The old Norse pagans believed that the universe originated at the juncture of Nifhelm, the realm of ice, and Muspell, the realm of fire. When fire met ice in the great chasm called Ginnungagap, the universe sparked into being.
The cosmogony of my novel was not nearly so dramatic. I got the very first inklings when I was living on a lake in frozen Michigan, winter 1996, and my mother sent me my grandfather’s memoir.
All my life, my mother had been telling me stories about our Icelandic relatives and ancestors. I listened, but I didn’t feel it was part of my identity in any way. To a kid growing up on Long Island, Iceland seemed impossibly remote, maybe even unreal.
Now she was trying again. Perhaps she sensed an opening: in my snowbound cottage, I was a captive audience. My grandfather’s memoir told about emigrating from Iceland in 1876 after a devastating volcanic eruption and landing in the “New Iceland” colony on Lake Winnipeg. I couldn’t help but admit to my mother that it was completely fascinating.
That was all she needed. Soon I was cross country skiing to my mailbox every day to find a new package from my mother: family memoirs, letters, photographs, then books: sagas, poetry, history, mythology…
And just like that, I was transformed into this kind of nutty Icelandophile.
After several years, all that stuff – the Norse myths, volcanic eruption, midnight sun, medieval sagas, immigrant tales, ancient poems, family history – began to percolate into a novel.
And so originated the world I would occupy for the next eight years…