Please welcome Colin Gigl to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Ferryman Institute is published on September 27th by Gallery Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Colin: Thank you, happy to be here. I started writing some time around age 3 or 4, I think — "mom" being the first, last, and only word in my debut, which was awarded an illustrious place on the family fridge. I began taking it more seriously in college after a professor made the mistake of saying she thought a piece I wrote was funny. You can blame her for this.
I started writing because I (usually) enjoy it, at least when I'm in the moment. Sometimes, when you're writing, the world sort of falls away, and when you snap back to it, you've got 100 words on the page you don't really remember writing that you can't believe are your words... That's a special feeling.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Colin: Mostly pantser, sort of hybrid though. On the plotting side, I'll jot down key points or themes I want to try and hit, and I don't like to start writing the first draft until I've got at least most of the narrative shape in my head.
Other than that, though? Pure flinging spaghetti at walls.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Colin: Getting the spaghetti to stick to the wall. Pasta just doesn't adhere well to smooth surfaces.
Honestly, there are a lot of challenges, but I think the biggest I face is doubt. I often have a nagging feeling that every word/sentence/paragraph I write has some alternate, perfect version, but I'm just not talented enough to see what that is. Dealing with that feeling can be tricky. I've just tried to accept this weird duality of not being easily satisfied with what I have on the page while also recognizing that not everything will be perfect and I can only do the best I can.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Colin: Marketing comparisons aside, reading Christopher Moore growing up really changed the way I looked at writing. Here was a guy writing genuinely laugh-out-loud speculative fiction. Up to that point, I hadn't realized that authors were allowed to be funny. I know that's strange to say, but that's how it felt to me.
Also, THE MASTER AND MARGARITA left a big mark on me — I loved its magical realism. That really struck a chord with me. Mythology obviously influenced me, too. After that, the list gets pretty exhausting.
TQ: Describe The Ferryman Institute in 140 characters or less.
Colin: Two broken souls — one an immortal guide to the dead, one about to be dead — end up on an adventure together that just might save them both
TQ: Tell us something about The Ferryman Institute that is not found in the book description.
Colin: I think this story can be a bit sadder and/or more introspective than the description lets on. I certainly hope it earns a smile or two along the way, but it's not exactly light fare.
Also, there's kissing. So, uh, if that grosses you out, or something, you should be aware of that, I guess. Just saying.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Ferryman Institute? What appeals to you about writing contemporary fantasy?
Colin: Someone very close to me was battling with severe depression, among other things. I woke up one morning with the distinct thought of _What if you wanted to kill yourself, but couldn't?_ I know that's not exactly the cheeriest thought the world has ever been privy to, but it was an interesting and almost reassuring idea at the time. The rest sort of snowballed from there.
The thing I enjoy about fantasy is that, as the author, you get to design the rules, so to speak. You want a character who can jump off cliffs all willy-nilly because he feels like it? Go for it. I believe fantasy carries these inherent elements of discovery and suspense, even when dealing with the mundane, because at any given moment, the story can tap into the unexpected. There is always the potential for surprise and wonderment around every corner in a good fantasy.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Ferryman Institute?
Colin: I shudder to think what my Google search history looks like thanks to this book. Psychologists would probably have a field day with that: "Well, given his Googling on myths, suicide, the Lincoln Tunnel, and affect versus effect, we can only conclude he was an acolyte in an ancient cult going to perform a sacred blood ritual in the Lincoln Tunnel. Oh, and his grammar was horrifyingly atrocious."
TQ: In The Ferryman Institute who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Colin: Easiest: toss up between Alice and Cartwright. For whatever reason, their voices came naturally to me — it felt more like I was taking dictation than I was writing them.
Hardest: Javrouche. He ended up getting rewritten several times. His using of French honorifics was actually from one of the latest drafts, so he was evolving even to the very end.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Ferryman Institute?
Colin: I think having a fantastical lens to view a story through sometimes brings issues in the real world into sharper focus. The suicide angle was more of a personal desire to try and tell a story that was ultimately about hope -- that, even at the possible moment, when all seems lost, there's still a chance things can turn around.
TQ: Which question about The Ferryman Institute do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Colin: "What's the best way to give you several hundred million dollars as gratitude for bringing this book into the world?"
What a great question that would be to get, right?
On a more serious note: "What do you hope to accomplish with this book?"
Really, I just wanted to tell a good story. My writing has a ways to go, but if I could provide the means by which a reader loses him or herself for a while, I'd be thrilled. If it helps someone pick up a little bit of hope when they were in need of it, well, all the better.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Ferryman Institute.
Colin: Oof... Really tough to pick a favorite, but here's one I enjoy: "Death was such an abstract concept right up until the point when it wasn’t anymore."
TQ: What's next?
Colin: Hopefully another book, but I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself. I feel extraordinarily lucky to even have a chance to share this book with the world, so surviving this one is where my head's at.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Colin: Thanks for the opportunity!
The Ferryman Institute
Gallery Books, September 27, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
In this stunning, fantastical debut novel from a bold new voice in the bestselling traditions of Christopher Moore and Jasper Fforde, a ferryman for the dead finds his existence unraveling after making either the best decision or the biggest mistake of his immortal life.
Ferryman Charlie Dawson saves dead people—somebody has to convince them to move on to the afterlife, after all. Having never failed a single assignment, he's acquired a reputation for success that’s as legendary as it is unwanted. It turns out that serving as a Ferryman is causing Charlie to slowly lose his mind. Deemed too valuable by the Ferryman Institute to be let go and too stubborn to just give up in his own right, Charlie’s pretty much abandoned all hope of escaping his grim existence. Or he had, anyway, until he saved Alice Spiegel. To be fair, Charlie never planned on stopping Alice from taking her own life—that sort of thing is strictly forbidden by the Institute—but he never planned on the President secretly giving him the choice to, either. Charlie’s not quite sure what to make of it, but Alice is alive, and it’s the first time he’s felt right in more than two hundred years.
When word of the incident reaches Inspector Javrouche, the Ferryman Institute's resident internal affairs liaison, Charlie finds he's in a world of trouble. But Charlie’s not about to lose the only living, breathing person he’s ever saved without a fight. He’s ready to protect her from Javrouche and save Alice from herself, and he’s willing to put the entire continued existence of mankind at risk to do it.
Written in the same vein as bestselling modern classics such as The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde and A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, The Ferryman Institute is a thrilling supernatural adventure packed with wit and humor.
The Ferryman Institute by Colin Gigl is the story of Charlie Dawson, Ferryman extraordinaire. He's been working as a Ferryman for over 200 years and he's exhausted. He's tired of ferrying. He's tired of saving the day when a death is difficult and the soul he's dealing with may be traumatized. He's spending more and more time away from the Ferryman Institute. Out of the blue he receives a special and secret assignment from the President of the Institute. He's sent to ferry Alice Spiegel after she commits suicide. But for the first time ever he's given the choice to save a person or not. Charlie saves Alice.
There are many rules that Ferryman have to obey including not revealing themselves to living humans. Charlie breaks this rule (along with others) and he is in a huge amount of trouble - being locked up for centuries trouble! Inspector Javrouche who is the internal affairs officer is after Charlie for this breach among others.
Charlie is a wonderful main character. He's conflicted about what he does. He's compassionate and caring. He's somewhat sarcastic and funny. However, his work has become senseless to him. He has good friends at the Institute. Individuals who are worried about him, but he bottles up everything he is feeling and continues to do his job. He's one of the best Ferryman that has ever existed and the Institute needs him. He's greatly admired, but that is not enough for him. He doesn't want to be a hero.
Alice has had a difficult life recently - she's going nowhere professionally, she's been heartbroken in more ways than one, and she sees no continued use for her existence. Meeting Charlie (and not killing herself) starts to bring her out of her sadness. She's got a spark of self-worth left. If Charlie can nurture that, Alice may have a chance. She's a terrific counterpoint to Charlie. She's strong and independent but needs to lean on Charlie to see that she has much to live for.
Inspector Javrouche is mean, spiteful and really, really dislikes Charlie. There are reasons for this which become apparent over the course of the novel. His behavior towards Charlie is the catalyst for a lot of what happens in the novel though Charlie's saving of Alice is the linchpin event.
There is a fabulous cast of supporting characters as well - Charlie's friends and co-workers. In particular his best friend and mentor, Cartwright, is just lovely.
The Ferryman Institute is steeped in Greco-Roman lore. The Institute's history is deeply interesting and there are quite a few surprises about the Institute's founding, how it works, and its bureaucracy. Gigl has created a well thought out and developed backdrop to the novel.
The Ferryman Institute is a terrific novel. It's full of action, tension, excitement, and fascinating characters. It's a really, really fun read with moments of both laughter and introspection. Charlie Dawson is a reluctant hero, but a hero nonetheless.
Photo by Carly Gigl
Colin Gigl is a graduate of Trinity College with degrees in creative writing and computer science (no, he’s not quite sure how that happened, either). He currently works at a start-up in New York and lives with his wife in New Jersey.