Being a writer often means having to hold down a day job. This is nothing new. When Stephen King was writing his breakout novel, CARRIE, he was holding down a job as a substitute teacher and working in an industrial laundry. I’m no different, for years I have worked a day job, first as a soldier in the Canadian military and as a truck driver. If you asked me 20 years ago if driving a truck would lead to the writing of my second novel, ACADIA EVENT, I probably would have laughed at you. But that is what happened, and I’m going to tell you how.
After the release of my first novel, THE EQUINOX, I was thinking about hanging it up as a trucker. I conveyed this thought to a long-time friend and fellow truck driver named Brad Hardy. Brad and I had probably trucked a million miles when I came to this decision. Brad had also left the province we both worked in to seek out adventure on Canada’s Ice Roads. I was frustrated with the industry, long hours, little home time, and it seemed less and less pay. Brad listened attentively and then said something to me that would change the course of my life, but also inspire my second novel.
He said, “If you’re going to hang it up, you should come out to the Northwest Territories and run the Ice Roads. Then you can say you’ve done it, and hang it up for good.”
I thought about it, discussed it with my wife and agreed that it might be a cool way to finish off my career as a trucker. So, with the recommendation of my friend, I signed on with a northern company called VENTURES WEST, and Brad became my guide as I embarked on an adventure. I flew into Alberta and began training on a new piece of equipment. My ride was a Western Star rig coupled to a set of Super-B tankers. My mission would entail, hauling fuel from the city of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories to a remote diamond mine 120 kilometers below the Arctic Circle. I hadn’t even watched the show ICE ROAD TRUCKERS on the Discovery Channel, so I was about as green as you could get.
After completing my training, Brad and I drove our rigs north from Edmonton, Alberta to Yellowknife, NWT. This gave me a chance to get a feel for the equipment. Pulling two tankers takes a bit of getting used to. So, the day and a half road trip helped me to get more comfortable. But I must be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
When we got to Yellowknife, we loaded up our tankers with diesel to be taken north to the mine. The ice roads are only open for a six-week window from the end January into early March each year. In this time frame, fuel, equipment, and supplies are run by 100’s of trucks to a consortium of diamond mines in the region. In 2012, the mines were, De Beers in Snap Lake, the Diavik Diamond Mine and the Ekati Diamond mine which was the northernmost destination. We would be supplying Ekati. The reason for the six-week window is because the ice road crosses a great many lakes that only stay frozen long enough to accommodate the endless convoys of rigs running 24/7. To get to the ice road from Yellowknife meant driving up the infamous 70-kilometer Ingraham Trail. As I would soon learn, this frozen winding road was going to be a treacherous piece of business.
Before our maiden trip, drivers spun tales of how dangerous the Ingraham was which resulted in one driver deciding that it was far too risky, and he quit before his kick off time. Brad and I were dispatched to take the first load of fuel into our designated mine, Ekati then owned by BHP Billiton.
Brad and I kicked off at 2200 hours, along with a driver named Paul Fraser, and another fellow whose name escapes me. Carrying my trusty CANON REBEL, I planned on taking plenty of pictures. But first I had to survive the Ingraham. I will tell you that the Ingraham, for this newbie, lived up to its reputation. The drive, for me, was harrowing, dragging twin tankers up over icy grades, and then being pushed down the other side by the weight of the fuel tankers toward hard frozen left and right turns. I’ve included a picture from the Ingraham which clearly illustrates a hard-right turn at the bottom of one such grade. When we finally reached the ice an hour later, my nerves were frayed, my heart palpitating and I was even a little proud of myself for not getting killed. I made it up the Ingraham racing against an invisible devil that pushed the Super-B and its driver to the limit. This was to be the beginning of 21 trips I did that season, and having survived the Ingraham, I now only had to complete an additional 15 hours of driving across icy lakes with a heavy load of fuel.
Rolling off the hard pack onto my first frozen lake was a treat. Not nearly as exciting as the trip up to the ice road, but certainly entertaining. When you roll a loaded big rig onto the ice, you can hear the pop and crack as it flexes under your weight. The people who make these roads use science and physics to make sure it is safe, but that is not all that reassuring when the road below is in constant protest of your presence. The next thing that struck me was the majesty of the northern landscape and the skies under which it rests. The atmosphere was alight with the aurora borealis. Twisting curtains, lighted with hues of emerald green, yellow, blue and even red. It was mesmerizing. The further we pushed north, the more barren the landscape became, unfolding into an arctic paradise where the sky seemed to go on forever.
I ran the entire season without incident and would return for two more seasons in 2013 and 2016. But it was that first trip when an idea started to formulate. I thought about diamonds, coupled it to my home on the Niagara Escarpment and ACADIA EVENT was born. The name Marty Croft came to me, and I began to think how this arctic environment would become the backdrop of my new novel. Driving 16 hours a day, 7 days a week gave me lots of time to ponder ideas. I wanted to write a book that crossed genres from science fiction to horror to thriller, and when I finished that first ice road, I got down to work.
Marty Croft used to be a criminal, who worked for an Irish gangster named Jude Shamus. Jude Shamus thought of Marty as an adopted son. Much to the chagrin of Jude Shamus’ only son, Gordon. Marty’s job in the operation was to steal trailers and their cargo. But aside from the obvious prowess in stealing trailers, which earned him the nickname Doctor Hook, Marty was also an extremely talented artist. The old man, having affection for and seeing Marty’s potential allowed Marty to leave the life.
Fast forward 10 years, Jude Shamus is dead, and his psychotic son Gordon pulls Marty back into a life he had thought he left behind. Gordon leverages Marty into a heist by kidnapping Marty’s wife, Maggie. The job is straightforward. Drive the worlds longest ice road, and retrieve a package of stolen diamonds from a northern mine.
I know what you’re thinking. This sounds like a gangster novel.
Not so fast.
At the Acadia Diamond Mine, they have found something, not of this world buried in the ice. A machine housing the fossils of alien lifeforms. The scientists begin messing with the new discovery, and open a portal into another world spilling thousands of invaders into the mine. What should have been a simple heist quickly turns into a fight for survival. Not only for the drivers on the closed track but for the human race itself.
Again, I revisited my artistic side, and began rendering what the aliens (known as Skentophyte) would look like and what their purpose is. They are raiders, taking resources and livestock. What is the livestock they seek? Human of course, or rather, their bones. Acadia Event was so much fun to write. My experiences on the ice were inserted, not biographical, but to those who know me, it was easy to see how Marty and I shared in the experiences of the ice road. Much of his emotion, his fear and trepidation came straight from my time running over those frozen roads. Moving between the gangster world of the psychotic Gordon Shamus and legion of alien creatures that are systematically taking over was a hoot to write. It was almost as if a movie was unfolding in front of me. As I stated in my previous blog regarding THE EQUINOX, I’m not going to give you the fine details. If a gritty crime saga amalgamated with an action-packed alien invasion and fight for survival does it for you, then ACADIA EVENT is your kind of story.
During my first season on the ice, I took thousands of pictures, some which I am sharing with you in this blog. I believe the pictures tell a story and compliment the book quite nicely. ACADIA EVENT found its way into the hands of a screenwriter, named Gregory L. Norris, who wrote for both the Syfy Channel and Star Trek Voyager, and to my utter delight he gave it a rave review.
Norris wrote: Author MJ Preston creates an epic page-turner with Canada’s frozen north as the setting and the earth as the ultimate prize for whichever side wins the war. 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 Preston as should anyone interested in a great novel. An author with a bright future.
I’m going sign off here and leave it to you the reader. In my next blog, I will talk about my latest project called HIGHWAYMAN where I revisit the monsters that walk among us every day. I hope to see you again when I recount the journey that took me to my third and fourth novel.
All the best.