Keep Showing Up

It starts with a death.

Warning, reflective, rambling piece ahead…

I did a search for my dad on Google about a month ago. It was about time. The last time we spoke was in 2010. I called him from Qaanaaq in Greenland. The last time I saw him was when we were pallbearers, carrying my firefighter uncle to his grave. I was 18. My father and I hadn’t seen each other for two years. I didn’t know then that I would never see him again. Through the search on Google I discovered that he died over a year ago. I still miss my uncle, but my dad… that’s another story.

Stories have become my life.

Since January 2018 I have focused on writing as a career, ditching the teaching job, ignoring the year-old mortgage, and basically deciding that life really is too short not to do what I want to do. I chose to disregard what is expected of me. Chose to ignore the bank balance, or lack of one. I realise that I am privileged to be able to do so. My life is not affected by war or corrupt governments, I am not sick, I am able to do this, so long as I am willing to give some things up. A lot of things really.

But giving things up brings other opportunities.

I pretty much gave up meat a long time ago, only half-heartedly eating burgers and chewing – not enjoying – the occasional steak when forced to. But, since January, I have adopted a plant-based diet, with the occasional travel-lapses – I must get better at preparing for journeys and visits.

So, that’s two changes, two opporunities – a new career and a new diet. Anyone might think I had hit middle age. Well, I turned 45 in August, so I guess it’s starting to make sense.

The third thing – it’s all about threes, right? The third thing is running. I’ve started to run again, building up slowly. I’ve now hit the 16km mark – that’s 10 miles. It sounds so much better in miles. Now my sights are set a little higher and longer.

Middle age.

I must keep up.

But it’s about showing up too, and that’s basically where I am headed with this post, just in case you were wondering.

I showed up every day to teach, but I hated it. I can say that now. Although I have many good memories of positive students (especially in Greenland) and good colleagues, there were far too many negative moments (especially in Denmark) with a fairly toxic working environment, enhanced by some fairly crappy colleagues. It was pulling me down, and I needed to make a change. My all-time favourite teaching job was teaching cadets at the Police Academy in Greenland.

I loved that gig.

As for regular teaching, I’ve never said it publicly for fear of needing to go back to teaching if the writing doesn’t pan out. But I now know that I will never go back to teaching.

Never.

I’m done.

And the writing? Here’s the thing – you really have to keep on showing up. I get that now. Every word, story or book I write is practice, developing the craft, and I’m getting there, slowly but surely, because I show up.

It helps that I am absolutely loving it.

That’s the message then, isn’t it, to keep showing up. To just keep doing what you love doing, to get better at it.

Since January 2017, when The Ice Star came out, I have sold over 16,000 books. Added to that, over 1.4 million pages have been read via the streaming service. All this without much more than two pay-per-click ads and almost zero social media.

As an indie writer it’s also about research and learning, being inspired by other writers, not getting bogged down by tradition and myth, and not giving a damn about what other people think or do, but just getting it done, and then doing it again.

Showing up.

Again, and again.

So, this death I mentioned, my father’s, I guess there’s an element of “showing up” there too. The fact that I didn’t meant that I never got past the shadow of my father, and who he was or what he did, and what it meant to me. On the face of it, he wasn’t necessarily a bad man, he was just a bad fit for me. Now that he is gone, despite never resolving our relationship, I can move on. I feel lighter. The chip on my shoulder has been dislodged and I have no excuses anymore. I certainly can’t use him as an excuse.

It’s done.

Time to move on.

Time to keep on showing up.

So, as the nights start to get a little darker, and the end of the year approaches, I plan to show up in the new year and kick in the afterburner, light some fires, burn away the shadows.

Dead is dead, done is done, and it’s time to move on and show up.

And the photos? How do they fit in? One word: Alaska.

If you live there or have been there, you’ll know. 😉

P.S. To Jane – thanks!

Indie Music for an Indie Author

I listened to the above playlist a lot while writing Fell Runner. It reminded me of when I was in Juneau, Alaska. There is this amazing post office, kind of quirky, and they were playing Langhorne Slim “The Way We Move”. Well, I was sold, I bought extra stamps, postcards, the works. I went out onto the street to find Jane and drag her inside on the pretense of buying more stamps.

Music is really important to me, and I just don’t listen to enough – can’t always distract from the lyrics when writing.

Life is tough, eh?

But, when doing layout, cover design, and even making maps, music has to be in the background, foreground – all around.

That’s just the way it is. Oh, and here’s the Fell Runner map:

A Bloody New Year

It’s been a bloody year. I have lost count of the bodies I have buried in the mountains, pushed beneath the ice, incinerated in tents, impaled, drowned, and executed. Yeah, I’ve been busy.

2017 was a veritable writing roller-coaster, starting with the launch of The Ice Star, the story featuring Konstabel Fenna Brongaard of the Danish Sirius Sledge Patrol. There was a time, back in 2015, when it was unlikely she was ever going to be published. I was quite happy for her story never to be told.

Ever.

But after two months on the Yukon River, paddling from Canada into Alaska, I took a chance on Fenna, tidied up the mess of chapters while on a ferry cruising past glaciers in Prince William Sound, drafted yet another draft, edited her story for the umpteenth time, and finally decided to just be done with her in January last year.

It was the best thing I ever did.

Twelve months later, and Fenna’s story has spawned two more books in The Greenland Trilogy, with plans for another two follow-on series, the first of which should be released this April. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that Fenna will return in Blood Spoor, the first book in The Canadian Quartet.

Fenna’s story gave me other characters to work with and develop. Constable David Maratse turned up in two short stories: Katabatic and Container, and will soon return in a third called Tupilaq, before launching his own series with Seven Graves, One Winter. Whereas Fenna takes a Jason Bourne-like approach to solving conspiracies, Maratse will focus on solving crimes with a more methodical and sombre approach. His story picks up where Fenna’s ended in The Shaman’s House.

The Ice Star introduced another character in the form of RCMP Inspector Nicklas Fischer. He also gets his own series in 2018. The first book returns to a time when he was a sergeant, before he started his shadowy career that set him on a collision course with Fenna. It should come out in time for the summer.

I hope then that readers might find something of interest within the course of 2018. The likelihood of more blood and bullets is high, and, so long as the body count makes sense to the story, I’ll be sure to let Fenna pull the trigger. As for Nicklas and Maratse’s approach to solving crimes and exposing cover-ups, you’ll just have to wait and see.

Here’s wishing all of you the best for 2018, and thanks for making 2017 a great year for Fenna and me.

Chris

It’s Emotional

Okay, I admit, I made my wife cry. Normally I wouldn’t be proud of such a thing, but in this instance it is justified. Before you click away in disgust, allow me to explain myself.

Jane is an avid reader.

I wrote a book.

She cried when she read it.

We’ve been on lots of adventures together, but the time after the Yukon River, when we were touring around Alaska – with a quick visit to Seattle – was important to us. What’s more, when waiting on an Amtrak train from Seattle to Vancouver, I saw a poster for another train: The Coast Starlight, and was inspired to write a book.

I literally plotted the whole thing on the train journey, beat it out chapter by chapter, and sent a copy to my mail as a back-up. When we arrived in England in early September, 2016, I wrote the story that has become The Starlighter. Then I waited a year, sat on it – content with the fact that I had a whole story in the drawer, something I could dust off at a later date. Well, this September, I did just that, and now it is being edited for release.

So this book is personal. The others are too, but this book was meant to be something else. I was meant to write a book about our expedition on the Yukon River, but I wasn’t ready for that. I was, however, inspired by Naomi Klein’s book: This Changes Everything, and the idea that we are all very good at “looking away”. I decided that I was tired of looking away, and I wrote about Jayla Cooper, a twelve-year-old girl who does anything but look away.

Instead of writing an account of the Yukon, I wrote about the places we visited after the Yukon. The action takes place in Fairbanks, Alaska, and in Seattle, Washington, two places that have always been of interest to me, and are now important for Jane and I. So, The Starlighter is personal, just like Greenland is personal, and reading connects the dots. And sometimes connecting those dots makes us cry.

I got emotional when editing the first and second draft of The Starlighter. It makes me wonder, will other people find it emotional too?

Adventurous Spines: Slaven’s Roadhouse

Stayed two nights at Slaven’s Roadhouse. Received an incredibly warm welcome from Randy, Cindy, and Shaelyn. Amazing service in an amazing place. We started in Whitehorse and we’re on our way to Emmonak, as long as it’s safe and fun, we’ll keep paddling! We have two children in our party: Tiuri (9) and Liva (7), and the Rangers made them feel right at home. Keep up the excellent work – we appreciate it so much!
Best regards: Lars, Suzi, Tiuri, Liva, Jane and Chris
www.lifeisgoodfollowus.com

Slaven’s Roadhouse is a halfway house, a little patch of heaven in the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve. It was also our home for a couple of days and nights, time to recharge before pushing on deeper into Alaska. The Rangers were supercharged with humour, compassion and hospitality. They received us, our gear, and our kids with open arms. They were our heroes.

A little too dramatic for you?

Try a month on the Yukon River, through lightning, forest fires, heatwaves, rainstorms, and mud… lots of mud. Sure, we were having a great time, but a little home comfort was no small thing, and we found heaps of it at Slaven’s.

Slaven’s was also, for me, the culmination of a teenage dream. I had devoured all of Jack London’s books and stories about the Yukon, Klondike, and all things Canada and Alaska, when I should have been studying for my exams – all of them, over several years of school, high school, and university. When I put London to one side, it was only to pick up books about dogsled racing on the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. Dreams of the North took me to Alta, Norway, where I worked as a sled dog kennel helper for the very first time, but it was at Slaven’s, as an emerging writer, that I sat in one of the places I had read about, without realising it. There, on the wall, was a Yukon Quest poster signed by the dog drivers, and I realised I had arrived, and that dreams, once again, can come true, albeit not quite how one imagined them.

The kids had fun too. Tiuri and Liva explored the cabin, the outhouses, the woods, the dredge. They panned for gold, got nailed by mosquitoes the size of small aircraft, and we talked about bears – good eatin’, apparently. Or was it the skins that were good? It didn’t matter. We were on an adventure, staying at a roadhouse built for the purpose.

Suzi and Lars chilled out too, although the sting of a Yellowjacket almost ended Suzi’s Yukon adventure. We had talked about bee stings back in Denmark, before the trip. We had not talked about wasps. Suzi was stung earlier in the trip, with no reaction, but these Yellowjackets – about twice the size of a “normal” wasp – well, it took her out of the game for a while. Once again, the Rangers were on the case. She couldn’t have been stung at a better location.

Jane and I enjoyed Slaven’s too, although Lars’ boots introduced a percussive element to the experience that we had not prepared for – damn big boots, mate! But the Roadhouse was a chance to spread out and dry out. We hung our gear on the same lines with the same pegs used by dog drivers. We sat at the same table, slept in the same beds, and lived the Alaskan life I had talked about on trips in Scotland, in our home in Greenland. This was everything Greenland was supposed to have been – that is, an Arctic environment, with trees!

Adventurous spines drive one to find adventure in far-out, remote, and exciting places. I sent a copy of The Ice Star to the Rangers in Eagle, Alaska, and hope they can wedge it alongside their gear to leave it on the bookshelf at Slaven’s. I found adventure there, in the wilds. The thought of a dog driver dipping into my book during a layover… well, that’s another dream come true.

It’s Written in the Stars

It’s not all blood and guts, Arctic inspiration can lead to other stories too, though no less dramatic. In my first book for younger readers – aged 9 and up – I am going back to Alaska, as Jayla Cooper and her friends, Watson and Cherry, do their very best to save the world from The Starlighter.

It’s a race against time with plenty of obstacles in the shape of busy fathers, FBI Agents, scientists, politicians, and the President of the United States herself – no, not Clinton. But, ultimately, it is the story of a tough 12-year-old who just wants to be “useful” when her dad buries himself in his work to get over the loss of his wife, Jayla’s mother.

Enter The Starlighter, in the form of a strange alignment of stars in the night sky, and, all of a sudden, Jayla’s world is spinning to a frightening end. It’s up to Jayla to save the world, as she tries to reconnect with her father with a little help from the spirit of her mother.

Too fantastical for you?

I understand.

Fortunately, there’s plenty more action on the way at the end of the year in the third and final installment of The Greenland Trilogy, when Fenna returns in The Shaman’s House.

But, if you’re curious, The Starlighter will be available at a special pre-order price on Amazon.

Amazon USA

Amazon UK

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

Until then, there’s words to be written, drafts to be edited, and books to be published.