A Year in the Life – A Writer Reflects

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

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

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

This is how I came into two situations in 2017.

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

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

AMAZON PRINT USA

AMAZON PRINT CANADA

AMAZON KINDLE USA

AMAZON KINDLE CANADA

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A gorgeous cover and a wonderful collection of stories.

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

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

THE BREAKFAST CLUB MEETS THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When You Finish a Novel that Consumed You

There’s nothing like typing THE END at the bottom of your MSWord document. It is a distinct kind of joy and sorrow to do so. On the one hand, there is a great sense of accomplishment. On the other, you are sadly saying goodbye to great friends. It is the hug that wounds, the kiss that burns, the cut that feels so good.

After living inside the Camino de Santiago for the past month, retracing my own steps for the sake of my characters, I am exhausted-spent-exhilarated-lonely-happy-thrilled-gutted-euphoric-elated-dejected-emotional and fragile and infinite and empowered. And a few other emotions thrown in for good measure.

If you’re a novelist, you know the feeling.

My young adult novel The Walk–or The Camino Club (I cannot decide)–has been put to bed. It will be what it will be. I need to strike that pilgrimage place from my list of obsessions for a spell. The Camino itself fully consumed me while writing that novel. From watching the movie THE WAY on repeat, to listening to the same movie’s soundtrack on repeat, to reliving my own Camino experience through memories and photographs…I swear I feel like I just got back from Santiago de Compostela today. So powerful was the spell it has had on me these past weeks.

Goodbye Santiago de Compostela. I love you so much. And I love the characters I created to walk the path towards you too. Goodbye Diego, Shania, Manny, Troy, Greg, Claire, Meagan, Gilbert, Kei, Mia, Becky, AND Bastien. Buen Camino!

But there is nothing to do after finishing a novel, but to jump into the next one. Whether that be returning to a work in progress or starting something new. To dally would be to get out of the habit. So, onward. Back to the novel I began in Brussels this past May. It needs to be completed. Today, I turn the page from Spain and open a new one on Brussels. I swear, these settings are consuming me just as much as these characters.

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

Pride Must Be A Place to be Published

My 2015 Young Adult Novel, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, has found a home! It will be released on FEBRUARY 6th, 2018 by MUSEITUP Publishing. This is the publisher that published my very first novel, SUMMER ON FIRE.

 

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Pride (#PMBAP) began life as my 2015 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel. I once wrote a blog post about it and how it was originally to be wrapped up with Lorraine Segato and how that plan changed as the novel awakened during the 72 hour marathon writing weekend in which it was born. The rest of the novel was written a couple weeks after the marathon when my partner and I went up to his sister’s cottage for the week. I would write a chapter, send it to my Kindle app and he would read it while I went on to the next chapter. And we took long walks while discussing what would happen next. It was a great week of writing and editing. I was so connected to the story this way. And it turns out he’s a great editor and story-talker. We worked well together. By the end of that week, the first draft of #PMBAP was completely finished.

Prior to writing the novel, I emailed Lorraine Segato of Parachute Club regarding the lyrics of their hit song, RISE UP. I felt the need to check on the possibility of using some of the lyrics even prior to writing…because I felt them to be an important part of the story. To my surprise, the generous Segato actually phoned me and we discussed possibilities for the novel—AS CHANCE WOULD HAVE IT, literally as I made my way to Huntsville to write the novel–I pulled into a Tim Hortons about halfway to Huntsville in order to talk to her. Her feedback was so helpful…I incorporated some of her suggestions into the story. Unfortunately, I think her feedback is what started the move away from her jumping into the story around the midway point. She helped to show what she would or wouldn’t say in the scenes I envisioned. I began to adjust and change in my head. Eventually, I thought maybe I was reaching too far and that their iconic song was enough. I’m hoping now that they will grant me the permission I sought out at the time. It’s been a couple of years. Those lyrics, used sparsely, but at integral parts of the story, will be sadly missed if not there. Fingers crossed.

I will be following up with more on this publication as details are made known to me. It’s early days. The contract has been signed and the publication is slated for February, 2018. Once the cover is revealed to me, I look forward to sharing it here! So thrilled to have this one see the light of day. I certainly hope you like it!

 

 

 

 

The Monster of Passion

If you’re anything like me, your story sparks blow up while you’re trying to keep ahead of them.

Recently I began to write a short story for a contest I wished to enter. When I see local writing contests, I like to enter as a way of showing my support for the organization that is hosting them. The intention is never to place in the contest. I don’t have enough self-esteem to hope for that to happen. If it does, even better. But if it doesn’t–if I just happen to be one of the paying entrants whose money helps to support the continuation of the contest in the future–well, I’ve already won. I like that these writing opportunities exist.

I haven’t forgotten the thread of this post. It’s actually about the short story I penned for the writing contest. Or rather, it’s about what happened when I took on the spark of an idea that prompted that original short story. Perhaps it was the subject matter itself–the Camino de Santiago–but I doubt it. Because it happens a lot, no matter the subject matter. I begin to write one short story, and, like a horse in a race it begins to make its way to the finish line while I struggle to keep up with its frenetic pace. What happens next is typically what happens in a horse race. While the horse and I are tearing up the track, another more urgent horse comes barrelling up alongside us.

The second horse in this analogy, as you may have guessed, is another spark for a short story idea…which stemmed from the original. Do I get off the first horse and hop onto the second? Probably dangerous, right? It may kill my momentum and fizzle out the writing fire I’ve begun with the first story. If I try to jump to the second horse, I may fall and end up horseless.

Here’s where multi-tasking comes in to play. No…I don’t try to write both stories simultaneously. That’s like straddling both horses, and it’s almost always a catastrophe in my own personal experience. I DO jot down a few of the second story’s more pertinent sparky little details before I lose sight of them, though. I can do this while maintaining my pace with the first horse.

If you’ve ever been to the races, you’ll know there are very seldom (never) races which involve only TWO horses. Enter horse number three. If you’re feeling a bit of stress reading this and realizing that the Creative Spark Fairy is often a sadistic bastard, you’re not alone. I’ve known this for quite some time.

So there I was, writing my short story for the writing contest and knowing the deadline was RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER. I mean, at the stroke of midnight my time to submit it would be up. And a third horse came up alongside me. “Hi. Look at me. I’m another story!” I can’t hush these sparks. They demand attention. They insist that you juggle them. They want to be told. Our passions are monsters…they take hold of us in the best possible way. They make us better.

Maybe it’s a matter of being really good with a lasso? When I was 5ish I lassoed the family television and pulled it around the living room, so I happen to know that I am exceptional with a lasso. (Before you ask, yes I did get permission to do this prior to doing it. I’m not crazy. My parents, on the other hand, may very well have been. They should always pay attention when their most rambunctious child is asking them a question. Especially when he’s twirling a lasso over his cowboy hatted head while asking it. It’s like they never learned.) So, back to the horse analogy. I DID manage to stay on my first horse and race him to the finish line in time to complete and submit the original short story prior to the submission deadline. Yay, me! What I also managed to do was lasso the other two horses and get them to keep pace with me so that I could explore the sparks that created them in the first place.

After the first story was submitted, I hit the ground running with story number two. The thing about this particular subject matter was I can think of a hundred thousand stories that take place on the Camino. When I walked it, I met so many people from so many different countries. And I got snippets and tidbits of their stories while I walked. People open up on the Camino de Santiago. They whisper to fellow peregrinos some of their deepest most private thoughts. They share their lives.

So when I started that first story, about a woman walking the Camino in order to find a way back to who she was before she identified solely as a wife and a mother, more people came up to me from the deep well of creativity that the Camino inspires in me. I wrote about Helen and that second horse, Corinne came barrelling up and said, “Wait…I too have a story that you can tell.” And then a third horse, Richard, came up and pleaded, “No, tell my story.” And it just snowballed from there.

 

Images from Portomarin, Spain…one of the multitude of beautiful and inspirational places along the Camino.

Usually when this happens with a spark I do see a few projects through. But often I only use one of them. Often, it’s the original that goes out into the world. But it’s also at times the third or the fourth or the fifth story that I eventually end up using. I never consider the unused ones to be a waste of my time, though. Every spark becomes a horse race. And horse races are fun. I enjoy exploring all my options before I settle with the winning horse. And then there are the times that a subject matter possesses me so thoroughly that the topic comes up across the board in my writing life. I’ll write plays, novels, short stories and poetry from the same well. It’s the only way I know how to exhaust the well. Get all my horses to the finish line. Then and only then can I move on to the next spark that inflames my passion. This Camino race? It certainly has a lot of horses in it. I suspect this race will be off and on for the rest of my life. Its horses are strong and fierce and filled with spunk. It’s a horse race without a finish line. And I’m good with that. I have to be. I’m a peregrino.

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The Stage or the Page? Writing the Baby or the Embryo

I was recently asked the question, ‘What do you like writing for more…the stage or the page?’ My answer was simple. I didn’t even have to think about it. It was an emphatic YES!

With a gun to my head, along with the pressure of having only ten seconds to either give one up or die, I would probably use the little time I had left to say goodbye to loved ones. Admittedly, the decision is not Sophie’s Choice or anything as life or death crucial as that…but it feels that epic. It’s a choice I would never want to make.

I always say that writing for the stage is like writing a novel without having the added responsibility of working with all that clunky, incipient prose that shows up between the dialogue. That’s why I love being a playwright. I need only worry about putting words into my characters’ mouths. All the movement and action (business) can be on the director and actors to decide. All the setting can be created by the set designers. The rest of the theatre crew deal with all that prose that doesn’t have to be there on the page. At times, that feels like getting a get-out-of-jail free card. Score! I can have fun just making my characters talk!

And it’s a lot of fun. But…there’s also something missing. I absolutely love building worlds and making sure every little detail is as it should be. The reader will hear the dialogue in a novel. And that dialogue better be authentic. There’s nothing more irritating than dialogue that simply does not sound authentic. But the reader will also see the prose. How they see everything that surrounds the dialogue is up to me. I love getting that right. I would sorely miss that if all I did was write plays. Yes, a playwright works with stage direction…we do use prose outside of dialogue. We have to at least let the rest of the theatre crew know the scaffolding that surrounds the conversation. But we don’t get to visit the minutiae of the scenes we create. I love to write my novels cinematically. I write so that the story rolls out as though it were playing out on the big screen. I like to be in control of all the details. In order to do that, I need to embrace all aspects of story. I need to paint the scenes in full.

On the stage, it’s all there in front of the audience. To an extent, what they see is the playwright’s vision. But in another way, it could be diametrically opposed to the playwright’s original vision. Outside the characters on the stage, and the words they speak, most of what the audience is seeing is director, actor, and set design interpretation. This isn’t a bad thing. Playwright’s understand that they are, in a sense, giving up a lot of control when they write for the stage. That is, in fact, part of the thrill of play-writing for me. I love to see what the other people involved in my plays do with them. I love watching the actors form their characters. Ultimately, I end up loving the characters they create a lot more than the ones I sketched out. And the directors seem to know exactly where to put the business of the play. It’s an art-form to move the actors about the stage and have them perform the best possible movements at the best possible times. That’s why a good playwright will keep the stage direction to a bare minimum. They know that the next stages of the play’s development will be for others to interpret. A theatre company is a cohesive unit. A lot of work, and a lot of trust, go into making a good play.

A still from my play, Perfect Timing. From the 2013 InspiraTO Festival, performed by Liam Doherty & Jennifer Gillespie on the main stage of the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto, Ontario (June, 2013). Perfect Timing was directed by Kim Sprenger and dramaturged by MC Thompson. Photo Credit: Ismail Atiev

In the end, the difference between playwriting and novel writing comes down to collaboration. While I’m writing my novel, I want to be the director, the actors, the set designer, everything. I want to have full control. I understand that at some point an editor will come in and make crucial improvements upon my creation, but I don’t take that into consideration while I’m creating. While I’m writing my play, I have forethought. I consider that the director and actors will work with what I give them. I understand that the creation process will still evolve when I am done with the words on the page.

Ultimately, it takes a writer to create a novel and a village to create a play. So don’t ask me what I would rather do. I love the solitary world of novel writing. I love to sit down and write something and present it to the world complete. Voila! But I also love to collaborate with the wonderfully creative and talented world of the theatre. I love being a part of something that is so much bigger than me, but that ultimately starts with me. When you write a novel, you pass your fully formed baby on to the world. When you write a play, you’re passing an embryo on to doctors who will know exactly how to bring it to fruition. I’m okay with both methods. As a writer, I’m blessed to have experienced both. So take that gun away from my head. I have a novel AND a play to write.

You can catch 2 of my plays on TUESDAY AUGUST 1st from 7pm-9pm in PORT PERRY, when they are to be STAGE READ by the folks at Theatre 3×60. Click the image to visit their page and purchase tickets ($10 gets you in to see both plays read — The History of Us AND King of the Crease)

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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…

 

The Genesis of Story

Whenever I think of that place where story comes from, I always hearken back to that seminal moment in the story of Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers. I recall Roberta (Bobbi) Anderson walking in the woods with her dog, Peter.

She might have passed the spot where she stumbled once or twice or half a dozen times before, perhaps by yards, or feet, or bare inches.

This time she followed Peter as the dog moved slightly to the left, and with the path in sight, one of her elderly hiking boots fetched up against something… fetched up hard.

“Hey!” she yelled, but it was too late, in spite of her pinwheeling arms. She fell to the ground.

This is essentially the Genesis of Story, is it not? The storyteller trips over something, gets up, brushes themselves off, and investigates the thing that made them trip. That thing is the kernel of an idea. It sticks up out of the ground, just a glimmer. A storyteller bends down and tries to unearth it. At first, they have no idea whether it is a pebble or a mountain… because it is only a glimmer that sticks out above the path they have walked a thousand times. How much of it is buried beneath the surface, they do not know. That’s why they get down there and begin to dig it up. They need to know.

 

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“What’s this?”

 

“Nice going,” she said, and looked to see what she had tripped over–a fallen piece of tree, most likely, or a rock poking out of the ground. Lots of rocks in Maine.

What she saw was a gleam of metal.

She touched it, running her finger along it and then blowing off the black forest dirt.

“What’s this?” she asked Peter.

WHAT’S THIS? Is that not what the storyteller asks when they hit upon a new idea?

I ate The Tommyknockers up with a sort of rabid madness. Just as Bobbi wanted to discover what this thing was that stuck out of the ground in the woods of Maine, I too wanted to know. Only three inches of metal… only a kernel. That’s all it takes to chase a story, is it not?

Whenever I think of story, and the impetus that brings me as a writer into a new one, I think of that little tiny piece of metal sticking out of the ground. And the burning desire to get down in the dirt and dig until it is unearthed. Perhaps that’s what King was thinking about as he wrote The Tommyknockers… how well the analogy fit with his chosen path of writer. Surely, he thought that.

SPOILER ALERT!!

To put this into perspective as to how it relates to the kernel of an idea leading, hopefully to a novel… the tiny piece of metal that stuck out of the ground was an entire ship from outer-space, a crash-landed UFO. Peter walked Bobbi in a different direction one time and of all the places on the forest floor for her foot to land, it struck a minuscule piece of metal sticking up out of the ground. This was virtually an impossibility. Until it wasn’t. Her foot found that thing to trip over… JUST. This is how a story comes to a writer. Ideas fly past us all day long until we snag onto one of them and ask ourselves WHAT IF? WHY? It’s such a magical and mysterious wondrous thing. We reach into the idea we trip over and we begin the arduous task of digging it up.

The truth is, the idea is sometimes, sadly, small… a rock poking out of the ground. That’s why we don’t stop examining them as they arrive. Because we can only see the kernel. We have to dig in order to discover how far it will take us. For every hundred ideas, only one of them is a buried spaceship. Only one of them will reveal itself as an iceberg with hidden depth.

This, to me, is the beauty of being a writer… the journey of discovery, of perseverance, of determination. If I trip over something, I’m going to be like a dog with a bone. I will not stop digging until I can see what it is I’ve tripped over. These ideas are just as random as Bobbi’s foot striking down on the one precise spot in all the world where an impossible thing lay just beneath the surface of the earth. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? Being a writer and getting to explore the ideas that come your way? I suppose it could be construed, also, as a form of madness. Many might simply be annoyed to have tripped over a thing. They might pick themselves up from the ground, brush the dirt away from their pants and say, “Stupid dog!”

But us writers? We need to know. WHY? WHAT IF?

Dig…

My One-Hour Short Story – When You Know, You Know

‘Both of Helen’s feet bled steadily as she walked. She fought to ignore the blisters making a nasty soup of blood and puss in the heel of each of her merino wool socks. It was nine a.m. With each passing hour she lost a little more of her will to continue. She held on to the memory of her ex-husband’s laughter at the folly she displayed in thinking she could make this journey. She carried her daughter Meagan’s doubt, freely given when she had told her of her goal. Their lack of support was perhaps the only thing left to propel Helen forward to Santiago.’

So begins the short story that fully and completely consumed me for one hour back on March 20th when I first noticed the quickly approaching deadline for the Writers’ Community of Simcoe County‘s Word by Word Short Fiction Contest. I had mulled it over in my mind that I wanted to enter the contest, but never actually got around to writing anything for it.

The Camino de Santiago had been at the top of my mind for some time. The anniversary of my walk to Santiago de Compostela was quickly approaching (May, 2014), and I was fondly remembering the journey and watching the movie The Way (Starring Martin Sheen with cameos from the director, and his son, Emilio Estevez). I was reliving my Camino and it was looking for a creative way out.

You know when you just KNOW? The story consumed me like a fire. I may have tweeted something about a 63 year-old woman possessing my body to the #5amwritersclub crew. It was true. Helen had entered me and proceeded to furiously tell her Camino story to me. I love it when creativity of that magnitude takes hold and doesn’t let go until the end.

What I just KNEW was that I had a winner on my hands. I don’t say that to brag or to suggest that my writing is great, or even good. I say it because sometimes when you write, the honesty’s too much–oops, musical interlude. Sometimes when you write, you just know that you’re writing something honest and from the heart and meaningful.

When the hour was done and I had a short story in front of me–something to submit to the contest–I sat still for a minute. I needed a rest, I needed for that powerful 63 year-old woman to leave my suddenly exhausted body. I needed recoup time for the creativity exorcism of her departure.

And then, after she left my body, I read the story. AS MYSELF. And, you know when BRIAN, the geek from The Breakfast Club, looks over his essay and knows for certain that he has said exactly what it is he wanted to say? For me, it might be the pivotal moment of the entire movie. He reads over his work, and then he gives himself a little WAY-TO-GO tap on the arm. “YOU DID IT!”

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That’s how I felt when I read HELEN FINDS HER WAY TO AFTER, the short story I wrote for the contest.

And then I submitted it. And then, in the beginning, I fully believed it would somehow make the shortlist for the contest. I felt so great about it. Helen’s story was honest and true and difficult and wonderful. Her ‘saviour’ was a simple man who had become a little bit cosmic while spending far too much time on the Camino as a way of escaping the pain of the death of his spouse. He gently talked Helen through her last few miles to the cathedral when she thought she might not be able to walk another step. It resonated with me. I felt it might resonate with others.

As the weeks passed, of course, I convinced myself that there was no way in hell the story would make the shortlist. It meant something to me only because the Camino means so much to me. But something in the back of my mind wouldn’t let me give up on this story. The fire with which it was delivered kept burning brightly. It kept saying, “You got this. YOU DID IT!”

Come what may, I would be proud of the story. Not because of its words, but because of the way I had connected to my creative side while I wrote them. Only once in a blue moon that kind of ferocity takes over while you’re writing. You don’t recognize it while you’re IN IT, because you become not a writer but the act of writing itself. It’s when you finish that you realize magic took place. Because it’s when you finish that you come back into your body with a soft landing and realize the other you had taken over. The one that has no connections to the work-a-day life you live. The one that is connected only with creativity. You tapped into the flow so fully and completely, that you left yourself behind.

 

Some pictures from my own Camino journey ~ the most inspiring journey I’ve ever been on!

And then the shortlist was announced. I read it over two, three times. Because something told me my name would be on it. Not for my sake, but for Helen’s sake. Something told me she would make it past the finish line and carry me on her back.

Alas, my name was not on the list. And neither was Helen’s. The story that consumed me for an hour and caused me to leave myself behind had only, after all, meant something to me (and maybe to Helen, who now felt like an actual living breathing woman).

I deflated back to the ground and told myself, “See. Of course it wasn’t good enough. You have to get over this Camino obsession.”

And then another contest deadline came into my radar and I thought, ‘maybe if I just rewrite this story, or write a different Camino story, it will win the next contest. Or the next.’

So I sat down and began to write another Camino story.

And then I received an email.

Dear Kevin, 

Congratulations on making the shortlist in the Writers Community of Simcoe County’s Word by Word contest. It was a very competitive competition this year and we are thrilled to be able to offer you a place in our final five stories.

This was one of those times when I secretly thought that the universe had somehow gotten something wrong. As much as I am a total pessimist when it comes to my writing, I honestly and sincerely thought Helen should have made the list. And then that email came. It was a magical second life in the contest. I had made the shortlist because one of the original Top 5 was disqualified (it had been published elsewhere as the result of another contest).

I thought, ‘okay, I’ll take it.’ But surely that was as far as it was going to go, right? I was honoured to know now that it had made #6 in the competition. It meant that Helen actually did touch people. I could take that #6 and be happy.

Yesterday, it was announced that the contest’s final round judge, Carly Watters (Senior Agent for PS Literary), chose my short story as the 3rd Place Winner from the Top 5 stories.

You know when you just KNOW?

I am beyond thrilled with this win. Not because I won a prize. Not because it’s proof that I’m doing something right. Not because it’s a celebration of my writing. It’s for none of these things. I’m thrilled because that day back in March when Helen came into my life and furiously told her story I wanted so badly for her to be rewarded for her efforts. Sometimes creativity hits you like a truck and your job is to just keep up with it…just allow it to run its course. Helen was real for that hour…because I allowed her to be. She won this honour, not me. This win was all Helen’s doing. Thank you, Writers’ Community of Simcoe County, for giving me a reason to explore the Camino and creativity in the same breath. Thank you, Carly Watters, for seeing something in my story worthy of Top 3 placement. Thank you, Helen, for visiting me on that day when I had no inspiration and a quickly approaching deadline. And thank you, my Camino, for breathing life into Helen and allowing me to get out of the way and tell her story.

I am filled with gratitude.

 

 

 

Embracing the Genre Challenge – ID PRESS Allucinor Anthology

On the heels of another short story acceptance from ID Press, I recently reflected on how difficult it is to write in a genre that is new to me and outside my zone of comfort. The whole idea of this boutique/micro press is to explore genre…and have submissions from writers who are exploring genres which are new to them. They get their contributors to break down walls and push at the barriers of their genres of choice. I believe ID is perchance making me a better writer.

But I have been kicking and screaming every step of the way. 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 has become Do not go gentle into that new you, Old genres should burn and rave at close of page; Rage, rage against the leaving of the safe. Or something like that.

ID Press’s first anthology was all about HORROR…and the stories in it were written by those who don’t normally write it. I was thrilled to have a short story in PURGATORIUM. I waited to hear what ID Press would come up with next. And then it was announced. ROMANCE.

My first thought was, ‘Well, that’s a HORROR!”

We all have a genre or two of choice, both as readers and as writers. Some shy away from certain genres because they think they’re feeble, or silly, or too incomprehensible, or too complicated or shallow or fantastical for them. There’s really no explanation for taste. We read what we like because we like it. We write what we write because we like it. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

It’s when we are pushed beyond these boxes which we put ourselves into that the fun begins. Or horror. Or fear. Or personal expectations of failure.

I was given the genre and a deadline. And boy howdy, did I write! One thing after another. Full stories, partial stories, first lines, last lines, tidbits, thoughts, ideas, etc, etc, etc. I wrote so much. And then I gave up. My hope to finish a story by the submission deadline evaporated. There were a couple of days left and I still had nothing. Everything I attempted missed the mark. And not just missed it…I knew each time from the first word on that what I was writing was not going to be enough.

I gave up.

And then I kept thinking of those ‘sis-boom-bah’ emails I was receiving along the way, from Tobin Elliott of ID PRESS. They were little reminders of the looming deadline that served as little jagged knife wounds to the frustrated writer in me. JAB JAB JAB—2 months to deadline! POKE POKE POKE—Just 1 month left to go!

Once I gave up I began to see those emails as something softer than the harsh pokes and jabs I had originally taken them to be. I felt like they may have been badges of honour, instead. ID PRESS wanted me. I was on their radar and they invited me to submit a short story to them. How often does that happen? How often does a writer have that kind of an opportunity?

There was a day or two left to go. What could it hurt to give it one last go? I enjoyed my previous experience with this press. I wanted in. I tried to ignore my 32 previous goes at the genre. I tried not to say, I HATE ROMANCE! I mean, seriously, who can hate romance?

I released all expectation to the wind. And I hopped on a bus with a sketchpad and sat behind a girl. It was a cross-town bus.

My short story, originally over-titled as The Half-Drawn Girl on the Crosstown Bus, but which has now become The Half-Drawn Girl, will appear in ID PRESS‘s 2nd anthology of short stories—Allucinor – An Element of Romance.

What I struggled with for months came sliding onto the page almost the moment I stopped trying, worrying, second-guessing, over-thinking, questioning, fighting, genre-bashing, genre-shaming, panicking, etc.

If you write short stories, do yourself a favour. Give a new-to-you genre a spin. Just close your eyes and jump into it. Don’t overthink it. Don’t fight against the chosen genre because of your past experiences with it, or because you have biases against it. Change is growth, even in genre-writing.

This is a thank you note of sorts, because I love that I was pushed to the brink of I CANNOT DO THIS! by Tobin Elliott and the rest of the folks at ID PRESS. They helped me to grow as a writer…to push beyond my perceived abilities and look beyond genre. I look forward to seeing this anthology in the flesh. All the little worlds it will hold…a new one with each and every short story contained within its covers. Anthologies are magical that way, aren’t they. So many different trails to wander.

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Pat, Connie, Dale, and Tobin – ID PRESS (The dark and scary Horror filter shot)

Thank you, ID PRESS. I needed the push onto that bus.

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PURGATORIUM is still available! Pick it up today on Amazon or Kobo.

 

 

Slacker Writers of the World – Don’t Unite. Just STOP Slacking

I have had an odd uncomfortable feeling roiling just under the surface of my consciousness for a while now. I need to own something or I will never work my way past it. I am a lazy writer.

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Meg?

There. I said it.

To be honest, I have probably said it a hundred different ways in various posts on this very blog. But I am so lazy that I can’t even just come out and say something. Beating around the bush is one of my specialties. In fact, it’s probably one of my Super-Powers. Avoidance is the other Super-Power that makes me the particular breed of Superhero of Awesome that I happen to be.

I just recently reached out to a writer I admire (if she’s reading this, she knows that by recently I mean in the last couple of days) for some advice. I asked for her advice because I know she is a diligent, competent, and dedicated writer. I know she can take a FANTASTIC novel and completely rewrite it based on feedback and marketability considerations. I’ve seen her do it. I’ve seen what I thought was a remarkable fantastic amazing incredible book agented and contracted by a publisher—and then, miraculously, dissected and completely rewritten to be something other than the book that was originally written.

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Perhaps, I should first consider a more convenient pose while writing?

In essence, this writer has written 2 great novels…and because she is courageous and UNLAZY, she was able to hunker down and reconstruct her novel.

I, on the other hand, cannot re-imagine my work–because I don’t invest anything into it during my first draft stage. Sometimes, I have to admit, I haven’t really even read my work from cover to cover prior to publication. This is NOT to say it doesn’t go through various editing stages. Every one of my novels have been edited and edited and edited. By me, then by critique groups and friends, then by my agent, then by my publisher. But I don’t REALLY connect with my work the way I should. I don’t KNOW it enough to get into the thick of it and do MAJOR edits–story changes, plot removals and additions. I don’t consider plot…I just WRITE THE STORY.

I am lazy. I should realize that the next level isn’t something I will get to merely because I want to get to it. It’s going to take effort, work…blood, sweat and tears. This is not something I really invested into my work to date. I write like the ending is the goal…just get it out because I don’t like the taste of it and I want the meal to be over. I want to throw the dishes into the dishwasher and be done with it. And move on to the next mediocre meal.

That sounds like I don’t love what I do. But I assure you, it’s not the case. I love writing. I love finding out what happens next. I love discovering. I just don’t know how to put effort into something after I’ve discovered it. I don’t know how to UN-discover a story—and change it to make it a better story.

I asked this writer friend of mine for advice–I’ll call her MEG (oh my god, I’m clever!)–because I knew/know how capable she is of doing the parts of writing that I’ve been failing at. Writing isn’t just WRITING DOWN THE BONES and washing your hands of the efforts. Writing is taking the bones and wrapping them with flesh, rearranging the bones into a prettier body. Meg has done this with glowing results. I wanted to tap into that wisdom. And she was gracious enough to offer advice.

Today, I’m going to try to take that advice…and the advice she didn’t really know she was giving. The BIG PICTURE advice she offered simply by showing me that YOU MUST CONSIDER THE BIG PICTURE. You need to step back from your story and analyze it. Imagine that! I’ve been so remiss. I hope I can somehow turn over a new leaf and start working more diligently. Story isn’t scaffolding. Scaffolding should only be used when you’re working on the facade of the story. You need more finesse than that once you get the structure down pat and begin to work on the interior. The interior needs to shine. And the finished result cannot show the scaffolding. What reader wants to look at your lazy unquestioned unexplored scaffolding when they open your book to read a completely realized story?

I expect more than that. It’s my duty as a writer to deliver more than that.

Thank you, Meg. I knew I could count on you for an honest critique and assessment.