Editor’s note: When I heard that Carol Gardarsson had not only written four novels but self-published them and with her husband, Garðar’s help, marketed them, I was impressed, not just impressed but astounded. To write a novel takes a great deal of effort and time, never mind four. And then to publish them oneself and market them. This takes guts and determination. I was so taken by Carol’s story that I asked her to tell our readers about her series and the challenges she’s faced. Many of our readers are, from the email I receive, working on books of one kind or another. Carol says she and Garðar are willing to assist others who have begun this difficult journey. I think this is a story worth hearing. It is a story with a long tradition in the Icelandic North American community.
Brewing Evil: A Witch is Born begins an epic journey into the late 1800s. This self-published series begins with the story of a young Icelandic family – the husband, Petur, his wife, Hulda, their newborn baby, Inga and Hulda’s 17-year-old sister, Gudrun.
Emigrating to Manitoba in the early spring of 1895 for one of the free farms offered by the Canadian government, they leave their homeland to seek a better life in a new country. En route to the farm Hulda becomes lost on the prairies with her infant daughter, Inga.
She wanders for several days and by the time she is found, is already dying. The people who find her are shocked when they realize that, to save her baby’s life, she has fed the child her own blood. One farmer believes that being weaned on human blood marks the baby as a witch.
Inspired by a woman who actually lived in the Manitoba Interlake region in the 1800s, this series follows the child, later renamed Eliza by her adoptive parents.
As a writer, it’s been a labor of love to write the Brewing Evil series. I researched the background of this fiction (which is historically accurate) over a period of four years and spent six months organizing my materials and doing a chapter-by-chapter outline for each of the first three books before I ever started writing. My husband, Garðar helped in my research by translating Icelandic history books and documents.
As a former newspaper reporter in the Interlake, I had the opportunity to interview seniors who shared their stories with me. I also heard about some actual events in the real Eliza’s life that I incorporated into the books.
Our decision to self-publish the series created its own challenges. Believe it or not, actually writing the series was the easy part! We are fortunate to have a daughter and son-in-law nearby who are both experienced and talented graphic artists; they not only designed all the book covers, they designed all of our promotional materials, advertising and even invoices and consignment forms.
On the cover of Deadly Spells, you’ll see, embedded in the foreground of the photograph an ancient Icelandic rune which symbolizes “Defeat of Inner Demons” – appropriate for the book in which Eliza must overcome her grief and depression. In Dark Forces, the symbol embedded in the cover is a rune that symbolizes “Defeat of your Enemies and Victory in Battle”, also appropriate. In The Book of Petur, the rune on that cover symbolizes “Safety on the Water and Good Fishing”; in this book, Petur learns the profession of fishing in Lake Winnipeg.
Asked why I chose to write this story, the answer is easy. I admire what little I could learn of the real Eliza (there is no official documentation of her life), her strength and determination to survive in an era when women were still considered chattels. In the series, I incorporate some real-life dramas of early pioneers.
We have distributed the books across western Canada, from B.C. to Manitoba, which has meant a lot of travel, and hope to work our way east in the near future. Finding the right places to consign the books, working on advertising, creating and testing promotions, networking with those experienced in the book publishing and distribution business and, of course, doing book signings, readings and meetings with book clubs mean our days are busy. Presently, we are working on getting the books into bookstores in Iceland, where the series earned a rave review in Reykjavík’s daily newspaper.
Occasionally other writers, contemplating self-publishing, ask our advice and we gladly share what we have learned these past years. No writer can succeed without the tools of writing: grammar, spelling, punctuation, an imagination and an ear for dialogue. One thing we stress is patience and persistence; like rearing a child, these two things, along with consistency, are key. And above all we tell other writers: Don’t give up on your dream. If you believe in what you’re doing and in yourself, and if you work hard, you will succeed. It’s the formula used by the early pioneers – a living testament to success.