I am pleased to be involved, in some small part with this project. I hope this blog will bring awareness of the movie and inspire you all to consider the impact of such an event and the consequences for all. Thanks to Charmaine for asking me for my support.
Back Home Again
By Charmaine Hammond
Have you ever had someone share their big WHY or dream with you and in a blink of an eye it was a “heck yes” to get involved? That was my response when I was introduced to Michael Mankowski, a Fort McMurrayite with a big vision and an important story to tell.
I had lived in Fort McMurray for 15 years. In late 2016, I returned to the community to work on a community recovery and resilience project with the school boards. A colleague suggested, Michael and I connect because we are both writers. Little did I know then I’d be saying “heck yes” to an incredible project.
In a 30-minute conversation, Michael shared the big why behind his vision for an animated film, that would become a conversation starter about mental health. His passion for this project is as strong now as it was when his idea was storyboarded five years ago.
Back Home Again was inspired by community resiliency, after one of the largest wildfire evacuations in Canadian history, impacted the lives of more than 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray, Wood Buffalo in 2016. Told through the eyes of the woodland creatures that inhabit the land of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo, Back Home Again has an all-star voice cast, who donated their time to the production, including Jeremy Renner, Martin Short, Kim Basinger, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Michael J. Fox, Howie Mandel, Ed Asner, Lorne Cardinal, Gordon Pinsent, Mena Suvari, Bill Burr, Tom Green, Norm MacDonald, Harland Williams, Sherri Shepherd, Marlon Wayans, Scott Thompson, and Tantoo Cardinal. The film will launch in September 2021.
Michael wanted to make this film because he grew up in Fort McMurray and was there when the tragedy hit. “I wanted to show the world how a community could come together and rebuild. I hope this film sparks conversations everywhere about how we are all one global community, and we all need one another.” Now, more than ever this local story with a global message could not have a more perfect time given what the world is living in and navigating through with a global pandemic. The film will be supported by mental health resources that are being co-created by Canadian Mental Health Association.
This film and project is rooted in community and collaboration, in fact, that was a big part of the reason that I was a Heck YES! A number of partners, sponsors, contributors, social ambassadors and community champions came together to bring this philanthropic film to life in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Red Cross. “The arts are fundamental to the human experience and are integral to healing and restoring well-being post-trauma. The truth of that statement shone through the events of 2016, through the community coming together as one, through subsequent hardships and recovery, and once again through this animated feature, Back Home Again” says Liana Wheeldon, who is the Executive Director of the Arts Council Wood Buffalo. This Heart of Back Home Again video, provides a great overview https://youtu.be/hw7YwU0pjY0
I always say “it takes a team to raise a dream” and Back Home Again and Michael’s commitment to his vision, is living proof of what happens when passion, purpose, powerful stories and people come together.
A community-supported agriculture group (CSA for short) is an association of people who pledge to support local farms and share the risks and benefits of food production. The growers and consumers share the produce once it is harvested after investing at the beginning of the year. Some CSA’s also provide products such as eggs, fruit, flowers, honey, and meat. The subscription costs vary and a portion may even be in lieu of labor contributions. The term CSA is mainly used in Canada and US but there are other subsystems worldwide.
Biodynamic agriculture was formulated in Europe by Rudolf Steiner in the 1980’s. The system was brought to the US from Germany by Jan Vander Tuin from Switzerland and Trauger Groh in the mid-1980’s. Vander Tuin and associates formed the CSA Garden at Great Barrington in Massachusetts and The Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire was created by Trauger Groh and his group.
However, an earlier system was created in the 1960’s Dr. Booker T. Whatley, a professor of agriculture in Alabama called the Clientele Membership Club. There also existed in Japan a similar model called a teiki in the 1970’s.
Today there are some 13,000 CSA farms in north America, mainly in the upper-Midwest, the Pacific coast, New England, the Northwest, and Canada.Their popularity is in direct correlation with environmental awareness as well as urban projects to grow food in cities for the homeless and disadvantaged residents. One such project is the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, which is spread across all five boroughs. The largest CSA is the Farm Fresh to You in Capay valley, California which supports 13,000 families. The oldest (17 years in 2012) is the Quebec CSA network.
This unique non-profit system provides finance to the farmers for improvements and new infrastructure as well as technical support and guaranteed customers. With involvement and funding from the consumers and stakeholders, it is a stronger consumer-producer relationship.Thus ensuring the quality of product and reduction of food waste.
Although each CSA has its own unique structure and marketing strategies the core ideology is the same shared funding and shared risk. Any surplus produce is sold at farmers markets, to local restaurants, on-farm retail and natural food stores. Unsold produce is sometimes given to local food banks.
Have you experienced or worked with a CSA system in your area?
I got the idea for The Lost Heir while in college. I’ve always been interested in the possibility of other worlds and beings similar to us existing and thought it would be neat to explore how someone from Earth would react in an alien environment. But the idea wasn’t enough to inspire me to start writing. I did it for my mom. She was an avid reader and is who instilled a love of reading in me. Originally, I didn’t even think about having it published. I just wanted to give it to her as a gift for a birthday or Christmas. Sadly, she died before I was able to finish it, but it is dedicated to her.
How did you come up with the title?
Coming up with the title for The Lost Heir was actually quite easy. Darrak finds out quite early on in the book that his distant ancestors were actually from Dragonath. A war was raged against the palace for rule of Dragonath. Although the palace ended up winning the war, their victory was exceptionally slim. The remaining survivor with royal blood fled to Earth until it was safe for her or her descendants to return. Darrak is that descendant and the rightful heir to the throne. Hence the title.
Is this your first book? How many books have you written (published or unpublished)?
The Lost Heir was my first book. I currently have three series going simultaneously. So far, The Dragonath Chronicles includes The Lost Heir and Awakening, both of which are published. The Vaelinel Trilogy has Silevethiel, which is published, and I am currently working on the second book in the series tentatively titled Chosen. My third series, The Legacy of Ilvania, is a series of short stories. Currently, Redemption and Reclamation are published on Kindle. Retribution is finished and ready for publication. There will be three books in each of the first two series. As far as The Legacy of Ilvania? Don’t ask me, because I have absolutely no idea.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I’m going to answer this from all of my books, not just one. A running theme in all of my works is female equality and the empowerment of women. Sometimes it is subtle, while other times it’s extremely obvious. But it’s always there in one way or another. I’m a strong woman, more so now than I was before. I see and hear many instances in our society where women are afraid to stand up for their rights. We live in a society where women are bred and raised to believe they are inferior to men. That they shouldn’t stand up if they’re abused or raped. That their only worth in this world is to marry and have children. That they become property of their husbands and must obey them and look to them as the stronger and superior partner.
Whether or not my readers agree with this philosophy or not, I always raise the issue. I hopefully make them aware and make them think. But my message can and should extend further than female equality. It extends to all forms of equality. No one, regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation should be afraid to be themselves. No one should be afraid to stand up for their basic rights as humans and beings of this world. And if I can empower even a handful of people to find the strength to stand against their abusers or fight for their right to be treated as equal human beings, I’ve succeeded. If I can motivate just a handful of people to perhaps treat others with a bit more respect, then I will be the happiest little fantasy writer in the universe.
How much of the book is realistic?
All of my writing, although fantasy, is quite realistic and relatable. Obviously not as far as magic is concerned (much to my chagrin). And while we don’t have dragons or sorcerers or lions we can communicate with telepathically, the storylines are extremely real. I include real situations and issues into all of my writing. The result makes my fantasy extremely real and relatable. I’ve written about rape, abortion, religion, abuse, and widespread epidemics, to name a few. Everything is written within the confines of the world and story I’ve created, but my readers can empathize with situations in their own lives or real world events.
Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Some are loosely based on people I know and events I’ve experienced. Inspiration is everywhere. But everything is quite specific to the world and story in which I’m writing. My characters grow and evolve based on what they experience. So even if the original idea I have for them begins from something I see or someone I know, it doesn’t remain that way for long. The characters lead me through the story. It’s their life. Their experiences. Their emotions. Not mine or someone else’s.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not a thing as far as content. Though if I had to do it again, I would have it printed in hardback instead of paperback. I had it printed in paperback to be consistent with The Lost Heir but I’m definitely partial to hardback.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I have gone through a lot this past year regarding discovering myself. I’ve worked on a number of problems and fears that stemmed from not being able to properly understand and grieve my father’s death when I was a child. It was a difficult process. Because of my problems and my desperate need for help that I refused to get until five months ago, I made a great deal of mistakes. My husband and I went through some extremely tough times, but we persevered and are about to celebrate a wedding anniversary we never thought we’d reach.
I’m sharing this because I know how hard it is to admit we have faults. I know how hard it is to face fears and overcome them. But the person I am today is far greater, stronger, confident, and happier than the person I was before.
Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t look to others for happiness. Love yourself. Be confident in who and what you are. Be proud of what you’ve achieved. Have the strength to stand up for yourself and don’t let people take advantage of your weaknesses. You will be so much happier and content with who you are. Once you find happiness with yourself, you will find happiness with others and your relationships will flourish.
What is your favorite part/chapter of your book/project?
Wow! Tough question! I think my favorite scene is the second scene from the third short story in The Legacy of Ilvania, titled Retribution. It’s when Juriel goes to stand against her father and brothers after they beat her with the intent of killing her in order to restore honour to their family. Because I’m awesome, I’ll give you a little teaser. Be forewarned…this is NOT for younger audiences.
Before Juriel had a chance to respond, her father closed the distance between them. He hit her so hard she fell backwards, landing hard on her bum. She tried to stand, but his muddy boot slammed onto her chest and pinned her to the ground. “Süryn! Norn! Kint! Léthan!” he bellowed, calling to her brothers. “Look who’s come to play!”
One by one their faces came into view. Each one wore a more sadistic expression than the one previous.
“What do you say boys?” her father continued. “How about we show our Juriel how a woman gets knocked up? Maybe she’ll learn a thing or two about how to fuck!”
Her brothers’ laughter grated on her soul. Syrn knelt before her and her stomach turned. “Look on the bright side,” her father said tearing the front of her skirt to expose her bare legs, “if you survive your lesson, you won’t be as much of a fucking disappointment to your next husband should anyone find a miserable little whore like you worth taking as a wife!”
Her fury rose even more at her brothers’ jeers. They closed in around her. Spreading her arms and legs, they pinned them to the ground. Her father slid his hand up her inner thigh and over her vagina before grasping the tie on her knickers.
Juriel’s magic exploded from her body. All five men were thrown aside as if they were nothing more than rag dolls. They lay sprawled on the ground, dazed and confused. Juriel was up on her feet before any of them had a moment to recover. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her mother move toward Léthan. Letting out a rush of magic, Juriel paralyzed Berla before the woman walked two steps.
What is your favorite theme/genre to write?
I only write fantasy and lately have been leaning towards more of the darker themes of the genre. What draws me to fantasy is that, when done well, although it’s entirely make believe, it’s real. The characters experience the same feelings/emotions/experiences as us. They love. They hate. They feel joy, loss, fear, and betrayal. They face hardships. And although solutions to their problems often times involve a crafty combination of magic and swords, we can relate to them. We can learn from them even though we might not realize it until long after we’ve finished their story and placed the book back on the shelf.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
No. I’ve already included subjects such as rape, abortion, abuse, and discrimination in my writing, to name a few. I will not shy away from anything else. If it fits with the characters, storyline, and situation, I will write about it. I am a firm believer in including powerful situations and issues in my writing that cause my readers to think. Whether or not they agree with the characters’ opinions or the actions they take is irrelevant. What’s important is that my readers are facing an issue and not ignoring it. Ignoring something doesn’t make it go away.
What book are you reading now?
I’m currently reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and Brush With Darkness by Jamie Maltman. Both are for book clubs. One at a local bookstore and one online called Rave Reviews Book Club.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I’m becoming a fan of a few fellow indie fantasy authors. Kurt D. Springs, author of Price of Vengeance, Scott Marlowe author of The Five Elements and Jaxon Reed author of Redwood: Servant of the State. I am following all of them and looking forward to what they’ll release next. I think all of them have quite amazing potential.
Do you see writing as a career?
Yes, definitely. Writing is what I do full time. Between writing, daily promotion, and traveling for festivals/cons/signings, I don’t have much time for anything else!
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I see myself doing exactly what I’m doing now: writing, writing, and more writing! Just with more tattoos and probably not a strand of hair on my head that’s a natural color. Who knows how many series I’ll have by then. The way I’m currently trending, it’ll probably be somewhere in the vicinity of three million. And I’m perfectly fine with that.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Actually, there really isn’t anything I find challenging. The biggest thing I would say is keeping the three worlds separate in my brain. I don’t outline or plan ahead, so everything is just up there, locked away in my mind. It’s not as difficult as one would think, which means I’m either a genius or completely nuts. You choose.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
I don’t know if this is normal or not, but no, I’ve never hating something I wrote. I’ve evolved over the years and my style is much different than when I began, but even with that, I don’t hate my early writing. That being said, I have hated a character I wrote. Not in the sense that I didn’t write him well, but rather that I wrote him too well. Garenth from The Dragonath Chronicles is EXTREMELY misogynistic and a right prat. I remember editing Awakening and reading a scene with him and hating him so much I wanted to disembowel him with a vegetable peeler. … Don’t judge.
What book do you wish you had written?
This is a question I’ve never been asked and one that I had to take a great deal of time thinking about. I would have to say I wish I wrote Bloodfire Quest by Terry Brooks. It’s the only book I’ve ever read where I cried. The emotion he was able to instil in me was stunning and terribly beautiful. I felt an immense sense of connection with the characters and events. The underlying messages were touching and heartbreaking, yet done so in a magnificently subtle way.
What is your best marketing tip?
I suppose this answer technically contains two tips, but I’m going to tell you both of them anyway. Variety and frequency. People need to see you and your books often and in different forms. Now, we have the opportunity to get really creative with our marketing, which is awesome. But if our potential readers don’t see us and learn about us in different ways (interviews, guest posts, Q&A’s, promos, etc.) and they don’t see us often, they’re not going to become our readers.
What genre is your next project? What is it about?
Fantasy of course! I’m currently working on the second book of The Vaelinel Trilogy, tentatively titled Chosen. It continues Irewen’s journey to discover the truth about her heritage and stand against her cousin Elthad, the leader of the Drulaack who is seeking not only her death but also rule of Vaelinel.
After that, I will continue with The Legacy of Ilvania and begin the fourth short story. Don’t ask me what will happen. I have no idea!
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
I can’t tell you anything for certain. Since I don’t outline or plan ahead, I really don’t know what’s going to happen until I write the specific scene or chapter. That being said, I will say Chosen has some exciting and unexpected happening. The enemy is now hunting Irewen in both reality and the world of the dead. And while fighting the Drulaack, Laegon became inflicted with a form of illness that is turning him mad. Both of them will be challenged to continue to find who they are as individuals while fighting to save the world of Vaelinel from destruction.