Writing Away…

It is with a heavy heart that I announce my return from Europe. Then again, I’m so glad to be back home with loved ones. What a pickle, traveling is. It’s a strange alternate universe where everything you know drops away as you head for The Great Adventure.

The Beautiful Grand-Place Town Square in the Heart of Brussels

Just back from Brussels & Brugge, I have fallen in love with yet another foreign country. Belgium is golden. I would recommend it to anyone.

So much of Brussels pulsed with hints and signs of the great pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago. At times, I just wanted to abandon everything and follow those shells as I followed them across Spain back in 2014. The Camino calls to me every day. It felt like home seeing its signs in Brussels.

Ostensibly, I was there for a self-motivated novel writing marathon, in lieu of attending the 2017 Muskoka Novel Marathon. I had it in my head that I would write a novel while staying in Brussels.

Manneken Pis – The World Famous statue pissed a continuous stream into the street a mere minute away from my hotel room. If you want a great story, Google Mr. Mannekin Pis’s history. Wow, that baby has had quite the life. He’s a knight, you know!

But one cannot visit a country they have never been to without taking a walk about and seeing all there is to see. I believe in injecting myself into the city streets and walking madly off in all directions. It’s the best way to learn a foreign city and make it yours. Boy, did I do that in Brussels.

Assorted photos of Brussels. My favourite place to eat was Le Grand Cafe on Boulevard Anspach.–and of course I needed to have a Stella IN Belgium! The city workers painted the crosswalks RAINBOW while I was there. BRUSSELS PRIDE is on May 20th. Just missed it. Try the waffles…they are to die for! And Ellis Gourmet Burgers makes the best burgers in the world! I walked to the top of the Arcade du Cinquantenaire…it’s a beautiful view from atop this triple arch in the centre of Cinquantenaire Park.

Just prior to leaving I had received a WCDR (Writers’ Community of Durham Region) Writing Grant, for which I’m extremely grateful. It served as a reminder to put BIC and get some work done while I was there. I used the grant money to purchase passage to Brugge, where I spent the day exploring the beautiful medieval town. And what tour of Brugge would be complete without climbing to the top of the belfry tower there? The tower has been made famous in the phenomenal 2008 movie IN BRUGES. One of the main characters–Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson–jumped from the top of the tower and died on the cobbles below.

The Belfry Tower in Brugge–a steep climb to the top, but well worth it once you see the breathtaking view of the medieval town spread out below it.

Needless to say, I fell in love with everything I saw. Thankfully, I did get a great start on my novel writing project. Nowhere near what I had hoped for, but the bones are still being formed and it has the momentum it needs. I cannot complain about that. It’s a young adult novel, just over a third done…maybe.

Some more sights from Brugge. including shots from inside the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which is a famous church that houses a venerated relic–a vial said to contain the blood of Christ himself–brought back from the Crusades. The 12th century basilica is located in the Burg Square and has both a lower and an upper chapel. The statuary in these chapels were sad almost to the point of ghastly…and so beautiful in their depiction of pain and sadness.

Now, to get my feet back firmly on the ground here in Toronto and settle in to finish this novel. Travel is a wonderful thing, but so is coming home. Being home. Time to write.

The Brussels Novel Writing Experiment

I felt so confident (and dare I say innovative) when I willy-nilly decided, back in January, to randomly choose a European country to travel to–and hide out in–to write a novel during a week in May.

It’s May. I leave for Brussels in two days. The bravado and confidence has left me. As the flight date approaches, I’m getting excited to see the city I chose. I’m also realizing how much I’m going to miss a certain someone when I’m gone. I’m also worried I’m not going to be able to write a novel while I’m gone.

Every year, as the July Muskoka Novel Marathon approaches, I get super nervous that I’m going to come up with nothing during the annual 72hr novel writing marathon in Huntsville. I convince myself ahead of time that I’m going to get there and stare at a blank computer screen and write nothing. In 2016, that’s exactly what I did–more or less–for the first 24 hours. When I was mumbling into a cup of coffee about my despair over not having anything to write about, a writer friend told me to write my story–“but tweak the shit out of it so it doesn’t look quite like yours”. He immediately released an idea in me and that idea flowered into the novel that went on to win BEST ADULT NOVEL at the marathon.

So a part of me knows that the lack of confidence and the fear and the anxiety is part of the shtick. It’s part of who I am. I tell myself over and over and over again that I’m not worthy, that I can’t handle it, that I can’t do it, that I’m incapable, that I’m hopeless, that I’m going to fail, that I CAN’T. But there’s no corresponding rational part of me that points out that this is just part of the shtick. I’m in the head-space, at the moment, that is convinced I will fail at the writing part of this journey. I can’t do it. I will fail.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still manic-ally looking forward to seeing a new European city. I love travel. I would do it every day if it were a possibility. And to be honest, BRUSSELS wasn’t as randomly chosen as I would like to believe it was. To say I closed my eyes and pointed at a map of Europe and said, “This is where I will go to write a novel” is more romance than reality. I have been smitten by the eventuality of Brussels for some time. And, more pointedly, BRUGES…which I will also be exploring. I can’t wait to see these two places. I’m sure the travel part of this trip will be a smashing success. It’s the writing part I fear. It’s the being-away-from-someone-whose-constant-presence-makes-me-happy part I fear.

I want to do this. The suitcase is relatively packed. The laptop is ready for the journey. The day trips are booked for mid-week—Brussels walking tour on Tuesday and Bruges walking tour on Wednesday (because walking is the only true way to SEE a place–I learned that on the Camino)—I’m imagining sitting in front of the screen for the rest of the trip, tapping away at my keyboard. I’m sending myself anticipatory good vibes. I’m hoping this novel writing experiment is a success. For more than one reason.


My published novels – Summer on Fire, Burn Baby Burn Baby, Half Dead & Fully Broken, The Reasons, Sebastian’s Poet.

I’m sitting here with TWO consecutive novels that didn’t make it to publication. One–a Gay YA issue novel, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, about the forming of a gay/straight alliance in a high school–was loved by my agent and read by almost every single major and mid-range publisher in North America. They all rejected it—mostly with glowing compliments regarding the writing, etc…but with the death knell causing reason of it being BEHIND THE TREND. The second novel–a road trip returning home after estrangement because of a death in the family story called I WILL TELL THE NIGHT–was rejected out of the gate, by my agent. As I felt it contained some of my best writing, the rejection threw me for more than a loop. It is making me reevaluate everything at a time when I had previously planned to sit down in a foreign country and write a new novel. I’m on shaky ground here. Not to mention how devastating it was to have PRIDE unanimously rejected by so many (ALL) major publishers.

I suppose I should be honored that they all requested fulls of PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, and that they all apparently read said fulls. I suppose I should be honored by the rejections that are so complimentary I could frame them and hang them on the wall for inspiration. But I’m not. A writer mostly only hears the NO. Every rejection is a hit. Especially when you have already rejected yourself. When it comes from the publisher/agent, it’s kind of a reassurance of your lack of belief in your ability as a writer. I don’t know if it’s just me, or if it’s a rampant thing in creatives, but I don’t have faith. Well, I do…I have faith in my inability. And yet I keep on keeping on.

So here I am. I’m a soon to be traveler again. I’m looking forward to seeing a new city I dreamed of seeing. I’m feeling really sad about being away from the one I love for an entire week and looking forward to getting back home to be with them. I’m also just a boy, sitting in front of a laptop, asking it to love him. This experiment HAS to work. I neglected to sign up for the MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON this year. I wanted to take away the safety net of having a back-up novel writing plan in place for the year 2017. I LIKE writing my novels in (relatively) one sitting. So I narrowed this year’s novel writing journey to ONE PLACE, ONE WEEK, ONE CHANCE. That chance is BRUSSELS.

I’m going to miss you like crazy, Michael. Even though I already know we will be in almost constant communication and I’ll be having fun exploring new places and you’ll be having fun in the wonderful world of Disney, I’m going to miss our everyday everydayness for the coming week.

With all the anxiety of a full grown holler monkey about to jump up and down on a sheet of movie studio glass in the hopes of it not shattering into a million tiny pieces (this is the thing that seems like it would be the most demonstrative example of high-anxiety to me–so please go with it and don’t argue with a crazy person), I am ready to begin my experiment. Please, FRANCIS DE SALES, wherever your heart and mind and soul and spirit may be, please watch over me, a mad and failed writer in a world filled with mad and failed writers, while I’m gone to this place on earth to hole-up in a sub-standard hotel to write the Great North-American Novel ironically nowhere near North-American soil. Please, dear patron saint of writers and journalists, take pity on my misguided experiment. Allow me to, at the very least, find a way to write one word after another word after another word while I’m gone. I need this. I am a fallen scribe who needs something to believe in. Please give me the strength to SIT & WRITE. And, please, GIVE ME SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT. Tell me a story, all about a glory…how to begin it? There’s nothing in it…

Brussels Bound & Making Use of Member Benefits (WCDR)

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but it’s always good to throw out a reminder to WCDR members that they should take advantage of all the benefits membership opens up to them.

For those who have not yet heard of one of Canada’s most vibrant writing communities, the WCDR stands for Writers Community of Durham Region. Durham Region is JUST east of Toronto, Ontario. The group for writers is over 300 strong. Membership is open to all, whether or not you live in the area…though if you do live in the area you would more easily get to participate in many of the writing events that take place there. They have an almost monthly Roundtable Breakfast Meeting in Whitby, reading events, workshops, small writing circles, etc, etc, etc.

By taking part in some of the member benefits, writers can gain experience, knowledge, connections, publishing credits and more. One of the best benefits is the Wordweaver Newsletter that the organization puts out. It is ONLY open for members to submit to, and it’s a paying publication. This benefit gives new writers a great opportunity to gain publication credits, as well as helps to offset the cost of membership.

Another great benefit that WCDR members have is access to the great array of writing grants. Their Grants & Scholarships Program is open only to members and they are always free to apply to.

As well as all of these things, there is always a discounted member fee on the workshops and writing programs on offer through the WCDR. And it’s always a good idea to upgrade your writing skills by attending workshops.

So, if you happen to be a WCDR member and you’re not taking advantage to all the benefits the organization has to offer you, start doing so today. Hit any of the links above for more information on the things I listed, or navigate the WCDR at your own pace to discover everything there is to know about the organization. It’s a powerhouse on the Canadian writing landscape. Take advantage of it.

This brings me to the fact that my upcoming trip is fast approaching. 19 days before I depart for Belgium! I will be spending a week in Brussels in lieu of attending the Muskoka Novel Marathon this coming July. I wanted to shake things up a bit this year. I still plan to marathon a novel, but I thought I would try it on my own this time, see how my self-discipline is holding up. ALL writers desperately need self-discipline. It’s the thing that makes the difference between success and failure sometimes. Skill is only part of the equation. You can have all the skill in the world and do all your writing in the form of Twitter tweets and Facebook updates and Instagram posts. When the chips are down, what you really need to do is get BUM IN CHAIR and write. And that’s just what I will be doing in Brussels.

But I’m not crazy. I’m not going halfway around the world to lock myself in a room to write. NOT ONLY. I booked two days in which to see the world around me. A walking tour of Brussels and a walking tour of Bruges. And in between I hope to write not ONE but TWO novels in a week. If I can write the better part of one in 72 hours, I don’t see why I can’t stretch myself to write 2 in 7 days. I’m sure the math doesn’t work that way, though…but it’s not going to prevent me from trying.

This picture is apropos of nothing, really, except maybe my desire for wanderlust. Life is a journey…get out there. Explore! Find your passion–your path–and take it.

Another thing about Brussels. It was the impetus for me to finally consider applying for a WCDR writing grant. I always thought I’d leave the grants and scholarships alone…leave them for others to use. After arranging my writing schedule for the trip, I thought, why not? So I applied. And I was awarded a grant this past Saturday. SO it is with much appreciation to the organization I have already come to love so much over the years that I thank the WCDR for their contribution to my solitary European writing retreat. I will be writing with the knowledge that the organization stands behind my efforts. For that I am grateful.

I’m sure I’ll be back to tell you how it went. I won’t say I’m not nervous. I get this nervous every year before I head to the Muskoka Novel Marathon too. What if I sit down and I have nothing to write? What if the muse does not appear? What if I become too distracted to write? What if? What if? What if? You can’t live your life by what ifs, though. I will get to Belgium, I will sit down in a strange place and I will open my laptop and I will write.