The cover of “Maxwell Cooper and the Legend of Inini-Makwa” indicates that its author is Simon Hargreaves. His online autobiography indicates that he studied photography, digital animation and creative writing and worked as a private detective and on Hollywood film sets.
The real name behind the pseudonym is Ryan Neely, and when he’s not writing he runs the Crow Wing Crest Lodge, just outside Akeley.
While he has released other more adult-oriented titles under a different pen name, “Inini-Makwa” is his first foray into children’s fiction and his first published title under the Simon Hargreaves name.
In a recent interview, Neely said he uses both pen names to avoid confusion between the different genres and maturity levels he writes in. “I try to keep them as separate as possible,” he said.
The new book’s cover calls it “a Bear Tooth Point novel”, hinting at a possible series of sequels, which Neely has confirmed he is working on, though not all of them will necessarily follow Max’s character. At the same time, he is also working on a series called “Darwin and Danforth” for the Hargreaves brand.
“I have a book written for this series,” he said, “but while working on it, we realized it was actually the third book in the series, and I have to put together some ‘other stuff.”
“Maxwell Cooper and the Legend of Inini-Makwa” is what Neely’s website calls “a supernatural thriller for kids.” A young adult (YA) novel, it weighs in at 404 pages and is set in a thinly disguised fictionalized version of where Neely works – a recreational setting deep in the forest haunted by spirits of native folklore.
In the story, budding artist Max grapples with a family dispute, his own confused feelings about a girl, and an urgent deadline to create a portfolio of drawings for an art school he hopes to attend. , while a mythical monster stalks guests at a lakeside resort. . He gradually realizes that magic and menace happen because of him.
Place names mentioned in the book, such as Hubble County, Akers, and Black Rapids, may sound familiar to readers in the area. Even the highway numbers on the Cooper family route to the resort town of Bear Tooth Point are only slightly changed.
Recalling fictional heroine Anne Blythe’s displeasure with the advice to ‘write what you know’, he said: ‘I really struggled with it, wanting to write something fantastic and new and wonderful that excites me, rather than something that I know.”
Nonetheless, Neely pulled footage from the scenery around her. Changing place names, he said, gave him some freedom to alter specific details while preserving authentic local color.
He’s been trying to develop a career as a novelist for about 10 years, he said. “Maybe five or six years ago we had a kid staying at the resort who wanted to be a writer. He wanted to write for video games.
“We kind of had a conversation. He was 9 years old. And at the same time, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to write, because I had touched five or six different genres that are completely incompatible with each other.
Neely said he read a piece of advice for writers saying, “Just choose someone to write for and write a book for that person. That’s pretty much what I did here. I know seaside resorts. I know the resort life. I know spooky nature, it can feel like living in the woods. …And I thought I could write a book for this 9-year-old kid who wants to be a writer. It became that.”
The final product isn’t exactly aimed at 9-year-old readers. From paragraph 1, the book candidly portrays its 14-year-old hero reaching a crucial point in his sexual development.
Neely acknowledged that he was not a parent and that his book had been skimmed through, say, Scholastic, those themes might have been removed before publication.
However, he said, “I think we as a society in America have it backwards when it comes to sex versus gore. Law? We glorify gore and violence and all of those things, and we avoid and are embarrassed and appalled by anything sexual. And I think that should be reversed. I don’t think we should be afraid to talk about this kind of thing.
Neely called the messy and embarrassing aspects of puberty a part of life. “We have to be able to be open about it,” he said.
He cited author Chuck Palahniuk’s discussion of “head against heart” and the idea of always starting a book, chapter or scene with something intellectual or emotional – like an embarrassing experience of puberty – which will catch the attention of readers.
“It makes an impression and hopefully gives some authority to the narrator, that this person is going to take me on a real journey,” Neely said. “He’s not going to shy away from things that other people might not play with.”
Write about Indigenous themes
Part of the book’s plot revolves around the folklore of a fictional Native American tribe, the Ashotii. When asked how concerned he felt about the responsibility of representing an Aboriginal culture, Neely said “a little, but not a lot.”
He added that his writing process included a little research into the legend of the wendigo, which lurks in the background of his book. He also spoke very briefly with Dr. Anton Treuer, Professor of Ojibway Language and Native American Studies at Bemidji State University.
“My intention was to see if he had any resources that would help me make sure I wasn’t being insensitive to Indigenous people,” Neely said, adding that what he took away from the conversation was to don’t worry about it.
Discussing a scene near the climax of the book, which builds anticipation and veers off completely, Neely said one of the reasons for the red herring was that “it felt like a cheat to have it end too easily.
“Storytelling is first and foremost an emotional journey. I really wanted to enhance that as much as possible…to be able to not only have Max officially defeat Inini-Makwa, but also make him responsible enough to bring her back to the spirit world, and to do it in a little more emotionally powerful way (way).”
Write what you want to read
Its main character is a young man who bears great responsibility for his years, with an independent spirit that puts him at odds with his overbearing father and a protective attitude towards his younger brother.
Neely said he created Max in part to explore how he would like to be at that age.
“I didn’t have that family connection with my own brother, my parents,” he said, although he admitted to having had the independence to move at 16. “That was kind of the seed of the idea, how could I have wanted to be at that age and make it okay to still have weaknesses. Even though he’s independent, he wants always the approval, the love of his father.
At ground level, Neely said, he began to write something he wanted to read. “It’s the impetus for everything I write,” he said. “Have I seen it before? Is it something that interests me? “That a book makes me feel an emotion, it’s incredible. That’s what I’m looking for, it’s something that will make me feel in a special way. And it is in this direction that I go when I write: What is the common thread that I want to carry through this, and can I make myself feel it by re-reading it, at the end? It’s so rare to find something that gives you feelings, whatever that emotion.
To publish his work, Neely started his own company, Ahr Publishing, and went through a long process of editing, proofreading, and book design before printing it through IngramSpark, a self-publishing website that is “as close to a traditionally published print-distribution source as independent publishers can get,” he said. “It was a fun process, but not something I expected to do.”
“Maxwell Cooper” will be available May 3 in hardcover, paperback, e-book and audiobook from Crow Wing Crest Lodge, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, Apple Books and kobo.com.