Here’s the synopsis of PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE from AMAZON:
Ezra Caine is gay. He’s sort of out at school but not at home, where he fears the wrath of his father’s bigotry. When Ezra’s flamboyantly out friend Alex Mills takes one too many beatings from homophobic bully Will Severe, Ezra finally snaps. Fed up with the situation at school, he decides to do something about it. With the help of his BFF, Nettie, and some unlikely allies, Ezra rallies to create their small-town school’s first gay-straight alliance. The Rainbow Alliance Club is formed. But the changes don’t come without hiccups, one of which being a messy scandal involving Alex and a gay hook-up app. As Ezra and his friends attempt to sway their school into an alliance of tolerance and acceptance, Ezra experiences a few surprises of his own on the home-front. He also learns the hard way that friendships out of convenience aren’t always a good idea, just as some enemies might not be as bad as he originally imagined them to be.
For reader reviews of PRIDE head on over to GOODREADS. You can also place it on your shelf while you’re there. (-;
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.
In our preparation for the Camino de Santiago, Michael and I have been devouring every Youtube video on the Camino we can find. I honestly don’t know how WorldTowning didn’t come up sooner in the searches, but I’m so glad they finally did! WorldTowning is a family who travel the world together, exploring its various landscapes and cultures with a joie de vivre the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed. WorldTowning are Will, Jessica, Avalon, and Largo Sueiro…and they appear to be on the road to everywhere. They homeschool their children along the way…but the education they’re receiving by being fully immersed in all the various cultures of the world is far more valuable than any textbook could ever be.
We dropped in on WorldTowning for their Camino vlogs (They start at around Episode 67 of their vlog series) and then we stuck around to catch up on their past travels. And since they kept on going after the Camino de Santiago, we’re watching as they make their way through the rest of the world in their own unique and remarkable way.
That’s the thing that really blows me away. Not only did the Sueiros do the full Camino Frances pilgrimage route of the Camino, but it was only a stop along the way. AND they kept on going once they got to the ‘End of the World’ at Finisterre. They’re doing a mind-blowing world tour. And they’re not afraid of going off the beaten path and taking their viewers to unique locations that tourists don’t often see.
Watching the vlogs of their fascinating adventures, it’s easy to see that their two children (Avalon and Largo) thrive within the extraordinary atmosphere that world travel offers. They may not know just yet how lucky they are to be experiencing the different peoples of the world, but I’m sure it won’t take them to long to realize the ultimate gift their parents are bestowing upon them.
Will Sueiro does a remarkable job filming their adventures. I think I want to be a drone operator when I grow up! ALSO, nothing says dedication like carrying all that extra film gear on the 800km pilgrimage route in Spain. A regular viewer of their vlog nicknamed Will’s Camino de Santiago backpack ‘the kitchen sink’ because it appeared to be large enough to carry everything but. And I thought I carried a heavy load in 2014…until I saw the one Will lugged across Spain.
A long time ago, in another lifetime maybe, I used to attempt to hide my tears whenever something hit me hard in the feels. But I’ve come to accept that it’s okay to cry at commercials and movies and songs and books and…okay, yeah…just being in the presence of sheer beauty, even. I WANT to cry when my feelings explode so much that I can’t handle how big the joy or sorrow is. Jessica breaks down every now and then…and I think that’s wonderful. It makes her more real and authentic. It’s a gift to feel that deeply. She does tend to apologize for it occasionally. But I always say cry if you want to. To be honest, they’re seeing beautiful and remarkable things in their travels. Nothing makes me cry more than, say…the way the water laps at the side of the boat when you’re floating down the Ganges watching funeral pyres on the shore, or, say, the way the fields of poppies in Spain dance in the wind while you’re walking by making your way to Santiago. Tears are just an expression of gratitude or sorrow. We should never apologize for them. And we should never tease others for shedding them. I’m not ashamed to say I cried a few times while watching the WorldTowning vlog.
Oops. A blog post from me wouldn’t be the same without a digression. Enough about tears.
If you’re looking for a delightful travel vlog to watch, look no further than WorldTowning. Here’s a link to the WORLDTOWNING WEBSITE. Check it out to see what they have to offer YOU.
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.
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…
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.
Click the ink bottle below to go directly to the INKSLINGER website:
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?!
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.
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.
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.
We had a surprise stop along the way at a beautiful stepwell in Abhaneri. It was called Chand Baori Stepwell.
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.
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.
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. (-:
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
I have read so much about the act of being present. I sought it out in biographies and in documentaries and in fiction. I first heard it whispered in descriptions of sages and religious leaders. The Buddha, for instance, has always been held up as a glowing example of a being who was PRESENT.
But in my life–in my everyday life–I hadn’t really discovered any examples of anyone who seemed to be truly present. Here and now.
I won’t say Wayson was a saint. That isn’t what this is about. But the thing about Wayson was that he was present. And when you were in his presence, he treated you like you were in his presence. You had his attention. He was a mentor, a teacher, and a sage. And he was always willing to share himself with those around him. He couldn’t not encourage, teach, share. It wasn’t in him not to. And because of this, all who have met him–even for a brief period of time–feel a great sense of loss today. He was a giving gracious man, and he made you feel as though you mattered.
I’ve heard a great many Asian Canadians speak of how important Wayson’s works were for them, how his books were the first experience they had had of seeing themselves reflected in fiction. He knew this fact, he knew it fully and completely and he carried it with him, filled with grace about it and knowing the importance of it.
What struck me, and what was important to me, was the way he often introduced himself as a gay man when beginning his speeches. He was a proud gay man. He spoke to me about this, too. He felt the importance of this pride, which was something I never truly understood. To me, pride was just a word thrown around about an event in the gay calendar. Wayson took it to a deeper level. Wayson made it real. He was someone who often talked about being courageous and telling the truth and being honest and being true to yourself. This was part of his being present. He knew the importance of authenticity. In order to exemplify that, he willingly put himself out there to show others what it meant to truly be authentic. He embraced it and allowed others to embrace it in themselves.
“When you can tell other peoples’ lives truthfully you are telling it to yourself. You are saying this is who I am. I recognize what is important. Let me tell you about it.” ~ Wayson Choy
You are most like yourself when you are being authentic. Wayson knew this. And he knew how much others thirsted for that authenticity. And he was present enough to gently guide us in that direction. By example, and by humor and sometimes by the use of tough words.
FEAR IS THE FIRST REASON TO LIVE YOUR LIFE BOLDLY. ~ WAYSON CHOY
Thank you for sharing your wisdom so freely, Wayson. I’ll not forget your loving kindness. Thank you for helping me to wake up. I love you.
“You are a book, always being written…” ~ Wayson Choy
I’ve just been made aware of the upcoming open-to-submissions date for the next FREE Rotary Stratford Short Story Contest. The 2019 Rotary Club of Stratford Short Story Contest will begin taking submissions for short stories of no more than 2,500 words of any genre on MAY 1st, 2019.
Submission window is:
MAY 1st – AUGUST 31st, 2019
There are two categories, based on AGE—Youth & Adult.
19 and under-Teen (must have parental or guardian consent)