An Interview of Chadwick Ginther by Derek Newman-Stille
After reading Thunder Road, I knew I had to interview Chadwick Ginther. I had a great opportunity to talk to him
earlier this week and get some of his insights about the role of mythology in modern Canada, regionality in Canadian SF, the significance of tattoos, and the future of Canadian mythic fiction.
I want to thank Chadwick Ginther for being willing to do an interview for Speculating Canada, and I will let him introduce himself and his work below.
Spec Can: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself to start this interview?
Chadwick Ginther: I was raised in small town Manitoba, the town of Morden, to be precise, and grew up loving comics, tabletop roleplaying games, and fantasy novels. After bouncing around the province for a while after high school, I settled in Winnipeg. I have been a bookseller for the last eleven years, acting as the catalogue buyer and doing day to day curation for most of our genre books (Crime & Mystery, Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Graphic Novels). I still love comics, tabletop roleplaying games, and fantasy novels.
Spec Can: What was it like to finish your first novel for publication?
Chadwick Ginther: It felt great, though in fairness, Thunder Road was not the first novel I finished and submitted for publication. It was the first one to get that long-craved “yes.” I think Thunder Road was also the easiest first draft I’ve ever written, Ted’s voice came very early on, and didn’t require much fine tuning. Seeing my name on the spine of a real book was something I’d been working toward as long as I’ve been writing, so for it to happen with this book, which has so much of my home within it, is a special treat.
Spec Can: Your novel Thunder Road was about the Norse in a Canadian environment. What got you interested in the Norse?
Chadwick Ginther: I’ve been reading Norse Mythology almost as long as I’ve been reading, although I did stumble upon the Greek Myths first (the names were more familiar to me then–thank you Mighty Hercules cartoon!). But after I devoured D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths I went back to the library for D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths and never really looked back. The Norse gods seemed more real—more human—to me even then. Not only could they die, but most of them knew when, where and how it was going to happen. The inevitability of Ragnarök fascinated me. In fact, I checked that D’Aulaires’ book out of the library so often, the librarian eventually (and delicately) suggested that perhaps another little boy might want to learn about Norse Mythology. That didn’t seem very likely to me at the time, but funny story, there was such a boy. In a strange coincidence, he also grew up to be a bookseller and writer. He even showed up at my book launch. I guess he forgave me for Bogarting the D’Aulaires’ books, as he bought a copy of Thunder Road.
Spec Can: How were you able to blend a Norse cosmology with Canadian ideas?
Chadwick Ginther: Choosing to set the book in Manitoba made the admixture easier than you would expect. The New Icelanders have left a deep cultural stamp in the province, so hints of the Norse Cosmology already existed all around me. For instance, we have towns named Gimli and Baldur and a rural municipality named Bifrost. Beyond the geographical ties, one doesn’t have to travel too far north of Winnipeg to find true wilderness, and that wilderness is, at least according to local folklore, already full of monsters. Lake Manitoba is rumoured to have its own lake serpent (Manipogo). The Interlake region, between Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba, is home to many reputed sasquatch sightings; Carman Manitoba has had numerous UFO sightings; Winnipeg’s downtown is full of supposedly haunted buildings. I looked at existing paranormal belief, tried to explain it in a Norse context, and then let the monsters loose on the page. Manipogo became Jormungandur, the Midgard Serpent; sasquatch became my jötunn. Where else would dwarves hail from but Flin Flon, a city that describes itself as “The City Built on Rock.” On a more personal note, I grew up hearing stories of my great grandfather’s time serving in the Great War, which deeply informed my view of Valhalla’s warriors, the einherjar, and how I used them in Thunder Road.
Spec Can: In what ways can mythology speak to the modern Canadian reader?
Chadwick Ginther: I don’t think Mythology will ever stop being relevant. It was our ancestors’ way of trying to explain what they couldn’t understand. At their core, people have the same basic desires, faults and virtues as we ever have, some of us are kind, some jealous; we’ll always be able to see something of ourselves in these stories from the past. Otherwise the myths would have faded with their original tellers.
Spec Can: Your character Ted from Thunder Road is tattooed with Norse symbols that give him power. What got you interested in the idea of the tattoo as a source of power?
Chadwick Ginther: I think tattoos have always been viewed as a source of power. There is something totemic about the images we inscribe in our flesh. Often in fantasy, and specifically in urban fantasy, power can come with either a sacrifice or in a violation of self—vampires and werewolves both evoke that sense of having one’s normal life stolen. I wanted to touch upon these themes, while hopefully putting a new twist on it. Tattoos may be omnipresent on fantasy book covers these days, but its rarer for them to be an integral part of the story.
Spec Can: What would you say is distinctly Canadian about your work?
Chadwick Ginther: I have to be honest, I’ve never thought about my work in that context. I certainly didn’t set out to write the Great Canadian Fantasy novel and am woefully unfamiliar with the Canadian literary canon (perhaps if it included more dragons and robots…). I suppose one could say there is an element of the immigrant’s tale to Thunder Road, not a uniquely Canadian experience, but we are a nation built by immigrants. It’s one of the reasons I decided not to make Manitoba Ted’s home. Having him trying to start a new mundane life in an unfamiliar place echoed his becoming a part of the Nine Worlds, and the new fantastical life that awaited him.
Spec Can: The Manitoba environment features strongly in Thunder Road. What is distinctly Manitoban about your work overall?
Chadwick Ginther: Given the story I wanted to tell, I don’t think Thunder Road could have been set anywhere else. The entire book is steeped in Manitoban history, folklore and culture. Making Ted Texan rather than Albertan, and sending him to Minnesota or North Dakota wouldn’t have been as simple as changing the scenery. Beyond the setting and local folklore that was an inspiration, I also think there is something a little self-deprecating in the Manitoban psyche, but only when we’re among one another. Thunder Road allowed me to poke some fun at my home, but also, and I think more importantly, show off some of its unique character. Despite authors such as Guy Gavriel Kay and Steven Erikson calling the province home at one time, no one really thinks of Manitoba when they think of fantasy. Hopefully that will change.
Spec Can: What new ideas or new viewpoints do you hope your reader will take away from your work? What can your novels teach a reader or help them to think about?
Chadwick Ginther: First and foremost, I hope my readers leave feeling “that was a damn good story.” If I don’t nail that important criteria for them, they won’t dig any deeper for meaning. I’m a firm believer that once a book hits shelves, it belongs to the reader, not the author, so what Thunder Road means for me, and what any other individual might glean are likely to be very different. I do hope if someone grew up with a childhood love of myth and folklore, but then drifted away from those stories, that reading my book might reawaken, those feelings. And because I so enjoyed mixing myth and Manitoba, I also hope that Thunder Road can inspire readers to look more closely at their homes to find those ties to the mythological past. If I can make them care about that, they’ll want to keep reading what I write.
The Oil Sands are a very hot topic in Canada these days, and on the receiving end of a lot of demonizing talk, especially east and west of Alberta. I didn’t set out to add to that, but I have a protagonist from that industry—one that can also control the weather—and while I didn’t write the book to have an environmental message, some of my readers have felt that undercurrent in the text. Who am I to say they’re wrong? The story I’ve created so far has made me pay more attention to issues of climate change, unusual weather, and resource development, if it does the same for my readers, that can only be a good thing.
Spec Can: What role does research play in your writing?
Chadwick Ginther: You’d think research for a novel with a modern setting would be easier, given that we live in the present, but the assumption of knowledge is also much greater. I know how little I know about Boer War for instance, so I’d read more thoroughly were I to ever tackle that subject. As for the mythological, the Norse myths have so many stories that are a part of Germanic folklore, to say nothing of the re-imaginings offered by Marvel Comics. I decided to keep as true as possible to the Icelandic stories, given the importance of Manitoba’s New Iceland to my cosmology. Fortunately my copy editor speaks Icelandic, and is also very familiar with the myths and sagas. He helped make sure all of my umlauts were in the correct place.
I also found nothing beats walking the grounds of where your action is going to happen. In my first draft, I wrote the scenes in Gimli and Flin Flon without having visited either town. That was fine to hash out the action and story beats (and to get the draft done) but I knew I wanted to drive the route Ted and Loki travel in the books. I spent days in Gimli and a week in Flin Flon, scouting locations. Without exception, the real places I found to set the scenes in Gimli and Flin Flon were better than anything I could have imagined. The little details, like stumbling upon grafitti that read “birds suck” while I’m walking around putting myself in the place of a man who has two ravens living in his skull, were priceless.
Spec Can: What can narratives involving mythical qualities do that realist fiction can’t?
Chadwick Ginther: People call speculative fiction “escapist,” as if that is a bad thing. I live a realistic life. Why would I want to spend my time writing about only the drudgery of everyday. I want things to happen. Things that couldn’t happen to me. But that doesn’t mean good prose has to be sacrificed for plot. With mythic fiction, and really all of speculative fiction, I can have my cake and eat it too. I can have an exploration of deep philosophical issues or the nature of humanity side by side with big, bold ideas and an action-packed read. I can’t think of another art form that blends the two sensibilities better than speculative fiction does. Besides which, all fiction is fantasy. Even if a writer is basing a story on real events or real people, they are inventing thoughts and feelings and the little details. Fiction by definition isn’t true, but it can hold truth—even when you’re writing about the god of lies.
Spec Can: Where did your idea for Thunder Road come from? What inspired you to write it?
Chadwick Ginther: Thunder Road did have some of its earliest origins in two abandoned short stories from the beginning of my writing career. The first saw Thor and Sif living in suburban Winnipeg and Sif deciding to divorce Thor, the other I imagined: what if all those Lake Serpent sightings around the world were Jormungandur, the Midgard Serpent? There are lines from both short stories that made the jump into the novel essentially unchanged.
I always knew I’d write something influenced by Norse myth, the stories have been a part of my life for too long not to creep into my work. I could say Thunder Road is the sum of what has influenced me as a person thus far, but mostly, it was what came out when I sat down to write one day. I didn’t have a plan for it, I certainly wasn’t writing to market. I just wanted to write a story about a blue collar guy who got thrust into a weird and terrible world, and I also wanted that world to be our world. I wrote the scene where the dwarves attacked Ted first. It made me wonder who this guy was, and how he ended up in that hotel room, so I went back and wrote that. Once I put him in a GTO, it was all over, and I was hooked. The rest of the book came out in chronological order, with very few changes to structure or content.
Spec Can: Where do you think Canadian mythic fiction is going from here?
Chadwick Ginther: I quite enjoyed blending Canadian folklore with other myth cycles. It’s a sandbox I could see myself playing in for a long time. It’s easy to think that Canada doesn’t have a folklore unique to our borders. But I don’t think that’s the case. I would love to see our own folk stories and tall tales take centre stage. I would also love to see Indigenous writers bringing modern takes on their myths and folklore to the fantasy genre. Something I’ve so far only really seen from Daniel Heath Justice.
I’d feel guilty not suggesting people check out my fellow Ravenstone author, Karen Dudley. Her debut fantasy novel, Food for the Gods, re-imagines Pelops, son of Tantalus, as a celebrity chef in classical Athens. It’s a great read. And even though they’re not Canadian, the success of the Marvel movies featuring Thor and Loki, and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson novels have created an entirely new–and voracious–audience for what I want to write.
Spec Can: How do you bring your sense of humour into your work and what can humour add to a work of speculative fiction?
Chadwick Ginther: Most of my humour in Thunder Road comes from the character of Loki, which I think is a good thing, as he’s generally perceived as a villain and I wanted readers to like him, even when Ted didn’t.
Humour can be a difficult thing to get right on the page, so much of a joke lies in the teller’s inflection, facial movements or posture, that it’s easy for a gag to fall flat. I don’t try to be funny in my writing, but I do find humour tends to creep into even in my darkest stories. I think this is a good thing too. Giving the reader a break where they can laugh out loud now and again allows you to go darker than you otherwise might, because the reader won’t become numb to that darkness. Stephen King is a master of that particular skill. You wouldn’t call him a humourous writer, but damn does he write some funny, funny lines.
Spec Can: The character Ted has some superheroic elements to him. Where there any superhero figures that influenced his development and if so, who were they and how did they inspire you (or caution you to do something different)?
Chadwick Ginther: I grew up reading comic books. In fact, they were the first things I read on my own, and as such, I wouldn’t be surprised if that love and history subconsciously influenced the creation of Ted and his power set. I didn’t have any specific heroes in mind when I started writing, however. Looking back, I can see echoes of DC’s Viking Prince or Marvel’s Mighty Thor and Uncanny X-Men. Thor has faced Ragnarök several times in the comics, which was one of the reasons I decided to set Thunder Road after The Fate of the Gods, because I found what the Thor writers did when they ended the cycle to be fresh and new. X-men probably gave me a taste of the dysfunctional family dynamic that exists between Ted, Tilda and Loki. Chris Claremont’s epic run on the book was also my introduction to long-form storytelling, which is why I’m hoping that even when the Thunder Road Trilogy is done, that I can keep telling stories in this world. And, super powers are cool, so I could only have Ted angst for so long about what had been done to him. I figured the more he used his powers, the more he would enjoy using them.
The publishing practices of today’s “Big Two” comic book publishers, Marvel and DC, also made me wary of “Event Creep” and “Event Fatigue”. There have been so many “nothing will ever be the same” stories in mainstream comics of late, so many meaningless deaths, reboots and reimaginings, that nothing shocks and nothing surprises. It has also become hard to decode just what has happened to these characters. I read X-Men for over twenty years of my life, and I can’t keep it straight any more. Don’t get me wrong, I still love comics, but when every story has the world’s–or in many cases, worlds’–ending as its focus, eventually your reader will tire. How do you top saving the world? I also like to juxtapose the magical with the mundane in my work, and remember fondly some of the stories where the X-Men spent a day playing softball instead of constantly worrying about their own extinction.
Spec Can: What was it like to bring a character like Loki from Norse mythology into your work? What were you hoping that his character would do for your story?
Chadwick Ginther: As a writer, I think I found Loki almost as much of a pain in the butt as the Aesir must have. So I’m pleased that the response to him as a character has been very positive thus far.
You have to ride a fine line between keeping trickster figures 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 hasn’t left the jerk in the dust.
As soon as I decided to write a book with a Norse myth focus, I knew it had to have 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 other’s hands at Ragnarök like a viking Holmes and Moriarty.
Despite his impressive acts of villainy, I knew while I wanted Loki to stay a bit of a bad boy, he wasn’t my Bad Guy. When 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.
Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add for our readers or anything I haven’t covered yet?
Chadwick Ginther: Some readers may have noticed that I took Thunder Road’s main and chapter titles from songs. I’ve been a music fan almost as long as I’ve been a reader. Music is also a huge part of my writing process. I always write to music, and create soundtracks for all of my stories. These soundtracks basically serve as my first draft outlines.
I want to thank Chadwick Ginther for all of his insights into Canadian mythic fiction, the reimagining of myth, the regional nature of Canadian Fiction. I hope that you also enjoy the way Mr. Ginther introduces a mythical and otherworldly element to the Canadian landscape. You can read more about Chadwick Ginther’s work at http://chadwickginther.com/ . You can also read a review of Thunder Road by clicking on Mr. Ginther’s name in the Tags menu.