On Writing, Writing Life

A Year in the Life – A Writer Reflects

“You always say YES and figure it out later.” ~ Me, circa always

Saying yes in the writing world is the story of my life. Panicking after delivering that yes is ALSO the story of my writing life. But a writer would be a fool to say NO or I CAN’T or I DON’T KNOW HOW or I DON’T HAVE THE TIME.

For writers, opportunities are not endless. Unlike the pesky little bible-thumping crazies of the world, opportunity doesn’t keep knocking. It breezes on by to the next person on the list. As a writer, I always LEAP before I know what awaits me.

This is how I came into two situations in 2017.

One of these opportunities was an invitation from ID PRESS to submit to their romance anthology. I said yes. And then I beat myself up struggling to come up with a short story that was vaguely romantic in nature. Their shtick is to experiment with genre, after all. I had a chance at acceptance if my story skated along the outskirts of ROMANCE. I just didn’t know how hard that YES was going to make my writing life in the weeks that followed. I struggled with this one. I must have had 30 attempts at a story for that anthology. I never pressed the DELETE key so hard in all my life. It was an unendingly daunting task. It literally wasn’t until the midnight hour that I finally hit on something and ploughed through a story and clicked send. Luckily for me, they accepted THE HALF DRAWN GIRL ON THE CROSSTOWN BUS (It later became, at their request, THE HALF DRAWN GIRL). It was only because I said YES months earlier that I even struggled so hard to come up with something. I committed and I needed to see it through. I said yes…and then I figured it out. It’s times like this that I realize there actually ARE writing fairies looking out for those of us foolish enough to jump off the ledge and commit.

You can pick up THE HALF DRAWN GIRL and other genre-bending romance short stories in the newly released anthology ALLUCINOR from ID PRESS.

AMAZON PRINT USA

AMAZON PRINT CANADA

AMAZON KINDLE USA

AMAZON KINDLE CANADA

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A gorgeous cover and a wonderful collection of stories.

The other YES I pulled off in 2017? I have had a Camino de Santiago novel in my heart since I walked the pilgrimage in Spain to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela where the bones of St. James, the apostle of Jesus, are said to be resting. I had a few chapters written, but mostly, as I said, it rested in my heart. Like a soft prayer bead on a rosary, waiting to be caressed into words.

When my agent asked me if I had anything ready that was a contemporary YA novel, I said NO…but that I had something almost ready. So, I also said YES. I told her my years long elevator pitch for my Camino novel idea.

THE BREAKFAST CLUB MEETS THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO.

I have never been so proud of an elevator pitch in all my life. It’s golden. It resurrects the images and themes precisely, concisely and quite specifically. Thankfully, my agent also liked the sound of it.

So—-I say yes, it won’t be a problem. Give me a couple of weeks.

A WRITER ALWAYS SAYS YES! You can always figure out THE WAY after you commit. I did this with my first play and I found myself sitting in a haunted castle basement in the near dark listening to the ghosts mock me while I raced to write a play that would be performed in front of an actual audience less than 24 hours later. What’s the worst that can happen in a YES situation? You don’t deliver? I’m always willing to take that chance.

This is how writers live on the edge. It’s not the stuff of daredevils, but it certainly makes the writing life interesting.

I wrote the Camino novel. I am awaiting agent feedback at the moment. I’m feeling positive and hopeful. Saying YES to that novel was possibly one of the best things I’ve ever done with my writing life. BECAUSE it was a novel that meant a great deal to me even before the first word was down on paper. It was a novel I knew I could deliver in a couple of weeks because the bellows that blew it into existence was alive and living inside me. Did I lie to my agent when I said YES? Not exactly…it was an almost completed novel…it’s just that it was scattered about within the far reaches of my heart and mind. All I really had left to do was allow it to flow through my finger-tips, past my keyboard and land on my MSWord document. No biggie.

Those are two of the major moments in my writing life as I look back on 2017. All that is left, I suppose, is the BRUSSELS NOVEL MARATHON WRITING EXPERIMENT and MY 3rd PLACE WIN IN THE WRITERS COMMUNITY OF SIMCOE COUNTY’S 2017 WORD BY WORD SHORT STORY CONTEST. (<<<You can read my story at the link provided) The story that won 3rd place was yet another story set on the Camino de Santiago. It has become an obsession with me, and I probably won’t be satiated even after I return to the Camino in 2019…life willing.

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All set for our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in 2019. Credencials (Passports) and patches in hand.

The Brussels novel writing experiment? Well, I’m not sure. The novel I began there? Maybe it is burning on the stove top waiting to be stirred. I like what I wrote…I’m just not sure where to take it. I’m one third in. I did, however, fall absolutely and completely head over heels in love with the beautiful city of Brussels while I was there under the pretense of writing an entire novel. It is a breathtakingly beautiful city. And nearby Brugges is no limp headless chicken, either. It’s stunning…not to be missed. We’ll see how the novel goes. Oh…I suppose this has something to do with my writing life, too…I received a WCDR Writing Grant to help pay the way to Brussels and my personal writing/exploration retreat there.

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I lost and found my heart in Brussels, Belgium this past May.
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I was also extremely thrilled to find multiple traces of the Camino de Santiago in Brussels. There were MANY of the scallop shells embedded in the cobbles in the streets of the city, as well as a church once dedicated to pilgrims that walked through the city on their way to Compostela. I even found this statue of St. James himself!

Oh, and I have a novel releasing FEBRUARY 6th, 2018. My GAY YA novel, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE. See the cover below:

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Pride is coming from MUSE…the publisher of my debut novel, SUMMER ON FIRE. You can add Pride to your bookshelf on GOODREADS HERE. You can also check out reviews for all 6 of my books on Goodreads.

As the year winds down to nothing but the past, I sit here awaiting word from my agent on my Camino novel. AND I work on final edits on my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon Best Adult Novel Award winning novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. AND I await getting into final edits with my MUSE editor on PRIDE. Sounds like I might be doing a lot, but I promise you, I’m still the laziest writer in existence today. I do a flurry of activity and then hibernate for 8 or 9 months. L-A-Z-Y.

Outside the writing life, unto my daughter and her husband a newborn child was born in 2017. This year has seen the arrival of HARRISON:

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This little smile of a boy brings so much joy. He should be called Mr. Happy, but his name is actually HARRISON.

Go ahead…click all those links. I know you wanna.

I guess that sums up my 2017. The appearance of busy while maintaining my lazy status. Level up to 2018!

 

Camino de Santiago, Writing Life, YA Lit

When You Finish a Novel that Consumed You

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. I sent it off yesterday. Come what may, now. 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!

But there is nothing to do after finishing a novel and submitting it to your agent, 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. The Epoque of Ethan awaits. 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.

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Time to revisit Brussels, one of the few settings for my young adult WIP The Epoque of Ethan. This is me in Grand Place, the beautiful square in the heart of Brussels, just two minutes from where I stayed this past May.
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My upcoming release PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE is now on GOODREADS. Click the image above to swing on over to GOODREADS and add #PMBAP to your shelf! It drops February 6th, 2018.
Muskoka Novel Marathon, Writing Life

Postcards from the End – MNM2016

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the last day of the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon. It was a great marathon for me…after the first 24 hours of non-productivity fog melted off the lake of the weekend and the sun came out to burn off the dense terrifying nothingness that clung to my creativity like a golem made to keep me down. I’m not being over-dramatic. Really, I’m not.

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I went from having nothing to write that weekend to scrambling to keep up with the story that eventually took over my every thought. I eventually chased it down and wrote it out and got a lion’s share of it on paper. By the end of the weekend, I had perhaps 3/4 of a novel completed. I handed it in for consideration in the Best Novel Award contest and it actually went on to win BEST ADULT NOVEL OF 2016. What happened after the marathon is another story…best to be saved for a fireside horror-show retelling.

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Moving along…

If you would like to sponsor a writer for the 2017 Muskoka Novel Marathon, it’s not too late to do so. Each writer has two goals for this novel writing marathon. GOAL #1 is to raise money and awareness for the Simcoe Muskoka YMCA literacy programs. Writing a novel in 72 hours is just the secondary more selfish goal…money for literacy, that’s the true aim. You can make a difference with your donation. AND no amount is too small. Here’s a link to the Muskoka Novel Marathon 2017 Writers Page—with links to sponsor the writer of your choice.

As the marathon winds down, participants often write letters of encouragement to one another via blog posts, tweets, Facebook status updates, paper airplanes, toilet paper missives, etc.

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One of the many beautiful places writers can choose to write in at the Muskoka Novel Marathon in Huntsville, Ontario.

Here’s a Facebook status update I wrote as the 2016 marathon drew to a close. I won’t be taking part in the 2017 marathon that begins this Friday evening at 8pm and lasts for 72 hours…but I wish all those writers taking part a wonderful writing journey. May they write words, eat well, and be merry. And maybe when the marathon is coming to an end, they can find this postcard from the past and take comfort in it this year…as the message is fitting for any marathoner approaching the ending of the marathon on any given year.

 

Take a deep breath. This is it. The last day of the marathon. We have walked thousands upon thousands of words, taken strangers to places near and far with the sheer power of our own gossamer imaginations. Be well pleased in yourself and in your courage. It’s time to write the eulogy, celebrate the fact that you made it to the end. The power of words, so thick and meaty…they can change the world with a stroke. You’ve put them together one upon another, forced logic and il-logic to intertwine in whatever world you created in your mind for this long journey. Take a bow, for you all know the power now of longing to reach into your imaginations and pull out that which cannot be touched but allows itself to be embraced nonetheless. You were either absent or present during the creation of your words…there, not there. You were, however, at the helm…even in those periods when you completely disappeared, became not a writer but writing itself. We draw now to a close, on this, our last day…draw our imaginations back to a simmer—to something we can more tolerate back in the real world where words are not as powerful and all-encompassing as they are here, in this sacred place. Breathe. You did it. You have entrusted yourself to take the journey. You stepped forward one word at a time and you didn’t die. No one got left behind. The words piled up and gave you strength, even as they took it clean away. Write. Write. Write. But in doing so, don’t forget to breathe. You’re almost home.

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Yours truly taking a time out at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon. THIS is the beauty that surrounds us at the marathon. It’s everywhere. Our job is to keep writing without falling victim to the distractions. But we also need breaks…creativity walks. To the 2017 Marathoners…DON’T FORGET TO STEAL SOME ‘ME’ TIME FOR YOURSELF. Go to the Volcano!

I’ll leave you with Medicine for the People…

 

Beauty, Death, Life, Love

One Step Closer to the Death I Will Become – My Autumn is Upon Me

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Simple Beauty – A boy and his menagerie

As summer turns to fall, I enter a period of deep reflection. It has always been this way. Even before I discovered Robert Frost’s NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY, I had a deep appreciation for the importance of the time between summer and fall. It is that drop in the life-cycle of a calendar square…when dawn goes down to day…that pulls at my heartstrings. And as day seeps away into the gloaming…that is the time when I want to scream, “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Look at me. Most people mix metaphors. Me? I mix poets and their poems. I’m just feeling so verklempt of late. I smell the changing seasons. I see these brushstrokes of hot orange and burnt sienna and mustard yellow in the trees about me and I ache inside. Now, more than ever. Because I know now that somewhere inside of me I am slowly turning to these colours myself. I have entered my own gloaming. And, yet, what have I done. I also continually imagine Jim Morrison screaming at me, “Did you have a good world when you died? Enough to base a movie on?”

Probably, Jim. Maybe. I don’t know, Jim. Maybe not. Leave me alone, Jim.

The gloaming...as beautiful as it is heartrending. The end of the day...
The gloaming…as beautiful as it is heartrending. The end of the day…

And then, don’t even get me started, I think of that song from Rent. Oh, you know the one…don’t pretend you don’t. Seasons of Love. Because…

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee…in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure, a year in the life?

The mornings are a bit crisper, a bit more dewy. The sun often feels brighter this time of year…more piercing, just as it feels less heat-filled. Its glare seems more honest in September and October than it did in July. The year is winding down, and it is fighting against the inevitable…because the year is happy to be alive. And it gets happier the closer it gets to its own demise. As though it can feel the forever nap it is about to embark upon…and it rebels in the only way it knows how. It blows up into a miracle of colour and light.

Just to float on the sea, find myself on a page of history...
Just to float on the sea,
find myself on a page of history…

“I am here! This is me! I AM.”

Don’t you…forget about me.

60366d7b4efa8da92aa3eb136d89e14cAnd the year, it is so desperate not to die. It holds a ghetto-blaster up in the air and it says, “Take me as I am…do not forsake me. I will love you, if only you will let me stay here…in your life…in your love.”

And the year that is slowly dying…it plays for us a song to keep our attention. To justify its staying when it knows it cannot. It tries to tempt and trick the heart. “I can stay,” the year says, “if you love me enough.”

Love I get so lost, sometimes…days pass and this emptiness fills my heart…when I want to run away…I drive off in my car…but whichever way I go…I come back to the place you are.

cusakHow do we authenticate our lives? As the leaves burst into colour–and then later dry out and abandon all hope and wither to the ground–we too are changing. We may not know when, or why, or how, or where we die. But we all walk that Eventual Eventual. If we don’t contemplate our journey while taking it, what’s the point?
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make...
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make…
There is only one thing that matters. LOVE. The rest fades to black, as we ourselves do. The history of us eventually fades…but the love? Imagine love as a virus. It carries from one person to another and another and another. It is the one thing that doesn’t truly die with us.
Look for miracles...they are everywhere...
Look for miracles…they are everywhere…
As leaves gather around your feet this autumn, remember that you will not be spared this great equalizing season. You are witness to the autumn around you just as autumn begins inside you. And when winter comes, be ready…at least in your heart. Let the things that do not matter fall away. It’s the only way you’ll gain ground for more love to enter.
Love - It's guilt edged Glamorous and sleek by design...
Love – It’s guilt edged
Glamorous and sleek by design…
As the last leaves fall, you will scream NOT YET, NOT YET, NOT YET! But you know…as sure as you live and breathe, you know!
To everything…turn, turn, turn…there is a season…turn, turn, turn…and a time for every purpose under Heaven…a time to be born, a time to die…

Ponder your life. Forgive. Let go. Heal. And when you’re ready to shuffle off this mortal coil, remember one thing, my lovelies…DO IT TO THE BEAT OF LOVE and DO IT IN DANCE…

Do not go gentle into that good night – Dylan Thomas, 19141953

Nothing Gold Can Stay – Robert Frost, 18741963

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.

This time of year. It always makes me a little bit more insane. And sad. And happy…gloriously happy. I will not go gently into this coming autumn.