I don’t know if this happens with all writers or not, but I’m not all writers. I firmly believe we each have to find our own way. There is no one path. There are, in fact, as many paths as there are people who write. The trick is to NOT fall into the belief that you must choose a path in order to write. Writing is meandering.
When I set out to write my upcoming release THE CAMINO CLUB, I did so with a goal. I also set out without a single solitary plan to help me achieve that final goal. I find that if I plan things, they basically don’t come to fruition. I get trapped in the details of the plan and my feet remain firmly in place, trapped in the quagmire of my own little labyrinth of ideas.
I need a leap of faith.
To say I didn’t plan the novel is not to say I didn’t put obstacles in my path to help me achieve the final goal. Of course I did. I threw myself into the original kernel of an idea, hoping (knowing) that it would eventually bear fruit.
I boarded a plane and I went to Spain.
I made things a bit of a fairy tale. I romanticized the idea and kept my eye on the prize. I sang little snippets of Elton John in my head while I watched reruns of Will & Grace on the little in-flight screen on the seat-back in front of me while we cruised over the Atlantic Ocean.
Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane
I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain
Oh and I can see Daniel waving goodbye
God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes
They say Spain is pretty, though I’ve never been
Well Daniel says it’s the best place that he’s ever seen
Oh and he should know, he’s been there enough
Lord I miss Daniel, oh I miss him so much
It was a long flight. And, hey…I was heading for Spain. I visualized the tail lights getting smaller and smaller in the distance and eventually fading away. But, hey! I was Daniel. I was heading to Spain with one goal. Walk across the country and see what happens, see if inspiration hit.
Although The Breakfast Club is now in a clump of 80s teen movies that are atrociously problematic, it’s also a movie from my teen years. We watched all the Brat Pack movies. We saw ourselves in some of the characters. We felt their angst.
I wanted to honor the good idea of The Breakfast Club, but supplant it into NOW. I wanted the bad kids to get together for more than a Saturday in a school library. I wanted them trapped with each other for a longer period of time, in a setting that was new and scary and, yes, even undesirable to most of them. I wanted them to be forced into depending on one another, actually getting to know one another. I envisioned The Breakfast Club where they don’t become shitty to each other the following Monday when they see each other in the school halls again and ignore each other or continue to bully each other and look down on each other.
I wanted to shake up the boundaries. The lesson of The Breakfast Club, at its heart, was a good one. Here’s Exhibit A:
The lesson is that we are not just one identifier. We can all be all the things. Not only do people sometimes only see us as one element of our own selves…our lowest common denominator, but sometimes that’s even how we see ourselves. But when we break the barriers and work together, we can find that we have more in common than we thought we did. It’s a struggle to pinpoint what qualifier you identify with when you only get to choose one. We are all a myriad of things, and we are always changing.
I wanted to put six teens into an inescapable situation where it was even a little bit possible that they would grow from the experience, walk away with meaningful memories and friendships.
But I didn’t know how to write the story. I only knew what I wanted it to look like when it was finished.
When I started my own Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, the path to the end of the novel sort of opened up to me while my feet moved steadily in the direction of Santiago de Compostela and the church at the end of the long walk across Spain.
Different people came into my life each day. They each had different lessons for me, different insights. I paid attention. Although I had planned on writing things down along the way–maybe even starting the novel–I didn’t. Something else began to happen. I became more and more immersed in a special culture that happens out there on the path to Santiago. I opened up. I blossomed. And all those around me began to open up also. Just as the fields of poppies exploded into an undulating sea of red, our hearts began to open and magic began to happen.
I met people on the Camino who made their way into my narrative. And I met people who magically had insights for the direction of my novel without having known my intentions to write it. Like the two sisters from the UK who had planned to take their two daughters on the Camino for a summer vacation. But they were walking with three teens, not just two. Obviously, I was a bit puzzled.
The women finally opened up to me about how they didn’t tell the one woman’s son he was going on the pilgrimage until he was at the airport. He had, in fact, envisioned a summer in his dark basement playing video games all day long…thrilled to be free of his mother and sister for a few weeks.
The two women laughed when they told this story, but in a conspiratorial guilty way. They explained how fit-to-be-tied the boy was when he discovered their evil plan. I couldn’t believe anyone would actually do something like that. The boy–who was practically skipping in the dirt up ahead of us as we walked and talked–had vowed to make the trip a living hell of misery for all four of the other pilgrims. And for a day he did just that. He made them regret life itself.
THIS is how I envisioned my juvenile delinquents. They would HATE the idea and they would kick and scream all the way to Spain. The women were telling me a story that was helping to fuel my vision. And what really played into my novel’s idea was what the women told me next…about what happened after that first miserable day of living on the road with a hostile teen-aged boy’s anger.
By day two the biggest fan of the Camino de Santiago in that whole group of five was the boy. He had forgotten about video games and the horrible ruse his mother and aunt had played on him. He had immersed himself fully into walking. He had begun to change and blossom. My idea was at least beginning to resemble actual real-life experience.
Then I met a man from France who turned out to be a surprise element in the story I would later tell. The man could hold court wherever he went. He was sort of like a pied piper on the Camino. When he spoke, other pilgrims gathered round, listened in, became a part of the conversation. At first, I didn’t immediately recognize that I needed someone like him in my story. HOW THE HELL could I justify having an old man in a young adult novel?! It would never work.
Then I thought about the Camino vibe. The whole THE CAMINO PROVIDES chant. You look for something, and the Camino delivers it to you. It happened all along the path. Everyone had a story about how they would think on something and somewhere along their day’s walking they would come up with an answer, a gift, a bit of wisdom. The Camino is a long chain that stretches across an entire country…and it’s a radio frequency. Once you’re on it, you’re tuned in. The camaraderie is strong, palpable. The Camino offered up this incredibly charismatic man named Claude to me. It was a gift. It was as though the Camino itself had whispered in my ear, “Here is one of your characters!”
My first reaction was, “YOU’RE CRAZY!” Until it made sense.
Just because Mr. Vernon was a steaming pile of shit who lost all respect, goodwill and kindness for the teenagers in his life, it didn’t mean all the adults in the world were like him. Some adults can be role models. And some can even learn from the teens in their lives. Claude was my Camino gift…one of many.
I came home from Spain with a full novel, unwritten. It would take me almost two years to even write the first word. But those two years were spent watching the movie of the novel form in my mind’s eye. It played out in a few different ways before I finally committed myself to set it in stone on paper. I hope I did a good job. I went in with the best of intentions and a whole lot of the Camino Spirit that I had come home with at the end of my own pilgrimage.
You can find out what happened to the 6 teens in my story on October 6th!
They all committed crimes. They all were given the choice of incarceration or the Get Out Of Jail Free card of participating in THE WALK program. They all either chose to walk the Camino, or were forced into this option by their parents. For the most part they went to Spain with bees in their bonnets, unhappy about losing a portion of their summer vacation to a stupid court appointment walk across a frigging county. I mean, yeah…Troy was happy about seeing a new country. But the rest were pretty much hostile.
THE CAMINO CLUB is told in three POVs, with alternating chapters. Diego, Shania, and Troy tell the story. But it’s all of their stories. Whether or not they ALL make it to the church in Santiago de Compostela remains to be seen. But they’re all in for the adventure of their lives.
This book came to me in a dream, the loveliest dream I ever had. In it, I walked across an entire country and I met the most beautiful of souls. My hope is that the story I created with the Camino backdrop strikes a chord with readers.
It worked this time around. I had a goal in mind and ZERO plan for how I would make it happen. I took a leap…a really big one. Writers…we need to have a lot of faith, don’t we? Sometimes we even need to take REALLY LONG walks before the story comes to us. I took a walk…and I hope you’ll take one with me…