Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Writing Conflict workshop ~ online ~ Saturday, July 17

Writing Conflict: Fight scenes, Dialogue scenes & Love scenes

Saturday, July 17. 2021
1:00 – 4:00 p.m. (Toronto time)
Online and accessible wherever there’s Internet

This workshop is geared to both beginners and more experienced writers. We'll look at how to create the most difficult scenes of all: the fight scene, the dialogue scene, and the love scene.  You’ll learn how to use great dialogue and how to mix it with your narrative so that the interaction between your characters comes alive, and you'll go home with some of the best tricks of the trade so that you'll never write a lifeless scene again.

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

See reviews of Brian's classes and workshops here.

Fee: $37.17 + hst = $42 paid in advance 

This workshop will be offered on Zoom. Orientation provided, but you will need a computer, tablet or smartphone with a mic and, preferably, a camera {i.e. a webcam}. 

To reserve a spot now, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

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.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

“Taking a Walk on the Wild Side” by Sara Aharon

During my long and grueling treatment for breast cancer , which included chemo, surgery and radiation, I began journaling about my experiences, both as a coping strategy and as a way of keeping my friends posted about my situation. I found this process extremely therapeutic, both the writing and the sharing and support I received from friends who received my long missives. 

The following is an excerpt from my journal.

January 14, 2016

I feel human for the first time today, seven days after my third chemo. So I ask my husband to take me to a wig shop. We are in Vegas this week, and after careful research, he finds a reputable wig shop. Rows and rows of gorgeous wigs: pretty, noble, chic, curly, straight, alluring, cultured, mature, and in a range of colours and lengths. We stroll, admire and coo. I pick a few, but the moment I meet her, I know we were meant to be together.

The saleswoman is skeptical at first. She has me try several wigs she selected for me. They all look wrong, merely hiding the trademark baldness of cancer in an obvious way. But, when I put her on, even the saleswoman gasps. Styled unevenly as if no one can tame her, yet smooth like melted mercury; she works quite the gravitational pull.

I call her: Wiggy Stardust. 

I know what you’re thinking. I’m plagiarizing from David Bowie and, worse, he’s left this planet so he can’t protest. Not so. It’s an homage to my hero. I was distraught to hear that he died at the young age of 69 last Sunday. In my late teens and twenties, he was the closest thing I had to an idol.

Bowie’s haunting alter-egos fascinated me. I was captivated by his music and ever-changing style. I found him superbly handsome in an androgynous vanilla-scented kind of way. The combination of his versatile music, rule breaking and pushing limits, sense of fun, fashion and character creations, was unparalleled.  

Still, why Wiggy Stardust?


Bowie was the ultimate chameleon who repeatedly reinvented himself. He once said in an interview that he was extremely shy and ‘wearing’ these alter egos or personas allowed him to go onstage and perform with confidence. I believe that he also bravely expressed parts of himself that the rest of us suppress in fear of judgment.  Ziggy Stardust was my favourite of Bowie’s alter egos. I call on him for a dose of courage and inspiration.

Recently I saw Kinky Boots (twice!) and thought of Bowie. I saw it the first time before my cancer diagnosis with my older daughter. I could not stop raving about the show. Less than a month later, post diagnosis, I went again with my best friend who came from overseas to support me.

Seeing the musical with her after my first chemo lifted my spirit for weeks. Especially the Drag Queens’ numbers which I could now sing along to. It was intoxicating. Drag Queens embody for me what Bowie was all about – a celebration of hidden personas. Maybe I was so drawn to this show because I could use a little help unleashing my own hidden personas at a time I needed them most. 

For me, the recent diagnosis of cancer was inevitably a call to push myself beyond my limits, farther than what I thought was possible. A call and a challenge to reinvent myself. My old self, while it had some good resources and skills, had not been equipped to deal with this aggressive cancer and the equally aggressive treatment.

My first alter-ego post-diagnosis was Pink. I zoomed in on this funky pink wig at the Princess Margaret Hospital wig and hat shop. In the pink wig, I am no longer a 53-year-old woman with two cancer diagnoses in two years who has every excuse to feel defeated. Pink cures the blues. She loves taking selfies at parties and making people smile.

With Wiggy on, I am glam. I am fully alive, upward and forward-looking and have no room for doubts or regrets. The possibilities ahead are endless, even though life isn’t.

I wonder what other personas I am yet to discover. It will be my gift to myself in the second part of chemo.

This whole experience has unleashed the wild side within, manifesting itself in kinky boots, wigs and a trip to a realm I hadn’t yet allowed myself to explore. And in return, these personas make me feel hyper-alive and fully myself.  

Thank you and goodbye Starman – see you in heaven, but not too soon. In the meantime, I plan to boogie some more, on the wild side.

Sara Aharon lives in Toronto. She is the proud mother of two adult daughters. These days she makes her living as a virtual psychologist, and since she has more time on her hands, she writes about plagues (and other things).

 See details of Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

“An open letter to the Premiers – Stop funding extremism” by Brian Henry

The horrific murder of four people in London, Ontario, for no reason other than their religion shows it’s urgent that we find ways of dialling back extremism in our country. The federal government says it plans to fight online hate groups. Fine, but what good is that if at the same time our universities are teaching extremism to our young people?

Such is the case with the gender and women’s studies departments at numerous universities in Canada. In response to Hamas’s recent war against Israel, these gender studies departments – not individual professors – but the departments themselves, have declared their solidarity with the Palestinian “resistance” to Israel’s “settler colonialism” and “apartheid” (here).

What’s more, these departments consider dissent illegitimate. “We do not subscribe to a ‘both sides’ rhetoric,” they say; “anti-colonial activism informs the foundation of our discipline,” and “Palestine is a feminist issue.”

In other words, denouncing Israel isn’t optional.

Clearly, this creates a hostile environment for Israeli and Jewish students – or for any student who believes in thinking, rather than accepting dictates. What if a student thinks the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a feminist issue? Many students might suppose gender studies should be about an open inquiry into gender.

Or if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a feminist issue, a student might think a feminist or anyone supporting gay rights ought to be on the side of the one state in the region that champions equality – and not on the side of theocratic fascists, such as Hamas that believe women are subordinate and that executes gay men

But that would be a “both sides rhetoric,” contrary to the “foundation of our discipline.”

Really, these gender studies departments are more like political cults, highly intolerant of dissenting views. And intolerance poisons civil society, with intolerance on one side begetting intolerance on another, creating a vicious circle of extremism.

There are many issues these gender and women’s studies departments say cannot have two sides: They claim that Israelis – Jewish Israelis – are settlers.

Another and more truthful viewpoint is that Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel. Indeed, virtually everyone in the world knows the Jewish people originated in Israel and Jews have lived there continuously for more than 3,000 years. Arbitrarily declaring that Jews – and only Jews – can’t be indigenous is simply antisemitic.

They claim Israelis are colonizers, again meaning Jewish Israelis. A colony of what country? Perhaps of the Arab states – this was where half of Israel’s Jews came from. But Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia and the rest did not send their Jews to colonize Israel; they expelled them. Neither did any other country in the world send Jews to colonize Israel. Jews fled prejudice, pogroms, and murder to return to their indigenous homeland.

Israel, they claim, is an apartheid state. On the contrary, Israel is the only country in the region that grants “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective or religion, race or sex,” to quote Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Arab Israelis vote, get elected, sit in governments, hold cabinet posts, and work in the judiciary as lawyers and judges up to and including Israel’s supreme court.

In contrast, Palestinian governments in the Gaza and the West Bank don’t allow even basic rights to their own people. As for Jews, there aren’t any and none are welcome. In Palestinian territory it is a crime punishable by death to sell land to an Israeli. 

Mira Awad, Palestinian-Israeli
singer, actress & songwriter,
represented Israel at Eurovision

Calling Israel “apartheid” is a way of saying it should be wiped off the map. And what of the 6.9 million Jews who live there? At best, anti-Israel types don’t care.

As for the recent war Hamas launched against Israel, these gender studies departments adopt the rhetoric of Palestinian propaganda and lay blame exclusively on one side: We condemn the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, the raiding of the al-Aqsa mosque, the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza.”

These are complex issues. The homes in Sheikh Jarrah, owned by Jews for 146 years, since 1875, and currently occupied by Palestinians, have been subject to a 50-year court battle. People have differing views on the rights and the wrongs of it. It’s possible the courts will finally declare the Palestinians have to move. But only the Hamas terrorist group and its supporters believe this possibility justifies launching a war against Israel.

Similarly, Israeli police clashed with Palestinians at the al-Aqsa Mosque and on the Temple Mount because the Palestinians were rioting. Only the Hamas terrorist group and its supporters believe it’s justified to launch a war in defence of a right to riot.

Absent entirely from the statement of the genders studies departments is any reference to the fact that Hamas started this war – and that, as with all wars, this inevitably resulted in numerous deaths, including the deaths of innocents. Apparently, they haven’t grasped this cause-and-effect relationship, nor that the inevitable deaths of innocents is a big reason it’s wrong to start a war.

Absent entirely is any reference to Hamas firing 4,340 missiles indiscriminately at Israeli towns and cities with the object of murdering as many people as possible – Jews, Arabs or whoever happened to be on the ground.

Absent entirely is any reference to Hamas embedding themselves in the civilian population in Gaza, making every missile launched against Israel a double war crime – for indiscriminately attacking Israeli civilians and for endangering Gaza’s civilian population by using them as human shields.

As for Israel’s supposed “indiscriminate bombing of Gaza,” only Hamas and its supporters believe this happened. 

Fighting a terrorist group such as Hamas poses impossible dilemmas. Like any state, Israel is morally obliged to protect its people from attack. It’s a state’s most fundamental responsibility. Yet Hamas’s defensive strategy is to try to ensure that any response from Israel results in Palestinian deaths.

Israel’s answer has been to take extraordinary steps to try to prevent civilian deaths – steps never before imagined by any army in the world and going far beyond anything required by international law. Before bombing targets where civilians are present, the Israeli army goes so far as to telephone occupants to warn them to leave. Obviously, this means the terrorists also leave, so Israel pays a high military cost.

Israel’s attempts to prevent civilian deaths are not entirely successful. It remains a hard question: How can a state protect itself from a terrorist group like Hamas that deliberately hides behind a civilian population?

But if you’re in one of these gender studies departments, you’re not supposed to ask such questions. That would be a “both sides narrative,” and you’re supposed to support only one side – the side launching 4,34o missiles with the aim of murdering as many people as possible.

Premiers, your governments are responsible for the universities in your provinces. It’s time you remind them that their funding requires them to be places of free and open inquiry –not places where whole departments preach any political narrative, much less the kind of intolerant, extremist position taken by these gender and women’s studies departments.

***

Brian Henry is a writer, editor, creative writing instructor, and publisher of the Quick Brown Fox blog. He’s written opinion pieces for the National Post and the Toronto Star and was a regular contributor to the (now defunct) Jewish Tribune and in the UK for Harry’s Place and for Engage, the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism. This piece was previously published on TheJ.ca.

 ***

Departments at Canadian universities endorsing the anti-Israel statement:

Nova Scotia:

Women and Gender Studies Program at Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada

Women’s and Gender Studies Program, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

New Brunswick:

Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Rutgers University New Brunswick

Quebec:

Feminist Media Studio, Concordia University

Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University

Ontario:

Eden Alene, Ethiopian-Israeli,
Israel's rep at Eurovision 2021

Department of Gender Studies, Queens University. Kingston, ON Canada Traditional Lands of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples)

Gender & Social Justice Program, University of Waterloo, Canada

Gender Equality and Social Justice Department at Nipissing University, Canada

Gender Studies and Feminist Research Graduate Program, McMaster University, Canada

Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies, University of Ottawa

Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies, University of Ottawa, Ottawa Canada

Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies, Carleton University

School of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies, York University, Canada

The Social Justice Studies Department, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay and Orillia, Ontario, traditional territories of the Anishinaabe, Ojibwe, Odawa, and Pottawatomi

Dr. Mouna Moroun, the Arab woman who heads Neuroscience.
at University of Haifa
Women and Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto 

Women's and Gender Studies Program, University of Toronto/Mississauga

Saskatchewan:

Women's and Gender Studies, University of Regina, Canada

Alberta:

Department of Women & Gender Studies, University of Lethbridge, Canada

Women's and Gender Studies Program, Mount Royal University (Calgary, Treaty 7, Canada)

B.C.:

Department of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Gender Studies, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada

Women's Studies Program, Langara College, Musqueam Territory / Vancouver

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

“Stars of the Sea” by Robyn Thomas

Beyond the screeching gulls and surfer boys riding breakers, an azure sky dipped into the deep green sea.

My brother rolled along the sand until he saw two starfish stranded by the tide. He ran soft fingers over the spiny orange back of the smallest starfish. The larger one was comet-shaped with two long arms and three stumps. Simon was as fascinated by the stars of the sea as I was by the stars in the sky.

“Alice, did you know that starfish grow a new arm if one falls off?” He dusted sand from its pink underbelly. “Can we grow new arms?”

“No silly,” I said. “We’re not starfish.”

He carried the starfish in cupped hands to the edge of a rock pool. “They need water or they’ll die.” 

Simon released them into the pool. We squatted to watch. They sank to the bottom. We both held our breath. Soon the comet starfish shuttled on its two good arms to the shadowy refuge of a rock. 

Bums wet, we waited, willing the little one to move. Simon nudged it, stirred the sand with his fingers but it lay still on a bed of broken pipi shells. Sticking our faces close to the water, we peered in. Death peered back.

Simon shuddered then, a long shudder not unlike the aftershock of an eye-jiggling, tooth-rattling earthquake. Before I could say a word he ran to Mum who lolled on a picnic blanket. She reminded me of the film star Grace Kelly, her blonde hair blowing around her face as she flipped through pages of the ‘New Zealand Women’s weekly.’ Putting the magazine aside, Mum folded her long brown legs and drew Simon onto her lap.

“You’re freezing love.” She wrapped him in a thick towel. “Let’s warm you up before you go for a swim, eh?” Simon huddled in her arms. The wind ruffled his hair, scattered sand across his feet.

“Stay between the flags,” Mum warned when we headed for the water. The red flags alerted us to tidal rips and other dangers hidden below the surface.

Salt spray stung our lips, our cheeks. Simon slid sleek as a dolphin under the waves. He was a strong swimmer for a seven-year-old. Floating on the swell, I cast my thoughts adrift.

Katie and Em squealed as they helped Dad net whitebait near a tumble of driftwood where a stream ran into the ocean. It was early November and the tender tiddlers were plentiful. Whitebait fritters were a spring delicacy at our house. I always shut my eyes before I ate the first mouthful. I didn’t want to see those googly eyes staring at me when I bit off their heads.

“Shark, shark!” Cries rang out along the beach.

Sirens wailed at the Lifesaving Club. Raising my head to see what the fuss was about, I noticed a grey dorsal fin near the periphery of the shallows not too far from my brother and me. Aargh. “Simon, Simon!” But he didn’t hear me and dove beneath the surface. Oblivious to the danger, Simon was a beacon for the shark. His thrashing arms and legs had caught its attention. The shark’s dorsal fin changed direction.

Lunging at Simon, I grabbed him by the swim trunks. “Let go of me,” he wriggled away.

“Shark!” I screamed making another grab at him.

“Liar, liar.” He splashed water in my face and slid underwater.

“No!” I yelled.

Waves rose and fell in bursts of white foam. I lost sight of my brother. Time stood still. I became the watcher, distant and invisible as a star in daylight. Then, Simon surfaced. “Boo!”

I yanked him to me, held him tight. Sensing my fear, he turned his head, saw the dorsal fin. He froze. Neck-deep in the sea and terrified to look back, I tugged my brother toward shore until a breaker bowled us over. Tumbling like a seashell, Simon slipped from my grasp.

Familiar hands pulled me upright as I spat saltwater and sand. Mum had already hoisted Simon onto her back. He clung to her while she propelled us to safety past lifeguards and parents plucking howling kids, from the water. 

Within minutes the sea emptied. Toes dug into the sand, everyone lined the beach. “That was a close call.”

Mum hugged Simon and me. “You’re a brave girl, Alice.” I felt her heart thud as hard as mine. But Mum was wrong. I wasn’t brave.

I was afraid, so afraid Simon might have been eaten by the shark, I could taste it.

Speculation rippled thru’ the crowd. “Mako,” said a surfer boy, a cool boy.

“Nah bro, it’s just a school shark. Been a few sightings near Papamoa,” his curly-haired friend said. Curly winked at me, jostled his mate. I blushed.

Taking its time, the creature circled the empty shallows then pointed its snout seaward and swam out of the bay.  

In the distance, dark clouds bumped across the sky. Lightning flashed. I felt the air crackle.

“There’s a storm brewing.” Mum squinted at the disappearing sun. “Alice run and get your father and the twins. It’s time to head home.”

That night when we climbed into our beds, I said to Simon, “I’m sorry about the starfish.”

“It’s all right, Alice. At least we saved one. Grandpa Jim says everything dies. But I wish it wasn’t true. He says a big fish will eat the little starfish and a bigger fish will eat that fish. Grandpa will catch the biggest one of all and it’ll end up as fish ’n chips for dinner.” Simon yawned. “What if something big and scary like that shark eats me?”

“I won’t let it,” I said.

***            

Robyn Thomas lives in a forest in Ontario’s beautiful Haliburton Highlands. Family, wildlife and a deep appreciation for her natural surroundings, born of her “kiwi” beginnings, offer daily inspiration that informs Robyn’s writing, story-telling, mediumship and photography. "Stars of the Sea" is an excerpt from her novel in progress.

See all Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Online classes this summer: Exploring Creative Writing, Writing Kid Lit, and Intensive Creative Writing offered at two times

Online: Exploring Creative Writing

8 weeks of exploring your creative side

Wednesday afternoons, July 7 – Aug 25, 2021
1 – 3 p.m.
Held on Zoom and available wherever there's Internet.

This is your chance to take up writing in a warm, supportive environment. We’ll explore writing short stories and writing true stories, writing in first person and in third person, writing technique and getting creative, getting down your very best 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. Best of all, this class will provide a zero-pressure, totally safe setting, where your words will grow and flower.

Fee:  $167.26 plus 13% hst = $189

To reserve your spot, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Online: Writing Little Kid Lit

Board Books to Middle Grade Novels

Thursday afternoons, 1 – 3 p.m.
July 8 – Aug 26, 2021
Offered online and accessible from anywhere there's internet
 

 This course is for adults {or teens} interested in writing Board Books, Picture Books, Chapter Books, or Middle Grade books. Accessible for beginners and meaty enough for advanced writers, this course will be focussed on helping you develop your own writing projects. Through lectures, in-class assignments, homework, and feedback on your writing, we’ll give you ins and outs of writing for younger readers and set you on course toward writing books kids will love and parents will buy.

We’ll have two published children’s authors as guest speakers: Lana Button and Erin Silver. More details here.

Fee:  $167.26 plus 13% hst = $189

To reserve your spot, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Online: Intensive Creative Writing

Offered at two times:

Tuesday afternoons, July 6  Aug 24, 2021
12:30  3:00 p.m.

And 

Wednesday evenings, July 7 – Aug 25, 2021
6:45 – 9 p.m.

Held on Zoom and available wherever there's Internet.

Intensive Creative Writing isn't for beginners; it's for people who have been writing for a while or who have done a course or two before and are working on their own projects. You’ll be asked to bring in four pieces of your writing for detailed feedback, including two long pieces. All your pieces may be from the same work, such as a novel in progress, or they may be stand alone pieces. You bring whatever you want to work on. 

Besides critiquing pieces, the instructor will give short lectures addressing the needs of the group, and 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: $211.50 + hst = $239

To reserve your spot, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

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.  Brian is the author o f a children's version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  (Tribute Publishing). 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.