Friday, August 28, 2015

From the Bookshelf: ACADIA EVENT by Mj Preston

Artist Marty Croft discovers that escaping his criminal past isn’t possible when crime boss Gordon Shamus forces him into one last mission.  Said mission is a run along dangerous ice roads in Canada’s frigid northern clime to collect diamonds from Acadia Mine where, unknown to Marty and Shamus alike, a discovery has been made: alien corpses and technology in the very heart of the richest of the diamond deposits.  Scientists brought in to examine the long dead ETs awaken the alien menace, reactivating the plans of the Skentophyte Collective, who take over the mine and open a gateway to their home planet.  Hundreds of Skent swarm through and begin to harvest the bones of humans and animals alike -- their food source and the imperative for a full-scale Skent invasion of the Earth.  Unless Marty and a core group of misfit heroes can stop alien and human enemies alike.

Author Mj Preston creates an epic page-turner in his newest release, Acadia Event, with Canada’s frozen north as the setting and the Earth as the ultimate prize for whichever side wins the war.  I first had the pleasure of reading Preston's work when I accepted his submission into Canopic Jars: Tales of Mummies and Mummification, which I edited for the fine folks at Great Old Ones Publishing (Preston also did fine cover art for the anthology).  As with his Mummies submission, I found myself drawn into the story from the first page, seduced by Preston’s muscular writing and knack for telling a vast tale involving a large and memorable cast of characters.  Fans of classic King should read Acadia Event -- as should anyone interested in a great novel.  Preston is an author with a bright future, and it was my pleasure to speak with him about his adventures, both in his real and literary lives.

Takes us into those arctic days -- as a real life ice road driver, just how cold did it really get up there?
Temperatures vary. I now work and live in Alberta, which in itself is a cold prairie climate, but up there the cold is extremely dangerous and unforgiving. I’ve seen temperatures dip to -70 Celcius. Metal, plastic, even exposed human skin, becomes brittle in those temperatures. Machinery has to be left running and can only be shut off for short periods, or it runs the risk of not starting.  As portrayed in the book, there is a ‘no man left behind policy’, because doing otherwise could impose an unintended death sentence on the individual. You have to understand all of these things before operating in an environment like this and you have to have the gear to survive. I had a basic understanding of operating in cold climates, because I was a soldier for 12 years and did annual winter warfare training.  As Big Garney Wilson says to Marty, ‘There is no hunkering down and waiting for the mechanics.’ North of the 60th Parallel and just below the Arctic Circle there are no mechanics, just seasoned drivers who know how to switch out an alternator or how to use a torch to heat up a frozen airline or switch out a clogged fuel filter. I was in awe of these ‘Men of the North’ and how they treated such extreme conditions as just another day on the road. These guys are a breed all on their own, some are outright misfits, poetically spewing expletives and sharpshooting each other with sarcasm, but when you are in trouble they don’t hesitate to gear up and get into the cold. In one instant during my second season on the ice we had a guy spin out on a portage at night and he asked for help. A driver named Vladimir suited up and set out to help him before the warning of skulking wolves went out over the radio. This was a 1000 meter jaunt. Before Vlad knew it, he was surrounded by a pack of wolves and had to face down the alpha of that pack. All he had was a flashlight and his wits. What Vlad did was keep the Alpha in his sights and kept yelling at it until he reached the other driver’s truck. When he climbed inside, the other driver said something like, ‘Vlad, what the hell are you doing out there? Don’t you know there’s a pack of wolves running around?’ Vlad related this to me through a hoarse voice up at the Ekati Diamond Mine. I was transfixed as he acted out the event, but I was also inspired by the story. What a cool Ice Road Story he had.

Your novel is fantastic.  Please share with us your process as a writer.  What’s a typical Mj Preston day like?
Thank you, feedback on Acadia Event has been very humbling. Process? Hmmm… I approach writing without much forethought. I don’t do outlines or strategize, I just sit down, touch my fingers to the keyboard and with a little luck I end up going down the rabbit hole. I don’t go in completely blind, but usually I find that where I intend to go and where I end up in a story are two completely different places. That in itself is great byproduct of this craft. In a way, as I am sure you will agree, it’s like being the first eyewitness on the scene. Typically, my day involves a lot of driving in every imaginable climate. Summers are wonderful, no black ice, no fog and no whiteout. Driving, although time consuming, offers up a long periods to think. Many of the action scenes in Acadia were played out in my minds-eye as drove to and from the Northwest Territories and by the time I got those scenes down into print I had a wide screen movie playing out in my head. Most of my writing happens between 7:00 and 11:00 a.m. in the morning. A lot of Acadia Event was written over the steering wheel of a Kenworth, sometimes in the most unusual places. I had another driver ask me where I found the time to write this book and I replied, ‘When you saw me with my laptop open, I wasn’t surfing porn or playing on Facebook, I was writing.’

(Preston reading at 2015's Anthocon Conference)
Share with us some of the back-story to Acadia Event.  How did the novel develop? 
Back in 2012, I was promoting my debut novel, The Equinox and rethinking my career options. In fact my whole life was in turmoil, I’d been laid off, I had family issues and I was pretty disillusioned. A friend of mine, who has a cameo in the book told me I needed to come out and run the ice. That even if this was my swan song for trucking, I needed to do this one last hurrah. I felt akin to Marty Croft, because I really didn’t want to be there and in essence I was escaping my troubles when I set out for the NWT. My savior was my pal Brad Hardy, who like ‘Big Garney Wilson’ got me up that Ingraham Trail to the ice road. Marty’s terror as he races with the devil up the Ingraham and the Inuksuk trails really is my story. I was terrified, felt every pull and turn, climbing those icy grades like a roller coaster and being shoved down the other side toward impossible curves. I did twenty-one trips up the Ingraham that first season, it took me about seventeen trips to stop being terrified and the whole season to get comfortable. Aside from being scared to death, I was inspired by the north and as we beat it up and down that ice road, while Brad flogged my first novel, I began to feel the tug of my muse. By the time the season was over, I had a rough idea of where I wanted to go with the story and having actually been up there it was a lot easier to formulate.

Is there another ice road tour of duty planned?  In other words, do you have any future plans to continue the story of Marty, et al, and the Skent invasion?
I don’t know if there is a sequel anywhere in the future. I was asked about that with my first book as well. As it stands now, I have no intentions of writing a sequel, but reserve the right to change my mind. I may revisit Acadia in a short story or a novella, but who knows?  We may not have seen the last of the Skentophyte Collective. It certainly is an inviting universe and they are now permanently embedded into my psyche. If James Cameron stops ignoring my messages and makes a blockbuster out of Acadia Event, I’ll be happy to write a couple more books about the invading Skent.

(Mj and Mummies)
What are you presently working on?
I’m just putting the finishing touches on a psychological horror novella called Highwayman.  It is the story of a serial killer with ambitions of infamy, but it is also a lead in to my next novel tentatively called 4. The new book 4 is a police procedural horror, with no extraterrestrial or paranormal elements, but I still consider it a horror novel.  As much as I hate comparisons, I would say it is in the vein of Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs. I hope to have it out sometime in early 2016, but every time I set a deadline I end up revising that date. So, with in mind, I’ll say, ‘Coming Soon.’  

Friday, August 7, 2015


In 2011, it was my absolute pleasure to edit the anthology, The Call of Lovecraft, which contained an exceptional story by author H. David Blalock, "The Shed".  On a gray, cold Friday earlier this past March, I received an IM from Mr. Blalock, inviting me to submit to his new project for the fine folks at Alban Lake Publishing, Lovecraftiana with a unique theme.  For his The Idolaters of Cthulhu, stories would be told from the perspective of the heavies, those villainous humans and anti-heroes who stand vigilant for the return of ancient cosmic evils, aiding their cause. In fairly short time (the very day, as I recall), I had the concept of my story: a young girl wandering a stretch of stormy New England beach collecting shells who discovers a jeweled relic straight out of Innsmouth -- a crown meant only for her head. But as I wrote the first draft of "Breakwater", the story became so much more than I expected, a tale of survival and the ends a person or species is willing to go in order to prevail in the face of extinction.

I submitted "Breakwater" and soon heard back from H. David -- the story was accepted into the anthology, which would feature a cover by the brilliant artist Michael Bielaczyc and a reprint by the master himself, "Beyond the Wall of Sleep", one of my all time Lovecraft favorites. Idolaters recently arrived in my mailbox, looking as beautiful if not more so than imagined.  It was my pleasure to speak to many of my fellow authors in the Table of Contents, who shared the back-stories behind their stories.

Harding McFadden on "Casual Blasphemies": "Of all the various critters that Lovecraft littered his stories with, I suppose that my favorite have always been the inhabitants of Innsmouth.  When I stumbled across the guidelines for this anthology, it seemed an obvious choice to try to write about them, and their forms of worship, as, to be quite honest, trying to wrap my mind around many of the other followers seemed to be quite beyond me.  In a great old movie, a character says, ‘A man’s got to know his limitations.’  I try to stay humble by knowing mine.  As for the rest, you can blame an introduction that Robert W. Price wrote a decade ago for an Innsmouth collection.  In it he states his belief that old Marsh might not have been a villain, but rather someone trying to make the best of an impossible situation.  Coming at it from an atheist point of view, he saw the interbreeding of Innsmouthers with  Deep Ones as a way to postpone, or even eliminate, the coming destruction of his people.  From that beginning, I tried to imagine what a worship would look like then.  It wouldn’t be something drastically different from any random church gathering, though with a different sort of gospel than we would use.  To that, add in a bit of religious fanaticism, and eventual patricide, and there you have it.  In truth, I forgot all about writing this story until a few hours before the deadline, so I started pounding my head against a wall while knocking it out with all haste.  That it was purchased at all was an astounding thing to me.  I hope that you all enjoy it."

DJ Tyrer on "Fane of the Faceless God": "Generally, cultists in mythos stories are portrayed as evil and crazed, which is fair enough, given that most such stories are told from the point of view of (relatively) sane humanity, and, indeed, it stands to reason that some such people will literally have had their minds broken by what they have learnt. But, just as not every terrorist or serial killer is some froth-mouthed loony, I am fascinated by the idea of cultists who are rational. Such people, like Celia in my story, would be perfectly capable of functioning within human society to further their plans. But, in addition, they do not see themselves as evil or insane, even though their actions and motivations might seem so to others. Just as the Great Old Ones are incomprehensible to mere humanity, functioning as they do on an entirely different scale, so the rational cultist functions on a different level to normal humans, making a meeting of minds all but impossible, yet tantalisingly close. Entities like the Great Old Ones produce a frisson of fear because they remind us of the limits of our knowledge and power. In contrast, those cultists who are a step beyond the human remind us that our humanity may be little more than a veneer and make us question just what makes us human."

Robert Krog on "The Ones Who Remember": "H. David Blalock told me about the Lovecraft homage anthology sometime back, probably in 2014 at one convention or another, I'm not sure which one.  I told him I wasn't really a big fan of Lovecraft and that I wasn't all that familiar with his works.  David is persistent though and asked me more than once to write a story for it.  Since I'm a big fan of David and his work, I gave in sometime earlier this year.  I'm not sure when or from whence the idea for the story came to me, but come it did.  The villain of the piece was inspired by some of the lifeless partners for whom I worked back when I had an office job.  I am sure that many of them were sociopaths or psychopaths that would have welcomed the coming of a Great Old One to destroy the world, aiding and abetting it in all ways that they could. There's something soul deadening about the pursuit of money and power and something maddening about the meticulous routine one must endure at times to pursue such.  Thus the villain, Mr. Rains was born for my story.  The heroine, Jessica, could be one of any number of lovely fangirls I've seen wandering conventions dressed in costume, combined with one of any number of competent office workers I've known.  The rest was research.  Lovecraft's work was equally inspiring.  Challenged by my wife, I did personally test the bit about the duct tape.  It works." 

Brian Fatah Steele on "A Better View": "I love themed mythos anthologies. I love how there’s this scaffolding in place that allows the author to build completely unique stories around them, exploring whatever themes and concepts fit in. Lovecraft purposely created in a vague manner, and that all allows us these decades later to continue on his legacy.  Anyone who is steeped in the mythos has a favorite Great Old One, and mine has always been Nyarlathotep. I gravitate towards The Crawling Chaos for a number of reasons, but mostly because this entity has no set form and is often portrayed as an emissary that interacts with humans. Of all in the ‘pantheon,’ this creature seems to have the most complicated agenda. Here to kill us, enslave us, enlighten us? Ultimately, for we feeble humans, it doesn’t matter. Sure, there’s going to be those worshippers up until The Stars Align, but what about after? The planet has been ravaged by the return of the Great Old Ones, and any survivors would be shaken to the core by such sights. These broken, battered people would need a sign, something to give them hope. But what is ‘hope’ to an ancient alien deity from the other side of the universe? They are now free to wander the earth, playing with us as they see fit. We could now be anything to soldiers, to slaves, to toys, to food, to fuel. We are so far below them, we couldn’t try to hope to understand. But we would try anyhow."

Jonathan Dubey on "Arms of the Gods": "I'm not going to lie and say I've read everything H.P. Lovecraft has ever written, though I know a lot of people have. I can with a clear conscience say that I've enjoyed what I've read. I've noticed patterns in his short stories; he almost always writes from first person point of view, almost always male, and almost never gives a character description or name of his protagonist. I believe that he did this in a way to make the reader feel like they were in the story, like, this guy could be me. I like the idea of making a reader feel like they're part of the action. In Idolaters of Cthulhu, we were asked to submit stories from the perspective of a villain -- someone wanting to bring about the evil from beyond. I wanted to do justice to Lovecraft's style, and still give you a story that you would care about and hopefully scare you a little. I chose to make the protagonist a woman, but keep the rest of the pattern. All that was left was motive. Why would someone choose to do these horrible things? In my mind there is only one true reason, one excuse: Love."

Amanda Hard on "Fatwa": "‘Somebody will always be incensed’ was the prompt one of my writing teachers sent out last spring. From that, I built a short tale of a writer who accidentally damned himself to Hell by channeling the lyric poetry of fallen angels. I worked on the seed idea for a few months, but I couldn’t resolve what seemed to be the injustice of the poet’s fate. I found my solution when I considered what might happen if Lovecraft’s Starry Wisdom cult survived into today; if its followers accepted predestined paths determined by a significantly ‘higher’ power. A fatwa, in Islam, is a legal ruling for a specific case, similar to a Supreme Court decision, but not actually legally binding. The ruling is left up to the individual to accept or dismiss, based on his or her faith and moral compulsions. In this story I wanted to question both destiny and faith, to swap them around and investigate whether either one is behind the actual mechanism of art-making. While I think it’s something of a cheat to have one’s protagonist ‘accidentally’ call up the Great Old Ones (almost always through his or her incredibly irresponsible decisions and general negligence) I do sympathize with my character’s obsession with notating the music of the cosmic spheres and  anticipating the terrible promise of a future of his own making."

E. Dane Anderson on "The Meat Junkies": "The original idea for ‘The Meat Junkies’ came about one late night while driving a friend home. Elliot Avenue in Seattle is an odd mix of light industrial, fast food places and a lot of other assorted businesses, almost none of which are open at night.  The near quarter-mile stretch of street can be quite deserted after dark. At the south end of the road is an oddly placed ice cream shop, situated nowhere near decent parking, and like the rest of the area totally deserted at night. My friend and I asked each other if either of us had ever seen the shop open. We hadn’t. I quickly joked that it must be a front for something. My friend immediately said ‘aliens!’ And taking a cue from the old Peter Jackson film, Bad Taste I upped the ante and said that it was a secret way station for aliens who were trading in human meat. After I had dropped her off, the story started to form in my head. The aliens became Shoggoths with all their human loathing characteristics. The setting changed slightly to a much bleaker type of urban decay landscape. And in the forty minutes it took me to drive home, I had the rest of the story outline worked out. Originally, it would have ended with a black-ops team showing up and using a spray chemical to disintegrate the Shoggoths. But in keeping with the Lovecraftian tradition, I thought it best that the humans lose."