Sunday, January 31, 2010

Black River, by Sue Shipley

Tom Mitchell ran! Each breath left a cloud of mist in his wake. His heart pounded in his chest, spurred on by adrenaline overload.

Tom stole a look over his shoulder, never missing a step. The city street gleamed slick in the damp night. Echoing off derelict buildings, the sound of his feet slapping the pavement reverberated in the still air, and in his peripheral vision, moonlight flashed in the jagged shards of broken windows.

Tom ran faster, pushed himself harder until his lungs ached from exertion in the cold night air. A few yards away, the glistening ribbon of the River Thames snaked through London’s concrete maze. Inky black water sloshed against the quayside. The river loomed closer, city lights reflected on the black surface. From far in the distance, Tom heard a dog bark, sharp, agitated. His palms and forehead glistened with the clammy sheen of fear; he sensed his pursuers drawing near.

Tom glanced over his shoulder, turned toward the river and leaped over the thick chain. Closing his eyes he felt his body tense as every muscle and nerve prepared to hit the surface. When the water failed to envelop him in a frigid blanket, Tom opened his eyes. He was hovering, face down, six inches above the water, arms and legs outstretched. The smell of diesel, floating in rainbow swirls on the surface, filled his nostrils. Looking up, he saw four motionless figures on the quayside; Tom shivered, waiting, as their lips moved but no sound came forth, just faint smiles on their pale faces.

* * *
“Argh!” Tom sat up in bed, shaking his head wildly as his eyes took in the familiarity of his room. A draft from the open window blew the sheer curtains in a billowing cloak of net. His clothes lay abandoned across the floor.

“Jesus Christ! What the hell was all that about?” Tom cursed, collapsing onto one elbow to see that the digital green time on his radio-alarm read 3.45. “Shit, not again!” He reached behind the clock for his cigarettes.

“Damn!” he muttered. Crushing the empty packet with his fist he rolled from the bed onto the nylon carpet and groped around the floor for his discarded jeans.

Finally, with shaking hands, Tom pulled a second pack of Marlboro’s from his jeans’ pocket and sighed as he rammed a cigarette into his mouth.

“No more kebabs and bad coke at bedtime,” he told himself as he lit up with a silver Zippo. The tiny orange flame filled the room with shadows, and despite several deep drags, the inhaled chemicals did little to calm him. Tom crossed the room and closed the window.

For a few moments he stared out into the night. A neon sign buzzed on a building opposite, advertising Sonja’s Adult Entertainment, but other than a lone taxi delivering rowdy students home from the club district, the street was deserted.

Tom pulled on a grubby tee shirt and collapsed onto the bed. He switched on the lamp, banishing the shadows, and the room instantly became his seedy bedsit with monochromatic walls and a bile green carpet. As he blew smoke rings slowly into the air, he stared at the ceiling and thought about the dream. He’d had the same damn dream, three nights in a row. The same chase, same pale-faced pursuers, same inky-black river. Tonight had differed though: tonight he had jumped.

“It’s impossible” he said out loud, flicking ash from the Marlboro into an empty beer bottle beside the bed. “I floated in the air. I’d like to see a therapist work that one out!” He laughed; a dry, humourless sound that did little to ease his fear.

The two previous mornings of early waking had left him aware that further sleep would be unlikely. Knowing he had hours to fill before sunrise, he took a beer from the fridge and popped the cap into the sink. As he took a long swallow from the bottle of Pilsner, he had an idea.

“Maybe if I write it down, that’ll help make sense of it,” he whispered. He rooted in the kitchen drawer and finally found a pen that worked. With no paper in the house, he scribbled the details he could remember on the back of an old betting slip. With his terrifying ordeal now committed to words on paper, he still shook with fear.

“Only one thing to do then – get drunk!” An old mate Jerry frequented The Dog and Gun Pub; it’d been a while since he’d seen him but Jerry was a reliable boozer. Tom smiled. He’d get drunk with Jerry and share the crazy dream, maybe then he could forget it; just maybe.

* * *
The Dog and Gun Pub throbbed with the sound of drunken voices. Tom spotted his mate and sidled up to him at the bar, knocking back the remainder of his third pint. “Hey! Jerry! What’s happening?”

“Hey, Tom.” Jerry clapped Tom heavily on the back. “I haven’t seen you around for a while.”

“Well, you know how it is, Jer. I’ve been at her Majesty’s Service for the past six months.” Tom fiddled with an unlit cigarette and ordered another beer. “Damn no smoking laws. Whoever heard of a pub you can’t smoke in. The World’s gone fuckin’ crazy, Jer.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. Has it really been six months since I saw you?” Jerry’s eyes were wide. “Time sure passes when you’re having fun, don’t it? What you bin’ inside for?”

“Oh, this and that. I’ll tell you later, but have a pint with me. I’ve got something else I want to run by you.”

“Ok, Tom. If you’re buying, mine’s a Stella.”

“So what’s all this about then?” Jerry asked, once they had their pints in hand.

“Let’s go outside so’s I can have a smoke, Jer.” Tom pushed a reluctant Jerry through the door toward the damp patio where other smokers inhaled and shivered; their faces showing alternating expressions of pleasure and pain.

“Just one mind, its bloody freezing out here.” Jerry wrapped his free arm across his chest. “What’s this so important thing you gotta tell me?”

“Jerry, what would you say if I told you someone was after me?”

“What would I say? I’d say they probably are, and that all that shit you mess with, is gonna finish you off one day.” Jerry laughed.

“No, Jer. Listen. There’re these blokes chasing me, but it’s in my dreams, not for real. Every night, last three nights – driving me crazy. I can’t get any fuckin’ peace.”

“Hah! Jerry snorted beer down his nose. “So you’re being haunted at night?” He laughed. “Who the hell do you think you are, bloody Ebenezer Scrooge?”

“Look, mate, I’m not messing. I’m scared.” Tom dragged deeply on his cigarette. “Last night like, some really weird thing happened and I saw myself floating over the river, you know, just hanging there like a bloody puppet on a string.”

“Tom, if you take them drugs, you gonna see all sorts of things. What did you have, a little smack, or was it coke?”

“No mate. I didn’t do any of that stuff.” Tom could feel his face flush and was glad of the darkness to hide his lie. “I think they might be ghosts or something that are after me.”

“Ghosts? After you? Tom, can you hear yourself? You’re talking like a madman.”

“Jerry no, I swear, something not right is happening to me. You gotta help me. Will you stay at my place tonight?”

“Stay in that doss house with you? You gotta be kidding.”

“Nice.” Tom frowned, “so when I’m gone and found drowned in the river, you remember we had this little talk, Jerry,”

“Oh so now you’re having premonitions about your own death? Jesus Tom, you’re really losing it. Look I’m going in for a game of darts. Wanna join me?”

“No. I’m off to get seriously drunk and then maybe I’ll sleep through the night.” Tom drained his pint. “Oh and as you asked, I was inside for mugging.”

“God, Tom.” Jerry groaned. “Who’d you mug this time?”

“Oh, some old biddy who’d taken money out the bank machine. Wasn’t my finest hour. Turned out, she’d just heard that her son was killed in an accident with three of his mates. She ended up in hospital with a heart attack. Course, the papers jumped all over it and had me guilty before I had chance to defend myself.”

“Tom mate, you’re such a loser. If some guys do chase you, you better run fast. Oh, and thanks for the pint!”

Tom watched as Jerry walked into the pub. Drawing heavily on the cigarette, he went out the gate to the street.

“Some bloody mate,” he muttered as he stumbled along the pavement.

Suddenly, a movement ahead made him stop. Yellow pools of light dropped from the street lights while a white swirling mist bled from nowhere to coil around his legs.

“Shit!” he cried, and started to run. Four young men appeared before him, blocking his path. Tom stared at four pale faces, almost translucent, their gazes serene as he tried frantically to dodge them. He screamed in fear and lashed out with wild punches that failed to connect with anything solid. One figure stepped toward Tom, and he recognised him instantly as the old biddy’s son. God knows his photo had been in all the papers and on the TV. Tom wondered for a second if someone had made a mistake in reporting his death. The man smiled and nodded, and Tom watched mesmerized as the group parted. Seizing his chance to escape, he ran between them, down the deserted streets, heading for home.

Tom Mitchell ran! Legs lifted, muscles pumped. Each breath blew clouds of mist around his face, leaving a trail in his wake. His heart pounded in his chest, spurred on by adrenaline overload. Tom stole a look over his shoulder, never missing a step. The city street gleamed slick in the damp night.

His lungs ached from exertion in the cold air. On the quayside, he saw four young men watching in silence. Their skin shone luminescent, and as terror consumed him, rational thought fled his mind. Tom Mitchell leaped over the thick chain into the black frigid water of the River Thames.

Sue Shipley has a decidedly schizophrenic style of writing. Torn between humour and “the dark side,” she is still wondering what genre she will adopt. Last year she published a personal essay on Quick Brown Fox entitled “The Spooky Art of Psychic Development” and hopes to eventually gain further writing credits. She read “Black River” at our reading night at CJ’s Café on December 8, 2009.

Friday, January 29, 2010

First book competition for fiction, creative nonfiction & poetry

Join The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University in celebrating our tenth anniversary by entering our 1st Book Competition. We’re looking for original, book-length manuscripts in creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, written in English by emerging Canadian writers who have not previously published a book.

Creative nonfiction includes personal essays, memoir, travel writing, philosophy, biography, literary journalism, and personal narrative collections.

The winners and short lists will be announced in the fall of 2010. The winning manuscripts in each genre will be published by Vancouver’s Anvil Press in 2011.

Submissions are restricted to complete and unpublished manuscripts, of no more than 90,000 words for creative nonfiction or fiction or 100 pages for poetry.
There is a $55 entry fee per submission.
Deadline: May 31, 2010.
Complete entry requirements and entry form here.

Note: For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Writing workshops & creative writing classes ~ starting soon

Welcome to Creative Writing
Offered in two locations:
Tuesday afternoons, 12:45 – 2:45 p.m.
February 2 – March 30
St. Cuthbert’s Anglican Church, 1541 Oakhill Drive, Oakville.
More details here.
Thursday evenings, 7 – 9 p.m.
February 4 – April 1
Sheridan United Church, 2501 Truscott Drive, Mississauga.
More details here.
This course will open the door to all kinds of creative writing. We’ll visit short story writing and personal writing, children’s writing, memoir writing, and just for fun writing. You’ll get a shot of inspiration every week and an assignment to keep you going till the next class.
To reserve a spot now, email

How to Write and Sell a Romance Novel
Offered in three locations:
Saturday, January 30;  10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Royal Canadian Legion, 576 Brant Street, Woodstock. (More details here.)
Saturday, February 6;  10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
St. Catharines Public Library, 54 Church Street,
St. Catharines. (More details here.)
Saturday, February 20;  1 - 5 p.m.
Whitchurch-Stouffville Library, 30 Burkholder St., Stouffville.  (More details here.)

Here’s the perfect workshop to warm up those cold winter nights. Get the inside story on writing romance. Whether you want to write chick lit (like Bridget Jones’s Diary,) a traditional Harlequin-style romance or woman’s erotica, this workshop will show you how.
To reserve a spot now, email

How to Build Your Story
Saturday, March 6
10 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Chartwell Baptist Church, 1880 Lakeshore Road West, Mississauga

This workshop will show you how authors plot a novel and will give you the best tips on writing and publishing short stories.   With guest speaker, Eve Silver, who will share her insights into the plotting process from the point of view of a novelist who’s writing three books a year.
To reserve a spot now, email
More details here.

Note: For information about all of Brian Henry's upcoming writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lisa Gallagher joins Sanford J Greenburger Associates

55 fifth avenue
New York, NY 10003
212 206 5600

How would you like to be represented by the same literary agency that represented Franz Kafka and now represents Dan Brown? 
SJGA was founded in 1932 by Sanford J. Greenburger, who specialized in representing European writers and publishers in the U.S., as well as internationally.  The agency built its prestigious reputation representing such icons as Kafka and Sartre.  Today, the agency represents dozens of New York Times bestsellers,  including Dan Brown, Nelson DeMille, and Robin Preiss Glasser.

SJ Greenburger Associates has nine agents on its roster.  The newest is Lisa Gallagher:

Formerly SVP & Publisher of William Morrow, Lisa Gallagher is known throughout the publishing industry as an indefatigable author advocate who has helped nurture the careers of countless writers. At William Morrow, she worked with numerous New York Times best selling authors, including novelists Brunonia Barry, Marisa de los Santos, Neil Gaiman, Andrew Gross, Kim Harrison, Joe Hill, Dennis Lehane, and Elmore Leonard.  Nonfiction writers she's worked with include T. J. English (Havana Nocturne), Bruce Feiler (Where God Was Born), Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives), and John Grogan (Marley & Me).

As an agent, Gallagher is looking to represent both fiction and non-fiction authors, and whilst she inevitably will be attracted to the same kinds of books she was passionate about as a publisher - accessible literary fiction, quality commercial women's fiction, suspense/thrillers, lively narrative non-fiction - she knows that sometimes it is a book that you don't know that you are looking for that becomes the one you can't put down.

As noted in an earlier posting, Brenda Bowen also recently joined SJGA and is looking to represent children's lit (See here).

Submissions: Drect your query to one of the nine agents at SJ Greenburger associates.  Submit your query letter in the body of the e-mail, and the following as Word attachments: the first three chapters of the manuscript (for fiction), a book proposal (for nonfiction), a synopsis of the work, and a brief bio or résumé.

Submission guidelines here:

Photo: Lisa Gallagher and ... ?

Note:  In the spring, I'll be leading a number of "How to Get Published" workshops in Gravenhurst (April 17 - see here), Peterborough (Apirl 24), Kingston (April 25), and Hamilton (May 15).  Email me for details:
For information about all my upcoming writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Intensive Creative Writing," April 21 - June 16, Mississauga

8 weeks of inspiration, creativity, & growth
Wednesday evenings, 6:45 - 9:00 p.m.
April 21 - June 16
(Note: We begin by email April 21, but the first class is April 28)
Sheridan United Church, , 2501 Truscott Drive, Mississauga  (Map here)

This course is for people who are working on their own writing. You need to have pieces to bring to class and you have to be prepared to read and give constructive comments on the pieces your classmates contribute.  During the 8 weeks of the course, you’ll bring in 4 pieces of your writing for detailed feedback. All your pieces may be from the same work, such as a novel in progress, or they may be stand alone pieces.

Besides critiquing pieces, I'll also be giving short lectures at the start of each class. I’ll focus on teaching how to critique a piece of writing, and I’ll address other topics on request and according to the needs of the group.

In addition to learning how to critique your own work and receiving constructive suggestions about your writing, you’ll discover that the greatest benefits come from seeing how your classmates approach and critique a piece of writing and how they write and re-write.

This is a challenging course, but extremely rewarding.

Fee: $133.33 plus gst = $140
Advance registration only.  Numbers strictly limited.  To be sure to get a seat, sign up now.

To reserve a spot now, email:

Note: For information about all of Brian's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Doggy Lit (3 markets for dog lovers)

Dogs in Canada
Apex Publishing Limited
200 Ronson Drive, Suite 401
Etobicoke, Ontario M9W 5Z9

Dogs in Canada is Canada’s top-selling pet magazine. It aims to be a reliable and authoritative source of information about dogs:

Our mix of content must satisfy a diverse readership, including knowledgeable dog professionals, breed fanciers and individuals who simply love their pet dogs. Over 49,000 individuals currently subscribe to our monthly magazine and over 127,000 copies of the Dogs in Canada Annual are mass circulated. We urge all writers to become familiar with our magazine prior to querying.

We will consider a wide range of content (feature articles, fillers, interviews, poetry, etc.) but all work must be thematically related to dogs and/or the human-canine relationship. As a general rule, we prefer short, tightly focused pieces. Articles should not exceed 1,500 words.

We encourage writers to query with fresh ideas about dogs and the diverse roles they play in our lives. Basics regarding canine health, nutrition, obedience and behaviour have been extensively explored in the magazine. A fresh perspective on a basic canine issue or a query regarding an up-and-coming topic will be more likely to catch our attention.

We accept queries by e-mail

“Dogs in Canada pays writers upon acceptance, with payment varying according to the quality and length of the contribution. We purchase first-time North American rights and non-exclusive electronic rights.

Submissions guidelines:

K9 magazine

If you can write a newsy article about dogs or a short advice piece about caring for man’s best friend, you might send it to this British magazine for publication on their website. If they like your piece well enough, they might also publish it in their print edition. No pay, just glory.

Check out the sort of thing K9 publishes here:
Submit articles here.

The Bark
2810 Eighth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710

The Bark, which is enjoyed by 250,000 readers, is a bi-monthly magazine about life with dogs. With each issue, we seek to bring our readers a literate and entertaining spectrum of dog-centric articles and stories.

We accept unsolicited submissions and queries, but we review submissions in the intervals between magazine production. Therefore, it can take us up to a year to respond

It is very important for you to become familiar with the “voice” and scope of our magazine before submitting your work. The Bark has been publishing for ten years, and has covered many subjects and themes; we prefer not to repeat ourselves. Also keep in mind that we are a dog magazine, and our readers are very sophisticated in matters pertaining to dogs.

Commentaries, essays, stories, fiction and well-researched non-fiction will be considered but all work must prominently include dogs.

Articles and stories should not exceed 2,000 words. Ideally an article should be no longer than 1,200 words, and will stand a better chance of publication if it is below this limit. We also accept short pieces (less than 600 words) on general tips, how-to and other topics.

If you are interested in doing an original book review, please send us a writing sample (ideally, a review of an appropriately themed book) and let us know what subject matter interests you.

We do accept poetry, but do not have space for all the poems that we would like to publish. We have already selected the poetry that will take us into 2011. But the shorter the poem, the more likely we might be to find space for it.

Essay tributes to dogs who have died are discouraged; while we empathize, and understand that this work comes from the heart, we normally do not publish it. You are, however, invited to submit your tribute here and share your story with our online readers.

The Bark pays upon publication; compensation varies according to complexity and length of article and is individually negotiated.

Web Only Submissions:

We invite you to submit material for web-only publication. These pieces cannot be more than 600 words in length and must fall into the same categories as are covered in the print magazine. You will only be notified if your work is selected for publication. As payment, you will receive a one-year complimentary subscription to The Bark.

Please email your work to
and include your last name and “Web originals submission” in the subject line.

Complete submission guidelines here:

Note: For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

“Pieces of My Sisters Life” by Elizabeth Joy Arnold. Reviewed by Sherry Isaac

It was the front cover more than anything that drew my attention to the paperback novel – the white Muskoka chair, sans occupant, before a lonely beach. Then the title, another reminder of the book that stands out in my mind now as vividly as it did when I read it fifteen years ago, Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. And it was the adoration of this other book that had me picking up the new one, carrying it to the check out, taking it home and opening its pages in anticipation.

As a writer on the verge of publishing my first novel, I was eager to see how this New Jersey author had crafted her debut story. Elizabeth Joy Arnold did not disappoint. Her clear, cut-to-the-chase voice pulled me in; I was hooked before I reached the end of the first line.

Pieces of My Sisters Life explores the complex relationship between Eve and Kerry, twins so identical in appearance that years later Kerry cannot be certain which one is which as she looks upon a photograph taken during their childhood. Yet the girls, though close, are very different indeed.

Through flashbacks, Kerry reveals the intricacies not only of their unique bond but also of their mutual adoration for the boy next door as she comes to terms with the events that tore them apart the summer they turned seventeen. In the present, Kerry struggles to put the past behind her as she returns to Eve’s side and sees her through the final stages of cancer.

Ms. Arnold weaves together the threads of suspense, dread, anger, relief, regret, loyalty, heartbreak, joy and forgiveness in a tale both seamless and tender.
Sherry Isaac has published pieces in Quick Brown Fox, New Mystery Reader and Over My Dead Body. Her short story, The Forgetting, placed first in the Alice Munro Contest in 2009. She is also co-host of Prana Presents, a venue featuring the work of Toronto’s hottest new authors and poets. Visit Sherry on the web at

Note: For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing classes, see here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

“How to Get Published,” Saturday, April 17, Gravenhurst

10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
The Community Room in Your Independent Grocers
290 First Street North, Gravenhurst, in Muskoka (Map here.)

If you've ever dreamed of becoming a published author, this workshop is for you. We’ll cover everything from getting started to getting an agent, from getting your short pieces published to finding a book publisher, from writing a query letter to writing what the publishers want. Bring your questions. Come and get ready to be published!

Workshop leader Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing teacher for 25 years. He has helped many of his students get their first book published and launch their careers as authors.

Special Option: Participants are invited to bring a draft of a query letter you might use to interest an agent or publisher in your book. You don’t need to bring anything, but if you do, 3 copies could be helpful.

Fee: $39.05 plus gst = $41 paid in advance
or $42.86 plus gst = $45 if you wait to pay at the door

To reserve a spot now, email
Note: For information about all of Brian's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Max & Co. a literary agency and social club

Max & Co. was formed in September of 2007, so even the founder, Michael Murphy, is new to the agenting game (though he’s enormously experienced on the publishing side). A vast jungle of cutesy verbiage makes reading Max & Co.’s website a pain, but that all the agents are new and in need of authors means you should have a look at this agency. Here’s what they have to say (with great swathes of meaningless words cut out):

Max & Co. represents a variety of writers and subject matters. Broad categories would be narrative nonfiction (where how it is told is as important as what is told), memoir, info-tainment (reference books that are fact-filled but told in an amusing fashion), humor, visual books that have either a strong narrative or humorous foundation (i.e. not pure art books), and a limited number of fiction titles. 

Our fiction tends to be dark and twisted, often with one or more heroin addicts. At the very least, the fiction we seek favors the eclectic over the mainstream.

We are only interested in the hard subjects of science, history, business if the manuscript is driven by narrative voice or offbeat angle. Purely prescriptive or descriptive work should be placed with another agency.

We do not represent fantasy or science fiction, mystery or thrillers, romance or chick lit. We do not represent children’s books nor young adult.

We seek a unique voice, a voice that either breaks new ground or addresses comfortable ground in a new way. If your voice on paper (or screen) is old, tedious, dreary, or banal, we encourage you to seek representation elsewhere.

Please email a brief synopsis and biography stating what the book is and who you are. Ideally both will point to a very large collection of people willing to drop $24.95 to read your work.  Include sample chapters as attachments, one of which must be your opening (we like to see how you take the stage).

Agents – Newish agent:

Prior to forming Max & Co., in 2007, founder and principal owner, Michael Murphy, had been in book publishing 27 years. His first 13 years were with Random House–Ballantine, where he was a Vice President. Later, he ran William Morrow as their Publisher up until the time of their acquisition by NewsCorp and merger into HarperCollins. Email submissions to:

Newer agents:

Sarah Grace McCandless has published two novels for Simon & Schuster, Grosse Pointe Girl and The Girl I Wanted To Be. The Max & Co. website includes a think patch of purplish prose about Sarah but neglects to mention what sort of books she’s looking for, presumably dark and twisted fiction and narrative non-fiction. Email queries to:

Jack Perry has been in the book business since the early 1990s, including stints at Random House, SourceBooks and Scholastic. Jack does not represent fiction titles. He focuses on narrative books with a foundation in history, business, politics, math, and science. He also likes sports. And Music. In fact, like all of us, if the writing is good enough, he can be led to a vast array of topics.

The site provides lots of useless info provided about Jack, but no email given. You could use Max & Co.’s general mailbox:

Newest agent:

Nettie Hartsock is a recovering technology journalist. She is also a published essayist and writer, currently adding the finishing touches to her one-woman show titled, "Drunko Bunko" which will be staged in Austin, TX in 2010. Donning her super sexy social media cape Nettie serves as a digital strategist helping authors, musicians and comedians create and empower their Web 2.0 outreach efforts.

She’s seeking literary and commercial fiction, business books and popular nonfiction, and the occasional Southern fiction book.

Again, in the site's sea of words no email given, but my sources tell me you should query Nettie at:

Max & Co. home:

Note: On May 15, I'll be leading a "How to Get Published" workshop in Hamilton, with guest speaker Alisha Sevigny, a literary agent with The Rights Factory. 
Email me for more information:
For a full list of my upcoming writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Prana Coffee Bar presents an evening of prose and poetry

Tonight ~ Tuesday, Jan 19
6:30 p.m.
4158 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke.
Featured Readers: Tanaz Bhathena, Cassie McDanial, Jennifer Bushman, Danielle Valiquette, Sharon Bernas, John R. Hewson MD, Brandon Pitts and Sherry Isaac!
Note: For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Book reviewers wanted for Quick Brown Fox

If you're looking to see your words in print (on-line) or want to add a writing credit to your resume, why not write a book review for Quick Brown Fox? I always need reviews, so if you read, if you like or dislike what you’ve read, and you can put your opinion into words, I’d like to hear from you.

Guidelines:  I like fairly short reviews, say under 600 words words, and if you only have 100 words to say about a book, that’s okay. Alternatively, if you discover you’ve written a 1,000-word review, I’ll look at that too, provided you really need all those words.
I like reviews of good books. People look to reviews for recommendations of what they might enjoy reading, so reviews of crummy books are less useful.

Occasionally, I like reviews of overrated books. If everyone’s talking about the latest Margaret Atwood, and if you’re a Can Lit fan but think this book sucks, let us know. Note that to write this kind of review, you need to be a fan. If you only enjoy Literature with a capital L, don’t write to tell us that the latest Dan Brown blockbuster doesn’t meet your standards. We know that. Write about the kind of books you like and target your review to a book’s potential audience.

I like to enjoy reading reviews. Like all literature, a review is meant to delight and enlighten. I’d much rather you send me a witty one-liner than 400 ponderous words. Or if you want to share some fascinating information about a book’s topic, please do. For instance if you’re reviewing Dan Brown, you might decide to share some tidbits about actual secret societies. Or you might comment on our strange fascination with secret societies, which after all tend to be no more dangerous or all-powerful than the Rotary Club.

I'm not just interested in book reviews. If you want to review a magazine or recommend an article or write about why digital readers can never replace paper books, go for it. Any book related piece is good.

I will sometimes publish reviews of books that were self-published, but the majority of books reviewed in Quick Brown Fox will have been published by traditional publishers.

Send your review in the body of your email to:
I'll either post your review or not, but I won't reply to emails about them. I'd like to, but I just don't have the time.

Image: From the Casey-Caridinia Library in Australia.

Note: For information about my writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The White Wall Review & the G. Raymond Chang Prize for Creative Writing

White Wall Review
c/o Department of English
Ryerson University
10th Floor, Jorgenson Hall
350 Victoria Street
Toronto, ON M5B 2K3

White Wall  Review is an annual literary journal published out of Ryerson University.  The review publishes poety and prose (short stories, memoir, travel writing, novel excerpts, personal essays), and visual art.  Over the years, the review has included pieces by Milton Acorn, bill bissett, Nicole Brossard, David Chariandy, Margaret Christakos, Barry Dempster, Pier Georgio di Cicco, Steven Heighton, Evelyn Lau, Karen Mulhallen, bp Nichol, Sina Queryas, Robert Sawyer and Sonja J. Skarstedt.

Submissions should be sent by mail (except for photography), in triplicate.  One copy must contain your name and contact details. The two remaining copies should have no personally identifying material (for anonymous vetting).
You may submit up to five pieces of poetry per vetting round.  (Vetting begins each year in April.) Individual poetry pieces should not exceed five pages.
Prose works should be no longer than 3,000 words.
Photographs should be at least 5” x 7”. Black and white artwork is preferred. Colour photographs or visual art will be considered for the cover only. Include your name and contact details on the back of each submission. We do not accept submissions in slide format.

The G. Raymond Chang Prize for Creative Writing

This contest is only for people who enrolled in a writing course at Ryerson in 2009 or 2010.  That includes my Strategies for Getting Published at Ryerson on Nov 14, 2009, (also known as From the Horse's Mouth) course code: CWWR 450, and all other courses with a CWWR course code. 

The contest has three Categories: poetry, fiction (short story or portion of novel), and creative non-fiction (memoir, travel writing, personal essay), with one winner per category.

The three winners will be published in White Wall Review and will receive a 2-year subscription.Winners will also receive one free course in Ryerson's Chang School writing program (any course beginning with code CWWR), and a chance to read a portion of their prize-winning work at the launch of White Wall Review in fall 2010 at Heaslip House on Ryerson campus.

Deadline: Submissions must be postmarked no later than March 30, 2010.

Details here.

Note: For information about all the annual writing contests in Canada, order The Canadian Writers' Contest Calendar. Details here.
For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Excerpt from The Ming Bowl by Jennifer Bushman

Just when I thought we were beginning to put our past in Peking behind us, or at least learn to cope with what had happened to us, Mr. Varley arrived at the Bauman residence.

I was in my room, thinking I should wash for dinner soon, when I heard a horn toot on the drive, and the purr of an engine, followed by a light patter in the front hall, and the dogs barking as the Number One Boy ran to open the door.

I went out into the upper hall and listened to the murmur of voices from below. I inched forward and peered over the balcony just in time to see Ambrose Varley step through the front door, bundled up in Western-style warm clothing – a hat and a woolen coat.

“Mr. Varley,” I called out before I could stop myself. Below me, Varley’s tall, stooped figure, foreshortened by my view almost directly over him, stopped abruptly. He had just stepped forward to hand his hat to the boy. He paused and looked up, still clutching his hat. “Jane?”

“Oh, Mr. Varley.” Something both painful and pleasurable moved in my chest. I was so glad to see him, yet he reminded me of my parents and my lost-forever home in Peking. I hurried around to the head of the stairs and started down, nearly stumbling in my eagerness.

“Careful,” said Varley. He put out his arms as if to catch me. The boy grabbed at Varley’s hat with great skill and cupped it in his small hands. Seeing Varley’s outstretched hands, I ran down the remaining steps and threw my arms around his neck. “I’m so glad to see you,” I whispered. He smelled of garlic, the cold, and coal smoke.

His arms tightened around me, then he quickly let me go. He grabbed my arms and held me back so he could study me. “You’ve grown up! If you were Chinese, they’d have you married off by now.”

He straightened up and studied me some more. “Yes, you look much better. They must be taking good care of you. That haunted look is gone from your eyes.”

“You saw me in those awful days just after…”

He nodded.

Just then the library door opened and Donald came into the entrance hall. His eyebrows rose when he saw his visitor. “Varley,” he said, using the name as a greeting. His small mouth twitched downward in his characteristic half-amused smile. “This is a surprise. I don’t think you’ve ever come here before.”

“I’m sorry for dropping in like this. I won’t disturb you for long. I must talk to you.”

“Certainly. Can I offer you something? Whiskey? Tea? Coffee? What are you doing in Shanghai?”

“Chinese tea, please.” Varley towered over Donald. “I’ve been coming from time to time to oversea shipping out some of my antiques.”

“A pragmatic man, eh?”

“I don’t see any sense in letting the Japanese do what they want with my things.”

Donald turned to me. “Jane, if you will excuse us, please – “

Varley intervened before he could finish. “Let her listen too. It concerns her parents. Find young Will, if he’s here. Both children should hear this.”

My heart started beating fast. I stood by the staircase and didn’t move, while Donald sent the Number One Boy to find Will and to tell Electra that Varley was here. I heard Donald say, “Tea, in the library. Chop-chop.”

The Number One Boy nodded and hurried out of the room. “Notice how their expressions never change?” Donald said to Varley. “Spooks me sometimes. I’ve been in China twenty years and I still don’t understand them.”

Varley watched the retreating figure of the Number One Boy and didn’t reply.

“But then you speak the lingo, don’t you?” Donald said. “I never really bothered to learn. Wonder now if that wasn’t a mistake?”

Will came out into the hall then and greeted Varley. Electra appeared at the head of the stairs, peered over the railing, then came down, hesitantly, dragging the train of a green silk, feather-trimmed housecoat from step to step, eyeing Varley as if not sure this was a visitor she would welcome in her home. By the time she reached the bottom of the stairs, she had summoned up some dignity, and put out a white arm and hand to greet Varley with some of her former style.

He bowed over her hand, formally, and unsmilingly.

Electra took my arm as we all moved into the library. “What is all this?” she whispered. I could feel her trembling.

I patted her hand. “Shhh. It’s all right.” I caught Will sending Varley curious glances. “He says he wants to tell us something.”

It hadn’t taken me or Will long to discover Electra was addicted to opium. She took long naps in the afternoons, then appeared at dinner, often febrile. As the months passed, she napped for longer periods. She had aged visibly in a short time; her face pouched and sagged. Once, I heard Donald scolding her, saying the opium would kill her. This wasn’t the woman he had married. Electra had cried, and Donald had stomped off in exasperation. I felt terribly sorry for her. Having inadvertently peeped in Electra’s bedroom that night and found her dancing with a fantasy partner and talking of a dead child, I saw my benefactor in a whole new light. It made me feel protective. I decided that my mother would have tried to help her, if she’d known.

We settled ourselves in the library. The Number One Boy brought in a tea tray, poured and passed it around, then lingered, drawing the curtains and switching on lamps until Donald asked him to leave.

As soon as the boy closed the door behind him, Donald said, “Well, Varley?”

Varley sat perfectly still, his hands folded on his lap. “You remember the day you came to my house to pick up Jane?” he said to Donald.

Donald nodded. He pulled a cigarette case out of his breast pocket, offered one to Varley, who shook his head, and to Will, who took one. Electra slipped her own case out of the folds of her robe. There was a short silence, broken by soft clicking sounds as they all lit their cigarettes – Will somewhat inexpertly. Donald exhaled smoke and said, “I remember well. What about it?”

Varley’s smooth face looked ageless in the lamplight. For the first time, I noticed he had the same kind of round-face handsomeness Will had, and realized suddenly just how grown up Will had become.

I wondered how it was Varley could take opium and seem none the worse for wear, while Electra was falling apart. I hardly thought it was fair. He must have been about the same age as Donald and Electra. I looked at Varley, waiting for him to speak. My stomach churned. I clenched my fists and crossed my legs. Will, Donald, and Electra dragged on their cigarettes, inhaled, blew out smoke, and leaned forward to knock the ashes against the ashtray.

Only Varley sat still. Without shifting position, he said, “We spoke a little then about the police report and how little real information there had been.”

Donald said, “I remember thinking it was a damned shame. Case stunk to high heaven, and the police seemed so eager to close it up. It was politics, I know. I understand. But these were my friends, damn it.”

Varley nodded. “I remember you saying so at the time. Now, I’ve heard something new. There was more, after all.”

Everyone stirred. Electra leaned forward to put out her cigarette. Donald lit another. Will smashed out his half-smoked cigarette and stared at Varley. His face, partly in the shadows, had taken on its sulky uncommunicative look, as if he resented Varley’s presence and whatever it was the man was going to say.

“I make no pretense, no apologies, for my habits,” Varley said. “You all must know I sometimes go to opium dens. I find it soothing to lie back on a couch in a hazy room and know there are others present who might be sharing my dreams.”

Donald moved his shoulders impatiently. “Yes, yes, man, get on with it. You know there’s a young girl present.”

Varley’s expression didn’t change. He glanced at me, and then at Electra and Will. “It was in one of these opium dens that I heard the information I’m talking about. One of the policemen who worked the McPherson case stops in there from time to time. We had quite an interesting conversation the last time I was there.”

No one said a word, and Varley went on. “You could see the man had fallen on hard times. He no longer worked for the police. But I won’t go into that now. It isn’t relevant.”

We all waited. Will crossed his legs again. I heard the click of Donald’s lighter as he lit yet another cigarette. He got up and lit one for Electra too. He showed the lighter to Will and Varley and raised his eyebrows. Both shook their heads and he sat down again.

As if he had been waiting for Donald to settle himself, Varley said, “This was one of the two policemen who first showed up at the house that morning after Cyrus and Della were murdered. The man said it had been so easy, tracing Little Gao to his house. Then, of course, Little Gao hanged himself.”

I had imagined Little Gao’s hanging body too many times to want to think about it anymore.

“The policeman fellow let me know that they’d had a chance to rough up Little Gao a bit first.” Electra made a convulsive movement and Varley said, “I doubt they did much to him. He apparently was very frightened.” Varley held out his hands as if beseeching the silent group that sat listening to him.

“So Little Gao talked after all,” Donald held his cigarette close to his lips and stared out across the room.

No one spoke or moved. Varley said, “A little. He was hysterical, sobbing and pleading. He said the murders hadn’t been his idea, not his fault. Then he said something very strange – and I’m quoting the ex-policeman here – that it was the baby’s fault.”

I jerked my head up. Electra gasped. Donald said, “Baby? What baby?”

“I don’t know what baby. I’m only repeating what the policeman told me.”

There was another silence, deeper this time. Varley took out his pocket watch and glanced at it. “I have to hurry,” he said. “But let me finish.”

Varley went on to say the policeman had also spoken about the broken Ming bowl. It was one he had given to my mother, his voice and eyes grave as he told us this. It was a rare and beautiful bowl.

Donald nodded impatiently and tapped his foot. He opened this mouth to say something, but Varley forestalled him. “We all thought the bowl had been broken in the struggle.” He glanced at me and then Will. “Excuse me. This is painful. On one end of the room, where it all happened, there was an overturned chair, other signs of struggle.”

“We know all that,” Donald said.

Varley went on as if Donald hadn’t spoken. ‘We assumed the bowl was broken accidentally, but it wasn’t. It was deliberately smashed.”

Electra put her hands to her mouth. “Why?” she asked.

“I can’t begin to imagine.”

“I don’t understand,” Donald looked around at the rest. “What is this supposed to mean?”

“The ex-policeman told me the bowl had been on a table at one end of the room. That end of the room wasn’t affected by the struggle. The table wasn’t even overturned. But the bowl was badly broken. The policeman believes someone picked it up and threw it down deliberately.”

I shut my eyes, remembering the pieces of blue-and-white porcelain on the sitting room floor. When I had seen the pieces again, they had been spread out across Varley’s desk. I could still picture his long fingers pushing and arranging them. I shivered, remembering he had offered me the mended vase.

“There was a piece missing,” Varley said. “I remember telling Jane about it. I thought it had just been misplaced, perhaps mistakenly thrown out, but it seems this wasn’t the case. You remember Little Gao stepped on the broken pieces of the bowl and cut his foot? That’s how the police found him? When they asked him about his cut foot, he said, - and again I quote the policeman who was quoting Little Gao, a very frightened and not very coherent young man – he said, ‘Wanted the bowl but couldn’t have it. So broke it and took a piece of it.”

Donald stared at him, open-mouthed. “I’m absolutely in the dark. What was he talking about?”

“Either he smashed the bowl and picked up the extra piece or someone else did.”

‘Who? The other murderer?”

“I would assume so.”

“But why?” Again, Donald looked at the rest of us as if for confirmation. No one else said anything. “Why does this mean anything at all? You said yourself the bowl wasn’t broken in the struggle. Why couldn’t it just have broken on its own?”

“Then where’s the extra piece?” Varley spoke calmly. “I asked and asked again when I talked to the McPherson servants. They all claimed that no one had touched anything in that room. And why would anyone deliberately steal a small piece of broken porcelain – especially when all the rest of it was left lying there?”

“I think you’re making too much of this,” Donald said.

Varley stared at him. “But this particular bowl – “

Donald sat up straighter. “My dear Varley, most people wouldn’t know about a bowl like this.”

Varley frowned slightly.

“You’re making too much out of this,” Donald repeated.

There was silence. No street sounds, no sounds from within the household. I looked around the room, trying to avoid the others’ faces. Books in glass cases lined the walls; their surfaces reflected the lamplight. My eyes came to rest on Varley’s face once more. He caught my eye and nodded almost imperceptibly. I nodded stiffly in return. I wasn’t sure why.

Both Donald and Electra had asked Varley to stay for dinner, but it was a perfunctory invitation and Varley treated it as such. All of us, except maybe Donald who still acted as if he heard such tales every day – and maybe he did – were silenced by what Varley had had to say.

We had seen him to the door, all of us crowding out onto the front steps, where the taxi Varley had hired waited under the branches of a pine tree. The driver sprawled on the front seat, dozing, the doors closed against the chilly weather. The Number One Boy knocked on the taxi window and laughed. The driver stirred, then sat up, looking dazed and stupid because he had just awakened. He shook his head as if to clear it and hurriedly started the engine. Varley said good night to each of us in turn and then headed for the car. I ran after him.

“Mr. Varley!” I shouted. He turned to me but when I reached him I kept my voice low. “You don’t think Han had anything to do with my parent’s murders, do you? Mrs. Appleton told me she thought that he might. That’s why I ran away from her and came to you in those days in Peking after all that happened.”

He smiled down at me, but his eyes were grave. “I wouldn’t think Han would do such a thing.” Varley climbed into the back seat of the taxi not once looking me in the eyes. Before he could shut his door, I whispered, “But there’s still so many unanswered questions.”

As soon as Varley’s taxi pulled away, Donald, herding everyone back into the house, said, “What a strange fellow. Was he always like this?” No one answered and he went on. “Makes me wonder why he bothered to come here. And then making such a fuss over that smashed bowl.”

Will said, “You don’t think what he had to say was important, sir?”

Donald shook his head. “None of what he said made any sense. None of it.”
Jennifer Bushman lives in Oakville with her husband and two children. Recently, she and her family embarked on a unique journey of eating a cuisine from every country in the world. In her blog, Eat Planet. Discover the World, she chronicles their gastronomic adventures. Check out Jennifer’s blog here.

Jennifer also journeys into China’s past in her book The Ming Bowl, in which we travel back to the turmoil and romance of 1930s Peking and Shanghai. She read the above excepter on December 8 at CJ’s Café.  She read another excerpt, “Han’s Wedding,” at CJ's on June 10.  Read that excerpt here.

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