Wednesday, August 15, 2018

“Constant Companion” by Renuka Raja



“It waits in the shadows, circling in silence,” his sister whispers.

They are sitting on the floor of his room, in the dark. Chandru knows she is lying to him. She must be.

“It waits patiently for years once it has found suitable prey, keeping its one bloody eye affixed on the target’s back at all times.  Following you, hoping – praying – for that day.” His sister’s voice goes even lower. He knows she is trying to be dramatic. He still gulps, struggling to find his voice.

“For what day?” he mumbles, because though he suspects she’s trying to scare him, he is still morbidly curious.

“The day you die,” she replies a matter-of-factly.

His stomach drops.

“It waits for the moment that last breath leaves your body so it can feast on your soul.”

This sounds ridiculous.

She shrugs. “I’m just telling you what I heard. You know Rita’s uncle? He told her that he saw the creature when their grandfather died. And then he died, a few months later.”

“How come Rita didn’t see it then?”

“Because,” his sister gets up from the floor, “you only see a chatthan if you’ve been chosen as its prey.”

Convenient. He frowns as his sister retreats to her own room. “Good night, squirt.” she mumbles, pulling the squeaky door of his room closed.

He flinches as the sounds cuts through the silence of room. He climbs onto his bed and under the covers, eyes darting across the room and lingering on the shadows.

He knows she is lying to him. But he can’t help the way his heart races and how he searches in the dark for a white figure with one eye, relieved when he does not see anything.

# # #

Chandru’s stomach drops when he sees the large, red ‘F’ on the top of his test. This is far worse than his sister’s ghost.

“Oh crap,” Ananya whispers when she spots his mark over his shoulder. He throws a glance at her paper – a D – not much better but at least a passing grade.

“It was good knowing you,” he sighs, cramming the pages into his backpack. “By tomorrow, my mother will have snuffed out my existence. You can have my prized soccer trophy.”

“Who wants that garbage? I want your skateboard.” She’s smiling, pushing her glasses into place. But the smile slides away as she looks down at her own test. “I mean, I’m unlikely to survive the night too, you know.”

“Probably true.” He aims his forced grin at her, bumping their shoulders together as they walk out of the classroom. His palms are sweaty and the lead in his stomach becomes heavier with each step he takes. He knows his mother will find out eventually. Might as well be brave and face his fears and all that.

It goes abysmally.

“I should have never bought you that skateboard!” and “It’s all because you waste so much time in the park instead of studying,” with some “Your siblings were never like this,” and with a dose of “Those kids you hang out with are such a bad influence.”

She does not scream. She just moans for the entire night. It is much worse this way, in his opinion (which obviously, no one asks for).

His gaze is resolutely fixed on the ground. He cannot meet her eyes. No matter how many times he hears it, her anger and her disappointment terrify him.

# # #
 

Chandru hides in his parents’ walk-in closet, his fear today more physical. Footsteps approach. His brother makes no effort to hide his rage, stomping into the room in search of him.

Why is it that when his brother is doing disappointing things his mother is never around?

“I told you not to touch my stuff, Chandru!” His brothers words are partly muffled by the their his father’s long coats which share the closet with Chandru.

He rubs his clammy palms on his shorts, trying to control his breathing as best as possible. He twitches his nose at the musty smell of the fur on the jacket he’s pressed against. He prays his urge to sneeze will subside.

And all this for a lousy cricket ball.

He waits for the inevitable moment his brother throws open the closet door.

But nothing happens. 

Miraculously, he hears the sounds of his brother receding. An errant yell sounds – an inquiry made to the other occupants of the house about the youngest troublemaker.

Chandru swallows. It’s time he made his escape.

He extracts himself from between the coats, cracks the door open to peek outside. The coast is clear.

He swings the door wide open and bolts out. Only to run straight into his brother – his brother, who is the picture of anger incarnate.

Chandru skids on the hardwood floor, his feet screeching from the friction. He twists out of his brother’s flailing reach and takes off towards the living room at full speed.

“Come back, you little brat!” His brother yells from behind him. But Chandru already knows he’s won – what he lacks in strength, he makes up with speed. His brother does not stand a chance.

As he bursts through the wide-open front door, he cannot help but embrace, with a loud whoop, the mixture of fear and euphoria coursing through him.

# # #

Fear is a strange thing, Chandru thinks as he stares down the dark path ahead of him.

Is it his mother he fears most, for staying out later than his curfew? Or is it that he fear his sister’s ghost may haunt the broken-down house in front of him? No, it’s definitely his brother’s rage if her can’t find his prized cricket ball.  

Chandru presses between the wooden boards as silently as he can, coming to a full stop at the sight of the overgrown backyard.

How in the world is he supposed to find the stupid ball in this jungle? The only light comes from the distant street lamp. The stars glimmer in the distance, the absence of the moon starkly noticeable.

Cursing at himself and his brother (because what is the point of his brother even having a ball if no one can play with it), Chandru makes his way in, flinching at the crunch of grass underneath his sneakers. He sifts between the tall green stalks, keeping one eye on the back door of the old house.

He is so sure the ball landed in this corner of the yard. He chances another look at the door. He freezes.

The door is open. A second ago it was closed.

He sinks to ground – the grass hides him well enough. He waits, the blood pounding in his ears. The doorway remains empty.

Inch-by-inch he rises.

Still no one. Interesting.

Maybe – maybe the door was always open and he didn’t notice? He wonders if someone found the ball. Maybe he should knock.

Taking a deep breath, he straightens up and moves towards the entrance.

Every step he takes feels wrong. A rising horror fills his chest as he approaches.

He almost turns back. Only, he has made it this far. How can he return empty-handed to his brother?

Damn his sister and her silly stories. As for his mother, he’ll figure out an excuse for breaking curfew on the way home. If he lives that long.

He steels himself by taking a deep breath, increasing the length of his stride for the last two steps. Finally, at the door, he raises a shaking fist to knock.

No answer.

Weird.

There is a faint light in the window, he now notices. Someone must be home.

He knocks harder.

Still nothing.

Maybe he’ll just peek in.

To his utmost horror, the door opens with screeching hinges. He stands at the doorway, frozen in terror.

No one approaches.

Puzzled, he crosses the threshold. He knows the inhabitants are an older couple and maybe they’re hard of hearing – some of his friends helped to mow their lawn, last summer.

Somewhere in the corner of his mind, it occurs to him that the backyard looks like it’s been untouched for years.

A few more steps and he can make out a kitchen – mostly clean, a few pots in the sink. His nose crinkles as he catches a whiff of something that’s most definitely going bad. Probably the pot on the stove.

He should to leave. He’ll just come back tomorrow morning and knock on the front door.

But his feet take him further inside, his accursed curiosity getting the better of him, as it always has. Something feels strange. He wants to know what. He ignores his clammy skin and rising heart rate and keeps going.

There’s light coming from the next room. He’ll just peek in, then make a mad dash to the door. Bracing himself against the wall, he slowly moves his gaze into the room.

His mouth falls open.

In the dim candle light, he can see a small study. A figure sits on a couch. Unmoving. And behind it, a white face, floating. He catches sight of a single eye trained on the still body.

Chandru’s eyes meet a single blood red iris.

# # #
 

Fear is a weird thing, Chandru thinks, over the din of his mother’s ranting and his brother’s yelling. He cannot understand how either of them could have inspired that feeling in him before.

He made it home that night, though he does not remember the journey back. He did not find the ball.

His mother’s ire is now focused on his brother, their raised voices still not really reaching his ears. His sister frowns at him, silent but obviously concerned. Her grip on his hands is  probably painful but he feels numb. The irony of her concern almost makes him laugh.

His sister’s tales made him nervous as a child. But it was an abstract feeling that he pushed to the recesses of his mind, not something that took root and festered into palpable horror.

Until this day, fear – real fear – was a mere idea, a concept. But this terror, he knows, he will carry inside him for the rest of his life.

He glances back and sees his faceless, invisible companion, floating next to him. Ever patient and ever hungry.

Whatever is left of his life.

Renuka Raja is an aspiring writer that was born in Chennai, India. She moved to Canada in her youth, growing up in the GTA. She has a passion for music and visual and musical arts. She graduated from the University of Waterloo. Renuka spends her spare time volunteering around the community and playing with her cat, Louise.


See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How to Build Your Story – Plotting novels & Writing short stories, Saturday, Nov 24, in Alliston


How to Build Your Story
Plotting novels & Writing short stories
Saturday, November 24, 2018
10:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
New Tecumseth Public Library, Memorial Branch, 17 Victoria St. E, Alliston, Ontario  (Map here.)

This workshop will show you how writers plot a novel and will give you the best tips on writing short stories. We’ll also look at where to get your stories published and how to win contests. Best yet, you’ll see how to apply the story-building techniques you’ve learned to your own writing.

Workshop leader Brian Henry  has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He publishes Quick Brown Fox, Canada’s most popular blog for writers, teaches creative writing at Ryerson University, and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Charlottetown. But his proudest boast is that he has helped many of his students get published.
See reviews of Brian's classes and workshops here.

Fee: $43.36 + 13% hst = $49paid in advance by mail or Interac
or $46.90 + 13% hst = $53 if you wait to pay at the door
To reserve a spot now, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca


See Brian’s complete current schedule here including writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Six Canadian literary agents at CookeMcDermid looking for authors

The Dutch Wife by Ellen Keith,
represented by CookeMcDermid

CookeMcDermid Literary Management
320 Front St. W., Suite 1105
Toronto, Ontario

CookeMcDermid was created in 2017 by the amalgamation of two preeminent Canadian agencies, The Cooke Agency and The McDermid Agency. CookeMcDermid is a full-service literary agency representing authors of literary, commercial and speculative fiction; a broad range of narrative nonfiction; health, wellness and lifestyle resources; and middle-grade and young adult books.
CookeMcDermid represents more than 300 writers, among them Man Booker nominees, Giller and Governor General’s award–winning authors, prize-winning journalists, New York Times bestsellers and some of the literary world’s most notable names, including: Jen Agg, Omar el Akkad, Deborah Campbell, Michael Crummey, Robyn Doolittle, John Irving, Rupi Kaur, Scaachi Koul, Karen Le Billon, Geddy Lee, Robert Munsch, Jordan B. Peterson, Alison Pick, Andrew Pyper, Bob Rae, Nino Ricci, David Adams Richards, Amy Stuart, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Jeff VanderMeer, Sarah Waters, and Jesse Wente.
There are nine agents with CookeMcDermid including:

Paige Sisley joined CookeMcDermid (then The Cooke Agency) in June 2013 following an internship and is now an associate agent. Paige has her Master of Arts from Ryerson University's Literatures of Modernity program and a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of King's College and Dalhousie.
Paige is currently building her list as a keen and market-focused reader. When it comes to fiction she is looking for smart, well-written commercial novels that both entertain and have something to say (e.g. Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies and Eliza Kennedy’s I Take You). She’s seeking books that can compete with Netflix for people’s time, but that someone like Reese Witherspoon might in turn be interested in adapting for Netflix.
Paige also represents nonfiction books in the lifestyle and health and wellness space. In both categories, Paige is attracted to books that enhance lives, either through a practical application or by shifting and expanding their reader’s worldview.
When Paige’s head isn’t in a book you can find her baking, at a concert, or simply watching the world go by in her busy downtown Toronto neighborhood. A born and bred Torontonian, Paige loves to travel and has also lived in LA, a sleepy New Zealand surf town, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. She's on Twitter here.
In the subject line, you must include “Author Query” are welcome to include the first 4 pages of your manuscript pasted into the query. No attachments. Please do not send any further material unless invited.. Full submission guidelines here.

Note: Paige will be the guest speaker at the How to Get Published workshop Saturday, August 18, 2018, in Collingwood. Details here

Rachel Letofsky joined the Cooke Agency in 2010 and is now an associate agent. She frequently travels throughout Canada and the US to various writer’s festivals and literary events such as Bloody Words, PNWA, CanSCAIP, SiWC, VWF, NorthWords and Quick Brown Fox workshops.
Rachel is actively seeking ground-breaking and heart-breaking middle grade and young adult titles in all genres. She is drawn to works with a whimsical nature or a grounded, gritty edge in equal measure, though in either instance, unforgettable characters and original concepts are a must. Rachel also has a natural soft-spot for exquisite literary fiction.
In nonfiction, Rachel is looking for narrative-driven memoirs, and anything quirky and life-affirming. Rachel is particularly committed to working with previously unpublished authors in a focused, collaborative and hands-on manner.
Read an extended interview with Rachel here.
In the subject line, you must include “Author Query” are welcome to include the first 4 pages of your manuscript pasted into the query. No attachments. Please do not send any further material unless invited.. Full submission guidelines here.

Ron Eckel is a literary agent at Cooke-McDermid and co-owner of Cooke International, an agency specializing in foreign rights management for a diverse group of publishing clients. He is a graduate of Simon Fraser University’s Master of Publishing program and a twenty-year veteran of Canadian publishing. Ron worked with Penguin Group Canada, Westwood Creative Artists, and Random House of Canada before joining CookeMcDermid and Cooke International. 
As an agent Ron is particularly drawn to dark fiction, both commercial and literary, in the areas of horror, suspense, and psychological thriller. 
On the nonfiction side, Ron loves pop culture, entertainment, music, pop science, and story-driven current affairs. 
Ron’s client list at CookeMcDermid includes bestselling author Scaachi Koul, CBC Radio columnist and pop-culture critic Jesse Wente, RUSH bassist and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Geddy Lee, and horror writers Eric McCormack and Michael Rowe. On his bedside table you will find equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction, but always, always at least one biography (authorized or not) of the Ramones.
Ron is the sitting Vice-President of PACLA (the Professional Association of Canadian Literary Agents) and you can find him on Twitter @roneckel.
In the subject line, you must include “Author Query” are welcome to include the first 4 pages of your manuscript pasted into the query. No attachments. Please do not send any further material unless invited. Full submission guidelines here.

Suzanne Brandreth is an agent with CookeMcDermid and a co-owner of Cooke International, an agency specializing in foreign rights management for a diverse group of publishing clients. She has worked in publishing for over 20 years, as an independent bookseller, an editor, and, since 2003, an agent. 
Suzanne has close working relationships around the world, frequently travels to New York and London, and has participated in numerous publishing fellowships in Frankfurt, Jerusalem, Taiwan, Turin, and the United Arab Emirates. Suzanne is a hands-on agent and works with her clients to brainstorm and fine-tune book ideas and substantively edit proposals or manuscripts before submission. 
Whether literary or commercial novels or evidence-based and narrative nonfiction, Suzanne seeks stories that challenge the mind and/or move the heart. She is the agent for Rupi Kaur’s international bestseller the sun and her flowers, CS Richardson’s perennial bestseller The End of the Alphabet, and Emily White’s ground-breaking LonelyLearning to Live with Solitude.
Query Suzanne at: submissions@cookemcdermid.com
In the subject line, you must include “Author Query” are welcome to include the first 4 pages of your manuscript pasted into the query. No attachments. Please do not send any further material unless invited. Full submission guidelines here.

Chris Bucci represents bestselling authors such as Bob Rae, Timothy Caulfield, Susan Delacourt, Jowita Bydlowdka, James Grainger, and Kerri Sakamoto.
Chris began his career at the University of Toronto Press and soon became an acquisitions editor in social sciences and cultural studies. Chris joined HarperCollins Canada in 2003 as a nonfiction editor. Moving to McClelland & Stewart in 2004, Chris helped revitalize their nonfiction program, establishing relationships with international authors, agents and publishers.
Chris represents both fiction and nonfiction. In particular, he’s looking for  literary fiction, mysteries, thrillers, historical fiction, commercial literary fiction and narrative nonfiction. For nonfiction, he seeks popular science, sports, popular culture, politics, essays, and history.
In the subject line, you must include “Author Query” are welcome to include the first 4 pages of your manuscript pasted into the query. No attachments. Please do not send any further material unless invited. Full submission guidelines here.

Martha Webb is a literary agent and part owner of CookeMcDermid. She represents a wide range of booksbut her list focuses primarily on literary fiction, narrative nonfiction (including memoir and true crime) and ideas-driven nonfiction. She is especially drawn to approaches that are thought-provoking, controversial, change the conversation on a given subject or have a positive impact on people’s lives.
Her clients include Jen Agg, Michael Crummey, Robyn Doolittle, Cathal Kelly, Tima Kurdi, Saleema Nawaz, Pasha Malla, Zoey Leigh Peterson, and Shannon Lee Simmons.
In the subject line, you must include “Author Query” are welcome to include the first 4 pages of your manuscript pasted into the query. No attachments. Please do not send any further material unless invited. Full submission guidelines here.

Author Kira Vermond
If you’re interested in getting published, soon or somewhere down the road, don’t miss upcoming  How to Get Published workshops on Saturday, Aug 18, in Collingwood with literary agent Paige Sisley (see here) and Saturday, Nov 17, in Mississauga with literary agent Stephanie Sinclair (see here). 
For updated listing of How to Get Published workshops, see here (and scroll down).

If you’re interested in Writing for Children & for Young Adults, Brian Henry will lead a mini-conference with Yasemin U├žar, senior editor at Kids Can Press, children’s author Kira Vermond, and YA author Tanaz Bhathena, Saturday, Sept 22, in Oakville (see here), a Writing Kid Lit weekly course on Friday afternoons, Oct 5 – Nov 30 in Toronto (see here), and a Writing for Children & for Young Adults workshop Saturday, October 12, in Sudbury (see here).
For updated listings of Writing for Children & for Young adult workshops and for weekly Kid lit classes, see here (and scroll down).

Also coming soon: Writing Conflict: Fight scenes, Dialogue scenes & Love scenes, Saturday, Sept 15, in Toronto (see here), and Writing and Revising, Saturday, Sept 29, in St. Catharines (see here)

New: November at the Briar’s Writing Retreat, Friday, Nov 2 – Sunday, Nov 4. Three days to put up your feet, recharge your creative batteries, and get some great writing tips – all in the supportive company of your fellow writers. Details here.

This September, Brian is leading a full roster of courses, Introductory to Intense (Details of all six courses here):
Welcome to Creative Writing, Thursday, afternoons, Sept 27 - Nov 9, in Oakville. See here.
Writing Personal Stories, Thursday evenings, Oct 4 – Nov 29, in Burlington. See here.
Writing Kid Lit, Friday afternoons, Oct 5 – Nov 30, in Toronto. See here.
And Intensive Creative Writing, offered in three locales:
Tuesday afternoons, Sept 25 – Nov 27 (first readings emailed Sept 18), in Burlington. See here.
Wednesday evenings Sept 26 – Dec 5 (first readings emailed Sept 19), in Georgetown. See here.
Friday mornings Sept 28 – Nov 30 (first readings emailed Sept 21), in Toronto. See here
See details of all six courses here.

To reserve a spot in any workshop, or weekly course, email brianhenry@sympatico.ca
Read reviews of Brian’s courses and workshops here.

See Brian’s complete current schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Navigation tips: Always check out the labels underneath a post; they’ll lead you to various distinct collections of postings. Also, if you're searching for a literary agent who represents a particular type of book, check out this post.           

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, reviewed by Debra Porter


Published by Knopf Canada, October 2017. Available  in hard cover for $20.37; in Kobo e-book for $12.99; audio for $14.99 here.

I just finished Tom Hanks’ book of short stories. I’m a big fan of his, both as an actor and a human being, so I was anxious to see if it was any good. Short stories are also my favourite genre to write, which made me doubly curious.
The book title is completely apt. Not only are they good, unique stories, they range from being set in the 1950s to several years in the future, and each story mentions a typewriter. Sometimes it’s crucial to the plot, but more often you just catch the reference in passing. It took me a few stories to notice.
I enjoyed “Uncommon Type” as an audio book read by the author and felt this was the ideal way to experience it. When books are read by the authors, I get a much better sense of the message they want to get across.
The stories could be enjoyed as stand alone pieces, but there were some linked ones, starting from the first story, “Three Exhausting Weeks.” There were four characters introduced here that recur twice more in the book, MDash, Anna, Steve Wong and an unnamed narrator. They also appear in “Alan Bean Plus Four” and “Steve Wong is Perfect.”
I felt the weakest of these was, “Alan Bean Plus Four.” It speaks to Hank's well know obsession with all things space related, but I couldn’t summon up the suspension of disbelief required to truly enjoy this one.
On the other hand, I did like “Steve Wong is Perfect” and it is set in various bowling alleys which are not places where I would expect a short story to receive life.
 The other linked pieces, “Our Town Today by Hank Fiset” are formatted like newspaper columns. They were enjoyable and provided a breather on a couple of levels. The rest of the stories were quite long and some dealt with difficult circumstances; these ones were lighter in tone and shorter.
If I were to try to pick a favourite, it would be a draw between “A Special Weekend” and “A Month on Greene Street.” Totally different perspectives, an almost 10-year-old boy and a newly divorced single Mom, but they were quiet, character-driven works.
An added attraction to the audio version of the book was the final piece, “Stay With Us.” It was set up as a radio program rather than a short story read by Hanks. He incorporated other actors playing the characters,  including Peter Scolari, Holland Taylor, Peter Gerety and Wilmer Valderrama.
Overall, I thought this collection was strong, Hanks touched on themes of love, betrayal, family, war and where we might evolve as humans in the future. He also wrote from various points of view including both male and female at different stages of life.
Some of the stories were humorous, some were straight up drama, others a blend of the two, but they were good examples of the short story genre.

Note:  Quick Brown Fox always welcomes your book reviews (or any kind of review). You can read an essay about how to write a book review here and see guidelines about submitting reviews of any kind to Quick Brown Fox here
QBF also welcomes essays about a favourite book or your experience of reading or writing. Read a few essays on the blog to get a taste of what other writers have done (see here and scroll down), write your own, and submit it to me atbrianhenry@sympatico.ca

Debra Porter has been writing short stories for several years, but thought she’d try something different, hence this book review, her first. Debra is looking to further branch out when she takes Brian Henry’s “Writing Personal Stories” course starting in October.

See Brian’s complete current schedule here
including writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.