Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Doug Grad Literary Agency

156 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY 11215

The agency opened for business on May 1, 2008, after Doug had spent the previous twenty-two years as a senior editor at four major New York publishing houses.

The agency handles a mix of non-fiction and fiction. In fiction, Doug has mostly handled first novels - mostly mysteries or crime fiction.
See a list of his sales here: http://www.dgliterary.com/sales

Submission guidelines: Query by email. Please do not send more than a brief letter explaining your book. No sample material unless requested, please.
Email query to: doug.grad@dgliterary.com

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

2 new agents at Firebrand Literary

Stacia Decker and Danielle Chiotti have joined Firebrand Literary Agency.

Stacia Decker, formerly an editor at Harcourt books, is looking for adult narrative nonfiction in the areas of politics, history, biography, travel, memoir, current events, and pop culture.

Stacia also specializes in hard-boiled mystery and crime fiction.

Danielle Chiotti was formerly a senior editor at Kensington publishing. She specializes in a variety of trade fiction and nonfiction books.

For nonfiction: narrative nonfiction, memoir, self-help, relationships, humor, current events, women’s issues, and cooking.

For fiction: commercial women’s fiction and multicultural fiction (with a slightly “literary” edge), romance, paranormal romance, and young adult fiction for girls.

Firebrand Literary handles a lot of Young Adult and other children's literature. For information about what all the agents at Firebrand are looking for, go here:

Submissions here: http://www.firebrandliterary.com/submissions

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

“Rubber and Lace,” Kimberly Scutt

From Bob the Rubber Chicken in Venice, a travel book for children, written from the point of view of Bob, an opinionated synthetic fowl.
The next morning the family took a ferry[1], to the island of Burano.

“This island is famous for its lace,” Mom said. “The fishermen’s wives used to make lace while waiting for their husbands to return from sea.”

“I would love to buy some real Burano lace,” Meghan said.

“Not unless you win the lottery. A ten-inch doily costs $2,000,” Mom laughed.

“You’ll just have to stick with the made-in-Taiwan stuff,” Dad said.

William didn’t look excited by lace making. He did perk up as we got closer and saw the bright blue, red, pink and yellow houses. “Hey, this island looks more Caribbean than Italian,” Dad observed.

“William, guess which house is my favourite,” I crowed.

“I know, the bright yellow one.”

“I’ll walk you to the lace museum,” Dad said as we got off the boat, “ but I’m not going in. I’d rather just wander and soak in the atmosphere.”

William and I stayed with Dad, while Mom and Meghan toured the museum. Houses and lace stores lined the streets and canals. With needles clicking, small groups of women gossiped in the sunshine as they made lace in front of their shops.

Walking through a small square, William put me down on the sidewalk and stopped to pet a dog. William loves dogs and has to pet every one he sees. The dog started to drool as he sniffed me with interest.

“I don’t like this, William,” I said.

Suddenly the dog grabbed me in his mouth and ran. Terror clutched my gut and I let out a massive fart. This momentarily stunned the mutt, causing him to drop me. Squawking with fear, I ran, flapping my wings to add extra speed, with the drooling canine on my heels. This only encouraged the saliva-spitting beast to quicken his pace.

Next thing I knew, I was in the midst of a circle of ladies making lace. A doily with the needles still attached entangled itself in my comb. Looking back, I noticed the dog also tangling himself in their handiwork.

“What was that?” one of the lace makers screamed.

Finding myself blocked by a wall, I turned around and ran back through the circle of lace makers. This time more strings and lace wrapped themselves around my head, and trailed in my wake.

“Uno cane cattivo[2]!” another lady answered, waving her cane in a threatening manner.
“Yes, a very bad dog,” the ladies yelled. “Let’s get him.”

We were moving so fast that the ladies didn’t even realize I was involved. They ran after the dog, and the dog ran after me.

That’s when I saw the church ahead. Blessed sanctuary! Mercifully, the side door was open. I ran in, slamming it behind me but the latch was faulty and didn’t catch.

I found myself in a small bright room with two other doors. Strains of organ music told me that one led into the chapel, and the flush of a toilet indicated the use of the other room.

In the centre of the room, a beautiful, lace wedding dress was draped over a mannequin on wheels, waiting for its bride.

I opened the door to the chapel a crack. The church was packed. The groom and his groomsmen fidgeted at the altar, while the bridesmaids lined up in the alcove.

Creeping back to the outside door, I leaned against it and listened to the conversation coming from inside the washroom.

“You can calm down, sweetheart. They just delivered the dress,” a female voice said.
“I’m too upset. I can’t stop shaking.”

“Francesca, I know you’re nervous, but everyone is waiting for you. You have to go out now.”

“Mom, I feel like I’m going to barf,” the bride said.

“You won’t. It’s just your nerves. You’ll be fine,” the soothing voice answered.

That’s when I heard it. Something was sniffing from the other side of my door. The dog forcefully threw himself against the partition catapulting me onto the neck of the mannequin. I held on for dear life as the mannequin rolled through the doorway, stopping at the back of the chapel. I peered through the lace veil which still covered my face and streamed behind me.
“Here comes the bride,” someone yelled out.

“Isn’t she lovely,” someone sighed.

Cameras clicked, flashbulbs flashed. The organ began to play the Wedding March and the bridal party solemnly started to move down the aisle.

Bursting into the alcove, the dog lunged again at the mannequin, causing it to speed down the marble floor, chased by the bride’s father. Bridesmaids jumped left and right, landing on guest’s laps. I clutched the mannequin with my wings, afraid to fly off. Finally it began to slow down.

“I caught the dog,” a voice yelled from the back of the church. “He won’t get away from me.”

Through the lace covering my face, I saw the groom smile. “A little impatient, aren’t we, darling,” he teased.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness….” began the priest.
Oh no. This wasn’t how I envisioned my future love life.

“Stop the wedding!” screamed a voice from the back of the church.

Everyone gasped.

The dog howled.

The groom looked to the alcove where a beautiful women stood with an embroidered altar cloth wrapped around her. Startled, the groom turned and looked at me. He moved his hands towards my veil and slowly lifted it. We stared into each other’s eyes.

I didn’t read love in his look, it was more like horror and disgust. He grabbed me by the neck.

That’s when the dog broke free. He darted over to the bride, grabbed her covering and raced out the door, cloth firmly clamped in his jaws.

Standing in her underwear,the bride released a blood curdling scream...


[1] TIP: The Laguna Nord ferry leaves from Fondamente Nuove stop on the north shore of Venice. There are lots of ferry stops there, so make sure you take the right one or things might get ugly. You can use normal ACTV Vaporetto tickets for this trip. It is a 42 minute trip that stops first at the Island of Mazzorbo which is connected to Burano by a pedestrian bridge.
[2] TRANSLATION: A bad dog


Kimberly Scutt loves to travel with her husband, John and two boys Graham, thirteen and Cameron, ten. When not planning trips or organizing family, Kimberly is the owner/operator of Signature Events, a marketing and special events company. Kimberly is presently working on her second children’s travel story and guide. She purchased her main character, Bob Hubert in a garage sale for 50 cents and in 2006 took him along with the family on a two month tour of Europe. She made a deal with the boys that if they regularly wrote in their travel journals, she’d write Bob’s experiences in his own journal. And so began The Books of Bob. On June 18, 2009, she gave a reading of “Rubber and Lace” at CJ’ Café.
Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

“A new arrival,” Mary Dorgan

The anaesthesiologist wore a tartan hat. “Here we go, Mary. Are ye ready? Without waiting for a reply, he began to sing, “Step ye gaily on we go, heel for heel and toe for toe, arm in arm and ore we go, off for Rita’s wedding.” Mary was gone...

“Are ye alright, Mary?”

Mary felt a gentle touch on her arm. She smelt a faint perfume. She opened her eyes and saw her mother’s concerned face. Bernadette Burns was dressed in her Sunday clothes with a matching hat. Her dark brown hair was curling out under it. She had tiny pearls in her ears. At that moment Mary thought her mother was a beautiful sight.
“It’s all over now, love.”

“Oh Mam, I have a lot of pain”

“Hold on, love. I’ll call the nurse”

More morphine was administered. Mary was able to sit up in the bed and smile.

Her back began to ache the year her son, Michael arrived. He was three months old. The official adoption papers came through a year later. Mary had already given birth to three girls. Her eldest, Aishling had just turned four. She didn’t find out for four more years that her womb was tilted into her spine at which point, the pain was unbearable. Mary thought her child bearing years were over. Michael was going to school in just a few months. She wouldn’t allow herself to contemplate the long days she would spend alone.

Mary’s family doctor came to visit the next day. “The operation was a great success but no more pregnancies for the time being.”

“Do you mean I might be able to have more children?”

“Yes, but everything needs to heal first.”

“Okay.” Mary looked away. Talking about reproduction with this handsome man made Mary blush.

“Let me know if you need anything.” He patted her arm and left.

Although she was in a lot of pain, she got up and walked around the maternity ward, where she spent the next two weeks recovering. The Coombe was a bright new building, where there were only ten beds per ward. Mary went from bed to bed chatting, holding babies and helping anyone who would allow her.

Nearing the end of her stay at the hospital, Mary strolled down the corridor to broaden her horizons. It was a beautiful spring day. She wanted to see the lilacs in bloom. She missed being outside.

Margaret, a young mother who Mary had met the previous day, was leaning against the window. Her long black hair was hanging down in front of her dark brown eyes. As Mary approached, she noticed that Margaret was shaking.

Mary touched her shoulder. “What’s wrong, Margaret?”

“Oh, you’re very nice but I don’t want to burden you.” She was controlling her pain but her face was swollen and red from crying.
“A problem shared is a problem halved!” Mary tried.
“There’s no point in talking about it. There’s nothing you can do.”

“You never know.”
Only yesterday, Margaret was singing the song “Michelle, ma belle” to her newborn girl.
“You’re worrying me more by not telling me what’s wrong.” Mary put her arm around Margaret. She thought about her own sister, who had a baby when she was nineteen too.
“Just tell me, is the baby alright?”

“Yes, she’s perfect.” The tears rolled over Margaret’s high cheekbones, into her hollow cheeks, rushed down her neck and disappeared into her nylon nightdress.

“Oh thank God for that” Mary replied. “So, what is it? Have ye no family to visit ye?”

“No, they’re in Galway. They don’t even know about Michelle.”

Mary’s mouth and eyes opened wide without her approval.

“What about the Daddy?”

“He left me.” Margaret wiped her nose in her sleeve. “He went off to England. Told me he didn’t mind being with me but he wasn’t ready to be a father. And even though he was so mean, I miss him so much.”

“How old was he?”

“And you’re nineteen?”

“I am.”

“It’s not fair, is it?”

Mary hugged her and Margaret finally let down her guard.

“Mary, I don’t know what to do. I was training to be a nurse. I lost my job because I was pregnant. Now I have no way to pay the rent without working and no one to mind the baby if I do. All I can think of is to go home but I know my mammy won’t want me after shaming the family like this, having a baby out of wedlock.” She gasped for air.

“I told my brother about it and he told me to fuck off and not to come home. I’m going to have to give her up. But I love her so much, I don’t want to.”

“Margaret, I’ll mind her for ye when ye go to work. I’ll be your family.”

“Mary, you have so many kids of your own.”

“Sure they’re all at school in September.” She wiped back a stray hair from Margaret’s face. “You think about it.”

Mary watched out for Margaret during the rest of her stay in the hospital. When leaving, she made sure that Margaret had her phone number and address. Margaret promised to visit and let her know what she’d decided to do.

Mary was still suffering somewhat when she was sent home. Aiden, her husband, bought her a new washing machine to cheer her up and ease her burden. It was a front loader. The husband and wife had spent hours watching the clothes go around the day it arrived. They both agreed that it was better than television.

She was filling it with a load of light colors when the door bell rang.

Mary could see an unfamiliar silhouette behind the stained glass of her front door. When she opened it, Margaret’s sad face greeted her. Margaret attempted a faint smile.

“Margaret, love, come in.” She threw her arms around her new friend.

“Where’s Michelle?”

“I couldn’t take care of her.”

“What did you do with her?”

The tears were already making their way down into her white blouse. She was pale and her eyes were sunken.

“I left her in the orphanage but I couldn’t sign the papers.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, I just couldn’t sign her over.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I just left her there but no one can adopt her because I couldn’t sign away my right to know where she was.” Margaret could hardly breathe. “I just can’t live if I don’t know where she is and how she’s doing.” They say that I have to sign it or she can’t be adopted.”

“Calm down, love. Let’s have a cup-a-tea.”

Mary filled the kettle while Margaret went to the bathroom to try to compose herself. Mary took out two cups and saucers. She poured milk in the jug, took out the sugar bowl and two spoons. She searched the cupboards for anything resembling a biscuit but came up empty. She took the soft white bread from the wooden bread bin, put some butter in the butter cooler and got the jam from the fridge.

When Margaret returned, Mary poured the tea.

“Margaret,” she began. “I have an idea.”

“I’m going to ask the neighbour to keep an eye Michael. We’ll go down to that orphanage, get this sorted out. And sure, we’ll be back before the girls get out of school.”

Margaret’s mouth hung open.

“Get that tea and bread into ye, ye need your strength. And then, let’s get out of here.”

Mary left the room and returned with her best dress suit on. Her long dark hair was neatly piled on top of her head. Her face was powdered and her lips red. She smelt of L’Air du temps.
She headed for Margaret armed with a hair brush, her makeup kit and a red jacket that was too big for her but it fitted Margaret perfectly.

That evening Aiden returned from a business trip.

The sound of his key in the door sent his offspring darting towards him, like a bullet from a gun.
“Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” Mary heard the door open.

“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” They would only stop when he had kissed each one.

“Now mammy’s turn.” “Give mammy a kiss!”
Mary was in the kitchen, mashing potatoes. He pecked her cheek.


“Grand, yourself?”

“Not a bother.”

“Do you know what’s in the lodger’s room?”

“A new baby. Don’t say anything, the kids don’t know.”


“Margaret’s in there too. They’re sleepin’.”

“Who on earth is Margaret?”

“Jasus, Aiden, di ye not listen to a word I say? Margaret is the girl I met in hospital. Her family don’t want anything to do with her as long as she has her baby.”

“So, is she going to stay with us?”

“No, Aiden, ye gobshite. She has to go back to her family and get herself together. She’s only nineteen and she has no husband.”

Aiden scratched the top of his balding head.

“I don’t get it.”

“We’re going to keep the baby.”


“You heard me.”

“Look, we just adopted Michael.”

“So what?”

“You’re always complaining that you need me to stay home and help you, so you must have enough kids.”

“I’ll manage.” She put the pot of potatoes on the table. “Aishling! Rachael! Cindy! Michael! Come for your dinner!”

When the children went to bed, Margaret, Aiden and Mary sat at the table. Mary was feeding Michelle a bottle of warm milk.

“Margaret, we have to say to you what we said to Michael’s parents,” Aiden said.

Margaret looked concerned.

“You have to stay away from us so as not to confuse the child. We will be the parents. That has to be very clear to her.”
Margaret nodded. “Can I keep in touch with Mary so that I can just know how Michelle is doing?”

“I think that would be okay.”

Mary was smiling at the baby. They were sitting around the bare wooden table with tea in front of them. For the second time that day Mary’s tea was untouched.
“Margaret, you have to take her away for at least one day so that we can prepare the kids,” Aiden said.
“Can you come and get her on Saturday?” Margaret asked.

“I’ll be over at cock crow,” Mary said, dragging her eyes away from Michelle’s face momentarily.
Mary’s brother-in-law, Brian was the only one in the family who had a car. This acquisition earned him the role as chauffeur for his extended family. When he dropped Mary at her house with Michelle, he didn’t go in for tea as usual.
Mary walked through the garden gate with a squirming human wrapped in a white woollen blanket. She clip clopped with her red high heeled shoes up the path that led to the front door where her children crowded around her. Their new sister had arrived. They had traces of white paint on their faces and hands and were dressed in their best clothes. Each child had a toy of their own that they had washed with great care as a welcome present for the new baby. Mary went into the living room to see the big present. It was a crib that Aiden and the kids had painted white that morning while Mary had gone to get the baby.

“Mammy, this was cousin Lorraine’s crib” Aishling declared.
“No it wasn’t.”
“Well, it said Lorraine on it before we painted it.”
“No keepin’ any secrets from you now, ye great little reader.” Aiden ruffled Aishling’s hair.
“I have to make the child a bottle before she starts fussin’.” Mary put the smiling baby in her new bed with three adoring children around her, telling her how much they loved her and how happy they were that she was their sister.
“Aiden, keep an eye on them, will ye?”
He nodded.
Mary swaggered away from the scene with her head high, her chest stuck out, sweeping an uneasy feeling under the carpet of her mind...

The following year, two days after Michelle’s first birthday, Carolyn was born. And over the next eight years, she gave birth to three more boys.


Mary Dorgan is an Irish immigrant who came to Canada after a 9 year stint in Versailles, France. During her travels, she gathered 5 children, one French ex-husband, and one Canadian-Irish husband, who is hanging on to this title by the skin of his teeth. She’s also accumulated a few cats, a dog and a school of tropical fish. She is currently writing stories of growing up in Dublin in her huge family of origin. On June 18, 2009, she gave a reading of “A new arrival” at CJ’s Cafe.

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

"A Stitch in Time," Virginia Sousa

I was born in Angola, a Portuguese colony located in Sub-Saharan West Africa in the charming seaport town of Lobito. Due to the warm climate, I didn’t require woolen garments and I certainly never had any desire to take up knitting. On the contrary. At one point, I seriously considered adopting the traditional attire of the native girls and going topless. However, I did take up other “crafty” projects.

Angola was part of the Portuguese Empire and I grew up during the New State years, when Salazar’s government praised “The Woman” and called her the “Goddess of the Family” and “The Pillar of Society”. In his idea of a perfect nation, Salazar envisioned the woman exclusively as a wife and mother. Work outside the home was not considered feminine.

In tune with our dictator’s blueprint for my gender, by the age of six, I was learning a variety of crafts and I began the process of filling a Chinese camphor chest from Macau. In it went a miscellaneous selection: crochet tea towels, fine needlecrafts sheets, embroideries of all sorts, and other things from remote places. Such a dowry was the perfect bait for a future husband … or, should I say, mother-in-law. But, Salazar had in mind much more when he encouraged the so-called pillars of society – the mothers and wives across the country. Without even noticing it, they were contributing to the wealth of the economy by keeping the linen factories in mainland Portugal and throughout the empire producing tones of fabrics and yarns!

To tell you the truth, I still have the Chinese camphor chest and some of those linens and I proudly use them to decorate my Canadian home. And when I’m gone, they will pass on to my daughter-in-law. The thing is I don’t know if she’d really like them. They’re a nightmare to iron. Just to straighten them you need to use spray starch and it takes forever…. And let’s face it, forever doesn’t fit the fast-paced framework of a Goddess today!

By now, you can envision the hours of creative work we girls had to endure. I say endure, because living in beautiful Lobito and being part of the late 60s generation my mind was already veering off in another direction. In Africa, surrounded by the freedom of the vast outdoors, I engaged in all types of physical activity. And the beach was right across the street from my house. This meant that every day the fresh, blue waters of the Atlantic came in direct competition with Salazar’s vision of the feminine ideal.
Sitting on our balcony, watching the sea and hearing my friend’s voices and giggles floating on the breeze, was a perfect torment. I remember power crocheting, by feeding the fine yarn through my sweaty little fingers in a frenzied frustration to try and join my friends. But if my work wasn’t up to standard, my mom would make me redo it. “Gina what are you doing rushing your crochet work? It is through your work people will see how neat you are! Do it again. I don’t care if your friends are at the beach. You are not going anywhere until I say so. ”

My sister Carla – Queen of crochet – immediately would tease me and say, “Your boyfriend is swimming with Rita!” She was never in a hurry to go out. Oh! But, that is another story.

By the way, among the girls and ladies of the nation there was this talk about the dictator - still a bachelor himself - and the fact that no woman in the Empire had big enough chests to impress him! Maybe he was allergic to the aroma of camphor! Or maybe he could not handle big chests! Weird man.

And then one day my life changed. The dictator died. Portugal lost its colonies. The war in Angola forced our family to move to the cold northern hemisphere. On the Azorean Islands, my body shivered and screamed for warm clothes. Gone were the days when I dressed in shorts and envied the nude bodies of the native girls.

Money was scarce, so I decided to crotchet my own pullover. After all, I’d made countless tea towels. Why not a pullover? No big deal! However, I was disappointed with my first effort. The crocheted pullover was not fluffy and it looked distorted. When I tried it on, I looked weird. At first, I thought it might be the cheap mirror in my room. It was as if my torso was sideways, my shoulders where out of place. I looked as if I had some sort of problem with my spine.

I am not the type of person to give up. Although the wool was almost disintegrating in my fingers, I redid the pullover … several times. But the more I tried the worse it went. And so I decided to learn how to knit. As they say, “While in Rome…

The Carnation revolution in Portugal occurred in 1974. That coup–d’état transformed the country’s dictatorship into a socialist system which was drifting perilously towards communism. Two years later the government nationalized most of the private companies and the Azorean Airline Company where I worked at the time was no exception. As employees, we had the time of our lives. There was no pressure, and more and more benefits came our way each day. There were rights for everything! Can you imagine? We even had the right to knit between phone calls!

All the girls at the airline knitted between phone calls. I was working for the reservations department and during the winter, the influx of calls slowed to a trickle. Even our supervisor worked with wool around her neck and needles in her fingers. We always had something to occupy our hands and alleviate our boredom while we waited for the phone to ring. These were the golden days of airlines and unions.

I was 20 years old and newly married. Love was in the air! It was at this time the seed of Salazar’s goddess ideal, implanted during my childhood, took root and blossomed. I decided to knit something special for my husband! How difficult could it be? One of my co-workers kindly took it upon her to be my knitting teacher. And so began my career as a knitting wife/ reservation agent for the Azorean airline company!

Excited with my new project, I bought skeins of yarn, needles and a knitting magazine. Between phone calls, my co-workers helped me decide the design for the pullover and by mid September, I began my project targeting its completion for Christmas. The yarn was a fluffy tobacco brown and the pattern was an elegant rib stitch. If I could manage not to strangle myself in the process, all would be well.

My husband is a big man, so there was little room for error. After carefully measuring one of his shirts to ensure a perfect fit, I worked diligently for the next few months. My co-workers thought the pullover was getting too big. I kept assuring them, my husband was not like most of the Azorean guys. He was a robust man. His body had developed well under the African sun. I have to admit, I was a little worried. But not about it being too big. What if I’d measured incorrectly and it was too small? I wanted to surprise my husband, so I never took my knitting home.

The pullover was getting heavier by the day and it covered my entire lap. What a cozy feeling! The office was cold and the pullover warmed me up.

Exactly one week before Christmas, the pullover was finally finished. I was very proud of my work. My co-workers admired it too and said,

“Wow! Your husband must be a giant?”

I bought colorful Christmas paper and carefully wrapped the pullover in it and put the huge package under our tree. When Christmas morning came, it was cold and rainy. But, nothing could dampen my spirits! I was so excited to see my dear hubby wearing his new pullover –handmade by me – to Christmas mass! However, when he opened his gift, he couldn’t understand all my excitement.

“Ok! It’s a pullover,” he said, his eyes still puffy from sleep and the Port wine of Christmas Eve. “What’s so special about it?”

“Do you like the colour? And the yarn? ” I asked, somehow expecting him to realize I’d made it.

“Yes dear! Of course I do. Where did you buy it? Seems a little bit too big…”

“I made it myself! For you! I’m sure it’ll fit you perfectly. I took the measurements from one of your shirts. It is perfect to the centimeter, my dear.” The anxiety of the moment had me fluttering around him like a butterfly.

“Oh! You made it! That was very nice of you! So much work! Is it crochet? ”

“No, silly, it is knitting. Put it on!” I said, with an enthusiastic smile splashed all over my face.

I helped him put it on. There was a moment of silence as we both admired my handiwork. Then our eyes met and we burst out laughing. I had been wrong. My husband was not such a big guy after all! The sleeves were down to his knees and the pullover looked itself like a mini dress! No wonder it took me months to finish it! Now I could understand the mesmerized faces of my co-workers. Ah well, enthusiasm can be blinding.

My dreams of knitting did not die that Christmas day! Thirty-two years later when I found out I was going to be a grandma, I decided it was time to pick up my trusty needles again! After all, I was living in Canada the knitting country of the north. I bought white and yellow fluffy wool, some baby fashion magazines and started a jacket.

“Are you knitting Gina?” My husband asked one winter night as we watched the news.

“Yes, I am for our grandchild. See this pattern? I’m knitting this design here…yes this one.” I said my enthusiasm for knitting re-kindled.

“Hum, is it for a newborn or for a college graduate?” My husband muttered.

This time my enthusiasm waned and I didn’t finish my little project. My grandson is now three years old – too big for the little jacket. But I haven’t given up entirely - I hope to finish it before they decide to have another baby. Or, on second thought, maybe I’ll take my husband’s hint and complete it for my grandson’s graduation.

In the meantime, I am NOW knitting words, experimenting with new patterns and materials like this one.

And so it’s to you I dedicate this tapestry of words. I am lucky, to be part of an excellent group who share my passion. Thank you for your support.


Virginia Sousa, also known as Gina, was born in Angola, southwest Africa. Then, one sunny day, a guerrilla liberation movement declared independence for Angola and Virginia forced, by the circumstances, had to move to Lisbon, Portugal. She moved to Canada as an adult. From the comfort of the airplane, she observed vast beaches of white sand from Yarmouth to Toronto – just like Africa!. Only when she landed did she realize that all that white sand was actually snow.
In her thirties and forties Gina contributed on a weekly basis to “Voice" a Portuguese newspaper in Toronto. She recently submitted a book written in Portuguese to a Portuguese Publishing house and is learning how to be patient with editors. She spends hours in her computer crossing Portuguese and English words in a great embrace of multiculturalism. On June 18, 2009, she gave a reading of a “A Stitch in Time” at CJ’s Cafe.

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

“Diving for Pearls,” Fran Mackenzie

I know that there’s a place where the Caribbean and the Atlantic meet. I have often tried to find it, looking for that place where the calm of the Caribbean joins with the violence of the Atlantic. It has eluded me, but I have kept searching for it.
I guess it’s like that in people too. You see the calm, never seeing the violent churning that lies beneath. Opposites. Yin and Yang.

I believe that God gives everyone choices. He gives us rules to live by, the Commandments, and as we are His people, we ultimately fuck it up.

My family’s company ran several sugar cane farms throughout the islands that were used to produce some of the finest rum around. Liquid gold. Though I worked out of the North American office in Toronto, I spent some time at our office in Barbados. I would fly down to Bridgetown several times a year, meet with the plantation managers, set up meetings with clients, so on and so forth, but always leaving time to get a little down time sunning and swimming in the crystal clear waters.

On a recent trip down I stayed at the Hilton in Christchurch. It’s a beautiful hotel and the proximity to St Lawrence’s Gap, where there were great restaurants close by, is a bonus.
Luckily for me, this time, I finished up my meetings and inspections quicker than I expected. I was on my way down to the pool level when I passed Sandra, a pleasant young black woman, who manned the activities desk.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Going very well, Miss Naughton. How long you staying this time?” Sandra called out to me in the singsong Bajan lilt. I had gotten to know Sandra over the last couple of years when she booked the occasional activity for me.

“Maybe three or four days. You know, I need to soak up that sun before I head back.” I smiled.

Sandra nodded and said, “ We have something new. Pearl diving.”

My interest was piqued. I nodded and pursed my lips. “Sounds tempting. When is it?”
Sandra looked at her schedule. “ Bus leaves in an hour.”

I gave it a half second of thought. “Okay, book me on. I’ll get some stuff from upstairs.”
I saw Sandra pick up the phone as I ran back to my room. Forty-five minutes later, the bus was chugging out past St Michaels Parish to a marina. Looking out onto the marina, I could see the moored boats were bobbing in the gentle wake created by other boats heading out to the vast ocean.

I climbed onto the boat with the help of a deckhand, who with his sun bleached blonde hair and deep tan certainly looked the part of a man who enjoyed working the boats and the young tourist girls, and not necessarily in that order. His nametag read Brock. Of course it was. Weren’t all sun bleached and tanned bimbobs named Brock?

Brock extended his hand, flashed me a thousand watt smile and pulled me aboard. The Brocks of this world knew, the bigger the smile, the bigger the tip.

I had scrambled to find a seat, finally sitting next to the only guy who wasn’t part of a couple. I stored my stuff under the seat, sat back, and Brock started handing out some rum punches. It seemed that every boat tour on the island was a booze cruise of some sort. He handed me mine, again with the thousand watt smile as he moved on down the line.

“Boy, they want you tanked before you jump in the water. Do they take out a policy on their guests?” The man who was my seat partner asked with a grin.

Looking at him, I could tell he had a good physique, even though he still had his shirt on. I couldn’t see his eyes, not with his sunglasses on, but I thought he was handsome. I always had a hard time meeting guys. When your last name is Naughton, and there’s rum that goes with it, nine times out of ten, it’s not me that becomes their primary interest.

“Maybe they’ll just sail away after they drop us off. How’s your backstroke?” I grinned back.

He stuck out his hand. “Tim Burgess.”

“Allie Naughton, nice to meet you.” I shook his hand.

“ Like the rum?” he asked.

“Exactly like the rum. Have you ever had it before?” I smiled.

“It’s in my bar at home. Great stuff. We don’t buy anything else. Love it. So you own that company?” Tim asked, removing his sunglasses as if to get a better look at me.

“No, my family owns it, I just work there. I come down to the islands to check on things every once in a while, and then I take advantage of the sun. One of the perks of my job.” I turned to get a better look at him. Handsome, maybe a little older than me, but not by much.

“What brings you down here?” I asked. Translation, are you single?

“Family vacation. From Toronto. You know, we came down on points. The wife hates boats, and I get bored sitting around the pool. She prefers to read at the pool and keep an eye on the kids.”

Shot down in flames. I should have known. Married, not available. Brock the bimbob was looking pretty good about now.

Still, we chatted until they dropped anchor. Then Brock gave us fresh snorkel tubes, masks and fins. He passed out gloves and knives. We all put on our gear, making sure that we spit in our masks to avoid the fogging. We were about a dozen divers, including crew, and we jumped in.

When I hit the clear water, I could see schools of tropical fish, some venturing closer than others, unafraid of the divers floundering around. I’m a strong swimmer, and I turned and kicked my way down to the oyster clusters that looked to be suspended on racks. There were thousands of them. I grabbed one, cut it from its prison and kicked my way back to the surface.
I climbed back onto the back end of the boat, and waited as Bimbob Brock used a shucking knife to open the mollusks that people were holding out to him.

I saw Tim was ahead of me, and Brock cracked open his oyster. Like everyone else, there was a tiny seed pearl there, not really anything special.

“Too bad,” Brock tried to look disappointed, but he wasn’t successful. “ Go try again. You get one more shot.”

Tim nodded, but he waited to see what I got. Bimbob Brock pried open my oyster, which was giving him a lot of resistance, and after a lot of tugging and digging, Brock won, which is better since one never wants to lose a battle of wits with an inanimate object.

Brock fanned open the shell and presented me with the most perfect pearl I had ever seen.
“Oh,” I gasped. I was at a loss for words.

Everyone had gathered around to see the gem. A couple of people offered me money to buy my pearl, but I just shook my head, held on to my treasure and admired it.

“What are you going to do with it?” Tim asked, getting a closer look at the gem.

“Mount it in a pendant. My reminder of a perfect day.” I held it up to examine it again. I wasn’t an expert, but I couldn’t find a flaw.

I stepped back and yelped. Somebody, probably Brock dropped a shell on the deck, which had cracked and the sharp edge sliced my foot. Blood had seeped out onto the deck, and a deckhand, not Brock had run to get the first aid kit. My foot was bandaged up, and Tim helped me to a comfortable seat. He didn’t dive again for his chance at another prize.

Once the boat got back to the marina, Tim insisted that we take a taxi to the hotel. I didn’t object because whatever alcohol I had had on the boat was starting to wear off, and my foot was starting to throb.

As I limped in, Tim asked for the concierge to send a doctor, I stopped by the bar to get a double anything to ease the pain.

“I can get to my room by myself. Thanks for all your help.” I limped along with my bag in one hand and a drink of something in the other. It had an umbrella, it looked pretty, and it had lots of something in it, which was the most important element of all.

Tim wouldn’t hear of it. “ Come on, let me carry something.”

Reluctantly I let him carry my bag, and we rode up to the seventh floor, me just sipping on my drink.

Tim opened the door; I limped in and flopped onto a chair.

“Thanks for everything.” I said, holding out my hand.

He took it, holding it a little too long. There were sparks, but he was married, and that wasn’t my scene.

Loneliness and alcohol are never a good mix. It makes one lose focus. Our lips came together, and whatever boundaries I had set came crashing down. I gave in and I became lost.

Some addictions are a lot harder to kick than others. I had been lonely, Tim was a bad fix.

Tim Burgess was a partner at one of the law offices downtown. He was controlling and mean tempered. I was the new toy, and Tim liked to keep his toys to himself. He had no idea how to play nice.

I knew he was married. I broke my own cardinal rule, never play in someone else’s sandbox, but he was an addiction to me. Why was I so desperate? I didn’t need him, but I wanted him. I had no self-control, and no self-esteem.

Tim told me how to dress, what to do, how to think.

We had ended up at the same fundraiser, he was with his wife, and I was with a guy that I worked with, not a date, but a friend. I could see the rage building in his eyes, as he texted me all night calling me a whore, and he said I looked like a prostitute in my dress.

The next day, he showed up at my apartment and cracked me across the face, the first time anyone ever laid a hand on me.

I didn’t like the person I had become. I had been independent once. I didn’t need Tim Burgess.

An opportunity came up where someone needed to spend a long period of time overseeing a project at one of our plants in Barbados. I seized the opportunity and took the job.

I made arrangements to move to Barbados on the Q.T. I rented out my condo, put my stuff into storage and rented a house in St Michaels Parish.

Once I made the move there, I decided to hire a driver, because I was terrified of trying to drive on the wrong side of the road. I had tried, but the roads are too narrow for my taste. Somehow I managed to hire Bimbob Brock. I might as well have some eye candy to pass the day with, and as I got to know him, he wasn’t as dumb as he made himself out to be. He became a loyal employee and friend. I didn’t need a man at this point, but I sure didn’t mind the view.

The last thing I did, was send Tim an email to end our affair. He sent one back spewing venom and predictions of my demise if I didn’t come back to him. Barbados was far enough away. I was safe. Or so I thought.

I had been out with some friends to one my favorite restaurant, The Cliff. Between the excellent food, wine and spectacular view of the ocean, I returned home in great spirits. Brock, as always drove me home.

Imagine my surprise when I walked in and found Tim in my house, sitting on my sofa.
“Bitch,” he snarled. “Did you really think you could just leave? You owe me.”

He spied the pearl that hung around my neck. “That should have been mine.” He went to grab it, but I jumped out of the way.

“Get out, leave me alone. I don’t owe you squat.” I backed away slowly, but Tim stood between the door and me.

“The only way you’re getting out is in a body bag. I’m going to kill you, you bitch.”
I started hurling everything that I could grab at him, but everything bounced right off of him. I took a chance and darted for the door, but he caught me and pressed me up against the wall with his hands around my neck and he started to squeeze.

I was wheezing and choking trying to fight him off, but everything was going so dark. Then the pressure and pain was gone. Was I in heaven? Hell?

No, just my living room with Bimbob Brock standing over Tim with a bookend in his hand. There was a little bit of blood on the edge, but not a mess.

“Oh shit, we killed him,” I moaned. “ What the hell are we going to do?”

Brock leaned down and put his ear against Tim’s face.

“Don’t worry Miss Allie, he’s not dead.” Brock said, looking back up at me.

“ Miss Allie, he’s going to keep coming back. You stay here. I’ll take care of this.”

“No Brock, he’s my problem. I’ll solve this.” I held my hand up to let him know that this was on me.

“Miss Allie, I know what to do.”

“Fine, then let’s do this together.” I started to grab Tim’s feet.

Brock picked Tim up and hauled him into the car. He found some rope and tied Tim up, also shoving a gag in his mouth. We didn’t want to fight with him when he woke up.

Brock had a boat out at a small private marina. We hauled Tim into it, and Brock set a course way out past the reefs.

It was silent on the boat, neither of us saying anything. I heard Tim’s struggling. He was awake.

“You know that sharks can detect even the most minute trace of blood in the water,” Brock said. He pulled out a knife and cut Tim’s arms. Not deep, but enough to start a flow.

“There’s a lot of fish in this area, which attracts a far number of sharks, maybe other predators as well. Plus, you like diving for pearls, right? I got my face up and close to his. “You should have left me alone.”

Tim’s eyes grew wide, the seriousness of his situation becoming very apparent.

Brock removed Tim’s gag, and Tim started to scream.

“You bitch, you’ll never get away with this.”

Brock hit him and Tim staggered back semiconscious. We cut the rope and tossed him overboard like the garbage he was.

We watched him flounder in the ocean, and then we saw the fins. Tim screamed, the water churned, turned red, then nothing.

I touched my necklace, yanked it off my neck and threw it in after him. Now he could have the pearl because for me the price had been too high.

The sea was calm, and there was silence all around except for the slapping of the water against the boat.

I now saw where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic, where the violence underneath is kept in check by the calm above. Not the place to dive for pearls.


Fran MacKenzie is an American transplant who was born in Japan and grew up in Kyoto, in the deep south, and in upstate New York. She’s now settled in Ancaster with her son, husband and two dogs. Her other son decided to be nice to her. He moved out and created his own family, giving her the little girl she never had with her grand-daughter Morgan. Fran has won the title of National Fleet Manager eleven times for Chrysler Canada and been a master member for 15 years. Sounds dirty, doesn't it? Now, she has gone back to her first love: writing. On June 18, 2009, she gave a reading of "Diving For Pearls," at CJ’s Cafe.

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“The Waiting,” Irving Ellman

Though it lies a scant ten miles to the North, I have been to the mainland only twice. Once as Jacob's betrothed, to New Harbour where we had our wedding bands made by a grey eyed goldsmith. And on a second occasion, to Boothbay, where we shared our honeymoon. This last departure was in June six years past. We chose June because the season for lobster had ended and Jacob was free to take the few days.

The days are warm and clear in June and when the late morning sun had burned away the fog we could see our island from the rise above the harbour. We sat and spoke of all that life had in store for us and as we shared our thoughts the island lay within our view, a calm shadow drifting in the dazzling blue expanse that spread to the horizon and beyond.

We revelled for these days in the newness of our love though I recognized a certain impatience within myself to begin the new life we spoke of. The waiting had begun already to burn itself into my blood, though I could not then have known its name or its nature.
With our homecoming by the early morning mail boat, the island welcomed us from beneath a heavy cloak of fog. By the afternoon the mainland had become clearly visible. From the distance I could not say precisely where New Harbour lay or Boothbay but I gave them little thought. I turned my attention to the making of our new home and our new life. Jacob turned his attention to preparing the boat and the traps for the months of fishing to come.

The season came quickly and then another and another. The winter winds were cold, they have always been cold here, but the air was crisp and the island peaceful beneath a pristine mantle of snow. It seemed that there was only the waiting each day for Jacob's return to distress me.
The waiting has always been difficult, more difficult than the cold or the long days of silence. Early each morning I follow Jacob down to the boat and watch him safely out to sea. Then the endless hours of concern begin.

Depending on the month I may fill the day with washing, mending, tending the vegetable garden, a hundred or a thousand small domestic acts. If it is spring and the day's work is finished I may wander for an hour to the flower-strewn meadow and watch the artists as they work. A few are always to be found there. Some live among us - many more come only for a day or a week. They come to paint the light as it filters through the feathered branches of Cathedral Grove, or to paint the powerful swells that pound against the rocks of Gull Cove to the South. The rocks there are covered with moss so fine their surfaces shimmer as if formed of polished glass.

We warn the visitors always to be watchful – the rocks can be a silent invitation to disaster. The currents are strong and the ocean swell powerful, even on a calm day. No-one who has lost their footing has been pulled from the water. No-one who has fallen has been found whether alive or dead. When storms blow, even though miles from the island’s shore, the waves become majestic or terrifying depending on the nature of your eye. Such turbulent days bring the artists to the Cove and I watch them here as well, to pass some moments, but there is little comfort in this, it does not ease the endless nature of the longing for Jacob’s safe return.

Then when he returns we no longer speak of what life has in store. We speak instead of traps, of this seasons catch and of adding yet another line next season. Such are Jacob's dreams.

He leaves me too often alone in the confines of this place. The island is little more than a mile in length, less than a mile in width. While Jacob is at sea I remain behind in what is too compact a world – though to many it is one that holds within its borders wonders beyond count. Visitors come, endless numbers of them, to explore the variety of birds, the rare wildflowers, and the rough hewn cliffs. When they leave each one is given a small bouquet. This tradition has been honoured by the villagers for more than a hundred years - a small token of well-wishing given to each visitor departing.

Last winter the old lighthouse, battered by countless years of storms, collapsed and now the building of a granite tower to house a new light above the meadow has begun. We watch the work with grateful hearts - we have been too many months without the comfort of a beacon to ease our way. Those of us who cross the meadow or skirt the edge of the ice pond when the night is thick with fog have made do with lanterns or torches to find our way and to guide our returning loved ones to safe landing places.

While Jacob is at sea I watch for the evenings, to know when it will be clear and when he will need guidance.

When the evening is clear and calm I stay close to the woodstove preparing dinner. The activity and the stove provide warmth and a sense of security. In the depths of the lobster season the sea is cold and Jacob’s hands become raw and red from hauling the traps. And he is cold, frighteningly cold as if the water and the breath of the sea have drawn all warmth not only from his flesh and bones but also from his heart.

He leaves me too often alone in the coldness of this place where the evening is slow in coming. And I stay close to the woodstove when I am able.

Other evenings may be lost within fog so dense that the island itself becomes all of the world. There is no moon. There are no stars. Such evenings are torments that drive me toward madness. Yet I choose to wrap myself in the solitude - I do not walk across the path to seek company. There is no comfort in counting the hours and the minutes in the company of another who awaits a similar returning. I sit in silence with an unnamed terror burning in my blood, expecting madness to overtake me – or death. Death seems possible - I may die from the never ending hammering of the seconds against my fearful heart.

But I must wait and at the appointed hour I carry the lamps North to Fish Bay. It is a difficult journey when there is fog. On this island, the fog comes as a solid mass that moves as if alive. It envelops us as a dense web that parts with reluctance to allow passage - only to fold quickly behind lest any gap be left unattended.

This has been one such evening and I have made the journey with infinite care, bringing with me two lamps. One lamp is clear, the second is fitted with amber glass. These form a signal, placed three yards apart marking the place that Jacob will row towards so he might safely land. Without them he is as lost within the fog as is the rest of the world.

This night the waiting is long. I sit in the web of blindness and strain to hear the groaning of oars against metal, the slap of waves against wood. I linger through an eternity for the call of Jacob’s voice carried on the wind to know he has found the markers.

I know with certainty that I will remain, until morning, until the sun burns away the denser parts of the fog. But I will endure this infinity knowing it to be for one final time, then I will no longer live with waiting. It will no longer burn the blood that pulses through me.

I will leave, as a token, the winter flowers I have held since turning to the South rather than North . In the end it is a simple thing to end the agony of waiting, – to place the lamps three yards apart above the perilous rocks of Gull Cove. Then I will return home, certain that I have left the waiting, forever.


Irving Ellman's thirty-five years as a designer have been punctuated with periods of inspiration, a number of awards and a recent Fellowship from ARIDO. His writing, on the other hand, has been punctuated with a periodic lack of comma sense. He was born in St. John where family legend records that his first words were 'move, quickly…' Without stopping to think his parents concurred, which led to his growing up in Hamilton. So it was that at this early age he learned how important it is to choose your words with care … and to leave out the adverbs. He now lives in Burlington with his wife (his biggest fan) and their west highland terrier Beardsley who is working (doggedly) on illustrations for the growing collection of short stories. On June 10, 2009, Irving gave a reading of “The Waiting” at CJ's Cafe.

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Willy Blackmore joins BLISS Literary

Willy Blackmore, a former editor and co-founder of Impetus Press, has joined BLISS Literary agency as an Associate Agent and is looking for authors.

Fiction areas of interests: writing with a pop or urban edge that falls between commercial and experimental, and traditional literary fiction. He prefers narrative-driven novels that construct and develop a real and engaging world. He does not represent straight genre fiction (e.g. fantasy, romance, crime, horror, etc.), but will consider manuscripts that take a new slant on the traditions and tropes of a genre.

Nonfiction areas of interest: pop culture, food/travel writing, contemporary art and culture, memoirs that showcase an intense sense of immediacy and confront difficult realities, and histories and biographies that relate to literature and art.

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sandy Lu joins L. Perkins Associates

Prior to her current position Sandy was with Vanguard Literary Agency.

Sandy is seeking literary and commercial fiction, upscale women’s fiction, mystery, thriller, psychological horror, and historical fiction. She is especially interested in edgy, contemporary urban fiction.

In nonfiction, she is seeking submissions in narrative non-fiction, history, biography, memoir, science, psychology, pop culture, and food writing. She also has a particular interest in Asian or Asian American writing, both original and in translation, fiction and non-fiction.

Sandy can be reached at sllperkinsagency@gmail.com

No website for Perkins Associates, but see Lori Perkins’ blog here: http://agentinthemiddle.blogspot.com/

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary

Sara Megibow (long-time assistant to lead agent Kristin Nelson) is now a full acquiring agent at Nelson Literary Agency in Denver.

What Sara’s looking for:

Science Fiction and Fantasy. This is probably my all time favorite genre. For me, it is important to create a vivid, intense world that is incorporated seamlessly into an engaging story with complex characters. Here are some recent reads which I feel capture these qualities: Old Man's War by John Scalzi, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik.

Romance: I love super sexy, intelligent romances. My favorite authors are Sherry Thomas (I know, I know, I'm biased) and Pamela Clare (everything she's written). I'm a romantic, so about any subgenre works for me (except inspirational) as long as the writing is superior and the characters are solid.

Young Adult and Middle Grade. I have to admit vampires and werewolves are not top on my list right now. I know it can still be done, but I am secretly on the look-out for books set in the real world (with a multicultural spin or a historical spin would be great).

Finally, that all-encompassing genre of commercial fiction. For me, just about anything goes as long as it's well written. I couldn't put down Mistress of the Art of Death by Arianne Franklin. Bring on the historicals and the multiculturals in this area too."

Nelson Literary Agency: http://www.nelsonagency.com/

You can read an interview with Sarah here.

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Priot Entertainment Group

Donna Bagdasarian, formerly with Vigliano Associates and the Maria Carvainis Agency, has started a new agency, the Priot Entertainment Group. She is actively building her list with this new agency.

Fiction areas of interest: general fiction/mainstream, literary fiction, mystery and suspense, thrillers, historicals, contemporary women’s fiction.

Nonfiction areas of interest: biography and memoir, history, business, finance, psychology, popular science.

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Kirsten Neuhaus Literary Agency

Kirsten Neuhaus, who has worked at a few agencies in recent years, has recently broken out on her own.
Seeking: Nonfiction, particularly current events, international affairs, pop cultural studies, and narratives with strong female voices, as well as up-market, commercial fiction.

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The Devil was Dead," Ken Vaughan

From Being a Lesser God
by Ken Vaughan

The devil was dead, or so it appeared. He lay in a pool of his own blood. At least it looked like blood; it flowed and congealed like blood, but the red was so dark it looked black.

Bob stared; he hadn't meant to kill the devil. He wanted to apologize; it was an accident, but no-one was listening. The devil's minions, recently screaming, laughing, and hurling insults, were shuffling around in the shadows, unwilling to approach.

Bob didn't mind them staying away, they smelled, they were hideous. At first sight, they appeared to have skin the colour of rotting flesh, but he had soon realized there was no skin. The smell matched the appearance, rotting carcasses on which flies fed and were in turn eaten.

Bob ran the events through his head, how exactly had it come to this? His day started ordinarily enough, he woke to his alarm, washed, dressed, ate, and left for work. He locked his door, trotted down the stairs, out of the apartment block, and in front of the bus. That's when things had started to change.

The buildings across the street disappeared, replaced by a white mist. In the back of his mind Bob knew this wasn't right, but he was OK; there was no pain, no injury, no cause for concern. In the realm of strange occurrences, this was rather mild, just there one minute and here the next.
In a way, this event was like most of his life, void of emotion. He remembered an interview with a murderer, known as the Green River killer, where the man said, "that feeling thing, I never really understood that"; neither did Bob.

Bob lived his life by a set of rules; mostly religious dogma learned in childhood; don't kill, don't steal, don't swear, but he couldn't claim to understand why. His mind was logical and he could see that millions of people living together needed a set of rules to live by, but he had no emotion invested in any of it. Bob avoided sports, both participating and watching; he avoided parties, functions, teams, and particularly relationships. Any situation where he might have to voice an opinion based on his emotion, left him struggling and uncomfortable.

This was about to change.

The mist disappeared. Divided in two, the hall in which he stood was a black obsidian rock on one side, carved into steps. On the steps lounged a hoard of fleshy, smelly creatures, who appeared decidedly bored. Clearly belonging to the devil standing proudly before them, they should have been in awe, or at the very least attentive, but Bob sensed what he could only describe as attitude. On the other side, also carved into steps, was white rock resembling ivory. The steps were empty.

"Your soul is mine!" thundered the devil, his fearsome laughter echoed, rolling off the walls.

"No need to shout," said Bob.

The devil was stunned; his hoard caught their collective breath and held it, now they were attentive.

"What?" said the Devil, the echo mocking him as it bounced around the hall.

"I said there's no need to shout." Bob repeated

"You will learn to fear me, mortal!" The devil recovered, again thundering around the hall.

Bob wasn't afraid. He knew he should be; the devil looked scary enough; huge, red, teeth, horns. Stereotypical renaissance with the bloodshot eyes, the tail, the hooves, and the trident, but there was something less than convincing about this creature.

"Your soul is mine to torment for eternity!" More echoing, thunder.

"Why?" asked Bob, his first ever feeling being mild annoyance. "I've followed all the rules, I've committed no sin."

"Ha! You're not the first to tell me that." The devil laughed. "I get that all the time. Answer me this. Do you love God?"

"I don't love anyone, I've never been capable of loving any one." Bob was angry now, he was being punished for not having any feelings and it wasn't fair. Being born without emotion was not his fault.

The devil nodded towards the empty white steps.

"They're big on that one!" He smiled, it felt to Bob like the devil placed a consoling arm around his shoulders. "Look, they didn't even show up to defend you."

Clearly meant to instill despair, the remark simply served to increase Bob's anger. He was abandoned. What had he done to deserve that? He'd followed the rules damn it! He had no control over having no emotions, whose fault was that?

Coldly logical as ever, Bob thought he understood why no-one had shown up. It must be that God knows you're around because other people think about you, prey for you. Bob had spent his whole life avoiding any meaningful contact, any commitment; there was no-one to wonder how he was, hope he was OK, offer a silent prayer for him. He doubted if anyone even knew he was dead. He was assuming by now that he was dead. Why else would the devil be demanding his soul?

"It's time to go now." the devil asserted.

"I'm not going anywhere," said Bob. Now he was furious, he didn't care about the rules, he hadn't had a chance.

"You're mine, you didn't love God!" screamed the devil, his minions cowered on the steps.

"Love him," Bob screamed back, "he didn't even enter the equation, I never even thought about him. I never even thought about you for that matter, so I don't belong to you either. You have no power over me! I reject you!”

Now Bob's voice echoed around the chamber. "Reject you… Reject you… Reject you…"

The minions were more than attentive now, riveted would more aptly describe them; they sat forward on the edge of their steps not wanting to miss a thing.

The devil was silent, too angry to speak. In a lazy movement, he reached for Bob. The intent had been to grab Bob by the throat and raise him level to the devil's eyes, but Bob wasn't there. Bob ducked.

Though clearly angry, the devil nonetheless stood motionless, he was also confused. Bob shouldn't have been able to duck. The devil's movement had looked slow to impress Bob and the devil's minions, but in reality, no time had passed between the start of the movement and the end. In theory, there was no way Bob could duck, but he had.

The devil lunged, and again Bob ducked. Four more times the devil lunged; his minions started to jeer, shouting his name, laughing and swearing. Bob actually thought he could hear a few cheers for himself.

On the last lunge, Bob ran up onto the white steps. The devil, out of patience, took his trident and stabbed underarm. The intent was to skewer Bob like an apple, and then roast him over the fires of hell before sucking out his soul and consuming it. Bob ducked.

The devil swiped the trident sideways at Bob, and, as it passed within an inch of his nose, Bob struck out adding his strength to the momentum of the weapon. The extra speed and the trident's weight pulled the devil off balance, and he staggered forward. The trident continued to rotate in his hand, twisting free until the butt rested in the angle of two white steps. The devil, still staggering forward, impaled himself. He smiled; no weapon could hurt him, none but his own anyway. Then his smile faded, and he dropped to his knees with glazed eyes.

As Bob descended the white steps, they began to disappear. By the time he stood before the devil's carcass they had been replaced by decaying rock formations.

“No way to heaven now then?” he thought glancing towards white steps that no longer existed.

Reaching out Bob placed his hand on the devil's shoulder, a shock like electricity coursed up his arm. Knowledge transfer began, and Bob finally began to experience many emotions. Hate was the first; God and Heaven had abandoned him, left him to fight the devil alone; there would be retribution. Malice and loathing integrated nicely with his coldly logical brain. One by one he felt them all, recognized them, welcomed them; fear, jealousy, cruelty, suspicion, he knew he could feel them and master them all. He thought he should be happy, but that emotion was not forth-coming, neither was love, nor caring, or any of the other weaknesses. Never mind he had what he needed; knowledge, emotion, and some unexpected appetites he yearned to explore.

In the transfer, Bob learned that the defeated devil had been great; he had overcome his Godly opponent. He had caused so much strife on the world for which they fought that the God had faded through despair, finally turning to mist and drifting away. Bob realized that this devil had been a hero to the dark entities for which they laboured, and he laughed as he summoned the minions to eat the carcass. He even took the liver for himself. Bob was the victor, and what good was victory if you couldn't exercise a little malice. Besides, this devil had also been stupid; if a devil’s existence depended on battling a God, why kill the God. No wonder Bob had overcome, the Devil's power had faded with his purpose, he had in effect killed himself.

In the recesses of Bob's mind two fiery columns beckoned, one green and one gold. He turned toward them like a shark sensing blood in the water. He saw thousands of souls gathered before them. The thousands he recognized abstractly as food, and they sang, or so he supposed. To him it seemed like a herd of pathetically bleating sheep. Amongst the crowd however, there were children; they were different, not of heaven or earth. The children aroused a thousand hungers in him, each more obscene than the one before, and he knew he must have them for himself.

The two columns of fire blended and became one as he approached. The combined column spoke directly to him, "We are Alberonwyn, and you will not touch them!"

He instantly despised this Alberonwyn, arrogance and party tricks counted for nothing. How did Alberonwyn think the children could be protected from him? Why did Alberonwyn refer to itself using the royal we? Such arrogance! How did Alberonwyn start speaking its name as a male, and end it as a female?

He turned as Alberonwyn looked beyond him, and there against a black sky was a world with deep blue oceans, swirling, white clouds and brown landmasses. This then, was where they would wage war for souls. On closer inspection, there were areas of gold and green within the brown landmasses, but far greater were the areas of grey. The grey, he knew, was his; it was sickly and unwholesome; the devil had given him a head start. No, he decided, the devil had given him nothing; he had taken it. Alberonwyn could not stand before him, any more than the devil had. He'd have to come up with another name though, Bob just didn't sound right any more.


Ken Vaughan's life has divided into three sections. In the first section, small dog syndrome forced him to play rugby for thirteen years, join British Airborne Forces, compete in Gymnastics, Judo, Swimming, Show jumping, Ballroom dancing, and earn his Private Pilot's License. Then he wasted twenty-one years working for Bell Canada. After Bell, to stay employed, he learned every Windows product from PowerPoint to Visual Basic Programming, and to save money, taught himself auto-mechanics, plastering, tiling, plumbing, and carpentry. He's not sure if he writes because he's insane or to prevent himself going insane. His two greatest achievements are raising two kids who don't hate him … yet, and being married to the same woman for thirty-four years without her trying to kill him … yet. On June 10 at CJ’s Cafe, he gave a reading of "The Devil was Dead," which is an extract from a longer narrative titled Being a Lesser God.

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

"Han's Wedding," Jennifer Bushman

From The Ming Bowl
by Jennifer Bushman

Han was married on a cold, sunny day. Wutang and his wife, Ailian, accepted my parent’s offer to hold the wedding at our house. Wutang seemed pleased with the idea, and I heard my mother say it gave the Li family “face.” As for my parents, they were glad to put the Bauman incident out of their minds and concentrate on planning Han’s wedding, however much they disapproved of arranged marriages.

I asked my parents how they could so readily help out with a ceremony they thought was a mistake. My mother’s answer was curt; she was busy with all the arrangements, and I had interrupted her. “Han must learn to put up with what can’t be helped,” she said, “just like the rest of us.”

My father averted his eyes and said something about it being all for the good.

Disgusted with both my parents’ answers, I flounced off to my room. There, I rolled back and forth on my bed, feeling real suffering at the thought of Han being absorbed into China’s ancient ways, becoming one with a people I was just beginning to realize would never fully accept me.

As it turned out, the “Christian-Chinese” wedding was confusing to most of the guests, who managed to enjoy themselves anyway. My father officiated over the young couple’s Christian vows. Miss Ding had approached the house in the traditional red chair; the banging and clashing of musical instruments – faint, in the distance, then louder, closer – signaling her approach. To add to the commotion, several of the Li cousins had lit a long string of firecrackers on the outer courtyard paving stones. As the bridal procession came into sight, the firecrackers jumped and popped. People grinned broadly or laughed out loud. Some held their ears. Small children giggled and danced and shrieked. A smoky mist from the firecrackers drifted across the courtyard.

The servants spread a piece of carpeting on the ground for the bride to walk on as she stepped out of her chair. She looked lovely in a white Western-style gown and veil that seemed to rise in a cloud around her, contrasting with her dark hair and eyes. I would have thought the bride intimated by the noise and attention, stepping out of the seclusion of the chair to see so many strange faces, some of them foreign. But Miss Ding wore bright-red lipstick like a banner – she had obviously been victorious after a long battle with her mother – and her black eyes danced with mischief and triumph through the almost transparent veil.

There was another burst of music and a clash of cymbals. The guests crowded into the main room, pushing each other in their eagerness to see the bride. Even Little Gao was there as a cousin of the Li family. I saw him hurry by, joking noisily with a friend, his expression giving no indication that he was embarrassed or angry over losing his job.

I watched Han’s mother, Ailian, hurry forward through the crowd, a pleased smile splitting her plump features. Her modern-style silk dress, with short sleeves and a high collar, was too tight, but otherwise she looked pretty. For several weeks, Ailian had been telling people her new daughter-in-law was modest and dutiful. I wondered what people thought at the wedding when they saw the bride with her lipstick and her mischievous eyes. Maybe Ailian was merely putting the best face on the situation, I thought. Wutang also was grinning, but then, why shouldn’t he? He had honored his father’s wishes. He kept darting glances at elderly Mr. Ding – his father’s contemporary – as if to say, “You see? My family has kept its promise.”

Old Grandfather sat inside, impassively accepting greetings and congratulations from the steady steam of guests who approached him; he was not happy that the wedding was part Christian. He wore a plum-colored robe with side fastenings, a cap, and soft Chinese shoes. My mother had taken me up to greet him when he first entered the house, supported by Wutang and one of Wutang’s brothers. I had bowed to the old man, trying to keep my anger and dislike from showing on my face. I knew I would never forgive him for forcing Han to go through with this marriage and possibly ruining his life. I also knew my opinion on any subject was worth nothing to Old Grandfather, who saw me merely as a female “foreign devil.”

Most of the wedding guests were Chinese, though Ambrose Varley was there because he was a special friend of Han’s. My friend Frances Appleton also was a guest at the wedding, along with her missionary parents. As soon as the Appletons entered the room, Frances spotted me and grinned excitedly. We had both been part of the mission since we could remember, and, because we were the same age, had practically grown up together.

Frances slipped from her parents’ side and hurried over to me. “Don’t you just love weddings?” Even Chinese ones? I cannot wait until it is my turn.”

“You’re only fifteen, like me.” I was scornful.

“That’s all right. I already know whom I’m going to marry.”

“I suppose it’s Will.” Frances didn’t make any secret of her admiration for my brother. I knew that Will barely noticed the plain-face Frances.

Frances’ face fell. “Shh. Don’t say anything.” She glanced around. “I’d have a real American wedding, though. I’d wear a white gown like Miss Ding, only much finer. And I’d be married in a church, coming down an aisle.”

I said nothing, but knew that if I married, I would prefer a partially Chinese wedding like this one. I thought, the ceremony would be Christian too, but I also approved of the Chinese traditions. I rather liked the notion of riding bumpily through the streets in the sedan chair, my face covered in a red veil; the world seen through a reddish haze. According to custom, I wouldn’t take the veil off, but would allow my bridegroom to remove it in the privacy of our room. In my mind, the unknown bridegroom had Han’s features, and I pushed these out of my mind and determinedly gave the man the face of a stranger. As in traditional China, he wouldn’t have set eyes on me before. Full of unbearable curiosity and nervousness, he would slowly lift my veil –

“What are you smiling at?” Frances wanted to know.

I couldn’t explain how funny I found the idea of the poor Chinese bridegroom lifting the veil and discovering his bride was a foreign devil. To avoid answering Frances’ question, I said, “Do you understand this ceremony?”

“No. I think’s boring.” Frances stood on tiptoe and strained to see through the crowd.

I caught a glimpse of Han’s face. Unlike everyone around him, he wasn’t smiling. Well, he hadn’t wanted to marry, I thought. I felt another surge of anger at Wutang and Ailian, who were grinning so broadly.

Earlier in the day, I had cornered Han in the courtyard and said, “I wish you happiness.” I stood still, waiting for his response and had been taken aback when he had not replied or even met my eyes.

Finally, he said, “I am not concerned with happiness.”

I felt sad. “What do you mean?”

Han raised his eyes and stared over my head. A gust of wind swept into the courtyard, touching my cheek, then rattling the dried leaves of the past season. The wind went on to ruffle Han’s hair. I shivered. It was as if the breeze were somehow bringing us together. I glanced up at his eyes, but he still refused to look directly at me. I thought about the bridal bed at the Li home, and imagined Han and Miss Ding in it together. No, I thought, pushing away the image. This is all wrong. I hated that silly Miss Ding, and shivered again at the thought of Han stretched out in the traditional bed. A great, carved Chinese bed, I knew, was a private world where you keep your most necessary possessions and draw curtains against everyone else. When Han climbed into the bed that first night with Miss Ding, I would be among all those stranded outside.

Above our heads, a bird darted from the tiled rooftop to the paving stones, then back to the rooftop. Han kept his eyes on the bird while he said, “Today, I will do my duty to my family.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but Han forestalled me. “Soon, I will do my duty to my country.”

I looked up again and this time he looked directly into my eyes. “Your eyes are very blue,” he said.

“But that doesn’t mean – “

“Shhh. You are still my little sister.”

He might have said more but we were interrupted by Little Gao and another, more distant, Li cousin, who leaned together against the house, out of the wind, and lit cigarettes.

I turned back to Han, wanting to ask him what he meant, but he signaled to me to be quiet and moved swiftly back to the house.

The wedding ceremony was almost over. Han and Miss Ding had signed the scrolls. My father was saying some words over their bowed heads. Someone moved and blocked my view of Han’s face. The murmur of voices rose. People crowded closer.

A burst of music. A clashing of cymbals. Han was married.


Jennifer Bushman is an American who has lived in Oakville for almost two years with her husband, Kevin, and their two children. Thirteen years ago, while her mother was battling cancer, Jennifer and her mother co-authored a novel about China called Hard Sleeper set in 1930s Peking and Shanghai. After her mother's death, Jennifer self-published the book and it was a Second Place Winner in the 2003 Readers Preference Editor's Choice Award for History. She is now attempting to re-write the novel in hopes of having it published by a big publishing house so she can sell more than a few copies! The novel's new title is The Ming Bowl. On June 10 at CJ’s Café, she read this excerpt, “Han’s Wedding”

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.