In the region surrounding Åsa Maria Bradley's hometown of Lund, Sweden, it's not rare for farmers plowing up their fields to turn up relics dating back thousands of years.
Living in the southern province of Scania, an epicenter of Viking Age activity, Bradley remembers taking school field trips to see the Viking rune stones they'd learned about in class. The presence of these ancient relics, paired with the imaginative stories of Norse deities and other surviving pagan rituals, like the straw Yule Goat at Christmas, painted her childhood with colorful memories.
The nostalgic remnants of an age so far in the past stayed with Bradley after she left Sweden to study abroad in the U.S. at age 17 — so much so that the now Spokane-based author's debut romance novel, Viking Warrior Rising, centers on a band of immortal Vikings and Valkyries. Originating as mortal humans who heroically died in battle during the 11th century, the warriors are sent to Earth by the Norse god Odin and goddess Freya to protect humanity from the end of the world, Ragnarök.
"I think that's why the mythology stayed with me," Bradley, 44, recalls from her office on the second floor of Spokane Falls Community College's science building. When she's not penning steamy, otherworldly romance novels, Bradley teaches physics at the college.
"Christianity has one god, and he was male, and he had a son, and he was male, but in Norse there were all these gods and goddesses. There were female role models," she says. "It was like a history lesson. That is where these myths came from — the people who used to live here who left all these things that we could still see."
The purely entertaining, 320-page novel, published by Sourcebooks out of Chicago, is an action-filled love story centered on the Viking warriors' hunky alpha male leader, Leif, and his soulmate, Naya. Leif's unexpected human lover is a hacker who had undergone lab experiments in her youth, turning her into a super soldier with incredible strength, senses and smarts.
In a contemporary setting, Bradley weaves elements inspired by ancient Norse mythology and Viking history. Leif and his warriors are simultaneously tasked with taking down minions sent to Earth by the trickster god Loki, who plots to end the world and take over the universe. Yes, this Loki is the same villain many have come to know since the recent Marvel movie boom, although Bradley wrote the first manuscript before the 2011 Thor film. She recently finished up the second installment of a three-book contract, and is now working on the third novel in the series.
The plot-driven debut novel takes place across a familiar Northwest landscape of wooded forests and rolling farmland near a city not unlike Spokane. Of course, this being a romance, there's plenty of steamy sex and romantic longing between the action-heavy fight scenes.
When the Thursday afternoon Physics 101 students are seated, Bradley begins class by explaining that she has to leave early to catch a flight to the Emerald City Writers Conference in Seattle that weekend. Before she departs, the class collaborates to solve a multistep problem, looking for maximum velocity and horizontal distance traveled, given an asymmetrical parabola.
"I probably won't put a question on the test like this — there's too many laws of the universe you could break," Bradley jokes as students shout out solutions she jots onto the whiteboard.
Since her youth amid the puzzle pieces of Viking history, Bradley always wanted to write. She chose instead to study science as a career path because it was more challenging to her, unlike the humanities subjects she enjoyed.
"Math wasn't something that came naturally," she recalls. "It was something I started to enjoy when I started studying physics. I always wrote on the side — nonfiction and travel — but it wasn't until I came to Spokane that I seriously started thinking about joining a writers group."
Bradley has been teaching at SFCC since 2004, shortly after she and her British husband, Mike, a computer programmer, moved from Silicon Valley to Spokane. Bradley, who has a Masters of Science in medical physics, received her MFA in creative nonfiction from Eastern Washington University in 2010. Early this month, she was presented the YWCA of Spokane's Women of Achievement Award for her efforts to encourage girls to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. Through a National Science Foundation grant, Bradley and an SFCC colleague organized a one-day workshop in June to teach incoming eighth- and ninth-grade girls about computer networking.
Physics and provocative romance novels may seem like strange bedfellows, yet Bradley has always enjoyed reading the genre and a range of others, including literary fiction, nonfiction and memoirs.
"I think people who are surprised that I write romance are people who don't have a picture of how vast the genre really is," she says.
"I used to feel really defensive about the fact that people would do the 'wink wink, nudge nudge' when they heard I wrote romance," Bradley says. "The readers are really, really smart, hardworking and they read a lot, so if people outside the genre don't respect that, I'm never going to convince them that it deserves respect."
Splitting her focus between teaching science and writing creatively isn't something she's kept from her SFCC colleagues or students, and the dual profession isn't unusual for other romance writers. Bradley specifically chose not to write under a pen name because maintaining two separate identities would be impossible for her to manage. She'd rather be open about her writing with students, colleagues and family. So instead, to keep her scientific work distinguishable, Bradley added her middle name, Maria, to her romance author byline.
"The people I meet at romance writers' conferences are math and science teachers, chemical engineers and lawyers," she says. "Somehow we think that people are creative, and people are logical, and those are two separate fields... I want to be both — I want to be an author who teaches physics and a physicist who writes. To me, they're not dichotomies. They can be together." ♦
Viking Warrior Rising reading and signing • Wed, Nov. 4, at 7 pm • Free • Auntie's Bookstore • 402 W. Main • auntiesbooks.com • 838-0206