Ezra Caine is a Grade 11 high school student who happens to be gay. He’s sort of out at school but not at home, where he fears his father’s bigotry would be his undoing. When Ezra’s flamboyantly out friend Alex Mills takes one too many beatings from school bully Will Severe, Ezra finally snaps. Fed up with the homophobic tensions at school, he decides to do something about the situation.
With the help of best-friend-for-life, Nettie, along with some rather unlikely allies, Ezra rallies to create their small-town school’s first gay-straight alliance. The Rainbow Alliance Club is formed.
But the changes don’t come without hiccups. The biggest of these hiccups sends Alex to the hospital as he attempts to destroy the homophobic Will Severe with a scandal he himself created through a questionable gay dating app he shouldn’t have even been on.
Along with these struggles, though, come several signs the group’s efforts might just be the catalyst for change they desired. As Ezra and his friends attempt to sway the school into an alliance of tolerance and acceptance, Ezra experiences a few surprises of his own on the home-front. He also learns the hard way that friendships out of convenience aren’t always a good idea, just as some enemies might not be as bad as he originally imagined them to be.
When I walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela back in 2014, I found everything about the journey to be inspirational. The people, the breathtaking landscapes, the allegories and symbolism…everything. It was a life-changing experience. Having walked only a portion of the Camino, I have come to understand that it calls one to it. And when one heeds the call, it becomes a lifetime passion. I know several people who have revisited the pilgrimage multiple times. I myself plan to walk it again in 2019, if all goes as planned. In the meantime, I never tire of talking about the Camino. Thankfully, others who have walked feel the same way. Russell Kenny is one of those people.
One of the wonderful things I noticed on my pilgrimage were the messages you find along the way from past peregrinos (pilgrims) who have already made their way to Santiago. These could be found in the form of graffiti, meticulously spelled out using twigs and stones, in long cloth ribbons hanging from trees, etc. Everywhere, it seemed, was the desire to share the wonderment and inspiration. I imagined people who were heavily burdened by their packs, having their aha! moments, stopping and saying, “I gotta get this down! I gotta get this down!” They’d stop and jot down their thoughts on whatever they could find and leave the golden nuggets of wisdom behind for future peregrinos.
Words will always stop a writer in his or her tracks. And so will symbolism. Some left messages of hope, others inspirational quotes from favourite songs, and others still simply proof that they were there. Often, the message wasn’t even in the form of words at all. If you’re looking for the message, you’ll find it. The above pics are only a few of the messages I came across. There’s not enough space on the internet to share all of them.
Russell Kenny is one of the Camino’s inspirational messengers. Russell was able to track me down through my blog when he discovered the picture above. When he told me he has walked the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied De Port to Santiago–and further on to Finisterre and Muxia–9 times in 10 years, I knew I had to hear more. So I asked him if I could interview him for my blog. Thankfully, he readily agreed. Here’s what Russell had to say about his experiences on the Camino de Santiago!
1. First I’d like to ask you a little about your own Camino experiences in general. How many Camino pilgrimages have you walked? And which routes have you taken?
1st year (2007) I cycled from England to Spain through France and started in St Jean Pied De Port to Santiago and cycled back to UK. I decided after that walking was the only way to do the Camino. I have since walked from St Jean To Santiago, then onto Finsterre and Muxia, nine times in ten years. Some Caminos I did back to back because I could not face coming home. So I did the ‘Camino Levante’ from Valencia to Santiago and then ‘Via De La Plata’ from Seville to Santiago and also part of ‘Camino Del Norte’ from Irun, But I walk backwards and forwards on many Caminos because I am addicted to it. So in all 13 Caminos.
2. What was your inspiration for leaving messages for fellow peregrinos along the way to Santiago? What are some of your favourite messages? Either ones you have left or ones you have found on the path?
My inspiration to leave messages, I do not understand myself. But when a thought comes to mind and there’s nobody around to share it with, I write it down quickly… any hour of the day. Even if I wake up at 3am sometimes with an idea, I’ll get my headlamp on in the tent to write it down. I guess I leave the messages because later people pass by me and say “Hey I saw your messages along the Camino and they made me think. Thanks!” That’s a good feeling. 🙂
3. Have you had a lot of response from the messages you left on the path? Were you able to connect with people who found your notes?
Yes I get many a-response. People I have not even met on the Camino track me down on Facebook and send me photos of the messages via my name I leave on the messages. And people I have met also contact me, obviously.
4. Can you tell us what it was like walking the Camino with a tent and living out in the elements, as opposed to staying in albergues (hostels)? Any harrowing experiences or interesting tales arise from camping along the Camino?
Most of the time I create my own hiking trailer that I pull behind me, connected to a little rucksack on my shoulders. I make a new trailer each year and then leave them on the Camino for some other pilgrims to find and hopefully use. I make my trailers as cheaply as possible from things I dig out of rubbish skips.
Albergues, I do not like. It feels like being captive in somebody’s idea of how a pilgrim should live. Lights out and doors locked at 10pm in a lot of albergues, people snoring or talking in the early hours of the morning, people switching on their headlamps or the room lights at silly o’clock in the morning. A tent is freedom, washing in rivers, sleeping and waking when I am ready to do so…plus there’s an increase of bed bugs along the Camino.
No bad experiences from sleeping in tent, just that the lamps of the early walkers sometimes wakes me up.
5. Do you have any experiences to share in relation with your guitar? Any out-of-the-blue moments arise from being a peregrino with the ability to make song?
There’s one experience on the Camino this year (2017) involving the guitar whilst i was camping in a little forest near Pedrouzo. I always run out of money because I sometimes stay on the Camino for up to 8 months. Well, this one morning I had just enough money for a coffee and walked into town not knowing if I was going to eat that day or not. When I returned to my tent the pilgrims that had passed by in those few short hours of me being in town having a coffee etc had put 147 euros inside my tent. I cried for the fact they cared that much. It was so moving. A lot of pilgrims either left notes or talked to me later along the Camino saying they had left me money because I made their day good somewhere along the Camino a few days or a week ago by playing the guitar, but they didn’t get a chance to thank me at the time. So they left money when they saw my tent. 🙂 Experiences like this are countless and priceless…so nice. And they make me feel wanted. I don’t often get that feeling back home.
6. Any advise for those who have dreamed of walking the Camino de Santiago but have not yet taken the plunge? What is it about the Camino? As a fellow peregrino, I am at times overwhelmed with emotion just thinking about my love of the Camino. In your experience, and in your own words, what makes the Camino such a transformative life-changing experience that keeps drawing you back?
Those that dream of walking the Camino… just get off your ass and do it. Think of those that cannot do the Camino for health reasons, family reasons, trapped in the wrong marriage or relationship reasons.
The Camino is a reflection of life, but you have the choice to walk away from a situation you do not like. This is not always the same in real life. Meeting new people from all over the world is healthy…we take our masks off for those few short weeks, talk to strangers about life’s ups and downs, step out of our comfort zones because we are out of the system that blackmails us to live the life of system-slavery.
A lot of the time I cry about the conversations I have had with people after listening to some of the horrific or sad things that have happened in their lives. Getting to Santiago is not the answer for anyone along the Camino. The magic of the answers a lot of us seek are in the walking and the talking with certain people you connect with mentally while sharing each others stories…free therapy from real people rather than a trained therapist that knows nothing of real pain.
Advice for those walking the Camino for the first time? Buy boots 2 sizes too big and wear thick socks. Or wear sandals the whole Camino in rain or sun. Losing toenails is a painful shame that could lead to further infection, so give as much room to your feet as you can in your footwear.
(Above two photos courtesy Russell Kenny)
8. Finally, when is your next Camino? And which path will you be walking?
Camino 2018…I will walk the Portuguese Camino in reverse from Santiago to Lagos.
Thank you so much for sharing your Camino thoughts here, Russell. And a hearty thanks for the messages you leave along the pilgrimage! I was happy to find them along MY way. The constant connections to past peregrinos was a great inspiration to this–at times–weary pilgrim. Know that your gifted words are touching people in the exact way you hope them to. Buen Camino, my friend!
“You always say YES and figure it out later.” ~ Me, circa always
Saying yes in the writing world is the story of my life. Panicking after delivering that yes is ALSO the story of my writing life. But a writer would be a fool to say NO or I CAN’T or I DON’T KNOW HOW or I DON’T HAVE THE TIME.
For writers, opportunities are not endless. Unlike the pesky little bible-thumping crazies of the world, opportunity doesn’t keep knocking. It breezes on by to the next person on the list. As a writer, I always LEAP before I know what awaits me.
This is how I came into two situations in 2017.
One of these opportunities was an invitation from ID PRESS to submit to their romance anthology. I said yes. And then I beat myself up struggling to come up with a short story that was vaguely romantic in nature. Their shtick is to experiment with genre, after all. I had a chance at acceptance if my story skated along the outskirts of ROMANCE. I just didn’t know how hard that YES was going to make my writing life in the weeks that followed. I struggled with this one. I must have had 30 attempts at a story for that anthology. I never pressed the DELETE key so hard in all my life. It was an unendingly daunting task. It literally wasn’t until the midnight hour that I finally hit on something and ploughed through a story and clicked send. Luckily for me, they accepted THE HALF DRAWN GIRL ON THE CROSSTOWN BUS (It later became, at their request, THE HALF DRAWN GIRL). It was only because I said YES months earlier that I even struggled so hard to come up with something. I committed and I needed to see it through. I said yes…and then I figured it out. It’s times like this that I realize there actually ARE writing fairies looking out for those of us foolish enough to jump off the ledge and commit.
You can pick up THE HALF DRAWN GIRL and other genre-bending romance short stories in the newly released anthology ALLUCINOR from ID PRESS.
The other YES I pulled off in 2017? I have had a Camino de Santiago novel in my heart since I walked the pilgrimage in Spain to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela where the bones of St. James, the apostle of Jesus, are said to be resting. I had a few chapters written, but mostly, as I said, it rested in my heart. Like a soft prayer bead on a rosary, waiting to be caressed into words.
When my agent asked me if I had anything ready that was a contemporary YA novel, I said NO…but that I had something almost ready. So, I also said YES. I told her my years long elevator pitch for my Camino novel idea.
THE BREAKFAST CLUB MEETS THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO.
I have never been so proud of an elevator pitch in all my life. It’s golden. It resurrects the images and themes precisely, concisely and quite specifically. Thankfully, my agent also liked the sound of it.
So—-I say yes, it won’t be a problem. Give me a couple of weeks.
A WRITER ALWAYS SAYS YES! You can always figure out THE WAY after you commit. I did this with my first play and I found myself sitting in a haunted castle basement in the near dark listening to the ghosts mock me while I raced to write a play that would be performed in front of an actual audience less than 24 hours later. What’s the worst that can happen in a YES situation? You don’t deliver? I’m always willing to take that chance.
This is how writers live on the edge. It’s not the stuff of daredevils, but it certainly makes the writing life interesting.
I wrote the Camino novel. I am awaiting agent feedback at the moment. I’m feeling positive and hopeful. Saying YES to that novel was possibly one of the best things I’ve ever done with my writing life. BECAUSE it was a novel that meant a great deal to me even before the first word was down on paper. It was a novel I knew I could deliver in a couple of weeks because the bellows that blew it into existence was alive and living inside me. Did I lie to my agent when I said YES? Not exactly…it was an almost completed novel…it’s just that it was scattered about within the far reaches of my heart and mind. All I really had left to do was allow it to flow through my finger-tips, past my keyboard and land on my MSWord document. No biggie.
Those are two of the major moments in my writing life as I look back on 2017. All that is left, I suppose, is the BRUSSELS NOVEL MARATHON WRITING EXPERIMENT and MY 3rd PLACE WIN IN THE WRITERS COMMUNITY OF SIMCOE COUNTY’S 2017 WORD BY WORD SHORT STORY CONTEST. (<<<You can read my story at the link provided) The story that won 3rd place was yet another story set on the Camino de Santiago. It has become an obsession with me, and I probably won’t be satiated even after I return to the Camino in 2019…life willing.
The Brussels novel writing experiment? Well, I’m not sure. The novel I began there? Maybe it is burning on the stove top waiting to be stirred. I like what I wrote…I’m just not sure where to take it. I’m one third in. I did, however, fall absolutely and completely head over heels in love with the beautiful city of Brussels while I was there under the pretense of writing an entire novel. It is a breathtakingly beautiful city. And nearby Brugges is no limp headless chicken, either. It’s stunning…not to be missed. We’ll see how the novel goes. Oh…I suppose this has something to do with my writing life, too…I received a WCDR Writing Grant to help pay the way to Brussels and my personal writing/exploration retreat there.
Oh, and I have a novel releasing FEBRUARY 6th, 2018. My GAY YA novel, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE. See the cover below:
Pride is coming from MUSE…the publisher of my debut novel, SUMMER ON FIRE. You can add Pride to your bookshelf on GOODREADS HERE. You can also check out reviews for all 6 of my books on Goodreads.
As the year winds down to nothing but the past, I sit here awaiting word from my agent on my Camino novel. AND I work on final edits on my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon Best Adult Novel Award winning novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. AND I await getting into final edits with my MUSE editor on PRIDE. Sounds like I might be doing a lot, but I promise you, I’m still the laziest writer in existence today. I do a flurry of activity and then hibernate for 8 or 9 months. L-A-Z-Y.
Outside the writing life, unto my daughter and her husband a newborn child was born in 2017. This year has seen the arrival of HARRISON:
Go ahead…click all those links. I know you wanna.
I guess that sums up my 2017. The appearance of busy while maintaining my lazy status. Level up to 2018!