Letting it go

After every publication comes the death of the author. The point at which Spirits of the Ice Forest, just like Mighty Mary before it, becomes not my own anymore. I can continue to encourage people to buy it – in fact, I’m contractually obligated to do that, and obviously I want to do it – but I can no longer influence people’s responses to it. It’s now its own thing. Grown up, in the world, and it’s up to you beautiful people how it does out there.

Meanwhile I go on. Cosmic Woman – my superhero novel – hasn’t found a home yet as far as publishers go, or I haven’t found a publisher who I think will “get it”… they’re out there somewhere, I just have to look harder. I’m working on a few projects at the moment – a horror novella is in the works; one more historical epic, this one about the Dulcinian Order;  my epic 280,000-word novel about a war in an alternative future which by the time I finish it might be the alternative past and which may or may not have to be broken into a series because I don’t want to push my luck; and a sequel to the Dino-Hunt trilogy, as well as a few other things. So I’ve got plenty of work to do.

Writing a fourth novel in the Dino-Hunt universe is especially challenging because my previous publisher shut up shop and went AWOL without publishing the last two in the series. I’ll say fair enough on the third. It wasn’t finished and I really never was happy with it. But Dino-Hunt II was cool, and much in the same fashion the first book was. I’m considering my options – it may appear as a free download somewhere, as good as Dino-Hunt II is, there is an old voice in the writing that isn’t my own anymore. I’d rather just give it away than try to sell it.

But before all that, we need to see how Spirits does. Kirkus gave me a review I was pretty happy with… we’ve had some problems of a COVID related nature getting reader copies to some reviewers, which is why there aren’t many up yet given the book has been out for over a month… but we’ll get there. Stay safe.

Free Spirits

Thank you everyone for the warm welcome to the world you’ve given Spirits of the Ice Forest thus
far. It really means the absolute most to me that people around the world can get excited and
enthusiastic about something that essentially came out of my brain – given a touch of historical
prompting, of course. Over the next few weeks, more online stores will go live and paperbacks will
become easier to get all over the world. Then come the eBooks. They’ll go live on Amazon and a
whole host of other online retailers very soon – thank you for your patience e-readers!
I’m happy to announce the novel has also been entered into a number of international book
contests, so we’ll just have to wait and see how that pans out.
In the meantime, if you should find yourself with a copy of Spirits of the Ice Forest and, after reading
it, feel compelled to share your opinion with the world, I always make it my business to share every
review I get whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. All your thoughts and discussions are appreciated,
even if I don’t see them all for whatever reason.
While Spirits is out there doing its thing, I’m hard at work on something to follow it with. For every
novel I release, I write probably three others that end up in the trash – this is neither a time-effective
or economical system, but it does sort the wheat from the chafe. I hold myself to a certain standard
and if I can’t meet it then the project has to go – even if that means throwing out a third or fourth
draft.
There are probably two or three projects I have at the moment that I’m excited about. One is ready
for submission, but we’ll lay low on that for now because I might decide I like one of the others
better. There may be a departure from my run of historical fiction books to come, but fear not – I keep the fantasy elements and the adventurous heart wherever I go. For now, enjoy Spirits. I hope it
is worthy of the attention.

The Spirits Saga – Part II

… but having a strong villain is only one small piece of the puzzle. Obviously, you need heroes as well, and I knew who I wanted them to be. I knew I wanted both Viking and Native peoples to take on the roles of protagonists, but there was very little information available when I started this on the Natives of Newfoundland. We know that at least two groups of people have called Newfoundland home since the Neolithic times and before European encounters – the Beothuk, who the likes Cabot came across when they landed on Canada’s shores; and the people of the Little Passage Complex, who predated the Beothuk and likely were the ones who Leif Eiriksson would have met on his travels to the island he called Vinland. These mysterious people have left us very little behind – a few burial sites and tools are all we really have.

There are, of course, many stretches of the truth in Spirits of the Ice Forest, even the truth as we know it. Wolves, for example, don’t have Alphas. The geography of Newfoundland has been altered significantly to create my version of “Vinland.” And it is believed by many archaeologists that Vinland likely connected to the mainland back in 1000AD by a narrow land bridge. But look, this is my world. The only thing I really want to get right is the people and how they survived.

I used words from the Beothuk dictionary to give the characters names and scant traces of a language. The Beothuk also left behind a good deal of knowledge as to their migratory and hunting practices, so that served as inspiration, but not replication – we must remember, the people being depicted in here were not Beothuk yet. I made the choice to give them Island Dwarfism, it made sense, but it might not be accurate. Little by little, with a mix of research and imagination, my Natives took form.

Then there were the stakes. History provided – both peoples were facing annihilation; the Vikings from Christian encroachment in the Nordic Lands; the Natives from Viking encroachment in their lands. Even if the Natives could have formed a peaceful alliance with the Vikings, as was done in the Middle East where Christians seemed to invariably follow Vikings where they went, and there was no living in peace with them. It was convert or die by torture or the eventual disease that missionaries always seem to have with them. The only hope for the Natives was to get the Vikings away – this was tragically proven true in 1829, when the last Beothuk died in captivity. Here, at least, we had a story where the Natives could be the winners.

By this time, it was about 2016. I had my characters, I had my world, but the heart of the story was missing. Depicting a war is great and all but there needs to be a central objective. Tolkien had his Ring, Star Wars had R2D2, Martin has the Iron Throne, Spielberg had Private Ryan… Hitchcock called it a MacGuffin. While I obviously cannot consider Spirits to be in league with The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, A Song of Ice and Fire, or Saving Private Ryan, I needed to figure out what person or thing was going to form the central focus of this enormous struggle between two powerful and driven peoples. You need to anchor your story. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself spiraling into endless complexity that, while it might be entertaining and well written, will never fully resolve because there is no central resolution to strive for.

It proved to be such a problem I stopped working at it and took on Mighty Mary in the meantime, but in 2017, I found what I was looking for. You’ll have to read the book to find out exactly what it is, but I hope it gives you an exciting and engaging read.

The Spirits Saga – Part I

We’re down to it. As I type this, Tamarind Hill Press is doing a final read-through of Spirits of the Ice Forest before it gets approved for release – the date is still April 30th. It might feel like a long time but what has to be packed into that time is immense. Fortunately, I’ve seen the typesetting and it’s beautiful – no need for adjustments there. This is the home-stretch. The cleaning up, the dotting of I’s, the crossing of T’s, etc.

I’ll go into it in another blog post – maybe next month, the last before it’s on the shelves and hopefully in your hands.

Before that, I want to fill you in on where the idea came from. Aside from history, of course. I first came upon the Vinland Sagas way back – what was it? Around Dino Hunt time… 2015, I guess. The idea that Vikings actually landed on the shores of Canada and encountered Native Americans was fascinating enough to drive me to that pre-undertaking obsession that all writers would know about. Imagining what it was like for each side. How they interacted. How they fought each other. What actually was it about the Native Americans that ultimately made them victorious – I don’t mind giving that away because… well, obviously Canada was not a Nordic state when John Cabot set foot on her shores in 1497. Vikings were, after all, known for their successes, not their failures.

It was exploring the verité of Viking ruthlessness that I stumbled on the mentions of Freydis Eiriksdottir. Much of the wickedness and bestial cruelty that is written about Vikings comes from Anglo-Saxon literature, so, of course, it is a little sensationalized and overblown. Not so Freydis. She seemed to embody every ounce of the malice and unstoppable power depicted in Anglo-Saxon poetry. In every mention of Freydis in the Nordic Vinland Sagas, she is either slaughtering people or fending off attacking hordes that vastly outnumber her. And most enticingly, there was no personal reason for her ambition other than ambition itself. Female antagonists often have some other motivation going on – personal revenge, some allusion to rape, and (thankfully not so much anymore) some physical disfigurement. It’s the men who get to be bad just for the sake of it…

To be continued…

Spirits of the Ice Forest

Dear All,

Just over two months to go before my new novel Spirits of the Ice Forest drops. I’m going to keep this one short but I want to be the first to share with you – just my subscribers – the final print-ready full cover. I think it’s absolutely beautiful, and I can say that because I had nothing at all to do with it – full credit goes to Tamarind Hill Press, my amazing publisher.

Here it is:

Right now, I’m giving it my final read through and then it’s back over to Tamarind for the finishing touches before it goes live. April 30th is the date. This has been a long and at times difficult road, so I am super excited to share this one with you all.

Best wishes,

M

Research

One of the most frequent questions I am asked regarding writing historical fiction is how I get my research together. How much time. Where from, etc. While there are of course numerous channels, the most prevalent and the most reliable, is literature itself. No matter what time period or what people your writing concerns, there is always a book, ballad, a poem, a song, something you can dig up and get the very best representation of a time and place as there is in the world.

Archaeology might tell us that Greece really did sack Ilium. But only poetry can tell us why.

Nothing in this world captures a time and a place and a people like the writing they produced. This is why I am adamantly against censorship in this time – we need to leave an accurate record of ourselves in art as well. And as sweet an idea as it may be that everyone gets along, that everyone thinks and acts in a socially progressive and fiscally sensible manner, it just isn’t true. There is homophobia, bigotry, racism, religious extremism for every faith, misogyny, transphobia, Nationalism, speciesism, Conservatism, and every other kind of hatred and irrationality in the world today. Alive and well. Rife, in fact, in a lot of circles and places. And as much as we may hate that – as ashamed as we may be that we haven’t accomplished this or that yet as a species and a society, we need it to be represented in literature.

Just like we need Mark Twain’s excessive use of the n-word, Shakespeare and Dickens’ anti-Semitism, and Ian Fleming’s misogyny to remind us how far we’ve come, we need the regressive ideas of contemporary writers to remind us how far we still have to go and for future generations to know where we were in the struggle for liberte, fraternite, et egalite.

That time of year again…

Dear All,

While Tamarind Hill Press is working hard on coming up with a cover and final edit for Spirits of the Ice Forest, my take on the Vikings’ attempt to colonize Newfoundland, Canada – still due for release in March 2021 – and dreaming up new adventures to write about in the coming year, I want to take a minute to wish you all a happy and safe festive season.

Merry Christmas, if that’s your thing.

I also want to take a minute as a Victorian volunteer firefighter to say please be careful on the roads. You see, wherever you are in the world, the holiday season is both a festive time of year for your local emergency services and a hard one. As time of work approaches, the car accidents stack up. That means ambulance workers, police, and firefighters, who instead of spending time with their families, will be spending time with the families of the victims or the victims themselves. Seeing them on what should have been a happy time, now the worst day of their lives. All because someone made a stupid decision. To prioritize between keeping up with the Joneses on the holidays or making that family lunch or dinner on time above making it there alive, or the safety of the countless lives of people when they take needless risks on the roads.

I’ll never forget leaving the scene of an accident during a holiday season – we won’t go into how nasty it was – only to be screamed at and flipped off by a motorist on the road for driving too slow on the way home. Well, sorry. I wish I could have shown that guy what I’d just seen.

2020 has taken so much from us. All over the world. Two families dear to me lost their daughters this year – both were the same age. It’s enough. Nobody needs the usual spike in road casualties on top of everything else.

So, whether this is your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Yulefest, or Midwinter – please, for my own peace and quiet and for the well-deserved benefit of emergency services volunteers and professionals all over the world, take it easy. Be late. Don’t stress.

Be good to each other.

End of 2020

Remember when we all thought it would be so cool that we’re soon going to live in the Roaring 20s again? We’ve started off much the same way the 1920s did: a global rise in misinformation, political insurgencies, and a surge of racially-focused nationalistic fascism. Conspiracy theories are the new news, just like 1920. A world we thought was unstoppable is being held to ransom by a pandemic we just can’t seem to get on top of. The NAACP were marching in cities from 1917, just like BLM are doing now – we’ve had any number of Doctor Ossian Sweets. The Ku Klux Klan became a major political power – although I don’t think the President called them “very fine people.” We’re not recovering from a World War – that’s one departure we can be thankful for – but World War One didn’t go on for nineteen years either, unlike the Middle Eastern conflicts our beloved leaders keep us involved in.

If we’re going to remain consistent, I have a few notes for the Powers That Be.

  1. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is gone, but somewhere very soon there should be a Carrie Chapman Catt about to put in an appearance. Please don’t delay this any further.
  2. There’s a Virginia Woolf composing A Womb of One’s Own right now as we speak, right?
  3. We mentioned Doctor Ossian Sweet. How about a few Clarence Darrow’s?
  4. The Australian Government set up a response to the Kimberley Massacre in 1928 and acknowledged that maybe Indigenous Australians weren’t quite being treated fairly, given it was legal to murder them and all. We’ve since moved to protect their lives (1960s, by the way) can we maybe see a move to protect their dignity and at least not actively destroy things that are important to their culture, such as the sacred Djab Wurrung trees we bulldozed last weekend? And not take forty years to actually do something about it this time round?
  5. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia managed not to get involved in any major wars the whole decade – although we’ll strike three from the US for their colonialist occupations of Hawai’i, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic in the 1920’s – let’s do that again! Without the colonialism though. We’re not off to a good start at this.
  6. Cole Porter, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemmingway, Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, Albert Einstein – we’ll have all them again, please.

We can do without the Volstead Act, but maybe the US can make something like that for animal vivisection and live export trading?

Let’s talk, Roaring 20s.

Release Date Announcement

Dear All,

After many challenges and difficulties attributable to the virus-which-must-not-be-named, I am super happy and relieved to announce that my upcoming novel Spirits of the Ice Forest now has a tentative release date: March 31, 2021.

Between now and then, I’ll be working with Tamarind Hill Press to finalize the prose and to conjure up a cover, which I will share with you all first.

2020 has been a tough year for humanity. I’ve had it pretty easy. Where I live – Victoria, Australia – we had hard lockdowns for two waves, which were not easy for people but they’ve kept our numbers low. Nobody can bring back the lost time, nor can they bring back the loved ones lost to the pandemic. Lockdown is temporary. Death is permanent.

One city that didn’t escape a serious outbreak was London, where publisher Tamarind Hill Press – of Mighty Mary and now of Spirits of the Ice Forest – is based. Life is rough on an upstart business, especially an independent publisher, at the best of times, when Tamarind Hill was still very new on the scene when Mighty Mary was released. For a pandemic to have hit when the company was less than three years old, I can’t even imagine. It is because of the perseverance and hard work of the Tamarind Hill team that I’m able to make this announcement to you all now.

My deepest thanks are in order, and our congratulations to them for weathering the storm. Stay strong, ladies and gentlemen. It isn’t over yet.

Stay safe and sane out there folks.

Best Wishes,

M

You’re swimming with sharks

For the past few months, I’ve been blogging about my creative process, which I don’t feel would be complete without a rundown of how one becomes a writer. Obviously, by writing. But the going isn’t easy – getting your work recognized, read and published or filmed is wrought with peril. So this month, it’s about the business side of things and the traps that so very many people fall into. If nothing else, it might be entertaining –

When I went to LA in 2008, aged 18, I was incredible lucky with the people I met and the opportunities and advice they gave me. Of course, I didn’t see it at the time. I saw my bank account depleting and my chances of staying there and carving a living out of screenwriting evaporating rapidly. But Karuna Eberl of Black Bay Entertainment and a few others – two are dead now – who gave up their time and lent their knowledge out because I was young and eager and asked, were a rarer breed than I could have imagined.

The good people you meet in arts and entertainment industries are like little pearls hidden in the depths of abysmal grottos patrolled by all manner of charming, attractive and powerful looking predators. And in some cases, I do mean predators – see, Weinstein, Harvey, et al.

In my first year back in Melbourne and back in the outer rim of the creative industries, I met;

  1. a “film producer” who strangely had no credits and who also hung out with the Carlton Crew – the mob who were at the time spasmodically killing each other off in a massive North Melbourne gang war;
  2. an American-born “film producer” who had one credit to his name – a truly godawful horror film shot in the Outback – who claimed to have written Flatliners (hint: he wasn’t Peter Filardi). He has ever since been working on a phantasmic 50-million dollar movie that literally every wannabe actor in Australia has claimed to “be in talks about casting” and which every screenwriter in Australia has been in some way “involved” with, and;
  3. a festival director who in his spare time ran “exposés” online about a globalist paedophile cabal trying to turn everyone into gay communists and how black people in America were systematically using white liberals to exterminate Judaeo-Christian white society. He is still out there, and quite serious.

That was year one.

But the painful thing about these three and the hundred-odd others I’ve met since is not that they exist – of course any industry where there’s fame and money is going to attract an encircling horde of conmen – it’s the wannabes who flock around them. And you can’t blame the wannabes – it’s a tough gig. The likelihood of getting your novel published, your screenplay made into a film, or getting that big role as an actor are slim-to-none. It’s a despairing situation. So when along comes a slick “producer” in an Armani suit, or an American hot-shot who claims to have all the connections and a 50-mil movie on the way, or a festival director with a ton of (unknown) awards under his belt, of course there’s going to be a compromise on street-smarts among those who have worked hard and got nowhere.

Numbers 1 and 2 made their money by charging aspiring screenwriters and/or actors fees for regular sessions in which they’d sit with them and coach them in their craft – whatever that craft was. Often it veered towards starting your own publisher/production company and publishing or shooting your own work. They say they’re always on the lookout for their next film script, but instead of reading the plethora of scripts out there, they send writers enrolment details for their mentorship program and claim this is sorting “wheat from chafe.”

An aside – the number of scripts bought and books published from mentorship programs is the same as the number of actors who get gigs or good advice from casting workshops: ZERO.

The irony is, if they spent as much time reading scripts as they did mentoring writers to produce and publish their own work, they’d be successful publishers and producers.

Then you have the “big-shots” – the wannabes. There’s a filmmaker from country Victoria who has won an international award from a horror film he made some years back (yeah, another one) and the crowds flock around them and the conmen use them to get to the crowds. By working for this filmmaker, you’ll find yourself tied up (literally) in a shack somewhere, probably assaulted and told that you’re doing this because you’re “dedicated” and you’ll be a big star one day because he will. There was an Australian actor of some little note(riety) – whom Tarantino had a brief affection for – who’d charge an arm and leg for actor’s retreats where he’d teach (mostly young women) all about “acting.”

And meanwhile you’re writing, you’re meeting other writers or actors who wax lyrical about positive vibes and good energy who flock around these men who flaunt their despicable natures online, and you’re getting frustrated because – maybe because your bullshit radar is sharper than everyone else – not trying to schmooze the “big timers” gets you ostracised from the group. You wind up an outsider. And why? Because that big film conman 2 is working on sounds like a dream? Because you didn’t like that number 1 spoke to you with his hand on your thigh?

I’ll make you a promise – it doesn’t feel good to be an outsider, but the outsiders are the ones who do actually make it. IF they do. The ones who didn’t waste their time pursuing the approval of life coaches, career mentors, the ones who were working on their WRITING or whatever their craft is instead of schmoozing conmen. They’re the ones who break through. And it shows.

Steven Spielberg will slip in and out of a room without you ever knowing he was there. I spent two weeks working on set with Robert de Niro and I hardly saw the guy. Real success does not go around announcing itself. And it certainly doesn’t want to charge you money.

But what if you do want a mentorship? There’s a lot to be gained from seeing a mentor or teacher regularly – for actors especially, it’s a must. Look out for the good people –

Real mentors don’t claim to be anything but mentors. Peter Kalos doesn’t tell you he was a big film executive at Paramount (which he wasn’t) he’ll tell you the truth that he used to read scripts for them. He won’t allude to making your film. In fact he’ll tell you flat that he couldn’t if he wanted to. He’ll offer you advice. Good advice – REAL advice. And I can tell you that advice is going to be to work damn hard and probably maybe you might get somewhere. There’s no “you will” – no magic bullet. Billy Stoneking was the same – he told you to work, and then he showed you how. No grand standing. No pretence of being a bigshot.

Billy is no longer with us, unfortunately.

Look for the quiet ones. Be the quiet one. Don’t cavort with the crowd – in the arts and entertainment business, the crowd really are the lost souls.