There’s nothing like typing THE END at the bottom of your MSWord document. It is a distinct kind of joy and sorrow to do so. On the one hand, there is a great sense of accomplishment. On the other, you are sadly saying goodbye to great friends. It is the hug that wounds, the kiss that burns, the cut that feels so good.
After living inside the Camino de Santiago for the past month, retracing my own steps for the sake of my characters, I am exhausted-spent-exhilarated-lonely-happy-thrilled-gutted-euphoric-elated-dejected-emotional and fragile and infinite and empowered. And a few other emotions thrown in for good measure.
If you’re a novelist, you know the feeling.
My young adult novel The Walk–or The Camino Club (I cannot decide)–has been put to bed. It will be what it will be. I need to strike that pilgrimage place from my list of obsessions for a spell. The Camino itself fully consumed me while writing that novel. From watching the movie THE WAY on repeat, to listening to the same movie’s soundtrack on repeat, to reliving my own Camino experience through memories and photographs…I swear I feel like I just got back from Santiago de Compostela today. So powerful was the spell it has had on me these past weeks.
Goodbye Santiago de Compostela. I love you so much. And I love the characters I created to walk the path towards you too. Goodbye Diego, Shania, Manny, Troy, Greg, Claire, Meagan, Gilbert, Kei, Mia, Becky, AND Bastien. Buen Camino!
Camino de Santiago, Spain. 2014
But there is nothing to do after finishing a novel, but to jump into the next one. Whether that be returning to a work in progress or starting something new. To dally would be to get out of the habit. So, onward. Back to the novel I began in Brussels this past May. It needs to be completed. Today, I turn the page from Spain and open a new one on Brussels. I swear, these settings are consuming me just as much as these characters.
It is with a heavy heart that I announce my return from Europe. Then again, I’m so glad to be back home with loved ones. What a pickle, traveling is. It’s a strange alternate universe where everything you know drops away as you head for The Great Adventure.
Just back from Brussels & Brugge, I have fallen in love with yet another foreign country. Belgium is golden. I would recommend it to anyone.
So much of Brussels pulsed with hints and signs of the great pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago. At times, I just wanted to abandon everything and follow those shells as I followed them across Spain back in 2014. The Camino calls to me every day. It felt like home seeing its signs in Brussels.
Ostensibly, I was there for a self-motivated novel writing marathon, in lieu of attending the 2017 Muskoka Novel Marathon. I had it in my head that I would write a novel while staying in Brussels.
But one cannot visit a country they have never been to without taking a walk about and seeing all there is to see. I believe in injecting myself into the city streets and walking madly off in all directions. It’s the best way to learn a foreign city and make it yours. Boy, did I do that in Brussels.
Brussels, Belgium. 2017.
Assorted photos of Brussels. My favourite place to eat was Le Grand Cafe on Boulevard Anspach.–and of course I needed to have a Stella IN Belgium! The city workers painted the crosswalks RAINBOW while I was there. BRUSSELS PRIDE is on May 20th. Just missed it. Try the waffles…they are to die for! And Ellis Gourmet Burgers makes the best burgers in the world! I walked to the top of the Arcade du Cinquantenaire…it’s a beautiful view from atop this triple arch in the centre of Cinquantenaire Park.
Just prior to leaving I had received a WCDR (Writers’ Community of Durham Region) Writing Grant, for which I’m extremely grateful. It served as a reminder to put BIC and get some work done while I was there. I used the grant money to purchase passage to Brugge, where I spent the day exploring the beautiful medieval town. And what tour of Brugge would be complete without climbing to the top of the belfry tower there? The tower has been made famous in the phenomenal 2008 movie IN BRUGES. One of the main characters–Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson–jumped from the top of the tower and died on the cobbles below.
The Belfry Tower in Brugge–a steep climb to the top, but well worth it once you see the breathtaking view of the medieval town spread out below it.
Needless to say, I fell in love with everything I saw. Thankfully, I did get a great start on my novel writing project. Nowhere near what I had hoped for, but the bones are still being formed and it has the momentum it needs. I cannot complain about that. It’s a young adult novel, just over a third done…maybe.
Brugges, Belgium. 2017.
Some more sights from Brugge. including shots from inside the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which is a famous church that houses a venerated relic–a vial said to contain the blood of Christ himself–brought back from the Crusades. The 12th century basilica is located in the Burg Square and has both a lower and an upper chapel.The statuary in these chapels were sad almost to the point of ghastly…and so beautiful in their depiction of pain and sadness.
Now, to get my feet back firmly on the ground here in Toronto and settle in to finish this novel. Travel is a wonderful thing, but so is coming home. Being home. Time to write.
I felt so confident (and dare I say innovative) when I willy-nilly decided, back in January, to randomly choose a European country to travel to–and hide out in–to write a novel during a week in May.
It’s May. I leave for Brussels in two days. The bravado and confidence has left me. As the flight date approaches, I’m getting excited to see the city I chose. I’m also realizing how much I’m going to miss a certain someone when I’m gone. I’m also worried I’m not going to be able to write a novel while I’m gone.
Every year, as the July Muskoka Novel Marathon approaches, I get super nervous that I’m going to come up with nothing during the annual 72hr novel writing marathon in Huntsville. I convince myself ahead of time that I’m going to get there and stare at a blank computer screen and write nothing. In 2016, that’s exactly what I did–more or less–for the first 24 hours. When I was mumbling into a cup of coffee about my despair over not having anything to write about, a writer friend told me to write my story–“but tweak the shit out of it so it doesn’t look quite like yours”. He immediately released an idea in me and that idea flowered into the novel that went on to win BEST ADULT NOVEL at the marathon.
So a part of me knows that the lack of confidence and the fear and the anxiety is part of the shtick. It’s part of who I am. I tell myself over and over and over again that I’m not worthy, that I can’t handle it, that I can’t do it, that I’m incapable, that I’m hopeless, that I’m going to fail, that I CAN’T. But there’s no corresponding rational part of me that points out that this is just part of the shtick. I’m in the head-space, at the moment, that is convinced I will fail at the writing part of this journey. I can’t do it. I will fail.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still manic-ally looking forward to seeing a new European city. I love travel. I would do it every day if it were a possibility. And to be honest, BRUSSELS wasn’t as randomly chosen as I would like to believe it was. To say I closed my eyes and pointed at a map of Europe and said, “This is where I will go to write a novel” is more romance than reality. I have been smitten by the eventuality of Brussels for some time. And, more pointedly, BRUGES…which I will also be exploring. I can’t wait to see these two places. I’m sure the travel part of this trip will be a smashing success. It’s the writing part I fear. It’s the being-away-from-someone-whose-constant-presence-makes-me-happy part I fear.
I want to do this. The suitcase is relatively packed. The laptop is ready for the journey. The day trips are booked for mid-week—Brussels walking tour on Tuesday and Bruges walking tour on Wednesday (because walking is the only true way to SEE a place–I learned that on the Camino)—I’m imagining sitting in front of the screen for the rest of the trip, tapping away at my keyboard. I’m sending myself anticipatory good vibes. I’m hoping this novel writing experiment is a success. For more than one reason.
(CLICK ON THE PIC/LINK BELOW TO BE TAKEN TO MY AMAZON PAGE TO CHECK OUT MY PUBLISHED NOVELS…)
I’m sitting here with TWO consecutive novels that didn’t make it to publication. One–a Gay YA issue novel, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, about the forming of a gay/straight alliance in a high school–was loved by my agent and read by almost every single major and mid-range publisher in North America. They all rejected it—mostly with glowing compliments regarding the writing, etc…but with the death knell causing reason of it being BEHIND THE TREND. The second novel–a road trip returning home after estrangement because of a death in the family story called I WILL TELL THE NIGHT–was rejected out of the gate, by my agent. As I felt it contained some of my best writing, the rejection threw me for more than a loop. It is making me reevaluate everything at a time when I had previously planned to sit down in a foreign country and write a new novel. I’m on shaky ground here. Not to mention how devastating it was to have PRIDE unanimously rejected by so many (ALL) major publishers.
I suppose I should be honored that they all requested fulls of PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, and that they all apparently read said fulls. I suppose I should be honored by the rejections that are so complimentary I could frame them and hang them on the wall for inspiration. But I’m not. A writer mostly only hears the NO. Every rejection is a hit. Especially when you have already rejected yourself. When it comes from the publisher/agent, it’s kind of a reassurance of your lack of belief in your ability as a writer. I don’t know if it’s just me, or if it’s a rampant thing in creatives, but I don’t have faith. Well, I do…I have faith in my inability. And yet I keep on keeping on.
So here I am. I’m a soon to be traveler again. I’m looking forward to seeing a new city I dreamed of seeing. I’m feeling really sad about being away from the one I love for an entire week and looking forward to getting back home to be with them. I’m also just a boy, sitting in front of a laptop, asking it to love him. This experiment HAS to work. I neglected to sign up for the MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON this year. I wanted to take away the safety net of having a back-up novel writing plan in place for the year 2017. I LIKE writing my novels in (relatively) one sitting. So I narrowed this year’s novel writing journey to ONE PLACE, ONE WEEK, ONE CHANCE. That chance is BRUSSELS.
I’m going to miss you like crazy, Michael. Even though I already know we will be in almost constant communication and I’ll be having fun exploring new places and you’ll be having fun in the wonderful world of Disney, I’m going to miss our everyday everydayness for the coming week.
With all the anxiety of a full grown holler monkey about to jump up and down on a sheet of movie studio glass in the hopes of it not shattering into a million tiny pieces (this is the thing that seems like it would be the most demonstrative example of high-anxiety to me–so please go with it and don’t argue with a crazy person), I am ready to begin my experiment. Please, FRANCIS DE SALES, wherever your heart and mind and soul and spirit may be, please watch over me, a mad and failed writer in a world filled with mad and failed writers, while I’m gone to this place on earth to hole-up in a sub-standard hotel to write the Great North-American Novel ironically nowhere near North-American soil. Please, dear patron saint of writers and journalists, take pity on my misguided experiment. Allow me to, at the very least, find a way to write one word after another word after another word while I’m gone. I need this. I am a fallen scribe who needs something to believe in. Please give me the strength to SIT & WRITE. And, please, GIVE ME SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT. Tell me a story, all about a glory…how to begin it? There’s nothing in it…