The Monster of Passion

If you’re anything like me, your story sparks blow up while you’re trying to keep ahead of them.

Recently I began to write a short story for a contest I wished to enter. When I see local writing contests, I like to enter as a way of showing my support for the organization that is hosting them. The intention is never to place in the contest. I don’t have enough self-esteem to hope for that to happen. If it does, even better. But if it doesn’t–if I just happen to be one of the paying entrants whose money helps to support the continuation of the contest in the future–well, I’ve already won. I like that these writing opportunities exist.

I haven’t forgotten the thread of this post. It’s actually about the short story I penned for the writing contest. Or rather, it’s about what happened when I took on the spark of an idea that prompted that original short story. Perhaps it was the subject matter itself–the Camino de Santiago–but I doubt it. Because it happens a lot, no matter the subject matter. I begin to write one short story, and, like a horse in a race it begins to make its way to the finish line while I struggle to keep up with its frenetic pace. What happens next is typically what happens in a horse race. While the horse and I are tearing up the track, another more urgent horse comes barrelling up alongside us.

The second horse in this analogy, as you may have guessed, is another spark for a short story idea…which stemmed from the original. Do I get off the first horse and hop onto the second? Probably dangerous, right? It may kill my momentum and fizzle out the writing fire I’ve begun with the first story. If I try to jump to the second horse, I may fall and end up horseless.

Here’s where multi-tasking comes in to play. No…I don’t try to write both stories simultaneously. That’s like straddling both horses, and it’s almost always a catastrophe in my own personal experience. I DO jot down a few of the second story’s more pertinent sparky little details before I lose sight of them, though. I can do this while maintaining my pace with the first horse.

If you’ve ever been to the races, you’ll know there are very seldom (never) races which involve only TWO horses. Enter horse number three. If you’re feeling a bit of stress reading this and realizing that the Creative Spark Fairy is often a sadistic bastard, you’re not alone. I’ve known this for quite some time.

So there I was, writing my short story for the writing contest and knowing the deadline was RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER. I mean, at the stroke of midnight my time to submit it would be up. And a third horse came up alongside me. “Hi. Look at me. I’m another story!” I can’t hush these sparks. They demand attention. They insist that you juggle them. They want to be told. Our passions are monsters…they take hold of us in the best possible way. They make us better.

Maybe it’s a matter of being really good with a lasso? When I was 5ish I lassoed the family television and pulled it around the living room, so I happen to know that I am exceptional with a lasso. (Before you ask, yes I did get permission to do this prior to doing it. I’m not crazy. My parents, on the other hand, may very well have been. They should always pay attention when their most rambunctious child is asking them a question. Especially when he’s twirling a lasso over his cowboy hatted head while asking it. It’s like they never learned.) So, back to the horse analogy. I DID manage to stay on my first horse and race him to the finish line in time to complete and submit the original short story prior to the submission deadline. Yay, me! What I also managed to do was lasso the other two horses and get them to keep pace with me so that I could explore the sparks that created them in the first place.

After the first story was submitted, I hit the ground running with story number two. The thing about this particular subject matter was I can think of a hundred thousand stories that take place on the Camino. When I walked it, I met so many people from so many different countries. And I got snippets and tidbits of their stories while I walked. People open up on the Camino de Santiago. They whisper to fellow peregrinos some of their deepest most private thoughts. They share their lives.

So when I started that first story, about a woman walking the Camino in order to find a way back to who she was before she identified solely as a wife and a mother, more people came up to me from the deep well of creativity that the Camino inspires in me. I wrote about Helen and that second horse, Corinne came barrelling up and said, “Wait…I too have a story that you can tell.” And then a third horse, Richard, came up and pleaded, “No, tell my story.” And it just snowballed from there.

 

Images from Portomarin, Spain…one of the multitude of beautiful and inspirational places along the Camino.

Usually when this happens with a spark I do see a few projects through. But often I only use one of them. Often, it’s the original that goes out into the world. But it’s also at times the third or the fourth or the fifth story that I eventually end up using. I never consider the unused ones to be a waste of my time, though. Every spark becomes a horse race. And horse races are fun. I enjoy exploring all my options before I settle with the winning horse. And then there are the times that a subject matter possesses me so thoroughly that the topic comes up across the board in my writing life. I’ll write plays, novels, short stories and poetry from the same well. It’s the only way I know how to exhaust the well. Get all my horses to the finish line. Then and only then can I move on to the next spark that inflames my passion. This Camino race? It certainly has a lot of horses in it. I suspect this race will be off and on for the rest of my life. Its horses are strong and fierce and filled with spunk. It’s a horse race without a finish line. And I’m good with that. I have to be. I’m a peregrino.

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The Stage or the Page? Writing the Baby or the Embryo

I was recently asked the question, ‘What do you like writing for more…the stage or the page?’ My answer was simple. I didn’t even have to think about it. It was an emphatic YES!

With a gun to my head, along with the pressure of having only ten seconds to either give one up or die, I would probably use the little time I had left to say goodbye to loved ones. Admittedly, the decision is not Sophie’s Choice or anything as life or death crucial as that…but it feels that epic. It’s a choice I would never want to make.

I always say that writing for the stage is like writing a novel without having the added responsibility of working with all that clunky, incipient prose that shows up between the dialogue. That’s why I love being a playwright. I need only worry about putting words into my characters’ mouths. All the movement and action (business) can be on the director and actors to decide. All the setting can be created by the set designers. The rest of the theatre crew deal with all that prose that doesn’t have to be there on the page. At times, that feels like getting a get-out-of-jail free card. Score! I can have fun just making my characters talk!

And it’s a lot of fun. But…there’s also something missing. I absolutely love building worlds and making sure every little detail is as it should be. The reader will hear the dialogue in a novel. And that dialogue better be authentic. There’s nothing more irritating than dialogue that simply does not sound authentic. But the reader will also see the prose. How they see everything that surrounds the dialogue is up to me. I love getting that right. I would sorely miss that if all I did was write plays. Yes, a playwright works with stage direction…we do use prose outside of dialogue. We have to at least let the rest of the theatre crew know the scaffolding that surrounds the conversation. But we don’t get to visit the minutiae of the scenes we create. I love to write my novels cinematically. I write so that the story rolls out as though it were playing out on the big screen. I like to be in control of all the details. In order to do that, I need to embrace all aspects of story. I need to paint the scenes in full.

On the stage, it’s all there in front of the audience. To an extent, what they see is the playwright’s vision. But in another way, it could be diametrically opposed to the playwright’s original vision. Outside the characters on the stage, and the words they speak, most of what the audience is seeing is director, actor, and set design interpretation. This isn’t a bad thing. Playwright’s understand that they are, in a sense, giving up a lot of control when they write for the stage. That is, in fact, part of the thrill of play-writing for me. I love to see what the other people involved in my plays do with them. I love watching the actors form their characters. Ultimately, I end up loving the characters they create a lot more than the ones I sketched out. And the directors seem to know exactly where to put the business of the play. It’s an art-form to move the actors about the stage and have them perform the best possible movements at the best possible times. That’s why a good playwright will keep the stage direction to a bare minimum. They know that the next stages of the play’s development will be for others to interpret. A theatre company is a cohesive unit. A lot of work, and a lot of trust, go into making a good play.

A still from my play, Perfect Timing. From the 2013 InspiraTO Festival, performed by Liam Doherty & Jennifer Gillespie on the main stage of the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto, Ontario (June, 2013). Perfect Timing was directed by Kim Sprenger and dramaturged by MC Thompson. Photo Credit: Ismail Atiev

In the end, the difference between playwriting and novel writing comes down to collaboration. While I’m writing my novel, I want to be the director, the actors, the set designer, everything. I want to have full control. I understand that at some point an editor will come in and make crucial improvements upon my creation, but I don’t take that into consideration while I’m creating. While I’m writing my play, I have forethought. I consider that the director and actors will work with what I give them. I understand that the creation process will still evolve when I am done with the words on the page.

Ultimately, it takes a writer to create a novel and a village to create a play. So don’t ask me what I would rather do. I love the solitary world of novel writing. I love to sit down and write something and present it to the world complete. Voila! But I also love to collaborate with the wonderfully creative and talented world of the theatre. I love being a part of something that is so much bigger than me, but that ultimately starts with me. When you write a novel, you pass your fully formed baby on to the world. When you write a play, you’re passing an embryo on to doctors who will know exactly how to bring it to fruition. I’m okay with both methods. As a writer, I’m blessed to have experienced both. So take that gun away from my head. I have a novel AND a play to write.

You can catch 2 of my plays on TUESDAY AUGUST 1st from 7pm-9pm in PORT PERRY, when they are to be STAGE READ by the folks at Theatre 3×60. Click the image to visit their page and purchase tickets ($10 gets you in to see both plays read — The History of Us AND King of the Crease)

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Staged Readings of Two of My One-Act Plays…

THE HISTORY OF US and KING OF THE CREASE, two one-act plays I wrote, will be stage read NEXT TUESDAY (AUGUST 1st, 2017) from 7pm-9pm at Port Perry Church of the Ascension (266 North St. Port Perry).

Thanks to THEATRE 3×60 for putting this on. I was thrilled to find out that they were doing this with both of the first two one-act plays I have ever written.

If you recognize the title of the first one, THE HISTORY OF US, it’s because it began life as a 10-minute play…which I wrote for DRIFTWOOD THEATRE‘s TRAFALGAR 24 Play Creation Festival. I was fortunate enough to land two incredible actors for the original production of this play. Both Christopher Kelk and Adriano Sobretodo Jr. were phenomenal in their roles as Alzheimer’s suffering Charlie Wilkins and his son-in-law Ben. Making a ten minute play into a one-act was a difficult task, but creating more for and about these two characters was a labour of love. Charlie suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and is mourning the recent loss of his wife, while adjusting to the changes taking place in his life. These changes include moving in with his son and his partner…and dealing with the complications this entails with other family members.

In King of the Crease, we have retired NHL goalie Frank Eno, who is struggling with aging and chronic back pain. His live-in adult daughter has a suitor who Frank admires while others in his family do not. It’s the story of a father and son, in the end…disguised as more of a family drama.

I hope you will join THEATRE 3×60 next Tuesday to see how these two plays pan out on the stage.

3xCanadians Staged Readings – Kevin Craig, August 1, 2017

7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Port Perry Church of the Ascension (266 North St. Port Perry)

Theatre 3×60’s summer company performs staged readings of Kevin Craig’s King of the Crease and The History of Us.

CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO BE TAKEN TO THE THEATRE 3×60 WEBSITE AND A DIRECT LINK TO WHERE YOU CAN BUY TICKETS TO THE EVENT FOR $10 EACH:

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BUY TICKETS HERE: https://squareup.com/store/theatre-3×60

 

A MESSAGE FOR WRITERS AND PLAYWRIGHTS: Staged Readings are interactive and the audience has an opportunity to provide feedback on the plays being read. These readings are GREAT WORKSHOP OPPORTUNITIES for playwrights and wanna-be playwrights. It will be a learning experience for anyone thinking of taking on playwriting. And, yes…it will be a terrifying experience for me, the playwright. I’ve never done anything like this, but I have an open mind and a desire to better my playwright skills. This is just the kind of opportunity that could make me grow as a playwright. For my local writer friends, this is an invaluable experience…come, learn, contribute feedback. I hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Postcards from the End – MNM2016

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the last day of the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon. It was a great marathon for me…after the first 24 hours of non-productivity fog melted off the lake of the weekend and the sun came out to burn off the dense terrifying nothingness that clung to my creativity like a golem made to keep me down. I’m not being over-dramatic. Really, I’m not.

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I went from having nothing to write that weekend to scrambling to keep up with the story that eventually took over my every thought. I eventually chased it down and wrote it out and got a lion’s share of it on paper. By the end of the weekend, I had perhaps 3/4 of a novel completed. I handed it in for consideration in the Best Novel Award contest and it actually went on to win BEST ADULT NOVEL OF 2016. What happened after the marathon is another story…best to be saved for a fireside horror-show retelling.

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Moving along…

If you would like to sponsor a writer for the 2017 Muskoka Novel Marathon, it’s not too late to do so. Each writer has two goals for this novel writing marathon. GOAL #1 is to raise money and awareness for the Simcoe Muskoka YMCA literacy programs. Writing a novel in 72 hours is just the secondary more selfish goal…money for literacy, that’s the true aim. You can make a difference with your donation. AND no amount is too small. Here’s a link to the Muskoka Novel Marathon 2017 Writers Page—with links to sponsor the writer of your choice.

As the marathon winds down, participants often write letters of encouragement to one another via blog posts, tweets, Facebook status updates, paper airplanes, toilet paper missives, etc.

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One of the many beautiful places writers can choose to write in at the Muskoka Novel Marathon in Huntsville, Ontario.

Here’s a Facebook status update I wrote as the 2016 marathon drew to a close. I won’t be taking part in the 2017 marathon that begins this Friday evening at 8pm and lasts for 72 hours…but I wish all those writers taking part a wonderful writing journey. May they write words, eat well, and be merry. And maybe when the marathon is coming to an end, they can find this postcard from the past and take comfort in it this year…as the message is fitting for any marathoner approaching the ending of the marathon on any given year.

 

Take a deep breath. This is it. The last day of the marathon. We have walked thousands upon thousands of words, taken strangers to places near and far with the sheer power of our own gossamer imaginations. Be well pleased in yourself and in your courage. It’s time to write the eulogy, celebrate the fact that you made it to the end. The power of words, so thick and meaty…they can change the world with a stroke. You’ve put them together one upon another, forced logic and il-logic to intertwine in whatever world you created in your mind for this long journey. Take a bow, for you all know the power now of longing to reach into your imaginations and pull out that which cannot be touched but allows itself to be embraced nonetheless. You were either absent or present during the creation of your words…there, not there. You were, however, at the helm…even in those periods when you completely disappeared, became not a writer but writing itself. We draw now to a close, on this, our last day…draw our imaginations back to a simmer—to something we can more tolerate back in the real world where words are not as powerful and all-encompassing as they are here, in this sacred place. Breathe. You did it. You have entrusted yourself to take the journey. You stepped forward one word at a time and you didn’t die. No one got left behind. The words piled up and gave you strength, even as they took it clean away. Write. Write. Write. But in doing so, don’t forget to breathe. You’re almost home.

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Yours truly taking a time out at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon. THIS is the beauty that surrounds us at the marathon. It’s everywhere. Our job is to keep writing without falling victim to the distractions. But we also need breaks…creativity walks. To the 2017 Marathoners…DON’T FORGET TO STEAL SOME ‘ME’ TIME FOR YOURSELF. Go to the Volcano!

I’ll leave you with Medicine for the People…