Happy 6th Birthday to My Debut Novel!

Six years! SUMMER ON FIRE hit the bookstores six years ago today. The book that changed my status from writer to author. It was such a journey. It began in 2003 as my very first NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) manuscript. And it took until 2011 to see it through to the finished product.

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Summer On Fire – 6 Years Old Today!

Buy it today on AMAZON:

Amazon Canada Kindle Edition $5.51

Amazon Canada Print Edition $4.63

Amazon USA Kindle Edition $4.21

Amazon USA Print Edition $7.95

Zach Carson is a loyal friend. But is loyalty enough to keep best friends together when one of them sets fire to the rural barn they use as the local hangout? Zach, Jeff Barsell and Arnie Wilson struggle to pick up the pieces when news spreads that a body was discovered in the burnt out shell of the neighbouring home. When the word murder is used by the local police, the stakes grow even higher. When the police start searching for their most likely suspect-none other than Jeff’s older brother, and nemesis, Marty Barsell-the boys decide to join forces and come up with a way to prove his innocence. But just how innocent is Marty Barsell? When Marty admits to being at the scene of the crime, the three friends enlist the help of Zach’s annoying sister, Sherry, as well as the sympathetic town eccentric, Ms. Halverton. But can they keep it together long enough to save Marty, and themselves, from imminent catastrophe? Summer on Fire is the story of friendships, and the lines we are asked to cross in order to keep them.

Some of the greatest compliments I have ever received for my writing can be found in reviews of my debut novel. I can’t even count the amount of people who brought up the movie STAND BY ME in their review of the book. This is one of my all-time favourite movies, based on Stephen King’s short story THE BODY. Every time Summer on Fire was compared to this movie, my heart grew another size.

READ REVIEWS FOR SUMMER ON FIRE AT GOODREADS

 

The Genesis of Story

Whenever I think of that place where story comes from, I always hearken back to that seminal moment in the story of Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers. I recall Roberta (Bobbi) Anderson walking in the woods with her dog, Peter.

She might have passed the spot where she stumbled once or twice or half a dozen times before, perhaps by yards, or feet, or bare inches.

This time she followed Peter as the dog moved slightly to the left, and with the path in sight, one of her elderly hiking boots fetched up against something… fetched up hard.

“Hey!” she yelled, but it was too late, in spite of her pinwheeling arms. She fell to the ground.

This is essentially the Genesis of Story, is it not? The storyteller trips over something, gets up, brushes themselves off, and investigates the thing that made them trip. That thing is the kernel of an idea. It sticks up out of the ground, just a glimmer. A storyteller bends down and tries to unearth it. At first, they have no idea whether it is a pebble or a mountain… because it is only a glimmer that sticks out above the path they have walked a thousand times. How much of it is buried beneath the surface, they do not know. That’s why they get down there and begin to dig it up. They need to know.

 

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“What’s this?”

 

“Nice going,” she said, and looked to see what she had tripped over–a fallen piece of tree, most likely, or a rock poking out of the ground. Lots of rocks in Maine.

What she saw was a gleam of metal.

She touched it, running her finger along it and then blowing off the black forest dirt.

“What’s this?” she asked Peter.

WHAT’S THIS? Is that not what the storyteller asks when they hit upon a new idea?

I ate The Tommyknockers up with a sort of rabid madness. Just as Bobbi wanted to discover what this thing was that stuck out of the ground in the woods of Maine, I too wanted to know. Only three inches of metal… only a kernel. That’s all it takes to chase a story, is it not?

Whenever I think of story, and the impetus that brings me as a writer into a new one, I think of that little tiny piece of metal sticking out of the ground. And the burning desire to get down in the dirt and dig until it is unearthed. Perhaps that’s what King was thinking about as he wrote The Tommyknockers… how well the analogy fit with his chosen path of writer. Surely, he thought that.

SPOILER ALERT!!

To put this into perspective as to how it relates to the kernel of an idea leading, hopefully to a novel… the tiny piece of metal that stuck out of the ground was an entire ship from outer-space, a crash-landed UFO. Peter walked Bobbi in a different direction one time and of all the places on the forest floor for her foot to land, it struck a minuscule piece of metal sticking up out of the ground. This was virtually an impossibility. Until it wasn’t. Her foot found that thing to trip over… JUST. This is how a story comes to a writer. Ideas fly past us all day long until we snag onto one of them and ask ourselves WHAT IF? WHY? It’s such a magical and mysterious wondrous thing. We reach into the idea we trip over and we begin the arduous task of digging it up.

The truth is, the idea is sometimes, sadly, small… a rock poking out of the ground. That’s why we don’t stop examining them as they arrive. Because we can only see the kernel. We have to dig in order to discover how far it will take us. For every hundred ideas, only one of them is a buried spaceship. Only one of them will reveal itself as an iceberg with hidden depth.

This, to me, is the beauty of being a writer… the journey of discovery, of perseverance, of determination. If I trip over something, I’m going to be like a dog with a bone. I will not stop digging until I can see what it is I’ve tripped over. These ideas are just as random as Bobbi’s foot striking down on the one precise spot in all the world where an impossible thing lay just beneath the surface of the earth. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? Being a writer and getting to explore the ideas that come your way? I suppose it could be construed, also, as a form of madness. Many might simply be annoyed to have tripped over a thing. They might pick themselves up from the ground, brush the dirt away from their pants and say, “Stupid dog!”

But us writers? We need to know. WHY? WHAT IF?

Dig…

The Mini Camino You’ve Been Waiting For!

I know I talk a lot about the Camino de Santiago on my blog. I’m a bit obsessive about a few things and the Camino is one of them. As obsessions go, it’s not really a bad one, though, is it? It’s a beautiful walk filled with inspiration, hard work, beautiful people, and time to reflect on the life you’ve led and the one you’ll walk into at the end of your journey to the Cathedral.

My friend–fellow writer and Camino expert Sue Kenney–guides small pilgrim groups on short pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. She does this twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Sue is now accepting pilgrims into her Fall Group.

100 Kilometres/6 Day Walk

2017 FALL RETREAT

DATES: October 20-28, 2017. 8 Days/7 Nights.

This is an exceptional primer to those who have always wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago in its entirety, or for beginners who just want a taste of that elusive Camino energy they’ve been hearing about. It is said that once you hear about the Camino it begins to call to you…and the call doesn’t go silent until you feed it. Have you heard the call from the Camino? Maybe this Fall 2017 getaway is the best way to heed that call for now. 6 days, 100km…a walk in the park–one of the most beautiful parks in the world. With a beautiful person who will inspire your every step with her insatiably contagious joie de vivre. Now is the time to walk with Sue Kenney (Camino Sue) to that magical Cathedral at the end of the yellow arrows!

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A Mile Marker along the sacred route to the Cathedral on The Way of St. James.

What are you doing this October? Let Sue Kenney guide you on a spiritual journey along the last 100km of the Camino. She is having a discount at the moment if you book before July 1st.

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Sue’s Book from her FIRST Camino journey. Click cover to visit book on Amazon.

CANADA’S BIRTHDAY SPECIAL Book by July 1ST, 2017 with a $1000.00 deposit for 20% OFF THE FEES.

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Perhaps my favourite picture from the thousands I took on my own Camino journey back in May, 2014. This is Sue Kenney at her glorious best, thanking the universe for being there. And doing it in her signature barefooted way.

Visit Sue’s site for full details on the upcoming OCTOBER RETREAT. You’ve been thinking about the Camino for some time now, haven’t you? It’s time to do something about that desire you’ve been holding onto. The Camino is calling!

FROM SUE’S SITE:

The group will meet in Samos, Spain on October 20, 2017 and we will arrive in Santiago on October 27, 2017.

We begin our pilgrimage in the city of the famous 13 Century Samos monastery.

We will walk on average 18 kilometers a day through beautiful landscapes, undulating terrain and we will spend most of our time walking in the mountains and forests. At each stop, the accommodation is booked for you and in private pilgrim albergues, rural pensions or hotels.

On the last day, we will all walk into Santiago (Optional) as a group and go to the Pilgrims Office to receive our Compostela. On the following day, you are invited to attend the Pilgrims Mass and possibly see the Botafumeiro swing. (huge  incense holder)

The Camino has the power to transform lives. Is it calling you? For a FREE half hour phone call to find out more about the Camino or to receive a Registration Package, contact Sue at the number below. (GO DIRECTLY TO SUE’S SITE TO VIEW THE PHONE NUMBER)

SUE KENNEY – WALK THE CAMINO – PILGRIMAGE RETREATS

My One-Hour Short Story – When You Know, You Know

‘Both of Helen’s feet bled steadily as she walked. She fought to ignore the blisters making a nasty soup of blood and puss in the heel of each of her merino wool socks. It was nine a.m. With each passing hour she lost a little more of her will to continue. She held on to the memory of her ex-husband’s laughter at the folly she displayed in thinking she could make this journey. She carried her daughter Meagan’s doubt, freely given when she had told her of her goal. Their lack of support was perhaps the only thing left to propel Helen forward to Santiago.’

So begins the short story that fully and completely consumed me for one hour back on March 20th when I first noticed the quickly approaching deadline for the Writers’ Community of Simcoe County‘s Word by Word Short Fiction Contest. I had mulled it over in my mind that I wanted to enter the contest, but never actually got around to writing anything for it.

The Camino de Santiago had been at the top of my mind for some time. The anniversary of my walk to Santiago de Compostela was quickly approaching (May, 2014), and I was fondly remembering the journey and watching the movie The Way (Starring Martin Sheen with cameos from the director, and his son, Emilio Estevez). I was reliving my Camino and it was looking for a creative way out.

You know when you just KNOW? The story consumed me like a fire. I may have tweeted something about a 63 year-old woman possessing my body to the #5amwritersclub crew. It was true. Helen had entered me and proceeded to furiously tell her Camino story to me. I love it when creativity of that magnitude takes hold and doesn’t let go until the end.

What I just KNEW was that I had a winner on my hands. I don’t say that to brag or to suggest that my writing is great, or even good. I say it because sometimes when you write, the honesty’s too much–oops, musical interlude. Sometimes when you write, you just know that you’re writing something honest and from the heart and meaningful.

When the hour was done and I had a short story in front of me–something to submit to the contest–I sat still for a minute. I needed a rest, I needed for that powerful 63 year-old woman to leave my suddenly exhausted body. I needed recoup time for the creativity exorcism of her departure.

And then, after she left my body, I read the story. AS MYSELF. And, you know when BRIAN, the geek from The Breakfast Club, looks over his essay and knows for certain that he has said exactly what it is he wanted to say? For me, it might be the pivotal moment of the entire movie. He reads over his work, and then he gives himself a little WAY-TO-GO tap on the arm. “YOU DID IT!”

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That’s how I felt when I read HELEN FINDS HER WAY TO AFTER, the short story I wrote for the contest.

And then I submitted it. And then, in the beginning, I fully believed it would somehow make the shortlist for the contest. I felt so great about it. Helen’s story was honest and true and difficult and wonderful. Her ‘saviour’ was a simple man who had become a little bit cosmic while spending far too much time on the Camino as a way of escaping the pain of the death of his spouse. He gently talked Helen through her last few miles to the cathedral when she thought she might not be able to walk another step. It resonated with me. I felt it might resonate with others.

As the weeks passed, of course, I convinced myself that there was no way in hell the story would make the shortlist. It meant something to me only because the Camino means so much to me. But something in the back of my mind wouldn’t let me give up on this story. The fire with which it was delivered kept burning brightly. It kept saying, “You got this. YOU DID IT!”

Come what may, I would be proud of the story. Not because of its words, but because of the way I had connected to my creative side while I wrote them. Only once in a blue moon that kind of ferocity takes over while you’re writing. You don’t recognize it while you’re IN IT, because you become not a writer but the act of writing itself. It’s when you finish that you realize magic took place. Because it’s when you finish that you come back into your body with a soft landing and realize the other you had taken over. The one that has no connections to the work-a-day life you live. The one that is connected only with creativity. You tapped into the flow so fully and completely, that you left yourself behind.

 

Some pictures from my own Camino journey ~ the most inspiring journey I’ve ever been on!

And then the shortlist was announced. I read it over two, three times. Because something told me my name would be on it. Not for my sake, but for Helen’s sake. Something told me she would make it past the finish line and carry me on her back.

Alas, my name was not on the list. And neither was Helen’s. The story that consumed me for an hour and caused me to leave myself behind had only, after all, meant something to me (and maybe to Helen, who now felt like an actual living breathing woman).

I deflated back to the ground and told myself, “See. Of course it wasn’t good enough. You have to get over this Camino obsession.”

And then another contest deadline came into my radar and I thought, ‘maybe if I just rewrite this story, or write a different Camino story, it will win the next contest. Or the next.’

So I sat down and began to write another Camino story.

And then I received an email.

Dear Kevin, 

Congratulations on making the shortlist in the Writers Community of Simcoe County’s Word by Word contest. It was a very competitive competition this year and we are thrilled to be able to offer you a place in our final five stories.

This was one of those times when I secretly thought that the universe had somehow gotten something wrong. As much as I am a total pessimist when it comes to my writing, I honestly and sincerely thought Helen should have made the list. And then that email came. It was a magical second life in the contest. I had made the shortlist because one of the original Top 5 was disqualified (it had been published elsewhere as the result of another contest).

I thought, ‘okay, I’ll take it.’ But surely that was as far as it was going to go, right? I was honoured to know now that it had made #6 in the competition. It meant that Helen actually did touch people. I could take that #6 and be happy.

Yesterday, it was announced that the contest’s final round judge, Carly Watters (Senior Agent for PS Literary), chose my short story as the 3rd Place Winner from the Top 5 stories.

You know when you just KNOW?

I am beyond thrilled with this win. Not because I won a prize. Not because it’s proof that I’m doing something right. Not because it’s a celebration of my writing. It’s for none of these things. I’m thrilled because that day back in March when Helen came into my life and furiously told her story I wanted so badly for her to be rewarded for her efforts. Sometimes creativity hits you like a truck and your job is to just keep up with it…just allow it to run its course. Helen was real for that hour…because I allowed her to be. She won this honour, not me. This win was all Helen’s doing. Thank you, Writers’ Community of Simcoe County, for giving me a reason to explore the Camino and creativity in the same breath. Thank you, Carly Watters, for seeing something in my story worthy of Top 3 placement. Thank you, Helen, for visiting me on that day when I had no inspiration and a quickly approaching deadline. And thank you, my Camino, for breathing life into Helen and allowing me to get out of the way and tell her story.

I am filled with gratitude.

 

 

 

#FridayReads MY NOVELS…

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I thought I would feature my books for Friday Reads, in case you’re searching for something to read this Father’s Day Weekend. Here’s what they are about:

THE REASONS: With a mostly absent father, one sister deceased and the other on the verge of invisibility, and a certifiably insane mother, Tobias Reason is forced to grow up fast. When his older sister Deja’s tragic death causes his mother to fall deeper into insanity, Tobias attempts to be a surrogate parent to his younger sister, Annabel. But broken mother Maggie takes up a lot of his time, causing Annabel to fall even further into the background of their chaotic existence. When Maggie flippantly hands her mother’s house over to Tobias, he sees an opportunity to learn how and why his family has become so shattered. His world begins to collapse from the weight of the secrets he un-buries, and he focuses in on a stranger from his parents’ past… a possible Ground Zero to Maggie’s fall into insanity. If Tobias can somehow eliminate the past, he can make his family whole again.

SEBASTIAN’S POET: Sebastian Nelson is a boy in search of a family. Abandoned by his mother, Sebastian is left with a broken father who doesn’t even seem present when he does show up. Forced to be the main caregiver of his younger brother, Renee, and lost in a sea of indifference, Sebastian only wants to experience the love a real, stable family could afford him. One morning he discovers the famous folksinger, Teal Landen, asleep on the sofa. Teal’s nurturing nature brings an immediate sense of security into Sebastian’s tumultuous life. But a dark secret looms between Teal and Sebastian’s father of a hidden past. Sebastian is driven to discover their secret, but also he’s aware of how tenuous their hold on Teal really is. He doesn’t want to lose the feeling of home Teal’s presence has brought him. If Sebastian pushes too hard, he could lose Teal forever. He could be destined to raise his younger brother alone, while witnessing the total decline of his emotionally devastated father. If Sebastian is abandoned by the only healthy influence in his otherwise shaky existence, he will also be forever in the dark about the secret that will reveal so much about his fractured family.

SUMMER ON FIRE: Zach Carson is a loyal friend. But is loyalty enough to keep best friends together when one of them sets fire to the rural barn they use as the local hangout? Zach, Jeff Barsell and Arnie Wilson struggle to pick up the pieces when news spreads that a body was discovered in the burnt out shell of the neighbouring home. When the word murder is used by the local police, the stakes grow even higher. When the police start searching for their most likely suspect-none other than Jeff’s older brother, and nemesis, Marty Barsell–the boys decide to join forces and come up with a way to prove his innocence. But just how innocent is Marty Barsell? When Marty admits to being at the scene of the crime, the three friends enlist the help of Zach’s annoying sister, Sherry, as well as the sympathetic town eccentric, Ms. Halverton. But can they keep it together long enough to save Marty, and themselves, from imminent catastrophe? Summer on Fire is the story of friendships, and the lines we are asked to cross in order to keep them.

BURN BABY BURN BABY: 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.

HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN: Carter Colby is the most unpopular teen at Jefferson High. This would be easier to deal with if his identical twin brother, Marcus, weren’t the hottest, most popular boy in school.When Marcus is killed in a motorcycle accident, Carter discovers the one thing more painful than trying to compete with Mr. Wonderful: wearing his dead brother’s face. He felt invisible before the accident, but with Marcus dead, everybody turns away from him in mourning. How can he blame them? He can’t bear to look in the mirror.When Carter begins to see Marcus’ ghost, Mr. Wonderful’s quest to save the world and spread happiness may not be over after all, even in death. Marcus knows that Justin Dewar, the boy who drove the truck that crashed into his motorbike, is struggling with the guilt of taking a life. Melanie, Marcus’ mourning girlfriend, was also hit hard by the tragedy. Marcus wants to make things right before it’s too late.With Marcus’ help, Carter experiences love and friendship for the first time in his life. But is Mr. Wonderful’s helping hand enough for Carter, Melanie, and Justin – three kids fully broken by the tragedy – to save one another?

All are available at AMAZON, or at INDIGO CHAPTERS/KOBO, and some are available at BARNES & NOBLE. Or, wherever books are sold. Three of these novels won the MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON‘s BEST NOVEL AWARD and one, Burn Baby Burn Baby, was listed on the LIBRARY SERVICES FOR YOUTH IN CUSTODY’s 2016 IN THE MARGINS BOOK AWARDS LIST.

Embracing the Genre Challenge – ID PRESS Allucinor Anthology

On the heels of another short story acceptance from ID Press, I recently reflected on how difficult it is to write in a genre that is new to me and outside my zone of comfort. The whole idea of this boutique/micro press is to explore genre…and have submissions from writers who are exploring genres which are new to them. They get their contributors to break down walls and push at the barriers of their genres of choice. I believe ID is perchance making me a better writer.

But I have been kicking and screaming every step of the way. Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light has become Do not go gentle into that new you, Old genres should burn and rave at close of page; Rage, rage against the leaving of the safe. Or something like that.

ID Press’s first anthology was all about HORROR…and the stories in it were written by those who don’t normally write it. I was thrilled to have a short story in PURGATORIUM. I waited to hear what ID Press would come up with next. And then it was announced. ROMANCE.

My first thought was, ‘Well, that’s a HORROR!”

We all have a genre or two of choice, both as readers and as writers. Some shy away from certain genres because they think they’re feeble, or silly, or too incomprehensible, or too complicated or shallow or fantastical for them. There’s really no explanation for taste. We read what we like because we like it. We write what we write because we like it. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

It’s when we are pushed beyond these boxes which we put ourselves into that the fun begins. Or horror. Or fear. Or personal expectations of failure.

I was given the genre and a deadline. And boy howdy, did I write! One thing after another. Full stories, partial stories, first lines, last lines, tidbits, thoughts, ideas, etc, etc, etc. I wrote so much. And then I gave up. My hope to finish a story by the submission deadline evaporated. There were a couple of days left and I still had nothing. Everything I attempted missed the mark. And not just missed it…I knew each time from the first word on that what I was writing was not going to be enough.

I gave up.

And then I kept thinking of those ‘sis-boom-bah’ emails I was receiving along the way, from Tobin Elliott of ID PRESS. They were little reminders of the looming deadline that served as little jagged knife wounds to the frustrated writer in me. JAB JAB JAB—2 months to deadline! POKE POKE POKE—Just 1 month left to go!

Once I gave up I began to see those emails as something softer than the harsh pokes and jabs I had originally taken them to be. I felt like they may have been badges of honour, instead. ID PRESS wanted me. I was on their radar and they invited me to submit a short story to them. How often does that happen? How often does a writer have that kind of an opportunity?

There was a day or two left to go. What could it hurt to give it one last go? I enjoyed my previous experience with this press. I wanted in. I tried to ignore my 32 previous goes at the genre. I tried not to say, I HATE ROMANCE! I mean, seriously, who can hate romance?

I released all expectation to the wind. And I hopped on a bus with a sketchpad and sat behind a girl. It was a cross-town bus.

My short story, originally over-titled as The Half-Drawn Girl on the Crosstown Bus, but which has now become The Half-Drawn Girl, will appear in ID PRESS‘s 2nd anthology of short stories—Allucinor – An Element of Romance.

What I struggled with for months came sliding onto the page almost the moment I stopped trying, worrying, second-guessing, over-thinking, questioning, fighting, genre-bashing, genre-shaming, panicking, etc.

If you write short stories, do yourself a favour. Give a new-to-you genre a spin. Just close your eyes and jump into it. Don’t overthink it. Don’t fight against the chosen genre because of your past experiences with it, or because you have biases against it. Change is growth, even in genre-writing.

This is a thank you note of sorts, because I love that I was pushed to the brink of I CANNOT DO THIS! by Tobin Elliott and the rest of the folks at ID PRESS. They helped me to grow as a writer…to push beyond my perceived abilities and look beyond genre. I look forward to seeing this anthology in the flesh. All the little worlds it will hold…a new one with each and every short story contained within its covers. Anthologies are magical that way, aren’t they. So many different trails to wander.

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Pat, Connie, Dale, and Tobin – ID PRESS (The dark and scary Horror filter shot)

Thank you, ID PRESS. I needed the push onto that bus.

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PURGATORIUM is still available! Pick it up today on Amazon or Kobo.