As I prepare for the 2019 Muskoka Novel Marathon, I can’t help but look back with fondness on my first. The year was 2007. I went in with a real feeling of dread and terror, as I knew almost no one and my introverted-extrovert self was electric with a fear of failure that was accompanied by a healthy dose of my fear of strangers and meeting new people. I was a mess, but also filled with excitement at the idea of spending 48hrs in front of a laptop attempting to write an entire novel.
The above images are things I’ve pulled into my story from the 70s. THE GOOF (The Garden Gate Restaurant in The Beaches has had the nickname of THE GOOF for decades…since the neon G-O-O-F letters fizzled out!) is still alive and well.
Enter my calm safe place…the incomparable (now late and great) Leonard Cohen (cue the choir of angels singing aves!).
Before the novel writing marathon begins, there is a meet-and-greet where all the writers get together and introduce themselves. We do this every year. There’s usually a couple new faces, and quite often we see friends from past marathons for the first time since the previous July. It’s a lovely time of reunions and introductions. THEN we take to our seats and a bell goes off to usher in the beginning. We’re at the starting gate and take off not running, but fingers flying on our keyboards.
For my first marathon, I had a title and two characters in my head. They waited impatiently for that commencement bell to toll. One of the characters was a neglected little boy who lived in The Beaches district of Toronto…and the other was Leonard Cohen. Or, at least, a folksinger who was a god-like hero character in the same way I imagined Leonard to be.
As the bell rang, I dove in and I did not look back until my story was told. It spanned most of the 70s and ended with the Cohen character taking the stage at the CNE Grandstand at a charity concert hosted by none other than the great Gordon Lightfoot.
As I wrote that last chapter with tears in my eyes and excitement in my heart, I felt this great crescendo escalating with every word that raised to meet the ending. It was the denouement to a story that was often hectic and scary. It was the moment when my child character, from the wings of the CNE Grandstand stage, was finally able to exhale after a treacherous ride through a difficult childhood. It was the culmination of a full 48 hours of writing the same story start to finish and it was simultaneously electrifying and exhausting.
I did it! I wrote THE END before the marathon was over. The marathon is actually a 72 hour journey, but there’s an option to end at the 48hr mark. That year I didn’t really believe in myself enough to take a day off work in order to write. I just couldn’t justify it. I didn’t consider myself worthy of the holiday day for the purpose of something as frivolous as writing. So, I clocked out after the weekend was over. I went home while others stayed behind to write through their Monday.
When I got home I dared to look at the story for the first time. When you’re in the heart of that whirling dervish of a ride, you don’t really have the opportunity to look back. When I did finally glance back and read the story, I was floored. I had taken up handfuls of mud and clay and I had formed a Golem that walked and talked and lived like my mind’s eye’s version of Leonard Cohen. Perhaps it was because I had only listened to ONE SONG during the entire 48hr novel writing marathon. Perhaps Leonard Cohen had traveled through the music and into my veins and caused himself to pour out of my fingers and on to the screen. Character osmosis.
I loved that first marathon as much as I look forward to this upcoming one in 35 days. Perhaps I look forward to them because of that first one…because I had the music in me. Music was the propulsion that saw me through those 48 hours. It was an elixir that calmed me down enough to be in a new environment with new people and a new story. And I had Leonard to thank for all of it. So, I did the only thing I could do…I stole his soul.
Leonard Cohen became the hero of my story. If you ever read my novel SEBASTIAN’S POET, know that when you’re reading about the folksinger that wakes up on a ratty old couch in the Beaches district of Toronto in 1973, you’re reading about Leonard Cohen…or, at the very least, my angel-ized version of the man I’ve had a lifelong music crush on. It was easy to get that story thrown down in 48 hours…I’d been carrying it within my heart for my entire life.
THE SONG I LISTENED TO FOR 48HRS STRAIGHT DURING THE 2007 MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON – Leonard Cohen’s ANTHEM
I’m heading back to Huntsville, Ontario on JULY 12th, for my 11th Muskoka Novel Marathon. 40 Writers in 1 Room for 72 Hours = 40 Novels. And we do it all for the love of words. Each writer collects sponsorship pledges and 100% of the monies raised goes to the YMCA literacy programs in Simcoe/Muskoka Counties. We typically raise about $30,000.00 per year and help fund the following year’s literacy efforts. If you would like to be a part of this endeavor, we’d love to have you on board. My ONLINE DONATION PAGE CAN BE FOUND BY CLICKING RIGHT HERE- Just click on the SUPPORT THIS WRITER link.
You can purchase that first Muskoka Novel Marathon novel that I wrote in 2007 at AMAZON FOR A LITTLE OVER A DOLLAR. My only advice is that you listen to Leonard Cohen while you read. It helps to take you there!