Remembering My First Rodeo – Or How I Stole the Soul of Leonard Cohen…

As I prepare for the 2019 Muskoka Novel Marathon, I can’t help but look back with fondness on my first. The year was 2007. I went in with a real feeling of dread and terror, as I knew almost no one and my introverted-extrovert self was electric with a fear of failure that was accompanied by a healthy dose of my fear of strangers and meeting new people. I was a mess, but also filled with excitement at the idea of spending 48hrs in front of a laptop attempting to write an entire novel.

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The above images are things I’ve pulled into my story from the 70s. THE GOOF (The Garden Gate Restaurant in The Beaches has had the nickname of THE GOOF for decades…since the neon G-O-O-F letters fizzled out!) is still alive and well.

Enter my calm safe place…the incomparable (now late and great) Leonard Cohen (cue the choir of angels singing aves!).

Before the novel writing marathon begins, there is a meet-and-greet where all the writers get together and introduce themselves. We do this every year. There’s usually a couple new faces, and quite often we see friends from past marathons for the first time since the previous July. It’s a lovely time of reunions and introductions. THEN we take to our seats and a bell goes off to usher in the beginning. We’re at the starting gate and take off not running, but fingers flying on our keyboards.

For my first marathon, I had a title and two characters in my head. They waited impatiently for that commencement bell to toll. One of the characters was a neglected little boy who lived in The Beaches district of Toronto…and the other was Leonard Cohen. Or, at least, a folksinger who was a god-like hero character in the same way I imagined Leonard to be.

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Gordon Lightfoot is an important character used in the very last chapter of Sebastian’s Poet. The chapter is actually Gordon Lightfoot approved!

As the bell rang, I dove in and I did not look back until my story was told. It spanned most of the 70s and ended with the Cohen character taking the stage at the CNE Grandstand at a charity concert hosted by none other than the great Gordon Lightfoot.

As I wrote that last chapter with tears in my eyes and excitement in my heart, I felt this great crescendo escalating with every word that raised to meet the ending. It was the denouement to a story that was often hectic and scary. It was the moment when my child character, from the wings of the CNE Grandstand stage, was finally able to exhale after a treacherous ride through a difficult childhood. It was the culmination of a full 48 hours of writing the same story start to finish and it was simultaneously electrifying and exhausting.

I did it! I wrote THE END before the marathon was over. The marathon is actually a 72 hour journey, but there’s an option to end at the 48hr mark. That year I didn’t really believe in myself enough to take a day off work in order to write. I just couldn’t justify it. I didn’t consider myself worthy of the holiday day for the purpose of something as frivolous as writing. So, I clocked out after the weekend was over. I went home while others stayed behind to write through their Monday.

When I got home I dared to look at the story for the first time. When you’re in the heart of that whirling dervish of a ride, you don’t really have the opportunity to look back. When I did finally glance back and read the story, I was floored. I had taken up handfuls of mud and clay and I had formed a Golem that walked and talked and lived like my mind’s eye’s version of Leonard Cohen. Perhaps it was because I had only listened to ONE SONG during the entire 48hr novel writing marathon. Perhaps Leonard Cohen had traveled through the music and into my veins and caused himself to pour out of my fingers and on to the screen. Character osmosis.

I loved that first marathon as much as I look forward to this upcoming one in 35 days. Perhaps I look forward to them because of that first one…because I had the music in me. Music was the propulsion that saw me through those 48 hours. It was an elixir that calmed me down enough to be in a new environment with new people and a new story. And I had Leonard to thank for all of it. So, I did the only thing I could do…I stole his soul.

Leonard Cohen became the hero of my story. If you ever read my novel SEBASTIAN’S POET, know that when you’re reading about the folksinger that wakes up on a ratty old couch in the Beaches district of Toronto in 1973, you’re reading about Leonard Cohen…or, at the very least, my angel-ized version of the man I’ve had a lifelong music crush on. It was easy to get that story thrown down in 48 hours…I’d been carrying it within my heart for my entire life.

THE SONG I LISTENED TO FOR 48HRS STRAIGHT DURING THE 2007 MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON – Leonard Cohen’s ANTHEM

I’m heading back to Huntsville, Ontario on JULY 12th, for my 11th Muskoka Novel Marathon. 40 Writers in 1 Room for 72 Hours = 40 Novels. And we do it all for the love of words. Each writer collects sponsorship pledges and 100% of the monies raised goes to the YMCA literacy programs in Simcoe/Muskoka Counties. We typically raise about $30,000.00 per year and help fund the following year’s literacy efforts. If you would like to be a part of this endeavor, we’d love to have you on board. My ONLINE DONATION PAGE CAN BE FOUND BY CLICKING RIGHT HERE- Just click on the SUPPORT THIS WRITER link.

You can purchase that first Muskoka Novel Marathon novel that I wrote in 2007 at AMAZON FOR A LITTLE OVER A DOLLAR. My only advice is that you listen to Leonard Cohen while you read. It helps to take you there!

Delay in Publication of My 7th Novel – I WILL TELL THE NIGHT…

Hello Readers:

Just a short note today. I wanted to announce the delay in the publication of my 7th novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. In THIS POST I announced that the novel would be released in early 2019. Here we are in May, mid-2019, and no sign of a publication date. I’m so sorry for the delay. At this time, I’m unable to give a release date. Should I learn of the release, I’ll announce it. Waiting on my publisher.

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This is a novel aesthetic for I WILL TELL THE NIGHT.

I wrote a blog post on THE ORIGIN STORY OF I WILL TELL THE NIGHT that you can read here.

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This is me reading an excerpt from I WILL TELL THE NIGHT at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon, where the novel won the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s 2016 BEST ADULT NOVEL AWARD.

In the meantime, you can find all of my available books here AT THIS LINK.

STAY TUNED – Once the release date is made known to me, I will announce it. It shouldn’t be too long now…

Listed – Marathon Items (Muskoka Novel Marathon)

  1. Comfortable Shoes
  2. A Neck/Head Buff
  3. Merino Wool Top
  4. Leggings
  5. Shhhhhhhhhuuuuuuuuttttt up. This ain’t no running thang!

This is a NOVEL WRITING MARATHON. Word count, not footfalls. We don’t move forward at this marathon. We plot onward, but we stay in place. We do not plod onward.

The real official absolute definitive list of the things that one should carry into the Muskoka Novel Marathon>>>>>>>

1. Laptop (with the cord! And the mouse if it is detachable!) —don’t drive 3 hours to the marathon and THEN realize your laptop cord is plugged in at home. Don’t. Do. It. You will regret it.

2. Licorice (you laugh, but try doing a novel writing marathon without your Thinking Licorice! Every angry chew unlocks a plot-twist or saves you from writing yourself into a corner.) PACK. LICORICE. PS: Only red will do. Twizzlers, obviously.

3. COMFORTABLE CLOTHING – This here is a must. Don’t dress for fashion or to impress. What do you like to wear around the house when you’re giving yourself a ME day for writing? sweat pants? Ratty old Cure concert t-shirt from 1982 with a twisted cater-cater-cater-cater-cater-pill-at-ar running across its front? Housecoat? Fluffy Bigfoot slippers and PJs? Wig, tights and espadrilles? Sure, why not? It’s your life. Wear what you would like to be found dead in. Something you could imagine your biographers one day describing as the most perfect WRITER attire. Sure, you can bring something fashion forward (or backward, if the faux pas fits) for those escapism moments when you and a flock of fellow writers fly the coop and land in one of the trendy bars in downtown Huntsville where you will fling slings and arrows at unsuspecting local drunkards gunning for a melee. But think comfort when it comes to clothes. You’re going to be sitting around for 72 hours slamming away at your laptop. You don’t want anything riding, twisting, tugging, pulling, ripping, tearing or itching at your mojo. You need a comfy mojo for this ride. Be kind to yourself. Pack for comfort. And bring changes of clothes. And a towel. You will have access to the showers at the facility. PS: They feed us REALLY WELL at these marathons. Don’t be afraid of elastic waistbands. You can get back to the gym after the marathon.

4. Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, hand cream.

5. FIDGET ESCAPISM GADGETS. The flying monkeys and the yellow felt mustaches are no longer allowed. Thanks Marty and Dale!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

6. Bring LOVE. You will discover your people at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. In a world full of people, only some want to fly…Isn’t that crazy? You may find that quite a few of the fliers will be found at the marathon.

7. Bring a ONE-PAGE outline of what you hope to write at the marathon. This is not mandatory…but it IS all that you’re allowed to bring. Do not write in advance, but write out a one-page description of what you wish to write while there.

8. Bring COURAGE. You’re a writer. You know courage. You’ve faced the insurmountable odds of a blank white screen. You’ve taken a kernel of an idea and watched in amazement as it took flight and became something bigger. Do that again. Do that at the marathon. Be fearless. ALSO—bring just enough more courage to join the other writers somewhere around the halfway mark for a gather-round and a reading. Let us celebrate the words we write at the marathon by sharing them with each other while they’re still fresh and raw. Bring that much courage…enough not only to write with fierce determination, but also to read your words aloud and watch them come to life.

9. Bring any old thing you want except for booze, drugs and guns. Don’t listen to me, I’m just a bag-lady with the lifelong dream of living in a commune…a baglady who gets to see that dream come true but once a year in Huntsville, Ontario! Bring a guitar…Kumbaya has always been a favourite of mine. And the stars in Huntsville at the Muskoka Novel Marathon?! Whoa and wow! We can always just sit by the dock at night–just outside the venue–and watch the constellations reveal themselves, one star at time…

Attention Ontario Writers! Writing Escape Opportunity

I’ve been talking about the Muskoka Novel Marathon for about 12 years now. I’ve attended the novel writing marathon 10 times and I’ll be heading back up to Huntsville, Ontario in July for my 11th marathon.

Today, I wanted to highlight the marathon as an incredible writing escape opportunity for writers. This event usually fills up quite quickly. This year, however, there are still a few available spots. If you have a free long weekend in July, a need for writing space, and a desire for an unforgettable life-changing writing opportunity to fall into your lap, LOOK NO FURTHER THAN THE MNM!

Here’s what you have to do and what you can expect at/from the Muskoka Novel Marathon.

  • First, here’s a link to the MNM Home Page.
  • The marathon takes place from July 12th at 8:00pm to July 15th at 8:00pm, 2019 at the Active Living Centre in downtown Huntsville, Ontario, Canada.
  • Here’s a link to the Registration Page if you’re a writer wanting to secure your spot at the 2019 Marathon. Writers must register online and pay the fee when registering (see next point).
  • There is a $100.00 fee for writers to sign-up – Please keep in mind that you will be given all your meals and snacks for the entire 72 hour marathon, as well as all the coffee you can drink in that time. (Often writers also bring their own snacks) Also, you can choose to stay at the facility and bring a sleeping bag or a blanket or a tent or a gravity chair or whatever you wish to sleep on during your stay. (no hotel fees)
  • You will also be expected to collect donations for the fundraising side of the marathon. We collect funds for the YMCA’s literacy programs (They set up an easy-peasy link which you can then direct your donors to for easy online payment—or you can collect funds the old fashion way). Organizers would probably like each writer to collect somewhere between $500-$1000 each…but all efforts are appreciated
  • Each writer begins a brand new novel at the marathon at 8pm Friday July 12th. They do NOT need to write an entire novel to enter the BEST NOVEL AWARD contest at the end of the 72hr marathon. They can arrive on day one with a ONE-PAGE OUTLINE for their novel. No writing written prior to the marathon can be entered into the contest. Only what you write on the premises during the 72 hours will be considered for the competition.
  • You will be able to eat your meals with your fellow writers, talk about your projects, encourage each other on, etc. The community that writers find at these marathons is incredibly helpful. Writers form lasting bonds that go on for years and years after the marathon closes. Writing groups and critique groups and critique partnerships have forms from these marathons. Novels have been published that began their lives at these marathons. The community of writers–the family of writers–that you will become a part of is life-changing.
  • Occasionally we escape the premises and head into town for a meal at one of the summer cottage restaurant-bar scenes down the hill. It’s a lot of fun storming a bar with 15 new friends who all also happen to be writers on a word-high. NOTHING LIKE IT!
  • Right in the middle of the marathon, at around midnight on the Saturday night (possibly Sunday—I can’t even remember which night as I type this) those who wish to participate in a reading of their fresh new work are invited to do so. This is an element of the marathon that has become more and more popular every year. It began in 2007 with me and two other writers. Last year we had probably close to 25 of the writers participate. We go around the table and we each read some pre-chosen excerpt from our works in progress to read aloud in a friendly non-judgemental environment. It’s a special time in the marathon for me. I enjoy hearing what others have come up with.
  • At the end of the 72 hour marathon, you have the option of submitting your piece in its category for BEST NOVEL AWARD. Also, there are peer nominated prizes such as BUM IN CHAIR AWARD and SPIRIT AWARD and ROOKIE OF THE YEAR AWARD, as well as a few awards from the organizers, such as the REMY AWARD for most funds raised, the ROCKSTAR AWARD and others. Past Winners can be found here.
  • This will be one of the best things–if not the very best thing–you will ever do for your writer-self. You will not regret the camaraderie, the vast amount of writing time, the beautiful atmosphere, the connections you’ll take with you into your life.
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Muskoka Novel Marathon. 2016. The building behind me in this shot is where the Muskoka Novel Marathon takes place. This hillside hike is less than 5 minutes from the front door. There are beautiful escapes nearby even as you escape to your writing weekend.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section. Registration is still open…and I’ve been told there are a few spot left. Take the plunge! I never looked back after that first year. It’s so worth the trip to Huntsville, Ontario! And it’s for a most worthy cause. We’re WRITERS HELPING READERS.

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For the past few marathons we’ve had the pleasure of Sue Kenney’s presence. Sue has lead us on a barefoot nature walk every Marathon Sunday for a few years now.  It’s not just writing that happens at the marathon. Magic is everywhere.
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You owe your writer self this blissful 72 hour weekend getaway writing retreat! Register today!

AGAIN, HERE’S THE WEBSITE – CLICK NOW TO REGISTER

 

Reasons Why I Should Have Aced the NYC Midnight Challenge – AND Why I Don’t Think I Did

It’s all in the title. I thought I had trained well for this particular contest. I haven’t done a list in a while. This one is short, but makes for a great jumping off point.

Background: This past weekend, I was busy writing a short story for the 2nd round of the 2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Each writer in the challenge is given three things to incorporate into their stories; a genre, a character, a subject. We were then given 72 hours turnaround time to submit a 2,000 word maximum short story to the contest. Round 1 of the contest whittled the pool of writers down from about 4,900 to the 750 writers who took part in this past weekend’s 2nd round.

Reasons Why I Should Have Aced the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

  • I took part in the Trafalgar24 Play Creation Festival in Whitby, Ontario SIX TIMES. In this festival, the playwrights are locked inside a castle for 8 hours. In that time, they each have to create a 10-minute play that will be performed in front of six rotating audiences the very next evening
  • I took part in the Muskoka Novel Marathon in Huntsville, Ontario TEN TIMES. In this marathon, the writers are locked inside a room for 72 hours. In that time, they each have to create a full novel that will be judged by industry professionals in the months immediately following the marathon.
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This is the inside of the cathedral that is literally inside Trafalgar Castle in Whitby, Ontario. I spent 8 hours inside this cathedral all by myself a few years back, tasked with writing a 10-minute play that was produced the very next evening in the cathedral. Each playwright gets locked up in the room in which their play is to be set. When the 8 hours are over, you are to submit your play to the director and actors. They are, in turn, given 8 hours to rehearse. Then come the audiences! Hundreds of people converge on the castle to see all the plays in rotating fashion.

That’s it. That’s my list. I was so certain that those two things were enough to get me into the shape I needed to be in to pown this NYC Midnight thing. Or is it pwn? Either way, I thought I was going to ace this.

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Trafalgar Castle, Whitby, Ontario

I have always said that of all the writing assignments a creative writer could have, the short story is the hardest. I have pounded out novels in one sitting TEN TIMES now. I’ve written plays while beating the clock multiple times, for various festivals. And the thing that finally got to me, the thing that defeated me, was this short story challenge.

I submitted with one hour and fifteen minutes to spare. It was a 72hr time frame for 2,000 words. I’m not a mathematical genius or anything, but that’s a far cry from writing 50,000 words in the same number of hours at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. Let’s see…carry the one, add the 3, subtract the 7 and multiply by 11 and what do you get? 694.44 words and hour for the MNM and 27.77 words an hour for the NYC Midnight challenge. The pressure should be stronger at the MNM, shouldn’t it?

 

Above are pictures from one of the many Muskoka Novel Marathons that I have participated in over the years. 40 writers + 72hrs = 40 novels! AND, we typically raise $30,000+ for area literacy programs each and every year.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. The real secret about the comparison between the short story and the novel is that you have to fit the exact same amount of story into each receptacle. And that’s only one of the factors going into my perceived failure this past weekend. You well and truly need to get the whole story into a short story…squeeze 50,000 words into its itty bitty living space and condense them down to 2,000 (or 2,500 , or 3,000 or whatever your limit is). This is not an easy task, and to go into it thinking it is an easy task is folly. The takeaway lesson should be—never be cocky about your ability as a writer. Every challenge is another series of wrenches thrown at you. You’re never ready for hurled wrenches…don’t make the mistake of thinking you are.

So, to review, NOTHING can prepare a writer for an on-the-spot writing challenge. I guess that’s why these contests work so well. It’s an amazing feeling when you push yourself to take a leap into the unknown. And I guess the thought behind the NYC Midnight challenge is… a writer is a writer is a writer. Any good one should be able to take what they’re given and pump out a result that is both entertaining and worthy of a read.

Boy, did I struggle with this one. It doesn’t matter whether you read regularly in every genre or not. If you’re not comfortable writing in each of them and you’re tasked to take one of them on…it’s bound to be difficult. That’s the thing that got me this weekend. By the luck of the draw I received a genre to write in that I have read voraciously over the years, but never once wrote it. I was afloat on a sea of confused desperation for the past 72 hours.

We shall see how this round of the challenge goes. If anything, I’m thrilled to have made the first cut. I can’t imagine that it’s an easy task to move forward in this challenge. I did it, and I should be happy about that. It’s all I can ask for.

To all those who pushed themselves to enter the challenge, congratulations! You took a leap and I guarantee you it made you a better writer. To those of you who moved forward into round two with me, even more congratulations! You did it. That’s an amazing achievement in itself. I wish all 749 of you the best of luck in this next round of judging! If a miracle should occur, I might see some of you in the 3rd and final round. But if not, do your best. You got this!

 

Writers Helping Readers – MNM2019

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It’s that time of the year once again. The Muskoka Novel Marathon writers (40 writers in total) are gearing up for the 72 hour novel writing marathon in Huntsville, Ontario. Every year, we are tasked to collect sponsorship funds for the marathon, much like runners are tasked to collect funds for marathons such as the Terry Fox Run. Typically, together we raise about $30,000.00 a year during the fundraising leg of the MNM. It may sound like a lot–and really it is!–but these funds are sorely needed. The YMCA is sadly underfunded. Us writers, along with our dedicated supporters, do our best to fill the gaps. We know how important words are…we live and die by them.

Please consider donating to the cause this year. Every dollar we collect goes directly into the running of the integral literacy programs provided by the YMCA.

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We are SO incredibly proud of the fact that we have thus far raised over $200,000.00 for the cause! We do this with your help. Much thanks and appreciation to all who have been a part of that incredible total!
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Every July the writers get together for a group photo that usually breaks down into a chaotic exuberant melee of one type or another. The fundraiser, we take very seriously. The rest? It’s a joyous weekend of friendship…if not a little daunting writing-wise. We have fun!

My fundraising page is now live. VISIT MY MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON PAGE HERE FOR A FULL BIO, INCLUDING THE WORKS I CREATED AT PAST MARATHONS. There is a link on this page that will take you to my fundraising page. Just click the SUPPORT THIS WRITER button. OR, go directly to my FUNDRAISING PAGE HERE.

We writers are definitely in it for the fundraising…we’re compelled to help in the fight against illiteracy. We play with words and our wish is to help the YMCA help others to discover the same joy we experience with them. Our ulterior motives are obvious. We get to spend an entire weekend–a full 72 hours–playing with words. Each year each writer attempts to write an entire novel during the weekend.

My 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon Best Adult Novel Award winning novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT will be released in 2019. It exists because of my time at the marathon.

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