Six Degrees of Separation -How’d I get here?

I occasionally attempt to retrace the steps that brought me to being a writer. The funny thing is, every time I retrace my steps, I come up with a different path, different reasons, different excuses. Maybe some of us were just born to witness, to tell, to retell. Maybe writing is a gene we either get or don’t get? Or a virus one is born with…A virus that lies dormant until a certain je ne sais quoi occurs, igniting the disease into full bloom. Je ne sais quoi sounds so frilly, don’t it? Calm down, it simply means I don’t know what. Which is the thing that would happen to ignite the virus–I don’t know what.

If I were to look at the evolution in terms of books read, I might be able to come up with a SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION list of books that brought me from child to writer. Actually, I could probably come up with a different list daily, and argue why each of the books on each of the lists deserves to be there. Let’s try these 6 degrees from my today’s me, shall we? Six books with explanations as to why they were an integral part of my journey from child to writer.

BOOK 1Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Seuss


I almost always go back to this book as my IN THE BEGINNING, my Genesis. Perhaps it IS my Book 1. It made me love the way words sound, even before I could make them myself. It made me love the music of language. Rhyme is a kind of art onto itself, no? It makes whimsy and play out of a language that exists for the very serious and no-nonsense purpose of communication. All the Dr. Seuss books, in their turn, ignited a love of words and language in me. Even the made up words made my heart go pitter-patter. To this day, I still hope to one day come upon a Zizzer-zazzer-zuzz or a truffula tree. One cannot underestimate the importance of word play. It sticks with you.



Another one I cannot leave out is Roald Dahl’s Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. I’ve heard so many horrendous things about this creator in the time between my first reading of Charlie and now. But it would be revisionist of me to pretend this book didn’t change the course of my future. It was probably around 1972 when I first read it. Give or take a year. This book made me want to be a writer. I could stop here. But it wasn’t enough. We often forget the things that call to us when we are children. We lose sight of them. We need some sort of 2nd awakening to bring us back into the fold. So this book gets credit for making me a more voracious reader and planting a writing seed that would lay dormant for a while, just waiting for that je ne sais quoi to come knocking and wake it up.


Here’s where it all becomes foggy. So many books in my teen years would fight for this all-important #3 slot in my 6-step journey to writer. I think, today, I’ll choose A SEPARATE PEACE by John Knowles. (One of the books that are on the sidelines screaming WHAT ABOUT ME is The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. A Separate Peace spoke to me in more ways than one. I fell in love with the friendship, the envy and spite and greed. The darkness was something I could understand. And the hero-worship. It was an unsettling read. It made me want to write a story that would emulate it, pay homage to it. It was a real stepping stone from READER to WRITER. It made me think, ‘I could do this’. Or at least it made me want to try.



Still a teenager. Still a dreamer. I came upon THE OUTSIDERS by S. E. Hinton. This was a story of underdogs. And of reaching up out of that existence into something better. The characters were outsiders…it was right there in the title. Yet, they were allowed to have a story. The story was allowed to be about them. I loved that concept. I was a major outsider at the time and finding that book was everything. It was reassuring to know that Ponyboy Curtis could be looked down on as an outsider, and yet still have all these hopes and dreams and thoughts and feelings. And to see all the good in these boys who were so quickly cast aside by society? Their hearts were golden, even when they struggled to survive. This was such a nuanced story. It made me look into the scaffolding of storytelling. I wanted now to see the underbelly, to take it apart and see how it worked…just like my younger brother would often take mechanical toys apart to see how their cogs and wheels and belts and whatnot worked. This was the book that made me dissect…an important and crucial step in the journey towards becoming a writer.

BOOK 5Fast Forward a Bunch of Years and Bold, Italics, and Underline the Title for Emphasis – WRITING DOWN THE BONES

The fifth book that brought me to writing, at least as I list them here today, is probably WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg. When I found this book I was in the middle of something of a breakdown, searching desperately for books to save me. I was scouring the library reading this, that, this, that, this, that. I was desperately seeking Susan. Aside from the odd scrolled and jotted down poem, I had all but abandoned WRITER. I made my way through fiction at my library, but it wasn’t enough. I tried biographies and read about so many different lives. Nope. Still searching. As it began to feel somewhat like a spiritual search, I snuck into the spiritual and religious section of the library. I read about different religions, practices, etc, etc. One week I was a Buddhist, the next I was in love with Paramahansa Yogananda. And then I fell into a book called LONG QUIET HIGHWAY – A MEMOIR ON ZEN IN AMERICA AND THE WRITING LIFE. Hello! I loved everything I read about Zen. I still secretly harboured that WRITING LIFE thing…if only to whisper this aspiration only to myself, and only in the dark where I couldn’t see. That’s a lot of ONLYs. So, I read this amazing book LONG QUIET HIGHWAY, and it ignited a spark…I adjusted the course and found another book by the same author– WRITING DOWN THE BONES. This is such a simple book that spoke to me simply. It made me remember that I wanted to be a writer. Goldberg was so gentle in her guidance to writers in this book. Her way of demystifying writing and writers gave me the permission to at least TRY. I was like baby Groot. “I AM WRITER.” It might have been the only three words I could say, but I said them on repeat until it became something more real.



Whoa! I think I arrived at writer before a full six degrees of separation had the opportunity to occur. I’ll stick one more book here at the end and merely because it set a fire in me as far as storytelling goes. After I had decided to wade into the pond and try my hand at writing, I stumbled upon Anne Rice’s THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS. It’s her homage to Great Expectations, which is another book that I read in childhood that made me fall in love with story. When I got to the last page of The Feast of All Saints, I literally turned back to page one and began to reread it. I found everything about that book gorgeous. Forget about the Vampire Chronicles (I also enjoyed the first 5 or 6 titles in that series but, for me, they paled in comparison to Feast). This book was the book that solidified in me the desire to not only tell a story, but to tell a story well.

Is it possible for the path to writer not to be taken through a literary garden? Maybe. There could be some out there who just want to write without first reading. But I can’t imagine it. I know not how I came to writing, really, but I do know I entered into it as a reader.

So, what are your six degrees of separation? What six books make up the cornerstone of the writer you’ve become?

Word Up Barrie – Guest Author Event

Thanks to my cousin in Barrie for telling me about a monthly event there–and for putting my name forward to the organizers as a possible guest reader–I’ll be doing a reading at WORD UP BARRIE this coming November. I know it’s a long way off, but I thought I’d post about it here and also mention the year’s line-up for guest readers at the event while I’m here.

The WORD UP BARRIE events take place at Unity Market Cafe & Studios in Barrie, Ontario. The event is monthly and it starts at 7 pm. They have one or two feature guest authors do a reading. This is then followed by an open mic.

My own reading will be on Thursday November 8th.wordup.jpg

If you’re in the Barrie area, or if you want to drive up Highway 400 from Toronto (GTA) for some creative synergy, here’s what WORD UP BARRIE has in store for the rest of the 2018 schedule:

  • Thursday June 14th is BRUCE MEYER
  • Thursday July 12th is BRIAN VAN NORMAN & DANIEL PERRY
  • Thursday September 13th is Hugh Graham & GABRIEL VERVENIOTIS
  • Thursday October 11th is BRENDA CLEWS & ROBIN BLACKBURN McBRIDE
  • Thursday November 8th is MARC LABRIOLA & myself
  • Thursday December 13th is SKY GILBERT & DARRELL EPP


Looking forward to this! And also to possibly getting up there for one of the other events prior to my own. For you creative types, don’t forget– THERE’S ALSO AN OPEN MIC SESSION at these events.

Fundraiser for Literacy – Muskoka Novel Marathon

It’s that time of year again…when I ask for sponsorship funds for the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s fundraiser for literacy. My funding page has been created and I am now able to collect donations online.

100% of the funds raised by the 40 writers taking part in the 72 hour novel writing marathon goes towards running the literacy programs of the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka. We raise over $30,000.00 a year during this marathon…and these are well needed funds that keep all the current literacy programs alive, as well as help the YMCA create new programs.

With your help, we can make a difference for so many people.

Watch FLIPBOOK, the short movie set at the Marathon:


Here’s a news segment from the 2017 marathon:

I hope you consider sponsoring me for this worthy cause. Please click on the link below to contribute online. No donation is too small!


Novel Marathon Preparation Tips

After chatting with a fellow Muskoka Novel Marathon marathoner last night, I decided to write a quick post about preparing to undergo a novel writing marathon. This is for both my fellow MNM marathoners, and, for anyone who is thinking of doing a novel writing marathon on their own.

Our yearly marathon takes place in July, so we currently have just shy of three months to prepare. As it is a competition and the novels submitted at the end of the 72 hour marathon get sent to judges for individual critique and consideration in the BEST NOVEL AWARD for their categories, we are only allowed to submit what we write AT the marathon. The writers are, however, allowed to bring a one-page outline of the novel they wish to write while at the marathon. So we don’t have to come into it completely unprepared. For those who write based on an outline, there’s a lot you can fit onto one page. An entire novel, if you’re careful with your bullet pointing. (-:

After chatting with Jennifer Turney last night, I’ve decided to approach this year’s marathon a little differently. We’ll see how it goes. You might recall from my recent Oops, I did it again post that Jennifer is to blame for me participating in the novel marathon this year. She ignited the spark that led to my eventual registration.

In prior years I never really prepared so much as I worried myself into an anxious state of catatonia as the weekend approached. The only thing I really made sure to have going into the marathon was a title for the novel I would write. The ideas themselves? I just allowed those to fly about in my mind untethered. I neither pinned them down, nor thought them out. I just hoped something would stick when I sat down to write.

This was okay for several years. And then the 2016 novel marathon came and I sat down and had approximately ZERO idea what it was I was going to write. I didn’t even have a title that year. In fact, for the first 24 hours of the 72 hour novel writing marathon I basically wrote nothing. I hemmed and hawed, I floated from one WIP to another…deciding not to enter the competition but to work on something I had already began elsewhere. But nothing was motivating me, nothing spoke to me. After having a short conversation with fellow marathoner Dale Long, after 24 hours of wasted marathoning,

From that point onward, I had a plan. Dale suggested I write MY STORY, only change it. Not a great epiphany in its own right, but man…it hit me like a rock on the side of the head. It was almost as though his suggestion gave me a permission of sorts. I’m sure a lot of writers do this, but it was almost as though it had never occurred to me until Dale mentioned it. I was desperate. I wanted to write something, to have something useful when my 72hrs were up. So I took Dale’s advise and began to tell something resembling my own story with an unfathomable amount of lies sprinkled throughout to make it nothing like my story. Once I began, I just kept trucking right on through to the end of the marathon.

I wrote I WILL TELL THE NIGHT in the last 48 hours of the marathon. And much to my surprise, it went on to win the 2016 Best Adult Novel Award.

So much for a quick post. I have done what I usually do. I have digressed.

Maybe bullet points will help shorten this post.


  • Once you decide to take part in a novel writing marathon, make a commitment to always have a journal on your person. You never know when inspiration will hit. Jot down any and all ideas you may have. Don’t trust that you will remember them.
  • This sounds unimportant but if you listen to music while writing, make a playlist. Pick only songs you know you won’t SKIP when listening to it. All favourites that you won’t get sick of. And enough songs to have a variety. 72hrs is a long time.
  • If you come up with a novel idea that sticks, think about how you’re going to write your outline. Point-form. Chapter Titles. First sentences. Character descriptions. Last sentence. Outcome. Plot points. You get one page. Make it work for you.
  • For Muskoka Novel Marathon writers, all of our meals are prepared. You will want to bring snacks. This means something different to each writer. Some need a lifetime supply of Twizzlers to see them through a writing session, others need sunflower seeds and still others need cake. Bring what you think you’ll crave at 3:00am on a Saturday morning. If that’s sugar, so be it. It’s only one weekend…not a new habit. Bring some happy-food for yourself.
  • Gadgets, widgets, fidgets and balls. Bring something to play with and keep your hands busy while you’re musing. If you have a Rubik’s Cube or a skipping rope or something else that makes you happy while whiling away some non-writing time, BRING IT.
  • Pillows, blankets, water-bottle—these are essential for the Muskoka Novel Marathoner. As are changes of clothes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, a towel, comfortable shoes, and a book. Yes, a book.
  • At the Muskoka marathon, writers typically make one or more trips down the hill to downtown Huntsville. Bring an umbrella (just in case), and money (or, for most of us, a debit card). We will often stop at a restaurant/bar for a drink—which is more about the bonding time and writerly talk than it is about drinking. This is quality getting-to-know-you time. Sometimes the bonding involves getting arrested together or experiencing a lively brawl, but often it’s good clean fun.
  • Bring a sense of adventure that’s literally too large to fit in the car or on the horse you ride in on. This is a tremendous experience. You’re bound to pack fear—everyone is. It’s a daunting challenge to write a novel in 72 hours. FEAR will be in your suitcase, guaranteed. But make room also for your sense of adventure. It’s a fun journey, kind of like a rollercoaster—it’s filled with ups, downs and in-betweens. Be ready for anything, be open to everything.
  • Bring SPIRIT. Cheer on others and allow others to cheer you on. If you’re having difficulty with a plot twist or an irrational (or rational) character, you’re surrounded by 40 other writers who know what you’re going through. Talk it out. Let out your frustrations at the dinner table. Admonish your characters over breakfast. We’re a community when we’re there. We live together for 72 hours. You’ll find the other writers HAVE YOUR BACK. Let them help you and be helped by you. This was one of the greatest gifts Sue Blakeney gave us at the marathon. Her time and unstoppable wisdom. She sat with me for almost an hour one day listening to me rant about a character and the direction I was going to take my novel in. She changed the trajectory of the story by calming me down and talking me through all the possibilities. Let’s all be Sue Blakeneys this marathon. It would be a great way to honor her MNM legacy.
  • Take a page from Alanis Morissette’s playbook…THANK U, to be exact.

Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

How ’bout me enjoying the moment for once

How bout remembering your divinity
How bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out

I think that song actually carries in it a great piece of wisdom about the Muskoka Novel Marathon. The moment you release your fear at how overwhelming a task it is that you set yourself is the moment you receive the gift of how wonderful the experience is.

The moment I let go of it
Was the moment I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it
Was the moment I touched down


See you at the marathon.



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