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

mnm

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!

mnm
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!?’

mnm4
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!

mnm5
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.

20190225_191902
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.

12715498_10153197862390670_6016518002666031924_n
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.

20180923_153348.jpg
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.

20140528_152708.jpg
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

frank.png
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.

20140529_164809.jpg
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.

 

I Just Don’t Know Which One You Is…

Sometimes writing fiction brings one to a greater truth. It makes one reflect not only on what’s going on in the lives of their characters, but also in their own lives. The spotlight turns and the navel gazes, as it were. Writers are, after all, merely human. They search for the same truths and insights into life that the reader seeks. Omphaloskepsis is something we all do in search of greater meaning. It’s not always about vanity. Sweet word, right? It’s just another way of saying navel gazing.

WIKI: “The word Omphaloskepsis comes from Greekomphalos (navel) + skepsis (act of looking, examination)”

To gaze at the navel was at one time a form of meditation, but it has become a relatively slapstick term to refer to a form of over-exaggerated self-absorption, or narcissism. But honestly, in the age of THE SELFIE, nobody really has time to contemplate navels anymore. We’re too busy clicking, swiping, adding filters, trashing, liking, and retaking selfies to stop long enough to look at our navels. We’re really giving navel gazing a run for its money. I wonder what the ancient Greeks would think of what we’ve become in this renaissance of über vanity.

navelgaz.jpg
Satyres en Atlante, hanging out at the Navel Gazing Cafe.

“Mama mama please, no more face lifts, I just don’t know which one you is…” ~ Nazareth, from Holiday

I do believe I’ve been taken off course yet again. What I mean to say is, as writers of fiction, I’ve noticed of late that we have an added perk of working through our own stuff through our fictional worlds. I know, I know…everyone is probably thinking, “NO! NOT THE MARY-SUE CHARACTER!” But that’s not exactly what I mean. I do believe a writer can do this without fully injecting themselves into the story. ALTHOUGH, WE SOMETIMES RUN THE RISK OF BECOMING ALL OF OUR CHARACTERS AT ONCE…to the point of now knowing which one we relate to the most.

What I mean is that we sometimes, either purposefully or inadvertently, chip away at ideas and thoughts and issues that have been bubbling just under our own surfaces. We throw characters into situations to see how we ourselves will work our way out of them. Life correlates to fiction, which correlates to life. It’s a cool sort of gift you forget about, until something makes you realize it’s happening again.

Maybe we shouldn’t knock the vanity as much as we sometimes do. But then again, maybe we can put our phones down for a bit–or at least take them off selfie mode–and do a little introspection through the navel instead. Self-examination doesn’t always need to be about narcissism. It can actually make us better people.

I feel as though my fiction is occasionally much like a Magic 8 Ball…and if I examine it closely enough, I can almost predict my future. I guess I’m just having an appreciation moment for what it is that writing gives back to the writer. For writers just going about the everyday business of throwing together a story, there is often a sense of connection, of grounding that comes at the end of the words. I like that. Even if it does cause me to examine my navel more closely. It was good enough for the Romans…

 

 

When You Say You Will – Writers and Accountability

Are writers the only breed who are constantly holding themselves accountable by making proclamations of what it is they plan on tackling next? Or do we all make lists, announce projects we plan to tackle, promise future achievements. I’m coming at this from a writer’s gaze, so I know we are guilty of doing this. We’re always tackling this, planning that, looking for ways to motivate ourselves forward into the next project and the next and the next and the next. Sometimes I think I’m just so lazy I need to strike fires under myself in order to get anything done.

I tend to believe that when a person actually says out loud that they will do something–announce it to the world at large even if no one else is listening–they tend to get it done. Or have better odds at accomplishing their goal, at any rate. Accountability is such a herculean thing with us writers. It’s why we talk among ourselves, outlining and planning our projects and tasks.

Today, I say I WILL write something for the 2019 CBC Non-Fiction Prize. This doesn’t quite make my entry inevitable, but it does give me a goalpost to shoot for, with a definite finish-line in mind. You can’t get any more definitive than a writing contest deadline. February 28, 2019 at 11:59 PM (ET). That’s the deadline for this particular contest.

cbc.jpg

SO, announcing my intention solidifies my horse in the race. It’s the way we writers motivate ourselves. We say I WILL.

I feel like the people over at CBC are throwing shade at us writers. I feel like THEY KNOW US. With each of their writing contests, they set up a newsletter for potential entrants to subscribe to in order to get motivation personally delivered to their inboxes throughout the weeks leading up to the deadline. Scandalous. I feel both SEEN and SHADED by this newsletter. Here’s the announcement for it from the CBC site:

WANT HELP: Subscribe to the CBC Nonfiction Prize newsletter for writing tips and support along the way. We will send you writing tips, tricks and prompts every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday while the CBC Nonfiction Prize is open.

“Want help?” they say. What they’re actually saying is probably more along the lines of, “We know you say you’re going to enter the contest but do you have the motivation required to see this through to the end? Probably not. Let us keep reminding you to stay on task. Let US be your motivation.”

Thank you, CBC…for SEEing us writers. We appreciate your accountability tactics. Now, if you’ll excuse me…I’m off to subscribe to a certain newsletter that shall remain nameless.

I WILL enter the CBC NONFICTION PRIZE

I Don’t Think I Wrote What I Thought I Wrote – The Edit

Sometimes I will re-read a sentence in one of my WIPs and think, ‘what the heck was I trying to say here?

This one fact, more than anything else, is good enough validation that we should always put our writing down long enough to come back to it with fresh eyes. The hope is that those fresh eyes will be confused by something/anything we wrote which does not make sense to the reader.

13658980_10153620157102021_5222252651703869556_n
One of my many editing places. The dock at the yearly Muskoka Novel Marathon in Huntsville, Ontario.

Today’s Tidbit of Wisdom:

If you put it down long enough, you become the reader.

This is the part where I say how lovely it is to edit. Not everyone loves to edit, and, to be honest, my own relationship with it is probably love/hate at best. But when I love to do it, I really love to do it.

This is never more true a statement as when I am editing my short stories. I suppose, because I understand intrinsically that editing is SO VITAL with short stories. I know it’s important with anything we write. And I also know that one could argue that every word counts in whatever we write, whether it’s as tiny as a haiku or as gargantuan as a big ole tome of a novel. Yes, of course all words matter. BUT…with the short story, EVERY. WORD. MATTERS.

You only have so many words with which to build your entire universe within the confines of a short story. None of those words can afford to lead the reader astray. If you lead the reader astray in the limited universe that a short story entails, you will lose them forever. No amount of breadcrumbs will bring them back to the story in one piece. As READER, every breath you take inside a short story needs to count…needs to get you to the end fully intact and alive. Therefore, every word the writer uses factors into the measuring of the reader’s breathing pattern. That’s just a fact of language…one that writers cannot ignore.

I recently stumbled on a line I had in a short story I was revisiting. I was attempting to get it submission-ready, but knew it still needed some work. For a good three or four minutes I tried not only to figure out what it was I originally attempted to say, but also to figure out how the line fit in with the narrative around it. Picture a basket filled with bright red tomatoes, with a great big juicy green Granny Smith apple right in the middle of it. I didn’t know how the apple got there and I couldn’t figure out a way to leave it there in the basket, surrounded by all those gloriously red tomatoes. I had the sense it somehow didn’t belong.

All this to say PUT YOUR WORK ASIDE. Become unfamiliar with it. This is the best way to ensure you are saying all the things you want to say, in the way you want to say them. If you read it immediately after you finish writing it, you might READ WHAT YOU MEANT in your lines…even though the words on the page don’t match up with what it is you were trying to say. DISTANCE MAKES FOR BETTER EDITING.

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I have an apple to remove from a certain basket I’ve been eyeing suspiciously.

Happy Writing. Happy Editing. Happy Friday.

Left Bank Writers Retreat – Paris!

Hello all,

I went down a nice little rabbit hole this morning. Or shall I say trou de lapin? At any rate, today’s #TBT or #ThrowbackThursday idea to post something about Paris made me fall in love with the LEFT BANK WRITERS RETREAT all over again! Speaking of RABBITS, did you know that Picasso at the Lapin Agile, the play by actor, writer, renaissance man, Steve Martin, was actually set in a place in Paris? Montmartre to be exact!

There will probably be many digressions today. (-: Where was I? Oh yes, the Left Bank Writers Retreat! It happens every June in the City of Love & Lights. It’s a unique one-week retreat that explores writing and Paris and Hemingway ALL AT ONCE! Almost 5 years ago, I attended this retreat and it was magic from moment one. You write in the Tuileries, in Luxembourg Gardens, in the garden behind Notre Dame Cathedral. You visit Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie and Montmartre. You dine at Hemingway’s hangouts and where Fitzgerald dined. It’s all writing world and Paris world meets and you just have to experience it to know the gorgeous retreat it is.

I believe there are still spots available for June, 2019…though I suppose I should have checked with Darla first! You can meet DARLA, TRAVIS & SARAH here. They are the incredible faculty of the retreat and their knowledge of Paris, Hemingway and writing, combined with their incredible personalities, MAKE the experience what it is.

All your days are mapped out for you and each one is magical. Your evening? ALL YOURS! You might be fortunate enough to make some new friends at the intimate retreat and hit the streets together! My traveling companion in the evenings became new friend, fellow writer and poet, Nina. Here we are atop the Arc!

20140616_190809
With Nina atop the Arc de Triomphe, Paris France, June 2014 – Left Bank Writers Retreat. And, yes, that IS the beautiful Avenue des Champs-Élysées behind us!

Click on the pic of the website below to visit the LEFT BANK WRITERS RETREAT site to find out all the details, including the itinerary, payment, FAQ, etc…

Left Bank

You should do yourself and your writing life a solid in 2019 and jump into the Left Bank! You’ll love it!