The Marathon Man

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. A man who never reads lives only one.
George R. R. Martin

I have a confession to make. I’m having a hell of a time trying to write something that I hope will be persuasive enough to make you care about someone you don’t know and will never meet.

Back in 2012, I was convinced–okay, I had my arm twisted behind my back and make to pinky swear–to take part in the Muskoka Novel Marathon.

I’ll explain this briefly, because every year I have someone ask me how I train for a run of this magnitude, or how many kilometers the run is, or something else along those lines. So, to be clear. I don’t run. Hell, most of the time I don’t even walk. When I participate in the three-day Novel Marathon, I plant my sorry ass in a chair, apply fingers to keyboard, and I write. I write as much as I can.

I’ve done this four times previously. So, this year marks a half-decade of me participating in this event.

That’s not the important part.

Over the past four years, I’ve raised probably somewhere around $5000 in donations from some incredibly generous people. I’ve done well, because I know awesome people.

But that’s not the important part, either.

That money that I raised, along with the 30-odd other writers, all goes toward Adult Literacy programs for the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka. So, when everyone says something like, Wow, good for you! Three days of writing? That’s tough!


Colum and his spirit animal.

I disagree. I’m surrounded by a group of other like-minded writers, all supporting each other as we plug away at our stories. There’s an even more dedicated group of volunteers that support us, ensuring we’re fed, we’re warm enough or cool enough, and that we’re happy.

Yeah, I’m in a room for three days in the beautiful town of Huntsville when I could be enjoying the outdoors, but it’s not tough. Not by a long shot.


The MNM 2015 participants

What’s tough is being an adult, maybe a mother or a father, a husband or wife, and summoning the courage to walk into a building and admit to someone that you can’t read well enough, and need help. That can’t be easy.

It’s likely also not an easy task being one of the people who then help that person to improve their skills enough to do what they want to do. Maybe it’s to better read labels when shopping. Maybe it’s to better read labels on prescriptions. Maybe it’s to read well enough to help their kid with their homework.

It’s doesn’t matter what it’s for. What matters is that their is enough support for these literacy programs when someone comes calling. Because imagine summoning the courage to admit that you can’t read to someone, then being turned away.

It would be like calling 911 and being put on hold.

I’m struggling with this message, because I feel like I’ve said it all before. I could tell you about all the successes I’ve seen by being involved with the MNM. I could tell you about the wonderful woman who was once one of those who needed some help to improve and has now, for the past four years, participated as a writer in the marathon. I could tell you a lot of things. Instead, I’ll just ask a small indulgence: if you’ve read this far, I’ll ask you to stop here, just for a moment and consider…

Did you struggle with any of the words?

Did you wonder at the meaning of the message?

Did you recognize each letter?

Think about that for a moment. Go ahead. I’ll even give you some space to do so.




Now, you’ve likely realized that you take reading for granted. It’s like being able to breathe, to see, to hear. You don’t think about it. You just do it. It’s easy, right?

Not for a large section of people. Well over 40% of Canadians deal with some level of illiteracy.

Imagine if you had to concentrate, to really have to focus on breathing.

And if you feel anything for those that deal with this, I’ll ask you to please consider donating to the cause. You can do that here. Don’t think there’s an amount that’s too small. If you donate, I’m happy, no matter what the amount.

And if you can’t donate at this time, I understand. Each of us has our own causes that are near and dear to us. There’s so many things broken in this world and there’s only so much money to go around. But even if you don’t donate, I appreciate you taking the time to read this far. And if you did read this far, appreciate the gift that someone else gave you.

Because reading is a gift.


Donate to Tobin here.

Find out more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon here.

Find out more about how the Literacy programs helped one person to write here.

Read my previous blogs about this here (2015), here (2013), and here (2012).

Cover Reveal: Burn Baby Burn Baby by Kevin Craig

Not one of my normal blogs, but this is important. Kevin Craig, fellow writer, fellow MNMer, fellow WCDRer, friend, and all around excellent guy, has a new book coming out. This is something special and you should take notice:

Curiosity Quills is excited to reveal the cover for contemporary, young-adult Burn Baby Burn Baby, by Kevin Craig, which is due for release December 11, 2014. The cover was designed by CQ managing partner Eugene Teplitsky.

Burn Baby Burn 1000About Burn Baby Burn Baby:

Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago. Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley—the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby.

The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars. If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions. Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted. Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.

Pre-order Burn Baby Burn Baby from Amazon.

Add Burn Baby Burn Baby to your Goodreads ‘to-be-read’ list.

Kevin Craig - Author picAbout The Author:

Kevin Craig is the author of three previous novels; Summer on Fire, Sebastian’s Poet, and The Reasons. He is a 4-time winner of the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s Best Novel Award. Kevin is also a playwright and has had eight 10-minute plays produced. His poetry, short stories, memoir and articles have been published internationally. Kevin was a founding member of the Ontario Writers’ Conference and a long-time member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR). He is represented by literary agent Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group.

Find Kevin Craig Online:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Books that changed my life: 06 – Cyborg

Note: This blog originally appeared on

This is the sixth in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.

Click on the titles to read the others

01 – Chariots of the Gods?
02 – Rocket Ship Galileo / Space Cadet
03 – The Illustrated Man
04 – Childhood’s End
05 – Rendezvous With Rama

After digging into the lighter SF of Heinlein and Bradbury, then going through Arthur C. Clarke’s brand of SF, known more as Hard SF because the science was more accurate, I found I preferred it for the most part.

Of course, SF has been known to stand not just for Science Fiction, but also for Science Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction. The difference is, those last two seemed to downplay the science. I liked my science. The more the better. So, I found myself casting about for more hard stuff.

Steve Austin - The Six Million Dollar ManThen in March, 1973, I watched a movie that knocked my socks off. It was The Six Million Dollar Man. For those old enough to remember the television series that ran for five years, no, this initial offering didn’t deliver the same amount of cheese the series eventually did. You saw no signs of Bigfoot here.

Jaime Sommers - The Bionic WomanInstead, Steve Austin was a little darker, somewhat James Bondish…at least in my four decades removed memory. I instantly fell in love with the character and the two subsequent movies. Then, in January of 1974, Steve Austin got his own series. Then Jaime Sommers got her own series with The Bionic Woman. Then Farrah Fawcett starred on the show. I was in frigging heaven.Farrah Fawcett as...ah, who cares, it was friggin' Farrah!

But I digress.

I was learning to be watchful of certain phrases, or key lines on my television screen. And I saw, with this series, something to the effect of “Based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin.

There was a book? Hot damn! I immediately sought it out and, of course, with the popularity of the series, it wasn’t hard to find.

And what I got was a technically more accurate bionic man. A cyborg, or cybernetic organism. I can’t tell you how much I loved that term.

CyborgThe first half of the book detailed Lt. Col. Steve Austin’s horrific crash in a test flight gone wrong, leaving him with just his right arm. And it detailed the operations that then provided him with a new arm, two legs, a camera hidden in his missing eye, a steel skull plate and a radio transmitter built into a rib. The camera did not help Austin see, so none of that boopboopboopboopboop zoom vision the show is famous for, but he could remove it and take pictures. And he also had a finger that he could twist to arm a poison dart to shoot at someone. How cool is all that?

What he didn’t have was the super-strength of the show. So, no lifting a car with that arm (because it would crush the still-only-bone vertebrae in his back), and no running at 60 mph (because, yeah, anyone that’s stuck their head out of a car moving that fast knows what a bitch it is to breathe…and to keep that perfect Lee Majors hairstyle).

So, he wasn’t necessarily the superman they portrayed on television. And I wasn’t disappointed at all. In fact, I preferred the literary Steve Austin. Not only was he more accurate, but he was a lot darker. He would kill without concern. And he got the women. In fact, when he’s teamed with an experienced female operative (who’s also hot) and she demands to know if he can still function sexually, then beds him to remind him he’s still human, well, my little twelve-year-old brain pretty much fried its circuits.

But really, that’s what the book was about. What makes us human? When much of a human is replaced by machinery, can they still be considered human? The title of the novel was Cyborg, not Human With Some Machine Parts. And the story is about how Steve Austin learns to first deal with, then finally accept the new limbs–and the new abilities–he has. He adapts to a new normal.

How did this book change my life?

Cyborg taught me that a lot of the stuff they threw at me on television was junk compared to the source material. Don’t get me wrong, I still watched every single episode of every bionic person on television through the Seventies. Even when they had Bigfoot. Even when they had William Shatner turn into the world’s smartest man. Even when they had Barney Miller, the Seven Million Dollar Man. Even when they brought in the bionic dog.

I watched it all and loved it all.

But not as much as the book.

And Caidin also eased me into stories involving covert ops.

But most of all, he was the first one to give me a story wrapped around the paradox of being a man in a mostly machine body. Something that would come to be explored again and again, through stories like Robocop (the original movie, not the crap sequels or remake), and even, to a point, Iron Man.

And while this was mostly an adventure novel with a science fiction heart, it was also very much an adult novel. Yes, so were the ones I read by Bradbury and Clarke, but I understood all of this one. I got it all. I caught the nuance. I understood the central who am I? question.

And not only did I understand it all and get the core premise…Caidin wrapped it up in a novel that I enjoyed the hell out of. So much so, I went on to read a ton of his other stuff, mostly enjoying it all as well.

So, this book changed my life because, for the first time, I felt I could read adult novels, and not just ones that were science fiction. I had enjoyed this book, even the second half where he was a spy in the Middle East. If I could enjoy that, what else was out there, just waiting to crawl into my mind?Martin Caidin

Though I’d previously had the universe opened to me, I realized now it was a universe with a very narrow science fiction path. This one opened a side door and let me see into an entirely different world. By taking the science fiction aspect and, instead of travel to a planet or distant star, Caidin instead looked inward to what it meant to be a man, to be human. He made it personal again.

Thank you, Martin.

Did you ever read something that changed your life?

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been able to read those words? What if you couldn’t read? How different would your life be?

What if you couldn’t read Facebook status updates? What if you couldn’t read well enough to Google whatever you need to know? What if you couldn’t read to your kids? What if you couldn’t read a street sign? What if you couldn’t read the instructions on the pill bottle? What if you couldn’t fill out that job application?

What if you couldn’t read?

I’m the person I am now because I can read. I couldn’t imagine a life without a constant influx of words to entertain me, to irritate me, to make me laugh and make me cry.

But I know there’s many out there, and I’m trying to help them. Please, if you read and enjoyed this blog, or if it made you think back to a book that changed your life, please consider helping me help those who are trying to read.

I’m participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event where 40 writers try and write as much as they can, while raising money to fund Literacy and Numeracy programs for adults in the Simcoe/Muskoka area. And the program works.

One of the lucky people who went through their literacy program has now joined our group as a writer. How often can you donate money and look at the walking, talking, reading and writing result?

Any amount is sincerely appreciated.

To find out more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, click here.
To donate, click here.

Please. Help me change someone’s life through reading.

Muskoka Novel Marathon donation page - just click on the pic

Muskoka Novel Marathon donation page – just click on the pic

Save money on my courses for the rest of this year!


To help me get more donations for the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event held each year to raise money for adult literacy programs in the Simcoe/Muskoka area, I’m offering a way for anyone planning to take one of my Creative Writing courses any time in 2014 to save some money.

Here’s, quite simply, how it works.

1 – Choose an amount you’d like to donate, from $10 up to $100.

2 – Make the donation at this link.

3 – Once done and the amount is confirmed, email me here and let me know which course (Spring/Summer, or Fall). I will count double the amount you donated toward the Spring/Summer 2014 or Fall 2014 Creative Writing course.

So, just to make that clear:

  • If you donate $10, you’ll save $20 on the course.
  • Donate $50, save $100.
  • Donate $100, save $200.

How can you lose?

Note: The Spring/Summer course starts May 14. The Fall course will start around mid-Sept 2014.

Note: I reserve the right to stop this promotion at any time with no notice. I will, however, honour any donations made to that point.