I Will Tell the Night – Muskoka Novel Marathon 2016 Best Adult Novel Award!

A writer is sometimes lost and sometimes found. And quite often it’s a monumental moment that causes the shift between those two delicately interconnected worlds to occur. This weekend, I had one of those moments. I am found.

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The Dock at Dale & Sue Long’s Haliburton cottage on Lake Kashagawigamog this past Saturday morning, prior to our Hunter’s Bay Radio stop along the way to the annual Muskoka Novel Marathon Wrap-Up Party!

I swear, sometimes it seems a writer’s life is made up of a series of gifts, miracles, and happenstances. Or so it very much seems to me. Every time I bring myself close to the edge of oblivion–to that place of writer/notwriter that I believe most writers go to–something or someone in my life brings me back to the heart.

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Writers! From left to right, Tobin Elliott, Christine Cowley, myself, and, Dale Long. Tobin and Dale were interviewed together for an episode of the show appearing later in October. And Tobin helped out with the narration of my play THE SPEECH, which I performed with Christine.

This past weekend, I began one of my many cycles of intense writerly related periods. They seem to come and go. Nothing happens for weeks or months at a time to even remotely suggest that you may in fact be living the life of a writer, and then suddenly you find yourself in a chaotic hotbed of WRITERLY stuff.

What started as a thrilling adventure at the local radio station in Huntsville, Ontario, this weekend, culminated in discovering that I had won a much coveted writing prize. Again.

I was invited by writer friend Christine Cowley to be interviewed on her radio program STORYLINES on Huntsville’s Hunter’s Bay Radio. But not only was I interviewed, which was a thrill in and of itself, but I also performed one of my Trafalgar 24 plays for the radio program…along with Christine herself playing the role of the lead in the short play, and my other writer friend Tobin Elliott stepping in as narrator. It was such a fun time! The episode of Storylines airs in early October and I can’t wait to see how the performance went. It will be interesting to see if it translates well as a radio play.

We stayed in Haliburton over the weekend, taking up residence in the cottage and bunky of writer friend Dale Long and his wife Sue. It was a thoroughly enjoyable stay, filled with great laughs, amazing food and good friends. Dale is something of a BBQ aficionado and what he can do with a grill, a cedar plank and a side of salmon is almost religious.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Longs, the Elliotts, and the beauty of Haliburton.

After our stint as radio celebrities in the recording studios of Hunter’s Bay Radio Station, Dale, Tobin and I went to Kelsey’s in Huntsville with our significant others (Sue, Karen, and Michael) for a quick lunch prior to heading to the Muskoka Novel Marathon Wrap-Up Party. We were all excited to see who would take home the peer nominated awards and the Best Novel Awards this year. After the long summer that follows the July marathon, it’s always a special treat to head back to Huntsville and reunite with the other marathon writers…so the excitement we had felt at the radio station was only growing as the wrap up party approached.

The photo above-left shows the table full of awards handed out every year at the novel marathon wrap up party, from peer nominated awards to the judged Best Novel awards. On the right, Kate and Nancy from the YMCA revealed the total raised at this year’s Muskoka Novel Marathon—A whopping $36,000.00. Just see what 40 writers can do when they put their hearts to something. ALL FUNDS raised go directly to the literacy programs of YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka Counties.

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The Winners Take a Selfie! I was extremely thrilled to have been awarded the BEST ADULT NOVEL AWARD for the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon for my novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. And just as thrilled for the lovely Lori Manson, who took home the coveted BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL AWARD for her novel NED AND NORA STONE.

I did not think I would ever win the Best Novel Award again. I counted my 4 previous wins among my greatest feats in my writing life. With the amount of struggling I have done in recent years, I can’t even begin to describe how much I needed this. It is the vote of confidence I needed to continue writing. It’s pure unadulterated validation.

I would like to thank Dale Long for two things. The first…over 24hrs into the marathon, I still did not have my novel started. I couldn’t connect. Dale told me to tell my story—just shake it up and make it fiction. Or something along those lines. So I said, “What have I got to lose…might as well do something!” He stirred my creativity and got me started. The second thing he did? I wrote my two title considerations down on a piece of paper, looked about the room until I saw Dale (who happened to win this year’s SPIRIT AWARD–for the 2nd year running) sitting and typing…then I approached him and asked him which he preferred. So, it is because of his choice that my novel is called I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. THANKS, DALE!

Here it is! My name on the Best Novel Award trophy again! VALIDATION!

A list of my Best Novel Award wins:

2007 – Best Adult Novel for SEBASTIAN’S POET

2008 – Best Adult Novel for THE REASONS

2010 – Best Young Adult Novel for HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN

2011 – Best Young Adult Novel for THAT’S ME IN THE CORNER

2016 – Best Adult Novel Award for I WILL TELL THE NIGHT

What an incredible weekend. Filled with affirmations, friends, laughter, food, love, light and life. I want to thank Tobin’s wife, Karen, for starting the snowball-rolling-down-a-hill conversation that culminated in the arrival of my new nickname, which I will expect to be addressed by from this day forth. I am LORD AWA (awa aka AWARD WINNING AUTHOR).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a manuscript to pound into shape! I am now tasked with the great burden and joy of completing and polishing my novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT, in preparation of submission. (-:

Stay tuned to this spot! My spate of WRITERLY related chaos is still ongoing this time around. Tonight and tomorrow night I have some exciting writerly events happening that I’m sure I will want to write about. Stay tuned!

Violently Happy – The Sedona Syndrome

“Violently happy
it will get me into trouble.
Violently happy
I’m driving my car
too fast
with ecstatic music on” ~ BJORK

The rush of emotions I felt while staying in Sedona was very real. And very intense. I can’t imagine living there and EVER getting used to it. Take a place like that for granted? Never! It’s funny…there was much talk about the vortexes that could be found there. But it seemed to me that the entire place was one big vortex of energy…and it made me feel in-sync with the everything in a way I had never felt before. I felt violently happy.

“Sedona spiritual vortexes are powerful and transformational energy centers that are located at specific sites throughout Sedona, Arizona. Vortexes are the intersections of natural electromagnetic earth energy, also known as ley lines.” ~ From the website SEDONA RED ROCK TOURS.

Day 5 – THE GRAND CANYON

It was a two-hour car trip from our place in Sedona to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. And it was a beautiful drive, filled with insane mountain twists and turns that brought us to a dramatically higher elevation. And with the top down in the early morning hours we came to understand just how cold it got in Arizona when the sun was not up!

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My first real glimpse of the Grand Canyon. South Rim from a lookout we came to after parking the car and walking towards the trailhead. This must be the place!

We set out fairly early in the morning, as we knew it would be a long day of hiking down into and up out of the canyon. To think I didn’t think I wanted to do the Canyon. I don’t know what I was thinking…having the red rocks of Sedona on my bucketlist, but not having the greatest hole in the history of holes on the same list?! From the moment I knew I was going to see the Canyon, my thoughts on it began to change. Of course I should want to see something so incredibly beautiful. As we put it on our list of attractions we would visit on the trip, I added it to my bucketlist…feeling slightly guilty that it wasn’t already there.

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I would say WE chose Bright Angel Trail for our excursion down into the Canyon, but if I did I would be lying. I chose nothing…I only thrilled at the trails that were chosen for me. I remained blissfully unaware of the paths chosen for me until we arrived each day at the various trailheads. Each one was perfect! Including BRIGHT ANGEL…

I’m not going to lie…GOING UP was difficult. But it wasn’t TOO difficult. I’ve been hiking and walking and jogging and running for a couple of years now…so I was ready for the hike up out of the Canyon. But it wasn’t a walk in the park.

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This sign kind of says it all. Go down only as much as you think you can climb back up. No further. And there’s no shame in resting along the way back out of the Canyon.

This was one of the longest treks we took and by far the most populated. There were a lot of people on this trail. I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Is there anything more beautiful?

The Bright Angel Trail was probably also the most well-formed of all the trails we were on in our week in Arizona. The trail was wide and clearly indicated all the way to the bottom…with two rest stops along the way for water and bio-breaks. It was quite impeccable and user-friendly, as trails go.

And I never tired of looking up, down and all around me. Every glance gave another gift to the eye and the soul. So much beauty…and to think I almost said no to this incredible force of nature.

The vastness of the Grand Canyon makes one simultaneously disappear into oblivion and feel more vital and alive and big than ever before. It’s the equivalent of a spiritual enlightenment if ever there was one…

DAY 6! BELL ROCK AND THE COURTHOUSE BUTTE! Our final HIKE day. We originally decided to have Thursday as a day of rest before our Friday all-day trip back home to Toronto. But I couldn’t imagine being there for a day and NOT hiking. There were two trails fairly close to home and side by side with one another that we decided to try on our last full day in Sedona. They were easy…so it would be sort of a rest day. (-;

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There were many places along the perimeter of Bell Rock where you could climb and explore. Such a beautiful place! This was only a skip and a jump up on a ledge near the bottom…nowhere near the top.

Probably one of the easier hikes we did in our week…it was a trail that circumnavigated the two attractions. One big circle of a hike with two beautiful formations in the middle…or so I thought. There was a third, much smaller formation that was no less beautiful. I never did find out what it was called, but it took my breath away…

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Is it weird that I saw these as four little witches having a little huddle? I swear, I felt their scheming and heard their cackling…

As with the notion that going down is voluntary but coming up is mandatory at the Grand Canyon, one should never bite off more than they can chew on ANY trail in the desert like conditions of Sedona and the surrounding area. On this trail (We actually did the BIG PARK LOOP TRAIL—which incorporated the two other trails on the site) we came upon someone in clear distress…someone who misjudged his ability to complete the trail. We stopped about a quarter of the way along the trail to help a man rise to his feet…with the assistance of his friend. And I scoured the brush just off the trail to find them a walking stick to further support him until they made their way back off the trail and to their car. It’s never a good idea to take to the trails if you’re not one-hundred percent certain you can finish it. This man was clearly in deep distress. I was glad to see them heading straight for the exit and not redoubling their efforts to push forward.

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We decided to bring our shadows with us on this trip. It’s always comforting to find them either trailing behind us or showing us the way!

Although this was an easy trail to walk, there were certainly a lot of things to climb and explore along the way. It was absolutely a FUN trail to do…and I would highly recommend it!

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This is the formation I mentioned earlier whose name I couldn’t seem to discover. If you happen upon this blog and know the name of this formation, please let me know in the comments!

 

I called that unknown formation THE MUSHROOM…for obvious reasons. My one desire, once it came into view, was simply to TOUCH it. I thought, ‘If I could just touch that awesome formation, my day will be made.’ The closer we got to it, the more I realized my wish would come true…but I had no idea just HOW thrilled I would eventually become!

As you might be able to see in the collection of photos above, I was not only able to touch THE MUSHROOM…but I was also able to climb to its very pinnacle and look out at the vastness of the area from its tippy top stepping stone right smack-dab in the centre of it! This little formation became one of the highlights of the trip for me. It just sort of took my breath away when we walked around the corner of Courthouse Butte and saw it sitting there all by itself all pretty and mushroomy and whatnot.❤

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At the end of our trail when I heard, “If you want to climb Bell Rock, I’ll wait down here for you.” I jumped at the opportunity  and practically flew up that rock! If you see little specks of people down below me in this pic, they are actually ON bell rock…there are several layers of it below them and I’m several layers above them. It was such a fun climb…I just jumped from rock to rock, slope to slope until I reached the point I wanted to get to. What a beautiful vista down below. As I walked around up there, I was able to take in everything else in the area…including the highway and all the buttes and hills strewn about…

What an amazing day Day 6 turned out to be. A day of rest morphed into one of the most memorable days of an incredibly memorable trip!

After that incredible hike, we had one last afternoon at the pool followed by one last evening out on a beautiful Sedona restaurant patio. It was a revisit to THE HUDSON…one of the first restaurants of the week. We loved it so much, we rebooked before leaving the first time.

If you ever go to Sedona and you’re looking for a place to eat…please make sure that wherever you go, you ask for the patio! I’m quite certain wherever you land, you can’t go wrong. The town is literally surrounded by mountains.

Well, that’s it. Sedona and Arizona in a nutshell. It was literally one of the hardest places I have ever in my life had to leave. But I will definitely carry it with me always and forever. In fact, I’m quite certain I’ll be back. One day…

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This is 50! (x 2 = 100!)

On the Occasion of my 50th Birthday! Sedona at its Best..

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September 13, 2016 – A Milestone Birthday Celebrated in Paradise! THIS is 50!

Day 4 – West Fork Trail at Oak Creek AND Thomas Point Trail!

BUT FIRST! Huevos Rancheros! Before setting out to hike the West Fork Trail, we went to a little restaurant I saw down the street from where we were staying. I LOVE huevos rancheros! And with a name like HUEVOS, this restaurant spoke to me immediately!

I was NOT disappointed. Their huevos were incredible!

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When in Sedona, Arizona, do yourself a favour and stop by HUEVOS – A MORNING EATERY. Their huevos rancheros are top notch!

After an amazing breakfast, we were ready to really begin the first day of my 50s.

Sedona has so much more to offer than red rock. It really opened up to us on my birthday. The West Fork Trail was lush and beautiful. If you do the whole trail, to the end and back, you get to cross the meandering creek a couple dozen times. Sometimes, this is done on strategically placed rocks, and sometimes it is done on logs and branches.

While walking the West Fork Trail, you’re down in a valley of sorts…and it doesn’t matter in what direction you look up into, you will find the beautiful mountains and rock outcroppings that Sedona is famous for. They’re everywhere. But the trail is simpler and more relaxing than a lot of the other trails…because of the way it’s nestled in the forest valley. If you do this trail, it will give you a nice variety of scenery AND a pleasant cool walk.

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On our way out of West Fork Trail, I decided to leave a little something behind…a token of Canadiana. Just like the ones you will see alongside any highway or byway in our own country. An INUKSHUK!

After the pleasant trail in the West Fork on Oak Creek, it was time to cross the street and see what Thomas Point Trail was all about. For a 50th birthday, I’m pretty sure it was one of the best on record. I don’t know how it could have been better…

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One thing to point out about Thomas Point is that the trail was hard to find. We almost gave up on it. You are led to believe you’re on it, and then the path you’ve taken leads to exactly nothing…but dead-ends. I was just beginning to feel a sense of relief that we weren’t going to climb the almost 1000 ft to the top when we discovered our wrong turn and found the right path!

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While getting slightly lost and turned around on Thomas Point Trail, we were momentarily pummeled by a short freak hailstorm.

After finding the proper trail, we made our way up the rather big hill or small mountain. At first, prior to coming out into the open, we criss-crossed our way up the forest. This was difficult but not too difficult…strenuous but not too strenuous. It was when everything opened up that we felt a little more vulnerable. The path narrowed and it suddenly felt like we were no longer climbing a hill, but a mountain side. And the edge was right there beckoning to us with every footstep. And cacti appeared and other desert flora.

Yes, it was steep. Yes, it was incredibly windy at the top and it felt like the mountain was fighting to kick me off, and YES! I did wave my hiking towel over my head in victory. THIS IS 50!

Word of advice if you ever find yourself looking for the trail on Thomas Point Trail…LOOK. Once you find it, you’ll be glad you did. The vistas that open up to you once you get up and out in the open are heart-stopping and breathtakingly beautiful! SEEK AND YOU SHALL FIND. And if you don’t find it, go back across the road to the person on duty at the parking and ask. It really is a must see (sort of secret-ish) trail.

After a long day of hiking, climbing, creek-crossing, laughing, loving, running, walking, and inukshuk making, we were ready to head back down to Sedona proper.

I found it very difficult not to take pics from the car for the entire duration of  our holiday. Everything was just TOO beautiful. The 5000ft elevation sign on the roadside was posted on the way down the enormous hills that took us to the trails…so I’d estimate that we were somewhere around 6000ft while hiking…although we were down in a valley. Elevation was pretty mysterious in Sedona. We were HIGH!

After a long day of trails and mountains and driving, we were ready for dinner. And with a creekside table, L’Auberge de Sedona was ready for us! I will never forget the day I turned 50…and I will never forget the meal I had at L’Auberge that day. We were both celebrating 50…so it was a combined 100-Celebration, as it were. (-: The restaurant was fabulous…every plate was a feast not only for the mouth but for the eye. The fois gras was the best I’ve ever had. Even the dessert was special. Who gets pearls on their dessert? And the waiter was fantastic. He even handled our Scared-Canadians grilling about the upcoming election with finesse and aplomb.

This was a birthday I couldn’t even imagine being around for at one time. I’m glad I made it. And with any luck, it’s just the beginning. I mean, fifty is still young, right? It’s the trailblazing and mountain-climbing age. We have a few good years left in us.

(The rest of the trip will be covered in a third post.) And, yes, dear reader…these posts are just as much for me. When I’m old and grey(er) I’ll be able to find out what I did on my 50th birthday, simply by reading this post. God willing.

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Driving back down into Sedona with the top down on the Camaro. This is 50!

This Must Be the Place – Sedona, Arizona

 

I always found the song This Must Be the Place by the Talking Heads to be so incredibly ethereal. From the first chords of the song, I can feel myself welling up. The definition for ethereal is truly the way I feel about that song– “extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world.”

“Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me around
I feel numb, born with a weak heart
Guess I must be having fun…” ~ This Must Be the Place by the Talking Heads

It’s a delicate song…flawless and light, even effervescent. It seems too perfect for the bold brashness of this world.

“There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be…” ~ This Must Be the Place by the Talking Heads

I believe I have found this song’s doppelgänger in PLACE. I didn’t know what to expect when we recently headed down to Sedona for a hiking vacation. I just knew that the red rocks of Arizona were always on my bucket-list. And that it was a place I had to visit before dying.

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I was taking pictures before we even finished our two hour car ride from the Phoenix airport to Sedona…

“Feet on the ground, head in the sky
It’s okay, I know nothing’s wrong, nothing…” ~ This Must Be the Place by the Talking Heads

 

From the moment we landed, I knew that I was coming home (one of the many ‘soul’ homes I have discovered around the world, I should add). Once I had my feet on the ground–and my head in that sky–I knew it would be the most painful thing to leave there. From day one, Sedona was a breathtaking beauty I have yet to discover anywhere else in the world.

I have to confess here that I did absolutely zero of the heavy planning that was involved in this trip. I simply gave the vague idea that hiking red rock and desert and Arizona was high on my bucket-list. Here’s the itinerary as I remember it (Not including the day we arrived):

Day 1 – Guided Trolley Ride that included the Chapel of the Holy Cross. The trolley driver and tour guide was amazing! A Vietnam vet with a thousand stories. He had been everywhere and done everything. He was as entertaining as the scenery was beautiful. If you go to Sedona, a great way to begin your journey is by easing into things with a Trolley tour. SEDONA TROLLEY

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Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona (a church built into the buttes)

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The church was gorgeous inside and out.

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As with most days, Day 1 was capped off with an afternoon at the mostly abandoned pool. The last stop prior to an evening of dining amidst the scenic views of Sedona’s restaurant patios.

Day 1 Restaurant Choice was THE HUDSON. It was so good, and the views were so amazing, that we secured a reservation for later in the week before we left. The pics below show the views from our patio table, the butcher’s block (charcuterie), and, a statue we encountered just prior to entering the restaurant. There’s a couple art galleries in the same mall parking, and there are plenty of beautiful sculptures and statues throughout the area. This one, of a boy lifting a frog up out of a pool of water, reminded me of my grandson Edward and his lifetime love of all things FROGGY and GREEN! I mean, that statue IS him.

Day 2 – Airport Loop! This was a fun hike. Just a short walk from where we were staying, we got to add a couple miles to the hike just by walking there. What surprised me about the Loop, right at the onset of the hike, was how seemingly dangerous it felt. You were CLOSE to the edge right away. Rather thrilling when I was expecting an EASY hike.

The prickly pear cactus (Seen in the pick above, with the red berries growing on them) is quite beautiful, as cacti go. And they can be found all through the hills and valleys of Sedona. Our trolley guide explained to us that he picks the berries and his wife makes prickly pear jelly with them.

The restaurant patio of the day was SALTROCK SOUTHWEST KITCHEN. It had a lovely view and an amazing martini that was as spicy as it was boozy. The food was delicious and our waitress was awesome. There was one little hitch I noticed, but it didn’t take away from the overall experience, really. A visitor to our table seemed uncomfortably awkward each time he appeared (Once dumping bread on a fly-by and telling us it was free and to eat it). Other than that, it was quite lovely.

Next up? Day 3 – Chuckwagon Trail and DEVIL’S BRIDGE! Devil’s Bridge was one of the extreme highlights of the hiking tour, which I’m sure it is for many-a hikers.

Chuckwagon Trail was so indicative of the Western movies I grew up on in the 70s. It was down in a valley filled with rock and dried creekbed and cactus and dessert shrubbery…with 360 views of mountains, mesas and outcropping. Marvelous beauty…a perfect film set!

Even with all the wonder and beauty offered to us hiking through Chuckwagon, we were not prepared for what we were about to encounter!

DEVIL’S BRIDGE!

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The bridge was dangerous and thrilling…exactly what I was expecting from a medium hike in beautiful Sedona. It was heart-racing to be out on that ledge far above the valley below. Absolutely loved this entire day…it was a great mix of landscapes and scenery!

I’ll cover day 4 and onward in a separate post, as I’m afraid this one is getting too long. Must get it all out before the details blur together and become not day after day after day, but rather THAT trip to Arizona. (-:

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE!