Throwback Thursday and Pride is Coming! Pre-order Now

The waiting is the hardest part. Tom Petty was not wrong. When you put your heart and soul into something and your agent tells you it’s good, you see a kernel of a chance that maybe someone else will like it. Like it enough to pick it up. Like it enough to help you get it out into the world. Then your agent sends it out into the hands of waiting editors. And then you wait. And then you wait. And then you wait. I’m not complaining. Far from it. I’m thrilled that my agent believes in my latest novel. And I’m thrilled that editors like the sound of the premise enough to request a full read. And I’m grateful to all.

It’s just REALLY hard waiting. Especially when you know you ripped your heart out for this one…that you gave it your all and then some. My latest novel lived inside me for almost a full three years before I let it out. In that time, I cultivated it, imagined it and re-imagined it over and over again. As I wrote it, I literally felt like I was taking another pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago where the novel is set. I LIVED it. And now, full-stop-wait. SO hard. SO VERY HARD. But I get it. I’ve been here before. Many times. I have patience. But I also wear out the worry-beads during this stage in the process. Boy, howdy…it’s intense. I question and re-question every sentence, every word, every character, every piece of dialogue. It’s a funny thing writers do to themselves during this stage of the process. Self-flagellation has NOTHING on the writer awaiting word on the status of their novel after it leaves the hands of their agent.

BREATHE. Breathe.

I thought I would share a pic of the Camino for a Thursday Throwback. (-: Because, you know, I almost never share Camino shots.

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Samos, Spain – Along the Camino de Santiago

I thought I would share this particular picture because the town of Samos figures in my latest novel. There are a few scenes that take place in Samos, but I think my favourite is the one at the end of the chapter that features the beautiful town and its monastery. This fence is throughout the town around the large monastery there. At the end of the chapter three of my characters–Diego, Shania, and Bastien–leap this fence and walk into the river, clothes and all.

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This pic is also from the monastery in Samos. There’s a walk-around outside balcony that is literally covered with murals. They’re breathtaking. The setting is also featured in my novel. Diego, Shania, and Manny find a doppelganger for Diego on the wall.

That’s all. Two pics. The throwback is from MAY 2014, when I walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago with an organized group of Canadian pilgrims. The novel I completed last fall was festering in the back of my mind during that entire journey.

MY FINGERS ARE CROSSED for my Camino novel. I feel like I really gave it my everything and I hope it gets to see the light of day!

 

NOW…a mention of my upcoming release…which has nothing to do with the above. PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE is set to release in 5 days on FEBRUARY 6th! The first draft for this novel was mostly written at the 2015 Muskoka Novel Marathon. See below for a synopsis, cover and buy links. You can PRE-ORDER the Kindle version now…get it before the 6th and it’ll drop and be ready for you to read on your Kindle on the morning of the 6th!

PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE:

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.

Click on the pic below to preorder on AMAZON NOW! Only $3. The link is for USA, but it’s also available at AMAZON CANADA, KOBO, and BARNES & NOBLE.

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Inspiring Others on the Way of St. James – Camino de Santiago Peregrino Russell Kenny

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Russell Kenny at the End of the World! Finisterre, Spain. (Photo courtesy Russell Kenny)

When I walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela back in 2014, I found everything about the journey to be inspirational. The people, the breathtaking landscapes, the allegories and symbolism…everything. It was a life-changing experience. Having walked only a portion of the Camino, I have come to understand that it calls one to it. And when one heeds the call, it becomes a lifetime passion. I know several people who have revisited the pilgrimage multiple times. I myself plan to walk it again in 2019, if all goes as planned. In the meantime, I never tire of talking about the Camino. Thankfully, others who have walked feel the same way. Russell Kenny is one of those people.

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Russell Kenny, entertaining on the Camino de Santiago… (Photo courtesy Russell Kenny)

 

One of the wonderful things I noticed on my pilgrimage were the messages you find along the way from past peregrinos (pilgrims) who have already made their way to Santiago. These could be found in the form of graffiti, meticulously spelled out using twigs and stones, in long cloth ribbons hanging from trees, etc. Everywhere, it seemed, was the desire to share the wonderment and inspiration. I imagined people who were heavily burdened by their packs, having their aha! moments, stopping and saying, “I gotta get this down! I gotta get this down!” They’d stop and jot down their thoughts on whatever they could find and leave the golden nuggets of wisdom behind for future peregrinos.

 

 

Words will always stop a writer in his or her tracks. And so will symbolism. Some left messages of hope, others inspirational quotes from favourite songs, and others still simply proof that they were there. Often, the message wasn’t even in the form of words at all. If you’re looking for the message, you’ll find it. The above pics are only a few of the messages I came across. There’s not enough space on the internet to share all of them.

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A Message to a Future Peregrino from Russell Kenny.

 

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A photo of a message a fellow peregrino sent to Russell to let him know his words are reaching their target audience.

Russell Kenny is one of the Camino’s inspirational messengers. Russell was able to track me down through my blog when he discovered the picture above. When he told me he has walked the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied De Port to Santiago–and further on to Finisterre and Muxia–9 times in 10 years, I knew I had to hear more. So I asked him if I could interview him for my blog. Thankfully, he readily agreed. Here’s what Russell had to say about his experiences on the Camino de Santiago!

1. First I’d like to ask you a little about your own Camino experiences in general. How many Camino pilgrimages have you walked? And which routes have you taken?

1st year (2007) I cycled from England to Spain through France and started in St Jean Pied De Port to Santiago and cycled back to UK. I decided after that walking was the only way to do the Camino. I have since walked from St Jean To Santiago, then onto Finsterre and Muxia, nine times in ten years. Some Caminos I did back to back because I could not face coming home. So I did the ‘Camino Levante’ from Valencia to Santiago and then ‘Via De La Plata’ from Seville to Santiago and also part of ‘Camino Del Norte’ from Irun, But I walk backwards and forwards on many Caminos because I am addicted to it. So in all 13 Caminos.

2. What was your inspiration for leaving messages for fellow peregrinos along the way to Santiago? What are some of your favourite messages? Either ones you have left or ones you have found on the path?

 My inspiration to leave messages, I do not understand myself. But when a thought comes to mind and there’s nobody around to share it with, I write it down quickly… any hour of the day. Even if I wake up at 3am sometimes with an idea, I’ll get my headlamp on in the tent to write it down. I guess I leave the messages because later people pass by me and say “Hey I saw your messages along the Camino and they made me think. Thanks!” That’s a good feeling. 🙂

3. Have you had a lot of response from the messages you left on the path? Were you able to connect with people who found your notes?

Yes I get many a-response. People I have not even met on the Camino track me down on Facebook and send me photos of the messages via my name I leave on the messages. And people I have met also contact me, obviously.

4. Can you tell us what it was like walking the Camino with a tent and living out in the elements, as opposed to staying in albergues (hostels)? Any harrowing experiences or interesting tales arise from camping along the Camino?

Most of the time I create my own hiking trailer that I pull behind me, connected to a little rucksack on my shoulders. I make a new trailer each year and then leave them on the Camino for some other pilgrims to find and hopefully use. I make my trailers as cheaply as possible from things I dig out of rubbish skips.

Albergues, I do not like. It feels like being captive in somebody’s idea of how a pilgrim should live. Lights out and doors locked at 10pm in a lot of albergues, people snoring or talking in the early hours of the morning, people switching on their headlamps or the room lights at silly o’clock in the morning. A tent is freedom, washing in rivers, sleeping and waking when I am ready to do so…plus there’s an increase of bed bugs along the Camino.

No bad experiences from sleeping in tent, just that the lamps of the early walkers sometimes wakes me up.

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One of Russell’s many hiking trailers, complete with his ever-present guitar. (Photo courtesy Russell Kenny)

5. Do you have any experiences to share in relation with your guitar? Any out-of-the-blue moments arise from being a peregrino with the ability to make song?

There’s one experience on the Camino this year (2017) involving the guitar whilst i was camping in a little forest near Pedrouzo. I always run out of money because I sometimes stay on the Camino for up to 8 months. Well, this one morning I had just enough money for a coffee and walked into town not knowing if I was going to eat that day or not. When I returned to my tent the pilgrims that had passed by in those few short hours of me being in town having a coffee etc had put 147 euros inside my tent. I cried for the fact they cared that much. It was so moving. A lot of pilgrims either left notes or talked to me later along the Camino saying they had left me money because I made their day good somewhere along the Camino a few days or a week ago by playing the guitar, but they didn’t get a chance to thank me at the time. So they left money when they saw my tent. 🙂 Experiences like this are countless and priceless…so nice. And they make me feel wanted. I don’t often get that feeling back home.

6. Any advise for those who have dreamed of walking the Camino de Santiago but have not yet taken the plunge? What is it about the Camino? As a fellow peregrino, I am at times overwhelmed with emotion just thinking about my love of the Camino. In your experience, and in your own words, what makes the Camino such a transformative life-changing experience that keeps drawing you back?

Those that dream of walking the Camino… just get off your ass and do it. Think of those that cannot do the Camino for health reasons, family reasons, trapped in the wrong marriage or relationship reasons.

The Camino is a reflection of life, but you have the choice to walk away from a situation you do not like. This is not always the same in real life. Meeting new people from all over the world is healthy…we take our masks off for those few short weeks, talk to strangers about life’s ups and downs, step out of our comfort zones because we are out of the system that blackmails us to live the life of system-slavery.

A lot of the time I cry about the conversations I have had with people after listening to some of the horrific or sad things that have happened in their lives. Getting to Santiago is not the answer for anyone along the Camino. The magic of the answers a lot of us seek are in the walking and the talking with certain people you connect with mentally while sharing each others stories…free therapy from real people rather than a trained therapist that knows nothing of real pain.

Advice for those walking the Camino for the first time? Buy boots 2 sizes too big and wear thick socks. Or wear sandals the whole Camino in rain or sun. Losing toenails is a painful shame that could lead to further infection, so give as much room to your feet as you can in your footwear.

 

 

(Above two photos courtesy Russell Kenny)

8. Finally, when is your next Camino? And which path will you be walking?

Camino 2018…I will walk the Portuguese Camino in reverse from Santiago to Lagos. 

Thank you so much for sharing your Camino thoughts here, Russell. And a hearty thanks for the messages you leave along the pilgrimage! I was happy to find them along MY way. The constant connections to past peregrinos was a great inspiration to this–at times–weary pilgrim. Know that your gifted words are touching people in the exact way you hope them to. Buen Camino, my friend!

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If Russell’s messages have made you smile along YOUR WAY, look him up… (Photo courtesy Russell Kenny)

 

 

When You Finish a Novel that Consumed You

There’s nothing like typing THE END at the bottom of your MSWord document. It is a distinct kind of joy and sorrow to do so. On the one hand, there is a great sense of accomplishment. On the other, you are sadly saying goodbye to great friends. It is the hug that wounds, the kiss that burns, the cut that feels so good.

After living inside the Camino de Santiago for the past month, retracing my own steps for the sake of my characters, I am exhausted-spent-exhilarated-lonely-happy-thrilled-gutted-euphoric-elated-dejected-emotional and fragile and infinite and empowered. And a few other emotions thrown in for good measure.

If you’re a novelist, you know the feeling.

My young adult novel The Walk–or The Camino Club (I cannot decide)–has been put to bed. It will be what it will be. I need to strike that pilgrimage place from my list of obsessions for a spell. The Camino itself fully consumed me while writing that novel. From watching the movie THE WAY on repeat, to listening to the same movie’s soundtrack on repeat, to reliving my own Camino experience through memories and photographs…I swear I feel like I just got back from Santiago de Compostela today. So powerful was the spell it has had on me these past weeks.

Goodbye Santiago de Compostela. I love you so much. And I love the characters I created to walk the path towards you too. Goodbye Diego, Shania, Manny, Troy, Greg, Claire, Meagan, Gilbert, Kei, Mia, Becky, AND Bastien. Buen Camino!

But there is nothing to do after finishing a novel, but to jump into the next one. Whether that be returning to a work in progress or starting something new. To dally would be to get out of the habit. So, onward. Back to the novel I began in Brussels this past May. It needs to be completed. Today, I turn the page from Spain and open a new one on Brussels. I swear, these settings are consuming me just as much as these characters.

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Time to revisit Brussels, one of the few settings for my current young adult WIP. This is me in Grand Place, the beautiful square in the heart of Brussels, just two minutes from where I stayed this past May.
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My upcoming release PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE is now on GOODREADS. Click the image above to swing on over to GOODREADS and add #PMBAP to your shelf! It drops February 6th, 2018.

The Monster of Passion

If you’re anything like me, your story sparks blow up while you’re trying to keep ahead of them.

Recently I began to write a short story for a contest I wished to enter. When I see local writing contests, I like to enter as a way of showing my support for the organization that is hosting them. The intention is never to place in the contest. I don’t have enough self-esteem to hope for that to happen. If it does, even better. But if it doesn’t–if I just happen to be one of the paying entrants whose money helps to support the continuation of the contest in the future–well, I’ve already won. I like that these writing opportunities exist.

I haven’t forgotten the thread of this post. It’s actually about the short story I penned for the writing contest. Or rather, it’s about what happened when I took on the spark of an idea that prompted that original short story. Perhaps it was the subject matter itself–the Camino de Santiago–but I doubt it. Because it happens a lot, no matter the subject matter. I begin to write one short story, and, like a horse in a race it begins to make its way to the finish line while I struggle to keep up with its frenetic pace. What happens next is typically what happens in a horse race. While the horse and I are tearing up the track, another more urgent horse comes barrelling up alongside us.

The second horse in this analogy, as you may have guessed, is another spark for a short story idea…which stemmed from the original. Do I get off the first horse and hop onto the second? Probably dangerous, right? It may kill my momentum and fizzle out the writing fire I’ve begun with the first story. If I try to jump to the second horse, I may fall and end up horseless.

Here’s where multi-tasking comes in to play. No…I don’t try to write both stories simultaneously. That’s like straddling both horses, and it’s almost always a catastrophe in my own personal experience. I DO jot down a few of the second story’s more pertinent sparky little details before I lose sight of them, though. I can do this while maintaining my pace with the first horse.

If you’ve ever been to the races, you’ll know there are very seldom (never) races which involve only TWO horses. Enter horse number three. If you’re feeling a bit of stress reading this and realizing that the Creative Spark Fairy is often a sadistic bastard, you’re not alone. I’ve known this for quite some time.

So there I was, writing my short story for the writing contest and knowing the deadline was RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER. I mean, at the stroke of midnight my time to submit it would be up. And a third horse came up alongside me. “Hi. Look at me. I’m another story!” I can’t hush these sparks. They demand attention. They insist that you juggle them. They want to be told. Our passions are monsters…they take hold of us in the best possible way. They make us better.

Maybe it’s a matter of being really good with a lasso? When I was 5ish I lassoed the family television and pulled it around the living room, so I happen to know that I am exceptional with a lasso. (Before you ask, yes I did get permission to do this prior to doing it. I’m not crazy. My parents, on the other hand, may very well have been. They should always pay attention when their most rambunctious child is asking them a question. Especially when he’s twirling a lasso over his cowboy hatted head while asking it. It’s like they never learned.) So, back to the horse analogy. I DID manage to stay on my first horse and race him to the finish line in time to complete and submit the original short story prior to the submission deadline. Yay, me! What I also managed to do was lasso the other two horses and get them to keep pace with me so that I could explore the sparks that created them in the first place.

After the first story was submitted, I hit the ground running with story number two. The thing about this particular subject matter was I can think of a hundred thousand stories that take place on the Camino. When I walked it, I met so many people from so many different countries. And I got snippets and tidbits of their stories while I walked. People open up on the Camino de Santiago. They whisper to fellow peregrinos some of their deepest most private thoughts. They share their lives.

So when I started that first story, about a woman walking the Camino in order to find a way back to who she was before she identified solely as a wife and a mother, more people came up to me from the deep well of creativity that the Camino inspires in me. I wrote about Helen and that second horse, Corinne came barrelling up and said, “Wait…I too have a story that you can tell.” And then a third horse, Richard, came up and pleaded, “No, tell my story.” And it just snowballed from there.

 

Images from Portomarin, Spain…one of the multitude of beautiful and inspirational places along the Camino.

Usually when this happens with a spark I do see a few projects through. But often I only use one of them. Often, it’s the original that goes out into the world. But it’s also at times the third or the fourth or the fifth story that I eventually end up using. I never consider the unused ones to be a waste of my time, though. Every spark becomes a horse race. And horse races are fun. I enjoy exploring all my options before I settle with the winning horse. And then there are the times that a subject matter possesses me so thoroughly that the topic comes up across the board in my writing life. I’ll write plays, novels, short stories and poetry from the same well. It’s the only way I know how to exhaust the well. Get all my horses to the finish line. Then and only then can I move on to the next spark that inflames my passion. This Camino race? It certainly has a lot of horses in it. I suspect this race will be off and on for the rest of my life. Its horses are strong and fierce and filled with spunk. It’s a horse race without a finish line. And I’m good with that. I have to be. I’m a peregrino.

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The Mini Camino You’ve Been Waiting For!

I know I talk a lot about the Camino de Santiago on my blog. I’m a bit obsessive about a few things and the Camino is one of them. As obsessions go, it’s not really a bad one, though, is it? It’s a beautiful walk filled with inspiration, hard work, beautiful people, and time to reflect on the life you’ve led and the one you’ll walk into at the end of your journey to the Cathedral.

My friend–fellow writer and Camino expert Sue Kenney–guides small pilgrim groups on short pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. She does this twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Sue is now accepting pilgrims into her Fall Group.

100 Kilometres/6 Day Walk

2017 FALL RETREAT

DATES: October 20-28, 2017. 8 Days/7 Nights.

This is an exceptional primer to those who have always wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago in its entirety, or for beginners who just want a taste of that elusive Camino energy they’ve been hearing about. It is said that once you hear about the Camino it begins to call to you…and the call doesn’t go silent until you feed it. Have you heard the call from the Camino? Maybe this Fall 2017 getaway is the best way to heed that call for now. 6 days, 100km…a walk in the park–one of the most beautiful parks in the world. With a beautiful person who will inspire your every step with her insatiably contagious joie de vivre. Now is the time to walk with Sue Kenney (Camino Sue) to that magical Cathedral at the end of the yellow arrows!

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A Mile Marker along the sacred route to the Cathedral on The Way of St. James.

What are you doing this October? Let Sue Kenney guide you on a spiritual journey along the last 100km of the Camino. She is having a discount at the moment if you book before July 1st.

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Sue’s Book from her FIRST Camino journey. Click cover to visit book on Amazon.

CANADA’S BIRTHDAY SPECIAL Book by July 1ST, 2017 with a $1000.00 deposit for 20% OFF THE FEES.

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Perhaps my favourite picture from the thousands I took on my own Camino journey back in May, 2014. This is Sue Kenney at her glorious best, thanking the universe for being there. And doing it in her signature barefooted way.

Visit Sue’s site for full details on the upcoming OCTOBER RETREAT. You’ve been thinking about the Camino for some time now, haven’t you? It’s time to do something about that desire you’ve been holding onto. The Camino is calling!

FROM SUE’S SITE:

The group will meet in Samos, Spain on October 20, 2017 and we will arrive in Santiago on October 27, 2017.

We begin our pilgrimage in the city of the famous 13 Century Samos monastery.

We will walk on average 18 kilometers a day through beautiful landscapes, undulating terrain and we will spend most of our time walking in the mountains and forests. At each stop, the accommodation is booked for you and in private pilgrim albergues, rural pensions or hotels.

On the last day, we will all walk into Santiago (Optional) as a group and go to the Pilgrims Office to receive our Compostela. On the following day, you are invited to attend the Pilgrims Mass and possibly see the Botafumeiro swing. (huge  incense holder)

The Camino has the power to transform lives. Is it calling you? For a FREE half hour phone call to find out more about the Camino or to receive a Registration Package, contact Sue at the number below. (GO DIRECTLY TO SUE’S SITE TO VIEW THE PHONE NUMBER)

SUE KENNEY – WALK THE CAMINO – PILGRIMAGE RETREATS

My One-Hour Short Story – When You Know, You Know

‘Both of Helen’s feet bled steadily as she walked. She fought to ignore the blisters making a nasty soup of blood and puss in the heel of each of her merino wool socks. It was nine a.m. With each passing hour she lost a little more of her will to continue. She held on to the memory of her ex-husband’s laughter at the folly she displayed in thinking she could make this journey. She carried her daughter Meagan’s doubt, freely given when she had told her of her goal. Their lack of support was perhaps the only thing left to propel Helen forward to Santiago.’

So begins the short story that fully and completely consumed me for one hour back on March 20th when I first noticed the quickly approaching deadline for the Writers’ Community of Simcoe County‘s Word by Word Short Fiction Contest. I had mulled it over in my mind that I wanted to enter the contest, but never actually got around to writing anything for it.

The Camino de Santiago had been at the top of my mind for some time. The anniversary of my walk to Santiago de Compostela was quickly approaching (May, 2014), and I was fondly remembering the journey and watching the movie The Way (Starring Martin Sheen with cameos from the director, and his son, Emilio Estevez). I was reliving my Camino and it was looking for a creative way out.

You know when you just KNOW? The story consumed me like a fire. I may have tweeted something about a 63 year-old woman possessing my body to the #5amwritersclub crew. It was true. Helen had entered me and proceeded to furiously tell her Camino story to me. I love it when creativity of that magnitude takes hold and doesn’t let go until the end.

What I just KNEW was that I had a winner on my hands. I don’t say that to brag or to suggest that my writing is great, or even good. I say it because sometimes when you write, the honesty’s too much–oops, musical interlude. Sometimes when you write, you just know that you’re writing something honest and from the heart and meaningful.

When the hour was done and I had a short story in front of me–something to submit to the contest–I sat still for a minute. I needed a rest, I needed for that powerful 63 year-old woman to leave my suddenly exhausted body. I needed recoup time for the creativity exorcism of her departure.

And then, after she left my body, I read the story. AS MYSELF. And, you know when BRIAN, the geek from The Breakfast Club, looks over his essay and knows for certain that he has said exactly what it is he wanted to say? For me, it might be the pivotal moment of the entire movie. He reads over his work, and then he gives himself a little WAY-TO-GO tap on the arm. “YOU DID IT!”

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That’s how I felt when I read HELEN FINDS HER WAY TO AFTER, the short story I wrote for the contest.

And then I submitted it. And then, in the beginning, I fully believed it would somehow make the shortlist for the contest. I felt so great about it. Helen’s story was honest and true and difficult and wonderful. Her ‘saviour’ was a simple man who had become a little bit cosmic while spending far too much time on the Camino as a way of escaping the pain of the death of his spouse. He gently talked Helen through her last few miles to the cathedral when she thought she might not be able to walk another step. It resonated with me. I felt it might resonate with others.

As the weeks passed, of course, I convinced myself that there was no way in hell the story would make the shortlist. It meant something to me only because the Camino means so much to me. But something in the back of my mind wouldn’t let me give up on this story. The fire with which it was delivered kept burning brightly. It kept saying, “You got this. YOU DID IT!”

Come what may, I would be proud of the story. Not because of its words, but because of the way I had connected to my creative side while I wrote them. Only once in a blue moon that kind of ferocity takes over while you’re writing. You don’t recognize it while you’re IN IT, because you become not a writer but the act of writing itself. It’s when you finish that you realize magic took place. Because it’s when you finish that you come back into your body with a soft landing and realize the other you had taken over. The one that has no connections to the work-a-day life you live. The one that is connected only with creativity. You tapped into the flow so fully and completely, that you left yourself behind.

 

Some pictures from my own Camino journey ~ the most inspiring journey I’ve ever been on!

And then the shortlist was announced. I read it over two, three times. Because something told me my name would be on it. Not for my sake, but for Helen’s sake. Something told me she would make it past the finish line and carry me on her back.

Alas, my name was not on the list. And neither was Helen’s. The story that consumed me for an hour and caused me to leave myself behind had only, after all, meant something to me (and maybe to Helen, who now felt like an actual living breathing woman).

I deflated back to the ground and told myself, “See. Of course it wasn’t good enough. You have to get over this Camino obsession.”

And then another contest deadline came into my radar and I thought, ‘maybe if I just rewrite this story, or write a different Camino story, it will win the next contest. Or the next.’

So I sat down and began to write another Camino story.

And then I received an email.

Dear Kevin, 

Congratulations on making the shortlist in the Writers Community of Simcoe County’s Word by Word contest. It was a very competitive competition this year and we are thrilled to be able to offer you a place in our final five stories.

This was one of those times when I secretly thought that the universe had somehow gotten something wrong. As much as I am a total pessimist when it comes to my writing, I honestly and sincerely thought Helen should have made the list. And then that email came. It was a magical second life in the contest. I had made the shortlist because one of the original Top 5 was disqualified (it had been published elsewhere as the result of another contest).

I thought, ‘okay, I’ll take it.’ But surely that was as far as it was going to go, right? I was honoured to know now that it had made #6 in the competition. It meant that Helen actually did touch people. I could take that #6 and be happy.

Yesterday, it was announced that the contest’s final round judge, Carly Watters (Senior Agent for PS Literary), chose my short story as the 3rd Place Winner from the Top 5 stories.

You know when you just KNOW?

I am beyond thrilled with this win. Not because I won a prize. Not because it’s proof that I’m doing something right. Not because it’s a celebration of my writing. It’s for none of these things. I’m thrilled because that day back in March when Helen came into my life and furiously told her story I wanted so badly for her to be rewarded for her efforts. Sometimes creativity hits you like a truck and your job is to just keep up with it…just allow it to run its course. Helen was real for that hour…because I allowed her to be. She won this honour, not me. This win was all Helen’s doing. Thank you, Writers’ Community of Simcoe County, for giving me a reason to explore the Camino and creativity in the same breath. Thank you, Carly Watters, for seeing something in my story worthy of Top 3 placement. Thank you, Helen, for visiting me on that day when I had no inspiration and a quickly approaching deadline. And thank you, my Camino, for breathing life into Helen and allowing me to get out of the way and tell her story.

I am filled with gratitude.

 

 

 

Camino Camino – The Obsession Grows

Good ole Facebook is at it again. It is constantly re-igniting my obsession with the Camino de Santiago that grows inside me every day. This week is the 3rd year anniversary of my Camino journey. Every day I am seeing picture after picture in my Facebook Memories feature. Every day, my longing to be back on THE WAY swells to a new height.

Add in the fact that I know my Camino guide and friend Sue Kenney is currently guiding yet another round of peregrinos on The Way even as I write this, and I have a perfect storm of Camino Desire. I want to walk the entire Camino Frances (The French Way) from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela and beyond…yes, all the way to Finisterre. Some days the desire is so strong, I just want to put life on hold, board a plane, land in France and start walking.

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My Camino – May 2014

But the Camino is time. In order to walk The Way, you need well over a month to complete the trek from St. Jean to Finisterre. Perhaps 2. It is not presently in the cards. Retirement? Maybe. One can hope to be able to have the health required to do these things in their golden years. It is, nevertheless, an obsession…and it will continue to be one.

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On this day, three years ago, I cross this monumental milestone on my brief Camino journey from Ponferrada to Camino de Compostela. I walked this leg with my Camino friend Connie

I try to take the journey with me every day. When I go somewhere new, I walk the streets and attempt to see that new place with the eyes of the Camino peregrino living inside me. Every day is an opportunity to walk…every day can be a journey.

Everything points to The Way. It’s a way to live as much as it is a physical path…it’s an exploration of self.

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Along The Way there are always signs…everywhere. Ribbons on trees with messages, sticks on the ground forming words, chalked mantras, notes everywhere. This one from someone named Russell Kenny caught my eye in 2014…

I suppose the intensity of my love for this place will always swell on the anniversary of my journey…thanks to Facebook and its memories. Not a bad thing to recall…not at all. I love you, My Camino. One day, I will walk you again. On that day, this peregrino will be home…

Everyday Camino, Everyday MNM…

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“Once, there was a way to get back home…” ~ The Beatles  ETA: The rock pictured above is the handy-work of poet/writer Paula Boon. It was a little offering to a fellow MNM writer at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon. I fell instantly in love with the ROCKPOEM. It encapsulated the theme of my 2016 MNM novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. Thanks, Paula!

 

Sometimes, in the life of an author, the echo of silence is so severe it scorches. The armor one must wear to be a writer is, at times, debilitating. Even with 5 novels published and readily available for consumption, I’m, for the most part, an unread author. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to squish a mountain of sour grapes into the universe. It is what it is. My books are largely unread. It is merely a fact.

This, in and of itself, is not as debilitating as it sounds. Honestly. Just a little disheartening. But the preciousness of the ego is protected in such a way that one can hold on to one good word for a very long time as motivation to carry on and continue on with the journey despite the obvious reasons one has for folding up shop and moving on. Between the excruciatingly long awkward silences that come of being an unread author, there are little tidbits of rewards when one discovers someone has not only read one of your books…but loved it. These nuggets are what I hold onto when I struggle with the ever-present question that dogs the unread author: WHAT’S THE POINT?

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On the Camino de Santiago, the graffiti is almost always inspiring or thought-provoking…

But the point is more about self-fulfillment than it is about being read, isn’t it? When it comes right down to it, the creative heart is creative out of necessity rather than out of any desire for recognition and being petted for being creative. Creativity happens even in a void of witnesses. If I were the last human being on the planet–the lucky/unlucky survivor of a nuclear holocaust, say–I’d still have the need in my heart to be creative. I would still write.

I’ve been thinking a LOT lately about the Camino de Santiago and how my experience there reflects my creative life. I haven’t quite made the connection, but it’s there. I just can’t put my finger on it. I have thought a lot about the concept of EVERYDAY CAMINO since returning from Spain in May of 2014. I have thought a lot about the fact that the journey not only ended at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela…but it also BEGAN there. I honestly can’t stop thinking about how the journey of the Camino de Santiago mirrors Dorothy’s journey on the Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard of Oz. I was mesmerized by the analogy all throughout my Camino journey and even more so at the end of the journey when I stood in the piazza in front of the great cathedral and saw a million familiar faces staring back at me and up into the face of the cathedral itself. Every man, woman and child I had walked beside, around, with, past—every one of them seemed to be there in that piazza. I walked around in a daze, thinking, ‘And you were there, and you were there, and you were there, and you were there!’ And when I walked into the cathedral, I felt the weight of a thousand dreams, wishes and hopes. I looked about for the wizard and he was there and he was me and he was all the other peregrinos (pilgrims) present at the time. We were all the wizard. We were all the makers of our own journeys. We were all there for proof of intelligence, and for a heart, and for courage, and for a home. We were there to belong.

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My first moment in front of the Wizard’s castle. The Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

I want to be on that journey, still. I want that wide-eyed wonder every day. I AM on that journey. I carry it with me. It is only after you walk the Camino de Santiago that you realize the journey has just begun. You can bottle that mesmerizing feeling and take it with you. The Camino allows you do to that.

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In the city of Santiago de Compostela, right outside the passport office where you receive your Compostela certificate for walking the Camino, there is a corner…and in that corner, the discarded walking sticks of those who made the sacred journey… THESE sticks were a PROFOUND MOMENT for me. I will never forget these sticks.

The tie-in for me, when it comes to trying to piece together my writing life with my Camino, is the Muskoka Novel Marathon. This 72hr novel writing marathon is to the Camino as The Wizard of Oz is to the Camino. At the end of the writing marathon, I look around at all the tired, sleepy, traumatized, disheveled, elated, emotional writers (40+ of them) I took the marathon journey with and I think, ‘And you were there, and you were there, and you were there, and you were there!’ We land at the end of the marathon weekend with a splash and a plunk and we say, “WE MADE IT!” The marathon is the Camino is the marathon is the Camino. They are the same thing…both are journeys. One uses your feet and your heart and your desire and your dreams. The other uses all those things and a laptop and a chair.

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My view at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon.

I may have just put my finger on it.

I need to live the Everyday Camino I theorize and I need to use the Everyday MNM I theorize. I need these journeys to continue. I have books to write. I have books to complete. I can’t sit around hoping for others to read the words I leave behind me. I need to continue to leave them there for myself.

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Just a handful of the 40+ writers who took part at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon. We raised over $36,000 for literacy in 2016.

These two paths are so connected–interconnected–when I squint, the line between them disappears. Camino = Writing = Camino. I will, in the coming months, be looking for ways to shore up my writing practice with my Camino journey…which I very much consider to be ongoing.

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Another one of my views at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon – Writing by the dock of the bay…

I already know I will NOT be attending the 2017 Muskoka Novel Marathon. I won the Best Novel Award last year at the marathon, for the 5th time. I’m thrilled at that accomplishment. But I also felt like most of my time there was mired in failure last year. My unfinished manuscripts are piling up and I discovered at the marathon that I am unable to work on finishing projects there in that space of new projects. And that is what I want to do…finish projects. That is my goal for 2017.

In keeping with that goal, I am going to be exploring ways to work on my WIPs while at the same time exploring my life journey, my Camino. I know I can continue to incorporate the two. I don’t always write about the journeys I take, but I always feel more invigorated and ready to write when I take journeys. Perhaps I should make my own Camino this year, make my own novel writing marathon.

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The Camino de Santiago – Close friends and strangers…all fellow peregrinos for life. Magic happens on the Camino—a magic that the Camino allows you to carry away from its journey.

Goodbye to My Beautiful Camino Friend…

Sometimes people come into your life for such an incredibly short glimpse of time that it’s hard to imagine they could leave a huge lasting impression. And then they do.

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Nick, Danielle, and Connie…taking a break at a stop along the way.

And then, sometimes, you get to walk the journey of the Camino de Santiago…and every path you cross is significant, every person you meet is a brother or a sister. Just like how you are called to The Way, you are called to meet and walk with those you discover along the way.

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Every step of the Camino has beauty to offer. The trick is keeping yourself open to it. It is, at times, a tough journey.

My Camino journey was with a group. Sue Kenney is a friend and Camino guide who takes groups to Spain twice a year to walk a portion of the Camino together. She is a kind heart and an amazing Camino guide. When I went with her group in May, 2014, I had no idea what it would be like.

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A bridge on the way out of Portomarin, Spain.

On day one, our group discovered each other…we made friends with one another. We were filled with anxiety, excitement, jet-lag, hope, longing, fear, curiosity. The electricity was palpable! We were giddy! As we set off on the journey to the church in Santiago, we found our pace and we walked together, and in smaller groups, and alone. It was constantly shifting, changing, evolving. We walked with one another and we walked with strangers from around the world.

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The bridge into Portomarin, Spain…

The person I covered the most miles with, by far, was Connie. At first, perhaps, we walked together because our pace was the closest match. Though, truth be told, Connie actually had a slightly faster pace than me.

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The famous church of Portomarin, Spain. It was moved from the riverside up a hill…one brick at a time. They numbered each brick so that they could re-assemble it at the top in the proper order.

Right from the onset, Connie felt like a good friend from far away. We just hit it off instantly. She was wise and giving. She came into my life at a point where it was very much in flux. She was exactly who I needed to talk to at that time. Her no nonsense approach to life was amazing. She offered life advice, relationship advice, and surprisingly, even advice on how to walk properly.

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Did I mention that beauty could be found at every turn?

Connie was the group photographer. And she took incredible pictures along the way. She joked that the hundreds upon hundreds of pictures that I took were always blurry and out of focus. I joked that I was capturing my shots with an amateur eye and I didn’t have the pressure of taking the perfect shot every time because I wasn’t a professional. She took beautiful shots…breathtaking. I was lucky to find one good one in a hundred. But I was okay with that. Often, I didn’t even stop walking to take a shot.

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Mountains and fields everywhere. It is the most breathtaking journey to Camino de Santiago…

We would lose each other along the way, walk with others in and out of our group, catch up with one another for breaks…it was all utterly organic. No plans beyond WALKING TO CAMINO DE SANTIAGO.

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One of the beautiful signs that others have come before you is the many ribbons you’ll find in the trees. Most with messages of hope and wonder…most in different languages. The world walks the Camino.

Each night the group would meet up and break bread together and sleep together at the same albergue. Other than that, we were wayfarers walking our way across Spain.

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There is a lot of graffiti along the journey to Santiago, Spain. It seems to warn you to LIVE YOUR LIFE NOW.

Connie and I had some extremely deep conversations while we walked. We divulged secrets to one another…shared wisdom, laughs, jokes, tidbits of our lives outside the journey. The connection grew quickly, as it does for all who take this magical journey.

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We discovered the long and winding road of song. It’s in Spain…on the journey to Santiago…

By the time we got to Santiago, I felt such a strong bond with Connie. As a whole, the group definitely bonded. It was filled with wonderful people. But there were also smaller groups within the group. Myself and Connie being one of them. She was fearless, headstrong, a smartass, courageous, funny, serious, irrelevant, relevant. I knew I would love her forever. I hated that she lived so far away from me back home. She was in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. I’m in Toronto.

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You meet SO many people on the journey. This is Connie saying hello to a horse. Its rider was from Germany. We met up with him a few times. He was a wonderful man. We struggled to communicate, because of the language barrier. But we made do. Hugs are universal. So are smiles…

Connie came into my life, and became a huge part of it for just over a week. Such a short amount of time. But such a relevant and profound time it was. It was thoroughly life-changing.

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The man who owned the beautiful horse. He was showing off for me in this shot. A quick gallop as he passed me by. This was our 2nd last meeting. We were able to share a few minutes in a cafe a little later that day…

The journey changed me. Our group changed me. Connie changed me.

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Walking up the hill outside of Portomarin, Spain…where our group had a beautiful picnic at the top of the world. A picnic I will cherish for as long as I shall live! Connie getting JUST THE RIGHT SHOT…while I snapped a hundred random ones on my way up the hill.

It was not long after our return from Spain that Connie contacted me and let me know that she had cancer. She was confident that she was going to kick its ass. And because I had come to know the strength and resilience she carried with her throughout her life, I had no reason to doubt her. No reason whatsoever. She was a warrior. I struggled our entire journey to keep pace with her. She was the first person I ever met who walked faster than I did. There was nothing she couldn’t do.

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A great number of people pick up walking sticks along the way to Camino de Santiago. Some decorate them. Some keep them. But most stack them into a corner outside the office where you receive your Compostela certificate.

I will never forget my Camino journey, nor any of the people I walked with (both inside and outside of the group I began my journey with). I hold the magic of the journey close to my heart.

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CONNIE

I will never forget the RAIN, and how we often forgot it was even falling.

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Catching my shadow on an ancient road…

I won’t forget how grateful we were on those rare moments during our walk when we actually cast shadows and the sun brought us much needed warmth.

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Claudette, Julia, Connie – Three friends walking THE WAY…

I will never forget the snow. And I will never forget seeing Claudette and Julia walking together (shown above)…and often with Connie and I. Julia with her scary blister near the beginning and her impossibly painful knees…and her trucking through come what may. I was on this journey with a group of Goddesses, truly!

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Connie and Sue as we see our first glimpse of the church in Santiago. A beautiful moment captured forever in my heart. The prize at the end of a long journey!

I will never forget our group. Sue, Nick, Danielle, Tanya, Claudette, Julia, and, Connie. Camino peregrinos forever.

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Our last night together in Camino de Santiago, before heading our separate ways back to our lives…changed forever. Myself, Connie, and Marielle (from the Netherlands)…who walked some of the journey with us (the honorary 9th member of our group!).

There are so many people I will remember from my journey. People from all over the world. None were more memorable than Connie. All were amazing!

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Connie, having fun on the Juliet balcony…inside the restaurant of our hotel in Santiago. I did it first. Because I’m silly by nature. It made me feel so great when Connie did it…because she was not silly by nature. It meant more when she did it.

Connie and I both talked of one day going back and walking the entire Camino journey, all the way from France. She saw it as a part of her future. I imagined myself doing the same. But now I know I MUST walk the entire Camino sometime in the future. I wanted to walk it for myself. Now, I want to walk it for Connie.

Connie passed away on the first day of spring. I write this with tears in my eyes and a profound sense of loss.

I will remember you always, Connie. You gave me so much in our one brief week together. You were a beautiful soul and I was blessed to have walked some of your journey with you. I can’t believe you’re gone. It is a profound ache to know that you have left us. I had you for such an incredibly short time…but you have changed me forever. Rest in Peace, my beautiful Camino friend.

“Think I Failed the Camino…”

The Camino is a vast and magical place of endless sky...
The Camino is a vast and magical place of endless sky…

The title of this blog post is a GOOGLE SEARCH TERM used by someone who found my site today. So often, the Google search terms that lead people here have me wanting to write a post on the term. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t bother. TODAY, I was required to do so. Because NOBODY FAILS THE CAMINO.

countriesA reader from one of the countries listed above visited my blog today. Please know that you didn’t fail. The Camino has no failures…

Sue Kenney - A Pilgrim Leader...bringing the masses to the Camino! And the Camino to the masses!
Sue Kenney – A Pilgrim Leader…bringing the masses to the Camino! And the Camino to the masses!

Whoever you are, you will probably not find your way back here. But I’m going to write this anyway. NOBODY FAILS THE CAMINO.

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Did you see the big sky? Did your feet touch the earth? Did your heart feel lifted, if only for a moment? Did you smile? Did you say hello to at least one stranger?

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There is no pass or fail on the Camino. The journey begins when you consider taking the first step…not when you step down in Spain. The journey is in your heart. Don’t you see that the Camino is like the YELLOW BRICK ROAD?! You can take that road all the way to the end, to the Emerald City, and your journey isn’t over. Because the journey is internal. Once you get to the Emerald City, you must click your heels together three times and say, “THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.” That’s the journey…discovering that you are always there. Always on the Camino. Always in Santiago de Compostela.

Please, don’t think you failed the Camino if you walked the Camino. You did what you needed to do. You found the sky above you and the earth beneath your feet. There is no fail.

You need not reach the end...you need only reach your heart...
You need not reach the end…you need only reach your heart…