A Few Questions About Writing

My northern Manitoba colleague, Lauren Carter, author of Swarm, tagged me recently and asked me to take part in a blog tour happening in the literary community across Canada. The gist of it is that I’m assigned four questions and then invite two other writers to join in. Here goes:

What am I working on?

I have a number of projects on the go right now, most notably the third book in the Thunder Road Trilogy, which you should see in Fall 2015. I’m also polishing up some short stories set in the world of the trilogy to keep you all occupied until next year.

In addition to my Norse Myth-influenced work, I’m editing the first book in an entirely new urban fantasy series, trying my hand at comic book scripting, and co-hosting and organizing the Winnipeg arm of the Chiaroscuro Reading Series with fellow author Samantha Beiko.

How does my work differ from other works in its genre?

Since my series is influenced by Norse myth, I’m not retelling the big ending of that myth cycle–Ragnarök, the Fate of the Gods–in the Thunder Road universe, that fate has already been dealt. In the Marvel Comics take on Thor, Ragnarök has happened at least three times, but what struck me as a myth fan was how interesting the stories that came after were to me. When Ragnarök is on the table, that is the only place the story can go. It’s inevitable. Having that great battle in the past also allowed me to avoid “ruining” any stories people might have loved from the sagas. They are there. They happened. My only caveat to this is that in my books, Loki survived his prophesied death (because if anyone could weasel his way out of his fate, it would be him).

Another notable difference is probably my use of Manitoba as a setting–not a place most people think of when they think of magic. I’ve read very little fantasy that uses Western Canada (and Manitoba in particular) as a setting, and I think there’s a lot to left to be said in this part of Canada.

Why do I write what I do?

I love juxtaposing the magical and the mundane and the Urban Fantasy genre is great at that. I grew up with old Tarzan and Lone Ranger stories, so adventure was set in my bones from an early age. When I went to listening to stories to reading them, comic books were my gateway (and I still read them) and I went from those to Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasies. I can’t imagine wanting to write anything else. Fantasy allows me to write anything, and unlike my more realistically inclined writing colleagues, I get to have dragons and robots too.

How does my writing process work?

Barely. Ba dum bump.

But seriously…

I am what is usually referred to as a “pantser” (as in I write by the seat of my pants). No plotting, no outlining. For me, writing is a lot like driving at night: the headlights allow me to see just enough to keep going, even when I can’t see my destination.

I’m a huge music fan (all of the chapter titles in Thunder Road and Tombstone Blues are taken from songs) and I also write to music, so it has seeped deeper into my process. One of the first things I do when I’m starting a new story is make a large playlist of songs that feel like how I want the story to feel. As I write and listen, I winnow them down to about twenty or so that form my book’s playlist. That soundtrack also happens to be an emotional outline of how I want the book to feel.

There are exceptions to this. The third book in the trilogy turned out to be something I couldn’t “pants”. I had built up the architecture of the series, and wrote certain scenes as they came to me while drafting the first two books. Because I wasn’t entering the world fresh, by necessity it required a bit more of a structured approach to writing than I am accustomed to. Not a bad thing, just not usually my thing.

Next up, author and illustrator, GMB Chomichuk and author and Valkyrie Books proprietor, Samantha Beiko!

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Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Ymir

Every mythology and religion, even those whose believers exist only in fantasy novels, have their own story about the origins of their world. These stories all a little weird when you think about them. Norse mythology is no different, and Ymir is at the heart of that weirdness.

Out of the primordial chaos was formed a primordial giant, Ymir. When he wasn’t feeding from the primeval cow, Auðumbla, he spawned children from his armpits and a six-headed jötunn from his feet. After Odin and his brothers killed Ymir, they fashioned entire worlds and oceans from the dead giant’s bones and blood. Odin even built a fence from those bones to keep the more monstrous denizens of the Nine Worlds from attacking the Earth (Midgard).

One of the common features of Urban Fantasy novels is a “Secret History” to explain why humanity doesn’t know recognize the existence of magic. The Thunder Road trilogy does have its own secret history, I know what the dvergar, the Norns, and Loki (and others) have been up to in between the days following Ragnarök and the events of Thunder Road, and I might even write some of those stories, if readers are interested. 

In Thunder Road, it is the fence built from Ymir’s bones that keeps magic from being seen by the majority of humanity. Fences do make for good neighbours, as the old saying goes, but as every homeowner also knows, no fence is perfect (or as Ted Callan would put it, “Shit happens.”). Things can slip through, once they do, and you are exposed to a world of magic, you’re in, and you’re in for life.

It’s a life sentence that doesn’t take very long to commute.

Another important feature in Urban Fantasy is the setting. The city is often as much a character as the protagonist. Winnipeg’s downtown has a bit of a tough reputation. While I’d rather my home city be known for something other than violent crime, missing persons, and murder, reading about these events definitely influenced me into choosing to make joining the magical world a death sentence.

Tombstone Blues releases October 15th, how much longer can the bones of Ymir hold?

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Jormungandur

I’ve always loved the Midgard Serpent. Even when I admired Thor more than I did Loki.

There was something powerful about a creature that was so vast it could encircle the world that spoke to then very tiny me. Even considering I grew up in a small town, and it was a great many years before I could fathom just how vast our world was, I knew Jormungandur was big. And even now, when every I leave my little corner of the world and travel somewhere new, I am amazed by what I see.

Or…maybe I just liked Jormungandur because he was a dragon (or a sea serpent, as Loki insists to Ted in Thunder Road).

Jormungandur was fated to kill Thor, but he was also fated to be killed by Thor. There are three stories of these two enemies that are commonly told, (There’s one of those magic numbers in Norse myth!) and I love them all. In one, the giant Utgard-Loki (no relation to Loki-Loki) tricks Thor by disguising the Midgard Serpent as a cat, and challenges the god of thunder to lift the beast. Thor does manage to get one of the cat’s feet off the ground–and considering Jormungandur’s size beneath that illusion, that is an impressive feet of strength. In another of the tales, Thor goes fishing with the giant Hymir and after catching two whales and Thor remaining unsatisfied, they head deeper out into the ocean. Eventually, Thor hooks Jormungandur with a hook baited with an ox-head (the head of Hymir’s largest ox, nice guy, that Thor). Before Thor can kill Jormungandur with Mjölnir, a terrified Hymir cuts the line and the Serpent sinks back into the sea. Third, and finally, is the meeting of serpent and god at Ragnarök. Thor does manage to kill Jormungandur here, but its kind of a bitter victory. Jormungandur’s breath is poison, and Thor stumbles nine steps to his death (there’s that other magic number in Norse myth).

That should have been the end of the Midgard Serpent (and Thor) but I had other plans. Since I cheated Ragnarök and kept Loki alive, I thought Loki would have told his children how to escape their dooms as well, and in Thunder Road, Jormungandur lives on, making his primary residence in one of Manitoba’s largest lakes.

Dragons exist in pretty much every myth and culture in some form or another that I’ve ever read about. And as the vikings were a seafaring culture, I’m hardly surprised that their biggest and baddest dragon (sea serpent) lived in the ocean. The first images that I ever saw of the Midgard Serpent, like most of my first images of mythology, came from D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths, followed quickly by pictures (and gaming statistics!) from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook, Legends and Lore. But it was Walt Simonson that drew one of the most kick ass World Serpents I’ve ever seen:

Thor380Jormungandur

(In fairness, Simonson did kick ass renditions of all of the creatures of Norse myth)

In addition to my childhood love of Norse myth, I developed an obsession with Scotland in my teen years (I blame Highlander). But in addition to wanting to run around in a kilt swinging a claymore or lochaber axe (and trying to develop a taste for scotch long before my palette was ready) I also wanted to look for the Loch Ness Monster. There were also Champy, Ogopogo and all the other lake monsters rumoured to exist throughout the world. It was a long time before I heard of Manitoba’s own resident monster, Manipogo though.

To some degree, I owe the existence of Thunder Road to Jormungandur. One of the first short stories I ever started after deciding to pursue writing seriously was one imagining that all sightings of lake monsters and sea serpents around the world, were in fact, Jormungandur. That story didn’t go anywhere, mostly because I never finished it. But there are sentences, even a paragraph or two that were lifted wholesale from that abandoned project and dropped into Thunder Road. Those words remain there, essentially unchanged. Deciding to overlap the Nine Worlds of Norse Mythology and my world, that is a debt I owe a debt to the big guy.

Next up on Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: An even bigger guy. The biggest, in fact. Ymir, the primordial frost giant!

The Return of Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology

loki's guide Loki

The most difficult part of writing the Loki’s Guide entries, is not coming up with the trickster’s snark, but putting it in the correct order. When it was determined to put a glossary of Norse myth into Thunder Road, I decided that it wasn’t worth writing if it was only information that the readers could get from Wikipedia. Instead, I wrote the glossary in Loki’s voice, which as most things the trickster puts his hands into, caused a ripple of unforeseen problems.

I’m not sure why I decided to make it stream of consciousness, as if the trickster was telling you things as he thought of them, but I did. And while it’s fun, every time I tweak the order of the telling, I have to tweak the text, which would not be necessary if I’d gone linear.

But then, Loki is not really a linear sort of fellow, is he?

I’ve got a couple of entries to post this month, Ymir and Jormungandur, and then I’ll be gearing up for a bunch of new Loki’s Guide blogs in the fall, when Tombstone Blues releases.

So tell me readers, are there any gods, monsters, or artifacts that I haven’t covered yet and that are crying out to be on the receiving end of some of Loki’s snark?

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Midgard

The action in Thunder Road takes place on Midgard, the realm of the Nine Worlds in Norse mythology that is the home of humanity. You know, Earth.

But what is it about Earth that makes it so attractive to the gods? Why are they constantly coming down and mucking around with us mere mortals? Maybe they feel that because they made the world, they are entitled to play with it and everyone and everything upon it. Maybe they just want to appreciate a job they felt was well done.

Every mythology has its own creation story for Earth. In Norse Myth, Midgard was formed from the blood and bones of the primordial giant, Ymir, by Odin and his brothers. The gods built a fence from Ymir’s eyebrows at the edge of Midgard to keep the giants from invading the home of men (fences do make for good neighbours, after all). Surrounding Midgard was a great, impassable ocean that became the home to Loki’s son, Jormungandur, AKA the Midgard Serpent, a being so vast he could circle the world to bite his own tail.

Beyond Midgard are the other eight worlds in Norse myth; Jötunheim, realm of the giants; Alfheim, realm of the elves; Asgard, home to the Aesir gods; the underworld of Hel, named for Loki’s daughter, among them. With these realms and more to choose from, why have Thunder Road start out on boring old Earth, let alone in Manitoba?

No fence, no matter who built it, can keep everything out. If you get a couple hours north of Winnipeg you can hide anything–we still have wilderness. Manitoba has lake serpent sightings, sasquatch sightings, numerous reported hauntings. If you look at our folklore, the monsters are already here.

Then there is Manitoba’s large community of people of Icelandic descent. Manitoba has a rural municipality named Bifrost, Bifrost also being the name of the rainbow bridge that connected Midgard to Asgard. In the myths, Gimlé, also known as Gimli, is the place where the survivors of Ragnarök are said to live; “the most beautiful place on Earth”. I’m sure folks who summer at their cottages in Gimli, Manitoba would agree.

So I had lots of reasons to write about “boring old Earth”, but that doesn’t mean the story will always stay there.

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Jötnar

 

Jötnar, plural of jötunn–giants.

It may surprise folks who have only come to know me as an adult, but I was a very small child. Not only the shortest boy in my class, but the third shortest child in my grade (this was hammered home every year when we were arranged by height for school photos). If you consider a short, bookish boy in a small town, one who read about mythology instead of playing hockey, it also won’t surprise you that in a world where it felt like everyone was bigger than me, I identified giants as my boogieman monster of choice over vampires or werewolves (I wanted a dragon, and zombies weren’t a thing then).

The giants of Norse mythology are often brutish, and yes, violent, but they are far more than that. In Norse myth, our entire world was made from the bones and blood of the first jötunn, Ymir. Many jötunn, Loki included, have a gift for changing their shapes. Two such giants, chased after the sun and moon in the guise of wolves, fated to gobble them up at Ragnarök. Jötnar also found their way into the pantheon of gods (or at least into the beds of the gods).

They were seers and secret keepers. The Norns, who tended mortals’ threads of fate, were said to have jötunn blood. Odin traded an eye to drink from the well of Mimir to gain great wisdom (to which it must be remarked: wouldn’t it have been wiser to not rip out your own eye?). Even after Odin traded an eye for knowledge and hanged himself from the World Tree to gain mastery of rune magic, he still consulted jötunn seers from time to time.

Jötnar were also masters of illusion and trickery. One of my favourite stories of jötunn mischief is the story of Útgarða-Loki (or Loki of the Outyards, not to be confused with Loki-Loki) who managed to trick Thor into trying to drink the ocean, and even pulled the wool over his namesake’s eyes, matching the trickster god against fire personified in an eating contest.

Speaking of fire–and fire giants–there is Surtur who is destined to engulf the world in flames–and to pop up in Thunder Road*–but you’ll have to wait a few days to read about him.

*No spoilers, this is revealed on the back cover copy.