. I’ve mentioned before that my writers’ group, The Weaklings, has participated in the 3-day Novel Contest every year since we started. For all but one year, I’ve started a new novel with each contest (this last year, I used the time to try to finish one of my novels). The first year, I wrote a dystopian story about a future where making sound is illegal. The next year, I started my magical orphan story about a boy who is half-angel. The third year, I didn’t know what to write.

My wife and I moved twice by the third year of marriage and we were still unpacking boxes. We came upon my large box of Lego sets and my wife encouraged me to put them back together and display them somewhere in the house. I took her up on the offer.

If you are familiar with Lego, you’ll know that they have different themes for their sets. Well, I had collected almost three complete themes by this point. My Lego collection includes Vikings, Kingdoms, and Adventure sets. The Viking sets have vikings, dragons, trolls and orcs. The Kingdoms sets revolve around English castles, kings, knights, wizards, and peasants. The Adventure sets feature an Indiana Jones-like assortment of 1920’s gear with biplanes, motorcycles, hot air balloons and more.

As I was setting up the sets, I was thinking that only two out of the three themes would look right together. Vikings and Kingdoms were historically near each other, but my Adventure sets would look vastly out-of-place. That’s when I got the idea for that year’s 3-day novel. I just needed to write a story to include all three elements.

The result was a time-traveler from the 1920’s who gets stuck in the year 1000, a year that inspired as much apocalyptic fear as the Y2K did recently. I did a little research and I was off.

My point in telling you all this is to share with you a source of story inspiration. Are you stuck for ideas? Try taking two things that would never naturally fit together, and stick them in the same room. See what happens.

Maybe it will click, like Lego.