Blog Archives

Missing the Mystic – Marc Bolan – AND an Excerpt from my YA Novel CHASING EMPTY (Because Marc Bolan!)

Today is the day–way back in 1977–that a legend left us. I was and still am obsessed with Marc Bolan. I always loved his music and his style…everything. Three deaths really effected me between 1977 and 1981 – Marc, John, and Bob. I loved them all. Marc was the first to leave. I remember him and his contribution to music today.

Missing the Mystic - Marc Bolan 1947-1977

Missing the Mystic – Marc Bolan 1947-1977

In my 1980s-set young adult novel CHASING EMPTY, one of my characters was so obsessed with Marc that his friend always teased him about it. The guy thought he was somehow the reincarnation of the T-Rex lead singer. Here’s an excerpt from the novel…just for fun. (-:

In this excerpt a drunken Trig maliciously enters a party:

“Well, if it isn’t Marc Bolan!” Trig swaggered into the living room. “As I live and breathe.”

“Very funny, Trig,” I replied, dismissing him with a wave of my hand. “It’s about time you got here.” He gave me a boo-hoo pout.

“Did I ever tell you that Billy here thinks he’s the reincarnation of Marc Bolan?” he said, turning to Tamara who was tagging along. He plopped onto the sofa, pushing me along with his hip to give himself more room as he did so. The warm-green pungency of pot enveloped him. I breathed deeply.

Tamara stood in the doorway, a Molson Canadian in her hand. I gave Trig a dirty look for bringing her along.

He shrugged and smiled.

“Who’s Marc Bolan?” she asked. I rolled my eyes in disgust.

“Who’s Marc Bolan!” Trig said, scooching closer to put an arm around my neck. I smelled alcohol when he spoke. “Well, Tamara, he just happens to be the most talented musical genius of the twentieth century. Isn’t that right, Billy-Boy?”

Trig was beyond high, and well on his way to being drunk. His pupils were dilated and his eyes bloodshot. He flashed me a mischievous grin. He was in his attack phase and he had Tamara in his sights.

I smiled.

“Didn’t I tell you to kiss up to my Billy-Boy tonight, Tam?” Trig said, wagging an accusatory finger at her. “And what do you do? You insult him the minute you enter the room. Shame on you!”

“I’m sorry,” she half-smiled before a nervous look spread across her face. “But I don’t know who he is.” She took a swig of beer and continued to linger at the room’s threshold.

“Well, my dear, Marc Bolan is the singer of T-Rex, which is only the greatest glitter-band of all time. That makes him the granddaddy of Punk. And Billy here,” he continued, putting more force on the arm around my neck, “is the self-proclaimed reincarnation of Mr. Bolan.”

Tamara shrugged and entered the room completely. She sat on the floor, with her back against the couch, and nestled between Trig’s outspread legs, resting an arm on his knee. She fixed a nervous grin on her face, which Trig was about to wipe off.

“Do you even realize what I’m telling you, you stunned bitch?” Trig boomed. The four other people in the room stopped their conversations to look at him. “Billy here is a rock and roll legend. You should be worshiping at his feet.”

“Shut up, Trig.” She emitted an unnatural laugh. “You’re stoned.”

I pulled myself away from Trig’s grip. “Give it a rest, Trig,” I said. “Nobody wants to hear it. Just leave her alone.” But I hoped he would tear her apart.

“D’you guys wanna hear how Billy here is the reincarnated Rock God?” he asked the room.

“Sure,” the guy in the corner armchair answered after nobody else would. He was still hiding behind his delicate cobweb of dyed-black bangs and holding a cigarette between his slightly-parted, lipsticked lips. “Let’s hear all the gory details, Trig.”

I was the only one who knew there was nothing to tell. The whole Bolan thing was just a joke we shared in the throes of a magic mushroom trip during a sleepover at my house. We were listening to T-Rex at the time…end of story.

“Okay,” Trig began, as though a campfire had materialized and he was made official storyteller. He leaned forward, shoving Tamara aside. She rested an arm on my knee and I recoiled from her touch. “Billy here once told me, in the strictest of confidence,” he turned and winked at me, “that he believes himself to be Bolan’s reincarnation. Which is a pretty tough trick considering Bolan died three days after Billy’s eleventh birthday. This would mean that, for a while anyway, he was living simultaneous lives.”

They moved in closer. Marcy ducked her head in at the door. I smiled at her.

“Billy felt a sudden jolt one chilly autumn morning as he was riding his motocross to school,” he continued as Marcy came into the room and jumped into my lap, pushing Tamara aside as she did so. She smiled and kissed my cheek.

“Where’s Mike?” I whispered. She raised a finger to her lips to shush me and pointed distractedly to the door, before turning her attention back to Trig. The music streaming in from the dining room changed abruptly from Cabaret Voltaire to Siouxsie and the Banshees. I began tapping out the beat of Hong Kong Garden on Marcy’s forearm.

“Good tune! Anyway, that entire day Billy walked with a swagger, ignoring the direct orders from his pithy little teachers.” He grabbed the beer from Tamara, swilled it down and passed her back the empty. “He didn’t have to listen to them. He was a celebrated Rock Star!”

“Where the fuck’s this going?” I asked. Three people shushed me. It wouldn’t be over until Trig said it was over. I shook Marcy off my lap and went to the wall unit beside the couch for a drink. Several half-empty bottles sprawled out along one of its shelves, the depleted remains of Vicky’s parents’ ransacked booze cabinet. I grabbed the Canadian Club and returned to the couch. Marcy reinserted herself into my lap. Then Trig continued. He had waited patiently for me while everybody else looked on in mild annoyance.

“Billy soon discovered that nobody recognized him as Bolan. He had to tone down or pay the consequences for not following the rules of the little people around him.” He struck air quotes around little people. “He’d been in trouble at school and gotten himself beaten up by his sister…twice. He decided to go back to being himself and temporarily hiding the Rock Star behind his eleven-year old façade.” Trig sighed here, taking a deep, dramatic pause.

“Where are you going with this, Babe?” Tamara asked.

“Tamara, don’t be such a God-damned poser!” He screamed. “Sometimes it’s painful just looking at you. I must be crazy to be with you.” Tamara winced but tried to keep the smile on her quivering lips. She let him continue, her face full of regret.

I took a big pull on the Canadian Club and offered the bottle to Marcy. She declined.

“I was simply trying to explain how much Billy struggles to walk among us.” He turned to face me. “I was trying to get the point across to this dizzy bitch that she should be nicer to my friend.” He put a hand on my knee, patting it several times. “But she enters a room and does nothing to recognize his greatness.” Here it was. I could feel his attack on Tamara culminating like an approaching tidal wave.

“I’m crazy about you, Marc,” he said to me. He stood, reached over Marcy’s kitteny form in my lap and planted a slobbery, drunken kiss on my cheek. “I’m sorry Tamara is such a dumb, stupid cow that she can’t recognize your greatness!”

A snicker emitted from behind the dyed-black bangs in the corner chair. Everybody else was silent; anticipating a fight I knew would never materialize.

“Are you finished?” I asked. He was still leaning over Marcy, his face in mine. His lips formed the word sorry, and it was suddenly clear to me that his attack on Tamara was his apology for earlier ditching me. He began to sway on his feet, attempting to find his balance. I took his face in my hands, made to kiss his cheek, but then shoved his forehead with the palm of my hand. He fell backwards, sprawling on the carpet, laughing.

Mike entered the room at the height of the laughter, with what looked like a martini in his hand. Tamara was the only one not laughing. He gave her his usual greeting of disgust, which only served to complete her hazing, and then glanced toward the sprawled Trig. He plopped down on the floor beside him.

“What’s goin’ on in here?” he asked.

“Your buddy there,” the guy with the bangs piped up, “was just telling us about Billy’s past life as Marc Bolan. Interesting story. I’d choose Bolan too. The guy’s a God!” Mike rolled his eyes. He couldn’t stand T-Rex.

Trig suddenly sprung from the floor, pointing at Bangs. “Aha!” he shouted. “See Tamara!” He pivoted to face her. “Even this guy knows who Bolan is. How the hell does one live through the seventies without knowing who Marc Bolan is? God Tamara, does it hurt to be you…I mean does it actually hurt? Because it’s killing me to know you.”

Tamara jumped to her feet, lost her balance and landed across my knees, knocking Marcy. The room re-erupted in laughter. Marcy shoved her aside and Tamara stormed out of the room, crying.

“Well,” Trig said, more to himself than to his audience. “I guess I won’t be getting anymore free head from Tamara.” He made a gesture of washing his hands, shrugged and walked unsteadily to the wall unit, where he swiped a half-empty mickey of Captain Morgan from the shelf and took a swill.

I laughed, brought the whiskey bottle to my lips and took a hefty swig.

Leaning against the wall unit for support, Trig turned his gaze to me, staring unflinchingly. I smiled.

He tried to smirk. If he hadn’t been drunk and stoned it would have even passed for a smirk. But the only thing that registered on his face for a whole fifteen seconds was regret. Even as the whole room continued to chuckle, he was obviously sick with regret over what he had just done to Tamara. What I really saw when I looked into his unguarded moment was my own ugliness. I filled with self-loathing.

Suddenly I realized the lengths Trig would go to for me. I hated Tamara so much that I never once realized how Trig really felt about her. And I was his best friend until Mike came along…I should have known. The glint of emotion that passed across his face told me he loved her. And yet he just stood there, doing nothing to stop her from running off.

He raised the Captain Morgan to his lips, guzzled from it and returned his gaze to me. The awkward moment passed as he burped and threw his head back in laughter. His laughter made me hate myself even more.

I pretended I didn’t notice his moment of pain and raised my bottle to the ceiling. “Praise the Lord!” I said before taking a hefty pull. “I’m so glad that poser bitch is gone!” Marcy moved from my lap as I rose to my feet.

“I hear ya,” Marcy agreed.

Yeah,” Trig said in a flat, far-off voice.

“I want to do something, Trig,” I said, trying to change the subject while everyone else in the room looked at us like we were aliens. “This place is dead. Let’s get out of here and do something exciting for a change.”

“You fucking liar,” said Trig. “You don’t want to do anything. You run away from every Goddamned thing in your life but mediocrity, Billy. I’m leaving now and I don’t want you to follow me.” He took a final pull from the mickey and threw the empty bottle into the lamp on the end table. The shade went flying and the ceramic lamp shattered. He walked out.

“Whoa,” Bangs said. “Buddy needs a beer. What’s up with him?” He laughed and turned to the girl beside him to continue his interrupted conversation.

“Don’t worry about it, Billy,” Marcy said. “Trig’s been drinking since eight o’clock this morning. He has no idea what he’s saying. Let’s just go.”

Vicky came rushing into the room. “Where the hell was Tamara going?”

“Who the fuck cares?” I said.

“She left my house in a t-shirt and it’s about minus twenty out there,” she said. “I care.”

“Wow. I guess she’s gonna be cold then, isn’t she.”

“Billy,” Vicky said. “She could die out there.”

“Relax Vick, she’ll be back in a minute. Trig was giving her a hard time again. She’ll get over it and come crawling back. She always does. She’s like a Goddamned Weeble!”

Vicky glared at me and stomped away.

I shrugged and took Marcy’s hand. “Come on. I’m tired of this place. Come on, Mike. Let’s get outta here.”

“I just got here!” said Mike.

“Well stay if you want. But I’m leaving. Your girl’s coming with me too, right Marse?”

“Yeah, I’ve had enough.” She looked at Mike. “You comin’?”

“No. I’m just gettin’ comfortable.”

“Suit yourself.” Marcy and I walked through to the front of the house. On my way past the kitchen I saw Trig leaning out over the sink, his hands pressed against the window, trying to look past his reflection and into the backyard. I entered the kitchen.

“Forget it, Billy. Let him cool down.” She tugged on my arm.

“No, Marse. Let me do this.” She waited at the doorway as I entered the kitchen. I saw the blender, splattered with the remains of a mystery drink, and crushed ice melting on the counter beside it.

But there’s booze in the blender.” I sang. “And soon it will render…”

Trig’s shoulders dropped and he shook his head. Without turning around, he said, “I hate you, Billy Manning.”

“…That frozen concoction that helps me hang on.”

He faced me, smiling like an altar boy on the verge of corruption. “Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville…searching for my lost shaker of salt.” We sang together. “Some people claim that there’s a wo-man to blame…” I winked at him as he punched my arm. “But I know…it’s my own damn fault…”

“You two are seriously fucked,” Marcy said, shaking her head. “You’re too much alike. Who the fuck sings Jimmy fucking Buffet, anyway?”

“Don’t make me sing Neil Diamond, bitch!” I said.

She got the way to move me…” Trig sang on cue.

“Gawd!” Marcy said.

Cherry baby!” we yelled, bursting into laughter. She shook her head once more.

But there were tears in Trig’s eyes.

“Are we okay?” I asked. He shook his head as the laughter slipped from his face. “Why’d you do that, Trig?”

“Because she’s a dumb poser bitch and she deserved…”

“I meant why’d you always let on you hated her and that you were just using her for sex if you really loved her? Why’d you do that to me? Why’d you let me…”

“For fuck sake, Billy…everything is not about you!”

He went to the fridge, opened the door and stuck his head inside. Slamming it closed, he said, “how in the name of fuck could this be a party when there’s no booze in the fridge?”

“Here,” Marcy said, reaching into a two-four on the floor and passing him a warm beer. She stepped back into the hallway and leaned against the wall.

“Where was I?” he said, opening his beer and taking a drink. “How do you expect me to share anything with you? We’re not friends anymore. We used to do everything together…”

“We still can.”

“No we can’t. You have Mike now. And let’s face it, Billy-Boy, putting the two of us together was never a very good idea. We’re like Sid and Nancy…not a good combination. Volatile to say the least.”

“Ha. I guess you have a point there…”
“What the fuck did I just do?” he said, as though he had just realized his mistake. He covered his face with his hands and shook his head.

I placed a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. She’ll forgive you. She always does.”

“I’m such an asshole.” He guzzled half the bottle of beer. “She’s a good person Billy. You don’t know her like I do. So what if she’s a poser. She knows me more than anybody else. That’s what we all want, right…to be known?” His eyes glistened with the threat of more tears.

“Okay. Let’s go find her, Bud. We’ll go outside right now and find her, bring her back to the house. You can apologize and we can restart this party. I’ll even try to be nice to her for a change. Whadaya say?”

“Yeah.” He said halfheartedly. “I guess.”

Marcy rolled her eyes and I waved her off. “You might as well go back with Mike. I’m gonna help Trig find Tamara.”

We put our coats on and walked out into the night. We stood on the porch for a second, adjusting to the temperature change. Looking out at a nearby streetlight, I could see snow floating through the air. It was frigid out. Our breath filled the air in front of us and I felt my nose hairs freeze.

We turned left at the end of the driveway and walked toward the mall. It was only a couple of blocks away and if Tamara were heading home she would have to catch the bus there.

I walked in silence, kicking a path into the light dusting of snow on the sidewalk. I wanted to talk, but I didn’t know what to say. We had grown so far apart. Without drugs to share we seemed to have nothing in common. I waited for Trig to speak.

“I’m so sick of having nothing and being nobody. You know…we all try so hard. We want to say the right things, be with the right people. Why shouldn’t I love Tamara? So what if she’s not a punk? It’s hard being a punk, Billy. Maybe she doesn’t wanna get screamed at every day.”

“Okay, Trig. So if you want to be with her, just be with her. I never said you couldn’t. I don’t have to like her…”

“That’s just the point. Why can’t you like her? Fuck. Don’t you get it? We’re all so busy chasing this thing, trying to be so fucking special.” We left the sidewalk and moved to the street, walking down its center-line. I realized just how drunk Trig was. He had passed right by his argumentative stage in favour of his infamous diatribe phase. “I hate us, Billy. I hate that we suffer at the hands of everybody else, and in the end we’re just as judgmental as them…even more so. We’re chasing empty, becoming nobodies like the rest of them.”

“Come on, Trig. You’re being silly. You’ve had way too much to drink. We’ll find Tamara and go back to the party. You don’t have to get all worked up…”

“Fuck off!” He walked ahead of me, picking up his pace. “Tamara!”

Now, I leave you with I LOVE TO BOOGIE

Keep restin’, Mr. Bolan Boogie…

Pride Must Be A Place – Rise Up

As novel titles go, I kind of like it. Pride Must Be a Place. I thought it spoke to the struggle my latest main character, Ezra Caine, dealt with in his journey to coming out and being out in his high school. Ezra, along with a couple old friends and some new ones, starts a gay-straight alliance club in his high school. Why? Because he’s had enough of the bullshit. Will Severe has attacked Ezra’s friend Alex Mills one too many times. Sometimes, the only way to have things around you change for the better is to create the platform and environment from which that change can eventually happen.

I think there are some fantastic LGBTQ young adult books in the marketplace today. Quite a few of them are amazing. But…there’s not enough. I think there’s room for more LGBTQ young adult novels. The issues facing young people, both in their high schools and at home, are perhaps better than they were twenty years ago…but they’re not good enough. There is still bullying. There is still homophobia. There is still suffering.

I think a great place to begin a dialogue that will hopefully bring about change in the landscape of the future is through literature. We, as humans, have been doing this for millennia. I have been dealing with YA issues for a few books, now…I thought it was time I tackled this particular issue. Like Ezra, I feel that it’s time for a change.

I wrote about half of Pride Must Be a Place at last month’s Muskoka Novel Marathon. It was my eighth such novel writing marathon. I went in with the hopes of some grand story wherein Lorraine Segato of Parachute Club makes a cameo at the end. I was even able to secure her blessing…not to mention the fact that she gave me some great ideas about what her ‘character’ would potentially do.

But then the inciting incident which would have opened the door for that ending wasn’t as big as it had to be in order to make that happen. As is often the case, the story got away from the idea and it went off on a tangent and changed wildly from the original vision. I had to admit to myself that the place where I brought the story to did not allow for Lorraine’s cameo. And it was going to be a legen–wait for it–dary cameo.

BUT! I did keep to the original vision that had my main character, Ezra Caine, obsessed with the 1983 hit RISE UP. That hit was an anthem for so many groups. It was Pride, though, that latched onto it in a big way. Ezra was called to action mostly because of the hassle his friend Alex was receiving at the hands of the bully, but also because of the power of the lyrics of his favourite song.

I finished the novel at the end of July. I’m excited about it…I haven’t yet had the time to worry over its scars and blemishes. It was one of the easier novels I ever wrote…the message was an easy one to write about. But I did face the most difficult challenge the YA author has when dealing with YA-issue story-lines. What’s that? Writing a novel with a message without beating the reader over the head with the message. People want to be entertained. Nobody wants to pleasure read only to find that they are being lectured to. It’s such a thin line to skate…harder when you’re close to the issue you are writing about.

It’s in the vault now…only time will tell if I treated it correctly.

For now, it’s on to the completion of other projects. I’ve had a lazy year and a half-ish. It’s time to finish the three or four other novels on the table waiting for my attention. With the success of getting this out of my system, I think I’ll be good to go on the next, and the next, and the next. To think…two short months ago I was considering the fact that I might be finished as a writer.

But I still have a few stories left to tell. Pride Must Be a Place is only one of them…

Rise Up – Parachute Club

Goodreads Giveaway for BURN BABY BURN BABY, and MNM Stuff!

Before I give you the information for the Burn Baby Burn Baby paperback giveaway…MNM2015! Yes! It’s almost here, and I cannot wait!

I will never forget my first Muskoka Novel Marathon back in 2007. It seriously sealed my fate as a one-sitting writer. And not just for novels. It’s also how I’ve come to write my plays, and I suppose everything else I pen. Come to think of it, it’s kind of how I live my life.

And before you get on a high horse and begin to tell me nothing that takes a megalithic effort, such as a novel, should be written in one sitting…hear me out. YES…I do make mistakes writing this way. I make huge ugly stupid mistakes. I make mistakes writing a novel in one sitting and I make mistakes running through life at top speed in my live-life-in-one-sitting method too. With life, maybe it’s not so easy to correct the mistakes. Let’s face it, when all is said and done and you’re gasping for your last breath…you probably don’t get to do it all over again and correct the imbalances. BUT…with writing a novel in one sitting YOU DO…YOU DO GET TO FIX IT.

That’s what the rest of the year is for. For anyone who thinks we Muskoka Novel Marathoners write our novels in one weekend and raise to get them up on Amazon, Kobo, and all the other insta-book selling sites, you’re wrong. I spend at least a year kneading the dough of the novel I write during this marathon weekend. I nurture it into shape through careful reading and re-reading. I remove the string of LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLs that accidentally appear on page 182 because it was 3am on Sunday night of the marathon and I fell asleep at the keyboard. I remove the random words that my sleep addled brain accidentally dumped into my manuscript with no rhyme or reason. I edit. I edit. I edit.

I also–truth be told–become acquainted with my manuscript. THIS is the most exciting part. When I do my first read-through of my Muskoka Novel Marathon manuscript, I feel like I’m reading my story for the first time. No…like I’m reading someone else’s words. That’s both a great thing and a bad thing. It’s actually the thing I struggle with the most with this method of novel writing. I don’t feel connected to my work. Not at first. I read it and I keep reading to find out what happens next. Somewhere along the 72 hours that it took me to write it, WILD MIND took over. We do become machines of sorts at the MNM. It’s inevitable. It’s magical, it’s great and it’s disconcerting. We become automatons.

plural noun: automatons
  1. a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being.

Yep. That’s what happens. It’s kind of an out-of-body experience. And when you come back in, after typing all those words on autopilot, you need to reacquaint yourself with the work you created. Or, rather, acquaint yourself.

You could see why this would be both a good and a bad thing. The author needs to be the orchestrator of the story. But you also need to trust your instincts and leave yourself at the starting line. Once story takes over, you should allow it to do so. This is never truer than when you’re writing a novel in a marathon. Instinct is king. Thinking too much is the killer of this method of novel writing. Thankfully, I am a master at the art of disconnection (<< also not entirely a good thing).

Anyway, I just wanted to write a bit on the Muskoka Novel Marathon and the process involved in writing during this monolithic writing weekend in Huntsville, Ontario. I’m getting excited. The mayhem begins in three days!

Again, I will remind my readers that this is in fact a fundraising event. As epic as it is as a retreat for writers, we do actually do this for a worthy cause. 40 writers. 72 hours. 40 novels. Bam! And each of those 40 writers collects donations for the YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka literacy programs. We have collected over $100,000.00 thus far for the literacy cause. No small feat. But the funds are sorely needed…as literacy programs, sadly, are underfunded. So, if you are feeling charitable…and you would like to help writers help readers, please feel free to click on the pic below and jump over to my Canada Helps Giving Page and make a donation. Any amount helps. Together, we can make a difference in the life of a reader:


Click this pic to be taken to my Giving Page to make your donation. Thank you in advance!


The Giveaway!

Burn Baby Burn Baby has been getting amazing reviews. Here’s the synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago.

Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley—the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby.

The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars.

If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions.

Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted.

Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.

And some praise for Burn Baby Burn Baby:

I’m putting this book right up there alongside Laurie Halse Anderson’s, TWISTED, and John Green’s, LOOKING FOR ALASKA. Not to be missed. Highly recommended!

I could not put it down. I loved everything about it.

Nice way to start the 2015 reading year :)

What an emotional book. When you read a book like Burn Baby,Burn you can’t help but cry and be grateful if you have never been in that situation. I loved this book…

Burn Baby Burn Baby is a great story about bullying, love and friendship. Definitely one to add to your wishlist.

BURN BABY, BURN BABY pulls you in from the opening pages and doesn’t let go.

This book blew me away. Blew. Me. Away.

Kevin Craig knows how to write teenage boys.

This book is such a gem that I think adults and teens will both love it.

I am so surprised that this book isn’t getting more attention… It is definitely along the lines of The Fault in Our Stars and those other YA books we all love.

To enter to win a paperback copy of BURN BABY BURN BABY, click on the pic below and jump over to GOODREADS and click the ENTER GIVEAWAY BUTTON!

goodreadsGood luck! Contest open to USA and CANADIAN residents. Burn Baby Burn Baby is available wherever books are sold. (-:

We Need to Talk About Finch – ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES (This is NOT a book review)



Literature, no matter the genre or market, more often than not lifts us…and causes us to think. I never felt this more viscerally than when I read ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven. In my review I think I even mentioned that it’s a wonderful book that could serve to open a much needed dialogue on mental illness and how it pertains to teens.

But I didn’t myself begin that dialogue. That was a bit of a fail on my part.

I’m not one to come at things intellectually, so I won’t do an info dump with lots of percentages and facts. I wander through life heart-first. I can address how All The Bright Places made me feel, and how I related to it. Although the circumstances which brought me there are different, I suppose, than those of Finch’s, I too rode the edge of dying/not dying as a teenager. I too woke up every morning and asked myself, “Is today a good day to die?” This is the first line in the book ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. And it is literally what I used to think to myself every day. I knew I had to read on. Jennifer Niven captured the ache and turmoil of my youth in that opening line. Verbatim.

Like Finch, the first of the two main character POVs in the book, I struggled. I was actually diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder at one point. But I now believe that diagnosis to be inaccurate. Sometimes we run off the rails because of outside circumstances, not chemical imbalances in the brain. And chemical imbalances come about as a result of the depression we sink into because of these outward negative experiences in our lives. So, though the Bi-Polar diagnosis has never been overturned…it is not something I relate to or accept as my personal truth. When I finally disclosed my childhood trauma and began to work on the PTSD that it caused in me, I realized that it was at the root of everything else. The steps a survivor of childhood sexual abuse takes in order to survive are cataclysmic and scatological at best. They are bad choices made in a fitful panic in order to step forward through the game of life to the next tile. We don’t think long-term. There is no long term. We don’t plan the future, because we cannot imagine one. We just work our way through the maze. One step at a time. We wake up every day and we ask ourselves that important question, “Is today a good day to die?”

We try not to look in the mirror when we brush our teeth and we say, “Is today the day? And if not today–when?”

Finch’s story had me riveted from word one. Niven had somehow captured the life of a teenage boy in turmoil so succinctly that I began to think she might, in some otherworldly way unbeknownst to me, be my biographer. I mean, that’s how creeped out I became while reading this story. I kept thinking, “Oh my god. I’m Finch.” (and it got even worse when friends asked me if I had read the book and THEY said, YOU’RE FINCH!) I knew instinctively that Niven had personally experienced a loss of a teenage boy in turmoil in her past. I was not at all surprised to learn later, after having read the book, that this was indeed the case…that Finch’s character was an homage to a lost boy. She captured it too impeccably not to have first experienced it in real life.

In the end, my story turned out differently than Finch’s. I muddled through somehow. Every time I answered that morning question with, “No, not today,” I lived to see another morning. And on the mornings when I woke up and asked myself that question and responded to myself in the affirmative something always happened to either prevent me from taking my life that day or saving me from the attempt to take it. When you’re living in the trenches, you don’t realize that making it through another day is a good thing. You regret not leaving. Every day, you grow more angry with having to ask yourself that stupid question again… “Is today a good day to die?” Because you’re bitter for not having had the courage to have responded in the affirmative the morning before and actually ended your suffering already. The pain is too much. The segregation from the rest of the world is too much. The hell that you are locked in is a never-ending purgatory of fear and self-loathing.

I picked up ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES to read again because of the Muskoka Novel Marathon I’ll be doing in two weeks. I want to write a book with that much visceral emotion in it. I want to learn more as a writer by reading it one last time before I go in to the belly of the beast for the writing marathon.

But in reading it, I’m realizing it’s not enough to just say, “Oh, this book would be great to open the dialogue for a mental illness struggles in teens discussion.” We should actually discuss it. Every single day, teens are dragging themselves out of bed with that question in their heads and on their tongues. Every day. Everywhere. They might not have had a ghastly childhood trauma such as sexual abuse or physical abuse. They might be dealing with a bully, or bullies, or sexuality issues or gender confusion, or weight issues, or acne, or self-righteous indignation…does it matter? Whatever issue they are dealing with, it is real to them. It is weighing them down and making them feel LESS THAN.

If you have a teen in your life, ask them. Be on point and just ask them how they are feeling. In the middle of the storm of depression, it is extremely hard to hear outside noise. The screams in your mind are enough to block out most other things. What occasionally turns those screams off, or at least adjusts the volume to a liveable level, is concern. Let them know you care. And don’t just do it once. Be insistent and persistent. Love doesn’t always win. But sometimes it does.

Teens are dying. It really is time to open up a dialogue of prevention. One suicide is one too many. When I think of the amount of times I almost didn’t make it, it’s sobering and staggering. So much of the things that now cause extreme joy in my life would have been missed. IT GETS BETTER is a tangible phrase that brings with it a punch. Because if you allow yourself to struggle through the darkness, it well and truly does get better. It’s when we wake up and ask ourselves, “Is today a good day to die?” and there is nobody there to say, “NO!” that we all fail.

Know the signs:

Signs and symptoms of depression in teens can include the following:

  • A sense of hopelessness or sadness
  • Fidgety agitation and restless discomfort
  • Short fuse with anger, irritability
  • Loss of interest in things they were once passionate about
  • A change to the way they eat and/or sleep
  • Change in the way they interact with friends and family members
  • Loss of concentration–which can present as slipping grades
  • Signs that they’ve been crying or appear tearful
  • Showing a general self-worthlessness attitude or extreme unexplainable guilt
  • Lack of joie de vivre—no enthusiasm, motivation, drive
  • Showing signs of unexplained exhaustion…lack of energy. ennui.
  • THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE OR DEATH…ideation around these concepts, possibly even to the point of obsession.

I’m writing this for all the Finch teens out there now. And I’m writing this for the Finch I once was. And I’m writing this for all the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and boyfriends and girlfriends and grandparents and friends of Finch. Don’t let the world take away your Finch. We are all bright lights and we are all bright places. We need to know this. Talk to your loved ones. Don’t allow them to lose sight of their own bright places. Life is beautiful.

“In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,378 other followers

%d bloggers like this: