Upcoming Events! #Trafalgar24 #AuthorsForIndies #OWC2016

Just a quick shout-out to the 3 upcoming events in my calendar. I am extremely fortunate to get these moments in my life where I get to fully immerse myself in the thing I love–THE WRITING LIFE. My immediate future is bountiful with writerly stuff.

Listed To Do List:

  1. TRAFALGAR 24 BY DRIFTWOOD THEATRE: Right around the corner–coming at me like a freight train–is Trafalgar24. This incredible play creation festival at Trafalgar Castle in Whitby, Ontario, is a highlight of the year. I can’t believe I get to participate yet again! My 7th kick at the can. I love the fear, the tension, the excitement, the horror, the panic, the joy of it. Being locked in Trafalgar Castle overnight and needing to write a 10-minute play before the sun comes up? Yes, please. I still haven’t figured out who the Elf is and who the Shoemaker is in this scenario. Sometimes I feel like the Elf, cobbling a play together overnight and leaving it behind for the shoemaker (the actors and the directors) to discover in the morning. And sometimes I feel like the Shoemaker…leaving my unmade shoes in the castle and having the Elves (the actors and the directors) come in and cobble my play into something presentable. Either way, I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it! And I love that I get to go back to the castle on the Friday night and see all 6 Trafalgar plays performed. Not to mention the cheese and cracker spread, the neverending flow of wine, and the beautiful dessert table! And…the amazing silent auction items! This is THE premiere event of the year in Durham Region. GET. YOUR. TICKETS. NOW:  Trafalgar 24 – Driftwood Theatre – Friday March 11, 2016 @ 6:30pm They do NOT make the audience stay overnight in the castle. Do not fear!
  2. AUTHORS FOR INDIES: This is a country-wide event. Authors hang out at bookstores and pimp their favourite books. It’s a way to thank independent bookstores and talk books. It’s a beautiful thing! I was invited to BLUE HERON BOOKS in Uxbridge, Ontario. The date is SATURDAY APRIL 30th, 2016. No matter where you live in Canada, make a trip to your local bookstore that day. Show the independent bookstores that you love and appreciate what they do! Also at Blue Heron Books on this day, will be: Linda Granfield, Ted Barris, Marissa Campbell, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jan Dolby, Rebecca Bender, Kate Hilton, and, Ann Douglas. JOIN US! BLUE HERON BOOKS
  3. ONTARIO WRITERS’ CONFERENCE – Another year, another OWC! I was a founding member on the Board of Directors for the OWC. I worked on the organizing committee for a number of years. Though no longer affiliated with the conference, I have been facilitating as a Manuscript Mentor for the past two conferences. I get to take on that role again this year! And, naturally, I will also be attending. Who in their right mind would miss it? The conference takes place over 2 days. The FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS gala is on SATURDAY APRIL 30th, 2016 and it is open to the public. You need to attend the Sunday conference to attend the Festival. Tickets are $20 and anyone can attend. But get them fast. This is a much lauded literary event. The conference proper takes place on SUNDAY MAY 1st. Take a look at the day’s SCHEDULE HERE. Here are the WORKSHOP TOPICS. And HERE is the REGISTRATION PAGE. If you are a writer in the GTA (or beyond), GIVE YOURSELF THIS MOMENT…go to the Ontario Writers’ Conference this year. You won’t regret it. And a heads up for all—I went to dinner with Wayson a couple of weeks ago to celebrate Chinese New Year, and he is over-excited for another year at the Ontario Writers’ Conference. The Honorary Patron since its inception, Wayson brings an element of love and light to the conference that no other person could bring. SEE YOU THERE!

5 Guys In Between Days – Boys Don’t Cry

After yesterday’s debacle here, I think I’m going to review a few of my characters. I really feel yesterday’s blog post was a train wreck. I started and restarted it too many times to count. In honesty, it took me three days of trying. In the end, I just said the hell with it and settled on the latest sloppy version.

Today, I thought I would introduce you to 5 of my characters. These introductions should serve as a way of displaying the kind of fiction I write. I will have one from each of my five published novels…each broken, and each irrevocably hopeful.

There are several soundtracks to my life. The one that runs the deepest, I have to admit, is all The Cure. They have been my favourite obsession since about 1980. Contrary to what those on the outside of The Cure universe believe, I have always found their lyrics to be inspiring and uplifting. Robert Smith chose to dip into the morass of ennui and sadness as a way to dredge those feelings up into the light.

“Happy the man with the face that smiles” ~ Robert Smith of The Cure

I always feel better after listening to The Cure. They always had something for every mood and every moment. From the angsty relationship themed Boys Don’t Cry, to the manic chasing train driven punk wig-out of 10:15 Saturday Night, to the zany spirited uplifting Mint Car.

The sun is up
I’m so happy I could scream!
And there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be
Than here with you
It’s perfect
It’s all I ever wanted
I almost can’t believe that it’s for real

I really don’t think it gets any better than this
Vanilla smile
And a gorgeous strawberry kiss!
Birds sing we swing
Clouds drift by and everything is like a dream
It’s everything I wished

Those are not Gothic kill-me now depressed angst-driven suicidal lyrics. The Cure might be one of the most misunderstood bands of their time. There were times in my life when they were the place from which I derived my joy. When you struggle with issues, you sometimes need to trick yourself out of your bed in the morning. When I was a teenager, The Cure were there to dig me up out of my pain. They’re the happiest band I know. And all I ever heard in the media about them were slit-my-wrist jokes about how sorrowful and depressed their stuff was. So not the case. Many things saved me, but nothing ever saved teen me like The Cure saved me.

Oh wait! 5 Characters. Right! I’m so easily distracted these days.

  1. ZACH CARSON – summeronfire SUMMER ON FIRE – Zach appears in my first novel, Summer on Fire. He is the friend who outwardly appears to be the most together. But he is also, in a way, the weakest link. Picture Wil Wheaton’s Gordie Lachance. He’s the hero of the story, but he is nothing like the hero of the story. Everybody knows the guy you want to be when you watch the movie Stand By Me is Chris Chambers…the coolest of the cool (played by River Phoenix). Even though Chris later dies, he’s the ultimate hero of that story. My Chris Chambers in this story is Jeff Barsell. I’m referencing Stand By Me here because it is mentioned in quite a few of the reviews for this book. Zach was broken in the most subtle way of all of my main characters. He wants to please everyone and he struggles with his moral compass. He wants to do the right thing but he also wants to remain loyal to his friends. Jeff Barsell is the real broken hero of this story. Jeff has a brother who bullies him and a father who beats him. He adores his mother. He knows that the trouble he’s gotten himself into could finish the job of breaking her…a job his father has been chiseling away at for years. When the boys accidentally set a barn on fire, the stage is set for a much darker revelation. The house beside the barn goes up in flames…and with it, the body of the old man who lived there. From there, we get to see the mettle of these three boys as they attempt to wiggle out of their predicament.
  2. SEBASTIAN NELSON –  Sebastian's Poet SEBASTIAN’S POET – Sebastian Nelson is perhaps my favourite of all the characters I’ve ever created. He’s a boy who is forced to grow up at an all too young age. When folksinger Teal Landen appears on the couch one morning after a bohemian party at Sebby’s place, he quickly forms a bond with the boy. Sebastian comes from a broken family. He’s left with his mentally ill father after his mother takes off to her homeland of Montreal. With a father who can’t even look after himself–a father who is silently dealing with deep dark issues that threaten to kill him–Sebastian becomes the number one caregiver to his younger brother Renee. Teal becomes his saviour, but the distance between them is vast as Teal attempts to hide a truth from the young boy who worships him. This one takes place in The Beaches in Toronto…in the 1970s. It’s all Leonard Cohen meets James at 15. Sebastian is abused, neglected, and without a childhood to speak of. He is someone who should not be able to get up…but getting up is all he ever wants to do.
  3. TOBIAS REASON –  The+Reasons THE REASONS – Reason is the family name of the narrators in this one. The narration flips from chapter to chapter, from Tobias Reason to Maggie Reason. This is an entirely broken family. Maggie is insane. Her secret is so completely buried, she herself doesn’t even know what it is. But when she tosses her newly inherited house at Tobias, just to get rid of it, Tobias discovers the deepest darkest thing about a family so broken they might never be saved. Tobias’s older sister dies in chapter one…and on the surface this may appear to be the thing that breaks Maggie. But all along, there are hints that she was broken long before Deja died on her road-trip to the mountains she would never see. Maggie has no time for her youngest daughter, Annabel…so it falls to Tobias to raise her. But Annabel may in fact hold the key to everything that is broken. Tobias is abused, neglected, and without a childhood to speak of. But he is a character on a mission…he wants to save his mother, and in the process he wants to save his family. He will do anything to make this happen.
  4. FRANCIS FRIPP – burn-baby-burn-1000.jpeg BURN BABY BURN BABY – Francis Fripp’s last name is a nod to mention—He has the last name Fripp as an homage of sorts to Grady Tripp from Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. This novel marks the onward march of my own courage. I wanted to go deeper with this one, explore the darkness that teens experience on a deeper level. Francis is bullied relentlessly at school. His tormentor, Brandon Hayley, won’t be happy until he sees Francis completely destroyed. But Francis was broken before Brandon ever got to him. Francis was mutilated by his abusive father, who burned half of Francis’s body in a murderous rage. As broken as Francis is–both inwardly and outwardly–he has a deep love of life. You can just glimpse it if you look past the angst and turmoil he lives with every day. He loves his little brothers Paul and Simon like mad. Sure, he calls them, collectively, Paul Simon…but he does this in love. He sees only his burns when he tries to assemble a picture of who he is as a person. But the new girl at school might see more than that. It’s up to Francis to allow her to do so. His walls are so high, he doesn’t know how to take them down. Francis is abused, neglected, and without a childhood to speak of. But Francis wants to soar. And his unflinching champion, Trig, will do anything to see that he does so.
  5. CARTER COLBY – cover2500 HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN – Carter is a twin. He’s the loser mentally unstable half of the Colby twins. His brother, inexplicably, is the popular All-American boy. But in chapter one, Marcus Colby dies in a motorcycle accident on the way to school.Carter was a passenger on the bike and becomes even more screwed up when he has to survive such a traumatic experience. Losing his twin is the beginning of the horror, but he quickly learns that sharing a face with the most popular dead boy in school is not an easy task. People who never saw him when Marcus was alive now don’t want to see him. Marcus becomes dead Marcus in this story…as he begins to visit Carter on a regular basis. He has unfinished work and he needs Carter’s help to see it through. The ghost of Marcus is just as fabulous and put together as the living Marcus was. While Carter attempts to pick himself up from the wreck of his life, he works with Marcus to help make things right. He also unexpectedly falls in love with Marcus’s girlfriend, Melanie, and forms an unexpected friendship with the school jock, Justin Dewar, who also happens to be the victim from the truck involved in the accident that killed Marcus. Carter is broken, but in different ways than usual. He has no self-esteem. He lives in the shadow of greatness and can’t manage to get out from under it. He hates himself. But he finds hope in Melanie…and in the possibility of being made more whole.

I brought up THE CURE at the beginning of this post because I wanted to draw a similarity between their music and my novels. On the surface, all of my stuff is morose, sad, broken, depressed, angsty, and filled with ennui. But it’s also, like The Cure, filled with hope and joy. Or, at least, I hope it is. I always make an effort to put a little sunshine in my work. Because all things broken are not ONLY broken. My favourite quote, which is also the epigraph in my novel Sebastian’s Poet, alludes to this. From Leonard Cohen’s ANTHEM…


In all ugliness, there is beauty. In all sadness, there is joy. This is what I attempt to write in my novels. I love to see the crack…because without it the beauty would not get in.


  1. Zach Carson
  2. Sebastian Nelson
  3. Tobias Reason
  4. Francis Fripp
  5. Carter Colby


Bully Beware! #PinkShirtDay

As most probably already know, Pink Shirt Day is today– WEDNESDAY, February 24th, 2016. IN CANADA.

I tried several times to draft this post. My hostility began to amp up every time, and I knew I’d be doing nobody any favours if I continued. So I thought, rather than focus on my own troubles with bullies growing up…I would try to tackle why I write what I write.

First off, for clarity, here’s a bit of the Wiki entry for Pink Shirt Day…as it appears Canada celebrates it at a different time than most.

The Wikipedia for Anti-Bullying Day:

Anti-Bullying Day (or Pink Shirt day) is a day when people wear a pink shirt (or blue or purple, depending on location) to symbolize a stand against bullying, an idea that originated in Canada. It is celebrated on various dates around the world. In 2012, the United Nations declared the official day to be May 4, which was recognized by over 25 countries worldwide, including the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

The idea of Pink Shirt Day began in Canada, but it seems most countries have adopted the USA’s chosen day of May 4th to celebrate it. Nevertheless, it could not hurt to draw focus on bullying on more than one occasion throughout the year. After all, the victims of this senseless debilitating morale crushing epidemic don’t get time off. For them, every day is a downer.

I know this, because I chose to make myself a target for bullies back in the day. I can still immediately recall the weight of being bullied. I say I chose to make myself a target because I lived in a backwater town as a teenager. A ‘GM town’ that had no tolerance for anyone who was different.

Oshawa, Ontario was an ugly horrendous place to be a teenager in the 80s. My high school, O’Neill Collegiate, was a place of nightmares for my friends and I. We were–heaven forbid–punk rockers. We dressed weirdly, we dyed our hair, we had mohawks, we wore eyeliner. Having just moved to the suburbs from Toronto, I was unwilling to acclimate myself to the school uniform of O’Neill. The uniform was Red and Black checked Lumber Jacket, Kodiak boots, and an Adidas bag tossed over the shoulder. Anything else was a no no. I was a no no.

I faced bullies every single day. I faced bullying from my fellow students, teachers, and the school administration. I remember one of my teachers held a binder up every day during class to block his view of my face. Needless to say, his class was the worst to get through…any teacher who would do that would also allow his students to abuse the freak in the room.

My bullies were relentless. I was too androgynous, too gay, too weird, too crazy, too much of a freak, too girlie, too offensive, etc, etc, etc. I was pushed in front of a moving car on Simcoe Street, just outside the front of the school. I was pushed down the stairs in the hall. I had numerous swirlies (where they take your head and hold it in the toilet while they flush), I was punched, kicked, slashed, jumped on, spit on. Every single day I had to pick spitballs out of my hair. Going from class to class was a combat zone. Teachers turned away. The ones who weren’t enticing the bullying (like the one mentioned above who couldn’t even look at me), were okay with it. They stomped me down, and down and down.

It was unbearable.

But…as I mentioned, I brought it upon myself. How dare I be different. ESPECIALLY in a place like Oshawa.

See, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t write about bullying without recollecting the nightmares. I tried. I set out just now to explain why I write young adult fiction about boys who are marginalized, traumatized, bullied, different, abused, stigmatized, etc, etc, etc. It’s what I do. I always imagine that I’m writing the book that would have saved me when I was a teenager in high school. I still, to this day, am baffled that I survived it. I don’t feel particularly strong.

But as a writer I come from a place of personal experience. I am NOT my characters, but I do write what I know. I write about the weak and downtrodden marginalized lost puppy boys who are often forgotten. I try to write them into corners dark and dreary…and then I try to end my novels with a little bit of hope.

Because I believe in the motto THIS TOO SHALL PASS. I believe that IT GETS BETTER. I am, after all, living proof of this.

#PinkShirtDay 2016 – February 24th – No More Bullying, Canada

I write young adult fiction with broken boy characters struggling to survive because I write for boys like me. #IWasBullied


Scout Forever. Vive la Mockingbird!

“Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”~ Harper Lee, from To Kill a Mockingbird

Scout and Jem and Dill. Dill, fashioned after Lee’s childhood neighbour, Truman Capote. Scout has always been a symbol of strength, perseverance, and, curiosity for me…a beautiful character.

I will never forget the joy that Harper Lee’s unforgettable novel To Kill a Mockingbird has given me. Jem and Scout were my friends. Scout was the flawless curious, rebellious girl. One of my two favourite characters in all of fiction (Zooey Glass being the other one).

Harper Lee – Arguably, the author of THE Great American Novel.

But Atticus Finch? He was FATHER. He was the world’s father. Every time I dissect this novel, it comes up differently. One time, it’s a story about racial tensions and racism. One time, it’s a coming of age story. One time, it’s a look into mental illness and the misunderstanding of the things we fear the most. One time, it’s a story of love and family. One time, it’s the deep south and its struggles.

"To Kill a Mockingbird"
Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird” – He brought Atticus Finch to life like nobody else could. America’s Father…the world’s father.

I will always read To Kill a Mockingbird at least once a year. And every time I do it, I will tip my hat to the woman who wrote the beautiful Great American Novel.

Robert Duvall stopped time when he appeared on the screen as Boo Radley. SO brief an appearance, and completely and forever unforgettable.

Harper Lee had a whole life of 89 years. Many know little about her, myself included. But I know that she touched my heart irrevocably. Scout, Boo, Atticus…these are characters that live in my head every day. I can’t thank her enough for introducing them to me. Long may they live.

Godspeed, Miss Lee. Thank you for such a beautiful legacy of words.

Authors for Indies 2016 – Return to Blue Heron Books!

My first book launched way back in 2011. Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books invited me to celebrate the birth of SUMMER ON FIRE at her incredible bookstore in downtown Uxbridge, Ontario. It has since been voted CANADA’S #1 INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLER. Quite an amazing feat, as you could imagine.

BLUE HERON BOOKS in Beautiful Downtown Uxbridge, Ontario
My first booksigning, for SUMMER ON FIRE, which took place at BLUE HERON BOOKS in Uxbridge. A packed house!

I have the honour of returning to the bookstore for this year’s upcoming AUTHORS FOR INDIES (AFI)day! If you haven’t heard of Authors for Indies, it’s a Canada-wide lovefest for independent bookstores. Authors from Cape Spear, Newfoundland to Mt. St. Elias, Yukon Territories (or, from east to west) will be visiting independent bookstores on Saturday, April 30th…to help flog their favourite reads. And they may even have their own books on hand for signing. All writers are readers (hopefully, passionately so). I love having the opportunity to gush about the books I love. For one day, authors across Canada get to be booksellers. It’s filled with so much awesome, I can’t even!


You can check out the AFI ABOUT PAGE to learn everything you need to know about what goes on during this incredible day. Quickly, from their site, here’s the WHAT IS IT? details:

Authors for Indies Day (Saturday, April 30, 2016) is a day when authors show their appreciation for Canadian independent bookstores (indies). We do this by volunteering as guest booksellers for the day. When you visit an indie bookstore on AFI Day, you’ll have the opportunity to meet local authors, chat with us booklover to booklover, and get book recommendations from us. Perhaps share your recommendations with us. You may buy a book or two, or just get to know your local bookstore better. 

Authors are doing this to raise awareness of indie bookstores and how important they are to our communities, our reading lives, and our cultural well-being. It’s a day to give some love to your local neighbourhood bookstore.  

So save the date on your calendar. Tell your friends, family, and colleagues about Authors for Indies Day on April 30. 

All other questions will be answered on their ABOUT page linked above.

What you need to know is—GO TO YOUR LOCAL INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLER on Saturday, April 30th. Buy BOOKS. Meet AUTHORS. Talk BOOKS. SUPPORT LOCAL.

See you at BLUE HERON BOOKS! Connect with Canada’s #1 Independent Bookseller on FACEBOOK. You can also follow @BlueHeronBooks on Twitter.

Thanks to Shelley for the invite back to her incredible bookstore. And thanks to the organizers of this wonderful event! What could be better than celebrating books and the people who bring them to us in such beautiful ways on a spring day in Canada!


Look Back, Look Way Way Back…the Writer You Used to Be

I was recently sifting through my previous blog, which is now locked away in the interwebz forever. It was called A WANDERING MIND and it was almost exclusively for poetry. Circa 2007-2010. It carried hundreds of poems upon its crooked little back. The thing I notice when I occasionally pull it up to have a read is that the poems were, by and large, inauthentic. Or, if you will, fictional. Sure, I occasionally pulled out an authentic retelling or heart-truth. But everything was cloaked and shrouded…presented from a place of darkness with just the tiniest hint of a back-lit glow to the authentic. I was writing from a place of self-repression.

I give you exhibit A. In way of preamble, I wrote it on March 30th, 2008. I never burlapped a thing in my life. Hydrangeas? The word must have sounded pretty to me at the time. The bloody things do not have winter limbs…if you do it right. I don’t recall EVER being in Penetanguishene. Or on a train heading north, for that matter. My father was never dying. What’s a Plymouth? I couldn’t pick one out of a line-up.

Things to Do Today

Remove the snow
from the burlap shrouds
encasing the hydrangeas,
ready their limbs for rebirth.

Take the train north
to Penetanguishene,
where screams of ennui
will be muffled, go unheard.

Call my dying father,
speak of ’72 Plymouths
getting air on railroad tracks
long since removed.

Light the candles
on the sky white mantle,
watch the flames flicker
and later disappear.

post-amble? Come to think of it, I did own something in that poem. I remember the weightlessness of going over railroad tracks while climbing a steep hill in a car. It’s a glorious feeling to get air. Especially if there’s music on the radio at the time. It’s all Dukes of Hazzard and what not.

The more I scour the old poetry, the more I think I should rewrite it with my freer post self-repression mind. When you live with a secret like childhood sexual abuse, you shift everything to fit into little boxes. Even all the things you want and need to be authentic are slightly askew. Simply because you’re not the you you were supposed to be (and you never will be–you are a changed version of what you would have could have been). Your walls and barriers and safe places BLOCK OUT just as much as they RESCUE AND SAVE. So, really, until you face the demons…there is no winning.

That poem had almost nothing to do with me. And just like the hundreds of other poems that came from that period of my writing life, I had no recollection of having written it. It is as separate from my psyche as War and Peace is. I don’t know if you’re aware or not, but I did not write War and Peace. It can also be said that I didn’t write any of the poems that came from the dark era. But I did. It’s a conundrum. How can you own something that is not connected in some way to who you are?

On the same day that I wrote the above poem, I wrote one that perhaps I can still feel a bit of connection to. My go-to novel to use as a template for the perfect novel has always been The Great Gatsby, so the admiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of those things that is constant in my life…it was there in the darkness and it is here in the light. I suppose a vestige of who we are is always there, whether or not we choose or try to access it.


Ode to F. Scott Fitzgerald

And I will dig up his grave,
and wonder at the box
in which he is kept.
And I will adorn
myself with his bones,
wear them like a coat
my fragile body.
And if he be but dust
I will swallow
in handfuls
to have him inside me.
And all for the sake
of an image
he wrote,
will I suffer
the height
of my madness.
“and the curtains
and the rugs
and the two young women
to the floor”.
And for that
I will adorn myself
with his bones,
wear them like a coat,
Wrap myself in wonder
and partake of his dust.

Perhaps it need stay in the darkness. From what I can gather, I dug up the old sport and ate his dust. These are things of darkness, I’m sure. But thus is the extent of my hero worship of his writerly abilities. So, I’ll own it still. It gets to stay.

I’m not sure what this blog post is about. I just feel the need every now and again to revisit the writer I used to be. I don’t try to judge him or weigh the texts of my past with the texts of my now. I don’t need to know that I improved, and I certainly don’t need to know that I haven’t. I just feel that–whatever it is that I find–I accept it for what it is. Something I wrote while on my journey. As with life and each step we take to get us to the step we’re about to take and the place in which we find ourselves, our past writing is what has brought us to who we are now. Just own it. Don’t be ashamed of it. Don’t discard it. Like the bad memory that made you who you are, the bad poem also had a hand in shaping the writer you have become.

Acceptance of self. It’s a good thing.

On the same day I wrote the two above poems, I wrote this one on apologies. I have no idea where my mind was at…but I won’t apologize to myself for having written it. I am writer, hear me roar.

Prelude to an Apology

We’ll let the devil
Tongue our eyes,
And drink our light
In gulps divine.
We’ll let the saints
In numbers,
Stomp our dreams
And teem inside,
With lust,
The dust divine.
And shout,
We will,
The awkward silence,
Awake the night
We walk in vengeance,
And just a slight of hand
Away from wonder,
We’ll construct
Our own mythology,
but never will we offer
Those elusive
Things we straddle
And preen to pretty,
The often considered
But never whispered
Hushed and hidden apology.

Be your writing. And remember to look back on the journey every now and again…


Near/Far – The Journey of the Muskoka Novel Marathon

Once upon a time there was a magical place. It was in a land far, far away. And also quite near. It came to be that a hundred thousand brave warrior knights had heard of this magical place. Or forty or so, at least, give or take.

They set out on a rather long journey. For some it was far, and for others it was simply near. But even those brave warrior knights (let’s just call them writers, shall we) who came from near understood the metaphorical distance of the journey…the farness of their nearness, as it were.

Each year, the marathon raises much needed funds for the literacy programs of YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka. We have a blast, but it’s not all fun. We have an underlying mission that we take most seriously.

It was such a grand time that was had by all that they decided to do it again. And again. And again. And again. The event became a yearly festival/spectacle of writerly endurance, wonder, and mirth.

This faraway land is known as Huntsville, in the province of Ontario, in the land of Canada. The magical place is not really a place, per se, but an event. Actually, I prefer to think of it as a Spectacular Spectacular. Of sorts.

Last year I had the pleasure of reconnecting writerlyishly with M.E. Girard! It’s not always the same people at the marathon, but once you make the trip you’re a part of the #MNM family.

Why do I bring this event up today? Because registration is as much a spectacle as the event itself these days. Writers clamor to get in to this thing! With room for only 40 (ish) and rumours of its delightfulness spreading both far and wide (or near and far—as it were), it is getting increasingly difficult for a writer to procure his/her seat at the gala. As in, it is nigh on impossible.

And every March, like warriors of old, we stand before our keyboards on the night of registration and wait for the seconds to tick off… and for the virtual gate to open so we can scurry about and type our way into this yearly magical emporium of madness.

When the time comes and the gate opens, the Internet feels the tug of love from all points across Ontario as the virtual worms of registration information make their way to the Mother Ship of this Spectacular Spectacular up in the snowy northern outpost of Huntsville.

And at the end of registration night, there are virtual bodies scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding… Wait, no… sorry, I somehow channelled Jim Morrison for a second there. No bodies. BUT… there are, both near and far, those ecstatic to be ON THE BUS and those melancholy to have missed it.

Yes… I’m talking about the MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON again. My skin prickles tonight in the knowing that registration approaches. It is neither near nor far on the horizon. And I want to call myself among the tribe of #MNM2016 participants. I want it, I want it, I want it!

Where else in all the world can one writer sit in the same room as 40+ others and do nothing but write for 72hrs? Nowhere. Where else can one take communion with a writing community more vibrant, alive, exhausted, miserable, exuberant, joyful, angry, and insane? Nowhere. Where else can one come together with a group of like-minded people for a cause close and true to all of their hearts? Nowhere.

The Muskoka Novel Marathon Fundraiser for literacy in Simcoe Muskoka County is more than a fundraiser to raise money for literacy, and it’s more than the greatest weekend retreat for writers on the globe. It’s a religion and it’s a cult. But don’t tell anyone. We’d have writers coming from… well, coming from near and coming from far to be a part of the worshipping. We’d have to go underground just to exist. That’s how spectacular spectacular our 72hr novel writing (and I swear to God that’s all we do!!) Marathon happens to be.

This is why writers begin to lose sleep through February and early March. They imagine themselves not registering in time, not securing one of the coveted spots at the July Marathon, not being a part of the most magical writing weekend of the year. And they spend their time at their keyboards, fingers at the ready… Awaiting the opening bells of the registration melee that opens the chaotic yearly ritual.

We want to be there. We want to be fierce warriors against illiteracy and we want a weekend of writing bliss. Whether we come from near or far… We just want a seat at the table. The journey to the Muskoka Novel Marathon… it’s all about words.


For the past few years Sue Kenney has been giving writers the gift of her “WALK FOR CREATIVITY” to allow us a reprieve to connect with nature, barefoot. It’s such a welcome part of the amazing weekend!

You’ve Got to Laugh a Little, Cry a Little…

As with life and love, so too goes the story. The heart of every great story lies in how it makes one feel. To make a reader laugh is a magical thing, but to illicit tears is just as golden. To do both is to deliver the goods as a storyteller.

David Sedaris – The King of Laughter and Tears

I have always had a soft spot for the song The Glory of Love from the Bette Midler movie Beaches. It’s just one of those songs that encompasses the journey of life, and emphasizes the important equalizing balancing concept of yin and yang. It’s a good lesson for life and it’s a good lesson for fiction/non-fiction writing.

In the song, Bette sings:

You’ve got to win a little, lose a little
Yes, and always have the blues a little

And that’s the truth. It is important to carry the blues with you through life. It’s a balancing act to carry both joy and blues at once, but it’s also highly effective. To get the balance right in fiction/non-fiction is golden. Sure, everybody loves to laugh. There’s not many things better than experiencing a literal laugh-out-loud moment while your face is buried in a book. It’s so fulfilling.

One author who makes me laugh so hard and so much that I become a little shell-shocked and teary-eyed is David Sedaris. But the golden wand Sedaris waves before I get to the end of his stories and observations quite often has me teary-eyed for other reasons as well. In just a few short pages he can have me both laughing to tears and crying to tears…in such a stealth way that both emotions catch me completely off guard.

Why is Sedaris capable of this tremendous feat? Why does his reader experience such a roller-coaster of emotions in such a short space of time? He makes himself vulnerable. He makes himself authentic. He allows the reader to see the raw and the uncomfortable and the awkward and the honest. Writers have SO many things in their writerly toolbox. But if you don’t offer them up in a cloak of vulnerable authenticity, you could very well miss your mark. And it’s not just the sorrow that can be delivered this way, either. Sometimes laughter comes from the writer’s ability to take away the curtain and allow the reader to see just how vulnerable they are willing to make themselves. It’s often the absurd situations that give us the most to be embarrassed and ashamed of that are also the best wells from which to draw up a big ole bucket of laughter. Whether it’s non-fiction or fiction, it works. Make the reader squirm when your character squirms. Make them spit out their coffee in shock over your relived accounting of hysterical humiliation. Make them ache when your character aches. Deliver your words with honesty and reverence, even when, like David Sedaris in ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY, you’re talking about the clump of shit in the toilet that isn’t yours and that won’t flush away and that you don’t want to be blamed for by your fellow party goers on the other side of the washroom door.

Life is laughter. Life is tears. Life is joy and sorrow, combined in a dizzying swirl of unpredictability. That’s a lesson that everyone learns on their own. When incorporating these things into your writing, the lesson is to just go for authenticity, relate-ability, sincerity. Don’t try too hard. If you try too hard, you lose the edge of vulnerability and sincerity. A good reader can tell when you’re trying to manipulate their emotions. Don’t try to make them cry. Tell them something that causes them cry naturally. Don’t try to make them laugh. That’s like saying, “Okay, please laugh now.” Just make your story honest. And don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself or your character.

Nothing feels better than a good ole lose-yourself-in-laughter moment, but you also have to let your poor heart break a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of…writing and reading.

Expectations and the Heart of the Writer

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Or, so says Carson McCullers. I think it is no coincidence that when I thought of the content of today’s post, I thought of the title of that book. But it was another book I had in mind when I wanted to touch on today’s topic. WHEN EVERYTHING FEELS LIKE THE MOVIES is the book I wanted to bring up. But in borrowing the title of McCullers’s classic, I realized that her book also applies to the subject at hand.

Take this excerpt from the Wiki page for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (henceforth referred to as THIALH):

When published, the novel created a literary sensation, enjoying a meteoric rise to the top of the bestseller lists in 1940; it was the first in a string of works by McCullers that give voice to those who are rejected, forgotten, mistreated or oppressed.

Now, from what I recall THIALH was an extraordinary read. Admittedly, it’s been a few years now (perhaps decades) since I last delved into it. But it speaks to what I had in mind in the same way When Everything Feels Like the Movies (henceforth referred to as WEFLTM) speaks to it.

It would seem that there is, at times, an expectation of the writer to perhaps write the story that wants to be read by the masses. Be it the latest fad, trend, hashtagable getbehindable cause, or what have you. That expectation often feels a bit white bread in nature. Don’t interrupt the status quo. Don’t shake the foundations. Don’t deride the sleeping village that does not want to be awoken.

And then along comes a delightful little dish like WEFLTM or THIALH, books that challenge the envelope of comfort-ability. Books that break down walls and cause discussion. Books that people rail against. When I get the extreme pleasure of reading such a book, I am immediately grateful for the courage of the author, the agent, the editors, the publisher… The author has decided to write the story that was in their heart. The rest of the chain decided to embrace, love, champion the story.

It shouldn’t be a brave thing to write on a subject matter, concept, or theme that speaks to you. A great story trumps all other considerations. If you have a story inside you, don’t check on outside influences for permissions or viability before telling it. Sure it’s a risk to tell the story your way. It may not be the story that the world is looking for at the moment, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell it. Maybe the world will fall in love with the story they didn’t know they wanted to read.

Sure, you risk telling a story that may never see the light of day in the publication world. Even then it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell it. Every time a writer sits down to tell a story they are taking a risk. Why take a risk on the latest trend? Why take a risk on an expectation? Listen to your heart. It may very well be a lonely hunter…but it is also who you are. It’s where you live, wherein you will discover your authenticity.

If you write for ‘the man‘ you run the risk of inauthentic voice, of grasping for the hot trend. Trailblazers like Raziel Reid and Carson McCullers are trailblazers not because they were selling something that wasn’t already there in all its neon glory in the real world. They are/were trailblazers because they don’t/didn’t give a damn about anything but telling the story that spoke to them. They stepped on lines, crossed borders, took risks with topics and subjects as an aside to storytelling…not in order to shock or dismay or discomfort the bookburning crowd.

I think of what could have happened with WEFLTM, if someone didn’t take a chance on its perceived vulgarity, and I cringe. Some rallied against it, saying it was NOT Young Adult (personally, I challenge their understanding of the young adult market…and of young adults in general). I mean, it was the most authentic YOUNG ADULT voice I think I ever read. When it was nominated for CANADA READS and the GOVERNOR GENERAL’S AWARD…that’s all the validation the author, agent, publisher needed. They all took risks with that book and all the risks paid off. Why? Not because it crossed the line, not because it shocked, not because it was obscene (as some would have you believe), but because it was a damn fine story! One of the best young adult novels I have ever read.

What happened after the GG nomination was just noise. Ignorant people being affronted is as age-old as Puritanicalism itself. I, for one, am ecstatic that Raziel Reid walked the walk. They had a story to tell and they told it. It was the heart of a writer who wrote that story, not expectation. Expectation might have wanted a story like WEFLTM…but I’m betting dollars to donuts that that just is not the case. Expectation doesn’t like to take chances. Sure, it loves high concept and something new…but edgy and raw? Probably not so much. But sometimes it’s the books that come out of nowhere that impact the reader the most. There was a big gaping hole in the young adult market that was just screaming to be filled by When Everything Feels Like the Movies. I’m thrilled that Reid wrote the story they imagined in their heart, come what may. Reid knew its validity as a YA story…just as the publisher understood the same. Is that courageous? Maybe…more like authenticity firing on all synapses, if you ask me. They all just knew.

In short, I guess what I am trying to say, is to be a fearless writer. Don’t consider your subject matter above your story. Don’t not write something because you’re afraid to tackle a hot-button issue. Don’t look for the trend and then write to it (if you know anything about trends and publishing, you already know that the trend in the marketplace is a year or two or three away from the trend at the agent/publisher level…so it’s virtually impossible to strike out at the beginning of a trend unless you already wrote the book and arrived on the first wave of the trend).

Take a look at the synopsis of WEFLTM:

School is just like a film set: there’s The Crew, who make things happen, The Extras who fill the empty desks, and The Movie Stars, whom everyone wants tagged in their Facebook photos. But Jude doesn’t fit in. He’s not part of The Crew because he isn’t about to do anything unless it’s court-appointed; he’s not an Extra because nothing about him is anonymous; and he’s not a Movie Star because even though everyone know his name like an A-lister, he isn’t invited to the cool parties. As the director calls action, Jude is the flamer that lights the set on fire.

Before everything turns to ashes from the resulting inferno, Jude drags his best friend Angela off the casting couch and into enough melodrama to incite the paparazzi, all while trying to fend off the haters and win the heart of his favourite co-star Luke Morris. It’s a total train wreck!

But train wrecks always make the front page.

TRAIN WRECKS ALWAYS MAKE THE FRONT PAGE. But stories told exquisitely are not always about shock-value, even though they may shock. Sometimes, they just catch a thing in its spotlight at just the right moment. Do you have a story you’re afraid/nervous to tell? You’ll never know if it’s good enough, if you don’t write it. Courage in writing is just a matter of following your heart…and ignoring the expectations of others. It’s your story. Don’t let others tell you it won’t fly before you even get it out. You never know unless you try.

From my review of WEFLTM:

When Everything Feels Like the Movies is essentially the story of a teen who is larger than the small town that could never truly contain them. What sets it aside from other stories about breaking out of the small and into the limelight is that the character who is struggling to be contained is trans. Jude (Judy) deals with bigotry at every turn…including at home. But she is still able to dream big and have such lofty glamorous goals for herself. Her almost vulgar egoism and arrogance is a delight. Where it should turn a reader off, it endears her to them. We see the raw vulnerability in her swaggering confidence and self-love. True sarcasm comes not from pride, but from the shaky ego that wants to emulate pride. Jude is such a flawlessly written flawed character. He will remain one of my favourite characters for a long time to come.

Read the full review of WEFLTM HERE at Try This Book On For Size