When You Write the Book of Your Heart

I am SO passionate about the last book I wrote, I find myself thinking about the characters all the time. It’s one of the only novels I ever wrote over a long period of time, as opposed to over a long weekend at the Muskoka novel writing marathon.

When I first had the idea for THE CAMINO CLUB, I was just about to set out on one of the greatest adventures of my life…a walk on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain. The idea simmered slowly while I made my packing list back home in Toronto. I was picking up a spork and hiking socks at a camping store in Toronto while contemplating one of my main characters and how he would suffer a tragic loss while he was being forced to walk the Camino over his summer holidays. I was trying on backpacks while coming up with the name for another main character…one who loved her dog and hated her parents and fought the idea of walking the Camino with every fiber of her being.

I even came up with the tagline idea prior to actually setting foot in Spain. THE BREAKFAST CLUB MEETS THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO. As taglines go, it doesn’t even make much sense. The whole MEETS thing is to conjoin two books, two movies, two shows, two ideas, etc. Not to conjoin a movie with a place. But in my head it worked. Juvenile delinquents forced to walk the pilgrimage route as penance for their crimes. A youth diversion program.

Long before I wrote the first word of The Camino Club, I knew intuitively that it would be THE book…the ever-illusive ‘book of my heart’ book. I heard others speaking of their own ‘heart books’. I knew some of mine had come close, but I also knew I had not yet written my heart book. It was still out there.

I had planned to take notes every day I was on the Camino to help me to shape the novel that I would write once my own Camino pilgrimage was over. I really did. I thought I might even write some of it in the albergues at night, after my long days of walking. But the magic of the Camino that I had heard so much about for so many years prior to heading to Spain? Turns out, even though it was exuberantly described to me,  it was still greatly understated. There is no describing what the Camino does to a person until one enters the Camino and discovers the magic for themselves.

As life-changing as the pilgrimage was, I still somehow managed to walk with each of my juvenile delinquent characters in my head and in my thoughts (mostly). I imagined them grumbling at the difficult bits and slowly melting into a softness of acceptance along the way. I imagined their dramas and their downfalls and their highs. I questioned why I would want one of my characters to experience the loss of a loved one back home while they were hiking across Spain and unable to do anything about it. Why would I be so cruel?

It was only while I was on the Camino that I realized there was a core character missing from my novel idea. I had to run into this magically delightful older Frenchman before the full bones of the novel began to fall into place for me. Upon meeting Claude, I instantly knew I had to immortalize him in my story…even if only for myself.

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The gentleman in the foreground of this shot taken at an albergue in Spain along the Camino de Santiago was my inspiration for the BASTIEN character in The Camino Club. Claude’s magic just would not leave me. I knew I needed someone like him in my story.

Today is actually the 5th anniversary of the day I met this man. I know this because this is what came up in my Facebook memories today:

A man from France I met today. “And life is still good.” #Camino #CaminoDeSantiago #peregrinos

He was telling us that life was still good even though he had just lost his wife. He was walking the Camino and bringing joy to everyone he met along the way. He held our albergue as a captive audience that night…told us stories that made us laugh and stories that made us cry. When he said the line quoted above, he had tears in his own eyes. And with that line, I received my AHA moment. This man will help my delinquents along on their journey! 5 years ago today, BASTIEN was born. Happy Bastien Day! It is my hope that one day you will be able to read this story for yourself and fall in love with Bastien the same way I fell in love with Claude. It’s the story of my heart.

Buen Camino!

Pratisara Protection Threads – From Abhaneri, India to Samos, Spain…

Tuesday September 18th of 2018 was a traveling day for us. That was the day we made our way by bus from Jaipur to Agra in India.

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We had a surprise stop along the way at a beautiful stepwell in Abhaneri. It was called Chand Baori Stepwell.

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The Chand Baori Stepwell is an architectural wonder. There are many places like it in India. And it was just sitting there in a small village, at the side of the road.
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At the Chand Baori Stepwell in Abhaneri, India. September, 2018.

While there, we visited a ‘holy man’ who was at a small temple off to the side. He tied red and yellow pratisara protection threads on our wrists and offered us a blessing. I’m writing about it today, on Tuesday May 14th, 2019, because my threads finally broke free of my wrist this morning.

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The ‘Holy Man’ who gave us our pratisara protection threads while we were en route to Agra, India.

It was bound to happen. It was just some threads tied together around my wrist. I’m actually surprised it lasted almost 8 months. Michael’s is still intact. Not only that, his looks way better than mine looked when it snapped. I’m guessing he’ll get a full year out of his. We shall see.

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The Rio Sarria, flowing past the beautiful monastery in Samos, Spain.

They say you should place your pratisara protection threads into a flowing waterway after they come off your wrist. I now have an offering for Rio Sarria, the river that runs through Samos, Spain, along the Camino. The river runs alongside the monastery there and I love the idea of leaving my protection threads in the river there.

 

There are places in the world where one enters and they immediately know they’ve discovered one of their heart-homes. Samos is definitely one of those places for me. From the moment I saw the monastery from afar as we entered the town, I knew it was a special place. I knew I would have to return.

Now, I get to Samos added meaning by leaving something behind when I go back in September. (-:

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The Pratisara Protection Threads I’ll Be Leaving Behind in the Rio Sarria in Samos, Spain.

Small Details Intimately Observed…

“If a writer stops observing he is finished. Experience is communicated by small details intimately observed.”~ Ernest Hemingway

I think a LOT about Ernest Hemingway. To be honest, I am not a fan of quite a bit of his work. I should probably give some of it another glance, seeing how much I love and adore both The Old Man and the Sea and A Moveable Feast.

What I do often think about are Hemingway’s many quotable nuggets of writerly wisdom and knowledge. I don’t always agree with his advice, and I often think, ‘Whoa there, Ernest! Who died and made you lord god king of everything and everyone. Chillax!’ I feel a my-way-or-the-highway vibe from him sometimes. But I love those two books SO MUCH that I at least stop and think about everything he has to say in regards to writerly advice. He was good at it.

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Ernest Hemingway

The quote above is one of my favourites. I see it bandied about now and again and it stops me in my tracks, simply because it’s so very delightful. It falls into line with my belief that we writers should get out into the world and explore…even if it’s only the world of our own little micro-neighbourhoods. We should always observe—others, smells, textures, colours, tastes, light, EVERYTHING. We are, after all, the final funnels through which the world flows prior to splattering down on the page. We should at least make that splat fall onto the page in a way that makes sense for the reader. We must never stop observing. We must never stop cataloguing the small details. We must remain intimate with them. We must, we must, we must. The writer must be vigilant with the details of the world around them. It is necessary. It is the playground in which we live and love and play and grow. The only way for a writer to celebrate the universe properly is to GET IT RIGHT when we reflect it back to our readers.

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I think I have Franny (AKA Franny Frannerton of the Frannington Frannies), my golden retriever with a golden light inside her, to thank for my return to WANDERLUST, for my return to my observations of the universe about me…both in the macro and the minutiae. She’s gone now, bless her. But she was a wonderful companion who brought me back to nature and gave me back my deep desire to explore. She definitely made me a better writer. She brought me into focus enough to examine the small details. She made me slow down. We all need reminders to slow down, to breathe in the universe around us. Not just writers, but everyone. We need to experience it, not just walk through it.

A writer friend of mine had some great news recently. I first met Jennifer Turney at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. She’s been a constant inspiration to my writing life over the past couple of years now. She’s on fire in her creativity and it’s so inspiring to see. Jennifer is observing the small details. She recently discovered that her short story Spot, Sun, or Otherwise took 2nd Place in the recent BLANK SPACES writing contest. Writers are asked to write a short story based on a photo prompt. I want to share a link to the story here, because when I read it I saw an entire world unfold. In just under 1,000 words, Jennifer created an entire world. She really locked into Hemingway’s vibe on this one. She is nowhere near finished. Jennifer Turney’s just getting started!

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READ SPOT, SUN, OR OTHERWISE HERE.

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.

 

Love_Is_Love Anthology and I Will Tell the Night Aesthetic

Two things. The first, I’m thrilled to announce the release of an anthology in which I have a short story! Love_Is_Love released yesterday (Jan 24/19):

Love_Is_Love: An Anthology for LGBTQIA+ Teens

All proceeds from the sale of the anthology go to THE TREVOR PROJECT (The leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. The Trevor Lifeline: 866.488.7386.)

My story is called THIS IS ME IN GRADE NINE and it follows a trans girl in the moments leading up to her first day of high school.

Here’s some cover love for you! The strength of the Rainbow Fist in the Air is divine:

 

 

YOU CAN PICK UP A COPY OF THE ANTHOLOGY HERE. PLEASE CONSIDER DOING SO, AS THE TREVOR PROJECTS NEEDS YOUR HELP IN ORDER TO CONTINUE TO THRIVE.

The second thing? During part of the festivities on Twitter this month for #LGBTRelease I made a NOVEL AESTHETIC for my upcoming release I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. I wanted to share it here. 🙂

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Steven & Finn and their cross-country journey to healing, complete with BEETS.

The origin story for the title of I WILL TELL THE NIGHT can be found at this recent blog post HERE. Details on its release to follow, but it is SOON.

Rejection/Acceptance – Are You Being Served?

…and if so, which do you prefer—the hard or soft option?

I have a novel–HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN–in the hands of my agent, who has it sent out on submission at the moment. The waiting is the hardest part. When you’re waiting to hear back from agents/publishers—whether it’s for a novel, a poem, an article, an essay or a grocery list—what kind of response do you prefer? Are you one of those people who would rather have an immediate rejection, or are you willing to wait for months on end for a possibly-maybe? Another one of my novels has been with a publisher for about 6 months now. There are days that go by where I forget it even exists… and other days where I want to send an email to remind them of my existence (something one does not do). I suppose we are all like Bambi’s mother. “Don’t go into the meadow!” and then that inexplicable need to go into the meadow…

I’d rather not get shot by the hunter, but I still feel the need to know if the hunter can see me or not. “I’m over here! I’m over here!” –waving frantically, waiting to be shot. “Hello!”

How do you like to be served? Rejection is a medicine best served quickly, is it not?