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…

 

Everyday Camino, Everyday MNM…

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“Once, there was a way to get back home…” ~ The Beatles  ETA: The rock pictured above is the handy-work of poet/writer Paula Boon. It was a little offering to a fellow MNM writer at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon. I fell instantly in love with the ROCKPOEM. It encapsulated the theme of my 2016 MNM novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. Thanks, Paula!

 

Sometimes, in the life of an author, the echo of silence is so severe it scorches. The armor one must wear to be a writer is, at times, debilitating. Even with 5 novels published and readily available for consumption, I’m, for the most part, an unread author. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to squish a mountain of sour grapes into the universe. It is what it is. My books are largely unread. It is merely a fact.

This, in and of itself, is not as debilitating as it sounds. Honestly. Just a little disheartening. But the preciousness of the ego is protected in such a way that one can hold on to one good word for a very long time as motivation to carry on and continue on with the journey despite the obvious reasons one has for folding up shop and moving on. Between the excruciatingly long awkward silences that come of being an unread author, there are little tidbits of rewards when one discovers someone has not only read one of your books…but loved it. These nuggets are what I hold onto when I struggle with the ever-present question that dogs the unread author: WHAT’S THE POINT?

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On the Camino de Santiago, the graffiti is almost always inspiring or thought-provoking…

But the point is more about self-fulfillment than it is about being read, isn’t it? When it comes right down to it, the creative heart is creative out of necessity rather than out of any desire for recognition and being petted for being creative. Creativity happens even in a void of witnesses. If I were the last human being on the planet–the lucky/unlucky survivor of a nuclear holocaust, say–I’d still have the need in my heart to be creative. I would still write.

I’ve been thinking a LOT lately about the Camino de Santiago and how my experience there reflects my creative life. I haven’t quite made the connection, but it’s there. I just can’t put my finger on it. I have thought a lot about the concept of EVERYDAY CAMINO since returning from Spain in May of 2014. I have thought a lot about the fact that the journey not only ended at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela…but it also BEGAN there. I honestly can’t stop thinking about how the journey of the Camino de Santiago mirrors Dorothy’s journey on the Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard of Oz. I was mesmerized by the analogy all throughout my Camino journey and even more so at the end of the journey when I stood in the piazza in front of the great cathedral and saw a million familiar faces staring back at me and up into the face of the cathedral itself. Every man, woman and child I had walked beside, around, with, past—every one of them seemed to be there in that piazza. I walked around in a daze, thinking, ‘And you were there, and you were there, and you were there, and you were there!’ And when I walked into the cathedral, I felt the weight of a thousand dreams, wishes and hopes. I looked about for the wizard and he was there and he was me and he was all the other peregrinos (pilgrims) present at the time. We were all the wizard. We were all the makers of our own journeys. We were all there for proof of intelligence, and for a heart, and for courage, and for a home. We were there to belong.

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My first moment in front of the Wizard’s castle. The Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

I want to be on that journey, still. I want that wide-eyed wonder every day. I AM on that journey. I carry it with me. It is only after you walk the Camino de Santiago that you realize the journey has just begun. You can bottle that mesmerizing feeling and take it with you. The Camino allows you do to that.

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In the city of Santiago de Compostela, right outside the passport office where you receive your Compostela certificate for walking the Camino, there is a corner…and in that corner, the discarded walking sticks of those who made the sacred journey… THESE sticks were a PROFOUND MOMENT for me. I will never forget these sticks.

The tie-in for me, when it comes to trying to piece together my writing life with my Camino, is the Muskoka Novel Marathon. This 72hr novel writing marathon is to the Camino as The Wizard of Oz is to the Camino. At the end of the writing marathon, I look around at all the tired, sleepy, traumatized, disheveled, elated, emotional writers (40+ of them) I took the marathon journey with and I think, ‘And you were there, and you were there, and you were there, and you were there!’ We land at the end of the marathon weekend with a splash and a plunk and we say, “WE MADE IT!” The marathon is the Camino is the marathon is the Camino. They are the same thing…both are journeys. One uses your feet and your heart and your desire and your dreams. The other uses all those things and a laptop and a chair.

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My view at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon.

I may have just put my finger on it.

I need to live the Everyday Camino I theorize and I need to use the Everyday MNM I theorize. I need these journeys to continue. I have books to write. I have books to complete. I can’t sit around hoping for others to read the words I leave behind me. I need to continue to leave them there for myself.

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Just a handful of the 40+ writers who took part at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon. We raised over $36,000 for literacy in 2016.

These two paths are so connected–interconnected–when I squint, the line between them disappears. Camino = Writing = Camino. I will, in the coming months, be looking for ways to shore up my writing practice with my Camino journey…which I very much consider to be ongoing.

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Another one of my views at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon – Writing by the dock of the bay…

I already know I will NOT be attending the 2017 Muskoka Novel Marathon. I won the Best Novel Award last year at the marathon, for the 5th time. I’m thrilled at that accomplishment. But I also felt like most of my time there was mired in failure last year. My unfinished manuscripts are piling up and I discovered at the marathon that I am unable to work on finishing projects there in that space of new projects. And that is what I want to do…finish projects. That is my goal for 2017.

In keeping with that goal, I am going to be exploring ways to work on my WIPs while at the same time exploring my life journey, my Camino. I know I can continue to incorporate the two. I don’t always write about the journeys I take, but I always feel more invigorated and ready to write when I take journeys. Perhaps I should make my own Camino this year, make my own novel writing marathon.

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The Camino de Santiago – Close friends and strangers…all fellow peregrinos for life. Magic happens on the Camino—a magic that the Camino allows you to carry away from its journey.

I Will Tell the Night – But I Won’t Remember It.

I have been madly editing my latest novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. Having just completed it a week or so ago, it is material that should be fresh in my mind. But it isn’t. Not at all. It’s actually quite frightening to be reading along and have no idea what’s coming up WHEN YOU WROTE THE THING THAT’S COMING UP! Mere days ago. And when I say NO IDEA, that is exactly what I mean. Whole scenes are surprises to me. Entire chapters are foreign and unrecognizable.

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From an editing standpoint, this makes part of the process easier. Because as I read, I am not doing that thing writers do when they read what they meant to say instead of what is actually on the page. When you know what’s coming, you can accidentally read a line the way you meant to write it instead of the line you actually wrote…thus perpetuating your error and keeping it in your manuscript.

That’s not happening, because I have no idea what the hell is going on. I’m just over 200 pages in with the edit, on a manuscript that is 308 pages long. I vaguely recognized a few of the scenes. I remember feelings I had while writing some of them, even though I did not actually remember the scene itself. I remember things I contemplated putting into the story, but didn’t. Those are the phantom limbs I spoke of in THIS POST. So, essentially, I am waiting for scenes to happen that will never happen because I didn’t write them. I’m a hot mess.

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I won Best Novel for the novel I’m editing, but I can’t remember why…

I will often blame this lack of connection with my writing on the way in which it is written. This floats when I write a novel in 72hrs under duress of getting it completed in a weekend with sleep deprivation, distractions, and intensity. Yeah…then I can say, “What the hell did I write?! I don’t remember a thing.” But the lion’s share of this novel I wrote over the course of an entire month. I can’t use that marathon brain alibi.

Times like this, I have to admit to myself that this not-remembering entire chunks of a novel I just wrote is one of those longtime symptoms of PTSD. It’s actually a bit painful to read your work and not feel familiar with it. Where did I go when I wrote it? Where the hell am I?

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With Lori Manson at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon wrap-up party. Lori won Best Young Adult Novel and I won for Best Adult Novel.

This is something I don’t only realize when I’m editing my work. The looming deadline for getting I WILL TELL THE NIGHT back to the Muskoka Novel Marathon people has me fully concentrated on editing this book to the best of my ability…so it’s the thing that is making me think of this NOW.

But if I were being completely honest with myself, I find it very difficult to have conversations about ANY of my published novels. Someone will say something about one of my characters and I have to chase a thread going nowhere inside my head to try to figure out what novel that character is even in. I often come up empty and just pray that as the person continues to speak, a clue will be offered up and I will figure out what novel they’re talking about. Then, I try to piece together a response that sounds halfway intelligent…as though I know what the hell they’re talking about. I don’t.

I guess I’m just destined to be like this. I do have an overall impression of my works, but just in the vaguest possible of ways. I carry something akin to a fractured synopsis around for each of my novels. But if I am required to go outside that gossamer description, everything gets lost in the shadows. I become the unreliable narrator. Unreliable, because I don’t recall. I believe Peter Gabriel said it best…

I don’t remember, I don’t recall
I got no memory of anything at all
I don’t remember, I don’t recall
I got no memory of anything
Anything at all” ~ Peter Gabriel, I Don’t Remember

This is not something new to me. I wish it was. I guess this post is just to vent on this truth that has always effected my writing life. It is my coming out. I have a shattered memory processor. It will never be better. As passionate as I am about the process of writing, I’m as attached to my words as I am attached to John Doe and Jane Doe. I don’t know John Doe. I don’t know Jane Doe. They are unfamiliar to me.

I am editing away…discovering my novel for the first time. When I ask what the writer’s motivations were for including this scene or that character, I ask because I want to know. When I think, ‘Whoa! That’s intense! I did NOT see that coming!’ It’s because I didn’t see it coming. I get slightly mildly depressed when I edit. Wanting to be attached to something and realized you’re not…that’s at times a really difficult reality to accept. Because it makes you remember the why of it all. It makes you remember that you are broken and your old wound is never going to go away, no matter how healed you believe yourself to be. Parts of you will always be collateral damage.

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If you see me and you would like to ask me about one of my novels, go gentle on me. You will most definitely know more about the novel than I do. I can’t answer many of your questions. It makes me feel small. It makes me feel less. It makes me remember how much I’ll never remember and how much I will always forget.

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I remember this. Vividly. Just not the words born from this moment.

For me, my memory lies squarely and surely in the FEELINGS I had while I wrote the thing that I wrote. The process. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. It’s all about the process for me. It can’t be about anything else. I don’t have that luxury. I’m broken in the places where my stories live. I can tell them, I just can’t retell them…

The Things Writers Do To Themselves – Or, That Day I Didn’t Actually Finish My Manuscript

 

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A motley crew of rebel rousers also known as writers and their friends. Find us at a restaurant near you. But only if you want noisy atmosphere you cannot escape even if you try…

A 3-Day Diary of a Writer Once in Stasis

(Before I proceed, just so we’re all on the same page, the Merriam-Webster definition of stasis— “a state or condition in which things do not change, move, or progress“. So, that is where I stood as a writer prior to July and between July end and September end.)

Day 1 – Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

106 days after coming up with a shadowy wisp of an idea for my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel, I typed the words THE END on the last page of the manuscript. Then I quietly celebrated the moment by being silent and allowing this icy cold feeling to course through me and send a chill or two up my spine. That feeling was the climbing-out-of-my-skin motion made by the make-believe souls of my characters leaving the body they had possessed while I wrote. And in their absence, as usual, I was left feeling glum. Not good enough. Lonely. Why did they leave me? I didn’t even think the story was finished yet. Even as Finn’s omniscient narrator wrapped up the telling of the story, I wanted to scream, “NO! NOT YET! THEY HAVEN’T DONE THIS! THEY HAVEN’T DONE THAT!” But once the wheels of the bus start to roll, there really is no controlling it. The trajectory is a surprise only the vast nothingness from which the story arrives knows. At least in my case, where I outline and plan exactly NOTHING. Sure, I will have discussions about what I think will happen next, or things that will take place in a vague as-yet-unwritten future of the story. But they don’t always take place. And then, when I type those solemn door-slamming words THE END at the bottom of the manuscript, I know the rest of the story that I envisioned will never take place. And that makes me even sadder than I was when I realized I had hit the end. After the words have been struck and they glow there like doombabies at the bottom of the screen, you know you can’t fight your way past them. But you also get to see the world of your characters stretch out beyond those words of death. THE END. It is never the end. The unwritten scenes that you toyed around with, spoke of, discussed…they’re still there. They are ghosts forever hanging off the precipice of those two little words. They are phantom limbs, unformed digits, un-lived dreams. It’s very painful to be finished your story and still have material leftover in the end that you thought you would use within the confines of the novel. That leftover material is one of the many things writers look at to cultivate their own self-doubt and self-loathing. That material is the vision not perfectly transformed from thought-scape to page. Those leftovers are the scream the writer lets out after the cold icy surge of release as they let their characters escape their bodies. Not good enough. Failed to reach the vision. THE END. I think of this every time I see the slit on the face of Mona Lisa. Her lips could have been raised in the corners ever so slightly to bring her face into a more beatific smile. But Leonardo da Vinci, in his infinite wisdom, had already announced to himself, ‘la fine‘. There was no going back. My THE END stands sentinel over the blank space below it that cannot be filled.

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Requisite selfie with Mel. Bad Hombres.

Day 2 – Monday, October 24, 2016

I know I didn’t finish the novel. I wrote THE END, but I didn’t finish it. But you can’t go back. Done bun can’t be undone, as Stephen King once said. C’est la vie. So it is written. I spend day hating self for putting those two words at the end of the manuscript. I print out my manuscript and I am in awe over how big it is as a chunk of printed papers. Like, wow. I did that. I overhear Aves streaming from the heavens…or at least from the mouths of crackpot waste-oids singing heavenly verses in dark alleys somewhere in my general vicinity. There is music…and it is celebrating the awesomeness of my thick pile of pages, written in a frenzy of desperation while hopelessly clinging to one unwritten sentence after the other and attempting to harness them down and get them onto paper before forgetting my train of thought. Bam. The rest of the day, after printing out the manuscript, is spent listening to the knitpicking voice in the back of my head whispering, “YOU’RE NOT DONE. YOU’RE NOT DONE!” I sigh. I hold up my impressively thick pile of paper. I say, “Oh yeah? What do you call this?!” I listen as the voice whispers, “A START.”

Day 3 – Tuesday, October 25, 2016

I woke up with a desperate need to delete those two words at the bottom of my manuscript. I had already sent it out to 3 very generous fellow Muskoka Novel Marathon writers. They are acting as beta readers for me…they will tell me what needs fixing under the hood of my novel prior to me releasing it to the critical eyes of editors/agents. I gave myself leeway for once. I purposefully set my cursor to the end of those two nasty words THE END and then I hit BACKSPACE seven times. That’s ALL IT TOOK. The two words vanished into the ether. It was like a Christmas miracle. And then I proceeded to rearrange a bit of my last chapter, to unclose it. To unend it. To youdidntquitegetthereyouhavetogobackinandfixthis. Then, I proceeded to write the last chapter. So my last chapter became my second last chapter and my chapter that wasn’t on the page but was in my brain became my last chapter. Cue the emergency email to my 3 generous beta readers. Plead forgiveness, explain my folly, send the new second last chapter that used to be my last chapter and the new last chapter. Then go out with said 3 beta readers and the rest of the writing posse I hang with from time to time and attempt to forget about the fact that my ugly baby is inthehandsofothers. Then I BEGIN working on the manuscript I put on hold while racing to finish the Muskoka Novel Marathon novel.

 

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Selfie at Mongolian Grill Restaurant in Whitby, Ontario. Future Canadian literati, and friends…

Lessons Learned?

  • The end doesn’t have to be the end. You can delete those two words and start over at the ending.
  • Clearly, Leonardo knew this. He wanted the smile we see to be the smile she was left with. Whatever, Leo.
  • Friends who will stop everything and beta read for you are amazing friends to have! Remember to return the favour once the opportunity arises.
  • Don’t settle.
  • The Backspace key is your friend. It’s a modern day eraser that allows you to unend things.
  • 300 pages of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, stacked one on top of each other, is a goddamned impressive pile of paper when it is filled with words.
  • Stasis does not need to happen. Get your bum in chair and shut the hell up.
  • Mongolian Grill is yummy.
  • Pepsi is better than Coke because it is sweeter. This is also the reason Coke preferrers prefer Coke, because Pepsi is too sweet.
  • Selfie-sticks are handy for capturing a moment, but only if you’re nimble enough not to piss everyone off by taking too much time to capture it spontaneously.
  • Writing makes me happy. And the person I write alongside of also makes me happy.
  • Don’t forget a hat when you’re walking in the October chill, because when you do you’re ears hurt like hell!
  • It’s only the end when you say it’s the end the last time that you say it. Not before.
  • Summer always ends! And it’s not up to us where THE END goes on that season. There are some ends we have no control over. Take advantage of the ones you do have control over. (I’m looking at you, LEO!)
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The weekend away was most productive. I wrote several chapters of my Best Novel Award winning novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. And this guy helped me at every step of the way. Even if he didn’t wait for me whenever I stopped to take a picture of the beautiful FALL colours.

 

I Will Tell the Night – Muskoka Novel Marathon 2016 Best Adult Novel Award!

A writer is sometimes lost and sometimes found. And quite often it’s a monumental moment that causes the shift between those two delicately interconnected worlds to occur. This weekend, I had one of those moments. I am found.

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The Dock at Dale & Sue Long’s Haliburton cottage on Lake Kashagawigamog this past Saturday morning, prior to our Hunter’s Bay Radio stop along the way to the annual Muskoka Novel Marathon Wrap-Up Party!

I swear, sometimes it seems a writer’s life is made up of a series of gifts, miracles, and happenstances. Or so it very much seems to me. Every time I bring myself close to the edge of oblivion–to that place of writer/notwriter that I believe most writers go to–something or someone in my life brings me back to the heart.

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Writers! From left to right, Tobin Elliott, Christine Cowley, myself, and, Dale Long. Tobin and Dale were interviewed together for an episode of the show appearing later in October. And Tobin helped out with the narration of my play THE SPEECH, which I performed with Christine.

This past weekend, I began one of my many cycles of intense writerly related periods. They seem to come and go. Nothing happens for weeks or months at a time to even remotely suggest that you may in fact be living the life of a writer, and then suddenly you find yourself in a chaotic hotbed of WRITERLY stuff.

What started as a thrilling adventure at the local radio station in Huntsville, Ontario, this weekend, culminated in discovering that I had won a much coveted writing prize. Again.

I was invited by writer friend Christine Cowley to be interviewed on her radio program STORYLINES on Huntsville’s Hunter’s Bay Radio. But not only was I interviewed, which was a thrill in and of itself, but I also performed one of my Trafalgar 24 plays for the radio program…along with Christine herself playing the role of the lead in the short play, and my other writer friend Tobin Elliott stepping in as narrator. It was such a fun time! The episode of Storylines airs in early October and I can’t wait to see how the performance went. It will be interesting to see if it translates well as a radio play.

We stayed in Haliburton over the weekend, taking up residence in the cottage and bunky of writer friend Dale Long and his wife Sue. It was a thoroughly enjoyable stay, filled with great laughs, amazing food and good friends. Dale is something of a BBQ aficionado and what he can do with a grill, a cedar plank and a side of salmon is almost religious.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Longs, the Elliotts, and the beauty of Haliburton.

After our stint as radio celebrities in the recording studios of Hunter’s Bay Radio Station, Dale, Tobin and I went to Kelsey’s in Huntsville with our significant others (Sue, Karen, and Michael) for a quick lunch prior to heading to the Muskoka Novel Marathon Wrap-Up Party. We were all excited to see who would take home the peer nominated awards and the Best Novel Awards this year. After the long summer that follows the July marathon, it’s always a special treat to head back to Huntsville and reunite with the other marathon writers…so the excitement we had felt at the radio station was only growing as the wrap up party approached.

The photo above-left shows the table full of awards handed out every year at the novel marathon wrap up party, from peer nominated awards to the judged Best Novel awards. On the right, Kate and Nancy from the YMCA revealed the total raised at this year’s Muskoka Novel Marathon—A whopping $36,000.00. Just see what 40 writers can do when they put their hearts to something. ALL FUNDS raised go directly to the literacy programs of YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka Counties.

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The Winners Take a Selfie! I was extremely thrilled to have been awarded the BEST ADULT NOVEL AWARD for the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon for my novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. And just as thrilled for the lovely Lori Manson, who took home the coveted BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL AWARD for her novel NED AND NORA STONE.

I did not think I would ever win the Best Novel Award again. I counted my 4 previous wins among my greatest feats in my writing life. With the amount of struggling I have done in recent years, I can’t even begin to describe how much I needed this. It is the vote of confidence I needed to continue writing. It’s pure unadulterated validation.

I would like to thank Dale Long for two things. The first…over 24hrs into the marathon, I still did not have my novel started. I couldn’t connect. Dale told me to tell my story—just shake it up and make it fiction. Or something along those lines. So I said, “What have I got to lose…might as well do something!” He stirred my creativity and got me started. The second thing he did? I wrote my two title considerations down on a piece of paper, looked about the room until I saw Dale (who happened to win this year’s SPIRIT AWARD–for the 2nd year running) sitting and typing…then I approached him and asked him which he preferred. So, it is because of his choice that my novel is called I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. THANKS, DALE!

Here it is! My name on the Best Novel Award trophy again! VALIDATION!

A list of my Best Novel Award wins:

2007 – Best Adult Novel for SEBASTIAN’S POET

2008 – Best Adult Novel for THE REASONS

2010 – Best Young Adult Novel for HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN

2011 – Best Young Adult Novel for THAT’S ME IN THE CORNER

2016 – Best Adult Novel Award for I WILL TELL THE NIGHT

What an incredible weekend. Filled with affirmations, friends, laughter, food, love, light and life. I want to thank Tobin’s wife, Karen, for starting the snowball-rolling-down-a-hill conversation that culminated in the arrival of my new nickname, which I will expect to be addressed by from this day forth. I am LORD AWA (awa aka AWARD WINNING AUTHOR).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a manuscript to pound into shape! I am now tasked with the great burden and joy of completing and polishing my novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT, in preparation of submission. (-:

Stay tuned to this spot! My spate of WRITERLY related chaos is still ongoing this time around. Tonight and tomorrow night I have some exciting writerly events happening that I’m sure I will want to write about. Stay tuned!

The Summing Up – After the Marathon

My first Muskoka Novel Marathon in 2007 was essentially a religious experience. From the drive up to Huntsville to the drive to the Kawarthas after I partook of the 48hr version of the marathon. It was all a haze of Kool-aid drinking meditating worshipping wonder. I was sold. I was a convert. I had found my people, my place, my me.

Eventually, I attempted to get that religious experience down on paper in the form of a poem. But the real joy of writing poetry is in the moments leading up to the writing of the poem and in the hope you feel that you achieve the goal of getting everything in your head down in the stanzas that you write. You never quite get there…you feel the euphoria of being there in your mindscape…but what travels from that video screen in your head through your fingers and eventually lands on the computer screen or paper is nothing like the vision you carried. It sometimes suffices, but it never meets the vision. Words are never enough.

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Here’s the poem I wrote about my first Muskoka Novel Marathon experience:

After the Marathon

As winter whips its winds to frenzy
I am reminded of that time-
forty thousand words in my head
screaming white freedom
inside my withering mind.

And after the marathon,
the tears of no more words,
my insolent venting of could have-
might have beens. And the exhaustion,
like melting ice on pregnant lips,
a scream inside an empty car
with nobody else to hear.

When I thought the oddity over-
passing from Muskoka to Haliburton
with Cohen on my lips-
two deer arrive,
linger long enough to catch my eye,
to stop my hurling car,
to say, “I see you. You are real.”
And tears again. To find yourself
when you are lost; a figment
behind an endless stream of words.

After the deer, when Hallelujah
has played and the light of day declines,
I pray, one hundred-thirty pages
strewn like wild wind across the cluttered dash,
and here am I… stopped again-
a wild bear on hind legs,
pawing the slowly gloaming air.

Stopped, I wonder the wonder,
breathe to say, “I’ve been here too.”
And in the rear-view… three more,
mother, babies dawdling behind the car.
And the bear, as if he knows my head
and where it’s at, he paws again,
lifts his massive claws to night and speaks.

These are the things that I have left,
the shaking memories of a whirlwind journey took.
And forty thousand words inside my lonely head
was not enough. A bear to stand and scream
is what it took to leave it all behind,
the vent, the Cohen din inside the tremulous mind,
and most of all, the words that could have been.

 

 

THE WORDS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN. Every year I regret those words. Every year I mourn them. But I also give thanks for the ones I eventually get down on paper. This year is no different. I went a long time before locking into a story idea…almost a full 24 hours. I do the 72hr marathon now…stay the whole three days. After that first year, I knew I wanted more. More, more, more. 48hrs is not enough.

I already wrote a marathon wrap post when I got home, but I wanted to talk about what happens immediately following coming back to the land of reality. I say reality, because at the marathon it’s a different kind of reality that happens. There is a freedom at the marathon that is very much like sleep-a-way summer camp. It’s silly and frivolous and fun..and very very serious. It’s not the reality we, as adults, are used to. Schedules evaporate…we are on OUR TIME. So, coming back to the land of adulting…you need to adjust, put away the candy and get real.

When you get back to reality, it’s also the first time you get to sit down and read your words. At the marathon, you write and you write and you write. But you don’t read (or, at least, I don’t…I have to point out here that every marathoner is different). You just move ever forward into your story. What happens, essentially, is that you start reading it a couple days after your return and it’s like you’re reading the work of someone else…you don’t remember it, you’re not very deeply connected to it…the concept is familiar, but the words are by and large new to your ears. It’s an extremely odd phenomenon, really. You wrote the story, but it’s not yours. It belongs to the wildness of the weekend. It belongs to Muskoka.

You never quite know what you ended up with until you sit down and read your story for the first time. It’s an eye-opening experience. I’ve come to believe that I write my best stuff at the marathon. Not because it’s a particularly wonderful writing environment–even though it IS–and not because I go in prepared–because I DON’T–but because I connect to Natalie Goldberg’s WILD MIND while I’m there. There is a moment when you put your ego aside and you are no longer a writer writing, but simply WRITING itself. You lose connection to your self as you slip sleeplessly and exhaustingly into your story and soldier on ever forward. THAT is the beauty of the marathon…that you get to dive so fully in to your writing that you disappear. Somewhere after 16 hours, 23 hours, 56 hours…YOU are gone and there is only story—and these seemingly disembodied hands in front of you pounding away at a keyboard you’re barely aware of. WRITING. NO YOU. I know, I know…it’s so zen. It’s hogwash. It’s flighty. It’s new age crap. SHUT UP! Until you’re there, at the marathon, you’ll have to take my word for it. I WAS Wild Mind.

What happens now—THE SUMMING UP. I’ve been reading and editing my novel. I only reached about 100 pages this year, as I didn’t immerse myself into the story until I was a full day into the marathon. My regret was huge. But as I slowly trudged my way into the story, I began to feel better about my productivity. I like it! I like the words that I created. I’m okay with them. AND…I feel that I will be able to continue the story once I get to the end of the editing journey I’m on to read and fix what I left the marathon with. I’m excited about finding out where the story goes, where the lives in the story are taken. I’m turned on by the need to bring it to fruition—TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS!

I have been feeding Michael chapters on my Kindle account as I read and edit them. He has an uncanny ability to find nits and suggest fixes. Last year, his influence was a huge part of my novel writing experience. Without him, I’m not sure I would have finished the novel. This time around, as I am writing about New Brunswick, I have to admit he’s having a bit of an issue with dialogue. If the East Coast of Canada is your ancestral home, you know that there is a dialect to be found there. What might look like twisted and incorrect language is merely the way they talk there. I have a few characters who are very regional. They say things the way New Brunswickers would say them. Editors need to leave these bits in. Regional dialect helps to place a story…it’s all part of the story’s setting. Michael’s just gonna have to flinch at some of these twisted words being spoken by my characters. Especially the story’s grandmother, Imogene, who has shall we say a slightly unique way of speaking.

I’m ready to embrace the rest of this novel’s journey. What the marathon did was start me off…it gave me the roadtrip part of the novel, and brought me to the meat and potatoes of my story. I’m excited to continue. And I have this wonderful thing called the Muskoka Novel Marathon to thank for taking me this far. Every year it starts me off on a journey. I don’t always complete the novels it helps me create…but I always love the experience. And in September…we get to reassemble–us 40+ writers–and we get to award each other with trophies and kudos and praise. It’s the crown on top of the fundraising event. I can’t wait to get there!

But for now…I have a story to tell. It’s the story of Finn Barker, the character I created on a July Saturday night in Huntsville, Ontario while sitting in a room filled with writers creating. Finn is real. And I left him in a vulnerable situation at the end of the marathon. It’s time to rescue him.

Thank you, Muskoka Novel Marathon—for helping me to once again get words on paper. The wonder never ceases to amaze me. Yes, we raised over $34,000.00, and yes…the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka county is going to have much needed funds to help with their literacy programs. Yes…lives are going to change for the better because of what we were able to accomplish monetarily with the marathon. And that IS the most important thing here. But for us writers—we get the gift of words, the gift of time, the gift of camaraderie, and the gift of childlike sleep-a-way camp in a beautiful town filled with lovely places and people. The benefits to us writers are vast…and lasting. It’s a religion, and I’m only one of its many preachers. I drank the Kool-aid.

See you all at the wrap-up!

 

(A Short excerpt…the opening lines of my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel, which introduces the main character—Finn Barker.)

There’s more than one way to go home. Sometimes it’s something we can only do in theory because there’s no home to go back to. Even if it’s still standing. And sometimes we return kicking and screaming, like salmon running up river against their will but with an inborn instinct they cannot escape. Must go home. Must go home.

Unless you never truly left in the first place, chances are the road home will be a painful one. One that will leave you, to paraphrase the words of W.B. Yeats, in a world more full of weeping.

There is nothing like a death to signify the beginning of that journey home. Death and dying. For Finn Barker, that was the straw that finally broke his resolve to never again return.