Are you reading me?

The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

– Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

I am roughly ten weeks away from participating in my fourth Muskoka Novel Marathon. For those that don’t know, no this is not a marathon in which I run. Instead, I sit on my butt for as much of the 72 hours my butt can handle, and I write.

What am I doing? I’m trying to write as much of a novel as I can. I usually do somewhere between 150 and 250 pages.

Why do I do this to myself? That’s a fair question, because at the end of the four days (it runs from 8:00 pm Friday to 8:00 pm Monday), I’ve immersed myself into a world of my own creation, I’ve eaten far too much sugar, I’ve slept far too little, and I’m wrung out, physically, emotionally, spiritually. So why do I do it every year?

I write so that others can read.

Some history is likely appropriate here.

Five things have really led to me not only participating in the MNM, but also being a passionate champion of all that they accomplish.

1 – The first is obvious. I write stories. But the other four you may or may not know about.

2 – The second is, way back in the early 80s, when I was in Durham College, one of my courses was a computer literacy course. If memory serves, we were working on Wang computers with big 5″ floppy disks. You know, the kind of floppy disk that actually was floppy.


Anyway, one of our assignments was to write something. I can’t remember the details of the assignment, but we had to write something. Might even have been the lyrics to a favourite song, I don’t know. I remember labouriously typing out…something. Might have taken me a half hour or so.

But there was a girl in the class. She’d always been rather quiet, drew no attention to herself. She could draw, and hell, we were taking Graphic Design, so she was in the right course.

On this day, as I did my hunt-and-peck with two fingers, I remember seeing her pull the Led Zeppelin 4 album–yes, the record album, not the CD, this was the early 80s–out of a bag and open up the gatefold cover. Inside, I knew, were the lyrics to the biggest song on the album, Stairway To Heaven. I remember thinking at the time, man, doesn’t everyone have those lyrics memorized?


She did. But she was functionally illiterate. So, letter by painstaking letter, she had to go to the printed lyrics, then go to her keyboard and search for that squiggle that matched the other, then key it. Then move on to the next.

Almost 1400 times. Imagine that.

It was due to this course that her inability to read and write at even a basic level was discovered. She soon left the course. I don’t know what happened to her.

3 – The third thing was probably, in part, in relation to that college experience. I was recently married, no kids, with some time on my hands. I saw a call for literacy tutors and I signed up. We had to go through a training course, and it was an eye-opener. The two things that really stuck with me were that my general impression of someone who was illiterate was completely false: I pictured the homeless people hanging out downtown. What I was shown was that it was people just like me. People with jobs, some menial, some at higher positions than me. I heard the story of an illiterate CEO that blew my mind.

The other thing that really stuck with me was when one of the instructors flashed the letter b and asked us to name it. Then he flashed a q. Then a p. Then a d. But it was what he did next that opened my mind a bit. He took off his watch, held it up and asked us to name it. Then he rotated it 90 degrees. Of course, we still said “watch”. Rotated it 180 degrees. Still a watch.

“So why,” he said, “do we expect people to look at a watch differently when it’s rotated than we do letters?” And it showed me that this reading thing that I took completely for granted was a tougher problem than I’d ever given it credit for.

I tutored a young man briefly. In that time, I found out he could correctly identify about 18 letters of the alphabet. He really couldn’t read at all, counting on pictures, or trusting strangers to help him out. He wasn’t stupid. In fact, he was likely smarter and much more creative at problem solving than I was. I definitely learned more from him than he ever did from me. And by the way, both his parents were high school teachers.

4 – The fourth thing occurred a few years later. My daughter was born and took to reading much as I had, very quickly and with apparent ease. My son, however, seemed to struggle with it. When we moved to a new house and a new school district, we eventually got a call from his teacher. She’d been concerned with his facility with numbers and letters and reading and told us he was far behind the other kids.

I still remember the absolute fear that clutched at my heart when I heard this. My entire life had been enriched because I could read. At the time we got this news, I made my living from reading and responding to written correspondence from customers. I read for pleasure. I actually wrote stories for pleasure. And there was a distinct possibility that my son might have a reading disability.

Thankfully, the school had an incredible program and, in the span of a few very short months, were able to report that my son had made such progress, through both their efforts and through the homework that my wife and I diligently went through with my son, that he could leave the program. The kid that had been “far behind” the other kids was now reading at a Grade Five level. He was in Grade One.

But I never forgot that fear that I felt.

5 – Then I joined the Muskoka Novel Marathon. And the first year I was there, I met a wonderful woman named Nora. And she is the fifth and final key to my passion for literacy.

Nora had gone through the literacy program that the MNM raises funds for each year. She came in and met some of the writers as she was considering participating in the MNM the following year. She was a little shy, but her big smile cut through any barriers and we all felt we’d made a new friend by the time she left.

And the following year, she participated. And she has participated ever since.

Imagine that. Think back to that person I talked about that had to hunt and peck out Stairway To Heaven. Think about someone like that who might benefit from a literacy program so much that they have the confidence to sit side-by-side with thirty-nine other writers. And write. Personally, I have to admit that, even though I knew about the MNM since about 2002, it took another ten years for me to get the courage up to actually sign up. Nora did it a hell of a lot sooner. She’s a lot more courageous that I’ll ever be.

Whenever I find myself sitting in front of the keyboard thinking, I’m tired. Or, I should pack it in for a while, I look over and I see Nora, either writing away at her own computer, or smiling as she talks to someone. Then I turn back to my own keyboard and I keep writing.

I write for Nora. I write for that girl from thirty years ago that laboriously typed out Stairway To Heaven, character by character. I write for that young man that had to shop by looking at the pictures on the labels and counting on the trustworthiness of the cashiers to give him back the right change.

I write for my son and what might have been.

I write so that others can read.

But to do that, I need to ask for donations, and I’m really not good at that.

So, if you’ve read this far, and if something I might have written above touched you…touched you because you could actually read the words…then I ask that you click on this link and then on the Donate Now button. Donate any amount. It’s all appreciated.

And if you don’t trust the computer donation process, reach out to me at tobin(dot)elliott(at)bell(dot)net and we’ll work something out.

Thank you. For reading.

Books that changed my life: 04 – Childhood’s End

Note: This blog originally appeared on

This is the fourth 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

After discovering both Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, it felt like someone had applied the jaws of life to my brain, cracking it open and filling it with all sorts of science fictiony goodness. It didn’t take long to start discovering other SF geniuses.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey

And the next one was a doozy. Arthur C. Clarke. Though I hadn’t realized it, I was already slightly aware of Clarke’s works, through the 2001: A Space Odyssey movie, that infamous Kubrick/Clarke collaboration. My father had taken me to see it at the Regent Theatre in Oshawa on one of our weekend visits. I would have been a hair over five years old at the time…which shows you how much my father’s decision-making skills were impaired by that time. Who the hell takes a five-year-old to 2001?

Still, he did. I kinda didn’t get the whole monkeys part at the time, and the ending completely eluded me (still does). But that middle hour? Hell, that was cool. Spaceships!

Childhood's End

Childhood’s End

So, now, about six years after that, I stumbled on a battered paperback copy of Childhood’s End and, I looked through the first few pages to see if he’d written anything else–the best resource a pre-teen had to look for additional works, because I always hated those funky little library drawers filled with books all catalogued by the Dewey Decimal System. Back then, I counted myself lucky if I found the SF section. The Dewey Decimal System was as much a mystery as…well, as the ending to 2001.

Glancing through the list of the author’s other works, I saw 2001. Well, that was enough for me. This would be my next brain-blaster.

Childhood’s End had all the earmarks of what I would consider a classic story at the time: Aliens (and, though they were somewhat menacing, overall, they were here to help us. And that was cool in its own right), and kids who changed, who evolved, who became greater than their parents and greater than the sum of their parts. Oh, and the end of the human race as we knew it.

Now, I’ll admit that my first reading of the novel left me more than a little confused. It had some racially-charged moments when the Overlords stepped in to stop the reverse Apartheid in South Africa. And there was the whole Ouija board thing that signaled the change of the children was coming. As well, the entire end where the children transformed and left the earth on a burning column to join the Overmind confused the hell out of me.

Still, I knew I was reading something important. Something fantastic.

How did this book change my life?

Unlike Bradbury, Clarke dealt a little less with the people and a lot more with the big concepts Extraterrestrial beings that oversaw the evolution of entire planets’ civilizations. Travel not to the Moon or Mars, but to planets 40 light-years away.

Hell, this was when I figured out what a light-year was (the distance one travels over the course of a year while traveling at the speed of light. It works out to about 6 trillion miles or a hair under 10 trillion kilometers).

He also dealt with the end of the world. The end of mankind and its ascension to the stars. This was big stuff.
arthur-c-clarkeSo, for those keeping score, Erich Von Däniken gave me a good bullshit radar, more of a life skill than anything, but still… Then Robert A. Heinlein gave me adventure. Ray Bradbury helped me understand the deeper emotions and the human condition. Each one gave me a sense of wonder, but each one kept it mostly relegated to our solar system.

But Clarke gave me the universe. He gave me aliens that were actually alien, not human-like people that came from another planet. Later on, he fired my mind again when I read one of his many famous quotes: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

He stretched my mind. He actually stretched it more than it could actually go, because, as I said, I simply didn’t get all of what he was saying. But it didn’t stop me from trying, and it just made me go to other areas of the library to look some of the stuff up. Like what a light year was. But he’d stretched my mind, my imagination so wide that it never came back to its original shape. I was now open to a hell of a lot more and wanted to learn more so I could understand more.

So, he also gave me a real thirst for knowledge. Knowledge of any sort.

Thank you, Arthur.


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.

Left to Write – Tutoring, Writing & Editing Services

I’ve decided to break out and start offering my services for editing and one-on-one mentoring.  As well, I’m offering a 12-week Creative Writing Course through Trent University’s Oshawa Campus.  The course starts Jan 11, 2012 and you can look up to the top of this page and click on Creative Writing Services, or you can look to your top right and use the links under the Be a better writer heading.  Or, if you’re already sold and want to sign up, you can click here.

I’ll keep this up as a semi permanent banner, so always look for my newest blog just above this one…

This is Tobin Elliott – Station Identification 2


I’m Tobin.  I’m trying to figure out how the heck a blog that’s been averaging around 30 hits a day for the past two weeks suddenly gets a monster whack of hits the last two days.  I didn’t expect to cross 6000 views for a few more weeks…

"It's but a flesh wound!"

Anyway, I’m responsible for this blog, so if you don’t like what you read, blame the face above. I published a novella called VANISHING HOPE that had gotten a lot of positive reviews.  You can check it out by clicking on the links in the box just to the right and up a bit.  Go ahead, check it out.  I’ll wait.

Back now?  Lovely.  I also have a novel, NO HOPE, which should be published around end of summer 2012.  It’s a sequel to VANISHING HOPE, but it’s also a full-length novel. 

I’m also a proud member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region and a board member for the fledgling Writers’ Community of Simcoe County.  

I’m on LinkedIn.  I’m on Twitter.  I’m on Facebook.  Ya can’t miss me…as ZZ Top says, “I’m bad, I’m nationwide.”

I also have a real job as a Communications Specialist for a large telecom firm.

I write about writing.  I write about morons.  I write about my family.  I write about stupid things that have happened to me in the past.  I write about life in general.  I write about other things too.  Sometimes I do a few of them all at the same time.

So anyway, that’s me and a little about this blog.  Let me know if you hate it/love it/are completely indifferent to it.

Thanks for coming out.