Category Archives: Novel Marathon

The Book of Your Dreams – Chapter 1 of my Muskoka Novel Marathon Novel…

Unable to fall back to sleep, I thought I would finally open my Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. I just read the first chapter…thought I would share it here. I’ve been so disappointed by this year’s efforts . I’m going to try to work with what I got, though. Out of nowhere I decided my YA novel would be a horror this year. From that bad decision, it went downhill from there.

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Anyway…here’s chapter 1…which I need to edit. Just trying to motivate myself to write. To edit…

CHAPTER 1

My first clue should have been the honking big bells hanging off the front door. Only geezers use those things. They have them on the door in case they drop dead of old age and boredom or something. Someone accidentally comes into their store, the bells crash all over the place and they’re brought back to life.
Anyway, I wish I could take it all back. I wish I could go back to that first day and look at that piece-of-crap-falling-apart bookstore and not want to go inside. Curiosity don’t only kill cats, dude. That bookstore was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

When I opened the door, I got a hot rush of mold and old wood and old pages and ancient leather. Man, it was just too good.

I’m a book addict. There. I said it. That was my downfall. And, the older the better. Give me an old book and I’m in nirvana. Mr. Clancy says I’m a dying breed. I may be seventeen and stupid, but even I know books will be around long after the apocalypse hits. Yep, books and cockroaches.

I walked inside and the first thing I saw was the old white cat sprawled on the hardwood floor. He stretched inside a thin shaft of sunlight coming in the front window. Spreading away from—or drifting towards—the dirty old thing was a line of dust motes. It looked like both the cat and the motes were fighting for the light.

The cat lifted an eye in my direction long enough to telepathically say, ‘don’t fuck with me, I’m busy here’.

There were eight rows of thick wooden shelves, all filled with books that looked older than Great-Gram Imogene. If that’s even possible. Old bat’s like seventy-six, or something. She loses teeth every day. They just drop out of her skull like her gums are melting. Seriously.

I went right to the first shelf and started looking at all the books. I guess I should say I kind of caress books when I’m in bookstores. I like to touch their spines and just get all up in that. It kind of connects me to the writers, right.

Anyway, I was kind of spooked out right away. What bookstore isn’t like jammed packed with colour? Everywhere I looked, there were only about two colours…brown and black. And with all the dust motes floating around wherever the sunlight hit, it kind of looked like there was a low-lying fog throughout the store. When I’m fishin’ with Dad, low-lying fog is a good thing. Shopping in a bookstore? Not so much.

I had my hand on an old smacked-down mud-dragged copy of a Russian classic—The Brothers Karamazov—when I heard a rumbling throat clearing that sounded like stones in a washing machine or a cat stuck up in a car engine when the ignition gets turned over. It was something you don’t like hearing and would do anything to un-hear.

I’ve never heard a death-rattle, but Dad jokes around enough about them that I’m pretty sure something behind me had just made one.

“That’d be a good pick, right there, son.” The hairs up my arms reached away and I clenched my head into my neck like a turtle, only I couldn’t make my head disappear down inside my shell. His voice was way worse than his throat-clearing. The cat agreed. It snarled at the old man like he wasn’t its friggin’ owner, or something.

Just as I was about to tell him I already read The Bros Kara, my eye caught something shiny. You have to understand, in a store as dull as that one it was almost a eureka moment to discover something that stood out. The old man, who was not quite in my line of vision yet, was already objecting to the book I hadn’t yet picked up.

As my hand reached out to grab the spine—anything shiny in the dull dark ocean of books, dust and derelicts—he stepped between me and it.

“You don’t want that one, son.”

Who tells a kid that? Of course it automatically became the only thing within a twelve block radius I wanted. And I still hadn’t seen the title. Like the ninja that I am, I deeked around him and made a grab for the shiny-shiny.

“Ooh!” I said. “The Book of Dreams! Sounds awesome. Is this like the Tibetan one?”

“Young man,” he said. “I’m going to have to ask you not to touch that particular book.”

My hand was already on the gold spine. As I moved to haul it out of its slot on the shelf, though, the old man’s hand engulfed mine. My first sighting. A hand as white as bone and, well, bony. And cold. The hair standing up on my arms was now electrically standing up. I felt the ice course through me, like his touch was actually lowering my body temperature.

But I’m a kid who likes his books, right. And I was in a bookstore where the shelves were filled with books. And who the hell was this old coot to tell me what books I can or cannot touch? It was for sale, dude. If it was on the shelf in plain view—in a bookstore—it was for sale. End of story.

I wrenched myself away from that grip and stepped away from the shelf with the book in hand.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Ethan,” the old man said as he turned and walked back to the counter at the front of the store. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Just know that some books opened can’t be unopened.”

“What the hell does that mean?” I said. Now I was feeling brave. I won the standoff. I had the book in my hand. Dude was too weird. As I watched his back move up the thin aisle, I saw that he was impossibly tall and skinny. Like a basketball player who had just returned from a vacation at that Auschwitz concentration camp, or something. Like, he should be dead skinny.

His black suit was three sizes too big and filled with dust. He had an aura of dust about him that struggled and mingled with the dust motes that filled up all the empty spaces in the store. Dude was totally creeping me out.

I turned my back on Lurch and made to crack open the gold cover. My heart raced, like I needed to see what was inside.

“You read the title wrong too, son. Take another look. It’s The Book of YOUR Dreams.”

I stopped what I was doing and returned my gaze to the cover. The Book of Your Dreams. Huh? I couldn’t figure out how I had read that wrong. I was certain it had said The Book of Dreams.

I should have piqued then. Something wasn’t right. Between Lurch and his pissy cat and the dust motes and the book, I should have just got my shit out of Dodge. But I was intrigued. Like I said, I’m a bibliophile. And that book was calling my name.

I spotted a chair at the end of the aisle and took the book over to it. I sat down and opened the book.

He just called you Ethan.

“Hey,” I said. “How did you know my name?”

“If you haven’t looked inside that book yet, you can still leave it be and pick another. You still have prerogative on your side, Ethan.”

Talk about creeping the hell out of a kid.

“How the hell do you know my name?”

But I didn’t wait for an answer. None of the alarm bells were ringing in my head. Or at least not properly. He had suggested a forbiddenness about that book and I was never one to take to that kind of shit very gently. I dove into the book.

After turning the first few pages, though, I began to lose interest. They were empty and a rotten smell emanated from them. Like that book hadn’t been opened for decades and all the badness that had ever lived in the ancient bookstore had come to rest within this one book’s yellowed pages.

“It stinks,” I said more to myself than to the man, who now seemed too far away to carry an actual conversation with him. Like I would have wanted to. He gave creeps a bad name. “Why does it smell so bad?”

But he was listening. From the front of the store, he said, “That’s a question you really have to ask yourself, young man. You have things to hide in that little head of yours? You have things to be ashamed of? You sure that smell ain’t coming from the inside? Skunk smells his own stink first, Ethan.”

I stood up and walked towards him, book in hand.

“Stop saying my name. How do you know who I am anyway?”

“I’m just saying that book knows you better than I do. I’m just a silly old man who tried to warn you not to dance with the devil. Now you’re dancing, young man. Now you’re dancing.”

Talk about weirdness.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I put the book on the counter and kept thumbing through its empty yellow pages. “You trying to scare me? Who put you up to this anyway?”

The bells on the door rang. And not just a little bit. It was like somebody had taken them off the door and slammed them into it. And then stomped on them for good measure. I swung around to see who had come in, but the doorway was empty. Nobody there.

I jumped as something brushed against my ankle. Then I felt like an idiot, because when I looked down it was only the stupid pissed off cat wrapping itself around me. Someone needed to be pet. Guaranteed petting was not something that old man would ever do.

When I reached down to pet the cat, though, it hissed and snapped at my finger. Bitch drew blood with its dirty stinking fangs.

“Ouch! Jesus.”

“You wanna watch out for Lilith. She’d sooner eat ya than look atcha. Clean that out before it gets infected. Cats are filthy creatures.”

I sucked at the cut and rolled my eyes at Lurch.

“Gee, thanks, dude. First you try to stop me from buying a book, then your cat bites me and then you try to freak me out about rabies or some shit. Customer service in this store is tripping.”

“You have bigger problems than an old cat bite, Ethan. You let some stuff in and you let some stuff out when you done opened that book. I warned you. I’ll say it again.”

“What do you mean? It’s just an empty book filled with empty pages. That stink like shitty bad breath or something.”

“No. It’s out now. Your book is never empty. It’s the Book of Your Dreams. They there. You just have to see—”

“Fuck off,” I said as I pushed the book away from me. Cutting him off mid-sentence didn’t mean anything. I still got the gist of it. The pages in front of me were filled with words. He was right. I just had to see. And there they were, line after line after line of words.

“Can’t leave it now.”

“What the hell? I’m out of here. You’re a freaky old man. I don’t know how you did it. I actually don’t give a shit how you did it. I’m out.”

I made for the door. But the old man came out from behind the counter with a book bag in hand. He was sliding the gold book into the bag as he made his way between me and the door.

I looked into his face for the first time. Ever see one of those skeletal people in horror movies? You know the ones. They’re not dead, but they’re so skinny and frail and grey and white that you just know they’re gonna keel over in the next ten minutes and start eating brains or something. Dude was like that. Hollow cheeks. Empty eyes that looked just as dusty as his black suit. His lips were slits of white, just gashes in his face. I thought about screaming but knew the sound of it in that dank store would terrify the hell out of me. So I muffled it. I ate the scream like I never ate a scream before in my life.

There I was. Right in front of the door. With Lurch standing between me and it. I wasn’t getting through him. Just as I knew he was scrawny and near death, I also knew he’d be like frigging Gibraltar. A man of steel. Something in my head and my heart told me not to mess with him.

He reached toward me and I thought for a second that he might kill me. But I noticed that it was the hand with the bagged book in it that came out to meet me.
“Here you go,” he said. “You can’t leave without your new purchase.”

“I ain’t buying that piece of shit. Get it away from me.”

“Son, it’s already paid for. It’s yours. Bought and paid for. Told you not to open it. They usually don’t listen, Ethan. Not usually. In recent memory, I only remember one boy taking heed of my words and putting that book back on the shelf. Since you ain’t him, you bought this book. Now take it.”

He nudged the book into my belly, pushing it against me like he was attempting to break the skin and lodge it in my abdomen.

I backed off and pushed back. “I don’t want it.”

“Take it and go, young man. You stopped playing with choice when you opened it. Take it. And go.”

His eyes burned so hard into me that I did the only thing I could think of to do. I reached a hand toward his and grabbed hold of the book.

“There you go. Now get.”

“You’re a crazy old man,” I said. I know. Lame-assed, right.

“Maybe so. But I don’t dance with devils, Ethan. I leave that to my customers. Now take the book you wanted so badly and be gone from here. It’s time I close up shop for the day.”

He stepped aside and allowed me to leave. I felt like I was in a dream state. Fuzz filled up around me and swallowed up anything sane that was left of the moment. I was on the other side of the door. I could hear the muffled ringing of the bells on the inside, but as I looked in I couldn’t see the old man or his cat. I stepped away from the door, looked at the bag in my hands with the old book in it and felt my shoulders slump in defeat.

“Shit. I don’t want this stupid book.”

Another Goodreads Giveaway – Sebastian’s Poet – Growing Up in Toronto in the Beaches…

Sebastian’s Poet is a novel about a boy growing up in the Beaches district of Toronto in the 1970s. It follows a young Sebastian Nelson from the day he meets famous folksinger Teal Landen to the cusp of the 1980s. It’s the story of his struggles with a bohemian father and absent mother. And it’s the story of his tumultuous relationship with his younger brother, Renee, and the folksinger who blew into town one day and never left.

Goodreads is running a giveaway for a print copy of Sebastian’s Poet. You can enter by clicking on the book cover below:

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(CONTEST OPEN TO U.S.A. AND CANADA RESIDENTS)

I wrote SEBASTIAN’S POET over the course of 48hrs, during my very first Muskoka Novel Marathon in 2007. For the entire 48hrs, I listened to ANTHEM by Leonard Cohen. It greatly shaped the novel. Teal Landen IS Leonard Cohen…in many ways. I channeled Leonard to create Teal.

After the novel was completed, I contacted Leonard Cohen’s management to ask permission to use, “THERE IS A CRACK IN EVERYTHING, THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN…” as the epigraph for the novel. I also got the line tattooed on my forearm. (-:

I also contacted Gordon Lightfoot’s management to request the use of Gordon’s character in my denouement in the final chapter of Sebastian’s Poet. His manager phoned me immediately and gave his permission…thrilled that Lightfoot could perhaps find new audiences through the book.

SEBASTIAN’S POET won BEST ADULT NOVEL AWARD in the 2007 Muskoka Novel Marathon. (-:

So, there’s a bit of the history of Sebastian’s Poet. I also had a lot of fun injecting it with 70s references. (-:

HERE’S THE COVER BLURB:

Sebastian Nelson is a boy in search of a family. Abandoned by his mother, Sebastian is left with a broken father who doesn’t even seem present when he does show up. Forced to be the main caregiver of his younger brother, Renee, and lost in a sea of indifference, Sebastian only wants to experience the love a real, stable family could afford him.

One morning he discovers the famous folksinger, Teal Landen, asleep on the sofa. Teal’s nurturing nature brings an immediate sense of security into Sebastian’s tumultuous life. But a dark secret looms between Teal and Sebastian’s father of a hidden past. Sebastian is driven to discover their secret, but also he’s aware of how tenuous their hold on Teal really is. He doesn’t want to lose the feeling of home Teal’s presence has brought him.

If Sebastian pushes too hard, he could lose Teal forever. He could be destined to raise his younger brother alone, while witnessing the total decline of his emotionally devastated father. If Sebastian is abandoned by the only healthy influence in his otherwise shaky existence, he will also be forever in the dark about the secret that will reveal so much about his fractured family.

Enter to win your print copy today.

Looking to purchase any of my books? You can do so at most book sites, but here’s a link to my AMAZON PAGE.

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Another Muskoka Novel Marathon has Come and Gone

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And another Muskoka Novel Marathon is over. My seventh!

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I had an interesting challenge from one of my sponsors this year. EAT MAPLE SYRUP AND I WILL SPONSOR YOU FOR $50. Sounds easy enough. Everybody likes maple syrup, right? I mean, isn’t it a law in Canada that all citizens are required to love the shit?

I hate it. I hate the syrup itself, and I particularly hate anything maple flavoured. Donuts, cookies, candy, what have you. When Mel Cober threw down the villainous challenge, I terrifyingly took her up on it. And, wonder of wonders, she actually trusted that I would go through with it. She fronted me the donation before I left for the marathon. So, I had no choice. I arranged to have a maple syrup chow-down at the marathon. Check out the video here:

Why do we do these silly things we do? Because we believe everyone has the right to literacy. I’m willing to eat maple syrup to make that happen. The marathon is all about raising funds and awareness for the literacy programs of YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka Literacy Services.

Just outside the beautiful Muskoka Novel Marathon venue in Huntsville, Ontario!

Just outside the beautiful Muskoka Novel Marathon venue in Huntsville, Ontario!

This year, we were given an almost final tally of $23,000 raised. THAT is amazing! That alone makes the whole sleepless marathon worth it. But we also benefit from having a whole 72hr period where we don’t have to worry about anything else in the world but writing. I LOVE that part of the deal. We get to WRITE.

My word count was low this year, but it doesn’t matter. I have a work in progress now. Something to work on and flesh out. I am happy with that. What more can I ask for!

We didn’t have to ask for more, but we definitely got it! Saturday night was NUIT BLANCHE NORTH. Some of the 40 writers present cut loose and walked down into downtown Huntsville to take in the sights of the event, myself included.

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It’s always interesting to see what’s what at Nuit Blanche North. And it always takes place mid-marathon. (-:

Nuit Blanche North - Downtown Huntsville, Ontario - July 12, 2014

Nuit Blanche North – Downtown Huntsville, Ontario – July 12, 2014

 

And that wasn’t all. There was more. I got to see my Camino mentor, Sue Kenney! She led some of the readers through a barefoot creative walk on the Sunday morning of the marathon. Watching my fellow writers discover Sue and her all-round wonderfulness was so great. I’ve known her for a few years and I walked the Camino with her this past May…I knew they were in for a treat.

Creative Walk - Letting in the light and preparing for day 2 of our writing marathon!

Creativity Walk with Sue Kenney – Letting in the light and preparing for day 2 of our writing marathon!

That walk transported me back to the Camino. Such a great way to begin our Sunday!

Creativity Walkers

Creativity Walkers

Sometime over the course of the weekend I spotted four writers in the food line-up wearing t-shirts from four different MNM marathons. I had to take a pic…

T-shirts from various Muskoka Novel Marathon years...

T-shirts from various Muskoka Novel Marathon years…

 

Another great marathon was had by all. I so love this event. It’s not just about raising money for literacy programs. It isn’t just about getting a whole weekend to do nothing but write. It isn’t just about the amazing camaraderie of spending a weekend with 40 writers. It’s all those things and more. I honestly can’t say enough about the event. I think all writers should have the writing marathon experience. But not just any writing marathon. This particular one is exceptional. Thanks for another great year, MNM!

Oh, and here’s something to put a smile on your face. Charlie is extraordinary!

Smiling Buddha - Charlie at one month old...

Smiling Buddha – Charlie at one month old…

 

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How Does One Prepare for a Novel Writing Marathon? How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

Let’s break it down, shall we?

She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee, her dress has got a tear
She waltzes on her way to Mass and whistles on the stair
And underneath her wimple she has curlers in her hair
I even heard her singing in the abbey

She’s always late for chapel, but her penitence is real
She’s always late for everything, except for every meal
I hate to have to say it, but I very firmly feel Maria’s not an asset to the abbey

I’d like to say a word in her behalf
Maria makes me laugh

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find the word that means Maria?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!

Okay. There you have the first few lines of MARIA. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and composition by Richard Rodgers.
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I’m looking at this and guess what? I don’t see a problem. You can’t solve a problem that isn’t there. You don’t fix someone who marches to the beat of their own drum. You embrace them. Those silly nuns were just too rule-oriented. They could have really partied up that nunnery, had they had vision and insight. Shut up, nuns. One should waltz on their way to mass. One should whistle on the stair. And what wimple wouldn’t look more fabulous than one with the bulge of curlers beneath it? Get real, nuns! I mean, seriously. So, in closing…one does not solve a problem like Maria. One embraces the freedom that Maria personifies. One doesn’t catch a cloud and pin it down. Christ! That’s a barbaric notion. One watches the cloud dance.
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When I’m with her I’m confused, out of focus and bemused
And I never know exactly where I am
Unpredictable as weather, she’s as flighty as a feather
She’s a darling! She’s a demon! She’s a lamb!
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(Let’s come back to that one above. It has something to do with the other topic in the title of this post…so I’ll just hint at its relevance here by asking you to remember I quoted it.)
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How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?
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Guess what, Nun dudes? YOU DON’T. You watch it alight on something. You experience its light and how it changes a thing. Hold it!? Those nuns were cannibals! To harness a thing that personifies delight is to kill the world itself.
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A writing quote opportunity has just arisen. This can be the segue, because let’s face it…I almost forgot what this post was to be about!
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“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~ Anton Chekhov

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There. From moonbeam in the hand to show don’t tell. It was a leap, but I made it.

 

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Now…on to preparing for a novel marathon. As some of you have probably figured out by now, I’m a lover of the weekend novel writing marathon. The MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON in particular. The 2014 marathon is coming up. Nay, it is racing to the forefront of my schedule. It is screaming itself into existence. On Friday July 11th I will make my way up to Huntsville, Ontario, for my annual MNM pilgrimage. I–along with some forty other writers–will write non-stop for 72 hours and walk away from the weekend with a complete novel under my belt. Hopefully.

One would think much planning would be involved in preparing yourself to write a novel in a weekend. One would think one would need to do some kind of writing endurance calisthenics, or something. One would think that an outline of sorts would be required. An opening paragraph. An opening line. Something!

Guess what? There is no formula. As I said, forty writers will be making the same trek as me. Forty writers will go into this marathon weekend with forty different plans, forty different ways to prepare, forty different concepts. The way one prepares for a novel writing marathon is absolutely unique to the individual. We are not all nuns, forced into the confines of formulaic rules and strategies. We don’t have to be the same. We can be as unique as snowflakes.

Let’s face it, we’re all MARIAs. Let’s just get that on the table right now. The job of the writer is to climb the tree and scrape their knee. A writer does not march in line with the rest of the world. Unless, of course, they want to. A writer of fiction takes up a challenge every time they sit down to write. They create a universe. That universe can be as structured and unmoving as steel, or it can be flibbertijibbet. How they get there is of no consequence. They climb a tree. They scrape their knee. Voila! They have a story.

To prepare for a novel marathon, a writer needs to cut away structure and discipline. They need to release control. Control lives only in the land of here-not-here. There-not-there. None of us have control of anything. To give up control is merely to give up the illusion of control. Sure, you can enter a novel marathon with a full page outline. You can have every single chapter of your novel outlined in point form. You can have your character profiles all standing in a tight little row like nuns at a shooting gallery, ready to be pegged off by angry satanists. You can do that. Yes you can.

But I’ve done seven or eight novel marathons now. I know what works for me. I know how this puppy rolls. I go in with a Nancy, a Bob and a Timothy about to embark on a story of love and deception. Half an hour into the marathon I find myself writing about Grace and Bill, two hippies who just want to change the world for the better with their hot-air balloon tour company. Free rides for anyone who donates a hundred kisses to the local animal shelter!

So, in closing, this writer does not prepare. He goes in with a story or two or seven swirling in his head…desperately wanting to be told. He picks the one that screams the most to be heard at the time he sits down to begin the marathon. He hopes it has staying power. He writes.

When I get there, I want to be confused, out of focus and bemused. I want to be unpredictable as weather, as flighty as a feather. I’m a cloud. Don’t pin me down, dude. The answer is simple. You don’t hold a moonbeam in your hand.

THE MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON IS FIRST AND FOREMOST A WAY TO BRING AWARENESS TO, AND RAISE FUNDS FOR LITERACY PROGRAMS. PLEASE CONSIDER SPONSORING MY WEEKEND NOVEL WRITING MARATHON. YOU CAN DO SO ONLINE BY CLICKING HERE. ALL FUNDS GO TO THE YMCA SIMCOE/MUSKOKA ADULT LITERACY PROGRAMS. THANK YOU SO MUCH IN ADVANCE. TOGETHER, WE CAN OBLITERATE ILLITERACY!

 

 

 

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