It’s been a while since I have had this kind of news. My last book, the young adult title PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, came out in February of 2018. Now, I’m excited to announce that I have accepted a contract with the same publisher to publish my 7th novel, the adult contemporary title I WILL TELL THE NIGHT.
The novel marathon takes place over the course of 72hrs, every July, in Huntsville, Ontario. The literary event that is also a huge fund-raiser to help the YMCA of Muskoka and Simcoe County with the funding of their literacy programs is a must-attend event for me. I love the adrenaline rush it gives me to attempt to write an entire novel in the space of one long weekend. Especially when it involves being in a room with 39 other writers typing away at their own attempt to pull off the exact same feat. It’s a magical time every year.
(Before I proceed, just so we’re all on the same page, the Merriam-Webster definition of stasis— “a state or condition in which things do not change, move, or progress“. So, that is where I stood as a writer prior to July and between July end and September end.)
Day 1 – Saturday, October 22nd, 2016
106 days after coming up with a shadowy wisp of an idea for my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel, I typed the words THE END on the last page of the manuscript. Then I quietly celebrated the moment by being silent and allowing this icy cold feeling to course through me and send a chill or two up my spine. That feeling was the climbing-out-of-my-skin motion made by the make-believe souls of my characters leaving the body they had possessed while I wrote. And in their absence, as usual, I was left feeling glum. Not good enough. Lonely. Why did they leave me? I didn’t even think the story was finished yet. Even as Finn’s omniscient narrator wrapped up the telling of the story, I wanted to scream, “NO! NOT YET! THEY HAVEN’T DONE THIS! THEY HAVEN’T DONE THAT!” But once the wheels of the bus start to roll, there really is no controlling it. The trajectory is a surprise only the vast nothingness from which the story arrives knows. At least in my case, where I outline and plan exactly NOTHING. Sure, I will have discussions about what I think will happen next, or things that will take place in a vague as-yet-unwritten future of the story. But they don’t always take place. And then, when I type those solemn door-slamming words THE END at the bottom of the manuscript, I know the rest of the story that I envisioned will never take place. And that makes me even sadder than I was when I realized I had hit the end. After the words have been struck and they glow there like doombabies at the bottom of the screen, you know you can’t fight your way past them. But you also get to see the world of your characters stretch out beyond those words of death. THE END. It is never the end. The unwritten scenes that you toyed around with, spoke of, discussed…they’re still there. They are ghosts forever hanging off the precipice of those two little words. They are phantom limbs, unformed digits, un-lived dreams. It’s very painful to be finished your story and still have material leftover in the end that you thought you would use within the confines of the novel. That leftover material is one of the many things writers look at to cultivate their own self-doubt and self-loathing. That material is the vision not perfectly transformed from thought-scape to page. Those leftovers are the scream the writer lets out after the cold icy surge of release as they let their characters escape their bodies. Not good enough. Failed to reach the vision. THE END. I think of this every time I see the slit on the face of Mona Lisa. Her lips could have been raised in the corners ever so slightly to bring her face into a more beatific smile. But Leonardo da Vinci, in his infinite wisdom, had already announced to himself, ‘la fine‘. There was no going back. My THE END stands sentinel over the blank space below it that cannot be filled.
Day 2 – Monday, October 24, 2016
I know I didn’t finish the novel. I wrote THE END, but I didn’t finish it. But you can’t go back. Done bun can’t be undone, as Stephen King once said. C’est la vie. So it is written. I spend day hating self for putting those two words at the end of the manuscript. I print out my manuscript and I am in awe over how big it is as a chunk of printed papers. Like, wow. I did that. I overhear Aves streaming from the heavens…or at least from the mouths of crackpot waste-oids singing heavenly verses in dark alleys somewhere in my general vicinity. There is music…and it is celebrating the awesomeness of my thick pile of pages, written in a frenzy of desperation while hopelessly clinging to one unwritten sentence after the other and attempting to harness them down and get them onto paper before forgetting my train of thought. Bam. The rest of the day, after printing out the manuscript, is spent listening to the knitpicking voice in the back of my head whispering, “YOU’RE NOT DONE. YOU’RE NOT DONE!” I sigh. I hold up my impressively thick pile of paper. I say, “Oh yeah? What do you call this?!” I listen as the voice whispers, “A START.”
Day 3 – Tuesday, October 25, 2016
I woke up with a desperate need to delete those two words at the bottom of my manuscript. I had already sent it out to 3 very generous fellow Muskoka Novel Marathon writers. They are acting as beta readers for me…they will tell me what needs fixing under the hood of my novel prior to me releasing it to the critical eyes of editors/agents. I gave myself leeway for once. I purposefully set my cursor to the end of those two nasty words THE END and then I hit BACKSPACE seven times. That’s ALL IT TOOK. The two words vanished into the ether. It was like a Christmas miracle. And then I proceeded to rearrange a bit of my last chapter, to unclose it. To unend it. To youdidntquitegetthereyouhavetogobackinandfixthis. Then, I proceeded to write the last chapter. So my last chapter became my second last chapter and my chapter that wasn’t on the page but was in my brain became my last chapter. Cue the emergency email to my 3 generous beta readers. Plead forgiveness, explain my folly, send the new second last chapter that used to be my last chapter and the new last chapter. Then go out with said 3 beta readers and the rest of the writing posse I hang with from time to time and attempt to forget about the fact that my ugly baby is inthehandsofothers. Then I BEGIN working on the manuscript I put on hold while racing to finish the Muskoka Novel Marathon novel.
The end doesn’t have to be the end. You can delete those two words and start over at the ending.
Clearly, Leonardo knew this. He wanted the smile we see to be the smile she was left with. Whatever, Leo.
Friends who will stop everything and beta read for you are amazing friends to have! Remember to return the favour once the opportunity arises.
The Backspace key is your friend. It’s a modern day eraser that allows you to unend things.
300 pages of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, stacked one on top of each other, is a goddamned impressive pile of paper when it is filled with words.
Stasis does not need to happen. Get your bum in chair and shut the hell up.
Mongolian Grill is yummy.
Pepsi is better than Coke because it is sweeter. This is also the reason Coke preferrers prefer Coke, because Pepsi is too sweet.
Selfie-sticks are handy for capturing a moment, but only if you’re nimble enough not to piss everyone off by taking too much time to capture it spontaneously.
Writing makes me happy. And the person I write alongside of also makes me happy.
Don’t forget a hat when you’re walking in the October chill, because when you do you’re ears hurt like hell!
It’s only the end when you say it’s the end the last time that you say it. Not before.
Summer always ends! And it’s not up to us where THE END goes on that season. There are some ends we have no control over. Take advantage of the ones you do have control over. (I’m looking at you, LEO!)
I’m doing it again. I have a fantastic opportunity in front of me and I have one job to do prior to taking advantage of this opportunity, and I am doing everything in my power to avoid the job.
Wayson. Ontario Writers Conference. 2016.
Ontario Writers Conference. 2016.
On September 23rd I discovered that my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT took the Best Adult Novel Award at the Marathon Wrap Up Party. With the honour came a Muskoka chair (Adirondack chair, for my American friends), and an envelope filled with beautiful gushing feedback from the bevy of judges who read the manuscripts and chose mine as the winner.
From that date (Sept 23rd), I had six weeks in order to get the manuscript completed and edited into shape before submitting it to the MNM organization for agent feedback.
Then came a week in which ALL THE THINGS happened…all the things, that is, except the writing of the manuscript I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. You see, I was just too busy to write words. I was hanging with friends at their cottage, I was hanging with the old gang from the Ontario Writers’ Conference–including an entertaining drive from Toronto to Whitby and back with the incomparable Wayson Choy, in which we lambasted Trump as we listened to the candidates’ debate on the CBC, I was schmoozing with the contributors of the upcoming horror anthology Purgatorium, and then I was interviewing said contributors for this blog, and I was visiting my kids and grandkids, and we just HAD to go to the opening weekend of Miss Peregrine! There were a few other things in there, I’m certain. The week flew by and brought me to FIVE WEEKS remaining of the countdown to submission. I now find myself smack dab in the middle of this week and I’m not really motoring through the writing as I should be.
This is WEEK 2! I’m proud to have found yet another distraction!
My latest obsession/distraction – HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE by Jennifer Niven, the lovely writer who also brought us ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES.
This book will be, perhaps, the death of me. Both Libby and Jack are fascinating characters and I am absolutely devouring their story. I never imagined loving a book as much as I loved ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. Only Jennifer Niven could make me love something more than ATBP! And if this book doesn’t distract me enough to cause me to squander this opportunity, I’m almost certain something else will come up.
If you need me, I’m just going to be over here attempting to write slightly more than half a book in 4 1/2 weeks, while simultaneously editing said book. It’s a difficult task, but it is also one I should not be taking so lightly. Must. Finish. Writing. The. Damn. Book!
A writer is sometimes lost and sometimes found. And quite often it’s a monumental moment that causes the shift between those two delicately interconnected worlds to occur. This weekend, I had one of those moments. I am found.
I swear, sometimes it seems a writer’s life is made up of a series of gifts, miracles, and happenstances. Or so it very much seems to me. Every time I bring myself close to the edge of oblivion–to that place of writer/notwriter that I believe most writers go to–something or someone in my life brings me back to the heart.
This past weekend, I began one of my many cycles of intense writerly related periods. They seem to come and go. Nothing happens for weeks or months at a time to even remotely suggest that you may in fact be living the life of a writer, and then suddenly you find yourself in a chaotic hotbed of WRITERLY stuff.
What started as a thrilling adventure at the local radio station in Huntsville, Ontario, this weekend, culminated in discovering that I had won a much coveted writing prize. Again.
I was invited by writer friend Christine Cowley to be interviewed on her radio program STORYLINES on Huntsville’s Hunter’s Bay Radio. But not only was I interviewed, which was a thrill in and of itself, but I also performed one of my Trafalgar 24 plays for the radio program…along with Christine herself playing the role of the lead in the short play, and my other writer friend Tobin Elliott stepping in as narrator. It was such a fun time! The episode of Storylines airs in early October and I can’t wait to see how the performance went. It will be interesting to see if it translates well as a radio play.
We stayed in Haliburton over the weekend, taking up residence in the cottage and bunky of writer friend Dale Long and his wife Sue. It was a thoroughly enjoyable stay, filled with great laughs, amazing food and good friends. Dale is something of a BBQ aficionado and what he can do with a grill, a cedar plank and a side of salmon is almost religious. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Longs, the Elliotts, and the beauty of Haliburton.
After our stint as radio celebrities in the recording studios of Hunter’s Bay Radio Station, Dale, Tobin and I went to Kelsey’s in Huntsville with our significant others (Sue, Karen, and Michael) for a quick lunch prior to heading to the Muskoka Novel Marathon Wrap-Up Party. We were all excited to see who would take home the peer nominated awards and the Best Novel Awards this year. After the long summer that follows the July marathon, it’s always a special treat to head back to Huntsville and reunite with the other marathon writers…so the excitement we had felt at the radio station was only growing as the wrap up party approached.
The photo above-left shows the table full of awards handed out every year at the novel marathon wrap up party, from peer nominated awards to the judged Best Novel awards. On the right, Kate and Nancy from the YMCA revealed the total raised at this year’s Muskoka Novel Marathon—A whopping $36,000.00. Just see what 40 writers can do when they put their hearts to something. ALL FUNDS raised go directly to the literacy programs of YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka Counties.
I did not think I would ever win the Best Novel Award again. I counted my 4 previous wins among my greatest feats in my writing life. With the amount of struggling I have done in recent years, I can’t even begin to describe how much I needed this. It is the vote of confidence I needed to continue writing. It’s pure unadulterated validation.
I would like to thank Dale Long for two things. The first…over 24hrs into the marathon, I still did not have my novel started. I couldn’t connect. Dale told me to tell my story—just shake it up and make it fiction. Or something along those lines. So I said, “What have I got to lose…might as well do something!” He stirred my creativity and got me started. The second thing he did? I wrote my two title considerations down on a piece of paper, looked about the room until I saw Dale (who happened to win this year’s SPIRIT AWARD–for the 2nd year running) sitting and typing…then I approached him and asked him which he preferred. So, it is because of his choice that my novel is called I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. THANKS, DALE!
Here it is! My name on the Best Novel Award trophy again! VALIDATION!
A list of my Best Novel Award wins:
2007 – Best Adult Novel for SEBASTIAN’S POET
2008 – Best Adult Novel for THE REASONS
2010 – Best Young Adult Novel for HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN
2011 – Best Young Adult Novel for THAT’S ME IN THE CORNER
2016 – Best Adult Novel Award for I WILL TELL THE NIGHT
What an incredible weekend. Filled with affirmations, friends, laughter, food, love, light and life. I want to thank Tobin’s wife, Karen, for starting the snowball-rolling-down-a-hill conversation that culminated in the arrival of my new nickname, which I will expect to be addressed by from this day forth. I am LORD AWA (awa aka AWARD WINNING AUTHOR).
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a manuscript to pound into shape! I am now tasked with the great burden and joy of completing and polishing my novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT, in preparation of submission. (-:
Stay tuned to this spot! My spate of WRITERLY related chaos is still ongoing this time around. Tonight and tomorrow night I have some exciting writerly events happening that I’m sure I will want to write about. Stay tuned!