Saturday, November 18, 2017

Patti's Kill-List

It’s finished!

Well, not entirely, but I was able to type THE END on my novel, Highwayman, and put it aside for a much-needed rest. Writing is a labor of love and hate for me. I don’t write fast, and I balance my writing between life and work, moving at a pace that might remind some of Aesop’s, Tortoise and the Hare. Just the same, I do it, because I hold out the hope that someone might sit back and enjoy my writing. 

That’s the payoff. 
The more readers, the better. Because writers are closet performers. We want your attention, we just want to do it from a remote location, away from the possibility of flying beer bottles and hissing crowds.

Back in 2015 over a beer in a New Hampshire pub, I was sitting across from my friend, Philip Perron, each seated behind a tall cold beer, waiting on a pastrami sandwich to arrive. We were sitting outside on a patio, the sun shining down on us and the conversation was about writing. I was telling him about a manuscript I’d started, that it was a police procedural thriller and that I was about 80 pages into the first draft. I think I also said I felt confident that the story would be my next novel. The working title: 4.

Philip said, “You should write a throwaway.”

“Throwaway,” I asked. “I’m not getting you.”

“Write a short novella related to your new project and give it away for free. It might spur interest in your new novel.” Philip and I were interrupted then, by the server who set a salad in front of us. Something with green apples in it.  “Something between 60 and 100 pages. You could give it away electronically.”

The wheels began turning inside my head. “Okay, I’ll give it some thought.”

About a month later, I typed the words:

The time was 1:00 am, Wednesday night, and the bar was dead.

And that was where the journey began.

The throwaway was initially titled: Lance. The premise was to write a story from the perspective of the antagonist from my Novel: 4. An antagonist who is destined to be a sociopathic monster. The fear was that people might like the sociopath, but I didn’t want to people to identify with someone who takes pleasure in killing. Besides, that idea has been adopted by authors like Jeff Lindsay with his series of books dedicated to Dexter Morgan.  What I wanted the reader to see was an individual who does horrible things, what his thought processes are and how he endeavors only to get worse. So, I set out to write the novella, Lance, which eventually was renamed Highwayman and I finished the first draft in the fall of 2016.

Well, sort of finished it.

A friend of mine, a fellow scribe named Jake Anfinson, beta-read Highwayman and he thought that the ending was sort of anti-climatic. The difficulty, of course, is that a prequel is almost always destined to be anti-climatic because in most cases you already know what the outcome is going to be. Case in point, the prequel to John Carpenter’s THE THING already tells us what happened to the Norwegians Camp in Antarctica. We already know it isn’t going to bode well for the Norwegians because they’re all dead in the opening to John Carpenter’s cult classic.

So, the Novella, which was around 140 pages, was set aside while I pondered what to do with it. Or rather, how to fix it and as a result, the novel it was written to introduce also stalled.

While I deliberated, I set out to do some other writing. Mostly short stories and I focused on my art and my photography.

But still, my mind kept coming back to Highwayman.

What to do? What to do?

After about six months, I realized that Highwayman felt wrong because it wasn’t a novella. It wasn’t meant to be compressed into 140 pages, it was a novel trapped inside a novella, and if I ever wanted to get it to print, I would have to rewrite it.

So, that is what I set out to do.

This time, I enlisted the help of a constant reader named, Patti Holycross, who is a transcriber from Florida. Patti had offered in the past to be a beta-reader. I sent her a message and asked her if she was still interested and she said, “Yes.” Maybe even, “Absolutely!” but that could be just an ego induced memory.

I informed Patti that my process would be to send her a chapter every week and she could go through it and give me feedback. I would be tearing the book down and rewriting it, and she agreed. What I got from Patti, wasn’t just a beta-reader, but a research assistant and a fact checker and the inspiration to carry on.

We got to work. Back and forth every week. Her favorite saying, “Back at ya.” When she sent me back a chapter with track changes and comments. But she also kept me in line with dates and times and [cough cough] body counts. Out of this was born a document called: Patti's Kill List. I can’t tell you enough, how helpful she has been, and as with most people in the writing community, she did this for nothing except the love of the story.

Beta-readers are a selfless bunch who should be showered with respect.

Thank you, Jake Anfinson and Patti Holycross. Thank you so much.

So, the story is done. There is some fact checking and a bit more blood on the pages to contend with, but after a little hiatus, I am going go back over it and smooth it out. Then I will be writing a synopsis which I intend to send to a publisher down south. We will see where that takes me. Once I find a home for this new book, I will get down to work on its companion.

Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough.

Nothing else to report.

MJ Preston

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Semi-Naked Truth

Well, I haven’t been on the blog in one hell of a long time, so I thought I better get online and punch something up before folks figured I joined the French Foreign Legion. Hmmm? Do they even exist anymore? Note to self: Google it! But not until after you written a few things down.

So, what the hell is up in the world of MJ Preston; dark or otherwise. Well, I am in a transitional process in my day job. As many people that know me are aware, my day job has been that of a truck driver and by extension an Ice Trucker. Last year, I returned to the north and ran the ice roads after my gig as a retail driver evaporated when a competing company underbid my company for 30%. I won’t name said “cut-throat scum bag company,” but they are well known for such antics along with paying their drivers a bottom dollar.  

With my retail gig gone, I sat home for six weeks in the last two months of 2015, thank god for a guaranteed wage the previous owner put in place to cover drivers in slow times. With no other option, I volunteered to go north and run the ice roads once again in 2016. Running the ice is an experience I would recommend for any truck driver that wants to experience the adventure and beauty of Canada’s North.

I love the north, I like to think that it will always be in my blood and in my heart. As a writer, I have used it as a template for much of my writing, but the North has also been a blessing and a curse. It has been a blessing for inspiration and has afforded me a special insight into not only writing but served as a subject of my amateur photography. The curse has been the time lost running north, in particular, THE ICE ROADS can never be recouped and when you're over fifty and want to write stories and books, time becomes as precious as water and food. 

This year the company that has employed me has undergone significant changes after a corporate takeover, and I decided that it was time to make a decision. I either stay the course and hang up any aspirations of getting a new novel out before the end of 2017, or I start thinking about scaling back my duties as a driver and get into a more localized type of work. The reality is that the money would be less, but in the last six months or so I have been extremely unhappy in my job. That didn’t stop me from executing my duties professionally, I still managed to get up and down the road. But I was disillusioned with what has seemed to be a recurring theme of one step forward three steps back. I sought local work, and in the end, the argument always ended up the same. We need you out there on the road because of your experience. I spent the summer and part of the winter running fuel into a coal mine in British Columbia. I must tell you, that aside from the fact that I found of driving a super b tanker up onto a mountain in pitch black and dodging monster mining trucks to be in the extreme of challenging; I literally hated every minute of it. The fact that coal mines (even open pit) are dirty filthy places, or the fact that even after minor exposure I was cleaning black crud out of my nose and ears and wondered, “Shit what am I doing to my lungs?”  Aside from the black crap that got in every nook and cranny of my rig including my bedding or the reality some of the safety supervisors at the mine could be dickheads, I began to feel beaten down.   

On one trip up the mountain, I was followed into a site by a safety supervisor and told that I took a corner on a switchback too wide and that I was running more than 70 km/h. After I mentally questioned his knowledge about the pulling a loaded tanker up grades more than 45% for kilometers make going in excess 70 Km/h pretty unlikely. I knew this guy either had no idea what he was talking about or was just trying to impress the female trainee at his side as he berated me.  I wondered, but I remained diplomatic; it was their sandbox after all. But to tell you that I didn't wish he would ban me off site would be a lie. He didn’t, and that was the end of it. He jumped in his safety pick-up with his trainee in tow and leaving me to unload the fuel and contemplate my situation. I honestly almost called in that day and gave my notice. I didn’t care if they said I was the greatest driver of all time and that was why they kept dispatching me out to the hard places. That wears thin after a while, especially when some of the people you’re dealing with are blowing smoke up your ass and brothers and sisters there was a bit of that going on too. And just so we're clear, I’m not disparaging the dispatchers at my company, they are good folk and have a job to do, but my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. Couple that with the new corporate setting where I went from being able to call the operations manager 24/7 with any problem and having the owners ear if I needed it (if any driver needed it) to a working environment where there is no communication and drivers are treated as a commodity instead of what they are; the backbone of any successful trucking business.

The writing was on the wall, it was time to move on and maybe take back control of the quality of life I had been pursuing. There is a lot more to this story, but I won’t go into it any deeper because to do so would mean naming names, and although I know a few of my longtime friends who have remained would cheer it on, no good would come of it. 

I have started a new chapter (pardon the pun) in trucking that will afford that precious commodity of time to do the things I want to do. As to those I left behind, truckers, mechanics and dispatchers alike. My best wishes to them and to those heading north for another season on the ice; safe journey.

Writing, projects and such...

Okay, that’s enough blood letting or soul-baring on that subject. I want to talk about what’s been going on and what I plan. As some know, I recently published a collection called Dark Passages II: Tales from the Black Highway. This was a joint project in which I enlisted the writing of some of my friends from the writing community, talented folk like Tony Tremblay, Greg Norris, Bobbi Scully, Kristi Schoonover, Phil Perron, Jonny Kelley, Kyle Rader, Patrick Lacey and even introduced a new up and comer named Cody Spagrud. Dark Passages II was a project I have been tinkering with for a while, and I must throw out special thanks to Firbolg Publishing’s Star editor Alex Scully for assistance in making it happen. If you want an 8X10 magazine style anthology chock with dark tales, you can check it out here.

New Story. 

I have a new story which has not yet been published but will be soon. The story is called THE LEYAK, and it picks up years after my second novel ACADIA EVENT in a world where anything, extraterrestrial or paranormal is entertained as plausible. A supporting character from Acadia Event and the son of The Equinox’s Police Chief David Logan is revisited. Homicide Detective Howard Logan is investigating a string of horrific killings that are occurring along Highway 3 in the Northwest Territories. Following a lead, he and his partner go to meet a Metis Trapper named, Tony Rourke who is to know who or what is committing the murders. Stay tuned.


Highwayman is now into its third draft, and after I finishing polishing the living crap out of it, I will see how it goes to publication. Highwayman is the first of two books and was originally intended to be a Novella as an introduction to the novel I was working on called: 4. Originally intended, ha, the road to hell is paved with originally intended intentions and now I find myself retooling the bloated novella so that it works more effectively as a novel. Remind me to never agree to write a novella again, at least not intentionally. From now on I revert back to my pal and mentor R. James Steel’s advice. Just write the F’ing thing and figure out the details later,
What I can tell you about Highwayman is this. It is about the rise of a prolific serial killer who aspires to be the best. It is a book that explores the dark side of human nature and doesn’t pull punches when it comes to detailing the deeds of a sociopath. I hope to have the Highwayman done in the mid to latter part of 2017 so that I can resume work on its follow-up novel: 4.

So, that’s it for now. I hope I didn’t bore you too much with the personal stuff. I’ll try and be a bit more active on the blog in the future. The closing remark, I am an Independent writer and count on readers to leave feedback and reviews. If you’ve read my work and enjoyed it, please leave a review on Amazon. If on the other hand, you think my work is shit, please contact me with your name, address, work schedule and times you will be alone so I can work out an alibi and buy a gun, a shovel, and a bag of lime.

Just kidding. I am more of a knife person.
See you next time.
MJ Preston