Novel Marathon

I Will Tell the Night – Muskoka Novel Marathon 2016 Best Adult Novel Award!

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.

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The Dock at Dale & Sue Long’s Haliburton cottage on Lake Kashagawigamog this past Saturday morning, prior to our Hunter’s Bay Radio stop along the way to the annual Muskoka Novel Marathon Wrap-Up Party!

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.

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Writers! From left to right, Tobin Elliott, Christine Cowley, myself, and, Dale Long. Tobin and Dale were interviewed together for an episode of the show appearing later in October. And Tobin helped out with the narration of my play THE SPEECH, which I performed with Christine.

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.

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The Winners Take a Selfie! I was extremely thrilled to have been awarded the BEST ADULT NOVEL AWARD for the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon for my novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. And just as thrilled for the lovely Lori Manson, who took home the coveted BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL AWARD for her novel NED AND NORA STONE.

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!

My Books for FREE on Kobo!

You have until August’s End to pick up two of my books for FREE at KOBOBOOKS! Both my 2nd and my 3rd novels can be downloaded at no charge for the rest of the month.

SEBASTIAN’S POET

Synopsis:

Sebastian Nelson is a boy in search of a family. Abandoned by his mother, Sebastian is left with a broken father who doesn’t even seem present when he does show up. Forced to be the main caregiver of his younger brother, Renee, and lost in a sea of indifference, Sebastian only wants to experience the love a real, stable family could afford him.

One morning he discovers the famous folksinger, Teal Landen, asleep on the sofa. Teal’s nurturing nature brings an immediate sense of security into Sebastian’s tumultuous life. But a dark secret looms between Teal and Sebastian’s father of a hidden past. Sebastian is driven to discover their secret, but also he’s aware of how tenuous their hold on Teal really is. He doesn’t want to lose the feeling of home Teal’s presence has brought him.

If Sebastian pushes too hard, he could lose Teal forever. He could be destined to raise his younger brother alone, while witnessing the total decline of his emotionally devastated father. If Sebastian is abandoned by the only healthy influence in his otherwise shaky existence, he will also be forever in the dark about the secret that will reveal so much about his fractured family.

A LINK TO SEBASTIAN’S POET AT KOBO

Sebastian's Poet

THE REASONS

Synopsis:

With a mostly absent father, one sister deceased and the other on the verge of invisibility, and a certifiably insane mother, Tobias Reason is forced to grow up fast.

When his older sister Deja’s tragic death causes his mother to fall deeper into insanity, Tobias attempts to be a surrogate parent to his younger sister, Annabel. But broken mother Maggie takes up a lot of his time, causing Annabel to fall even further into the background of their chaotic existence.

When Maggie flippantly hands her mother’s house over to Tobias, he sees an opportunity to learn how and why his family has become so shattered. His world begins to collapse from the weight of the secrets he unburies, and he focuses in on a stranger from his parents’ past… a possible Ground Zero to Maggie’s fall into insanity.

If Tobias can somehow eliminate the past, he can make his family whole again.

A LINK TO THE REASONS ON KOBO

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Get both of these MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON Best Novel Award winning novels for free at Kobo until the end of August!

All 5 of my novels are available at AMAZON.

The Summing Up – After the Marathon

My first Muskoka Novel Marathon in 2007 was essentially a religious experience. From the drive up to Huntsville to the drive to the Kawarthas after I partook of the 48hr version of the marathon. It was all a haze of Kool-aid drinking meditating worshipping wonder. I was sold. I was a convert. I had found my people, my place, my me.

Eventually, I attempted to get that religious experience down on paper in the form of a poem. But the real joy of writing poetry is in the moments leading up to the writing of the poem and in the hope you feel that you achieve the goal of getting everything in your head down in the stanzas that you write. You never quite get there…you feel the euphoria of being there in your mindscape…but what travels from that video screen in your head through your fingers and eventually lands on the computer screen or paper is nothing like the vision you carried. It sometimes suffices, but it never meets the vision. Words are never enough.

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Here’s the poem I wrote about my first Muskoka Novel Marathon experience:

After the Marathon

As winter whips its winds to frenzy
I am reminded of that time-
forty thousand words in my head
screaming white freedom
inside my withering mind.

And after the marathon,
the tears of no more words,
my insolent venting of could have-
might have beens. And the exhaustion,
like melting ice on pregnant lips,
a scream inside an empty car
with nobody else to hear.

When I thought the oddity over-
passing from Muskoka to Haliburton
with Cohen on my lips-
two deer arrive,
linger long enough to catch my eye,
to stop my hurling car,
to say, “I see you. You are real.”
And tears again. To find yourself
when you are lost; a figment
behind an endless stream of words.

After the deer, when Hallelujah
has played and the light of day declines,
I pray, one hundred-thirty pages
strewn like wild wind across the cluttered dash,
and here am I… stopped again-
a wild bear on hind legs,
pawing the slowly gloaming air.

Stopped, I wonder the wonder,
breathe to say, “I’ve been here too.”
And in the rear-view… three more,
mother, babies dawdling behind the car.
And the bear, as if he knows my head
and where it’s at, he paws again,
lifts his massive claws to night and speaks.

These are the things that I have left,
the shaking memories of a whirlwind journey took.
And forty thousand words inside my lonely head
was not enough. A bear to stand and scream
is what it took to leave it all behind,
the vent, the Cohen din inside the tremulous mind,
and most of all, the words that could have been.

 

 

THE WORDS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN. Every year I regret those words. Every year I mourn them. But I also give thanks for the ones I eventually get down on paper. This year is no different. I went a long time before locking into a story idea…almost a full 24 hours. I do the 72hr marathon now…stay the whole three days. After that first year, I knew I wanted more. More, more, more. 48hrs is not enough.

I already wrote a marathon wrap post when I got home, but I wanted to talk about what happens immediately following coming back to the land of reality. I say reality, because at the marathon it’s a different kind of reality that happens. There is a freedom at the marathon that is very much like sleep-a-way summer camp. It’s silly and frivolous and fun..and very very serious. It’s not the reality we, as adults, are used to. Schedules evaporate…we are on OUR TIME. So, coming back to the land of adulting…you need to adjust, put away the candy and get real.

When you get back to reality, it’s also the first time you get to sit down and read your words. At the marathon, you write and you write and you write. But you don’t read (or, at least, I don’t…I have to point out here that every marathoner is different). You just move ever forward into your story. What happens, essentially, is that you start reading it a couple days after your return and it’s like you’re reading the work of someone else…you don’t remember it, you’re not very deeply connected to it…the concept is familiar, but the words are by and large new to your ears. It’s an extremely odd phenomenon, really. You wrote the story, but it’s not yours. It belongs to the wildness of the weekend. It belongs to Muskoka.

You never quite know what you ended up with until you sit down and read your story for the first time. It’s an eye-opening experience. I’ve come to believe that I write my best stuff at the marathon. Not because it’s a particularly wonderful writing environment–even though it IS–and not because I go in prepared–because I DON’T–but because I connect to Natalie Goldberg’s WILD MIND while I’m there. There is a moment when you put your ego aside and you are no longer a writer writing, but simply WRITING itself. You lose connection to your self as you slip sleeplessly and exhaustingly into your story and soldier on ever forward. THAT is the beauty of the marathon…that you get to dive so fully in to your writing that you disappear. Somewhere after 16 hours, 23 hours, 56 hours…YOU are gone and there is only story—and these seemingly disembodied hands in front of you pounding away at a keyboard you’re barely aware of. WRITING. NO YOU. I know, I know…it’s so zen. It’s hogwash. It’s flighty. It’s new age crap. SHUT UP! Until you’re there, at the marathon, you’ll have to take my word for it. I WAS Wild Mind.

What happens now—THE SUMMING UP. I’ve been reading and editing my novel. I only reached about 100 pages this year, as I didn’t immerse myself into the story until I was a full day into the marathon. My regret was huge. But as I slowly trudged my way into the story, I began to feel better about my productivity. I like it! I like the words that I created. I’m okay with them. AND…I feel that I will be able to continue the story once I get to the end of the editing journey I’m on to read and fix what I left the marathon with. I’m excited about finding out where the story goes, where the lives in the story are taken. I’m turned on by the need to bring it to fruition—TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS!

I have been feeding Michael chapters on my Kindle account as I read and edit them. He has an uncanny ability to find nits and suggest fixes. Last year, his influence was a huge part of my novel writing experience. Without him, I’m not sure I would have finished the novel. This time around, as I am writing about New Brunswick, I have to admit he’s having a bit of an issue with dialogue. If the East Coast of Canada is your ancestral home, you know that there is a dialect to be found there. What might look like twisted and incorrect language is merely the way they talk there. I have a few characters who are very regional. They say things the way New Brunswickers would say them. Editors need to leave these bits in. Regional dialect helps to place a story…it’s all part of the story’s setting. Michael’s just gonna have to flinch at some of these twisted words being spoken by my characters. Especially the story’s grandmother, Imogene, who has shall we say a slightly unique way of speaking.

I’m ready to embrace the rest of this novel’s journey. What the marathon did was start me off…it gave me the roadtrip part of the novel, and brought me to the meat and potatoes of my story. I’m excited to continue. And I have this wonderful thing called the Muskoka Novel Marathon to thank for taking me this far. Every year it starts me off on a journey. I don’t always complete the novels it helps me create…but I always love the experience. And in September…we get to reassemble–us 40+ writers–and we get to award each other with trophies and kudos and praise. It’s the crown on top of the fundraising event. I can’t wait to get there!

But for now…I have a story to tell. It’s the story of Finn Barker, the character I created on a July Saturday night in Huntsville, Ontario while sitting in a room filled with writers creating. Finn is real. And I left him in a vulnerable situation at the end of the marathon. It’s time to rescue him.

Thank you, Muskoka Novel Marathon—for helping me to once again get words on paper. The wonder never ceases to amaze me. Yes, we raised over $34,000.00, and yes…the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka county is going to have much needed funds to help with their literacy programs. Yes…lives are going to change for the better because of what we were able to accomplish monetarily with the marathon. And that IS the most important thing here. But for us writers—we get the gift of words, the gift of time, the gift of camaraderie, and the gift of childlike sleep-a-way camp in a beautiful town filled with lovely places and people. The benefits to us writers are vast…and lasting. It’s a religion, and I’m only one of its many preachers. I drank the Kool-aid.

See you all at the wrap-up!

 

(A Short excerpt…the opening lines of my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel, which introduces the main character—Finn Barker.)

There’s more than one way to go home. Sometimes it’s something we can only do in theory because there’s no home to go back to. Even if it’s still standing. And sometimes we return kicking and screaming, like salmon running up river against their will but with an inborn instinct they cannot escape. Must go home. Must go home.

Unless you never truly left in the first place, chances are the road home will be a painful one. One that will leave you, to paraphrase the words of W.B. Yeats, in a world more full of weeping.

There is nothing like a death to signify the beginning of that journey home. Death and dying. For Finn Barker, that was the straw that finally broke his resolve to never again return.

 

 

 

Unpacking the Marathon – A Weekend with Words & Wildness (#MNM2016)

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This past weekend was the annual Muskoka Novel Marathon (Search #MNM2016 in Social Media to find evidence of its existence). In short, this is a fundraising event to bring both funds and awareness to the literacy programs of the YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka County. Every year, forty writers get together in a room in Huntsville, Ontario, and we each attempt to write a novel over the course of 72hrs. And, every year, we each gather sponsorship donations from friends and family. This year, the marathon brought in over $34,000.00. This is not small potatoes. That’s a huge chunk of money that will be well used for the literacy programs. Amazing! And every cent of what we bring in goes directly to the programs. We are WRITERS SUPPORTING READERS.

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Monday Afternoon of the Marathon – A Respite on Lion’s Lookout (Thanks to Paula Boon for showing me the way to the mountain!). The building in the distance below is where the marathon takes place.

Every year I go through quite a sordid variety of emotions at the marathon. This year was no exception. For the first 24hrs I had to fight through my belief that I was no longer a writer, that I was just this guy who accidentally stumbled into the world as a way to exorcise his demons. I thought that since the demons were now gone, I was not allowed (or worthy) of the sacred act of putting words down on paper. Such is the logic of the artistic wanderer—only when wandering are we allowed to wander. But this logic is so broken, I don’t even know where to begin. As much as I have struggled in recent years to write, I am as much a writer as I am a human being. It’s one of the words that define me. I discovered at the marathon that one could be a writer not writing, but one cannot be a non-writer writing.

My first day panic gave in to my fears and anxiety. I squirreled around inside two different unfinished manuscripts with zero focus. I scraped together twenty pages between the two of them…the whole time bemoaning to whoever would listen that I was over, washed-up, a has-been.

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The Scene of the Crime! The Active Living Centre, at the foot of Lion’s Lookout in Huntsville, Ontario.

My second day a fellow marathoner put a kernel of an idea in my head. “Write your story…just give it the slight tweak it needs to make it fiction.” That’s a paraphrase…and it might be from an amalgamation of conversations I had with various marathoners. The point is, I received wisdom from the great and powerful spirit that flits about the rooms at the marathon and tells us, in song and dance, that every little thing gonna be all right. And one cannot arrive at the marathon with a closed mind. One must be raw and vital and willing to open up to any little thing that may happen over the course of the weekend. It is a time of magic and discovery.

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I was so touched when I found this pack of Popeyes at my desk, along with a lovely note, that I ran away and stupidcried. I had mentioned Popeyes in my most recent post here on this blog. Whoever left this at my workstation—THANK YOU FOREVER!

So, I shut up, I sat down, and I began a story that had just a little too much of myself inside it. I wrote my story. First I turned a crank and tossed in a few lies, to disguise the real world beneath a blanket of myth and bullshit. Then I wrote a story. As I weaved the scenes together I carefully knitted myself out of it. I had finally found my pace and was on my way…

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Photographic evidence that I actually did get writing done at the marathon…

You have to understand that there are a handful of different types that go to the Muskoka Novel Marathon. We are all passionate about the cause and would do anything to raise money to support the literacy programs. We are all passionate about writing, and about words. But some of us are there to put our heads down and write like our faces are on fire and some of us are there for the social game–to be among our people. Some of us are there for both. The first two years or so, I was there to get shit done. I wrote upwards of 50,000 words at my first few at-bats at the marathon. This year? Not so much. Apart from my wasted first day where no amount of coaxing would bring forth an idea for a new project (ONE CANNOT FORCE CREATIVITY—IT IS ON ITS OWN CLOCK), I also socialized quite a bit. A group of us went down into town both Saturday and Sunday evening. And I stayed at the Comfort Inn on the Saturday evening. So, where I used to spend most of my time in my chair at the marathon…I’ve become not so focused on my writing. But this is not a bad thing. How often does one get to gather with like-minds? Sure, we didn’t always talk writing—but it was always there as the thread that brought us together.

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It was on the last day of the marathon that I finally discovered Lion’s Lookout. MUCH THANKS TO PAULA BOON FOR SHOWING ME THE WAY. Turns out I was running in circles around this lookout for years. Sometimes the mountain does not give of itself so freely…you have to find a way to go to the mountain. My way was Paula.

Sunday evening, those who were brave enough to participate took part in the annual midnight reading. I’ve been doing this since 2007, when three of us took part in a reading in a corner. We go around the table and share 3-5 minutes of our raw WIPs (works in progress) that we have just penned at the marathon. It’s important that we all feel safe to share during this reading, as we are reading words that are not yet edited…so there is no critiquing allowed—just listening and appreciating. It was a fabulous turnout this year, with over half of the 40 writers participating in the marathon in attendance. Beautiful words were shared…tears were shed, laughter was laughed, sighs were heard. It’s one of my favourite parts of the marathon.

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Captain My Captain! I first met Sue Kenney at the Pickering Winter Novel Marathon (2006?). I was immediately drawn to her kinetic energy. She was my guide in 2014 when I walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago. She takes peregrinos (pilgrims) on the journey of the Camino twice a year (In May and in September). LOOK HER UP. She is life-changing. Being around her is to know what it is like to live the dance of life. (-: She has been leading a creative walk at the MNM for a number of years. This year, she also participated as a writer at the marathon. She was BIC throughout the marathon, pounding away at the keys. BEAR —that is all!

 

In the end, I wrote over a hundred pages. I have the kernel of a novel I may or may not pursue. I like the story thus far, I’m excited to be writing creatively again. So there is that. You go to the marathon not only to expend a great deal of fuel and run yourself ragged and exhaust yourself to the point of tears—but also to fuel up, to store-up a powerhouse of energy against the coming year. It sounds incongruous, I know, but the marathon is like that. It is an onion, a constantly shifting reality that loses its layers faster than its attendees can write ten pages and award themselves with a 10-page strip (see below)! One realizes, after a few marathons, that it is kind of like Bits & Bites—“You never know whatcher gonna get.”

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The 10-Page Strip. Whenever a writer reaches a ten-page milestone, they mark it with a strip.🙂

The Muskoka Novel Marathon. I can tell you about it, but it won’t accurately describe what happens there. It’s a 72 hour weekend of magic and words and laughter and tears and food and words and food and words and coffee and friends and food and words and sunshine and rain and laughter and tears and tomfoolery and words and snapshots and food and wonder.

Preliminary Tally of Funds Raised for Literacy in 2016

– $34,081

THANK YOU FOR CARING, YOU LOVELY PEOPLE!