For this Sunday’s interview, I’d like to introduce Chadwick Ginther, who has just launched his debut urban fantasy novel Thunder Road.
Welcome, Chadwick! Would you please tell my readers a little about yourself?
Certainly! I grew up in the town of Morden, Manitoba, where I quickly became enamoured with all things robotic and draconic. I worked a varied and disparate number of jobs until I stumbled upon employment as a shipper/receiver at an independent bookstore. Now eleven years on, I am the genre buyer (covering Science Fiction and Fantasy, Mystery and Crime Fiction, and Graphic Novels) for McNally Robinson Booksellers.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always loved stories, so it wasn’t much of a leap. When I was growing up, my great-great uncle lived with my family and he spun original yarns about Tarzan for me and so I became hooked on adventure quite early on. Role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons were my first outlet for creating my own characters and stories, a passion that continued from childhood until (checks watch) what time is it now? It was a few years after becoming a bookseller that I began to write in earnest. Meeting writers in the store, whether they were travelling on book tours, or locals in to do some shopping, helped make writing a book feel like an attainable goal. Bookselling has been an invaluable aid in terms of researching the markets, networking, and just being constantly surrounded by stories.
Thunder Road isn’t the first piece of writing that you’ve had published. Please tell us about some of your other work.
The first story I sold was a sword and sorcery tale titled “First Light” which appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of On Spec Magazine. “First Light” follows a blacksmith’s daughter caught up in murders and missing persons in a world of eternal winter. It spun out of the first full length manuscript that I finished, one that I still have hope to get back to and fix. About a month before Thunder Road released, my story “Back in Black” appeared in Tesseracts 16: Parnassus Unbound. “Back in Black” features an obsessive record collector who is searching for his “Holy Grail” find, an AC/DC bootleg that shouldn’t exist. I have another Sword and Sorcery story in the pipeline, in December 2012 “First They Came for the Pigs” will be appearing in the Innsmouth Free Press anthology, Fungi. This story is about a group of mercenaries hired to deal with mushrooms that have started devouring people.
Besides word counts, what are some of the differences that you’ve found between writing short stories and novels?
I really feel they are two different disciplines, and not always complementary. I’ve always felt the fewer words you have to say something, the harder it is to do–one of many reasons I’m not a poet, I suppose. Short stories require an economy of prose that I feel I am still learning. As a reader, I always gravitated to novels over short stories, and so I’m playing a bit of catch up there. Speaking strictly as a fantasy writer, I also find them challenging because I can’t take the world as a given. There will always be “worldbuilding” details that need to be slipped in whether the story takes place in a made up world, or our world. It is a balancing act to include your magical elements, or realistically convey cultures and places that the reader may have no context for, while still maintaining pacing.
Okay, let’s get down to the meat of the interview, and what I’ll bet you’ve been dying to talk about – Thunder Road. How do you feel, now that your first novel is published?
It feels great–astounding, really. When my author copies were delivered, I couldn’t stop holding the book. I’d seen the page proofs and the cover proofs, so I thought I knew what the book would look like, but I had no idea what it would feel like. Holding the book, it had a weight I wasn’t expecting. Absolutely a dream come true.
Please tell us a little about the story.
I like to joke that Thunder Road is “oilsands meets Asgard”. Oilsands, because my protagonist Ted Callan is an unemployed oilsands worker and Asgard, because of the novel’s ties to the Norse myth cycle. After the fire giant Surtur awoke in an explosion at Ted’s workplace, destroying it, Ted leaves a failed marriage and Alberta behind for a new life in Manitoba. That new life goes a little sideways when a group of fortune tellers, a trio of dwarves, and the trickster god, Loki, all take an interest in Ted’s destiny.
What was your inspiration for Thunder Road?
The Norse myths have been a huge part of my life almost as long as I’ve been a reader, thanks to finding D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths in my hometown library at an early age. In fact, I checked the book out so repeatedly, that the librarian suggested that perhaps another little boy wanted to learn about mythology, I disagreed (funny story, one of those little boys ended up at my book launch, fortunately as a grownup he was able to laugh about it). The stories of Odin and Thor and Loki always fascinated me. The Norse gods always felt very human to me. Not only could they die, most of them knew when and how it was going to happen.
Obviously, given the setting, my home province was a huge inspiration as well. The Icelandic community of the Interlake region was the perfect excuse to blend myth to Manitoba. We have a rural municipality named Bifrost; Bifrost was also the name of the rainbow bridge that connects Asgard to Midgard (or Earth, as we like to call it). We have lake serpent and sasquatch sightings, tons of reputedly haunted buildings; so with a little digging into provincial folklore, I saw that the monsters were already here. I just had to put them on the page.
Much of the writing I’d done until I started working on Thunder Road also had ties to myth. But if I think back there were two snippets of early writing that really started the ball rolling: the first was an idea for a short story in which the gods Thor and Sif are living in suburbia and getting a divorce. This was actually the first thing I ever wrote with an eye for being published (it wasn’t–wasn’t ever finished, in fact). The other was another short story where our own lake serpent, Manipogo, was actually Jormungandur, the Midgard Serpent of Norse mythology. That story also didn’t go anywhere, but some of “Jorry’s” dialogue and about a paragraph from the Thor and Sif story ended up unchanged in Thunder Road. Those two ideas pushed me from writing Sword and Sorcery to sticking the gods and monsters in our backyards.
Finally, I always write to music, and started a playlist for the book, eventually picking twenty songs that seemed suited to the book I wanted to write, and arranged them as if they were my chapter titles, about the only kind of outlining I do, so music was also vital in writing Thunder Road.
Sounds fascinating! I’ve always loved stories based on myths and legends, especially contemporary ones set close to home!
When writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, a writer needs to create believable worlds in which to set their stories. What type of world-builder are you and how do you start your creations? (I know that makes you sound rather God-like, but don’t let it go to your head! lol)
I am what can best be described as a “pantser,” as in I write by the seat of my pants, discovering the book as I go, without much in the way of a formal outline. I approach my world building in much the same way. I have one huge master document where I dump any scene or idea that doesn’t fit anywhere else. When I start a new project, or if I’m looking for inspiration for a short story, I comb through that file to see if there’s anything I can use. I’ll often write short stories as a world building exercise as much as to try and sell them. Eventually a new world reaches a critical mass of these snippets and stories that allows it to feel fully formed in my head, and as I write, I fill in the blanks. It is especially important (at least for me it is) to keep notes as I go, especially since there’s no handy resource to fact check them for you, and I assure you, fantasy readers will notice those inconsistencies.
Along with your worlds, you must also breathe life into your characters. What advice do you have for new and emerging writers regarding the creation of believable characters?
Read widely, listen deeply, and experience as broadly as possible. That old adage of “write what you know” is certainly true, but I’d prefer to see it worded “know what you write.” Also what is often left out of that tidbit of advice is to never stop finding new things to know.
Once a manuscript has been written, we all know that a lot of editing must go into it before it is ready to submit to an agent or publisher. What is your initial process for editing?
My initial process for editing is hiding from it. All kidding aside, I know writers who loathe the first draft, and can’t wait to get in and fix the book, but I am completely the opposite. I love finding the book, not fixing it. I do recognize that it is a necessary step, but if I am procrastinating on the internet, chances are I’m editing, rather than drafting. As for process, I try to let a first draft breathe for at least a few weeks before diving back in. That distance helps me to identify what needs to be fixed. I do several passes looking for specific things. First is a story pass to make sure the narrative is solid. This is where chapters usually end up getting cut or rewritten. I try to read through clumsy phrasings when I find them at this point, only making a note to fix it later. Once I’m happy with the story, I do a character pass to make sure their actions and reactions are still consistent with whatever changes I’ve made. Once I’m happy with my characters, I get into fixing things on a sentence level. Usually this involves a few more rereads. Thunder Road went through about six passes before it went out on submission. I’m hoping that the process of going through a substantive edit and copy edit will help streamline my editing process a bit for future books.
Once you’re satisfied with it, do you enlist the help of critique partners, beta readers or a writer’s group to suggest improvements?
I do have a writing group. We meet monthly, sharing works in progress. I also have a group of beta readers that look at mostly finished manuscripts prior to my submitting them to editors or agents. There is some overlap in the two groups, but I also find it valuable to have some fresh eyes see the work. I’ve also found it very useful to have a reader who isn’t a writer. Writers can give great critiques (and my group does!) because they are familiar with the elements of the craft, but there is also a chance they will try to rewrite your work as they would have done it. Much like writing, critiquing is a learned skill.
How difficult did you find the submission process, writing the inquiry letter and synopsis, etc?
I don’t find the submission process difficult, it’s something that needs to be done even if it isn’t always fun. I have a spreadsheet that I use to track my story submissions, and record response times and comments, if any. I’m not terribly fond of writing either query letters or synopses, but both are necessary and different skills from writing the work itself. When people talk about all those great and famous books that publishers passed over, I wonder what role a poor query letter might have played in those first rejections.
On your blog, after your launch, you mentioned that the store played songs that you had used for chapter titles. How do you incorporate music into your novel? Do you listen to it as you write or look for songs that would be suitable for a particular scene, like a movie or TV show producer might do?
I do a little of both. I always write to music. I know some writers must have complete silence, others will write to classical or jazz but have to avoid lyrics. Usually, I just put my entire library on shuffle and go to work. It’s led to some interesting serendipity. For novels, I create a soundtrack for the book, trying to have the songs ebb and flow in a way that feels how I want the narrative to progress. Depending on how deeply invested I am in the project, the novel may have more than one soundtrack. Because I’m currently editing the manuscript for the second book in the Thunder Road series and have started drafting the third, there are soundtracks for the later volumes, as well as for all of the major characters.
Are there any social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blog, etc) where we can find you that you’d like to share with us?
I am on twitter: https://twitter.com/chadwickginther
Thunder Road also has its own page: http://www.facebook.com/ThunderRoadTrilogy
My website is: http://chadwickginther.com/
Is there anything you’d like to add before we bid you adieu?
Tonight, September 23rd, at 7:00 pm, I’ll be reading a passage from Thunder Road at Winnipeg’s writing festival, THIN AIR, as part of the Mainstage event: Voices from Oodena. Oodena is a magical venue, and one of my very favourite spots in Manitoba. If you’re reading this, I hope to see you there!
I definitely plan on being there, Chadwick!
Thank you, Chadwick, for taking the time to chat with us. I hope your book does well. For any of you who are interested in learning more about Thunder Road, check out this review found in the Winnipeg Free Press:
I should mention, Thunder Road is NOT a YA novel. If you are thinking of picking it up for a teen reader, take the time to read a passage or two to determine if it would be appropriate for the child you have in mind. Other than that, hope you all enjoyed the interview!