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.’  

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