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!

Advertisements

Yesterday Was Ragnarök, But We’re Still Here. Time For A Contest!

Ragnarok

Surtur did not crack the sky with his flaming sword. The sooty cock of Hel did not crow. And while we here on the Canadian prairies are still stuck in the depths of Fimbulwinter, I’ve been seeing signs of spring elsewhere.

So I guess that means the apocalypse didn’t come.

Time to celebrate!

Drinking Horn

I’m going to give away a couple of autographed books. How do you win them? Simple!

Like the Thunder Road Trilogy Facebook page

Follow me on Twitter

Follow me on Tumblr

Add Thunder Road or Tombstone Blues to your To-Read Shelf on Goodreads

Do any (or hey, all of them, why not improve your chances?) and you will be entered in a draw for an autographed copy of Thunder Road and Tombstone Blues. If you have already done all of those things, and own the books, thank you! There’s also something in this contest for you. If you help promote the contest on your social media feeds, I’ll send you a fun bag of Thunder Road related swag.

Write on!

Contest runs until March 23rd.

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!

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Valhalla

 

I think my first exposure to Valhalla was hearing Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song on the radio (yes, radio, I’m old). You know the one, it starts with Robert Plant doing this: “Ahhhhahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhahhhhhhhhh!”

Of course, growing up near the U.S. border, I thought they were saying “Walhalla“, and wondered why they were screaming about North Dakota.

What they actually meant, was the enormous hall where Odin housed the souls of those who died in combat. These souls, gathered by the All-Father’s Valkyrie–his Choosers of the Slain–awaited Ragnarök and another battle. The last battle. They would fight jötnar and the forces of Hel herself.

It’s a weird coincidence that Valhalla is today’s post. Originally, it wasn’t meant to be. But I like that things turned out this way. Serendipity. Tonight is the launch of Thunder Road. Tonight I take my book out in search of glory. Immortality. Or, at the very least, one hell of a good time.

Valhalla, I am coming.

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Surtur

 

Surtur.

Ruler of the fire giants of Muspelheim. He’s as much a force of nature as he is an antagonist.  He’s a walking cataclysm with a sword.

He was also a perfect choice for my big bad.

The villains of Ragnarök die (of course so do the heroes, the Norse brought us the concept of mutually assured destruction long before the Cold War did): Heimdall and Loki meet their doom together. So do Thor and Jormungandur. But the  god Freyr, who is destined to face Surtur, does so wielding only a set of antlers (note to self, never trade away your magic sword)–either he was too proud to ask for a better weapon, or his fellow gods were such giant dicks that they didn’t offer. Regardless, I don’t like his odds. And since it is unlikely that Surtur would be harmed when he set fire to the world, he was still around after the Fate of the Gods, waiting.

Surtur was the doom of the gods. But “doom” means more than just death and destruction. It is also an inevitable fate. While we’ve been programmed to believe the word has sinister connotations (personally, I blame Doctor Doom for this), it doesn’t have to. In myth–and in real life–fire is as often a force of creation as it is destruction. So then, what sort of new world will the appearance of Surtur create, and who will be caught in the storm?

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: The Norns

The norns were women who would attend children’s births to determine their futures. These women must have wielded great power, as everyone wants the best for their child. I imagine there was a lot of attempts at bribery, or resorting to threats, hoping to ensure a good viewing by the attending norn. I’m certain there were also some (by some, I mean many) grudges settled by bestowing a poor fate on an enemy’s child.

But there are norns, and then there are Norns.

The three that Loki is concerned with; Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld, were responsible for spinning the fates of the gods. Their arrival ended the golden age for Odin and his pantheon. There must have been even stronger attempts from the gods to turn their future away from what the three Norns had seen; the gods had more to lose than any mortal. But Ragnarök happened anyway.

Now that’s power.

Given their role as guardians of fate or destiny, I also had to believe that the Norns would not be feeling kindly deposed to Loki for escaping his fate at Ragnarök–or to me for writing him out of that fate.

And boy did they get their revenge. As it turns out, writing about a bunch of seers is a pain in the ass. They need to be (or at least should be) one step ahead of everyone else. They also raise uncomfortable questions about free will versus predestination. I really should have known better. If my thirty-odd year history with roleplaying games and comic books has taught me anything, it is that seers, while a great plot device, have always been tricky to work with. And I know for a fact there was no surer way to encourage the baleful eye of your Gamemaster than to give your character a precognitive power.

So naturally, I wrote three of them.

Superstition usually holds that bad things come in threes, but then, it says the same of good things. The question for the characters of Thunder Road is: which will the Norns prove to be?

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.