Home from the Marathon – My 11th MNM

I usually write about my Muskoka Novel Marathon (MNM) experience shortly after it’s over. But I wasn’t sure how to deal with this one. I’ve been home from it a week today. I felt like I got nothing done this year. But I also managed to write almost 40,000 words in 72 hours. Perception and reality vastly conflict with one another. It’s the same ole same ole.

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Another of the many distraction tactics I look forward to every year at the MNM…a long walk up a short hill to this place. LION’S LOOKOUT. Down below me, in the background, is the MNM venue.

Why is it this way? Because of the automaton feature that writers will often tap into. They can begin a project by being a writer writing and end up just being writing. Writer disappears at these marathons. Writer becomes writing. The act itself…with no one at the wheel.

This is why I always underestimate my creative output and my productivity. I disappear.

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These are the 10-Page marker ribbons that all writers add to the clothesline every time they get to another 10-page milestone. They add up over the course of the 72hr novel writing marathon!

I was driving yesterday and a thought about my Muskoka Novel Marathon novel came to me in a flash of brilliance. It was more like a eureka moment. ‘I really should have my one character meet with a therapist.’

I mean, something big and terrible happened to them. Most likely, a therapist would be foisted upon them practically against their will in real life after experiencing what they experienced. I should write a scene where they visit a therapist.

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This is the Active Living Centre in Huntsville, Ontario, at night. Shot from the dock at the water’s edge down below during Saturday evening’s distraction period of socializing. (-:

Then, when I finally sat down in front of my manuscript to continue my read-through, a funny thing happened. I came upon a fairly long scene (several pages in length) where my character visits a therapist. Who knows, there may even be more therapist meetings in the manuscript. I’m still reading through. This is one of the reasons I try not to edit while doing that first read-through after arriving home from the marathon. I often have no recollection of what my manuscript contains. And I never know what I’m gonna find. Literally, I have no idea. The therapist scene is a case in point. Blindsided.

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A shot from the dock beside the Muskoka Novel Marathon venue.

I also know that I’m a monumental distraction to other writers at the marathon. I do my best focusing when I’m not focusing at all. I have too much energy to do things in another way. I write my ass off while drinking coffee and eating garbage candy and shooting myself madly off in every direction. Somehow, I walk away from the marathon with most of a novel…and somehow I get that novel completed in the few weeks immediately following the marathon. It’s how I function as a writer.

Another year in the can, another diabetic coma narrowly avoided. My novel is coming along. I may even like what I came away with. I’ll like it more once this read-through is complete and I know exactly what it is I wrote.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.