Friday, November 27, 2020

“The Birthday Party” by Randi Evans


I had felt her presence for a while, but I didn’t hear her voice until the day of my retirement party.  She whispered, “So, how long do you think we have left?”

I managed to subdue her for 4 years, as I volunteered at my granddaughter’s school, revived my garden, and read through the stack of books that had been patiently waiting. My husband, Bill, took a retirement job in the wine industry and spent his spare time at the golf course or squash court.  I had tried to like golf, but to me it was just a workshop in creative profanity. We did, however, agree on one pastime. Travel. We had visited every continent except Antarctica at least twice, in an effort to ensure that our children would never be burdened with having to manage too much money.

It was as Bill and I approached our 70th years, she returned, roaming uneasily through my body. Again she asked, “So, how long do you think we have left?” I clamped my hand firmly over her mouth.

Bill and I were not into big celebrations, but I decided it would be easier to silence her if I was busy planning something special for our 70th year.  There was no question that travel would be involved, and choosing the country was easy.  Spain had called us back repeatedly since our first trip there in 1973, and we both wanted to explore more of the north coast.

We made our celebration a command performance for our three children and their families.  They didn’t object.  On a lark, we sent out feelers to other well-travelled family and friends to see if there was any interest in joining us.  Some jumped on board by return email. Others signed on over the next few months. Thirty-five people later we realized were going to have a birthday party in Spain.

Now, to nail down the exact location.  We wanted our guests to have a genuine Spanish experience - sun, sea, timeworn streets, fortress walls, Spanish omelets and ham, the best coffee in the world, and that unique brand of Spanish energy.  We needed a village big enough to accommodate tourists but not so popular that foreigners had corrupted their lifestyle.  I had been making most of our travel arrangements, but now I had to satisfy thirty-five people from age seven to eighty.

Reality set in. I had committed to planning a party. A Big Party. In Spain. From Canada. In Spanish. What the hell was I thinking?

After a particularly sleepless night I emailed friends in Barcelona who did some brain-storming and came back to us with Hondarribia, a Basque village on the north coast near San Sebastian. It had 3 distinct districts – narrow, winding streets leading up through a walled village; the seaside with marina, sandy beaches and boardwalk; and what we affectionately called “Party Street”, where wine flowed and tapas magically appeared on little stand-up tables in the middle of a cobblestone walkway lined on one side with bars and the other with colourfully painted homes and businesses. Perfect.  We knew where we were going.

Now the details.  I found an apartment on the 3rd and 4th floors of a building on the water. It had six bedrooms for the eleven immediate family members, a playroom for the kids and a large common area with a balcony overlooking the busy promenade and across the Bidasoa River into France. Having learned my lesson about DIY, I immediately sought a small travel agent in Hondarribia to help with tours. This remarkable woman, Txaro, had spent her school years in New York State, so her English was perfect.  She was intrigued by a group of crazy Canadians coming to Spain to have a birthday party and made it her mission to ensure our celebration would be one we would remember.

With air booked, accommodations and tours settled, we had a few months to relax. That’s when I heard it again  that disturbing question.  “So, how long do you think we have left?” I upgraded our seats to business class.  That shut her up.

Bill and I flew into Spain a week early with our younger daughter and her fiancĂ© (they in economy class).  We had to tweak the details and put together welcome kits - maps, schedules and of course, a bottle of local wine all nestled into a Spanish souvenir bag.  A few days later, our older daughter, our son and their families arrived.  Then the rest of the group began trickling in.

Txaro introduced Hondarribia with a walking tour through the walled village, noting, not only the rich history, but also where the town scenes from Papillon had been filmed. The following day we were happy to see our guests split into new friendship units to spend their free day hiking the hills leading to the Bay of Biscay, exploring vibrant San Sebastien or hanging out in the local bars.

We rented a bus for two days, with the first to be spent in France.  It started by dragging our grandson from the playroom wailing, “but there are no toys in France!” He perked up when he learned he would get to explore a real neo-gothic castle and was totally appeased after choosing his lunch from the fresh fruit, specialty meats and pastries in the open air market. 

The driver dropped us off on the beach for the afternoon, and we made our way back to Hondarribia via the 10 minute ferry across the Bidasoa.  

We spent the next day in the Spanish countryside, learning of the strong Roman influence, donning helmets that perched uselessly on top of the oversized Evans’ heads to tour an iron mine and sampling Txakoli, the signature dry, slightly spritzy wine of the region. We lunched at a Cider House serving the largest portions of the bloodiest meat we had ever seen outside a butcher shop. We ended the day winding down the hills past vineyards and farms as the sun set on the Bay of Biscay.

The only surprise was the bus driver. He was bilingual as promised, but his languages were Basque and Spanish. The inconvenience was surpassed by the hilarity of our broken Spanish and pantomimed conversations.

The Birthday dinner was intended to be the high point of the week.  While it was a fun five hour stuff-and-drink-yourself-silly event, the best parts of the week were the other evenings.  Our apartment had an open door policy. Guests started arriving around 5:00 with food and wine.  The cooks among us crowded into the tiny kitchen to see what we could concoct. Not surprisingly in Evansland, a contest evolved – who could buy the cheapest drinkable bottle of wine. Bill judged the winner to be a 1.5 Euro, 1.5 liter bottle of Garnacha, which was better than some of the more “expensive” (2 Euro) bottles.

The evenings ended with very loud singalongs accompanied by our son and our daughter’s fiancĂ© on their guitars.  Those with a Welsh background carried the tune while the rest of us mouthed the words. I was sure that we were going to be evicted. However, when the seniors tottered to their beds and the younger crowd headed to Party Street around 11:00, we could hear the revelry coming from outside and realized that the locals were just getting started.  Spaniards know how to party.

On the last evening our three children roasted us with original lyrics to “Homeward Bound”. Instead of extoling the virtues of their wonderful parents, they divulged how much I worried, how much Bill slept, and how they wished we were indeed “homeward bound” instead of squandering their inheritance. I had prepared a slide show of our 70 years, accompanied by our favourite music - from 1940’s songs my mother sang to me to Lady Gaga.  Our older daughter, the comedian, made a heartwarming speech, thanking me for saving her time in planning our funerals.

Our guests trickled out just as they had trickled in.  Bill and I stayed in northwest Spain another two weeks to unwind. I wouldn’t want to take on that kind of project again, but I don’t regret an iota of the time, effort and expense. The bonus? I hadn’t heard her voice in a full month.

In the 5 years following our party, she has become more active.  She jabs her toe under my kneecap. She pings my sciatic nerve with her nails. She swooshes through my inner ear until I am off balance.  She whispers. She murmurs. She sighs. But now, when she asks ,“So, how long do you think we have left?” I tell her, “Just leave me alone.  I’m busy.”


Randi Evans enjoys travelling, gardening, classroom volunteering and being a grandma. She has always enjoyed writing, but found little time to do more than edit the company newsletter and write the occasional article. In retirement, Randi has written a few stories for her young grandchildren and is now experimenting with other genres, starting with memoires. Randi lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, with her husband, Bill.

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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Online Writing Personal Stories, Thursday afternoons, Jan 28 – April 1

Writing Personal Stories

9 weeks of sharing and writing

Thursday afternoons, 1 – 3 p.m.

January 28 – April 1, 2021 {no class Feb 25}

Offered online and accessible wherever there's Internet

Also on offer this winter: “Exploring Creative Writing” {see here}, "Writing Kid Lit" {see here}, and "Writing Little Kid Lit {see here}. 

If you've ever considered writing your personal stories, this course is for you. We’ll look at memoirs, travel writing, personal essays, family history ~ personal stories of all kinds. Plus, of course, we’ll work on creativity and writing technique and have fun doing it. 

Whether you want to write a book or just get your thoughts down on paper, this weekly course will get you going. We'll reveal the tricks and conventions of telling true stories, and we’ll show you how to use the techniques of the novel to recount actual events. Weekly writing exercises and friendly feedback from the instructor will help you move forward on this writing adventure. Whether you want to write for your family and friends or for a wider public, don't miss this course.

We’ll have a guest speaker for this class:  Jennifer M. Smith, author of Green Ghost, Blue Ocean. This story of Jennifer’s 40,000-mile nautical adventure won the 2019 Pottersfield Prize for nonfiction and was published by Pottersfield Press this year. 

Jenifer has also been published numerous times on Quick Brown Fox. For more on Green Ghost, Blue Ocean visit the distributor, Nimbus Pulishing, hereand visit Jennifer’s website   here.

Note: This class will be held live via Zoom. To participate, you'll need Internet access and a microphone and a camera {i.e., a webcam} on your computer, tablet or smart phone.

Fee:  $176.11 plus 13% hst = $199

To reserve your spot, email:

Instructor Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He publishes Quick Brown Fox, Canada's most popular blog for writers, teaches creative writing at Ryerson University and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Saint John. But his proudest boast is that he’s has helped many of his students get published. Read reviews of Brian's various courses and workshops here (and scroll down). 

See Brian’s complete current 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, November 22, 2020

Four literary agents at the Sandra Dijkstra Agency seek authors

The Island of Women by Lisa See
represented by the Dijkstra Agency

Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency

Note: Don't ever miss a post on Quick Brown Fox. Fill in your email in the Follow Brian by Email box to the right under my bio, and get each post delivered to your Inbox. If you’re not yet on my newsletter list, send me an email, including your locale to: ~Brian

The Dijkstra Agency is a California-based literary agency with seven agents, five four of whom are looking for authors, including picture book author/illustrators, middle grade fiction and nonfiction, graphic novels, young adult novels, adult fiction and nonfiction:

Suzy Evans is an attorney, author, and agent at SDLA. She holds a Ph.D. in history from UC Berkeley. She represents picture books, middle grade fiction and nonfiction, young adult fiction, nonfiction for adults, and she’d love to find a great legal thriller.  

On the children’s front, Suzy has a great love of middle grade and is particularly on the hunt for lively, engaging nonfiction that pops off the page and makes kids excited about reading and learning.

She also wants wacky/hilarious commercial MG fiction with series potential; and graphic novels that bring history, great works of literature and fascinating historical figures to life (think Socrates, Machiavelli, and Hamilton).

She also have a soft spot for classic, coming-of-age MG works, contemporary YA fiction that tackles difficult issues in bold, daring ways and with inventive formats that can be brought into the classroom to stimulate meaningful discussion and debate (a la Walter Dean Myers’ Monster).

She’s also seeking sweet, lyrical picture books (favorite classics include Stellaluna and The Cat Who Walked Across France).

Like everyone else, she'd also love to find MG/YA fiction that explores diversity.

In the adult market, Suzy is particularly on the hunt for great serious nonfiction, especially by historians who are looking to make a transition from an academic to trade readership and journalists who have something unique and significant to say. She’s also on the lookout for smart parenting books; food, health, and diet-related titles; sports books with crossover appeal in other genres; self-help of every stripe by authors with well-established platforms; and riveting, elegantly-written memoir (recent favorites include William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days and Paul Kalanithi's deeply-rendered When Breath Becomes Air); cookbooks with inventive new twists; humor, especially as it relates to parenting; and small, quirky books that make her smile or think about the world in entirely new and surprising ways.

As an author herself, Suzy’s most recent books include Machiavelli for Moms (Simon & Schuster) and Forgotten Crimes: The Holocaust and People with Disabilities. She’s also a ghostwriter for a #1 New York Times best-selling author with more than 25 million copies in print and her first children's book will be published by HarperCollins in 2018.

Follow Suzy on Instagram at and on Twitter at @thehistorychef

Query Suzy at:

Update Nov 23: Jessica Watterson is now closed to queries. She hopes to begin accepting queries again in January 2021, once she has her current stack of queries under control.

Jessica Watterson has been with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency since 2013. She’s looking for Romance (Historical, Contemporary, Romantic Suspense, and Paranormal), Women's Fiction, Cozy Mystery, Domestic Noir, Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Picture Books. 

Jessica is most interested in all genres of romance. Independent heroines are a must, in addition to well realized heroes who aren't alpha-holes. Some of her favorite authors include: Kristen Ashley, Jennifer Armentrout, Jeaniene Frost, Amy Harmon, and Colleen Hoover. 

She also loves Women’s Fiction that concerns itself with elements of life that can greatly change one’s perspective and outlook on cultures and experiences.

Jessica is also open to select Cozy Mysteries that feature fun and independent heroines that can take what life throws at them with aplomb and a bit of humor. 

On the YA side, she is looking for just about anything contemporary, and a bit of romance thrown in is never a bad thing in her opinion. 

She is also interested in select author illustrated picture books that capture the fun and joy of reading between adults and children.

In nonfiction, Jessica is solely open to Pop Culture projects for authors who have established platforms. 

Query Jessica at:

Thao Le represents picture books and graphic novels by author-illustrators, Middle Grade fiction, and Young Adult across genres, as well as Science-Fiction/Fantasy and select Romance for adults.

In the picture books, she works only with writer/illustrators.

In Middle Grade and YA, whether in prose or graphic novel format, she’s currently seeking contemporary stories that are witty, heartfelt, and authentic. She's especially drawn to stories about family and friendships from the POV of diverse protagonists. She’s a fan of young characters who are passionate about the arts, sports, STEM, activism, and geeky fandoms. She adores stories with a touch of magic and whimsy, and is a fan of mythology and fairy tales.

In the Adult SFF realm, she’s a fan of character driven contemporary fantasy, near future science fiction, and romantic space operas. She is particularly excited about stories with fresh twists to common genre tropes.

Her favorite romantic tropes are: hate-to-love/enemies-to-lovers, slow burn, forbidden/doomed romance, fake dating/marriage of convenience, grouchy curmudgeon and bubbly optimistic, mistaken identities, and she is a sucker for beta second male leads who steal the show (and hopefully the heroine’s heart!).

In general, she loves beautiful literary writing with a commercial hook and tight plotting. Like everyone, she is actively seeking underrepresented voices (including, but not limited to, all ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental and physical health, and socioeconomic status) to her client list.

Query Thao at: QueryMe.Online/thaole

Elise Capron is most interested in well-written narrative nonfiction (particularly trade-friendly history, cultural studies, and science) as well as character-driven literary fiction.

A graduate of Emerson College, Elise holds a BFA in Writing, Literature and Publishing. She has been with the Dijkstra Agency since 2003.

Elise is interested in fiction that has unforgettable writing, a distinctive narrative voice, and memorable characters. She loves novels with an unusual or eccentric edge and is drawn to stories she has never heard before. She aims to work with writers who are getting their work published regularly in literary magazines and who have a realistic sense of the market and their audience.

On the nonfiction front, Elise is looking for fascinating true stories told in a compelling way. She is especially interested in working with up-and-coming scholars (particularly historians) who are looking to transition from the academic market to a trade readership, as well as journalists.

Query Elis at: QueryMe.Online/DijkstraCapron

Sandra Dijkstra seeks adult Literary and Commercial fiction, including mystery, suspense and thrillers, sci-fi/fantasy, romance, picture books, middle grade books, and young adult fiction.

In nonfiction, she’s interested in History, Politics, Current Affairs, Business, Science, and Religious Studies. Sandra looks for writers with something significant to say, who know how to say it in a distinctive way, and whose books help to make this a better world. 

Query Sandra at: QueryMe.Online/DijkstraCapron

What to include in your query

For any email queries, please include the word "QUERY" in your subject line. 

Fiction: Please send a query letter, a 1-page synopsis, a brief bio (including a description of your publishing history), and the first 10-15 pages of your manuscript, all pasted in the body of the email. No attachments.

Nonfiction: Please send a query letter and your book proposal. For more about what to include in your proposal, see the Dijksta Agency submissions page here.

Picture Book Writers: Please send a query letter, a brief bio (including a description of your publishing history), and full manuscript text pasted below your query letter. No attachments.

Illustrators with dummy: Please send a query letter, a brief bio (including a description of your publishing history), full manuscript text pasted below your query letter, full dummy (in pdf format as an attachment) that includes 1-2 color samples, and link to online portfolio.

See the Dijksta Agency submissions page here. See more about individual agents here.

Literary agent Stephanie Winter

If you’re interested in meeting an agent and in getting published, don’t miss our online How to  get Published workshops Saturday, Nov 28, with Stephanie Winter of P.S. Literary (see here), and {tentatively} Sunday, January 24, with Barbara Berson of the Helen Heller Agency {details to be confirmed, but to reserve your spot, email:}

And if you’re specifically interested in writing and publishing Kid Lit, don’t miss our online  Writing for Children and for Young Adults workshop with Kids Can Press editor Kathleen Keenan, Saturday, Feb 27 (see  here), plus the Writing Kid Lit weekly class Tuesday evenings, Feb 2 – March 30 (see here) and the Writing Little Kid Lit weekly class, Wednesday evenings Feb 3 – March 31 (see here).

Beyond that, Brian’s schedule continues to take shape...

Weekly classes (see all winter classes here):

Online: Exploring Creative Writingan introductory, low pressure course to get the creative juices flowing  – Offered at two times: Thursday evenings, Jan 21 – Apr 1 {see here} and Friday afternoons,  Jan 22 – Apr 2 {see here}.

Online: Writing Personal Stories, nine weeks of creativity and fellowship. Thursday afternoons, Jan 28 – March 25. Details here.

Upcoming workshops:

Online: Writing and Revising, Saturday, February 6. Details here.

Online: How to Write a Bestseller, with New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong, Saturday, April 3.  Details here.

For more details or to register for any workshop, retreat or weekly class, email

See Brian’s complete current 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.