Saturday, October 31, 2020

“Victim of the Night” by Colleen Mitchell Robinson


As she raked up the leaves around the tombstone, Krista turned her face toward the wind and felt a chill. She looked at the graveyard sprawling around the old church.  It would have been beautiful, if it wasn’t for the fact she had to live there.

This was Greg’s brilliant idea.  Live in the manse for free in exchange for maintenance of the church grounds and cemetery.  Great, except that most of the chores fell to Krista.  Greg worked night shift in town, and insisted he had to sleep all day to survive.  She worked in town as well, at the lawyer’s office, and spent her weekends cooking, cutting grass, and weeding gardens.  At night, she was alone.

This Saturday was typical.  Greg had picked up an extra shift, so Krista put a stew in the crockpot and headed out to look after the grounds.  He had promised to shovel the leaves and grass into the compost when he got up, so she wanted to be sure everything was ready for him before he went to work.

As the sun started to drop behind the trees, Krista put the rake in the shed and closed the door tightly.  She glanced at the shovel leaning against the wall, and then back up at the bedroom window.  No sign of movement from Greg. 

I’d rather be living in the shed than that old house, she thought.  It’s in better shape. 

No matter what the weather, the sliding window panes rattled and the electricity was always going off because they were so far out of town.  The bedrooms on the second floor were drafty, and the one they slept in had an access to the attic.  She could hear bats up there at night, keeping her awake for hours. 

She had suggested moving into a cheap apartment in town, but Greg wouldn’t hear of it.  No sense in spending money on rent when we can get this place for free.

Krista came into the kitchen just as Greg was coming down the stairs.  He reminded her of a vampire, hiding from the sun, rising as night approached.

“Hey babe, that smells great.  Do we have any bread?” Greg asked as he lifted the lid on the crockpot.

“It’s on the table,” she replied.  “Are you going to shovel those leaves into the compost before you go?  I told the priest they’d be cleaned up before the service tomorrow.”

“Nope.  Gotta eat and run.  The guys have a football pool at seven, before shift starts.  You should have time to finish before dark.”

Krista glared at him.  She suspected there was more than a football pool involved.  She couldn’t wait till he wolfed down his food and left.  At least then she could enjoy a glass of wine in peace.

With the dishes done, Krista looked out at the churchyard.  She knew the leaves should be shoveled into the compost and covered with dirt, but the wind was picking up and it was starting to drizzle rain.  

No, dammit, she was going to leave everything as it was.  When the priest called to complain, Krista would wake Greg up and let him deal with it.

She poured herself another glass of wine and flicked on the television.  Nothing.  Cable was out again.  She slammed off the set in disgust.

She stood up and went over to the window, and then jumped back, startled by a bang. 

A bat had flown into the glass, and wriggled into the gap between the sliding panes.  It was now sandwiched there, trying frantically to get free.  Krista looked at its small pressed face, jagged teeth exposed, grimacing at her from its prison.

This was all she needed! She had to get that thing loose or it would torture her all night.  She went out into the growing dim and tried to ease the panes apart. The trapped creature made a screeching sound and clawed its way in the other direction, limping into the living room.  Krista charged back in, and saw it flopping on the floor.

Without thinking, she grabbed the frypan from the counter and smashed it down. The bat looked dead.  Stunned at least.  Probably dead – she’d hit it hard. She scooped it into the pan and lunged out the back door, flipping the carcass into the garden.

As she looked for signs of life amidst the greenery, she heard a shuffling noise behind her.  Krista turned toward the church, and saw a man slowly making his way up toward the manse.

“I’ve come to ring the bell,” he said as he stepped up onto the deck.  “The priest lets me ring it every year, on the anniversary of my brother’s death.”

Krista froze.  The man had a dirty growth of beard, and his clothes were filthy.  She started walking slowly toward the kitchen door.

“You’ll have to come back tomorrow,” she said.  “The priest isn’t here, and I don’t know anything about the bell.”

“He says I can stay here overnight, by the church, so I can ring the bell in the morning before service,” replied the man.

“Well you can’t.  You’ll have to come back in the morning.  I’ve gotta go.  I’ve got food in the oven, and my husband will be back soon,” she lied.

She went inside, bolted the door, and then ran up the stairs to her bedroom so she could watch the man down in the yard.  It was almost dark.  She could barely see him.  He was shuffling back across the drive toward the church, and then disappeared into the cemetery.

She picked up her cell phone and called Greg.  No answer.  The clock on the bedside table said 8:30. His shift didn’t start until 11:00.  She tried him again and finally reached him just before 9:00.

“There’s a man outside.  He said he’s here to ring the bell for his dead brother or something.  I told him to go away, but I can still hear him over by the church.”

“What do you want me to do about it?  I told you I’m busy with the guys and my shift starts in a couple of hours.  If I come out there now, I’ll be late for work.”

“What if he comes back to the door?  What do I do?”

“Call the police, for god’s sake.  What are you, an idiot?  They’ll get rid of him.  I’ll try to get off a little early.  I gotta go,” and he hung up the phone.

Krista sat on the edge of the bed, trembling.  She wasn’t sure if it was from fear or anger. Both, she decided and drank two more glasses of wine.

When she jerked awake, she found herself lying fully clothed on top of the comforter.  The bedside clock read 3:50 am.

Then she heard it.  At first, she thought she was dreaming, so she stood up and peered out between the bedroom curtains.  The moon was scuttling in and out of jagged black clouds, making it difficult to see the ground below.  Then she heard it again.  The sound of the bell ringing in the silence of the night.

Krista turned on her phone and dialed 911. 

“Yes, I need someone to come out and help me.  There’s a guy on my property.  He tried to get into my house earlier tonight.  I told him to go away, but I’m sure he’s still here.  I’m on the 5th line in the manse beside the church.”

“Okay ma’am.  It doesn’t sound like you’re in danger, but we’ll send a car out there as soon as one becomes available.  It may be a while, so just keep your doors locked, and you’ll be fine.”

Krista pressed end, and clutched her phone as she crept down the stairs to the kitchen.  If she kept the lights off, she might be able to see what was going on without him seeing her.

Or she could go outside and confront the man who was making her angry and afraid.  She stepped outside onto the porch.  There was the shovel resting against the wall beside the door.  She grasped it, held it firmly in her hands, and advanced toward the church.

***

Krista sat in the back of the cruiser, covered in a thermal blanket and blinking slowly.

“Looks like your husband must have tried to confront that drifter and got into a fight.  I’m really sorry,” said the officer.  “Did you hear anything more after you called us?”

“No, nothing,” Krista replied.  She was shivering with shock and cold.

“Did you normally keep a shovel outside?” the officer asked.

“We normally keep everything locked in the shed, but my husband was supposed to be composting the leaves, so I left it out for him.”

“Well, we’ll have to take it with us, you know, as part of the investigation.  Don’t worry ma’am.  We’ll catch this guy.  He can’t have gone far on foot.”

Krista looked at the leaves swirling around the tombstones, and the yellow police ribbon that was strung around the trees, guarding her husband’s body.

Now that the sun was coming up, everything looked a little clearer.


Colleen Mitchell Robinson
is exploring creativity in her new hometown of Collingwood, along with kayaking, vegetarian cooking, and an occasional glass of wine by the bay.

See Brian Henry's schedule hereincluding online and in-person 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, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

“Sunlight Thoughts: A Review of John Gardner's The Art of Fiction” by Anthony Iacovino

The Beatles once wrote a song about a "paperback" writer who would do just about anything to become popular. This is not the kind of person John Gardner had in mind when he completed, The Art of Fiction. Gardner's book is for the writer who will do the work to become truly great. Although he claims it is a book for beginners, it is much more than that. This book, which is free of jargon, deals with some of the most interesting and difficult issues in writing.

The book is divided into two parts: the first part concerns the theory of writing and the second concerns practice. Gardner focuses on conventional methods of writing since he believes unconventional writing makes use of conventional methods anyway and is a distraction for the beginner.

One of Gardner's important insights is, "Every true work of art…must be judged primarily, though not exclusively, by its own laws. If it has no laws, or if its laws are incoherent, it fails – usually – on that basis." For this reason, Gardner does not set down fixed rules of what to do and not to do. A second reason for not setting down fixed rules is, "Art depends heavily on feeling, intuition, taste." The writer's instinct and timing must have leeway to do their work.

In chapter three, "Interest and Truth," Gardner states that the writer must create for the pleasure of the reader and also speak the truth. In laying out the principles of interest and truth, the author provides an example of how he rises above the other commentators by critiquing the very principles he asserts. Writers should speak the truth, but they should not dwell long on trivial truth. 

Surprisingly, in a moment of lapse, Gardner states that there are no new truths to find. Such a statement seems strange considering the relatively brief existence of humanity in the universe's history.

In chapter five, "Common Errors," Gardner takes up what he considers to be common faults of an author such as intruding into the story, giving too few details, and writing in a "clumsy" way.

Gardner believes the beginner should do exercises to improve more quickly. Each of these exercises should be specific to a particular kind of writing problem. In the book's section on exercises, Gardner provides dozens of them for the beginner to work on. Advanced writers can benefit from the exercises. They can use the exercises to identify and correct specific weaknesses.

More and more publications are coming out on the subject of writing fiction. Some of these are by renowned authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King. The better choices are Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction, and Gardner's own The Art of Fiction.

***

Note: Quick Brown Fox welcomes your book reviews – or any kind of review of anything, of anywhere or of anybody. If you want to review your favourite coffee shops or libraries, babysitters or lovers (no real names please), go for it. See examples of book reviews here (and scroll down); other reviews here (and scroll down). Read about how to write a book review here.

QBF also welcomes essays about a favourite book or about your experience of reading or writing. To get a taste of what other writers have done, see here and scroll down).

Submit to: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Include a short bio at the end of your piece and attach a photo of yourself if you have one that’s okay. 

Anthony Iacovino has experienced joy and laughter while teaching English to Canadian and international students. He has also lost all his hair trying to grade their papers! Besides being a professor, he earned a living as a managing editor and writing consultant. More recently, he published stories in The Way Through and the Writer’s CafĂ© Magazine. Lately, he enjoys performing stories in front of a children’s group at his church.

 See Brian Henry's schedule hereincluding online and in-person 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, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

“The Sweater” by Nancy Coombs


Arielle Worthington had rules – No weddings. No funerals. And she played the flute. She hated the word “flautist”. So pretentious.

“I’m a flutist,” she’d correct people.

Arielle had been called a “prodigy”, too. “I’m just a hard worker!” she’d say. But for all her modesty, she really wanted to be famous. She thought she should have played the guitar, joined a rock band, written pop songs.

Being tiny – 4’11” – had helped her career. Wunderkind, people thought, even now as a thirty-seven-year old. Endless practicing and homeschooling – by pushy parents who’d bought her a flute of gold – had paid off in a Carnegie Hall debut at 12. Almost famous, Arielle was the Girl with The Golden Flute.

She’d looked a bit like Shirley Temple, with her blond ringlets and Mary Jane shoes, and couldn’t shed that image. Though Arielle wore all black and had a couple tattoos, “precocious” still came to mind.

The soloist career she’d insisted upon – no flute section in an orchestra for her – meant being wheeled out at classical music festivals in Tanglewood and Spoleto and for The Proms at Royal Albert Hall. Her parents were happy with their only child’s success but Arielle felt like a one-trick pony. She’d been a novelty once but was losing her audience and barely enjoyed playing. Some days, she felt like smashing her gold flute.

Even her parents weren’t there for her anymore. Having left New York City four years ago, they’d relocated to West Africa where her father, an ophthalmologist, performed eye surgery on the needy in Ghana.

What about my needs? Arielle wondered. Her mother used to be her manager but was now so busy learning the Frafra language and Ghanaian drumming that she rarely got in touch.

As the years passed, Arielle’s playing felt robotic and pointless. She was getting fewer offers but didn’t want to play for bridezillas or grieving families. She still had her pride. And her dreams.

Arielle was stuck. She had no Plan B – prodigies don’t – as her life had been determined by others. What else did she like? Sleeping – she loved to sleep.

Arielle dozed more, even in the daytime. She was napping one afternoon in her Tribeca loft, after practicing, when the phone rang. It jarred her awake from a dream where she’d been on stage but couldn’t play or even speak. She ran for the phone and was happy to hear a friendly voice on the other end of the line.

It was the minister of Trinity Church Wall Street, one of Manhattan’s oldest churches, asking her to play at a benefit concert for Syrian refugees.

“There’ll be Philharmonic musicians and some Met singers,” he said, “and Sam Gould’s organizing it. You know him, I believe?”

Sam, like Arielle, had been a prodigy – piano – but became an impresario. She felt a stab of resentment in her chest. Why couldn’t she find her next step?

Arielle said, “Yes, I do. And I’d be happy to – what shall I play?”

“Anything to inspire support for the refugees.”

Maybe this would get her out of her rut?

On a whim, Arielle wrote an original piece, “Where Falcons Fly.” She hoped no one would think it was New Age. She added tongue rams, key slaps and even silence. Where it was coming from, she had no idea but it’d been a long time since Arielle’s spirit felt this light.

She began counting down the days to the benefit and even started looking forward to it. The night before the concert, she wished her parents were with her for moral support. Instead, she went to her father’s bookshelf – he’d studied philosophy as a Yale undergrad – and randomly pulled out The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. The illuminated illustration on its cover caught her eye and, instead of turning on the television for company, Arielle stayed up most of the night reading it.

The next morning, the day of the concert, she woke up feeling refreshed. Arielle shook her head with closed eyes, reminding herself that she’d only slept a couple hours. Boethius’s words were still on her mind: “Though fame may spread abroad…death enfolds alike the humble and the proud, making the lowest equal to the highest.” Maybe there was more to life than being famous?

As the day progressed, she almost switched to “Lacrimosa” from Mozart’s “Requiem” but Arielle was sick of playing it safe and left for Trinity Church. Once she’d arrived, she stopped by Alexander Hamilton’s tombstone outside the church, touching it for good luck, and entered the sanctuary.


As she sat up front waiting, nervous about her unconventional composition, Arielle watched a frail elderly woman with a silk scarf around her head clutch an usher as he seated her in the second row. Her red sweater was unlike any Arielle had seen, featuring two large whales swimming in water.

What a work of art, Arielle thought, happy for the distraction.

The woman smiled, her eyes meeting Arielle’s. A sense of calm washed over Arielle just in time -- she was next.

Standing in front of the pews, Arielle closed her eyes. She pictured the refugees, fleeing their homes, crossing borders. Arielle felt herself soaring. She’d become the falcon, strong and free.

Arielle played “Where Falcons Fly” with no accompaniment. The church was quiet as she went from low register to high, immersing herself in percussive sounds and audible breathing. Her phrasing was all new.

It felt real. Was Arielle playing, at last, from the heart?

At the end, Arielle stood in silence then heard applause and saw a standing ovation. This was better than Carnegie Hall.

After bowing, Arielle looked at the woman in the red sweater who was blotting her eyes with a tissue. Their eyes met again as Arielle fought back a tear. Who was she?

The concert had given Arielle a good feeling but it didn’t last. Back in her loft, she fell into her regular practice routine the next couple weeks with her stack of classical music books. With no upcoming performances though, Arielle felt depressed and, after a morning of playing, was lying down in her chaise longue by the window. Its pink velvet felt soft and contrasted with the loft’s cement floors and brick walls.

The phone rang, startling her.

It was Trinity’s minister again. Another concert so soon? she wondered.

No, he was calling about one of his parishioners, Irene McCartney.

“Irene heard you play at the Syrian concert. Your piece moved her so much -- when she went into the cancer hospice a few days ago, she asked me to find ‘that flautist’ and get her to play ‘that song’ at her funeral. Will you, Arielle?”

“Excuse me, I prefer ‘flutist,’” Arielle said then asked, “When?”

“It shouldn’t be long.”

Arielle stood up and said, “She hasn’t died yet?”

“No, but may I count on you? It’s Irene’s final wish.”

Arielle felt something she hadn’t felt in awhile, maybe ever – deeply touched that her playing had meant something.

So, she said, “Sure,” then practiced her piece for a stranger.

What am I doing with my life? Arielle wondered.

When Irene passed away the following week, the minister called her. “Are you available Thursday afternoon?”

“I’ll rearrange my schedule,” Arielle said although she’d had no plans.

The day of the funeral, Arielle arrived early and walked up the church’s centre aisle.

Passing the second row, she remembered the lady who’d sat there at the Syrian benefit. Arielle hoped she’d get as warm a reception today.

Arielle spotted the coffin up front. Something was draped on it.

She went closer…could it be?

It was a red sweater with whales on it.

She sat down in the second row and took out her flute. As the church filled up, she could feel the woman’s presence -- Irene?

Arielle listened to eulogies given by a lady from Irene’s knitting group – who talked about Irene’s whale-watching childhood in Nova Scotia – then the minister.

Arielle played “Where Falcons Fly” to close the funeral. There was no applause this time. Just stillness.

As people exited, Arielle saw a group of women in colourful hand knit sweaters parade past the coffin, each touching the red sweater.

Arielle was putting her flute away when one of them said, “Irene loved your song, sweetie. I’m Gladys from her knitting group. Meet Dottie and Sue and Lois,” Gladys said. “Join us sometime -- we meet Tuesday nights at the church. You don’t have to be a member or know how to knit! We’ll teach you. And tell you more about Irene.”

Arielle saw Irene’s husband, Bob, pick up the red sweater. She was surprised when he handed it to her.

“She’d want you to have this. Irene was wearing it when she heard you play. You made this day special for her.”

Arielle pulled the red sweater on over her black dress. Though it was huge on her, it felt snug like Irene was hugging her.

Just then a dark-haired man with a smile walked up to her. Did she know him?

The others got quiet.

“Hi ya,” he said in an English accent.

“I’m a third cousin of Irene’s. Luckily, I was in town. Love that sweater – I remember Irene wearing it one Christmas. Can I take a picture of us together? I want to remember Irene’s sweater.”

Arielle hated selfies but said, “Sure.” She could hear the others whispering.

“I’m Paul, by the way,” he said.

This couldn’t be who she thought it was, could it?

“I’m Arielle.”

“Your song’s special. Never heard anything like it. I’d like you to play it at my concert this weekend at The Garden. How’s that sound?”

“Wonderful!” Arielle said.

“I’ll write some lyrics for it later, if you want,” he said. “We could do a big concert for the refugees, record it maybe. I could talk to Ringo, and I know a few other people… Any other charity you like? We could support more than one.”

“My parents started one in West Africa for eye surgeries.”

“Perfect – here’s my card. Text me and we’ll schedule a warm-up for Saturday’s concert. And talk about the rest. Gotta run!”

Her mind raced. There’d be no time for sleeping.

Irene had gotten what she’d wanted. So had Arielle.

*** 

Nancy Coombs is a former trade attaché and currently flutist, a writer and an arts advocate. She enjoys spending time with her family and running along the banks of Lake Ontario in Oakville, where she lives.

*

See Brian Henry's schedule hereincluding online and in-person 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, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Congratulations to Corinne, Christine, Robin, Wayne, and Paula!

If you’ve had a story (or a book!) published, if you’ve won or placed in a writing contest, if you’ve gotten yourself an agent, or if you have any other news, send me an email so I can share your success. And be sure to let know if you're looking for a writers' group or beta readers; a notice in Quick Brown Fox, will help you find them. 

Email me at brianhenry@sympatico.ca

 

Good morning, Brian!

Today my short story "Boy" was published online in STORGY magazine. Please share the link, and let me know what you think of the story!

All the best,

Corinne Clark

For information on submitting to SOTRGY, see here.

And be sure to check out Corinne’s story here!

 


Hi, Brian.

And I’ve been meaning to tell you that Latitude 46 in Sudbury has accepted my novel – pub date spring 2021. So thanks for the input on my query letter. I’m sure it helped.
Best
Christine Langlois

For information on submitting to Latitude 46, see here.

 

Hi, Brian.

My short story “Tongue Twister” was recently published online in Backchannels Journal. Is it science fiction or fantasy? You can decide :-)

Thanks,

Robin

For information about submitting to Backchannels, see here. Check out Robin’s story here.

 

Hi, Brian.

Just thought I'd write in to let you know that, as one of your former students, you have another success story on your hands. I was writing a science fiction novel while attending your classes, and now I have a novel out: The Chimera Code.

Check it out here.

I just wanted to thank you for the classes and the opportunity to meet with other aspiring writers while I was working on this project. It made a difference, and now that book will be coming out into the world in just a few months.

Wayne Santos

P.S. Wayne also has another book coming out in April 2021: The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling. Check out the details or pre-order your copy here.

 

Hi, Brian.

Just wanted to let you know that my personal essay, “Honey, the ants are back again,” has been published in the Globe & Mail’s First Person column.

It is the story about the ants, the one I submitted to just you during our Writing Personal Stories class this summer (Tuesday nights).

So exciting!

Thank you for everything. I plan to take another of your courses in January, once my busy fall is over.

Hope you are well,

Paula MacDonald

For information about submitting to the Globe and Mail’s First Person column, (and to 21 other places), see here.

Read Paula’s story, “Honey, the ants are back again,” here.


See Brian Henry's schedule hereincluding online and in-person 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, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.