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Ann YK Choi Festival of Authors On Writing Ontario Writers' Conference OWC Wayson Choy WCDR Writers Community of Durham Region Writing Life

On the Horizon – Events of Writerly Interest

Every now and again I write a catch-all post to include some of the things on my writerly horizon. The ones in my immediate future may be of interest to those of you in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area for visitors from elsewhere on the globe).

Event #1 – Ontario Writers’ Conference FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS

Originally birthed at the Ontario Writers’ Conference, this legacy event of the now defunct annual conference promises to be an exciting evening out for writers and readers alike. The event takes place at Creative Math & Music (1064 Salk Rd., Units 5-7 Pickering, ON, L1W 4B5) on Friday March 31st, 2017 from 7;00pm-10:00pm. From the OWC website:

The Festival usually features:

  • entertaining interviews and inspiring author readings (see below)
  • opportunities to mingle with Canadian Authors, fellow writers and avid readers
  • voting for the winners of our Story Starters Contest
  • exciting prizes !

Announced thus far for the festival is the amazing TED BARRIS as emcee and award winning debut novelist ANN Y.K. CHOI. You can read more about the festival, including bios for both announced authors at THIS LINK FOR OWC FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ted Barris, and of seeing him in action as an author interviewer and interviewee. An evening with Ted Barris is worth the price of admission. And I am right in the middle of reading Ann Choi’s KAY’S LUCKY COIN VARIETY from Simon & Schuster Canada. It’s a lovely coming-of-age story that takes place in Koreatown in Toronto in the 80s. I’m thoroughly enjoying it and hope to have it completed by the Festival on the 31st. Here’s a brief synopsis of the book from Goodreads:

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A bittersweet coming-of-age debut novel set in the Korean community in Toronto in the 1980s. This haunting coming-of-age story, told through the eyes of a rebellious young girl, vividly captures the struggles of families caught between two cultures in the 1980s. Family secrets, a lost sister, forbidden loves, domestic assaults—Mary discovers as she grows up that life is much more complicated than she had ever imagined. Her secret passion for her English teacher is filled with problems and with the arrival of a promising Korean suitor, Joon-Ho, events escalate in ways that she could never have imagined, catching the entire family in a web of deceit and violence. A unique and imaginative debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety evocatively portrays the life of a young Korean Canadian girl who will not give up on her dreams or her family.

Keep watching the OWC website further further author announcement. And get your TICKETS soon, as they just may sell out!

Even#2 – WCDR Words of the Season

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This is a regular feature of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. It’s an evening of readings from WCDR members and it features fiction, poetry, memoir, non-fiction, etc. Taking place this time around in Whitby, Words of the Season will happen on Tuesday April 4th, 2017. This is an open event and anyone is invited to attend. Simply show up at:

La Rosa Ristorante
3050 Garden Street
Unit 102
Whitby, ON

Arrive as early as 6:00 pm. Socialize, eat, enjoy a beverage – food and drink available for purchase. Performances start at 7:00 pm. Fully accessible venue.

Maaja Wentz will be emceeing this event. Members read, but anyone can come and listen. And stay for a meal.

I will be one of the readers this time around, reading from an upcoming novel.

Event #3 – April WCDR Roundtable Meeting

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WCDR Blue Pencil Extravaganza

This mostly monthly breakfast menu for the Writers’ Community of Durham Region is always lively…and always filled with approximately 100 writers from Durham and the rest of the GTA–an amazing feat in itself for a Saturday at 8:30am.

The APRIL meeting will feature what the WCDR is calling a BLUE PENCIL BONANZA. Foregoing the usual format of a GUEST SPEAKER, April will be set up as a hands-on critiquing meeting. Each table will feature a different genre and a professional in that genre will facilitate the table through a critique of sample pages submitted by members at the time of registration. Meeting attendees could either choose to participate by submitting their work ahead of time OR observe at the table of their choosing. Please note that NON-MEMBERS will not be permitted to submit samples. This is only open to WCDR MEMBERS.

This event takes place:

BISTRO 67 – Durham College, Centre for Food
1604 Champlain Avenue, Whitby ON

REGISTER TODAY!

ALL DETAILS ARE HERE.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE:

The May 6th WCDR Roundtable Meeting will feature Guest Speaker TREVOR COLE. He will talk about “the early days of organized crime in Canada, before the First World War, when the Italian criminal underworld was known as the Black Hand. He’ll describe how it dovetailed with the beginnings of prohibition and led to the rise of Rocco Perri as the most powerful bootlegger and mob boss in southern Ontario.”

If I wasn’t leaving the continent on the very day this event is happening, I would most certainly be there. I hate to miss it.

Mr. Cole will also facilitate the AFTER-BREAKFAST MINI-WORKSHOP on May 6th >>>

How to Write Great Dialogue with Trevor Cole
Categories
Inkslingers James Dewar On Writing Sue Reynolds Writing Life Writing Retreat

INKSLINGERS – Destination SCOTLAND! Writing-Yoga-Discovery Retreat

Come and steep yourself in Scottish literature and landscape. ~ So goes the new call to arms (to pens?) on The Inkslingers’ website.

Are you going to answer the call? It’s always a good idea to invest in your writing life. You owe it to yourself to explore your craft with the same passion with which you explore the world…total immersion. No better way to do it than to do the two things together. Let Inkslingers, along with the literary landscape of Scotland, take you on a writing adventure this July! Wanderlust and Writing are perfect partners…and with Inkslingers guiding the way, you cannot go wrong.

The INKSLINGERS are taking a group of writers to SCOTLAND for a retreat of immersion in words and place.

From July 15 to 23, 2017,

Inkslingers will be offering

a writing/yoga/discovery retreat

in stunning, storied Scotland!

Writers will explore Glasgow, Ayrshire, Fort Augustus on the shores of Loch Ness, Dunkeld, and, Edinburgh. Yoga Classes will be offered by Yoga instructor and Poet, Kate Marshall Flaherty, and the writing sessions will be led by Sue Reynolds, with additional support from Kate and James Dewar. There will be a tour of a distillery, a sheepdog display, the Peter Pan Museum, Edinburgh Castle…and much more. Be prepared to be fully immersed in your surroundings! And you will have the finest writing workshop facilitators guiding your writing experience along the way.

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The copy on the INKSLINGERS’ website says it all:

It is Inkslingers’ mission to deliver writing workshops and retreats that enrich the experience and strengthen the craft of each participant while building community and keeping each writer safe in their creativity. ~ INKSLINGERS

I have been a recipient of their ability to deliver on that promise. Both James Dewar and Susan Lynn Reynolds have made me a better writer.

Who are the Inkslingers? Susan Lynn Reynolds was my initial introduction to the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. I originally took her memoir workshop at a library in Durham Region back in 2002 or 2003. From there, I followed her all the way to Uxbridge, Ontario, the very next day to attend a regular on-the-spot writing group she facilitated at the library there. And I never looked back! Sue is an amazing teacher/facilitator. With her exuberance and passion for writing, and her understanding and knowledge of the craft, she makes an exemplary mentor. After attending her on-the-spot group for a couple of years, I later took an extended workshop on novel writing with Sue…and it got me on my current path of novel-writing. YOU CAN READ SUE’S BIO HERE.

James Dewar is the poet who gave me my first introduction to open-mic and poetry performance. He took a chance on me as a spoken word poet before I was ready…and he ignited a passion in me to strive to be a better poet and a better speaker. He’s a natural teacher/mentor. I also attended a poetry workshop led by James, and it was phenomenal and enlightening. I’d recommend them to anyone. You can read about my experience at James’s POETRY SANCTUARY HERE. The sanctuaries are so worth the drive north of the city. YOU CAN READ JAMES’S BIO HERE.

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Last year (2016) The Inkslingers took a group of writers on a retreat in IRELAND. The whole adventure is captured in their online diaries. You can read all about that retreat at the Inkslingers’ website, to see the detail and care they take in planning their writing adventures:

THE INKSLINGERS IRELAND DIARIES

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James Dewar and Sue Reynolds are The Inkslingers (Ireland, 2016)

This 2017 writing retreat to Scotland has an EARLY BIRD PRICING DISCOUNT for those who book before MARCH 31st. VISIT HERE FOR PRICING AND REGISTRATION INFORMATION

Scotland is the home and inspiration of a number of the great influences of Western literature: Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, J.M. Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Dunnett, Ian Rankin, Ali Smith, Muriel Sparks, George MacDonald, Samuel Johnson, Kenneth Grahame, Louise Welsh, Josephine Tey and J.K. Rowling, and the iconic Robbie Burns! ~ INKSLINGERS

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On Writing Writing Life

2017 – I Can’t Find the Time to Write Equals You Fritter Away Too Much Time. You’re Lying to Yourself.

How about you make 2017 the year of no excuses?

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How about you stop bullshitting to yourself and everyone around you that you don’t have the time to write (substitute write for anything else you put off because you don’t have time)?

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My once-a-year binge writing event – The Muskoka Novel Marathon.

How about you sit. How about you write. “Put them together and what have you got?” Well, Louis Armstrong might say, “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo”, but what you have is SIT AND WRITE. That’s all you need to know about finding time to write. Seriously, stop the bullshit. How many times are you doing something that is not writing and also not life-altering mind-bending awesomeness that you can’t not do? Think about it. How often do you surf the web, scroll through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, etc, etc. BE THE NETHERLANDS IN 2017. TAKE BACK YOUR WRITING LAND. Stop the madness.

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Not ‘I want to write more, but I don’t have time.” SIT & WRITE–be it!

I know the truth because I lie a lot. I moan about not having time to write, but then I sit and do nothing. I call bullshit on everyone else because I call bullshit on myself. I typically find excuses not to write for approximately 10 months out of the year. And then I cram most (okay, HALF) of a book into July at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. And then, in the next month or so, I cram the rest of that novel. I get a novel done, but I may have only used 10 days of the 365 at my disposal. I know for a fact that I could write SO MUCH MORE if I only gave myself dedicated writing time. I have no willpower, I have no motivation, I have no gumption, I have no drive.

If I make a pact right now to make my own 2017 the year to write, and to take writing seriously for the first time in my life, I know I’ll fail. I AM TOO LAZY. This message is for YOU! Don’t be like me. Write every day. Take back the land that is rightfully yours! Reclaim it from the ocean of wasted time around you. You’re better than this. You can do more. YOU CAN WRITE MORE. Get off your ass and get into a chair! You know what I mean. Stop making excuses. WRITE! Write for at least an hour every day. Each and every day.

One page a day is a novel of 365 pages in one year. There really is NO excuse not to be able to squeeze one hour of writing into each and every day of your year. Don’t make me slap you. SIT. WRITE.

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Patrick Rothfuss with the only advice all writers need to heed at all times.

Report back to me MONTHLY! Make yourself accountable!

Categories
On Writing Writing Life

Digging in the Dirt – How to Repurpose Your Buried Words

The first rule of Write Club is…follow all the rules of Write Club. The second rule of Write Club is…there are no rules in Write Club. Therein lies the conundrum. We writers are a cocktail of confusion and contradictions. Do this, don’t do that…can’t you read the signs. But there’s one thing we should all get into the habit of doing. We should all be dedicated pack-rats when it comes to our words. We write the words we write for a reason. That reason may not always be clear when the words are being put down on paper or screen, but we should train ourselves to value them for what they are and what they may one day become.

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Treat your unused words like a garden you can later visit and harvest…

It’s true. Your buried prose and poetry can be repurposed. Have you ever written the first few lines of a poem because they grabbed you with the intensity of fire? Did that fire then fizzle out and force you to discard the work you felt so powerful for having created? Have you spent countless hours, days, weeks, months on a manuscript that you later tossed aside in frustration? Or how about those amazing middle-of-the-night ideas that left you breathless and certain you just came up with the plot for the next Great Canadian Novel? We’ve all been there, on the brink of a brilliance almost touched. I call these moments epiphonies. They’re like epiphanies, but they didn’t quite get you there. They’re phony aha moments, the bane of the writer’s existence. Or, at least mine.

I’m here to tell you to NOT give up. Don’t let these fly-bys into momentarily enlightened consciousness go to waste. If you wrote it, it meant something to you at the time. What’s the cost of saving your words nowadays? Nothing. Your disk-space can handle it.

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Trust that you saw beauty in your words, and that you will find a place for them…or a lesson from re-exploring them.

But how do you reuse, reinvent, recycle, repurpose, re-imagine? Any old way you can. Seriously. First, create a Spare Parts folder. Second, save everything that doesn’t come to fruition as a poem, short story, article, novel, song, etc into this folder. Name your documents wisely so you can remember what they are at a glance. Third, dig in the dirt of this folder every opportunity you have. Pry, pull, wrench, yank, rip and pluck any and all of your buried words and use them in any way you can.

Examples of how I returned to my Spare Parts folder and harvested words from it? Most recently, I stole a character from a novel that was three quarters written when it died. The heavy work on the character was already completed through the birthing of the fizzled out novel. He appeared to me in full, having already been alive in a previous work. I took some prose with me when I excavated him, but mostly I took him…his essence. You can do this with characters or setting or any little aspect of the original novel that you still love and wish you could use. There’s also the time I had a last minute opportunity to have a short story included in an anthology…but no time to write one. I looked through my folder and found another dead-in-the-water novel and I stole the first chapter. I made a few minor changes and, presto-magico, I had myself a short story! Another reason to save your drawer novels is time, growth, and the redoubling of your writerly wisdom through workshops and classes. One of your old unfinished trunk novels may very well be brilliant, but perhaps you didn’t have the wisdom needed to execute the idea to its full potential four years ago. After taking certain workshops, it might be helpful to revisit a dead novel. With your new eyes, you may see a way to rescue it.

Lines and stanzas from unfinished poems? Months later, when you’re having a dry-spell and wishing you could get your poetical groove on…steal those lines, use them as jumping off points for new poetry. Another thing you could do with poetry, once you have a pile of unfinished poems (and this will happen…it always does) is attempt to piece them together. You could very well have a complete poem living among the rubble of seven discarded ones. You must dig through the dirt to find the gold.

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Dig through the dirt to find the gold.

Save everything. Inspiration moments give you lovely little gems. Respect that. They might not be fully formed diamonds, but guaranteed there is something in there worth excavating at a later date. Trust your words and trust why you wrote them. Even if you never unearth them for future projects, it can be amazingly useful to revisit your older words for no other reason than to see how much you have grown as a writer since you first wrote them. That’s a reward you wouldn’t get if you deleted everything that fizzled.

So, be kind to yourself. Save your words. You never know when you’re going to need them. Spare Parts are like little treasure chests of pretty things. If you dig in the dirt long enough, you’ll find your diamond. And you’ll be happy you didn’t throw it away.

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Categories
Muskoka Novel Marathon On Writing Writing Life

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.

 

 

 

Categories
Muskoka Novel Marathon On Writing Writing Life

Unpacking the Marathon – A Weekend with Words & Wildness (#MNM2016)

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This past weekend was the annual Muskoka Novel Marathon (Search #MNM2016 in Social Media to find evidence of its existence). In short, this is a fundraising event to bring both funds and awareness to the literacy programs of the YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka County. Every year, forty writers get together in a room in Huntsville, Ontario, and we each attempt to write a novel over the course of 72hrs. And, every year, we each gather sponsorship donations from friends and family. This year, the marathon brought in over $34,000.00. This is not small potatoes. That’s a huge chunk of money that will be well used for the literacy programs. Amazing! And every cent of what we bring in goes directly to the programs. We are WRITERS SUPPORTING READERS.

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Monday Afternoon of the Marathon – A Respite on Lion’s Lookout (Thanks to Paula Boon for showing me the way to the mountain!). The building in the distance below is where the marathon takes place.

Every year I go through quite a sordid variety of emotions at the marathon. This year was no exception. For the first 24hrs I had to fight through my belief that I was no longer a writer, that I was just this guy who accidentally stumbled into the world as a way to exorcise his demons. I thought that since the demons were now gone, I was not allowed (or worthy) of the sacred act of putting words down on paper. Such is the logic of the artistic wanderer—only when wandering are we allowed to wander. But this logic is so broken, I don’t even know where to begin. As much as I have struggled in recent years to write, I am as much a writer as I am a human being. It’s one of the words that define me. I discovered at the marathon that one could be a writer not writing, but one cannot be a non-writer writing.

My first day panic gave in to my fears and anxiety. I squirreled around inside two different unfinished manuscripts with zero focus. I scraped together twenty pages between the two of them…the whole time bemoaning to whoever would listen that I was over, washed-up, a has-been.

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The Scene of the Crime! The Active Living Centre, at the foot of Lion’s Lookout in Huntsville, Ontario.

My second day a fellow marathoner put a kernel of an idea in my head. “Write your story…just give it the slight tweak it needs to make it fiction.” That’s a paraphrase…and it might be from an amalgamation of conversations I had with various marathoners. The point is, I received wisdom from the great and powerful spirit that flits about the rooms at the marathon and tells us, in song and dance, that every little thing gonna be all right. And one cannot arrive at the marathon with a closed mind. One must be raw and vital and willing to open up to any little thing that may happen over the course of the weekend. It is a time of magic and discovery.

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I was so touched when I found this pack of Popeyes at my desk, along with a lovely note, that I ran away and stupidcried. I had mentioned Popeyes in my most recent post here on this blog. Whoever left this at my workstation—THANK YOU FOREVER!

So, I shut up, I sat down, and I began a story that had just a little too much of myself inside it. I wrote my story. First I turned a crank and tossed in a few lies, to disguise the real world beneath a blanket of myth and bullshit. Then I wrote a story. As I weaved the scenes together I carefully knitted myself out of it. I had finally found my pace and was on my way…

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Photographic evidence that I actually did get writing done at the marathon…

You have to understand that there are a handful of different types that go to the Muskoka Novel Marathon. We are all passionate about the cause and would do anything to raise money to support the literacy programs. We are all passionate about writing, and about words. But some of us are there to put our heads down and write like our faces are on fire and some of us are there for the social game–to be among our people. Some of us are there for both. The first two years or so, I was there to get shit done. I wrote upwards of 50,000 words at my first few at-bats at the marathon. This year? Not so much. Apart from my wasted first day where no amount of coaxing would bring forth an idea for a new project (ONE CANNOT FORCE CREATIVITY—IT IS ON ITS OWN CLOCK), I also socialized quite a bit. A group of us went down into town both Saturday and Sunday evening. And I stayed at the Comfort Inn on the Saturday evening. So, where I used to spend most of my time in my chair at the marathon…I’ve become not so focused on my writing. But this is not a bad thing. How often does one get to gather with like-minds? Sure, we didn’t always talk writing—but it was always there as the thread that brought us together.

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It was on the last day of the marathon that I finally discovered Lion’s Lookout. MUCH THANKS TO PAULA BOON FOR SHOWING ME THE WAY. Turns out I was running in circles around this lookout for years. Sometimes the mountain does not give of itself so freely…you have to find a way to go to the mountain. My way was Paula.

Sunday evening, those who were brave enough to participate took part in the annual midnight reading. I’ve been doing this since 2007, when three of us took part in a reading in a corner. We go around the table and share 3-5 minutes of our raw WIPs (works in progress) that we have just penned at the marathon. It’s important that we all feel safe to share during this reading, as we are reading words that are not yet edited…so there is no critiquing allowed—just listening and appreciating. It was a fabulous turnout this year, with over half of the 40 writers participating in the marathon in attendance. Beautiful words were shared…tears were shed, laughter was laughed, sighs were heard. It’s one of my favourite parts of the marathon.

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Captain My Captain! I first met Sue Kenney at the Pickering Winter Novel Marathon (2006?). I was immediately drawn to her kinetic energy. She was my guide in 2014 when I walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago. She takes peregrinos (pilgrims) on the journey of the Camino twice a year (In May and in September). LOOK HER UP. She is life-changing. Being around her is to know what it is like to live the dance of life. (-: She has been leading a creative walk at the MNM for a number of years. This year, she also participated as a writer at the marathon. She was BIC throughout the marathon, pounding away at the keys. BEAR —that is all!

 

In the end, I wrote over a hundred pages. I have the kernel of a novel I may or may not pursue. I like the story thus far, I’m excited to be writing creatively again. So there is that. You go to the marathon not only to expend a great deal of fuel and run yourself ragged and exhaust yourself to the point of tears—but also to fuel up, to store-up a powerhouse of energy against the coming year. It sounds incongruous, I know, but the marathon is like that. It is an onion, a constantly shifting reality that loses its layers faster than its attendees can write ten pages and award themselves with a 10-page strip (see below)! One realizes, after a few marathons, that it is kind of like Bits & Bites—“You never know whatcher gonna get.”

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The 10-Page Strip. Whenever a writer reaches a ten-page milestone, they mark it with a strip. 🙂

The Muskoka Novel Marathon. I can tell you about it, but it won’t accurately describe what happens there. It’s a 72 hour weekend of magic and words and laughter and tears and food and words and food and words and coffee and friends and food and words and sunshine and rain and laughter and tears and tomfoolery and words and snapshots and food and wonder.

Preliminary Tally of Funds Raised for Literacy in 2016

– $34,081

THANK YOU FOR CARING, YOU LOVELY PEOPLE!

Categories
Muskoka Novel Marathon On Writing Writing Life

Don’t Read This Blog Post – Muskoka Novel Marathon – Another Year, Another Novel, Another Fundraiser for Literacy

It’s so strange that another year has zipped past since my last Muskoka Novel Marathon. It simply disappeared. In thin air. Kind of like that there/not there thing I always find so fascinating. But that’s another story. I don’t have time to tell it. I have two more sleeps before I dive into my 9th Muskoka Novel Marathon! NUMBER NINE! (Why do I hear the Beatles when I type that?!)     (-:

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Writing by the dock of the bay…

It’s been a crazy year. I recently lost a parent. To make the sting more painful, we were completely estranged from one another for a good many years. I still don’t know how to deal with this. We had a few moments in the end to make peace with one another…but I’ve been a bit lost ever since. I’m also turning 50 in two months. I can’t even fathom that one. 50!? Where did the time go? That question is about as cliche as one can get, but there it is. I still remember clothespinning hockey cards to my bicycle wheel spokes like it was yesterday. I remember button candy and Popeye cigarettes like I’m chewing on them as I type this. All the things that I have done are so close to the surface right now, that it seems implausible that I’ll be hauling my ass over the half a century signpost up ahead in so few days. I am literally giving my head a shake over that one.

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Muskoka Novel Marathon is a Fundraising Event for Literacy Programs in Simcoe/Muskoka County, Ontario.

I’ve convinced myself lately that I may in fact NOT be a writer. I may have been someone WRITING for these past 13 years…but also, someone who is not a writer. I told myself that the act of writing does not a writer make. I convinced myself that if I kept moving my fingers across my keys, it meant nothing to the validation of the title WRITER. What if I was just some random guy writing? This would mean that if I stopped writing, it would simply be over…I wouldn’t be a writer not writing, I would just be a guy who wrote for a while but stopped. My so-called Crisis of Happiness has outlasted all reason. It’s turning me insane. I think I should officially call it, but there is something in me that wants to own writing…even though I’ve been away from it for so very long. The struggle is real. And I nailed the reasoning for my lack of writing early on in the drought too…a happy me is a non-writing me. I wrote my fucking fingers off for so long because I was lost. Now I’m found…and the crown on the sharp edge of catharsis seems to be the putting away of the keyboard. Maybe. I don’t know. Therein lies the crazy. Even as I type this I am writing but also not writing. Meandering is not writing.

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Stay tuned…I will be imploring you for MONEY. ❤

Speaking of turning 50…remember grade school and how simple it was? Creation was just something you did. You didn’t quibble about the why of art. You just made art, you did art, you were art.You took a sheet of construction paper. You glued macaroni to it. You poked holes in it and threaded pipe cleaners into it. You painted a bit in one corner by blowing through a straw to move a blob of paint around on the page. You glued a feather to another corner. You shot the whole thing up with glitter before sticking a cut-out of your latest Wish item from the Sears catalogue into the centre. You didn’t care. You used all materials available to you. And it looked…well, bloody fantastic. It looked amazing. Art at its finest. High school was even more glorious…your body was not only a wonderland, but also a canvas…a place to explore and discover your individuality. Dress it up how you wished, become a new person every day…transform yourself through the fabrics and accoutrements of your whim.

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Me, hard at work at a previous MNM. This is NOT writing.

High school is over. Life is past the middle point. The leaves are falling. And still I find myself screaming that old refrain into the windblown night.

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.

Always and forever. For as much as I often wanted to remove myself from this mortal coil, I have also always blazed like meteors to stay and bear witness to its light. To stay and be taken into the light of living. It’s such an obscure thing…to lose sight of life, though it be there in your grasp the entire time. Still…there it is. While crawling, I was able to string a golden trail of popcorn in my wake… alighting the path behind me like a dance of fireflies in the night sky. You know, in case I ever had the inclination to return.

Though nothing I write today makes any sense at all, I write it. Because this is the calm before the storm of words I will enter into in two days. My synapses are crashing into one another…words once written are mingling with those not yet born and all these thoughts and feelings and withering notions are colliding. It’s kind of a prep-stage that my pre-marathon brain goes through. Think of NASA testing all the what-not before they have a major launch. These words today are my jet-fuel being shaken, not stirred, as I prepare for the sleepless nights of this, my ninth journey into the darkness of the cavernous heart of the unwritten novel. I am. And I am writing…even if I not be a writer. I will be writing.

And now my ear-worm of the day persists. I try to carve out meaning in this post, but my mind is singing…

And I feel like William Tell
Maid Marian on her tiptoed feet
Pulling mussels from a shell
Pulling mussels from a shell

…and because my mind is singing this song, I am thinking of my childhood and how us four boys would go clam digging. No…clams are not mussels, but surely to God they are in the same family, no? I loved watching the suction of the spade as it lifted the water-heavy sand and how the rising bubbles always gave the clams away. I loved the grit of sand you would sometimes get when eating them. I loved the jingle jangle sound the shells would make as you transported dozens of them together…it was the song of my people…the song of the Maritimes. New Brunswick in a bucket. I won’t even go into the noises and the smells and the glow in the kitchen of my paternal grandmother as families converged on her small house and we would have the biggest clam-bake, clam-fry, Clamageddon you could possibly imagine. And look at me now, singing about pulling mussels from a shell…

There needs to be a point to this blog post. Much like there really necessarily needed to be a point to the game played by Pooh and his peeps in which they would throw a stick from the bridge. Poohsticks. It’s a thing, dammit. Even Wiki says so…and if Wiki says so, it’s so…

It is a simple sport which may be played on any bridge over running water; each player drops a stick on the upstream side of a bridge and the one whose stick first appears on the downstream side is the winner.

So the point of Poohsticks is to see which stick passes under the bridge and comes into view first. The point…is to bear witness to the stick and its sacred journey.

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From a previous Muskoka Novel Marathon -Sue Kenney leads writers on a walk every year…a way to break from our desks and enjoy the company of others. Barefoot, if desired. Open-hearted.

Mayhaps the point of this post is for me to bear witness to a life lived. Mayhaps the point is for me to get my head in the groove so that I can sit the hell down come Friday and stop whining and actually write something cohesive for a change. Mayhaps the point is to bear witness to those who need our help. We should ALL be very uncomfortable…because when there are people living in our midst who cannot read or write perhaps we all need to carry the burden of that travesty. As a society, we have left certain of our members behind us. And society should walk forward together…leaving no one behind. We need to improve upon our idea of who we are. We need to reach out into the darkness behind us and bring forward into the light those who struggle and cannot read the signs. It’s plain. It’s simple. We need literacy…to live in this life, to bear witness to this life, to share this life, to be.

I have two days left to collect sponsorship funds for this year’s MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON. All funds raise go directly to the literacy programs in place in the region. While you’re contemplating mussels and clams and feathers and life and bicycle wheels and popcorn…I implore you to give me a boost, so that I may in turn give a boost to someone who needs help navigating the world of words.

We are WRITERS HELPING READERS. But we can only win the battle against illiteracy with your help. Each of us are charged with bringing in sponsorship donations for the Simcoe/Muskoka YMCA literacy programs. You can donate online by clicking on the pic below and going to the link set up for my donation page for the event. ANY amount would be appreciated! We start writing Friday July 8th at 8pm. And we don’t stop until Monday July 11th at 8pm. Our part in this is to write…for 72 hours. You are the important much needed element in the equation. Your donations will help us writers help readers. Thank you in advance for your generosity. It is greatly appreciated!

Click the pic! Give a little…I know you wanna…

mnm

Categories
Canadian Authors Association Canadian Writers' Summit CWS Kevin Craig On Writing Toronto Writing Life

Canadian Writers’ Summit! Big Issues in YA Writing…

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The Canadian Writers’ Summit is scheduled to take place this coming June at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, and it is HUGE! This is being billed as a SUPER-CONFERENCE, as it is hosted by a bevy of Canadian writer organizations. Members of all of the writing organizations hosting the event (and there are many), as well as anyone interested in writing, are encouraged to attend.

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been added as a last minute replacement to participate in the BIG ISSUES IN YOUNG ADULT WRITING panel discussion on Friday June 17th. This is especially pleasing to me because I dedicate my novel writing life on tackling young adult issues. It’s what I do. I have no idea whether or not I’m good at it, but I am 100% committed and passionate about doing it. Everything I write for the YA market is issue oriented.

From the CWS website, here’s the write-up for the panel discussion:

Jump into the world of young adult literature. The subject matter and story lines of YA literature are typically consistent with the age and experiences of the main character, but YA literature spans the spectrum of literary genres and themes. Hear more about the big issues of today in YA from Canada’s YA literary writers.

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I hope to contribute some helpful wisdom to the conversation and look forward to discussing the importance of tackling issues in YA literature. It’s a delicate thing to do in fiction, especially when writing for today’s intelligent teens—injecting issues into story without preaching or talking down…and without making it obvious that the issue is there. One needs a delicate balance to do this—as, in the end, story and entertainment value are paramount. Issues kinda sorta need to be there without being there. So looking forward to this Super-conference…visit the website today. It’s a super packed conference that most definitely has something for everyone!

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CLICK THIS IMAGE TO VISIT THE CWS WEBSITE – Hope to see you there!

To check out my own issue-centric young adult novels, click on the covers to visit their Amazon pages for details and to read the openings through the LOOK INSIDE feature:

Burn Baby Burn 1000    cover2500

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My other titles, Sebastian’s Poet & The Reasons, are definitely ISSUE stories facing children as well…but they have mature themes and are NOT considered Young Adult.

See you at the CANADIAN WRITERS’ SUMMIT at Harbourfront this June!

Categories
Book Trailer Muskoka Novel Marathon On Writing

Book Trailer First – Then the Book! The Journey to #MNM2016 Beginneth!

Whenever a Muskoka Novel Marathon draws closer I kind of set into a panic mode of sorts. I look around me like a chef in Cutthroat Kitchen, desperate to find the ingredients and cooking implements I need to complete my next task. And I hope and I pray that nobody (i.e. me!) throws a monkey wrench sabotage into the works to mess me up. The marathon is only 72 hours long. And it only comes but once a year. It’s like I only have this short window to jump onto the merry-go-round and take a spin. I have to get it right…right out of the gate. The margin for error is ZERO.

So, this year…in my year of almost zero writing…I feel slightly more desperate than ever before. It’s April. The marathon is in July. I’m already looking around myself in desperation. WHAT CAN I THROW INTO THE BOWL? HOW DO I GET MY INGREDIENTS GOING!? The chefs on Cutthroat Kitchen get what? 30 seconds to grab everything they need from the pantry to make the required dish? I feel like my 30-second pantry time for the Muskoka Novel Marathon has begun. (I won’t even throw into this mix the fact that all the ingredients I pick up in my 30 seconds might just be taken from me once the starting bell rings out and the 72 hour writing adventure begins–believe me, this has happened to me in the past. I have gone in with a plan and immediately scrapped it and started writing something completely random as I sat down to begin. The marathon is organic when it wants to be—outlines be damned!) I’m looking around. And I’m saying, “How am I going to do this?! What can I throw into the bowl?!”

Enter my Book Trailer as an Outline idea I came up with for a workshop I did a couple years ago. I never did explore the story I created for the book trailer. Now, I’m thinking, ‘Well, there’s this?”

From the blog post I wrote at that time:

a YA wherein a boy comes out of the trees and gets himself wrapped up in the life of the girl who just moved into the house beyond his magical woods. It’ll be a story about him adjusting to being a teenager (as opposed to being the soul of a tree) and his romantic ties to the girl from the house…as they both adjust to being new at the area high school. I came up with this future YA project as a sample of a BOOK-TRAILER-AS-NOVEL-OUTLINE for a workshop I put together recently. I threw the book trailer together in a few minutes to show one way a writer can create an outline—especially helpful to writers who abhor outlines—ME. So after the book trailer was completed I thought, ‘that’s actually not a totally terrible idea’. I am now going to be exploring it and checking to see if it has a novel in it.

Here’s the trailer I culled together as an example of creating the trailer before you create the book:

If you are a writer…I think it’s worth the effort to explore creating a book trailer in advance of writing your next story. It’s creatively fun…and you may find that you come up with a more cohesive idea when you’re piecing it together in this way. I just watched this trailer again…after practically forgetting all about it. And I’m thinking, ‘Hey…I’d read that book!’ The question is, will I ever write it!!!???

I might just run with this idea at the #MNM2016 It’s not like I have any other ideas in the pan. I sense that the less you write, the less you use your imagination, the more it dries up and withers away and dies. But I may be wrong. I might step into the room at the marathon and be hit with a thousand and one ideas. Who knows? I find it’s best to be prepared with something…in case nothing comes on its own at the time the bell chimes and the writing begins. One needs to be able to start click click clacking on the keys the very second the marathon begins if one wants something to come out of the weekend. Down-time is the devil at the Muskoka Novel Marathon!

Speaking of the Muskoka Novel Marathon… I can certainly use your help raising funds for the literacy programs of Simcoe Muskoka County YMCA. My donation page is live. Any amount will help. I need to get the ball rolling on this one. We writers do have a decadent weekend of writing bliss to look forward to in this marathon…but the number one goal is to raise funds for literacy. We ARE Writers supporting readers, after all. Please consider making a donation…be a part of the solution and help usher those who need these programs out of the darkness of illiteracy and into the light!

Click on the pic below to be taken to my donation page…

mnm

Categories
On Writing Writing Life

Dear Diary – Exploring Character Through Diary Entries…

This is an article on writing originally published in the June/July 2004 issue of WCDR Wordweaver.

Dear Diary, Today I Discovered…

Is writer’s block getting you down? Are you working on a story but find that your characters are withholding information about themselves? What’s stopping you from getting into their heads, taking hold of the dark and sunny contemplations lurking there and pulling out the ever-illusive back-story?
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Knowing your characters is, at times, the hardest part of writing fiction. You can leave them in limbo for days on end as you agonize over their next moves. If they’re not willing to open up to you, you’re stuck.

 

But as their creator, you should be omnipotent. It’s your right to intrude on their privacy and find out what’s under the surface. There’s no better way to do this than to take possession of their minds and write their personal diary entries!

 

One day I was faced with a character I loved, but could find no means to carry him forward into my story. Struggling with his motivations, I couldn’t imagine what he’d do next. It was obvious that I didn’t really know who he was. That’s when I had an idea. Why don’t I just step inside his head and find out? He could tell me where he wanted to go.

 

You might think this sounds crazy. But one of my personal theories about writers is that we’re all just a few drops short of a river to begin with (i.e., we’re right-brained geniuses who are able to see the world around us as a constantly shifting wonderland filled with endless fictional possibilities).

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Maybe this diary entry concept is a writing tool you already employ. But if not, I have a feeling you might be thinking, ‘Hmmm, sounds like a good idea’, especially those of you who have a minor character haunting your backstage, waiting to be thrust into the limelight of your story.

 

Diaries don’t form who we are, but they’re definitely a living record of that forming. You can’t read a person’s diary without knowing them a whole lot better afterwards. I’ve been keeping separate diary notebooks for years, exploring my characters in ways I never before could.

 

I simply write a character’s name and a date at the top of the page, throw myself into that character’s headspace and begin writing the entry.

 

I find that the date I choose is always helpful in this character study. If I choose a date years prior to my story, I can learn things about my character that have helped to form the way he reacts to certain situations.

 

For instance, if I explore a childhood entry I might find him writing about a traumatic experience and I suddenly understand why he is timid and skittish. Or I may choose a date a week prior to my story and discover why my character is in her present mood. If she writes about losing her job, her true love and her house all in one day, I’m going to understand why, on page two of my story, it makes perfect sense that she’s on the subway with unkempt hair, waving a loaded .45.

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You can also write an entry that takes place two months after your story ends. Think of the possibilities this opens up! You might learn how to end your story by knowing what your character is going through in the future.

 

You’re the creator. This makes you the god of the quirky little worlds you create. When writing your story, don’t feel the need to trap yourself within its timelines. You have the right to move freely through time – something your characters can’t always do themselves.

 

Sure, you’ll feel like you’re being intrusive, like you’re somehow invading a sacred place. You might even sense people breathing over your shoulder as you write. But don’t worry. You’ll learn that your characters enjoy writing in their diaries. It gives them the opportunity to stretch their limbs and tell you a little about themselves; maybe they’ll even feel more real and validated.

LIFE

The entries you create will definitely have an impact on your stories, even if what you write never finds its way into your narrative. Consider these entries as getting-to-know-you sessions. Never actually using the material does not make this a futile exercise.

 

On the contrary, you may find yourself on the fast track with loads of new material to work with. These people will have lives leading up to and away from your stories. You will have to write faster just to keep up with them! Now, where was I?

 

Oh yeah, ‘Dear Diary…