This week’s guest is Chadwick Ginther, who is here to talk to us today about using the real world we know to bring to life the world of mythology and imagination. His debut novel, Thunder Road, is one of the first fantasy-novels brought to us by Ravenstone Books, and is currently nominated for the Aurora Award for best book.
Building Worlds From Home
My introduction to fantasy was pretty standard, I think. Lord of the Rings, Conan the Barbarian, Dungeons and Dragons. These all have at least one thing in common besides being my fantasy gateway. They all took place in an invented secondary world, and so also introduced me to the concept of worldbuilding—one of the most important elements in not just fantasy fiction, but in fiction, period.
While worldbuilding is primarily of interest to the Fantasy/Science Fiction crowd (and why wouldn’t it be? We have to introduce invented worlds or magical powers or future technology to readers who do not live there and do not have those things) it’s something every fiction author does. If you were writing a book about your hometown, what do you say to your reader who has never been there, never seen the town? What about your home has to be in the story? What would you ignore, as unnecessary for your story? You’re using the same decision process as when you create a world from scratch, even if this may not feel as glamorous as inventing your own language or drawing a fancy map.
Most of my writing takes place in our world. But that doesn’t mean I get off light on worldbuilding. When I began writing in earnest, my sensibilities had changed a bit since I first encountered elves and dwarves, and so instead of creating a secondary world full of weird and terrible things, like Middle Earth, I knew I wanted my fantasy world to be our world. And more specifically, for my story to be set in my little corner of that world, Winnipeg and Manitoba.
Why set a fantasy novel in Manitoba? Most people don’t think of Manitoba when they think of fantasy. They think of Middle Earth, or Westeros, or even Bon Temps, Louisiana, but I do think of Manitoba. One of the reasons for that is that we still have wilderness here. And why couldn’t all that wilderness also be hiding monsters? I’m not the only person to imagine (if not quite believe) this. Manitoba has lake serpent sightings—our own personal Loch Ness Monster, Manipogo. Manitoba has more sasquatch sightings than anywhere else in Canada (besides British Columbia—make of that what you will). In the wilds of downtown Winnipeg everyone knows of at least one haunted building. So the monsters were already here, I just had to put them on the page.
But as much as I love fantasy, I also love mythology, and it was my love of myth, and in particular, my love of Norse myth, which meant my book had to be set in Manitoba. The New Icelanders that settled the Interlake region left a huge stamp behind on my home. In the province of Manitoba there is a town named Baldur. Baldur is the name of one of the Norse gods. There is a rural municipality of Bifrost. Bifrost is the rainbow bridge that connects Midgard—Earth—to Asgard, the home of the gods. Gimli, is where the survivors of Ragnarök, the Fate of the Gods, are said to live on; “the most beautiful place on Earth”. I’m sure folks who summer at their cottages in Gimli would agree. I certainly enjoyed my research visits there.
One of the nice things about writing in our world is that you can actually go to these places, and you’ll never know what you’ll find when you do. After I discovered where my book needed to go, I went there too. I drove to Gimli and then on to Flin Flon (where else would you find dwarves, but in the “City Built on Rock”), following the routes my characters took, absorbing that flavour. There really is nothing like being there. When your protagonist is being harassed by talking ravens and you stumble across graffiti that reads: “birds suck”, it’s too good of a coincidence to pass up. And it’s the little details that add an important level of reality in a story where giants and dwarves are running around chasing someone gifted with the powers of the gods.
Take a look at your part of the world. Dig into the culture and history of your city and you’ll find a whole other world. One you may not have known had existed—living parallel to your own. And one just begging to be put on the page.