Write What You Don’t Write & MNM Brain

I woke up this morning with Writer Instructor dialogue running through my thoughts. I notice this phenomenon ratcheting up as the yearly Muskoka Novel Marathon slowly approaches. This is the time when I truly begin to think about the writing process in general and the upcoming MNM novel in particular. I become this super coach who prepares a team of ONE for a marathon that does not involve any form of running, jogging or walking.

This morning I woke up thinking about all the stuff the writer has to do to learn about their characters, their plots, their settings, their universes. We have to write the stuff down that we don’t use in our story. I’m not talking about the stuff we’ll sneak in as the dreaded INFO DUMP. I’m not really talking about backstory, even, even though I am. I know that doesn’t make sense on the surface, but trust me…it makes sense.

Backstory, in general, is stuff you sprinkle into your story for the reader—stuff they discover about the characters’ pasts. Their motivations, their goals, etc, etc, etc. BUT—there’s another kind of backstory the WRITER should think about. Yes, there are motivational epiphanies we should share with our readers. That’s obvious. But there’s a whole life behind every character we create. Have you ever thought about writing out memories and experiences the characters have that have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE STORY YOU’RE WRITING? I mean, HAVE YOU? Because you should.

This is not a new concept, even for me. But it is one I keep going back to. I wrote an article for a writing newsletter once upon a time about diary entries. It’s now on my blog and for some reason it’s one of my most popular posts. People come to it by these bizarre Google searches about writing and diaries and characters and the like. I linked the blog post above…and I might be repeating myself today.

The backstory you give your characters stays inside you and you remember it as you’re navigating your way through your story. You become an expert on what your characters would or wouldn’t do, how they would or wouldn’t react based on this backstory. And again—I’m not talking about the backstory you feed your readers. I’m talking about the backstory ONLY YOU KNOW. So, the more you explore the people you create, the more you know them…the more you intuitively know their path through the story you create. This is why I spend a lot of time this time of year in developing my people for my  Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. We 40 writers get together for a long weekend in July and we all attempt to write a novel in 72 hours. I like to know who my characters are before I leap into that kind of an abyss.

Now, you can write their unseen-by-any-readers-ever backstory on paper or on your word processor, OR you can just chew away at it in your own little head. Either way works. The more stories you create about their past, the more it helps you to predict their future. And the future is the arc in which they travel through your novel. By setting up these pre-story lives as much as possible, you are doing a kind of homework that would otherwise be impossible. Even if you ‘practice’ with these characters for a hundred pages and then toss it away…those hundred pages are not wasted words. They are a foundation on which you can build the first sentence of your novel, and the second and the third.

For me, this works. Especially since I hit the ground running on a Friday evening and attempt to walk away on a Monday evening with a fully written first draft novel. I need every edge I can get.

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Random photo because I wanted to add something to look at. There’s a magical place along the Camino de Santiago where you get to walk through vineyards and it’s gorgeous. Here’s a peek.

Do yourself a favour and try this. Write situations, scenes, memories with your potential characters. Form a backstory for them that you will NEVER use in your finished work. Get to know them. They’ll pay you back in spades when you’re deep in the heart of your novel and trying to decide what your character will do next. If you know your character, you know how they’ll choose to move forward in your story…

Happy writing!

HERE’S MY AUTHOR PAGE ON THE MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON WEBSITE. YOU CAN CLICK ON THE SUPPORT THIS WRITER BUTTON TO BE TAKEN TO MY DONATION PAGE…BECAUSE THE MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON IS NOT ONLY A 72 HOUR NOVEL WRITING MARATHON, BUT IT’S ALSO A FUNDRAISER FOR LITERACY PROGRAMS. WE’RE WRITERS HELPING READERS.

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

 

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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Muskoka Novel Marathon Registration Frenzy! (40 Glass Slippers!)

Today is the day. At 7pm this evening the registration button for the 2019 Muskoka Novel Marathon Registration will go live!

The organizers think they’re extremely clever. This is what appears on the registration page at this very moment

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Yep. That’s where the magic button will appear at precisely 7pm. And if writers aren’t fast enough in clicking it and getting through the registration process, it’ll be the equivalent of having elephantine feet when the prince comes to your door to get you to try on the petite glass slipper. You see… the Muskoka Novel Marathon is an AMAZING opportunity for writers. They get to check out of the rat race for 72hrs and do nothing but write. BUT—-there’s only room for 40 writers. THAT’S ONLY 40 GLASS SLIPPERS! Everyone wants to be there. Or, at least anyone who’s already experienced the opportunity or anyone who can imagine getting that much writing time in one solid block.

Yes, the MNM is also a crucial fundraiser for area literacy programs in Muskoka and Simcoe County in Ontario, Canada…but at a time like this when the starting pistol on registration is about to go off, it’s easy to forget that part. Once all the writers have their spots nailed down, though…you can bet each and every one of them do their level best to collect the much needed funds to keep the literacy programs going. In the history of the marathon, we’ve managed to raise over $200,000.00 thus far. No small potatoes!

But today? The focus is on getting one of those coveted spots!

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The room where the yearly magic happens!

I’m not even certain I’m going to attempt to register this year. But… last year I was certain I was NOT going to go. And when 8pm came around on the registration day and I noticed that my ‘usual’ spot in the writing room was still available…I took it as a sign. I registered and I went to the marathon and I wrote. Whenever I think of NOT going, I get this feeling in my stomach. It’s a feeling of deep regret, that I am not giving my writing self this humongous gift. And then I panic and think, ‘HOW CAN I NOT GO!?’

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One of the alternative writing spaces one can use at the marathon!

We’ll see.

If you’re a writer in Ontario (or willing to travel to Ontario for a long weekend in July) you really should do yourself the great service of securing a seat for the marathon. It’s definitely changed my life getting these amazing weekends of non-stop writing in. It changed the way I approach the novel, really. I probably write more at the Muskoka Novel Marathon than I write during the other 362 days of the year. Let’s just keep that part between you and I, though… I wouldn’t want that to get out!

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Every September there’s an after-marathon wrap party where there are awards handed out for Best Novel in different categories, as well as a slew of awards that are peer nominated.

One thing is certain… if I do register and attend the marathon this year, it’ll be another year where I will be unable to attend the wrap party in September. Michael and I will be busy making our way to Santiago de Compostela in September. We’ll be walking the Camino during the wrap party. This has never stopped me from attending the marathon in the past, though. Hmmmmmm?

DO YOURSELF A FAVOUR

 

A Birthday, a Book, and Camino or Bust

Today marks what would have been the 80th birthday of my mother, Davida Cecilia (nee Creamer) Craig. Everyone called her Dee. She liked milestone birthdays and she would have loved this one. 80. I always thought there was something magical about her birth year because it was 1939. The same year as The Wizard of Oz. I always remembered that odd fact, for some reason.

A couple of weeks ago, I took out the recipe box my mother used to keep. To be honest, there was a time when we kept it together. We once began a project together of organizing that box and re-writing all the recipes on index cards. We bought the alphabetical dividers and everything. It was going to be a perfectly appointed collection to pass down. As I scrolled through the chaos of cards, pamphlets, magazines, magazine clippings and scrap pieces of paper with faded recipes scrawled on them, it became obvious that the project was a complete failure. We hadn’t even made it halfway through the reorganization process, and it seems to have declined back to chaos in the ensuing years. This recipe box is the Miss Havisham of recipe boxes. Hope lost.

But perhaps this is the way recipe collections should be, no? Fully loved and used and faded and worn and torn and in shambles. Maybe that’s the sign of a good recipe collection. Maybe our little project was where we went wrong. It was, come to think of it, my idea. Sure, Mom always said, “One day I should sit down and sort this mess out.” But I wonder now if everyone who loves to bake and cook says that occasionally when they open up their fragile elastic-reinforced recipe collections to get to work.

What I also realized as I flipped through all the beloved baking recipes from my childhood is that we must have began that project when I was no more than 10 years old. All the rewritten recipes on index cards were in my childhood eerily perfect and meticulous left-handed scrawl. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with her and going through the recipes and being cautious to the point of insanity while I carefully wrote them out. All the 1/2s and 1/4s and 1/3s had to be 100% correct. Not a single word could be omitted. Baking is, after all, an exact science.

Our most baked recipe had to be peanut butter cookies (molasses cookies would take a quick second place…but they were harder to make and took more time). That’s the recipe I looked for while I took my nostalgic dip back into the recipe box. It was only after 3 thorough trips down memory lane that I finally found the recipe in a spiral notebook. I never did find the index card. And almost nothing was filed in alphabetical order in the filing system.

The peanut butter cookie recipe that I did finally find, after much panic, was in my mother’s gorgeous swirling curlicue handwriting. I always thought she had the most magical handwriting of them all. I remember watching her make words come to life on the page, knowing I’d never be able to come close to that kind of fancy. But I followed each and every swirl when I made my first post-Mom batch of peanut butter cookies.

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What I realized when I made a batch of these cookies was that my mother was always baking for an army. The batch was ENDLESS. But, as memory serves, a batch would last no more than a day in my childhood home. Her cookies often served the purpose of pied piper in our neighbourhood.

In retrospect, maybe the bomb that went off inside the recipe box that we never quite got a handle on is an allegory for the bomb that went off between us. No matter. Things happened. They won’t take away the time we spent together, though. We had a few things together. One was definitely baking. One was photo albums. The two of us were the official curators of our family photo albums. A third was puzzles. I can’t even begin to count the hours we spent together working on puzzles at the dining room table. One picture appeared after the other, seemingly out of nowhere. We never seemed to tire of that one.

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Mom, Manny, Me, Dave, Dad. Not in this pic is baby brother George. He wasn’t quite here yet. This was early 1971…George arrived in 1972.

Rest in peace, Mom. I’m glad that all the good memories eventually came bubbling back up to the surface. They never go away, do they? Not really. I just have to close my eyes and I remember being elbows deep in batter, helping you make your own birthday cake and trying DESPERATELY not to ask you for any help…because nobody should have to make their own birthday cake. Not now, not ever. Happy Birthday.

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This pic has nothing to do with anything I’m writing today. I’m using it only as a subject divider, because I’m all over the place today. As usual. This is me following Michael on foot for the last mile or so into Nepal, from India. It was really the only way for us to cross from one country to the other in any reasonable amount of time last September.

I have a book out on submission right now and I’d probably trade all my other publications combined to see it to market. I just finished a reread. This is something I sometimes do when a book is out in the hands of publishers. It’s on my list of thing I do to second guess myself and question my abilities as a writer. I still love this book, though. I still hope it finds a home. It’s not often that I feel this good about something I wrote. So, fingers crossed. I’m kind of at a standstill at the moment, because I’m thinking so much about this novel finding a home that it stops me from diving into the next and the next. I’m sure it won’t be an excuse forever. It will either happen or it won’t.

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This subject divider makes a little more sense. This is one of soooo many shrouds to shoes one finds on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain. Shoes literally play out their entire lives on this path. I’ll be returning there in September, but I hope to leave my shoes at home.

The countdown to the beginning of Our Camino Adventure is now 181 days. As much as I love spring and summer, I have never wished them to speed by as much as I am wishing them to do so now. On September 10th we are boarding a plane that will take us to Madrid, by way of Lisbon, and I cannot wait. The Camino de Santiago is constantly percolating in the back of my mind. I daydream about the day my feet will once again touchdown on its sacred path. Like Frank N. Furter realizing he’s about to get the opportunity to return to his home planet of Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania, I am beside myself with excitement.

On the day I went away, goodbye
Was all I had to say, now I
I want to come again and stay, oh my my
Smile, and that will mean I may

Cause I’ve seen oh, blue skies through the tears
In my eyes
And I realize, I’m going home

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This is the face of someone who knows they’re going home. This will be my face at the airport on Tuesday, September 10th, 2019. I may go slightly less dramatic with the eye shadow, but we shall see. I’m not promising anything.

Unlike Frank N. Furter, I’m not going to find out at the last second that I’ll be lasered to death just before take-off. At least I hope that’s not in the cards for me.

We now have our entire itinerary mapped out. We managed, through trial and error, to come up with it all by ourselves. We’re hoping we aced the journey and gave ourselves enough but not too much time for each day’s trek. It’s such a fine balance when figuring out in advance how far you’re going to walk each day. And with the throngs growing each and every year on the Camino**, we didn’t want to take our chances with not booking our nightly stays in advance. So, it’s all locked and loaded…even though we still have 181 days to go.

**In 2017 the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago de Compostela received 301,006 pilgrims, up from 237,882 in 2014…which is the year I first walked the Camino. Last year, there was an even greater amount of pilgrims. More are expected to walk in 2019.

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Not only was my first Camino experience a mostly WET AND RAINY one, but the cathedral was also undergoing a massive exterior refurbishing. The front was covered in scaffolding. I’m told that the scaffolding is now gone. I’m excited to see the polished new exterior. Unfortunately, this means the interior is now under restoration. I’m told the Botafumeiro will not swing.

I will be attempting a BAREFOOT walk this coming Camino. I went barefoot for a few portions of my last Camino. Hopefully, I can do it all the way…only slipping into footwear to enter places that won’t allow bare feet. That’s the goal, anyway. We shall see.

THE SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION FOR THE TOPICS OF THIS POST

Not really six degrees.

Mom’s Birthday – The Book I have on Submission Takes Place on the Camino de Santiago – I’m walking the Camino. I’m dedicating this pilgrimage to the memory of my mother. Full circle.

Anyway…a lot on my mind today. I find getting it out helps. Happy Birthday, Mom…wherever you happen to be in the universe. Imagine me baking you a cake and I’ll imagine you being impressed by my cake decorating abilities.