Best Adult Novel Award

The Summing Up – After the Marathon

My first Muskoka Novel Marathon in 2007 was essentially a religious experience. From the drive up to Huntsville to the drive to the Kawarthas after I partook of the 48hr version of the marathon. It was all a haze of Kool-aid drinking meditating worshipping wonder. I was sold. I was a convert. I had found my people, my place, my me.

Eventually, I attempted to get that religious experience down on paper in the form of a poem. But the real joy of writing poetry is in the moments leading up to the writing of the poem and in the hope you feel that you achieve the goal of getting everything in your head down in the stanzas that you write. You never quite get there…you feel the euphoria of being there in your mindscape…but what travels from that video screen in your head through your fingers and eventually lands on the computer screen or paper is nothing like the vision you carried. It sometimes suffices, but it never meets the vision. Words are never enough.

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Here’s the poem I wrote about my first Muskoka Novel Marathon experience:

After the Marathon

As winter whips its winds to frenzy
I am reminded of that time-
forty thousand words in my head
screaming white freedom
inside my withering mind.

And after the marathon,
the tears of no more words,
my insolent venting of could have-
might have beens. And the exhaustion,
like melting ice on pregnant lips,
a scream inside an empty car
with nobody else to hear.

When I thought the oddity over-
passing from Muskoka to Haliburton
with Cohen on my lips-
two deer arrive,
linger long enough to catch my eye,
to stop my hurling car,
to say, “I see you. You are real.”
And tears again. To find yourself
when you are lost; a figment
behind an endless stream of words.

After the deer, when Hallelujah
has played and the light of day declines,
I pray, one hundred-thirty pages
strewn like wild wind across the cluttered dash,
and here am I… stopped again-
a wild bear on hind legs,
pawing the slowly gloaming air.

Stopped, I wonder the wonder,
breathe to say, “I’ve been here too.”
And in the rear-view… three more,
mother, babies dawdling behind the car.
And the bear, as if he knows my head
and where it’s at, he paws again,
lifts his massive claws to night and speaks.

These are the things that I have left,
the shaking memories of a whirlwind journey took.
And forty thousand words inside my lonely head
was not enough. A bear to stand and scream
is what it took to leave it all behind,
the vent, the Cohen din inside the tremulous mind,
and most of all, the words that could have been.

 

 

THE WORDS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN. Every year I regret those words. Every year I mourn them. But I also give thanks for the ones I eventually get down on paper. This year is no different. I went a long time before locking into a story idea…almost a full 24 hours. I do the 72hr marathon now…stay the whole three days. After that first year, I knew I wanted more. More, more, more. 48hrs is not enough.

I already wrote a marathon wrap post when I got home, but I wanted to talk about what happens immediately following coming back to the land of reality. I say reality, because at the marathon it’s a different kind of reality that happens. There is a freedom at the marathon that is very much like sleep-a-way summer camp. It’s silly and frivolous and fun..and very very serious. It’s not the reality we, as adults, are used to. Schedules evaporate…we are on OUR TIME. So, coming back to the land of adulting…you need to adjust, put away the candy and get real.

When you get back to reality, it’s also the first time you get to sit down and read your words. At the marathon, you write and you write and you write. But you don’t read (or, at least, I don’t…I have to point out here that every marathoner is different). You just move ever forward into your story. What happens, essentially, is that you start reading it a couple days after your return and it’s like you’re reading the work of someone else…you don’t remember it, you’re not very deeply connected to it…the concept is familiar, but the words are by and large new to your ears. It’s an extremely odd phenomenon, really. You wrote the story, but it’s not yours. It belongs to the wildness of the weekend. It belongs to Muskoka.

You never quite know what you ended up with until you sit down and read your story for the first time. It’s an eye-opening experience. I’ve come to believe that I write my best stuff at the marathon. Not because it’s a particularly wonderful writing environment–even though it IS–and not because I go in prepared–because I DON’T–but because I connect to Natalie Goldberg’s WILD MIND while I’m there. There is a moment when you put your ego aside and you are no longer a writer writing, but simply WRITING itself. You lose connection to your self as you slip sleeplessly and exhaustingly into your story and soldier on ever forward. THAT is the beauty of the marathon…that you get to dive so fully in to your writing that you disappear. Somewhere after 16 hours, 23 hours, 56 hours…YOU are gone and there is only story—and these seemingly disembodied hands in front of you pounding away at a keyboard you’re barely aware of. WRITING. NO YOU. I know, I know…it’s so zen. It’s hogwash. It’s flighty. It’s new age crap. SHUT UP! Until you’re there, at the marathon, you’ll have to take my word for it. I WAS Wild Mind.

What happens now—THE SUMMING UP. I’ve been reading and editing my novel. I only reached about 100 pages this year, as I didn’t immerse myself into the story until I was a full day into the marathon. My regret was huge. But as I slowly trudged my way into the story, I began to feel better about my productivity. I like it! I like the words that I created. I’m okay with them. AND…I feel that I will be able to continue the story once I get to the end of the editing journey I’m on to read and fix what I left the marathon with. I’m excited about finding out where the story goes, where the lives in the story are taken. I’m turned on by the need to bring it to fruition—TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS!

I have been feeding Michael chapters on my Kindle account as I read and edit them. He has an uncanny ability to find nits and suggest fixes. Last year, his influence was a huge part of my novel writing experience. Without him, I’m not sure I would have finished the novel. This time around, as I am writing about New Brunswick, I have to admit he’s having a bit of an issue with dialogue. If the East Coast of Canada is your ancestral home, you know that there is a dialect to be found there. What might look like twisted and incorrect language is merely the way they talk there. I have a few characters who are very regional. They say things the way New Brunswickers would say them. Editors need to leave these bits in. Regional dialect helps to place a story…it’s all part of the story’s setting. Michael’s just gonna have to flinch at some of these twisted words being spoken by my characters. Especially the story’s grandmother, Imogene, who has shall we say a slightly unique way of speaking.

I’m ready to embrace the rest of this novel’s journey. What the marathon did was start me off…it gave me the roadtrip part of the novel, and brought me to the meat and potatoes of my story. I’m excited to continue. And I have this wonderful thing called the Muskoka Novel Marathon to thank for taking me this far. Every year it starts me off on a journey. I don’t always complete the novels it helps me create…but I always love the experience. And in September…we get to reassemble–us 40+ writers–and we get to award each other with trophies and kudos and praise. It’s the crown on top of the fundraising event. I can’t wait to get there!

But for now…I have a story to tell. It’s the story of Finn Barker, the character I created on a July Saturday night in Huntsville, Ontario while sitting in a room filled with writers creating. Finn is real. And I left him in a vulnerable situation at the end of the marathon. It’s time to rescue him.

Thank you, Muskoka Novel Marathon—for helping me to once again get words on paper. The wonder never ceases to amaze me. Yes, we raised over $34,000.00, and yes…the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka county is going to have much needed funds to help with their literacy programs. Yes…lives are going to change for the better because of what we were able to accomplish monetarily with the marathon. And that IS the most important thing here. But for us writers—we get the gift of words, the gift of time, the gift of camaraderie, and the gift of childlike sleep-a-way camp in a beautiful town filled with lovely places and people. The benefits to us writers are vast…and lasting. It’s a religion, and I’m only one of its many preachers. I drank the Kool-aid.

See you all at the wrap-up!

 

(A Short excerpt…the opening lines of my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel, which introduces the main character—Finn Barker.)

There’s more than one way to go home. Sometimes it’s something we can only do in theory because there’s no home to go back to. Even if it’s still standing. And sometimes we return kicking and screaming, like salmon running up river against their will but with an inborn instinct they cannot escape. Must go home. Must go home.

Unless you never truly left in the first place, chances are the road home will be a painful one. One that will leave you, to paraphrase the words of W.B. Yeats, in a world more full of weeping.

There is nothing like a death to signify the beginning of that journey home. Death and dying. For Finn Barker, that was the straw that finally broke his resolve to never again return.

 

 

 

Ideas as Opiates – The Panic Begins! #MNM2016 #Trafalgar24

This is the time of year when my head sort of kinda explodes. In a good(ish) way.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” Wait! That’s not what I meant to write. Whenever I start a sentence with ‘Last night…’ I become possessed by Daphne du Maurier in the most peculiar way. I need to complete the sentence that is etched in my memory forever before I can continue on with what I was going to say. How’s that for a digression?!

Last night I went through the harrowing ordeal of registering for the Muskoka Novel Marathon again. It’s a treacherous time…believe me. The marathon takes place once a year (IN JULY) in Huntsville, Ontario. It is a 72hr novel writing marathon. Only 40 writers can attend. There are far more writers interested in attending than there are spaces for them to attend. So you have to be at your keyboard and at the ready come the stroke of 7pm on registration night.

I got in! I secured one of the coveted spots for myself. Then I discovered that all the spots were taken in 3 minutes. THREE MINUTES! That’s when I realized how lucky I was to have mad typing skillz. Gah!

Add to that registration pressure the fact that I will be locked inside a castle in Whitby, Ontario tomorrow, and ‘forced’ to write a 10-minute play overnight, and I’m about ready for cardiac arrest.

BUT. In a good way. I would not be happy if I was not in panic mode during these things. Confidence is the killer of creativity, is it not? Well…maybe not. But it sometimes feels like the anxiety and the fear are the driving force behind the engine that creates. FEAR—I’m getting locked into a castle and I have to write a play in 8 hours. A play that will be produced the following night—performed 6 times in front of a rotating audience of approximately 300 people. No biggie, right? It’s a thing. Confidence would surely threaten the process here, no? I need to go in thinking I can never pull this off…in order to pull it off.

ONE OF MY PAST TRAFALGAR 24 PLAYS

The Trafalgar 24 Play Creation Festival is one thing. I need to go in there blind, without an idea–that’s how the process works. You get a room in the castle, and pictures of your actors. But the timing of the Muskoka Novel Marathon registration is so impeccable. Because today it’s not the play I’ll write tomorrow that I’m most hyperventilating about. Nah…that’s tomorrow’s nightmare. TODAY—I sit here registered and committed to the 72 hour novel writing madness heading my way without the first clue as to what I am going to write. Today is the day I need to begin the idea process that will have me jumping off the cliff into a brave new fictional world come July at the onset of the marathon’s starting bell.

From this point forward, I will be using ideas as opiates. I will smoke them, inhale them, inject them. I will run through a myriad of scenarios, settings, characters, synopses, and genres. I will try to fit puzzle pieces together without seeing the picture. I will reject ideas, rehash ideas, kick ideas to the curb, and embrace them. It will be a constant whirlwind of ideas. Which one will stick? Who knows. Will I pick the right one? Reject the wrong one? Who knows. It really is hit and miss. I have 72 hours to write an entire novel. It is mandatory that I find an idea appropriate enough to see me through those hours. One that doesn’t fizzle after a few hours. One that builds upon itself one idea after another, one sentence after another, one paragraph after another, one chapter after another…until it sees itself through. I need an idea pregnant with possibility.

Sure…I got my coveted spot at the Marathon. But as extremely difficult as it is to secure that spot–as barbarically stressful as it is–it’s nothing compared to the realization that you’ve made it. THAT YOU NEED TO COME UP WITH SOMETHING TO WRITE!!

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Ideas as opiates. When my writing life is so rife with STUFF, I realize how extremely blessed I am to have this passion. I couldn’t sleep Tuesday night…thinking of the prospects of NOT making the registration cut. Because I WANT IT. I want these stressful situations that are do or die and depend on WORDS. Harnessing words is a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

This is the time of year when my head sort of kinda explodes. In a good(ish) way.

 

 

5 Guys In Between Days – Boys Don’t Cry

After yesterday’s debacle here, I think I’m going to review a few of my characters. I really feel yesterday’s blog post was a train wreck. I started and restarted it too many times to count. In honesty, it took me three days of trying. In the end, I just said the hell with it and settled on the latest sloppy version.

Today, I thought I would introduce you to 5 of my characters. These introductions should serve as a way of displaying the kind of fiction I write. I will have one from each of my five published novels…each broken, and each irrevocably hopeful.

There are several soundtracks to my life. The one that runs the deepest, I have to admit, is all The Cure. They have been my favourite obsession since about 1980. Contrary to what those on the outside of The Cure universe believe, I have always found their lyrics to be inspiring and uplifting. Robert Smith chose to dip into the morass of ennui and sadness as a way to dredge those feelings up into the light.

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“Happy the man with the face that smiles” ~ Robert Smith of The Cure

I always feel better after listening to The Cure. They always had something for every mood and every moment. From the angsty relationship themed Boys Don’t Cry, to the manic chasing train driven punk wig-out of 10:15 Saturday Night, to the zany spirited uplifting Mint Car.

The sun is up
I’m so happy I could scream!
And there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be
Than here with you
It’s perfect
It’s all I ever wanted
I almost can’t believe that it’s for real

I really don’t think it gets any better than this
Vanilla smile
And a gorgeous strawberry kiss!
Birds sing we swing
Clouds drift by and everything is like a dream
It’s everything I wished

Those are not Gothic kill-me now depressed angst-driven suicidal lyrics. The Cure might be one of the most misunderstood bands of their time. There were times in my life when they were the place from which I derived my joy. When you struggle with issues, you sometimes need to trick yourself out of your bed in the morning. When I was a teenager, The Cure were there to dig me up out of my pain. They’re the happiest band I know. And all I ever heard in the media about them were slit-my-wrist jokes about how sorrowful and depressed their stuff was. So not the case. Many things saved me, but nothing ever saved teen me like The Cure saved me.

Oh wait! 5 Characters. Right! I’m so easily distracted these days.

  1. ZACH CARSON – summeronfire SUMMER ON FIRE – Zach appears in my first novel, Summer on Fire. He is the friend who outwardly appears to be the most together. But he is also, in a way, the weakest link. Picture Wil Wheaton’s Gordie Lachance. He’s the hero of the story, but he is nothing like the hero of the story. Everybody knows the guy you want to be when you watch the movie Stand By Me is Chris Chambers…the coolest of the cool (played by River Phoenix). Even though Chris later dies, he’s the ultimate hero of that story. My Chris Chambers in this story is Jeff Barsell. I’m referencing Stand By Me here because it is mentioned in quite a few of the reviews for this book. Zach was broken in the most subtle way of all of my main characters. He wants to please everyone and he struggles with his moral compass. He wants to do the right thing but he also wants to remain loyal to his friends. Jeff Barsell is the real broken hero of this story. Jeff has a brother who bullies him and a father who beats him. He adores his mother. He knows that the trouble he’s gotten himself into could finish the job of breaking her…a job his father has been chiseling away at for years. When the boys accidentally set a barn on fire, the stage is set for a much darker revelation. The house beside the barn goes up in flames…and with it, the body of the old man who lived there. From there, we get to see the mettle of these three boys as they attempt to wiggle out of their predicament.
  2. SEBASTIAN NELSON –  Sebastian's Poet SEBASTIAN’S POET – Sebastian Nelson is perhaps my favourite of all the characters I’ve ever created. He’s a boy who is forced to grow up at an all too young age. When folksinger Teal Landen appears on the couch one morning after a bohemian party at Sebby’s place, he quickly forms a bond with the boy. Sebastian comes from a broken family. He’s left with his mentally ill father after his mother takes off to her homeland of Montreal. With a father who can’t even look after himself–a father who is silently dealing with deep dark issues that threaten to kill him–Sebastian becomes the number one caregiver to his younger brother Renee. Teal becomes his saviour, but the distance between them is vast as Teal attempts to hide a truth from the young boy who worships him. This one takes place in The Beaches in Toronto…in the 1970s. It’s all Leonard Cohen meets James at 15. Sebastian is abused, neglected, and without a childhood to speak of. He is someone who should not be able to get up…but getting up is all he ever wants to do.
  3. TOBIAS REASON –  The+Reasons THE REASONS – Reason is the family name of the narrators in this one. The narration flips from chapter to chapter, from Tobias Reason to Maggie Reason. This is an entirely broken family. Maggie is insane. Her secret is so completely buried, she herself doesn’t even know what it is. But when she tosses her newly inherited house at Tobias, just to get rid of it, Tobias discovers the deepest darkest thing about a family so broken they might never be saved. Tobias’s older sister dies in chapter one…and on the surface this may appear to be the thing that breaks Maggie. But all along, there are hints that she was broken long before Deja died on her road-trip to the mountains she would never see. Maggie has no time for her youngest daughter, Annabel…so it falls to Tobias to raise her. But Annabel may in fact hold the key to everything that is broken. Tobias is abused, neglected, and without a childhood to speak of. But he is a character on a mission…he wants to save his mother, and in the process he wants to save his family. He will do anything to make this happen.
  4. FRANCIS FRIPP – burn-baby-burn-1000.jpeg BURN BABY BURN BABY – Francis Fripp’s last name is a nod to mention—He has the last name Fripp as an homage of sorts to Grady Tripp from Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. This novel marks the onward march of my own courage. I wanted to go deeper with this one, explore the darkness that teens experience on a deeper level. Francis is bullied relentlessly at school. His tormentor, Brandon Hayley, won’t be happy until he sees Francis completely destroyed. But Francis was broken before Brandon ever got to him. Francis was mutilated by his abusive father, who burned half of Francis’s body in a murderous rage. As broken as Francis is–both inwardly and outwardly–he has a deep love of life. You can just glimpse it if you look past the angst and turmoil he lives with every day. He loves his little brothers Paul and Simon like mad. Sure, he calls them, collectively, Paul Simon…but he does this in love. He sees only his burns when he tries to assemble a picture of who he is as a person. But the new girl at school might see more than that. It’s up to Francis to allow her to do so. His walls are so high, he doesn’t know how to take them down. Francis is abused, neglected, and without a childhood to speak of. But Francis wants to soar. And his unflinching champion, Trig, will do anything to see that he does so.
  5. CARTER COLBY – cover2500 HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN – Carter is a twin. He’s the loser mentally unstable half of the Colby twins. His brother, inexplicably, is the popular All-American boy. But in chapter one, Marcus Colby dies in a motorcycle accident on the way to school.Carter was a passenger on the bike and becomes even more screwed up when he has to survive such a traumatic experience. Losing his twin is the beginning of the horror, but he quickly learns that sharing a face with the most popular dead boy in school is not an easy task. People who never saw him when Marcus was alive now don’t want to see him. Marcus becomes dead Marcus in this story…as he begins to visit Carter on a regular basis. He has unfinished work and he needs Carter’s help to see it through. The ghost of Marcus is just as fabulous and put together as the living Marcus was. While Carter attempts to pick himself up from the wreck of his life, he works with Marcus to help make things right. He also unexpectedly falls in love with Marcus’s girlfriend, Melanie, and forms an unexpected friendship with the school jock, Justin Dewar, who also happens to be the victim from the truck involved in the accident that killed Marcus. Carter is broken, but in different ways than usual. He has no self-esteem. He lives in the shadow of greatness and can’t manage to get out from under it. He hates himself. But he finds hope in Melanie…and in the possibility of being made more whole.

I brought up THE CURE at the beginning of this post because I wanted to draw a similarity between their music and my novels. On the surface, all of my stuff is morose, sad, broken, depressed, angsty, and filled with ennui. But it’s also, like The Cure, filled with hope and joy. Or, at least, I hope it is. I always make an effort to put a little sunshine in my work. Because all things broken are not ONLY broken. My favourite quote, which is also the epigraph in my novel Sebastian’s Poet, alludes to this. From Leonard Cohen’s ANTHEM…

THERE IS A CRACK IN EVERYTHING…THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN.

In all ugliness, there is beauty. In all sadness, there is joy. This is what I attempt to write in my novels. I love to see the crack…because without it the beauty would not get in.

CLICK ON THE NAMES BELOW TO VISIT THE AMAZON PAGE FOR ITS RELATED NOVEL:

  1. Zach Carson
  2. Sebastian Nelson
  3. Tobias Reason
  4. Francis Fripp
  5. Carter Colby

Get HAPPY:

The Reasons Now Available at Amazon for Kindle!

The Reasons is now available as a Kindle book at all Amazon locations.

If you have already read this book, please consider reviewing it at Amazon. If not, you can now pick it up with 1-Click for your Kindle or Kindle App.

AMAZON USA

AMAZON CANADA

AMAZON UK

The+Reasons

With a mostly absent father, a deceased older sister, a younger sister on the verge of invisibility, and a certifiably insane mother, Tobias Reason is forced to grow up quickly. Though he tries to be a surrogate parent to his sister, their broken mother, Maggie, takes up a lot of his time. Annabel falls to the wayside and becomes a ghost in their chaotic existence.

When Maggie flippantly hands her mother’s house over to Tobias, he sees an opportunity to learn how and why his family became so shattered. Be careful what you wish for. When his world begins to collapse from the weight of un-buried secrets, he focuses on a stranger from his parents’ past. Only by eliminating the past, he believes, can he make his family whole again.

The Reasons won the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s 2008 BEST ADULT NOVEL AWARD.

Note: This title is NOT young adult.

Get it now with 1-Click!