Ginnungagap – or – The Blank Page

Before there is something, there isn’t quite nothing, because there is always the possibility of something. This is the blank page, empty but waiting to be filled. In Norse mythology, the blank page that waited to be filled was known as Ginnungagap.

photo-1433086981895-12ca61d33d40Ginnungagap is the yawning chasm, the bottomless abyss, the primordial void. It wasn’t exactly empty. Strange mists flowed through the void. In the north, the mists gathered to become the intensely cold Niflheim. To the hot south, they became Muspelheim, land of fire and home to the demon, Surtr.

Deep within the mists lay the Well of Life, Hvergalmir, and ice was gathering over top. That grinding ice was filled with life and the first two beings came into existence. Ymir, father of all ice giants, great and terrible, was created alongside Audumla, the magic cow who licked the salt from the ice and in turn fed Ymir with her milk.

While Ymir drank from Audumla, the magic cow’s raspy tongue uncovered more beings from the ice. The first one to be released was Buri, first of the Norse gods and grandfather to Odin, who with his brothers would slay Ymir.

As time went on, the world tree was planted and the broken body of Ymir was used to craft the nine worlds of Norse cosmology, and the chaos of Ginnungagap found structure. Though in the final battle of Ragnarök, the fire demon, Surtr, will return the cosmos to a state of possibility, we can enjoy life today.

In writing, or any creative endeavor, we know this cycle well. In the beginning, we have little more than possibilities and a blank page. But as the mists swirl over our creative well, the ideas take shape and we give them life. To one end of our mind, we are tempted to burn what we have created and to the other extreme we want to lock it in a drawer and freeze it in time. But if we can find the balance to let the well do its job, we l’ll have a project worth crafting.

At first, our idea is a monster, a father of ice giants. But along with our Ymir, we have a magic cow slowing licking our good ideas to life. In time, those good ideas will triumph over the bad ones, allowing us to build a world from Ymir’s bones, skull-cap, and eyebrows (seriously, Odin and his brothers used every part to create our world), and a better story comes to life.

It all starts with a blank page, with Ginnungagap.

Next time, we’ll look at how to protect our creations during the final battle of Ragnarök, or as it is known to writers, the submissions process.

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Your Writing & Tyr’s Sacrifice

What are you willing to give up for your writing?

In Norse mythology, there’s this story about Tyr, the god of war. The story actually starts with Loki, a recognizable name due to Marvel’s Thor and Avengers films, but the historic Loki was far more devilish than Tom Hiddleston’s onscreen version.

In the myths, Loki was a distant cousin turned blood-brother of Odin, the head of the Norse pantheon, and in the early days of the world, they would travel and have adventures together. But one day, Loki’s true nature reveals itself and he elopes with a giantess named Angrboda (literally “She Who Bodes Anguish”), leading to the birth of three monster babies: Hel, a half-dead witch who is placed in charge of the underworld; Jormungand, a sea-serpent large enough to encircle the earth; and Fenrir, a wolf that frightens even the most powerful gods of Asgard.

Once Hel and Jormungand are dispatched, the gods of Asgard decide they need to do something about Fenrir, but only Tyr, the god of war, is brave enough to go near the beast. In an effort to contain Fenrir, the gods challenge the wolf to be bound by a series of chains in order to show off his strength. Fenrir easily breaks all chains but the last one, Gleipnir, which was forged with magic by the dwarfs of Svartalfheim with incredibly rare ingredients (the beard of a woman, the sound of a cat’s footsteps, the breath of a fish, and so on).

tyr_and_fenrir-john_bauerBut when Tyr approached Fenrir with Gleipnir, the wolf smelled a ruse. So before he agreed to be bound with the magic chain, Fenrir demanded that one of the gods place a hand in his mouth as a measure of goodwill. If the god in question breaks the wolf’s trust and truly binds him instead of merely testing his strength, then that god loses his hand. And in the time when these myths were told, it was equally dishonorable to be an oath-breaker as it was to be maimed.

For Tyr, the safety of all of Asgard was at stake, so he bravely volunteered, knowing that it would cost him his hand and he would be dishonored in the process. Thus it was that the Norse god of war lost his sword hand, but Asgard was kept safe until the final battle of Ragnarok.

As writers, we are gods of war against the blank page, fighting with our words to bind our story into a safe and marketable form. But if we want to make use of our magical chains, we need to be willing to make some sacrifices. Tyr risked shame and the loss of his hand to bind Fenrir. What are you going to give up in order to get your story into shape?

Unfortunately, sacrifices are never easy. We often have to give up good things in the pursuit of something better. Just like Tyr was the only Norse god who could handle Fenrir, you are the only one who can write your book. So stick your hand in the mouth of the beast and don’t look back until you’ve chained yourself a completed manuscript!
Bio: Josh Mosey is an avid fan of Norse mythology and a member of the Weaklings writer’s group which organizes the Jot writers conference. Come see Josh’s presentation “Write Like a Viking: Fiction Writing Tips from the Norse Gods” at the Breathe Conference on Saturday afternoon.

KITT vs. KARR | The Ethics of Self-Driving Cars through the Lens of the Iconic Hasselhoff Series of the 80’s, Knight Rider

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We live in the future. Don’t hassle me here. Yesteryear’s dreams of science fiction are today’s realities, including self-driving cars. But as technology vaults ahead, our ethics are struggling to keep up.

Watch this to understand the basic ethical issues at play.

Basically, who decides beforehand who has the right to live when an accident occurs? When people are behind the wheel, we react unpredictably. But when humans aren’t the drivers, those decisions belong to the car’s programming.

That brings us to Knight Rider. The 80’s saw this dilemma coming.

Back in the day, Wilton Knight and the Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG) created artificial intelligence, plopped it into a 1982 Pontiac Trans-Am, and called it the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT). Along the way, this self-driving car was partnered with Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff’s character) with the goal of preserving human life on the grand scale.

But KITT had a predecessor, the Knight Automated Roving Robot (KARR). The prototype was programmed with self-preservation in mind.

Here’s a clip from the episode, KITT vs. KARR, highlighting some of the issues that we’re talking about.

The options in programming between KITT (preserve as much human life as possible) and KARR (self-preservation at all costs) are the same ones that programmers face today with real-life self-driving cars.

So which one do real people think should win?

According to the work of Jean-Francois Bonnefon at the Toulouse School of Economics in France, people think that KITT’s programming is best when it comes to cars that they don’t drive, but KARR’s is best when they have to be in the vehicle. So, basically, people are always more concerned with self-preservation.

So, unlike Knight Rider’s optimistic conclusions, in real life, KARR wins.

What do you think about self-driving cars? How do you believe they should be programmed?

My New Favorite Subtle Slipstream Story for Kids | Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

A few weeks ago, I posted on the importance of the question “What if?” to Science Fiction, but really, that’s a question that pertains to all of Slipstream Fiction.

What is Slipstream? It’s a bit of an umbrella term that covers Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and everything in-between. If it isn’t quite possible in our world, it can be considered Slipstream.

As I think about the books that fit into that genre, I realize that probably half or more children’s books are built on a slipstream premise. What if animals could talk? What if toys came to life when you weren’t looking? What if there was a tree that everything got stuck in?

9780399257377It’s that last premise that is the subject of my new favorite children’s book, Stuck by Oliver Jeffers (I’ve reviewed another book by Jeffers over here).

It doesn’t start as a slipstream book.

“It all began when Floyd’s kite became stuck in a tree.”

But when, instead of using a ladder to retrieve the kite, Floyd tosses the ladder up and gets it stuck too, I started to think that this book offered more than initially met the eye.

I don’t want to give away any of the bits that make this book my new favorite, so I’ll just say that you need to pick it up for yourself. Oliver Jeffers is a gifted illustrator, story writer, and master of the absurd. It was published by Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, back in 2011.

Go buy your copy from a local indie bookseller today!

100 Word Challenge | It Has All Ended Well After All

100_word_challenge_julias_placeIt has all ended.

Well, after all, that is the point. Nothing lasts forever. If it did, we’d get tired of it. But I never even got the chance to get tired of him.

His chest stopped rising and falling a few minutes ago. I can’t hear anything but my own sobs now.

No more snuggles, no more kisses.

As I lay in the road, motionless by grief if not from the wreck, I hate the idea of living without him.

A car approaches. It doesn’t see me.

But now I see him.

It has all ended well after all.

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