February 2, 2016
Sometimes I can’t handle how many ideas I come up with. Every time they show up in my head, I think they’re the greatest things ever, but after gesticulating for a few hours, they fizzle out and die. Some ideas have blossomed into novels, short stories and poems, while others haven’t made it past a character name.
For the month of February, I’m going to be posting these various ideas (all currently unpublished, but wholly my own) with an accompanying drawing.
I know I’m not the best illustrator, but I like that these drawings are as simple as some of the ideas that lay behind them. Like I said, some of these posts haven’t made it past the brainstorming stage, while others have blossomed into full-length novels.
I’ll be posting them in spurts of five, but if you want a daily dose, check out my Instagram @munzofsteel or my Twitter @andrewmunz
January 22, 2016
I’ve had so many friends and friends of friends come to me with some advice on how to travel to Iceland, what to do, where to go, how expensive things are and if I had any other tips and tricks about navigating this little island in the North Atlantic. And each time I’ve offered some unique advice depending on what kind of adventure that person was looking for. There are so many resources on the internet and in guidebook form that it can be a little overwhelming.
So I’ve decided that I would offer up my own personal guide, 90% Munz style. That means I’m not going to tell you anything boring like how to rent a car or how to find the best deals for hostels. That kind of stuff shifts depend on the seasons and the years, and I don’t want to have to update this every month (not because I’m lazy…okay, yes, because I’m super lazy). Instead of telling you the perfect places to go, I will help you piece together an adventure from the ground up. All I ask of you is to say “yes” to everything, and let Iceland open itself up to you as it did to me.
Note: If I planned extensively for my first Iceland visit and kept to a schedule, I would not have loved it as much as I do now. I love Iceland because I allowed myself to get lost in its majesty, to be completely open and willing to do whatever I was presented with.
Press play on this playlist, and let’s get going.
The Top Three Things to Pack Before You Visit Iceland
- Optimism: Iceland is one of the easiest places in the world to travel because the country has completely transformed itself to accommodate the massive influx of visitors. Don’t stress about anything (I know this might be hard for some of you) and keep yourself open to possibilities. Even if your hotel is fully booked or your car rental falls through or a massive rock storm stands between you and the main road (it happens), know that Iceland is virtually idiot-proof. Please don’t prove me wrong.
- A Loose Tongue: As an English speaker, it’s ridiculously easy to navigate your way around Iceland. Everyone speaks at least some English and you’ll find plenty of tourist resources in even the smallest village. Because of the tourism boom, Icelanders expect that you won’t be able to pronounce Icelandic towns or other words. But if you attempt, they will love you for it. It’s a great way to integrate yourself into the culture without seeming like a clueless tourist. Practice your rolled-r’s now, because every single r in Icelandic is rolled. Good? You’ll be pronouncing Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur in no time! (For some help with Icelandic pronunciations click here: COMING SOON)
- Patience: I know these things aren’t necessarily packable, but they’re incredibly important and this last one might be the most important when coming to Iceland. Because things move at a much slower pace here. Sometimes buses don’t come on time and sometimes the hotel front desk isn’t open when they say they are. Restaurants might be able to seat you in 20 minutes or an hour depending on how things go. An Icelandic acquaintance will tell you they’ll meet you at 11:00, but they might show up around 10:45 or 11:30, depending on how the day is going. This isn’t true for every Icelander, but it’s just how things go here. The more you can separate yourself from the timetables you might be used to, the more you’ll be able to enjoy the present and not waste a single moment on being worried or stressed out.
I point out these things directly because Iceland is a country of +/- 320,000 people in a country roughly the size of Kentucky. It takes time to get anywhere, weather is always a factor and you have to be okay with road closures, wind storms and the occasional volcanic eruption. It happens and the Icelanders have built their culture around unpredictability.
Now that you have your three most important things packed, let’s talk about your adventure. If you’ve been on Icelandic tourist websites, you’ve probably seen a map like this:
The black line depicts the Ring Road, or Highway 1, which circumnavigates the entire island. If you stick to the Ring Road, yes you will just about everything Iceland has to offer. You will take these same photos and your adventure will be exactly like thousands of other tourists before you.
Yes, these are beautiful pictures. But at each of these places you will no doubt have sometimes hundreds of other tourists standing next to you or nearby. If you’re cool with that, then by all means, head to these spots and see Iceland’s best tourist landmarks. I definitely did that on my first trip to Iceland, but there’s so much to see and if you only photograph the big grandiose recognizable landmarks, then you’re setting the bar too high for the rest of the country.
The best thing you can do is rent a car and make your own path. Yes you’ll learn a lot from the bus tours and the guides, but the tourism industry will now say just about anything to get money out of you. I’m sure you’ve heard about the scuba trip in which you can dive between the North American and European tectonic plates and touch both?
Yeah, it’s total bullshit. The Þingvellir valley is massive and while Iceland did emerge out of a crack resulting of the two tectonic plates pulling apart, the area is so huge (as are the plates) that it’s impossible to pinpoint where the separation is. The Silfra fissure where the diving takes place is just one of many cracks in Iceland’s crust, and there’s really no way to prove that the crack is in North America or Europe. In reality, the person in the above picture spent too much money to touch some underwater rocks…
The best thing you can do is to talk to real Icelanders who are not involved with the tourism industry. Fishermen, farmers, grocery store clerks, cafe baristas, and just about anyone you meet at the bar. Icelanders appear to be very cold on the outside–they value privacy and don’t like small talk–but are always willing to help out, so long as it doesn’t require too much of them. Follow the Ring Road, but make your own path, whether it’s clockwise or counter clockwise. The Icelanders are the best people to tell you about secret hikes, hidden hot springs, amazing vistas and the best place to watch the sunset (if it sets at all).
I recommend a car over hitchhiking because, again, the Icelanders will always pick you up (other tourists will speed past you in a terrified panic), but don’t ask them to take you too far. Icelanders have a history of getting taken advantage of (especially by their own government), so the more you can show your gratitude without being too needy, the better you’ll look in their eyes.
Important Travel Tip: no matter where you travel to in the world, you are an ambassador of your homeland. I’ve been told repeatedly that I don’t “seem American,” which is both a compliment and a curse. Just remember, the more polite, open and understanding you are, the better light you’ll cast over your whole country. Eliminate your expectations and go with the flow.
You’ll notice I haven’t really recommended anywhere to go. That’s because it’s SO important to keep your destinations up in the air. If you’re traveling during peak season worried about finding accommodation in time, rent a camper van or just bundle up and sleep in your car. That’s part of the adventure! Remember what I said about being optimistic and patient.
You absolutely can travel like a tourist in Iceland. You can stay at hotels, have buses take you on day trips, eat only safe recognizable foods, take the same photos as everyone else, and never venture off the beaten path. There are tourists who come to Iceland who never have a conversation with a real Icelander! And if that’s the way you want to travel, by all means have at it. But that ain’t the Munz way of life, and it really shouldn’t be yours. When you travel you have to take risks. There’s no other way to feel alive.
The more risks you take, the more Iceland will take care of you. I’m encouraging you to budget a good amount of money and have the ability to go whale watching if the opportunity presents itself. I want you to go to the grocery store and ask the clerks about things you don’t recognize, don’t just buy the brands you recognize. The more you can challenge your comfort zone, the better your memories will be.
Yes, millions of people are traveling to Iceland every year. But because of its size and remoteness, it’s possible to have your own unique adventure that is completely different than anyone else’s. Obviously, I want you to be a conscientious traveler and not act like an idiot. Please read this. It’s absolutely required reading for anyone traveling to Iceland.
Ultimately, I want you to have the best time and am completely open to giving you specific suggestions if you want them. Just leave a comment below and I’ll respond to whatever questions you may have.
Iceland is my new home and I want everyone to have the best time when they come here. Now, start planning your trip and get your ass over here.
January 19, 2016
Last night I went for an inspiration walk around midnight. Sometimes the best thing I can do to help spark a novel idea or flesh out an existing idea is to go out for a night walk with my headphones in. If you know me, I’m definitely the super-ambitious type and tend to have no less than five projects going on at all times. It was true in Chicago, it was true in Wyoming and it’s true again here in Iceland.
I touched on a few projects in my last blog, but here’s the Official List of Munz Projects for January 2016:
- Getting my YA western “Blade of the Outlaw” out there and desperately trying to convince agents that adventure westerns set during the gunslinging era are not dead (see: “The Hateful Eight,” “The Revenant,” and the upcoming “Jane Got a Gun”)
- Researching and creating a completely imaginary world based on Icelandic folklore for my MG Fantasy “The Saga of Sigga Finns”
- Working on the libretto for my epic troll musical, “Trolls of the North Fjord,” set here in the little Icelandic fjord where I currently reside
- Beefing up the series outline for my possibly-a-podcast-or-maybe-a-TV-pilot, “here/after” based on my first unpublished, ginormous mess of a novel
- Working on a new YA Contemporary set that’s a little “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and a little “Anna and the French Kiss”
- Ensuring this blog doesn’t fall victim to the five aforementioned projects… *echem*
Looking at all of that my mind starts to go all:
But that doesn’t faze me. I’ve had much more on my plate and came out the other side with nary a scratch and plenty of work to show for it. So now it’s just a matter of finding the time to get all this together.
The nice thing about life in Iceland is that it’s so much slower than life in the states. I don’t respond to e-mails nearly as quickly as I used to, and I’ve developed a profound ability to thoughtfully stare off into the distance without my mind venturing off into East Jesus Nowhere territory. I’ve always wondered if my dependency to technology was causing some ADHD misfires in my brain, but Iceland has certainly helped me calm the voices (not actual voices) and find some solitude.
On my night walk I had Björk’s “Vulnicura” blasting in my earholes and (I never thought I’d say this) I am really starting to appreciate Björks vocal stylings. I’ve always tried to force Björk’s music into my life, as if, like a blue cheese-stuffed olive, I might somehow acquire a taste for it. I guess forcing myself to like her songs kind of worked. But regardless, if you haven’t experienced the video for “Stonemilker,” you really need to. Best watched on a computer.
The walk definitely injected a bit of creativity into my soul, and I went home to immediately write 1,500 words on my new work-in-progress. But the coolest thing was when I was standing in complete darkness and the light from the lighthouse occasionally flashed over me. I managed to snap this photo of my shadow which looked just like a lighthouse. LOVE THIS COUNTRY!
So yeah. Iceland is amazing, and I’m loving being here. The winter has definitely been harsh (as has the lack of sunshine), but overall I’m digging it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.
January 8, 2016
Okay. Pumped! It’s 2:09am but I gotta get this off my chest.
It’s a new year! I survived my first Icelandic Christmas and Icelandic New Years (check out my PlanetJH columns here for details). And while I was standing at the top of an enormous fishing ship watching the fireworks explode above the
city large town of Akureyri, Iceland, I whispered to myself, “This is it.”
I don’t necessarily know what that “it” is yet, but I assume it was my slightly inebriated brain sending me a subliminal message from the future that 2016 is going to be the year when things start to go right for me and my publishing career.
I don’t think I blogged about it, but my literary agent and I broke off our partnership back in July. It was definitely an unexpected turn of events, and I felt a little broken and talentless afterwards. But after some intense soul searching (and some massive support from my fellow writers), I believe the split was for the best. And I emerged from the fray with”Blade of the Outlaw” firmly in hand. I knew I wasn’t going to give up on stubborn ole Leyton Thacker and his messy gang of outlaws just yet, and decided to immediately get back out there and start querying new agents.
The months that followed were full of rejections from more and more agents telling me that the story was great, but there was some elusive something that was holding them back. One agent even wrote: “I think the writing is very strong, and I felt fully immersed into this narrative world you’ve drawn up. However, and with a lot of internal struggle, I’m going to pass. Although I did really like the characters, I didn’t fall in love with them like I’d hoped.”
So it goes! There’s so much good stuff out there so I understand that agents have to be selective.
As I write this, my full manuscript is in the hands of three agents and am actively querying more. I can’t let my novel fester in some dusty USB memory stick when I have so many friends and family members who are rooting for me to succeed.
Yes, I still get rejection letters. Yes, they suck.
A lot. Haha.
But I keep on querying. And that’s all I can do.
Since splitting with my agent I’ve moved to Iceland, and I’ve been working on a handful of creative projects that have all been fractioning out my time like needy step-children. Among a handful of partial new novel ideas, I’m working on a new MG/YA (can’t figure out where it’s going to lean yet) about a young troll hunter, and I’ve also been meddling with a full-length dramatic troll musical (yes that’s right) with my new friend Þórður. It’s called “Trolls of the North Fjord” and it’s badass. Official promo material sneak peek:
It’s nowhere near being completed (we’re closing in on finalizing the first song and I’m still trying to organize and write the script), but the process has been so much fun and I’m thrilled to see what’s going to come of it.
But I realize that all of this is a result of me not letting my agent fiasco get the better of me. I know parting ways with an agent is something that happens to a lot of writers; many published authors are currently with their second or third agents. I just have to keep pushing. I know there’s someone out there who’s going to love my story as much as I do, and be willing to go the extra mile to help me get it published. Staying confident!
So that’s the update. For now anyway. I always say I’ll blog more, but really the mood just has to strike me. I also promised a bunch of people I’d post my thoughts on “Star Wars: Episode VII” so there’s definitely going to be at least one more blog on the way.
Thanks everyone for your support and committed readership. I know I will produce more things for you all to enjoy. I will never give up on pulling things out of my brain to entertain you with. Stay tuned.
November 22, 2015
Living in Neskaupstaður has already made me appreciate what people call “the little things.” Moving here, I knew that I would be learning how to slow down my life and take everything at a more relaxed pace. Right now, I’m lounging on the couch in my apartment listening to my Spotify Discovery Weekly playlist (who, seemingly, knows me better than I know myself) with zero things plaguing my mind. If you know me personally, you know that I always have 80,000 things going on at the same time, and right now I’m free of obligation. Well, at least for another two hours, when I head down to learn more from the head chef here at Hildibrand, Guðni.
This weekend we had our first Christmas buffet for guests. On Fridays and Saturdays until Christmas hits, we’ll be preparing both a hot and cold buffet of traditional Icelandic fare. That includes reindeer and goose patês, smoked guillemot in gelatin, smoked lamb, cured lamb, smoked salmon, gravlax w/ delicious gravlaxsósa (sauce), lamb & tempura shrimp sushi (Food Rule: to make any dish Icelandic, add smoked lamb!), cured goose breasts, baked ham and potatoes, potatoes, potatoes. Toss in a couple desserts like a rhubarb cake and some gingerbread and cream sandwich cookes and you got yerself a good ole Icelandic Christmas. Þórður, a fellow in town who heads up the church choir, plays accordion in the lobby as the guests drink Christmas beer (beer w/ sweet malt) and a type of mulled wine.
Þórður and I are getting together later on tonight to work on a troll musical he and I are writing. Yes, trolls! It’s going to be set in the area and talk about some of the trolls that currently are perched up on the mountaintops gazing down on our East Fjord town. So yep. Other than that, I don’t have much else going on.
And I’m totally okay with that.
I don’t mind having a whole day to myself, working a couple hours on the town blog or in the kitchen (or both), hanging out with my new friends, watching some “Fargo” (WHY ARE YOU NOT WATCHING THIS SEASON?!). I love looking out at the fjord, watching the unseen sun cast light on the mountains above me (we won’t get any direct sunlight until April or so), hearing the sea birds cackle and occasionally gander at the fishing boats that slowly trawl their way up and down the fjord bringing in the freshest catch. I meet a new person almost every day, and they’re all wonderful and smiling all the time. Whoever said Nordic folk are cold and distant got it all wrong, by the way.
Nothing feels better than to be enjoying my job, having zero money concerns (my expenses are super low here), and just breathing in the ocean air and sighing in pure satisfaction. I didn’t think it would be possible to rid myself of all that Jackson Hole stress or the depression I had kicking around behind closed doors. I’m finding a balance here. Sure, it took flying halfway around the world to find it, but man it feels good to be standing on solid ground.
November 12, 2015
Back in Iceland, of course. Why wouldn’t I be? It’s refreshing to be back in a place that breathes so much life into me. It injects me with creativity and a better understanding of the human spirit and what makes us tick. With seagulls cackling outside my window, I’m nestled in the town of Neskaupstaður (NES-koyp-stah-dur), about 9 hours from Reykjavík.
“Neskaupstaður! What the fuck are you going to do in Neskaupstaður?”
Simply uttering the name of the town has caused my native Icelandic friends to short circuit. Even by Icelandic standards, the town is incredibly remote, nestled in Norðfjörður all the way in the East Fjords. To get here you have to cross a terrifyingly high and winding mountain pass (with a nauseatingly meager amount of guardrails) until you reach the entrance of a single-lane tunnel where an enormous metal door will automatically rise, inviting you into its cavernous maw. Once inside, the door closes and you’re trapped. The tunnel seems to be crumbling from above as small rocks and pebbles scatter the road, so I guess just make sure you step on it before it collapses. Another metal door rises on the other side of the tunnel letting you back into the free safe air…where you suddenly plunge down the winding road that leads down from the mountain into the town.
Ultimately, if you make it here alive, Neskaupstaður can be quite the reward.
I’m doing WorkAway with a hotel here called the Hildibrand Hotel and was recently told by my boss that, along with doing other tasks, my primary focus will be working on a blog that will lure more people to this lovely little hamlet on the other side of a hellish pass of death. Many Icelanders know this town as “Little Moscow” as it was home to many communists back in the day (and possibly even today). This blog would detail life and culture in Neskaupstaður, and it’ll be my job to uncover the little secrets and beauties of this town in the East.
I realize that I’ve become some odd reincarnation Kevin Spacey’s character in “The Shipping News,” only I’m in Iceland rather than Newfoundland and I won’t just be writing about ships coming into harbor, though I imagine that will certainly come into play. And hopefully I don’t go crazy. Fingers crossed.
The new adventure is beginning. And although I haven’t blogged in a while, you’ll certainly be hearing a lot more from me about my life and my creative projects in the upcoming months.
Here we go…
June 22, 2015
Hey Friends! So, after a fun exciting weekend of play rehearsals, hiking and eating more watermelon than a normal human being should consume (two whole watermelons; three days…) I’m back and ready to tell you all about it!
Working as the Teen Program Coordinator at the Teton County Library has been such a rewarding experience. I started in March and my first major project has been to create 2015’s Teen Summer Reading program. I created a series of exciting events and was tasked to invite an author to town to help kick off the program. Luckily I managed to get my grubby mitts on Adam Silvera’s kick-ass debut, “More Happy Than Not”!
I came across the book through my wonderful, well-read agent sister Rachel Simon (Follow her on Twitter!) who told me she’d heard SO many good things about the book, and that Adam was a really cool guy. I ended up contacting SOHO Teen through the Valley Bookstore e-mail (sneaky Munz…) and Adam’s publicist Meredith Barnes sent me an ARC.
Received. Consumed. Blown away!
I’d never read a book with LGBT teen characters that felt so relevant to both my own experience and so current. The voices were authentic, the plot was heartbreaking and I suddenly wanted to thrust the book into the hands of everyone I’d ever met.
I immediately knew Adam was the author I wanted to bring to Jackson Hole. I pitched the idea to him and Meredith, and they were in! O joyous day! We don’t get very many debut authors visiting our town, so I knew this was going to be a very special event. Once we got the contract signed, I got to work with promoting Teen Summer Reading and Adam’s visit. The library ended up purchasing and giving out 15 copies to teens; they all got snatched up within the day!
After months of anticipation, Adam finally arrived! We planned a series of events for his visit: a public chat between he and I and two writing workshops: a workshop for teens and a workshop for adults.
In a bittersweet turn of events, Friday, June 19th was SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY which hindered our turnout. There were a series of other events taking place in town, but most everyone was out enjoying the sunshine. However, we had 22 attentive guests join us for the chat. Covering a whirlwind of topics that ranged from discovering one’s sexuality to the many poignant topics featured in “More Happy Than Not”, the chat was lively and thought-provoking. The following Q & A session also ignited a few really insightful topics, some of which aren’t often openly discussed in our community. Adam proceeded to sign a few of his books and we went to the Snake River Brewery for a bite to eat.
Adam’s admirable determination to meet his deadline didn’t leave too much time for extracurricular activities, but the next day proved even more exciting as we prepared for two writing workshops free to the public.
The teen writing workshop had eight aspiring teenage authors in attendance ranging from ages 12 to 16. Adam offered up some fun writing prompts (ex. Write a story about a hero who has just defeated a villain; now write the same event from the villain’s point of view!) that got the teens thinking critically. Adam revealed that turtles unsettle him, launching the teens into full-scale attack mode. Mutant turtles! Snapping turtles! Giant sea turtles! The teens felt really connected to Adam and he did such a great job encouraging their creativity and being personable.
The adult workshop followed! Nine writers, all eager to learn about YA writing and publishing, attended the workshop. The focus surrounded young adult voices and how to access personal teenage experiences (no matter how long ago) while writing for the teens of today. Some writers had YA novels already in the works, while others, including one poet, was only just starting to take an interest in the YA market. Adam’s writing prompts were equally helpful and insightful, and the adults walked away with a great understanding of Adam’s process (and a copy of Adam’s book!).
Having Adam Silvera visit Jackson Hole was a truly wonderful experience, and definitely gave me a precursor to what my future book tour experiences might be like if/when “Blade of the Outlaw” gets published. I can only encourage other librarians and booksellers to get a hold of Adam’s people (contact email@example.com) and have him visit your town. He has a wonderful personality, is absolutely hilarious and definitely is an author to watch!
June 17, 2015
Okay, okay, I get it… I keep making all these promises to keep up with the blog, and here I go again with all the excuses and the business and the blah blah, BUT! But I have been doing very important things like uh…writing and directing my own plays, guys! I also am the new Teen Program Coordinator at the Teton County Library so that’s pretty awesome too (and something that demands a whole lot of my attention and time). Who needs free time right? *sobs quietly* Right…?
So! This winter Riot Act, Inc (one of Jackson’s non-profit theater companies) hosted a New Play Festival, encouraging aspiring playwrights to anonymously submit their plays for consideration. The plays had to be roughly 30 or so minutes in length, possess minimal sets and have no more than six actors. I ended up submitting two plays: “Three Step Rug” and “Tröllaskagi.” BOTH OF THEM GOT PICKED! I was thrilled. I already knew which of the two I wanted to direct…
“Three Step Rug” is a black comedy spy caper about a female agent named Moira Arrenholtz who is sent on her first assassination mission. However, when she’s face to with her target, things start to get out of hand. “Tröllaskagi” was something completely different. I’d never written a play with choreography involved so it was a very new experience. However, both plays turned out to be incredibly awesome, and I’m so thrilled with the outcome of both!
A lot of people ask where the inspiration from “Tröllaskagi” came from (other than just Iceland, of course) because it really does stand out as an anomaly in my body of work. It’s dramatic, it’s fantastical and doesn’t have as much humor as people expect me to present. The idea of a fisherman washing up on shore was always present in my mind when I was whale watching. I had this recurring dream that our ship would sink and I’d wash up on some strange island other than Iceland. Helgi’s journey in the play has a lot of layers to it, and I hope that all comes across through the scenes and especially through the dances.
I wouldn’t have been able to make this play happen without getting permission to use Eivør Pálsdóttir’s song “Trøllabundin.” It sets the whole mood of the play and I didn’t want to use any other song in its place. You’ll certainly hear the song in the theatrical recording, but here’s the first version of the song that I heard. Hearing the ocean waves with it certainly inspired the ocean recording in the show.
You would think that I have time to breathe now that these plays are over, but I literally just started rehearsal for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Off Square Theatre Company. I’m playing Demetrius, and am STOKED!
More updates to come. I promise. :)
April 23, 2015
After tons of work, we finally were able to put “I 2 Can Ski Forever” in front of audiences. The show went over incredibly well, selling over 700 tickets (That’s like 10% of the town’s population, guys…) without hanging up a single poster! To have such a successful show during the off season in Jackson is unheard of, so I owe SO much to the fans who came out to support us… Totally humbled.
The two nights were full of anxiety for the entire cast because we had only rehearsed the week prior. Everything from the opening number to the finale was cobbled together in just four days, and SOMEHOW we pulled it off.
As far as next year goes, we’ll have to see what happens. People are always leaving and coming back (myself included), but the audiences want more More MORE! Until then, I’m going to enjoy my small amount of rest before the One Acts kick off…
March 11, 2015
Hey friends. For those of you interested in my travels/adventures in Iceland this past year, I’ve compiled an awesome little video with tons of footage of the midnight sun and humpback whales. I hear there are talks of a sequel…