I’m SUPER excited about my 2019 book release I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. Today, I wanted to talk about the title…and the evolution of how I came up with it.
The title is from a song. A song that was a huge part of a weekend at Hope Springs Institute in Peebles, Ohio, which I credit with saving me.
In 2011 I walked into a Male Survivor WEEKEND OF RECOVERY to seek healing and recovery from childhood sexual assault trauma. I had already taken a few steps in my journey, but had heard SO many great things about this program.
When I walked into the large octagonal studio on the grounds of Hope Springs in rural Ohio, the song TIMSHEL by Mumford & Sons was playing loudly, proudly and vividly clear. The roof of the building went on forever and it had the feel of a cathedral. I was terrified to be meeting all these broken fellow survivors for the first time…walking into a space I was unfamiliar with…and the first crisp clear lines of lyrics hit me as I entered…
Cold is the water It freezes your already cold mind Already cold, cold mind And death is at your doorstep And it will steal your innocence But it will not steal your substance
But you are not alone in this And you are not alone in this As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand Hold your hand
I tell you, I was mush. Instantly more shattered and whole than I had possibly ever been in my life. The last 4 lines in the above quote? Well, they may as well have been a two by four for their ability to knock me flat out cold…and they may as well have been a blanketed loving embrace for their ability to foster an instant knowledge that I had done the right thing in driving through the night to come to this strange off-the-beaten-path place in the middle of America that I had never heard of before then.
Those words pierced my heart and told me I was home, all at once. And the weekend progressed in every way possible to fulfill the promise of those last 4 quoted lines above. We strangers got through that weekend together, as brothers. We came through it a little (A LOT) more healed than we had been when we entered. It was one of the best things I ever did for myself in my life.
To this day, I can’t listen to TIMSHEL by Mumford & Sons without thinking of that painful but altogether life saving weekend…or the therapists who helped saved us in that studio, and in the Spirit House that also sits on the grounds of that idyllic piece of heaven in Ohio.
Mumford & Sons is intricately woven into my healing journey now, just as strongly as Peebles, Ohio is. As Male Survivor is. As Weekend of Recovery is. And as Hope Springs is. These things are all forever melted together in my brain and each time I hear Timshel, I hear my salvation. Because, after all that time…I was not alone in this.
The last lines of the song go like this…
But I will tell the night And whisper, “Lose your sight” But I can’t move the mountains for you
And I WILL TELL THE NIGHT always resonated deeply with me. The words are just as important as those 4 lines up above about not being alone. Because as a child, there was no one to tell. I was alone. There was only one person to tell. THE NIGHT. As soon as I heard that line, I knew why they picked that song for us to enter the studio to. Because we had all had that conversation with the night…we had all told our stories to the darkness.
I WILL TELL THE NIGHT, the title of my next novel. Now you know the title’s origin story. And how a song once helped to save me…
I have been madly editing my latest novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. Having just completed it a week or so ago, it is material that should be fresh in my mind. But it isn’t. Not at all. It’s actually quite frightening to be reading along and have no idea what’s coming up WHEN YOU WROTE THE THING THAT’S COMING UP! Mere days ago. And when I say NO IDEA, that is exactly what I mean. Whole scenes are surprises to me. Entire chapters are foreign and unrecognizable.
From an editing standpoint, this makes part of the process easier. Because as I read, I am not doing that thing writers do when they read what they meant to say instead of what is actually on the page. When you know what’s coming, you can accidentally read a line the way you meant to write it instead of the line you actually wrote…thus perpetuating your error and keeping it in your manuscript.
That’s not happening, because I have no idea what the hell is going on. I’m just over 200 pages in with the edit, on a manuscript that is 308 pages long. I vaguely recognized a few of the scenes. I remember feelings I had while writing some of them, even though I did not actually remember the scene itself. I remember things I contemplated putting into the story, but didn’t. Those are the phantom limbs I spoke of in THIS POST. So, essentially, I am waiting for scenes to happen that will never happen because I didn’t write them. I’m a hot mess.
I will often blame this lack of connection with my writing on the way in which it is written. This floats when I write a novel in 72hrs under duress of getting it completed in a weekend with sleep deprivation, distractions, and intensity. Yeah…then I can say, “What the hell did I write?! I don’t remember a thing.” But the lion’s share of this novel I wrote over the course of an entire month. I can’t use that marathon brain alibi.
Times like this, I have to admit to myself that this not-remembering entire chunks of a novel I just wrote is one of those longtime symptoms of PTSD. It’s actually a bit painful to read your work and not feel familiar with it. Where did I go when I wrote it? Where the hell am I?
This is something I don’t only realize when I’m editing my work. The looming deadline for getting I WILL TELL THE NIGHT back to the Muskoka Novel Marathon people has me fully concentrated on editing this book to the best of my ability…so it’s the thing that is making me think of this NOW.
But if I were being completely honest with myself, I find it very difficult to have conversations about ANY of my published novels. Someone will say something about one of my characters and I have to chase a thread going nowhere inside my head to try to figure out what novel that character is even in. I often come up empty and just pray that as the person continues to speak, a clue will be offered up and I will figure out what novel they’re talking about. Then, I try to piece together a response that sounds halfway intelligent…as though I know what the hell they’re talking about. I don’t.
I guess I’m just destined to be like this. I do have an overall impression of my works, but just in the vaguest possible of ways. I carry something akin to a fractured synopsis around for each of my novels. But if I am required to go outside that gossamer description, everything gets lost in the shadows. I become the unreliable narrator. Unreliable, because I don’t recall. I believe Peter Gabriel said it best…
I don’t remember, I don’t recall I got no memory of anything at all I don’t remember, I don’t recall I got no memory of anything Anything at all” ~ Peter Gabriel, I Don’t Remember
This is not something new to me. I wish it was. I guess this post is just to vent on this truth that has always effected my writing life. It is my coming out. I have a shattered memory processor. It will never be better. As passionate as I am about the process of writing, I’m as attached to my words as I am attached to John Doe and Jane Doe. I don’t know John Doe. I don’t know Jane Doe. They are unfamiliar to me.
I am editing away…discovering my novel for the first time. When I ask what the writer’s motivations were for including this scene or that character, I ask because I want to know. When I think, ‘Whoa! That’s intense! I did NOT see that coming!’ It’s because I didn’t see it coming. I get slightly mildly depressed when I edit. Wanting to be attached to something and realized you’re not…that’s at times a really difficult reality to accept. Because it makes you remember the why of it all. It makes you remember that you are broken and your old wound is never going to go away, no matter how healed you believe yourself to be. Parts of you will always be collateral damage.
If you see me and you would like to ask me about one of my novels, go gentle on me. You will most definitely know more about the novel than I do. I can’t answer many of your questions. It makes me feel small. It makes me feel less. It makes me remember how much I’ll never remember and how much I will always forget.
For me, my memory lies squarely and surely in the FEELINGS I had while I wrote the thing that I wrote. The process. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. It’s all about the process for me. It can’t be about anything else. I don’t have that luxury. I’m broken in the places where my stories live. I can tell them, I just can’t retell them…
(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!)
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!