Walk it, Write it, Walk it, Write it

I’m famous for insisting I’m a pantser, but is that really true? How honest are any of us being when we say we fly by the seat of our pants rather than plot our stories?

I guess it depends on your definition of plotting. Does pen need to touch paper for it to be considered plotting? Do your fingers have to tap away at a keyboard for it to be considered plotting? If you need to see physical results of plotting before you call it plotting, then I am indeed a pantser.

But the things that go through my head when I’m hiking, or walking down the street, or walking the treadmill like an automaton! This is where I build my story. Like Kris Kringle in Santa Claus is Coming to Town, I put one foot in front of the other. Unlike Kris Kringle, I’m not only getting myself across the floor and out the door…I’m also moving forward in story, plotting where I’m going to take my characters, what big and little things are going to come to them.

“Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the flo-or-or. Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out the door…” ~ Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle – Santa Claus is Coming to Town, 1970 Rankin/Bass Productions.

I may not call it plotting, and I may insist I don’t plot…but I do. I work it out in my head. I come up with plans and conjure scenes. It’s true that I don’t always stick to what I come up with. Since I don’t write them down, I don’t remain rigid to my ideas. They’re more watercolor possibilities of what the final draft may eventually look like. Sometimes the ideas I have in this non-plotting plotting stage are nothing like what comes to pass, but bandying around the ideas and seeing my characters in all these different scenarios in my head help me to figure out who they are and what they want. Yeah, what finally makes it to the page is not plotted out…but it’s definitely lived in. I endlessly go through the neighborhoods of my stories and move the furniture and the houses and the cars and the people around. Eventually, the story comes out the way it wants to come out. It certainly resembles the musings I had while walking…but it’s still a distant cousin. That’s why I still insist to being a pantser. I didn’t write it down.

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Dale & Sue Long’s Happy Place, where some of the Muskoka Novel Marathoners stayed in September 2016 for the MNM Wrap Party.

I’ve been walking a lot lately, and chewing on the story ideas I have for my 2018 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. It’s fast approaching. I’m preparing to once again spend 72 hours at the laptop pounding out an entire novel in one sitting. It never gets less scary. It never feels like something I’m capable of. It never stops being completely and unspeakably exciting and terrifying. And even though I’m living inside multiple story possibilities in my head in these weeks leading up to the marathon, because I haven’t committed anything to paper or screen…I can go in there and say, “I have NOTHING prepared!” But as I walk, I write. And as I write, I walk. Every step is another possibility. Every footfall is a plot hole or a character flaw. I have never felt the connection between walking and writing more than I feel it in the days leading up to this yearly marathon. Ironically, it’s a marathon where feet are not needed. But it’s a long grueling ‘run’ to the finish line, all the same!

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With Lori Manson at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon wrap-up party. Lori won Best Young Adult Novel and I won for Best Adult Novel.

Check out what the marathon is all about HERE

If you feel inspired, I’m always happy to accept donations. Each of the 40 writers collect sponsorships for the marathon. Here’s my writer bio page on the MNM site–it contains a link to my donation page.

While you’re here, HAPPY PRIDE…however you celebrate!

You can pick up my 2015 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE where books are sold. Here’s the link to PRIDE on AMAZON.

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Six Degrees of Separation -How’d I get here?

I occasionally attempt to retrace the steps that brought me to being a writer. The funny thing is, every time I retrace my steps, I come up with a different path, different reasons, different excuses. Maybe some of us were just born to witness, to tell, to retell. Maybe writing is a gene we either get or don’t get? Or a virus one is born with…A virus that lies dormant until a certain je ne sais quoi occurs, igniting the disease into full bloom. Je ne sais quoi sounds so frilly, don’t it? Calm down, it simply means I don’t know what. Which is the thing that would happen to ignite the virus–I don’t know what.

If I were to look at the evolution in terms of books read, I might be able to come up with a SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION list of books that brought me from child to writer. Actually, I could probably come up with a different list daily, and argue why each of the books on each of the lists deserves to be there. Let’s try these 6 degrees from my today’s me, shall we? Six books with explanations as to why they were an integral part of my journey from child to writer.

BOOK 1Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Seuss

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I almost always go back to this book as my IN THE BEGINNING, my Genesis. Perhaps it IS my Book 1. It made me love the way words sound, even before I could make them myself. It made me love the music of language. Rhyme is a kind of art onto itself, no? It makes whimsy and play out of a language that exists for the very serious and no-nonsense purpose of communication. All the Dr. Seuss books, in their turn, ignited a love of words and language in me. Even the made up words made my heart go pitter-patter. To this day, I still hope to one day come upon a Zizzer-zazzer-zuzz or a truffula tree. One cannot underestimate the importance of word play. It sticks with you.

BOOK 2CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

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Another one I cannot leave out is Roald Dahl’s Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. I’ve heard so many horrendous things about this creator in the time between my first reading of Charlie and now. But it would be revisionist of me to pretend this book didn’t change the course of my future. It was probably around 1972 when I first read it. Give or take a year. This book made me want to be a writer. I could stop here. But it wasn’t enough. We often forget the things that call to us when we are children. We lose sight of them. We need some sort of 2nd awakening to bring us back into the fold. So this book gets credit for making me a more voracious reader and planting a writing seed that would lay dormant for a while, just waiting for that je ne sais quoi to come knocking and wake it up.

BOOK 3A SEPARATE PEACE

Here’s where it all becomes foggy. So many books in my teen years would fight for this all-important #3 slot in my 6-step journey to writer. I think, today, I’ll choose A SEPARATE PEACE by John Knowles. (One of the books that are on the sidelines screaming WHAT ABOUT ME is The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. A Separate Peace spoke to me in more ways than one. I fell in love with the friendship, the envy and spite and greed. The darkness was something I could understand. And the hero-worship. It was an unsettling read. It made me want to write a story that would emulate it, pay homage to it. It was a real stepping stone from READER to WRITER. It made me think, ‘I could do this’. Or at least it made me want to try.

BOOK 4THE OUTSIDERS

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Still a teenager. Still a dreamer. I came upon THE OUTSIDERS by S. E. Hinton. This was a story of underdogs. And of reaching up out of that existence into something better. The characters were outsiders…it was right there in the title. Yet, they were allowed to have a story. The story was allowed to be about them. I loved that concept. I was a major outsider at the time and finding that book was everything. It was reassuring to know that Ponyboy Curtis could be looked down on as an outsider, and yet still have all these hopes and dreams and thoughts and feelings. And to see all the good in these boys who were so quickly cast aside by society? Their hearts were golden, even when they struggled to survive. This was such a nuanced story. It made me look into the scaffolding of storytelling. I wanted now to see the underbelly, to take it apart and see how it worked…just like my younger brother would often take mechanical toys apart to see how their cogs and wheels and belts and whatnot worked. This was the book that made me dissect…an important and crucial step in the journey towards becoming a writer.

BOOK 5Fast Forward a Bunch of Years and Bold, Italics, and Underline the Title for Emphasis – WRITING DOWN THE BONES

The fifth book that brought me to writing, at least as I list them here today, is probably WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg. When I found this book I was in the middle of something of a breakdown, searching desperately for books to save me. I was scouring the library reading this, that, this, that, this, that. I was desperately seeking Susan. Aside from the odd scrolled and jotted down poem, I had all but abandoned WRITER. I made my way through fiction at my library, but it wasn’t enough. I tried biographies and read about so many different lives. Nope. Still searching. As it began to feel somewhat like a spiritual search, I snuck into the spiritual and religious section of the library. I read about different religions, practices, etc, etc. One week I was a Buddhist, the next I was in love with Paramahansa Yogananda. And then I fell into a book called LONG QUIET HIGHWAY – A MEMOIR ON ZEN IN AMERICA AND THE WRITING LIFE. Hello! I loved everything I read about Zen. I still secretly harboured that WRITING LIFE thing…if only to whisper this aspiration only to myself, and only in the dark where I couldn’t see. That’s a lot of ONLYs. So, I read this amazing book LONG QUIET HIGHWAY, and it ignited a spark…I adjusted the course and found another book by the same author– WRITING DOWN THE BONES. This is such a simple book that spoke to me simply. It made me remember that I wanted to be a writer. Goldberg was so gentle in her guidance to writers in this book. Her way of demystifying writing and writers gave me the permission to at least TRY. I was like baby Groot. “I AM WRITER.” It might have been the only three words I could say, but I said them on repeat until it became something more real.

BOOK 6THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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Whoa! I think I arrived at writer before a full six degrees of separation had the opportunity to occur. I’ll stick one more book here at the end and merely because it set a fire in me as far as storytelling goes. After I had decided to wade into the pond and try my hand at writing, I stumbled upon Anne Rice’s THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS. It’s her homage to Great Expectations, which is another book that I read in childhood that made me fall in love with story. When I got to the last page of The Feast of All Saints, I literally turned back to page one and began to reread it. I found everything about that book gorgeous. Forget about the Vampire Chronicles (I also enjoyed the first 5 or 6 titles in that series but, for me, they paled in comparison to Feast). This book was the book that solidified in me the desire to not only tell a story, but to tell a story well.

Is it possible for the path to writer not to be taken through a literary garden? Maybe. There could be some out there who just want to write without first reading. But I can’t imagine it. I know not how I came to writing, really, but I do know I entered into it as a reader.

So, what are your six degrees of separation? What six books make up the cornerstone of the writer you’ve become?

Light Near the End of the World, a Camino de Santiago Short Story NOW AVAILABLE

My passion for the Camino de Santiago has come out in many ways over the past couple of years. Most recently, I have completed a young adult novel that is set on this pilgrimage path in Spain. Last year, I also won 3rd place in the (WCSC) Writers’ Community of Simcoe County’s 2017 Word by Word Short Story Contest with my story, Helen Finds Her Way to After. I think I am approaching the end of my exploration-in-words of the Camino experience. I have one more story, though. And it’s now available on Amazon! Light Near the End of the World – A Camino de Santiago Short Story released on May 8th! You can download it now. This short tells the story of Corinne, who walks the Way of St. James on her own as a way of fulfilling a plan she originally had to walk the path with her husband.

See the synopsis below:

Corinne began her Camino de Santiago pilgrimage way back in St. Jean Pied de Port, France, weeks ago. Exhausted, spent, and on the verge of giving up, she meets a pilgrim who gives her the inspiration she needs to carry on. But is it enough to get her there, to the famous cathedral at the end of the journey in Santiago de Compostela? Follow Corinne’s path along the Way of St. James as she struggles to carry on and to find herself along the way.

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For less than it costs to buy a cup of coffee, you can read Corinne’s Camino story…

Download LIGHT NEAR THE END OF THE WORLD at AMAZON USA

Download LIGHT NEAR THE END OF THE WORLD at AMAZON CANADA

Download LIGHT NEAR THE END OF THE WORLD at AMAZON UK

ALSO AVAILABLE ON KOBO!

Through Corinne’s journey, I hope you discover why so many pilgrims have fallen in love with the Camino de Santiago.

 

Word Up Barrie – Guest Author Event

Thanks to my cousin in Barrie for telling me about a monthly event there–and for putting my name forward to the organizers as a possible guest reader–I’ll be doing a reading at WORD UP BARRIE this coming November. I know it’s a long way off, but I thought I’d post about it here and also mention the year’s line-up for guest readers at the event while I’m here.

The WORD UP BARRIE events take place at Unity Market Cafe & Studios in Barrie, Ontario. The event is monthly and it starts at 7 pm. They have one or two feature guest authors do a reading. This is then followed by an open mic.

My own reading will be on Thursday November 8th.wordup.jpg

If you’re in the Barrie area, or if you want to drive up Highway 400 from Toronto (GTA) for some creative synergy, here’s what WORD UP BARRIE has in store for the rest of the 2018 schedule:

  • Thursday June 14th is BRUCE MEYER
  • Thursday July 12th is BRIAN VAN NORMAN & DANIEL PERRY
  • Thursday September 13th is Hugh Graham & GABRIEL VERVENIOTIS
  • Thursday October 11th is BRENDA CLEWS & ROBIN BLACKBURN McBRIDE
  • Thursday November 8th is MARC LABRIOLA & myself
  • Thursday December 13th is SKY GILBERT & DARRELL EPP

YOU CAN READ ALL THE GUEST SPEAKER BIOS ON THE WORDS UP BARRIE UPCOMING EVENTS PAGE HERE.

Looking forward to this! And also to possibly getting up there for one of the other events prior to my own. For you creative types, don’t forget– THERE’S ALSO AN OPEN MIC SESSION at these events.

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