Write What You Don’t Write & MNM Brain

I woke up this morning with Writer Instructor dialogue running through my thoughts. I notice this phenomenon ratcheting up as the yearly Muskoka Novel Marathon slowly approaches. This is the time when I truly begin to think about the writing process in general and the upcoming MNM novel in particular. I become this super coach who prepares a team of ONE for a marathon that does not involve any form of running, jogging or walking.

This morning I woke up thinking about all the stuff the writer has to do to learn about their characters, their plots, their settings, their universes. We have to write the stuff down that we don’t use in our story. I’m not talking about the stuff we’ll sneak in as the dreaded INFO DUMP. I’m not really talking about backstory, even, even though I am. I know that doesn’t make sense on the surface, but trust me…it makes sense.

Backstory, in general, is stuff you sprinkle into your story for the reader—stuff they discover about the characters’ pasts. Their motivations, their goals, etc, etc, etc. BUT—there’s another kind of backstory the WRITER should think about. Yes, there are motivational epiphanies we should share with our readers. That’s obvious. But there’s a whole life behind every character we create. Have you ever thought about writing out memories and experiences the characters have that have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE STORY YOU’RE WRITING? I mean, HAVE YOU? Because you should.

This is not a new concept, even for me. But it is one I keep going back to. I wrote an article for a writing newsletter once upon a time about diary entries. It’s now on my blog and for some reason it’s one of my most popular posts. People come to it by these bizarre Google searches about writing and diaries and characters and the like. I linked the blog post above…and I might be repeating myself today.

The backstory you give your characters stays inside you and you remember it as you’re navigating your way through your story. You become an expert on what your characters would or wouldn’t do, how they would or wouldn’t react based on this backstory. And again—I’m not talking about the backstory you feed your readers. I’m talking about the backstory ONLY YOU KNOW. So, the more you explore the people you create, the more you know them…the more you intuitively know their path through the story you create. This is why I spend a lot of time this time of year in developing my people for my  Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. We 40 writers get together for a long weekend in July and we all attempt to write a novel in 72 hours. I like to know who my characters are before I leap into that kind of an abyss.

Now, you can write their unseen-by-any-readers-ever backstory on paper or on your word processor, OR you can just chew away at it in your own little head. Either way works. The more stories you create about their past, the more it helps you to predict their future. And the future is the arc in which they travel through your novel. By setting up these pre-story lives as much as possible, you are doing a kind of homework that would otherwise be impossible. Even if you ‘practice’ with these characters for a hundred pages and then toss it away…those hundred pages are not wasted words. They are a foundation on which you can build the first sentence of your novel, and the second and the third.

For me, this works. Especially since I hit the ground running on a Friday evening and attempt to walk away on a Monday evening with a fully written first draft novel. I need every edge I can get.

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Random photo because I wanted to add something to look at. There’s a magical place along the Camino de Santiago where you get to walk through vineyards and it’s gorgeous. Here’s a peek.

Do yourself a favour and try this. Write situations, scenes, memories with your potential characters. Form a backstory for them that you will NEVER use in your finished work. Get to know them. They’ll pay you back in spades when you’re deep in the heart of your novel and trying to decide what your character will do next. If you know your character, you know how they’ll choose to move forward in your story…

Happy writing!

HERE’S MY AUTHOR PAGE ON THE MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON WEBSITE. YOU CAN CLICK ON THE SUPPORT THIS WRITER BUTTON TO BE TAKEN TO MY DONATION PAGE…BECAUSE THE MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON IS NOT ONLY A 72 HOUR NOVEL WRITING MARATHON, BUT IT’S ALSO A FUNDRAISER FOR LITERACY PROGRAMS. WE’RE WRITERS HELPING READERS.

Sling Some Ink in Paris this Fall with Inkslingers!

Right off the top, I want to let you know I am NOT affiliated with Inkslingers in any way (nor am I being incentivized to mention them). I JUST BELIEVE IN THEM AND IN WHAT THEY DO! I wanted to give them a quick shout-out today because Sue Reynolds and James Dewar are incredible writing instructors and you would do well to spend some time with them if you’re looking to ignite your writing life.

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Picture is mine, but I checked the itinerary – Montmartre is on the itinerary…and it’s where this lovely and iconic pink restaurant is located.

Click the ink bottle below to go directly to the INKSLINGER website:

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Sue Reynolds was one of my first contacts with the WCDR. In my early days in the organization, I attended a writing group led by Sue at the Uxbridge Library. It really served to kick-start the writing life I was bursting to slip into. She and James Dewar (another writing mentor who did a lot to boost my love of poetry) are leading a writing retreat in beautiful PARIS this fall. Although, sadly, I will be missing it…it REALLY is something you should consider doing for your writing life. Both Sue and James are wonderful nurturing writing coaches…and did I mention PARIS?!

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Across the way from Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Company is a MUST SEE bookstore in the very heart of Paris. Inkslingers will take you there!

FROM INKSLINGERS:

Visit Paris as more than just a tourist. Engage with this important city as a literary traveler experiencing it through the words of the great writers who have called it home; and then reflect on your own reactions and experience daily in our inspiring workshops.

Travel in the safety and community of other writers and artists on our exclusive tour bus. Stay at a four-star hotel with easy access to The Metro for setting out on personal or small group excursions.

Sue and James will be joined in Paris by Kate Marshall Flaherty. You can learn about KATE HERE.

INKSLINGERS IN PARIS takes place Oct. 26th to Nov. 3rd

The itinerary looks exquisite. You will visit Père Lachaise Cemetery, House of Victor Hugo, Place de Vosages, Bibliotheque Mazarine, The Musee d’Orsay, The Rodin Museum, Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur Basilica, Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, the Catacombs… and SO MUCH MORE.

HERE’S THE FULL ITINERARY.

Check out the details at the INKSLINGERS website now! Don’t wait, because they are offering an EARLYBIRD DISCOUNT until June 15th. ALSO, for my American readers…pricing is in CDN dollars so you will be further discounted by the exchange.

Honestly, you couldn’t be in more capable hands. Inkslingers are passionate about what they do and they do it tremendously well.

CLICK HERE TO VISIT INKSLINGERS AND LEARN ALL ABOUT THEIR PARIS RETREAT

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Pratisara Protection Threads – From Abhaneri, India to Samos, Spain…

Tuesday September 18th of 2018 was a traveling day for us. That was the day we made our way by bus from Jaipur to Agra in India.

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We had a surprise stop along the way at a beautiful stepwell in Abhaneri. It was called Chand Baori Stepwell.

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The Chand Baori Stepwell is an architectural wonder. There are many places like it in India. And it was just sitting there in a small village, at the side of the road.
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At the Chand Baori Stepwell in Abhaneri, India. September, 2018.

While there, we visited a ‘holy man’ who was at a small temple off to the side. He tied red and yellow pratisara protection threads on our wrists and offered us a blessing. I’m writing about it today, on Tuesday May 14th, 2019, because my threads finally broke free of my wrist this morning.

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The ‘Holy Man’ who gave us our pratisara protection threads while we were en route to Agra, India.

It was bound to happen. It was just some threads tied together around my wrist. I’m actually surprised it lasted almost 8 months. Michael’s is still intact. Not only that, his looks way better than mine looked when it snapped. I’m guessing he’ll get a full year out of his. We shall see.

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The Rio Sarria, flowing past the beautiful monastery in Samos, Spain.

They say you should place your pratisara protection threads into a flowing waterway after they come off your wrist. I now have an offering for Rio Sarria, the river that runs through Samos, Spain, along the Camino. The river runs alongside the monastery there and I love the idea of leaving my protection threads in the river there.

 

There are places in the world where one enters and they immediately know they’ve discovered one of their heart-homes. Samos is definitely one of those places for me. From the moment I saw the monastery from afar as we entered the town, I knew it was a special place. I knew I would have to return.

Now, I get to Samos added meaning by leaving something behind when I go back in September. (-:

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The Pratisara Protection Threads I’ll Be Leaving Behind in the Rio Sarria in Samos, Spain.

Small Details Intimately Observed…

“If a writer stops observing he is finished. Experience is communicated by small details intimately observed.”~ Ernest Hemingway

I think a LOT about Ernest Hemingway. To be honest, I am not a fan of quite a bit of his work. I should probably give some of it another glance, seeing how much I love and adore both The Old Man and the Sea and A Moveable Feast.

What I do often think about are Hemingway’s many quotable nuggets of writerly wisdom and knowledge. I don’t always agree with his advice, and I often think, ‘Whoa there, Ernest! Who died and made you lord god king of everything and everyone. Chillax!’ I feel a my-way-or-the-highway vibe from him sometimes. But I love those two books SO MUCH that I at least stop and think about everything he has to say in regards to writerly advice. He was good at it.

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Ernest Hemingway

The quote above is one of my favourites. I see it bandied about now and again and it stops me in my tracks, simply because it’s so very delightful. It falls into line with my belief that we writers should get out into the world and explore…even if it’s only the world of our own little micro-neighbourhoods. We should always observe—others, smells, textures, colours, tastes, light, EVERYTHING. We are, after all, the final funnels through which the world flows prior to splattering down on the page. We should at least make that splat fall onto the page in a way that makes sense for the reader. We must never stop observing. We must never stop cataloguing the small details. We must remain intimate with them. We must, we must, we must. The writer must be vigilant with the details of the world around them. It is necessary. It is the playground in which we live and love and play and grow. The only way for a writer to celebrate the universe properly is to GET IT RIGHT when we reflect it back to our readers.

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I think I have Franny (AKA Franny Frannerton of the Frannington Frannies), my golden retriever with a golden light inside her, to thank for my return to WANDERLUST, for my return to my observations of the universe about me…both in the macro and the minutiae. She’s gone now, bless her. But she was a wonderful companion who brought me back to nature and gave me back my deep desire to explore. She definitely made me a better writer. She brought me into focus enough to examine the small details. She made me slow down. We all need reminders to slow down, to breathe in the universe around us. Not just writers, but everyone. We need to experience it, not just walk through it.

A writer friend of mine had some great news recently. I first met Jennifer Turney at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. She’s been a constant inspiration to my writing life over the past couple of years now. She’s on fire in her creativity and it’s so inspiring to see. Jennifer is observing the small details. She recently discovered that her short story Spot, Sun, or Otherwise took 2nd Place in the recent BLANK SPACES writing contest. Writers are asked to write a short story based on a photo prompt. I want to share a link to the story here, because when I read it I saw an entire world unfold. In just under 1,000 words, Jennifer created an entire world. She really locked into Hemingway’s vibe on this one. She is nowhere near finished. Jennifer Turney’s just getting started!

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READ SPOT, SUN, OR OTHERWISE HERE.

The White Rabbit of Lamu and Time Marches On

I originally wrote this as a meandering Facebook post a year ago. When it came up in my Facebook memories, I wanted to save it and elaborate. Because there are always these little moments in your life that you keep returning to, little nuggets of time that are nothing more than freeze-dried moments that, if you blink, you miss. And yet, for some reason they stay with you forever and keep drifting back in the most unlikely of moments.

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Whispers Cafe, Lamu, Kenya

I was just falling asleep when I thought again of the white rabbit.

Not the one from the song or the one who was friends with Alice. I thought of my white rabbit, the one who appeared from nowhere to join us at a reading by Catherine Bush on Lamu Island off the coast of Kenya.

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The White Rabbit of Lamu

There’s a tiny bistro on the island of Lamu called Whispers. Its name is as silent as its seeming unassumingness. I say seeming because until you dig a little deeper and discover it’s a series of tiny buildings and outbuildings and breezeways and gardens, you really do think it’s just a tiny bistro.

Some of the hidden treasure of Whispers – Beyond the Cafe

When you walk through the labyrinthine part of the cafe for the first time, after spending several days in the un-secreted tiny dining space, you can’t believe your eyes. Fountains and porticoes and statuary and gardens and alcoves…yes, the alcoves. And then, after the last archway, the prettiest of gardens. And when you all gather there to hear the words of a great writer, and you sit in the grass, and on the steps, and in the chairs, and on the blankets, the world outside of Whispers dissipates and there are only words and listening. And then, out of the ethereal moment in which you find yourself, enters the white rabbit.

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Catherine Bush, Canadian Writer and Summer Literary Seminars Writing Instructor – Kenya, 2009

And you know now, after nine years and more, that the poor white thing has long since passed. But that white rabbit will never die, because in the silence of the words and the listening, in your memory, it’ll scurry in… and perhaps you alone will notice the moment it stops chomping away at the grass and flowers because it hears a voice. Only you will remember the way it looked up at the reader in awe and listened. Only you will hear the Whispers it sends back up to the reader who has so enthralled it and made it pause from its nightly moonlight meal. Memory has a way of always bringing back that white rabbit. I so look forward to those future moments of silence into which it slithers…a gift, an oasis, an elegy of itself, whispering, “REMEMBER ME, REMEMBER ME, I’M THE WHITE RABBIT. I EXISTED. I LIVED. I LOVED!”

It’s been almost nine years since Kenya. Hard to believe it was so long ago. I look forward to a future with many visits from that white rabbit. His visitation gifts bring me back to the smells and the colors and vibes and textures and light of that beautiful island. Madonna was wrong. Time doesn’t go by so slowly. It marches on like a freight train. Hold on to your white rabbits…

“And if you go chasing rabbits…”

 

Delay in Publication of My 7th Novel – I WILL TELL THE NIGHT…

Hello Readers:

Just a short note today. I wanted to announce the delay in the publication of my 7th novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. In THIS POST I announced that the novel would be released in early 2019. Here we are in May, mid-2019, and no sign of a publication date. I’m so sorry for the delay. At this time, I’m unable to give a release date. Should I learn of the release, I’ll announce it. Waiting on my publisher.

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This is a novel aesthetic for I WILL TELL THE NIGHT.

I wrote a blog post on THE ORIGIN STORY OF I WILL TELL THE NIGHT that you can read here.

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This is me reading an excerpt from I WILL TELL THE NIGHT at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon, where the novel won the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s 2016 BEST ADULT NOVEL AWARD.

In the meantime, you can find all of my available books here AT THIS LINK.

STAY TUNED – Once the release date is made known to me, I will announce it. It shouldn’t be too long now…