How We Decided to Walk the Camino and Write the Book

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How We Decided to Walk the Camino and Write the Book

The decision to walk the Camino was made a long time ago.  I suppose it begins in the early 1960s, in the basement of our modest row house in a working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, where my father, a police officer in New York City, has been assigned to a Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Brooklyn.  He wants to communicate with the people of his precinct and purchases several Spanish language records.  When my father is home from work, I follow him around, sometimes spending time with him while he practices Spanish.  He urges me to listen to the record and repeat the words.  I particularly remember liking the sound of and saying the name “Isabel.”  

“It means Elizabeth, son, try it again.”  

I began falling in love with the language, chose to study it in high school and saved enough money from part-time job in my junior year to travel to Spain on a class trip.  This love of all things Spanish continued like a domino effect—meeting Spanish students in Madrid who would become my pen pals for life, making Spanish my major in college and returning to Spain for a Junior Year Abroad.

In the early 1970s, I read James Michener’s iconic book about Spain Iberia where I became aware for the first time of the sacred and historical pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain otherwise known as the Camino or The Way.  In the mid-1980s on a visit to Spain, my wife, Aurora, and I rented a car in Madrid, driving through the serpentine roads through the mountains into Galicia where we visited the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.  It was late fall—cold, rainy, and dark with heavy clouds.  We recalled few, if any pilgrims, arriving on that day.  

When we had children, Aurora and I began hiking and realized our love for the outdoors.  In every state we lived, and there were many, we made it a point to hike and climb to the highest point—in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, New Mexico and finally California. 

But it wasn’t until the actor Martin Sheen and his son, Emilio Estevez, made the Camino movie, The Way in 2012 did we decide to add the Camino to our bucket list.  It seemed like a no-brainer—a challenging 500-mile hike for a pair of practicing Catholics in a country we both loved.  In 2016, a number of events would prove to be the catalyst which launched us on our way.  We found ourselves in Mexico doing volunteer work with our church group and who should show up to help us but the gifted and generous actor, Martin Sheen.  Martin was thrilled to talk to us about his Camino movie and encouraged us to go.  Two inspirational priests we had known also completed their Caminos—one of them by bicycle.  In our early 60s, we knew it would become increasingly difficult to do if we waited.  In late 2016, we decided it was time and began making preparations for a spring 2017 journey.

Writing the Book

Truth be told, I have been writing since I was a child.  I fell in love with Ray Bradbury and Jack London and began writing science fiction and adventure stories.  I continued writing in high school, in college and then did travel articles for a local newspaper in Long Island, New York and an English language newspaper in Saudi Arabia where I once lived and worked.  I toyed with the idea of one day writing a book.  

The book, It’s Your Camino: One Couple’s 500-mile Pilgrimage Across Spain, pretty much wrote itself.  I was so taken with our fellow pilgrims on the Camino and inspired by their motivation, I decided to do a series of short stories which, when I returned, were compiled into a manuscript adding details from my research.  I could not have written this book without the help of my Basque friend, Josu, one of the pen pals from my high school trip to Madrid.  Josu was a fountain of knowledge about the Camino and its history and I eagerly tapped into his expertise.  

I also reached out to two writers, Anne R. Allen, an author-blogger and author Elizabeth Macalaster, who readily provided this new author some sage advice on writing and self-publishing.  As per Anne’s advice, I joined a writing club where my work was constructively critiqued by several authors.  This proved invaluable especially receiving suggestions from a screen writer/author from Los Angeles who had also completed the Camino.  His advice and mentorship was essential and, without it, the book would not have been the same.

I pretty much locked myself away in my room for four months (I occasionally emerged from the room to get some sun) working several hours a day until I had completed the book.  I re-connected with Martin Sheen who read my manuscript and called me to say he “loved” the story. He asked me, ” Is there anything I can do do to help promote it. 

You can imagine my reply. 

Ken Strange

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