Beauty’s Religion and it Christens Me with Wonder

“There are places I’ll remember all my life…” ~ In My Life, The Beatles (Rubber Soul)

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When I consider the lyrics of And If Venice Is Sinking by the Spirit of the West, I inevitably think of places like Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. “‘Cause beauty’s religion and it’s christened me with wonder.” Not only is Notre Dame the very heart of one of the world’s most beloved cities, but it is also smack dab at the Point Zero mark of that city. There is an octagonal brass plate embedded in the ground just outside the front doors of Notre Dame. It’s marked, “POINT ZERO – DES ROUTES DE FRANCE”. The point from which all places are measured. If the heart is at the centre, then this would be the literal heart of Paris.

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When I was in Paris in 2014 for the Left Bank Writers Retreat, I stayed just down the street from the iconic Catholic cathedral… on Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île. I made it a point to walk by–to touch–the cathedral every single day I was in Paris. I discovered that if you go just after sunrise, you can beat the throngs that appear and line up outside its front doors for the remainder of the day. You could have the entire inside of the cathedral virtually to yourself. This is what I did. And it was lovely. I was able to walk through the history housed in the massive cathedral at my own pace and marvel at the myriad of relics found under it impressive roof. And instead of feeling ill at ease by all the watching eyes of the gargoyles looking down from above, I felt protected. They were patrolling the heart of Paris, keeping everything in their arrondissement safe. And who was I to question that? They had been looking down on Paris for 750 years, give or take. Those gargoyles? They are my saints. They are enough religion for me.

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Our Lady of Paris suffered another setback yesterday, but she will rise again. She always does. She has, after all, survived even the French Revolution.

 

 

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Notre-Dame in the spring of 2014.

Inside Notre-Dame, I found a model of Notre-Dame. I hope they removed it before the most recent restoration project began.

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In 1831 Victor Hugo featured Our Lady in his famous literary masterpiece The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. This is how I fell in love with the cathedral. I found her in a book.

The preface of Hugo’s book explains how graffiti was its catalyst…one word–ANArKH–engraved by hand into the wall in Notre Dame. That always shook me. It stayed with me…the spark that created a masterpiece. I could visualize that becoming, that blossoming, that eruption of creativity. It’s how ideas come to writers. It’s remarkable that we get a glimpse into this secret insight in the preface of Hugo’s book. It, in itself, is a gift. Anyway, the end of the preface is as follows:

“The man who wrote that word upon the wall disappeared from the midst of the generations of man many centuries ago; the word, in its turn, has been effaced from the wall of the church; the church will, perhaps, itself soon disappear from the face of the earth. It is upon this word that this book is founded. March, 1831.”

Being a character in a novel has its perks. For Notre-Dame, the biggest perk became renewed interest and, ultimately, a restoration—which saw the addition of the iconic spire that toppled yesterday in a fire. That spire took many hearts with it when it fell into the flames. But don’t lose hope. Vive la France, Vive Paris, Vive Notre Dame. She will rise again. It may take some time, but she will do it. She sits inside the literal heart of a great nation and she is that great nation’s heart. They won’t let her die.

NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge and Me

And you may say to yourself, “My God! What have I done?”” ~ David Byrne, Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime

File this one under the category of here we go again, or, my god what have I done?

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It would seem that I somehow (accidentally?) accepted the challenge to partake of the NYC MIDNIGHT SCREENWRITING CHALLENGE. Like it wasn’t enough punishment to subject myself to the SHORT STORY CHALLENGE that is STILL ONGOING. This coming Friday at Midnight (TOMORROW), all the NYC screenwriting challenge entrants will receive an email with the 3 stipulations they must include into their screenplays…which they will then have one week to write. I’ve thrown myself back into the deep end of the pool before I even had a chance to actually climb back out of it. I’m terrified, if not a little exhilarated. I like knowing that I’m not in this alone. I know a few of my fellow writers who are partaking of this madness. Hopefully, we can commiserate together…although there’s probably not enough Kleenex in the world!

The 3 stipulations for the SCREENWRITING CHALLENGE are: GENRE, LOCATION, OBJECT. Here’s a sample of some of last year’s stipulations:

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Yeah, not scary AT ALL. More like, terrifying!

Now…I guess I have a few hours left to figure out the ins and outs of writing a screenplay. They do, after all, offer a crash course for those of us who have never done so! Here’s the handy-dandy link to the NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge HOW TO WRITE A SCREENPLAY. “Shouldn’t be too difficult,” they said, laughing like a hyena as tears of regret spilled from their eyes.

Wish me luck, or at the very least a broken leg or two…

 

Read Chapter 1 of Pride Must Be A Place Right Now…

I thought I would share the first chapter of PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE today. As I gear up for the 2019 Muskoka Novel Marathon, which is where I will be writing my next novel…I’m also reflecting on my previous MNM achievements, failures and attempts. PRIDE is MOST DEFINITELY my most commercially successful novel to date. I wrote the first draft mostly at the 2015 Muskoka Novel Marathon. Here you go…the first chapter. I’ll include buy links at the bottom. You know…just in case you wish to read on. (-;

Chapter 1

It’s hard to be yourself. I know, because I’ve been avoiding it for years. But I’ve also been embracing it. It’s hard to explain. You know when you know if you reveal too much of yourself you could be in for a world of trouble? Well, that pretty much sums it up for me. I live in a world where I’m not the same person all the time. I’m getting there. But I’m not ready yet. Not today, anyway. It sucks. I mean, it really sucks. A lot. But I’m not willing to destroy everything in my life just yet.

I think my father hates gays. Or, at least that’s how I see it. I can’t really know for sure what’s in his heart. Or if it will matter if (when) he finds out his oldest son is gay. I just know by the way he sneers when he sees them on TV, or out in the wild on those rare occasions when I’m with him. He looks down his nose at them like they’re some disease-carrying pariahs. It gives me this burning ache in the pit of my belly. Sometimes I think about the way he will eventually turn that scorn and disgust upon me, and I just want to die.

But I don’t think he knows.

I’m not one of those in-your-face gays like Alex Mills. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, so the joke goes. Alex is an awesome guy, sometimes. I love him, mostly. He’s my second best friend, next to Nettie English. But Alex is one of those friends I can’t bring home. Dad would take one look at him and know there’s something wrong with me, something gay with me. You don’t have friends like Alex Mills unless you’re one of them.

My father would love for me to dislike gays as much as he does. He’s such a homophobic bigot. I can’t believe I’m actually telling you this. It’s so humiliating to know something like this about a man you’re supposed to love and respect.

CLICK ON THE CONTINUE READING LINK BELOW TO READ THE REST OF CHAPTER ONE…

Continue reading “Read Chapter 1 of Pride Must Be A Place Right Now…”

Attention Ontario Writers! Writing Escape Opportunity

I’ve been talking about the Muskoka Novel Marathon for about 12 years now. I’ve attended the novel writing marathon 10 times and I’ll be heading back up to Huntsville, Ontario in July for my 11th marathon.

Today, I wanted to highlight the marathon as an incredible writing escape opportunity for writers. This event usually fills up quite quickly. This year, however, there are still a few available spots. If you have a free long weekend in July, a need for writing space, and a desire for an unforgettable life-changing writing opportunity to fall into your lap, LOOK NO FURTHER THAN THE MNM!

Here’s what you have to do and what you can expect at/from the Muskoka Novel Marathon.

  • First, here’s a link to the MNM Home Page.
  • The marathon takes place from July 12th at 8:00pm to July 15th at 8:00pm, 2019 at the Active Living Centre in downtown Huntsville, Ontario, Canada.
  • Here’s a link to the Registration Page if you’re a writer wanting to secure your spot at the 2019 Marathon. Writers must register online and pay the fee when registering (see next point).
  • There is a $100.00 fee for writers to sign-up – Please keep in mind that you will be given all your meals and snacks for the entire 72 hour marathon, as well as all the coffee you can drink in that time. (Often writers also bring their own snacks) Also, you can choose to stay at the facility and bring a sleeping bag or a blanket or a tent or a gravity chair or whatever you wish to sleep on during your stay. (no hotel fees)
  • You will also be expected to collect donations for the fundraising side of the marathon. We collect funds for the YMCA’s literacy programs (They set up an easy-peasy link which you can then direct your donors to for easy online payment—or you can collect funds the old fashion way). Organizers would probably like each writer to collect somewhere between $500-$1000 each…but all efforts are appreciated
  • Each writer begins a brand new novel at the marathon at 8pm Friday July 12th. They do NOT need to write an entire novel to enter the BEST NOVEL AWARD contest at the end of the 72hr marathon. They can arrive on day one with a ONE-PAGE OUTLINE for their novel. No writing written prior to the marathon can be entered into the contest. Only what you write on the premises during the 72 hours will be considered for the competition.
  • You will be able to eat your meals with your fellow writers, talk about your projects, encourage each other on, etc. The community that writers find at these marathons is incredibly helpful. Writers form lasting bonds that go on for years and years after the marathon closes. Writing groups and critique groups and critique partnerships have forms from these marathons. Novels have been published that began their lives at these marathons. The community of writers–the family of writers–that you will become a part of is life-changing.
  • Occasionally we escape the premises and head into town for a meal at one of the summer cottage restaurant-bar scenes down the hill. It’s a lot of fun storming a bar with 15 new friends who all also happen to be writers on a word-high. NOTHING LIKE IT!
  • Right in the middle of the marathon, at around midnight on the Saturday night (possibly Sunday—I can’t even remember which night as I type this) those who wish to participate in a reading of their fresh new work are invited to do so. This is an element of the marathon that has become more and more popular every year. It began in 2007 with me and two other writers. Last year we had probably close to 25 of the writers participate. We go around the table and we each read some pre-chosen excerpt from our works in progress to read aloud in a friendly non-judgemental environment. It’s a special time in the marathon for me. I enjoy hearing what others have come up with.
  • At the end of the 72 hour marathon, you have the option of submitting your piece in its category for BEST NOVEL AWARD. Also, there are peer nominated prizes such as BUM IN CHAIR AWARD and SPIRIT AWARD and ROOKIE OF THE YEAR AWARD, as well as a few awards from the organizers, such as the REMY AWARD for most funds raised, the ROCKSTAR AWARD and others. Past Winners can be found here.
  • This will be one of the best things–if not the very best thing–you will ever do for your writer-self. You will not regret the camaraderie, the vast amount of writing time, the beautiful atmosphere, the connections you’ll take with you into your life.
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Muskoka Novel Marathon. 2016. The building behind me in this shot is where the Muskoka Novel Marathon takes place. This hillside hike is less than 5 minutes from the front door. There are beautiful escapes nearby even as you escape to your writing weekend.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section. Registration is still open…and I’ve been told there are a few spot left. Take the plunge! I never looked back after that first year. It’s so worth the trip to Huntsville, Ontario! And it’s for a most worthy cause. We’re WRITERS HELPING READERS.

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For the past few marathons we’ve had the pleasure of Sue Kenney’s presence. Sue has lead us on a barefoot nature walk every Marathon Sunday for a few years now.  It’s not just writing that happens at the marathon. Magic is everywhere.
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You owe your writer self this blissful 72 hour weekend getaway writing retreat! Register today!

AGAIN, HERE’S THE WEBSITE – CLICK NOW TO REGISTER

 

Reasons Why I Should Have Aced the NYC Midnight Challenge – AND Why I Don’t Think I Did

It’s all in the title. I thought I had trained well for this particular contest. I haven’t done a list in a while. This one is short, but makes for a great jumping off point.

Background: This past weekend, I was busy writing a short story for the 2nd round of the 2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Each writer in the challenge is given three things to incorporate into their stories; a genre, a character, a subject. We were then given 72 hours turnaround time to submit a 2,000 word maximum short story to the contest. Round 1 of the contest whittled the pool of writers down from about 4,900 to the 750 writers who took part in this past weekend’s 2nd round.

Reasons Why I Should Have Aced the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

  • I took part in the Trafalgar24 Play Creation Festival in Whitby, Ontario SIX TIMES. In this festival, the playwrights are locked inside a castle for 8 hours. In that time, they each have to create a 10-minute play that will be performed in front of six rotating audiences the very next evening
  • I took part in the Muskoka Novel Marathon in Huntsville, Ontario TEN TIMES. In this marathon, the writers are locked inside a room for 72 hours. In that time, they each have to create a full novel that will be judged by industry professionals in the months immediately following the marathon.
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This is the inside of the cathedral that is literally inside Trafalgar Castle in Whitby, Ontario. I spent 8 hours inside this cathedral all by myself a few years back, tasked with writing a 10-minute play that was produced the very next evening in the cathedral. Each playwright gets locked up in the room in which their play is to be set. When the 8 hours are over, you are to submit your play to the director and actors. They are, in turn, given 8 hours to rehearse. Then come the audiences! Hundreds of people converge on the castle to see all the plays in rotating fashion.

That’s it. That’s my list. I was so certain that those two things were enough to get me into the shape I needed to be in to pown this NYC Midnight thing. Or is it pwn? Either way, I thought I was going to ace this.

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Trafalgar Castle, Whitby, Ontario

I have always said that of all the writing assignments a creative writer could have, the short story is the hardest. I have pounded out novels in one sitting TEN TIMES now. I’ve written plays while beating the clock multiple times, for various festivals. And the thing that finally got to me, the thing that defeated me, was this short story challenge.

I submitted with one hour and fifteen minutes to spare. It was a 72hr time frame for 2,000 words. I’m not a mathematical genius or anything, but that’s a far cry from writing 50,000 words in the same number of hours at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. Let’s see…carry the one, add the 3, subtract the 7 and multiply by 11 and what do you get? 694.44 words and hour for the MNM and 27.77 words an hour for the NYC Midnight challenge. The pressure should be stronger at the MNM, shouldn’t it?

 

Above are pictures from one of the many Muskoka Novel Marathons that I have participated in over the years. 40 writers + 72hrs = 40 novels! AND, we typically raise $30,000+ for area literacy programs each and every year.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. The real secret about the comparison between the short story and the novel is that you have to fit the exact same amount of story into each receptacle. And that’s only one of the factors going into my perceived failure this past weekend. You well and truly need to get the whole story into a short story…squeeze 50,000 words into its itty bitty living space and condense them down to 2,000 (or 2,500 , or 3,000 or whatever your limit is). This is not an easy task, and to go into it thinking it is an easy task is folly. The takeaway lesson should be—never be cocky about your ability as a writer. Every challenge is another series of wrenches thrown at you. You’re never ready for hurled wrenches…don’t make the mistake of thinking you are.

So, to review, NOTHING can prepare a writer for an on-the-spot writing challenge. I guess that’s why these contests work so well. It’s an amazing feeling when you push yourself to take a leap into the unknown. And I guess the thought behind the NYC Midnight challenge is… a writer is a writer is a writer. Any good one should be able to take what they’re given and pump out a result that is both entertaining and worthy of a read.

Boy, did I struggle with this one. It doesn’t matter whether you read regularly in every genre or not. If you’re not comfortable writing in each of them and you’re tasked to take one of them on…it’s bound to be difficult. That’s the thing that got me this weekend. By the luck of the draw I received a genre to write in that I have read voraciously over the years, but never once wrote it. I was afloat on a sea of confused desperation for the past 72 hours.

We shall see how this round of the challenge goes. If anything, I’m thrilled to have made the first cut. I can’t imagine that it’s an easy task to move forward in this challenge. I did it, and I should be happy about that. It’s all I can ask for.

To all those who pushed themselves to enter the challenge, congratulations! You took a leap and I guarantee you it made you a better writer. To those of you who moved forward into round two with me, even more congratulations! You did it. That’s an amazing achievement in itself. I wish all 749 of you the best of luck in this next round of judging! If a miracle should occur, I might see some of you in the 3rd and final round. But if not, do your best. You got this!

 

Writers Helping Readers – MNM2019

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It’s that time of the year once again. The Muskoka Novel Marathon writers (40 writers in total) are gearing up for the 72 hour novel writing marathon in Huntsville, Ontario. Every year, we are tasked to collect sponsorship funds for the marathon, much like runners are tasked to collect funds for marathons such as the Terry Fox Run. Typically, together we raise about $30,000.00 a year during the fundraising leg of the MNM. It may sound like a lot–and really it is!–but these funds are sorely needed. The YMCA is sadly underfunded. Us writers, along with our dedicated supporters, do our best to fill the gaps. We know how important words are…we live and die by them.

Please consider donating to the cause this year. Every dollar we collect goes directly into the running of the integral literacy programs provided by the YMCA.

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We are SO incredibly proud of the fact that we have thus far raised over $200,000.00 for the cause! We do this with your help. Much thanks and appreciation to all who have been a part of that incredible total!
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Every July the writers get together for a group photo that usually breaks down into a chaotic exuberant melee of one type or another. The fundraiser, we take very seriously. The rest? It’s a joyous weekend of friendship…if not a little daunting writing-wise. We have fun!

My fundraising page is now live. VISIT MY MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON PAGE HERE FOR A FULL BIO, INCLUDING THE WORKS I CREATED AT PAST MARATHONS. There is a link on this page that will take you to my fundraising page. Just click the SUPPORT THIS WRITER button. OR, go directly to my FUNDRAISING PAGE HERE.

We writers are definitely in it for the fundraising…we’re compelled to help in the fight against illiteracy. We play with words and our wish is to help the YMCA help others to discover the same joy we experience with them. Our ulterior motives are obvious. We get to spend an entire weekend–a full 72 hours–playing with words. Each year each writer attempts to write an entire novel during the weekend.

My 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon Best Adult Novel Award winning novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT will be released in 2019. It exists because of my time at the marathon.

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