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.

The Next Big Thing Week 11

Thank you, Rhiannon Held, for tagging me in The Next Big Thing. The Next Big Thing is a weekly blog post where the tagged authors talk about a work in progress.

What is the working title of your book?

Tombstone Blues Book Two in the Thunder Road Trilogy is my current work in progress. Book One launches on Thursday, September 6th and Tombstone Blues will release Fall 2013.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Tombstone Blues happened organically from events leading up to the climax of Thunder Road. I’d sketched out a rough outline for this story to write someday, not intending it to be next, but as soon as I wrote: “Hel is jealous and strong. She will not be pleased.” I also knew this book had to be next.

What genre does your book fall under?

Urban Fantasy, with heavy Norse mythological influences.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I would have said Brett Favre for Ted (at least before all that texting business…), but as I’ve only seen him play himself in Something About Mary, I’m not sure he really counts as an actor. Instead, I’m going to say Ray Stevenson. Perfect height for Ted, and he has a gift for onscreen profanity and violence. Tilda would be Adrianne Palicki. Again, she’s the perfect height. I liked her in Supernatural, and she seems drawn to superheroic/fantasy roles. Loki is a shapeshifter, so he could be (and should be) played by multiple actors (and actresses). It feels like a cheat to say Tom Hiddleston, but I liked him so much in Thor and The Avengers. He might play his Loki a little more sinister than I wrote mine. Hel would be Tilda Swinton, because she does layered madness very, very well. Finally, Thor would be Liam Neeson. He’s big. He punches wolves, and he’s played gods before. What more can you ask for?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Hel’s army invades Winnipeg trying to reclaim Thor’s hammer from its new wielder.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My book will be published by Ravenstone Books, an Imprint of Turnstone Press. Currently, I am not represented by an agent.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A little less than three months for the first draft, but as I wrote it immediately after finishing Thunder Road, it sat after its first round of revisions until I sold the first book (a strategy I am somewhat regretting at the moment as my delivery deadline creeps closer).

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

J.A. Pitts’ excellent Black Blade Blues mixes Norse Myth with the locales of his home state. And while I hesitate to mention Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which has won every award and is simply a breathtaking book, it also has strong mythological elements–particularly Norse Myth.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

As I said above, the broad events of Tombstone Blues grew out of Thunder Road, but the biggest inspiration for the book was my home city of Winnipeg. It’s history geography and folklore make the book what it is. I just hope Winnipeg forgives me for all the damage my characters are doing to it!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I write an appendix of handy-dandy explanations about the gods and creatures of Norse Mythology, all done in Loki’s best snarky voice.

Tag! You’re it!

David Annandale

GMB Chomichuk

Karen Dudley

Erika Holt

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Rules:

***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (Work In Progress) ***
Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them. It’s that simple.
Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
What is the working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

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.

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Sif

 

The one story about Sif that stuck with me is the one story about Sif that anyone is likely to know–if they know the name at all: how Loki cropped the hair from her head; and then to assuage Thor’s anger, tricked the dwarves into replacing Sif’s hair with strands of gold. It’s a good story, but it has less to do with Sif than it does her husband’s reaction to Loki’s deeds. It’s also less about Sif’s new golden hair than it is about the other gifts Loki won from the dwarves, namely: Thor’s hammer Mjölnir and Gungnir, Odin’s spear that never missed.

Loki played another prank on Sif–one that D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myth sure didn’t talk about when I was a kid–he claimed to have had an affair with her. We don’t know Sif’s reaction to this, but in another story, the possibility of Sif having another lover is something Thor admits is “what seems worst to him.” So once again, it’s more about Thor than Sif (interestingly though, Thor is occasionally referred to as “husband of Sif” which seems progressive for the time).

Thinking on this, the character of Sif is one of the few instances where I prefer her portrayals in other media. In my old Dungeons and Dragons (if you’ve been reading along, this revelation can’t really surprise you) manual Deities and Demigods, Sif is portrayed as Thor’s wife, but also as the goddess of skill and excellence in battle. I like that. In Marvel’s Thor comic (and the Thor movie) Sif is also portrayed as a warrior (and a brunette), a lover of Thor, but not his wife (good thing too, comic book wives don’t tend to work out so well…), someone who could be Thor’s companion, his equal. Now that she has a starring role coming up in Thor’s old comic title Journey into Mystery (a young Loki just finished headlining this book) written by Kathryn Immonen and illustrated by Valerio Schiti, maybe she finally will be.

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Odin

Happy Wednesday, and welcome to the second entry in Loki’s Guide to the Petty Gods and Monsters of Norse Mythology. Wednesday, or Wotan’s Day, is the day of the week named for the Norse God, Odin.

Odin, the All-Father of the Norse Gods carries over two hundred other names, usually kennings referring to his various roles as ruler of the pantheon. Names that when translated are: God of the Hanged, or Dangler; Odin hanged himself from the world tree for mastery of rune magic. Not surprising then that he was also referred to as the God of Runes. Accompanied by the ravens Huginn and Muninn, (Thought and Memory to us) Odin was also the Raven God. As a god who liked to travel among his worshipers, he was Shaggy Cloak Wearer, Broad Hat, Host Blinder (I imagine this one is because he hid his true identity from those who sheltered him, not because he went around stealing eyes–even if Odin was walking around one eye short). Over ten of Odin’s many names refer him as a “yeller”, a “blusterer”; “roarer”, leading me to think that he wasn’t shy about making his opinion heard. He’d have to be when he shared a table with Thor or Loki.

I find Odin–and the rest of the Norse gods–to be complex–and despite all the magical trappings, very, very human. He’s a father, a son; a husband, a lover; a creator of life and a killer. Odin holds long grudges, and at the same time ignored the gods’ hatred of giants to welcome jötunn-born Loki into his hall as a blood brother (not a foster son, if all you know is the comic version).

Right now, most people’s image of Odin is likely to be Anthony Hopkins in the recent Marvel Comics movie, Thor. I liked the movie, and liked Hopkins in it, but I prefer my Odin a little less…shiny.

Odin met his end at Ragnarök, swallowed whole by Loki’s son Fenrir, along with his spear that never missed, and his eight-legged steed (another of Loki’s children). Odin and his death cast a long shadow over the Thunder Road series, but death didn’t stop Loki from showing up in Thunder Road, will it stop a god also known as Hel Blinder too?

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Loki

 

Tricksters are hard to write.

You have to ride that fine line between keeping them chaotic enough to push your protagonist, create conflict (and help solve it) and at the same time keep them charming enough that your audience doesn’t wonder why your hero isn’t pushing back hard (your hero can hate the trickster plenty, in fact that’s encouraged).

There’s been a few trickster figures in fantasy that as a reader I’ve felt have been exceptionally handled: Coyote in Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue, Matrim Cauthon in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time (starting in The Dragon Reborn and onward; he irritated the hell out of me in books one and two), and Karen Dudley’s Hermes in the forthcoming Food for the Gods, among them. I hope Thunder Road readers will feel that way about my take on Loki.

As soon as I decided to write a book with a Norse myth focus, I knew it had to have Loki. So I thought about who would be most irritated and uncomfortable about having to share a mystical quest with a shapeshifting and gender swapping wise ass. My Alberta oil worker protagonist, Ted Callan, was in essence created and driven by Loki even before the story started.

What’s not to like about Loki?

Everything good or bad in Norse myth happens because of him. How did Thor get his hammer? Loki. How did Odin get his spear? Loki. Who was ultimately responsible for the god Baldur’s death? Loki. Who also ensured that Hel would not release Baldur from the underworld? That was Loki too. Loki’s children Fenrir and Jormungandur are responsible for the deaths of Odin and Thor. Loki and Norse watchman Heimdall died at each others hands at Ragnarök like a viking Holmes and Moriarty.

When there is talk of Loki’s family (and this comes up surprisingly often in my circles), it’s almost always about his monstrous children with the jötunn, Angrboða: Fenrir, Jormungandur, and Hel, goddess of the dead. But Loki had a family among the Aesir gods too. Once Loki was bound by the gods, his wife Sigyn spent the rest of her days catching the poison that dripped over Loki’s face. Was it simply blind devotion to the institution of marriage? I don’t think so. To me, there had to be something lovable about Loki. One of their children is transformed into a wolf and tears apart the other, whose guts are then used to bind her husband, and still she tried to ease his suffering?  I felt that act had to be honoured. Somehow.

The question is: will that lovable something be enough to keep Loki alive this time around?

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology

Somewhere in the editorial process I was asked to consider writing up an appendix with descriptions of the various Norse gods and monsters. The thinking was that at least some of my readers would be coming to Thunder Road and to the Norse myth cycle with little or no familiarity with Loki, Thor or Odin, let alone dvergar, einherjar, or Gleipnir.

I also wanted to ensure that this appendix was something that wouldn’t also be readily available on Wikipedia either, and so I decided to write the appendix in Loki’s voice. There were a couple of excellent reasons for this. First, early readers of Thunder Road really responded to the way I wrote the character. Second, and more importantly, he’s the god of lies and trickery, so I can bend his words to my purposes (ignore the author tenting his fingers and laughing maniacally).

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting the entries from Loki’s Guide here on the blog (and my haunts on Facebook and Twitter) for your amusement. Along the way, I’ll probably include some annotations such as: why it’s hard to write Loki, or: why Thor is a dick.

Tomorrow: Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology features…Loki. (C’mon, of course he’d start with himself)

Thunder Road Launch Poster

 

 

 

Look what just showed up in my inbox! An easy blog post you say? Why yes, yes indeed. But it’s also the promo poster for the Thunder Road launch. Huge thanks to Joel Schwab for doing the design, the poster looks great. I’m very stoked to see it plastered all over the bookstore. You know, like every surface of the bookstore. Just sayin’.