06 December 2015

A Girl Called Wolf ...saves the world!

Ever since I was a little boy trying to write science-fiction stories, people have asked me where I get my ideas. It's a question most writers get. To me, the implication has always seemed to be that I'm either quite insane or I am cheating a little by borrowing real events. Both are partly true. Usually I develop a "what-if" scenario that intrigues me. Most of my books came about that way.

However, my latest book is a strange kind of collaboration. There truly are a lot of stories out in the world and if one merely pays attention one will hear them, read them, talk about them, and perhaps write them down so others can experience the amazing adventures of real people who walk through our lives. They say fact is stranger than fiction. Perhaps that's true. (Pardon the pun.) In this case, my new novel A GIRL CALLED WOLF is a hybrid of fact and fiction: telling the story of Anna Good up to the present day and then extending the story into the future--which may or may not turn out to be fiction.
Over the past two years I've interacted on social media with many people. They post bits about their lives, as we all do. Pictures, snippets of events, episodes that go well or as often go badly. I tend to hold back my personal life. Nobody's interested, or someone out there might be far too interested in me. Either way, it has been my tendency to sit back and observe. And I watched a mutual friend of an internet contact blossom from an introvert in real life to a confident social media maven eager to tell about her life.

Her username is Anna Good on Facebook and @Anna4Anybody on Twitter (how it came to be is in the book). Over the years, I have found her story compelling, heroic even. Her early life was definitely not what most children experience. I was intrigued. So I began a conversation that extended over the year, picking up all the key events, many of the details, becoming more and more intrigued and naturally absorbing Anna's way of thinking and speaking. It was a story I would want to read. 

Then I asked the fateful question: "Could I write your story?"

Ironically, Anna, a University of Manitoba student about to graduate with a degree in librarianship, is an avid reader. And she writes poetry. People told her she should write her story. She gave the National Novel Writing Competition a try in 2014, planning to write her autobiography, but couldn't make much progress telling her story herself. Not a problem: hire a writer to write it for you! On social media it is easy to become friends with writers.

Anna is an enthusiastic promoter of indie authors and was one of the more active fans of my 2014 vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, enjoying it enough to help promote it on social media. She also enjoyed my novel A BEAUTIFUL CHILL, which described my brief encounter with her half-sister. (Yes, there's a kind of connection, after all, although Anna and I have never met face to face.) So Anna trusted me to be able to tell her story.

We began with interviews by email and on social media, lots of Q&A. Some of the material was difficult to handle--that is, situations in life not always being pleasant. I began slowly, as usual, searching for the right voice, trying to make the narrative sound like her authentic voice while maintaining a readable style that suggests a native speaker of Greenlandic. Being a trained linguist helps. We had to work around her classes and exams, and her fight schedule as a boxer (had to take some liberties with her record) as well as her training schedule as a member of the Canadian Army reserve. These could be spoilers. It's not a spoiler that her favorite word is badass. Definitely a long way from living "on the ice."

Then I left for China, where when I wasn't teaching a class on American Business Writing, I was pounding the keys of my laptop. (See my account of that here.) NaNoWriMo be damned! I still wrote more than 50,000 words during the month of July. With each chapter written, I sent off drafts so Anna could check them for authenticity and she often sent back suggestions for changes. We negotiated a lot: the cold hard facts vs making a good story. As with any life story, we had to compress some events, merge others, take some shortcuts, to create a compelling story which follows her adventures without reading like a set of diary entries. Writing to create drama, that is, to tell a good story, not just writing that this happened and then that happened. And yet, the writing flowed almost effortlessly. It seemed one of the easiest novels I've ever written. Of course, I always had a muse and a plot-checker working with me!

During the final revisions, we worked to accentuate certain episodes, particular details, and cut others until we had a good finished story. With Anna's approval, we finally get to bring her story to the readers of the world. However, there is a twist. Up to the present day, the novel follows her life. Beyond the present day, what might happen? It is easy to speculate based on what has happened in her life and in the book. An exciting ending to an adventurous story? What to do? Any more teasing would take us into spoiler territory. Of course the ending is full fiction--it occurs in the future, after all.

We chose the following structure, using larger chapters which place the events both chronologically and by location:

Chapter 1 - The Dark
Chapter 2 - The Ice
Chapter 3 - The Village  (...that would be Tasiilaq, on the east coast of Greenland)

Chapter 4 - The Town    (...Nuuk, the capital of Greenland)
Chapter 5 - The City     (...Toronto, largest city of Canada)
Chapter 6 - The Province   (...Manitoba; Winnipeg is its capital)
Chapter 7 - The Nation    (...of course, that would be Canada)
Chapter 8 - The World

The cover art was created by Anna's half-sister, Iris Schaeffer, who is by necessity a character in the book. She says she is "all right" with how she is portrayed.

Back cover text:
Ice and snow are all 12 year old Anuka knows outside the hut in Greenland where she was born. When her mama dies, Anuka struggles to survive. The harsh winter forces her to finally journey across the frozen island to the village her mama always feared.

But the people of the village don’t know what to do with this girl. They try to educate and bring her into the modern world, but Anuka won't make it easy for them. She sees dangers at every turn and every day hears her fate echoing in her mama’s voice.

Her mama gave her that name for a reason. She is A GIRL CALLED WOLF who searches for the place where she belongs, a destination always just out of reach, on a path she will always make her own.

Kindle version available now. Paperback coming soon--as soon as Anna approves a proof copy! Knock-knock...ahem...waiting!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my story and I'm sticking with it!

(C) Copyright 2010-2015 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.


  1. I'm reading A Girl Called Wolf at the moment. I just started Chapter 3 and I'm engrossed. This post makes even more compelling.

  2. Thanks! There are many stories that need to be told. Chapter 4 rocks!

  3. THANKS SO MUCH!!!!!
    I really love how you make me talk & be so badass!!!!
    We gotta do a book signing soon!!!!
    Gotta hug you!!!!!