GIVEAWAY!! The Camino Club is One Year Old Today!

It’s hard to believe that on this day ONE YEAR AGO the novel of my heart made its way into the pandemic world!

As Robbie Burns noted in his poem To a Mouse, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley.” or, translated, The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
We did not foresee a pandemic crashing in ahead of the release of The Camino Club. It certainly is interesting to launch a book in Covid Times…as I’m certain any author on the face of the earth could agree.
Still, we make do. We persevere. We soldier on. We do all the other sayings that get us through unsuspected and difficult times.
The Camino Club was published by DUET BOOKS, the YA imprint of INTERLUDE PRESS.
The Camino Club has had some great success in the year since it left my publisher’s loving embrace and was set free in the world. For one, it can now be found in roughly 500 of the world’s public libraries (and maybe even some school libraries?), including 10 of the branches in my own hometown of Toronto. I’m thrilled to see the reach it has had in the world beyond the nugget of an idea that it was as I walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Spain in May of 2014.
It was featured in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, KIRKUS REVIEWS, and BOOKLIST. All three gave it lovely reviews, of which I am extremely proud.
I’m thrilled to see that something that meant so much to me as I envisioned it, and worked so hard to bring its vision to life, was met with such positive energy in the world beyond its birth. Even if it was birthed into a world rife with major catastrophic uncertainty.
Today, on the 1 year anniversary of THE CAMINO CLUB‘s release, I’m hosting a GIVEAWAY for a paperback copy! Not just any paperback copy, but one with the little SILVER MEDAL award sticker on the front cover! The Camino Club won silver in the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for Teen Fiction!
Click the pic below to visit the IBPA announcement page:
The giveaway will take place on TWITTER. All you need to do is RETWEET my announcement or my PINNED TWEET to enter. A winner will be chosen randomly from those who retweet. Open to international entries. Retweet by OCT 12th, 2021 to enter.
Here’s a link to my pinned tweet that you have to RETWEET in order to enter: MY PINNED TWEET
Good luck! And if you don’t win, you can always pick up a copy WHEREVER books are sold.

To See What Isn’t There and to Take Away What You Can See – Editing Frustration Edition

As the universe is my witness, I did not foresee these difficulties! ~ Me, circa now.

The editing journey is quite often a TRIP. Never more so than when you need to make some massive changes in your manuscript…like, thematic changes! Whoa!

This is the case with my current WIP. I did not realize how hard it would be. When you see the way things are, you cannot easily see the other ways they could possibly be…when it comes to your own manuscript. You always see the story the way it is…and as you change it, the way it was. That original story acts like a ghost in your head…inserting itself damnably and relentlessly into the current rendition of the story.  It’s a seriously difficult situation to be in. Like, impossible. It’s hard to actualize something DIFFERENT once the story is down on paper. It takes the work of a magician, I think. And even when you make those changes, it’s hard to erase the past from your memory…and, at times, from the story itself.

That was convoluted. I apologize…but also the convoluted-ness of it helps to define the difficulty level I’m facing in re-writing this story. The original is not only haunting the revision stage…it is fighting for its life…it does not want to die.

 

This is how my editing process is going today. Writing is hard. Editing is hard. Revising is hard. The conundrum is that these things are also, in their turns, divine and divinely easy. Writing life is so bizarre. Do we make things difficult, or are they inherently difficult.

I just need the ghosts of this current WIP to die already, to allow me to move forward with another version of this story. Like, just shut up! I have deadlines, and you’re not making my work any easier by sticking around and staying in my head and refusing to be deleted.

That is all.

Except also, preorder my upcoming novel BOOK OF DREAMS so I can feel like I’m still propelling myself forward with this writer thing. Just click on this highlighted paragraph to preorder.

 

 

Sip Sip Bang Bang!

Let’s talk about SIP SIP BANG BANG for a moment, shall we! Sip Sip is the new novel coming next week from the wonderful DANIKA STONE, author of INTERNET FAMOUS, ALL THE FEELS, and, SWITCHBACK, to name a few.

I had the absolute pleasure of reading this coffee shop hostage crisis meet-cute romance this past summer. To say I devoured this book like I would a grande double-shot Blonde Vanilla Latte with a twist of lemon would be an understatement of monumental proportions! I absolutely LOVED it and would recommend it to anyone.

Here’s the synopsis for SIP SIP:

College student Haylee Campos is living the New York dream. She’s landed an impressive publishing internship at Folio-Echo, made great friends, and is finally starting to feel at home in the city. At work, Haylee spends her time putting out fires and, of course, making the occasional coffee run to Caffeine, the shop across the street. In spite of her mother’s worries, Haylee’s life is practically a Taylor Swift song. Until she gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.Trapped in Caffeine by a group of rogue criminals, Haylee and Carter (the super hot barista whose inability to get her order right is what landed Haylee in this situation in the first place!) must rely on their extensive knowledge of action movies in order to save themselves and the other café customers. But time is running out…

Haylee is a force to be reckoned with in this fast paced new adult thrill-ride…just the hero I was looking for! If you want to pre-order this novel, you’ll have to do so soon…because time is running out!

My Blurb for Sip Sip Bang Bang by Danika Stone…

SIP SIP BANG BANG lands in bookstores (and wherever books are sold) on TUESDAY OCTOBER 5th. Pre-order your copy today!

AMAZON USA

AMAZON CANADA

Put SIP SIP BANG BANG on your Goodreads Shelf!

Give Danika a follow on TWITTER & INSTAGRAM while you’re at it!

SIP SIP BANG BANG is coming atcha Tuesday October 5th! It’s Die Hard at a trendy coffee shop with a sweet romance and a kick-ass heroine who possibly puts John McClane to shame.

sip sip…

bang bang…

More Camino Books – LGBTQ Representation Included

As part of my Camino de Santiago obsession, I devour books set on the Camino is much as I can. I prefer nonfiction travel memoir, but I also read the odd fiction book using the Camino as its setting.

A month ago, I would have said, “Yeah, representation matters. But it’s not everything. I can read non LGBTQ works too.” And, yeah…obviously I can still read non LGBTQ works. I do so often. But after reading two Camino de Santiago travel memoirs in a row that are from LGBTQ perspectives, I realize that it does matter…and more than I thought it did. It was an absolute delight to find these two books.

When we last walked the Camino back in September of 2019, we saw some signs of LGBTQ pilgrims…but we also came across intolerance at these signs. There is ALWAYS graffiti along the Camino. I seldom have a problem with graffiti overall. It can actually be quite artistic and beautiful…this is especially true along the Camino. But also…it seems like some people just carry markers as part of their pilgrim experience. They mark everything in their path from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela.

Some of the graffiti we found on the Camino the last time around was the rainbow kind. The calling card of LGBTQ+ members. At first, it was rather touching to see it. Awwww…how nice! But then…

Soon…every rainbow we came to had the words STRAIGHT PRIDE written inside of it.

I was thrilled to have found 2 LGBTQ pilgrims’ books in a row! I read them both over the course of the past couple of weeks and LOVED each of them!

First, though, let me step backward for a minute. The author of one of my FAVOURITE Camino books pointed me toward the first LGBTQ Camino memoir I read, so I’d like to shout out them first for helping me find my way to these new books.

Walking to the End of the World: A Thousand Miles on the Camino de Santiago by BETH JUSINO. Still one of my ultimate favourite Camino books!

It was Beth Jusino who first mentioned TRAIL MIX to me. Beth reviewed an ARC of the book prior to its release. I was so glad to have found it! You can check out Beth’s incredible Camino memoir, Walking to the End of the World: A Thousand Miles on the Camino de Santiago, by clicking on the picture above.

Now, the 2 LGBTQ Camino Memoirs…


Trail Mix: 920km on the Camino de Santiago by Jules Torti (2021, Rocky Mountain Books)

A rollicking travel memoir that invites the curious, the initiated, and even the skeptics to tag along on the ever-changing landscape of “The Way”’

For many, walking the Camino is a decision predictably triggered by death, divorce, or a career crisis. It’s not Everest and it ain’t no walk in the park, but the Camino ‘family’ continues to inexplicably grow. In 2018 alone, 327,342 pilgrims were received at the pilgrim office in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Pilgrims worldwide are attracted to the gilded mystery and hope of the Camino. Like the Ouija board, magic 8-ball and Ann Landers, it surreptitiously provides answers.

There is snoring. Sleep apnea. Threadbare patience. Frayed nerves. Sour socks. A lot of salami. Shifting from a walk-in closet to a walking closet of just 10 pounds, Jules and Kim decided to walk the historic Camino before their lower backs (or any other body parts) decided otherwise. Jules learned all the essential Spanish they’d need — luckily everything that was necessary ended in ‘o’: vino tinto (red wine), queso (cheese), corto (small beer), chorizo (sausage), baño (bathroom). Trail Mix is the open, frank, and funny story of one Canadian couple voted most unlikely to agree to such a daunting social experience.

This book was a delight to read. Torti’s memoir was rife with humor. I really enjoyed her quirky eye and it was amazing to see the Camino through her often comedic lens. She walked the Camino with her partner, Kim. There’s actually a proposal along the way. As with all Camino memoirs, the couple meet colorful characters along the path and get into some pretty amusing predicaments. It has some laugh out loud moments in it. Like many pilgrims, Jules & Kim walk beyond Santiago de Compostela to Muxía and Finisterre…the end of the world. It was a surprise bonus to read a Camino memoir from a member of the LGBTQ+ community. It made me wonder if there were any others out there.
CLICK HERE TO PICK UP YOUR COPY OF TRAIL MIX.


Overweight, undertrained and terrified: A Camino Diary by Connor O’Donoghue (2017, Self-Published)

This is the entertaining and sometimes inspirational story of one morbidly obese 35-year-old Irishman who decides to walk 708 kilometres across the Camino de Santiago, an ancient Christian pilgrimage in Northern Spain one summer. On the journey, he faces a variety of physical and mental obstacles. The book is written in diary format, at turns poignant and funny in a light, pacey style.

I absolutely loved this book, for many reasons. The humour, sometimes delivered in very poignant ways and sometimes off the cuff, had me in stitches. It was a page-turner, as the author had me deeply invested in the will-he-make-it narrative. I don’t know if I ever championed the goals of a hero in a novel as deeply as I hoped Connor would make it to Santiago de Compostela at the end of this book. No spoiler alerts here…if you want to find out if our hero walks into Santiago, you’ll have to pick up a copy! With a lovable and endearing narrator, this book will hold your attention all the way to the end. Also…it was refreshing to read a Camino retelling from a fellow LGBTQ perspective. I’d have no problem recommending this book to Camino enthusiasts and memoir enthusiasts alike. As a fellow Camino de Santiago pilgrim, I particularly enjoyed O’Donoghue’s gentle roasting of the God of the Camino. No, I don’t mean St. James. I’m referring to John Brierley here…the creator of the Camino’s most used guidebook. This was an excellent quick read!

CLICK HERE TO PICK UP YOUR COPY OF OVERWEIGHT, UNDERTRAINED AND TERRIFIED.

PREORDER MY UPCOMING YA NOVEL — BOOK OF DREAMS!!

My next young adult novel, BOOK OF DREAMS, is now available for PREORDER!

Release Date: May 24, 2022

Synopsis:

Gaige’s curiosity gets the better of him when he discovers a bookstore on an abandoned street where no bookstore should be. He steps inside and is immediately enthralled by its antiquarian sights and smells. But one book in particular calls to him. It isn’t long before he gets a bad feeling about it, but it’s already too late. The store’s aged bookseller gives him no alternative: once he touches the book, it’s his—whether he wants it or not. It’s bought and paid for and there are no returns. The book leads Gaige on a horrific descent into the unknown. As he falls into the depths of its pages, he loses blocks of time, and his friends become trapped inside ancient cellars with seemingly no means of escape. Gaige soon learns that the ancient bookseller is a notorious serial killer from the previous century, and fears that he has fallen into a predicament from which he may not escape. When all seems lost, he finds the one person he can turn to for help—Mael, a sweet boy also trapped inside the book who didn’t fall for the bookseller’s tricks. Together, they race against time to protect Gaige from joining a long string of boys who vanished without a trace inside the Book of Dreams.

Book of Dreams is a bit of a horror/contemporary mix. It’s being published by Duet Books, the YA imprint of Interlude Press. This is the same publisher that published my last novel, The Camino Club. They will also be publishing my YA contemporary, Where is Ethan Sinclair, in 2023.

LINKS TO PREORDER BOOK OF DREAMS:

If ebooks are your thing, BOOK OF DREAMS is now available for preorder at both AMAZON USA/AMAZON CANADA and KOBO USA/KOBO CANADA (It’s on preorder at all the Amazon and Kobo countries)!!

One of my early readers shared a doodle they created while reading Book of Dreams. He has given me permission to share it…I really adore it. It’s such a simple sketch, and it perfectly gets the vibe! Of course I’m going to share it here again…

Original Artwork by Jarom Verdonk – Artist’s rendition of Jack Chalek, the villain in BOOK OF DREAMS.

 

When you visit a site to preorder your copy, you’ll still see the following placeholder cover:

Rest assured, the final cover will be phenomenal! I’m still overwhelmed by the beauty of the cover for my last novel, The Camino Club! Never has a cover been so perfectly matched to one of my stories. I have super high hopes for Book of Dreams!

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY!

 

September Update – What’s Goin’ On – Writing Life Edition

Every September I typically do a catch all post about what’s going on. I guess I should do that now, seeing as we’re taking a little mini-getaway for a few days.

I recently handed in the completed young adult novel BOOK OF DREAMS and I’m feverishly working on my next novel WHERE IS ETHAN SINCLAIR. Both books are contracted. BOOK OF DREAMS is forthcoming from DUET BOOKS, the YA imprint of INTERLUDE PRESS. It will drop in 2022. WHERE IS ETHAN SINCLAIR is forthcoming from the same publisher and will drop in 2023.

Duet/Interlude is also the publisher of my most recent novel, THE CAMINO CLUB. It was truly my biggest work of passion to date. It was my Chef’s Kiss to my love of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain. Earlier this year, THE CAMINO CLUB took the honor of SILVER WINNER in the Independent Book Publishers Association‘s BENJAMIN FRANKLIN BOOK AWARD for TEEN FICTION. I actually just received the certificate and stickers from my publisher yesterday. Here’s a copy of my novel with a newly affixed sticker below (you can click on the photo to go to the IBPA website)!

So my September roundup news is that I’m plowing away at finishing my ninth novel as the deadline rapidly approaches. And, we’re also planning and scheming and dreaming and hoping and praying for our upcoming (OCTOBER) trip to PARIS, FRANCE! We had planned to travel there in 2020, but as Robbie Burns said…”The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!” or, you know, ‘The best laid schemes of mice and men, Go often askew, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!’ In early 2020 the mice and men occupying this great orb of ours were put on a bit of a standstill. We got just about as askew as we could get. Though we’re not out of the woods quite yet, the two of us thought we’d try to do some pandemic times travel. With 35 days to go until liftoff, it is yet to be determined if our best laid plans will go askew this time around.

If and when we get to Paris, there will be much note taking. I have a new novel mapped out and wanted to revisit Paris to get all the details ironed out. It’s a meet-cute set in Paris and I wanted to be a stickler with the setting. The novel has been on hold since the pandemic crushed the aforementioned mice and men. I will be talking more about this book in the future, as it progresses.

I think that’s all I have going on in my writing world…two books coming out and one on hold. Not bad, I guess.

My one and only Pandemmy setting offering is a short story from DUET BOOKS/INTERLUDE PRESS. BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL HEARTS is available now. It’s the story of two nonbinary teens who find each other on Instagram and fall in love during the lockdown. You can pick it up HERE.

I feel like I really have nothing to report. Funny how that doesn’t quite align with the truth, though. I mean, I guess having two books contracted for release is a big thing. As the release dates get closer, I’m sure I’ll be more excited about things. For now, I’m in the trenches…I can’t quite see the publication forest for the writing and editing trees. Here’s some artwork from an early reader of BOOK OF DREAMS, though. I love this stark piece…it captures the creepy bookstore owner in the story quite nicely. It’s a good representation of the book’s dark aesthetic!

Original Artwork by Jarom Verdonk – Artist’s rendition of Jack Chalek, the villain in BOOK OF DREAMS.

OH! And I almost forgot! September is also the MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON WRAP PARTY! We usually attend this event in Huntsville, Ontario. Sadly, it’s another Zoom event. Ugh. But it also means it’s easier to get to. September 25th is the day the awards will be handed out. I did not enter a novel into this year’s BEST NOVEL AWARD contest. I was busy finishing BOOK OF DREAMS, so that’s how I used my time. To enter the contest, you have to have written the entire book AT the marathon. I used the time to work on reaching the deadline to submit the finished manuscript to my publisher, so my manuscript didn’t qualify. The amount raised for this annual fundraising event will also be announced at the wrap party. You can learn more about the marathon at the link at the beginning of this run-on paragraph. 🙂

Onward to the end of this shit-storm of a year, I guess. May 2022 be far more pleasing to both the eye and the palate.

PS: If you’re in CANADA, don’t forget to VOTE. But don’t vote PPC or CPC because that would be bad. We don’t want to vote HATE into power, thank you very much.

When Paris is Possible – A Journal of Paris…

When I want to manifest something, I first bring it to life on my blog. For those paying attention, I always do this. I’ve become predictable, even.

Sometimes these notions I have first appear in my Twitter feed. And then I feel the need to solidify them by writing about them on my blog. It’s called accountability and it’s a way to hold myself to task. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Dollarama has such cute journals!

This is how my last novel, The Camino Club came about. At first, I dreamed it. Then I tweeted about my idea. And then, while I was preparing to walk my first Camino in 2014, I blogged about it. It was a kernel of an idea. So in order to hold myself accountable, I put out into the world that I would write a YA novel set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage path.

That novel was published by Duet Books, the YA imprint of Interlude Press, in 2020. Ask me about launching a book during a pandemic. You know what, on second thought…don’t ask me. Nobody should have to do that!

Anyway, I’m also famous for digressing. Today I want to hold myself accountable for a new idea.

My dream this time is to release a journal of our upcoming short trip to Paris. It will only be a week in Paris…but a week is enough if you’re fast of your toes. Paris is a moveable feast. But it’s also a well constructed easily traversed city that’s perfectly laid out for the hiker and consummate walker. That happens to be what Michael and I are. We will take that city by storm, one footstep at a time…and we will cover it all!

And I will keep a daily journal. And if all goes according to plan, I will publish it. The only other thing I ever self-published was my short story set on the Camino called Light Near the End of the World. So this will be my 2nd journey into that world.

My short story set on the Camino.

I don’t have a plan, but I will write about the places we visit in Paris and how we got to those places. And I will write about food and restaurants and cafes and macarons and baguettes. I will cover everything that strikes my fancy. We’ll see how this goes.

I will probably start writing in the journal before I even get to Paris. This will be a personal account of ONE JOURNEY. We’re traveling during a pandemic and we’re getting to Paris via Iceland. I mean, anything can happen, right? We’ll see if we get there…and if and when we do, I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about.

I’m ready. With my Dollarama journal and the lovely bookmark I picked up somewhere along the way as its traveling companion, I will take notes on our Parisienne travels.

I hope this goes well! I’m so passionate about Paris. It appears in many of my short stories, and I am also currently writing a YA novel that takes place there. Wrapped somewhere in the reasoning for returning to Paris–one of my favourite cities in the world–is the excuse of doing some extra research for my novel in progress. But honestly, I just love it there so much. I want Michael to see it…and I want to see it again for the first time, through his eyes.

My Paris journal, with a Camino bookmark I received with an Etsy purchase.

Just over 40 days before our departure. Let’s hope the Delta Variant doesn’t keep us from our already postponed (we originally planned Paris for September, 2020) trip to the beautiful city of light!

The Light Here Makes it Real

A short story set in, surprise, Paris. For your isolation consumption…

The Light Here Makes it Real

They talk about the light here as though it were some great shakes,” Reeny says. “The light in Paris. The light in Paris.”

She takes a sip of her latte and lets the cup drop noisily back onto its saucer. “But they never mention the rats, do they? Not when Ted and I lived here. Not in the brochures, not in the movies I’ve seen, and not in the books I’ve read. Not a goddamned rat among the lot of them. Not one. Cripes.”

You can find all the bad bits if you look hard enough, Reen,” I say. “But are the rats really bothering you? They’re just wandering about the shrubbery, going about their business. Don’t look. Ignore them.”

I know my reply doesn’t help, but Reeny is exhausting at the best of times. She gave up on Paris before we even reached our taxi at the airport two days ago. She’ll never see its beauty. Not again, anyway. Not after Ted. “Every city in the world has its bad bits, Reeny. But if you squint, they disappear. That’s when the light gets in.”

Christ, Annie,” she spits. “You sound like a brochure. Are they paying you to say this crap?” She swipes at a tear and sighs. As usual, she’s unwavering in her ability to hold onto negativity and sadness. In Reeny’s eyes, it would be wasteful to abandon these anchors that keep pulling her back down into the abyss. They’re character building, and she’s under reconstruction.

I can see Notre-Dame Cathedral from where I sit here on the corner of Rue Saint-Louis en L’ile and Rue Jean du Bellay. It sits just beyond the little bridge. We’re at the same cafe table where we began our day yesterday. Croissants, latte, orange juice and biscuits. Reeny will probably have the same breakfast every morning. She does not stray far from what she immediately becomes comfortable and familiar with.

I’ll give her today, but come tomorrow I will order on my own. I will choose whatever strikes my fancy on the menu and I’ll ignore the raised eyebrow of consternation she delivers. We’re on vacation. I will not conform to her demands here. Not in Paris, of all places. Paris is a feast and I shall partake, come what may.

Who flies a goddamned kite in the city, anyway?” Reeny says, seemingly out of the blue. It takes me a moment to locate her point of reference. A crimson red dragon with an impossibly long tail floats above the buildings in the narrow streets across from the cathedral.

It’s lovely,” I say, smiling at the whimsy of the dragon as it dances in the clear blue morning sky.

They’re asking for trouble,” she says, looking at it scornfully. “It’ll get stuck in the trees, or wrapped around a pole. The string’s bound to be cut. They’ll lose it forever. The end.”

My heavens, Reeny,” I say. I take the last swill of my orange juice and wipe my mouth with my white linen napkin. “You’re being so negative. We’re in Paris. We should try to enjoy our time here.”

I’ve never been accused of being negative before,” she says. I guffaw, but immediately regret it.

What?” she asks, astounded that I would be amused by her statement. “What did I say?”

Reeny Persaud, come on now. I’ve known you since grade school and I have called you out on your negativity for a good forty years now. Negativity is at your very foundation. It’s the very core of you.”

She begins to pout but can’t keep a straight face for long. A smile begins to form on the outskirts of her mouth and she gives in and allows it to blossom. I return the smile and add a wink.

Ooh. You make me so angry, Annie. Why are you the only one who can manipulate my emotions like this? I want to bask in my misery. God, I hate you sometimes.” She laughs.

Come on,” I say, tossing my napkin at her. “We’re done here. We’ve wasted enough time on breakfast, if that’s what you want to call it. Let’s get out into this beautiful day before it’s gone. A day in Paris is worth a week anywhere else in the world.”

I question your math, but okay. Please remember, though. I’m in mourning. I’m allowed to be moody. I’m allowed to wallow. Please don’t take that away from me.”

Understood,” I say as I rise from the table and leave a couple Euro under my saucer for a tip. “But I’ll not have you disparaging innocent kites and wishing them dead. I’ll call you out every time you try to kill a kite, my friend. Their only crimes are dancing in the wind and looking pretty.”

Stop being so bubbly,” Reeny says. She looks down at the table and then back at me. “You do know you’re not supposed to tip in Europe, don’t you?”

I’m sure the money will assuage their contempt at my breach in etiquette. Let’s go, Reen. It’s looking very much like a Montmartre kind of day.”

***

We take the Metro to Abbesses Station. I hope I’m right in assuming Reeny and Ted didn’t spend a lot of time in Montmartre while they lived here. I’m trying not to pour more salt on the wounds I opened up for Reeny yesterday by taking her to Luxembourg Gardens and the Tuileries. These places meant far too much to her and Ted. They carry too many memories. My hope is that Montmartre is safer ground to cover.

As we climb up out of the underground, Reeny confirms my suspicions. She looks around as we climb the steps to street level. Her smile is a good sign.

Believe it or not, I haven’t been back here since our senior year class trip,” she says. She points to the sign above the steps that reads Metropolitain. “Remember when Rob Kenner tossed Cheryl Demsey’s sweater up over that sign?”

I do. It was hilarious until we all realized nobody could reach it. My God, Ms. Dubois was furious. ‘Merde, merde!’

I learned a couple French curses that day,” Reeny says. “Thank God for the horrendous clown on stilts who took pity on us and saved Cheryl’s sweater. With her theatrics, it was almost an international incident.”

Ha,” I say. “Absolutely.”

So what exactly are we doing in Montmartre, anyway?”

Well,” I say as I lead her off in the right direction. “I thought we’d begin with Sacré-Cœur and end up somewhere near that pretty pink restaurant and stop there for something to eat. It’s such a lovely place.”

La Maison Rose. Ooh. It’s been a while since I was a tourist in Paris. I always wanted to dine at La Maison Rose. We only got to walk past it with the class.”

That’s the spirit, baby girl,” I say. I can feel my shoulders relax a little and I realize just how tense with worry my whole body had been. I’m relieved she’s gradually stepping into this day willingly. Perhaps things are looking up. “It’s a ten minute walk. We’ll be there in no time.”

We walk in silence for several minutes, quickly finding a pace that works for both of us. She slows down a bit and I speed up as much as my bad knee will allow.

I just realized we’ll be looking down at the city once we get to the cathedral. We’ll see everything spread out before us.”

That’s kind of the point, sweetie,” I say. I turn to look at her and catch her swiping tears from her eyes. I rest a supportive hand on her shoulder, but say nothing more.

It’s just…It’s our city. It’ll always be our city. I’m not sure it was a good idea to come back so soon after…”

She trails off, but she doesn’t need to finish for me to know what she was going to say. So soon after cancer, after death, after loss. Perhaps this entire trip was ill-planned. I just thought that being in the place she loved the most in all the world would somehow bring her closer to Ted, while at the same time miraculously helping her to let go. I’m a bad friend.

We continue to walk in the direction of the cathedral. She manages this mini breakdown while walking, at least.

Sweetie,” I say, “I know it’s hard. Remember, I’ve been through this kind of loss with Steven. I know what you’re going through. And I know it takes a long time to find a new normal. Believe me when I say I understand. You still wake up wanting him in your life so badly, you think about staying in bed and giving up. I get it, I really do. It’s been eleven months. I just thought seeing these places would make you feel closer to him. I’m sorry. I thought Paris would be difficult, of course. But I also thought it would give you some sort of peace. I thought you would feel his presence here, in a good way.”

I do, Annie, I do,” she says. She’s trying. “Ted’s definitely everywhere here. We spent three whole years living in Paris together. It changed us. Of course I see him in every shop, on every corner. But I’m grateful we’re doing this. I, just…I can’t believe it’s been almost a year. I remember when he first got sick, how I couldn’t imagine living my life without him. I do get that you know how it feels. Being here is just so overwhelming. It’s bringing back a past reality that no longer exists.”

We’re almost there,” I say. I guide Reeny across a narrow street and point off into the distance. “We can turn up this street, I believe, and come up on the church from the back end.”

She allows herself to be led, allows me to take her hand and lead the way.

It’s overwhelming,” she repeats.

I know. Maybe it’s good that we’re here. Maybe the places in which you find him will help you in some small way.”

Maybe,” Reeny says. We look at each other. Her eyes are damp and I feel helpless. Hopeless. “How do you feel about Montreal, Annie?”

That’s not fair, Reeny.”

I don’t mean it in a bad way, sweetie. This is not a competition on mourning. But it’s hard for you to go to Montreal, is it not?”

Absolutely. But I also love seeing the patio where Steven spilled the plate of spaghetti and meatballs down the front of his white button-up. Or the place where my heel snapped off between two cobbles and Steven helped me hobble to the closest shop to buy flats. I love smelling that particular sweet pungency of the Quartier Latin, and how nowhere else in the world smells the same. I love the way—”

Okay, okay,” Reeny says. She laughs and it sounds as lovely as Paris rain. “I get it. And, yes, I feel the same way. Why, the only reason I attacked that kite earlier was because I had a momentary tinge of happiness remembering a kiss Ted and I shared on that bridge by Notre-Dame. You know the one, where they have all those ridiculously infuriating love locks now.”

Reeny Persaud, you take that back. They’re not ridiculous. Love is not ridiculous, especially in Paris. L’amour n’est pas ridicule. Did I get that right? Just, how dare you! Those locks are precious.”

Okay, okay. You’re really keeping me on a short leash today. Precious, indeed. But that kiss, that day. It was perfection, Annie. We spent hours upstairs at Shakespeare and Company. You’re only allowed to read the books up there, you know. Ted found one that enthralled him. We sat on one of those horrid little benches that, if you patted it, the dust motes would rise and fill the air. It was wondrous.”

I guide her past the final turn and the back of the cathedral looms before us. I slow our pace, because it’s good that she’s talking, remembering, reliving.

I leaned into his shoulder and daydreamed about nothing while he sat reading, turning pages like it was a marathon he wanted to win. And after, we were crossing the Seine and stopped in the middle of that bridge to take it all in. Like we were tourists in love with the light. Like we hadn’t lived in the neighbourhood for two years already.

Paris is like that. You go about your daily life, forgetting its beauty. You just live. Then one day you see it, you sigh and think to yourself, Mon Dieu. C’est trop belle. My God. It’s too beautiful.

We stop walking and face each other. We both smile, but Reeny’s expression holds a pain so deep it wounds me.

Yes,” I finally say. It comes out as a whisper. I move to wipe a tear from Reeny’s eye and she allows me to do so.

Look at me,” she says, laughing. “I’m a mess.”

This is a good mess, Reen.”

The thing is, it’s never too beautiful. Beauty hurts because it’s supposed to hurt. But it’s a good hurt. A hurt that brings deeper love.”

She’s lost her train of thought. She attempts to find the thread while I think of the kite and hope it made it through the morning intact. Reeny will find her way back, if I give her enough time. We begin to walk alongside the cathedral. As we approach the vista at the front that opens up onto the entire city of Paris, she lets out a deep breath.

The thing about that day, Annie,” she begins as we continue onward. “On that particular day, we sighed at the same time. We both fell in love with the beauty of the city at the same precise moment. Ted turned to me and he said exactly what I was thinking. He said, ‘The light here makes it real.’”

I put my arm around her as we stop at the top of the stairs and prepare to turn our gaze onto the city below.

He was talking about the city, yes,” Reeny says. “But he was also talking about us, about our love, our life, our world. We kissed. By then I already knew I’d love him forever. But that day, the way we fell into sync so perfectly. The way the city re-bloomed for us. The way the light hit the Seine, and the cathedral, and the trees. That was my one perfect moment. You only get one.”

And I’m sure it was his too,” I say, because I don’t know what else to say. I know she’s avoided looking at the panoramic view so far. “Ready to see this?”

I take her hand in mine and squeeze. We smile at each other and she shrugs. We turn to take in the city. Reeny looks at it for several minutes in silence before turning back to face me. Tears course down her cheeks.

That’s the thing about Paris, Annie,” she says. Her sides hitch as she attempts to keep her composure long enough to complete her thought. “The light here. It makes everything real.”

THE END

Featuring More Camino YouTube Vlogs! Lonesome Drifter and LivDeeper10x

So, every once in a while I like to recommend Camino vlogs. I’m addicted to watching them, and now and then I find one that I really enjoy. When I fall for one in particular, it’s always about the people.

Here are two more YouTube channels I recently discovered that I think are worth taking a look at.

GET LOST WITH THE LONESOME DRIFTER & LIVDEEPER 10X

I’ve been on a viewing hiatus, as I’ve been on deadline with TWO (not one, but two) upcoming novel releases. Discovered the Lonesome Drifter prior to my hiatus, but haven’t yet given his channel a plug here yet. I discovered LivDeeper just this week…taking a break between one novel and the next.

The Lonesome Drifter is a quirky likeable guy. I really enjoyed his trek across Spain, from Pamploma to Santiago de Compostela and onward to Finisterre. He did most of the Camino Frances, so his playlist will take a while to get through (over 3hrs, I believe)…but worth every minute. There is something about solo pilgrims on the journey that I find intriguing in a vlog. The drifter’s personality made it a treat to sit through his journey. Here’s his FULL CAMINO PLAYLIST.

LivDeeper is a couple. And their rapport was IMMEDIATELY endearing. They have such a great chemistry together. This one is a quick view, as it’s a 6 day journey. They cover a portion of the Portuguese Way, beginning their journey in Tui, Spain…after the crossover from Portugal to Spain on that route. At the time of this posting, their last addition to the 6 vlog playlist was 2 days ago when they arrived in Santiago de Compostela. As the playlist is entitled AROUND THE WORLD, I’m thinking they may still add to it. I see they’re off to Ireland. I also like catching vlog personalities when the Camino is just a stop on their travel adventure vlog. As much as it may seem that I believe the Camino to be the world’s only travel destination…I’m definitely open to exploring other spots. (-: Here’s their FULL CAMINO PLAYLIST.

Now, back to my deadlines! I have publisher commitments! One more novel to complete. Must. Stop. Looking. At. YouTube!

Updates from the Edge – Worldbuilding Zone Edition

Today, I am almost to the end of a very complex (for me, the creator) story. It’s a story I had contracted just a couple of weeks ago…to my favourite LGBTQ publisher, no less.

The thing that makes it complex is the thing that takes it out of my usual lane. Truth/Confession: I am NOT a worldbuilder. I do my best to navigate my stories through the contemporary non-shifting non-magical world of now. Sometimes, to be honest, even that’s a struggle.

Contrary to popular belief, writing doesn’t always come easy. Throw into the mix the fact that I like to shift lanes and expand my comfort zone and I often find myself in over my head.

This manuscript is one of those times, indeed.

But I have persevered. My first chapter told me this was going to be a story outside my comfort zone. I still buckled in, knowing it would be a hard–but not unrewarding–ride.

I’m closing in on an ending now…after trudging my way through a mile of worldbuilding complications and learning moments. The fact that my publisher offered a contract on the novel after reading the first third was the fuel I needed to edit the second third and complete the last third. Also, deadlines help!

Fast forward to earlier this week and I find myself with an appointment with a WORLDBUILDING CONSULTANT. Or maybe a WORLDBUILDING AUDITOR. Yeah…auditor. That’s it. My son-in-law has offered to do a reading of the manuscript for me…with particular attention to worldbuilding. I still have time to make corrections/edits/rewrites before my deadline, so I thought it was a timely lifesaving offer. I’m definitely going to take him up on it.

During the course of the conversation, he also laid down some knowledge when he said there’s NO GROWING IN A COMFORT ZONE AND NO COMFORT IN A GROWING ZONE. I mean, yeah…I get the concept, but I don’t think I ever saw it laid out so BOOM…there. If it’s a popular saying, it’s one that has, until now, escaped my radar. I definitely needed to hear it. Man, have I been outside my comfort zone on this one!

So…stay tuned. I might just make my deadline on this horror novel I’ve had contracted with Duet Books, the YA imprint of Interlude Press. And I have a worldbuilding doctor on hand to give it a pre-submission check up. Pandemic aside, things are going well.

Happy Writing or Editing or Worldbuilding or Whatever it is you’re doing these days. Push those boundaries. Comfort zones are nice, but sometimes tedious. It’s a false lull. Change lanes and see what happens…

Book of Dreams