Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Seventy-seven Great Gifts for Writers

Sleep tight 
you know you want a quilt that looks like book shelves – available here. Or go for a variety of blankets for writers here

Stocking Stuffers
A gift bag of coffee or tea and snack foods, because writers have long thought that caffeine and sugar are their best friends. At one of our writing retreatswe determined that Hawkins Cheezies are the best junk food ever – and they're Canadian. Yum.
Healthy snacks, because sugar is not truly your bff.
If you're crafty in the kitchen, try some of these homemade treats here.
A bottle of Writers' Tears Copper Pot Irish whisky.

More books of course! Always a great idea for writers. According to Chapters you can find the best books of the year here. And don't forget that writers have kids who also like books.
If you're looking for Christmas books, Penguin has a boxed set of six Christmas classics: A Christmas Carol by Dickens, Christmas at Thomspon Hall by Trollope, The Night Before Christmas by Gogol, The Nutcracker by Hoffman … here.
You can find a selection of kids' Christmas books here or here or here ... There are a lot of Christmas books for kids.

Good lists of Hanukkah books for kids are hard to find. Try here or here, or just buy all of Eric Kimmel's books here. 

A gift certificate to Tim Horton’s, because a comfortable cafĂ© is often the best place to write {at least if you're not under lockdown because of a pandemic).
Fingerless gloves (type and have warm fingers). You can also get a Pride and Prejudice scarf, a Sense and Sensibility pillow cover, a Black Beauty baby blanket ... here
Reading is Sexy button … here
Timer for writing sprints
AquaNotes waterproof notepads (for shower ideas—yes, these really work!)
A stamp with a happy face for critiquing your fellow writers 

Board Games & Creativity Helpers
Apples to Apples is a great creative game; you need to match a noun card in your hand to a given adjective card and convince the dealer that your (absurd) choice really is the best. We had a hoot playing this at the end of the day at the Algonguin Writing Retreat last June. ~Brian

“The Story Engine” deck of cards with extension packs. Very helpful for new ideas here.

Dixit may be the most popular writing board game out there. Players have to convince other players that their story card is the best way to tell the story.
With 540 cards, the Storymatic feeds the imagination. Just pull out cards from each category (such as “Obstacle” and “What-choo-want”) and let the storytelling begin. Great for writers experiencing writer’s block and collaborative writing groups.  
Writer Emergency Pack. It includes 52 cards with fantastic illustrations and loads of ideas. Whenever you’re struggling with a story, you can pull out a card and get inspiration! (Or at least a giggle.)
The Game of Things  makes everyone write. You’re given a category like “Things that Jiggle” and everybody has to write down a funny or crazy answer. Then the leader of the round reads them anonymously and you have to guess who wrote what. If you play with the right people, it’s fun and funny.
In The Writer’s Toolbox, there are 60 games to play to inspire writers to create — be the first to create a story based on “First Sentences, Non Sequiturs, and Last Straws.” Also, use one of two spinners to generate a random detail that you have to include in your story. 
In Once Upon a Time, the leader plays cards to start a story, trying to guide the story toward his end card. Other players try to jump in and play their cards. First one to use all their cards up wins! Great fun for creative writers.
Bananagrams anagram game … here
Scrabble Magnetic Refrigerator Tiles … here
The Writer's Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the 'Write' Side of Your Brain ... here

For Writers Who Outline
Index cards
Post-It notes
Corkboard &  pushpins
Whiteboard with dry erase markers and eraser

For Writers Who Don't Always Write on Computers
Notebooks! Book stores often have great selections of notebooks and other essential writerly tools, and it's a good year to try to shop as much as possible at a bricks and mortar store.

Technology Helpers
Programs like Scrivener for organizing and word processing
Drogon voice recognition dictation software.  
Typing program (learn to type faster!), such as KeyBlaze.
Wireless/ergonomic keyboard or mouse
Virtual keyboard for mobile use

Big Ticket Items
New computer
Bigger computer monitor
Ergonomic desk chair
Cover design or editing costs for self-published authors

Writing Craft and Publishing-Related Books
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell
The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron
Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life,  by Anne Lamott.
Conflict, Action and Suspense, William Noble
The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E.B. White
The Fiction Editor, Thomas McCormak
How Stories Work, James Woods
On Writing: a memoir of the craft, Stephen King
The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker
Spunk and Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold Contemporary Style, Arthur Plotnik
Writing Down the Bones, Natlie Goldberg
The Thesaurus books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (The Emotion ThesaurusThe Positive Trait Thesaurus, and The Negative Trait Thesaurus)
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder or Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley
And don't forget, books are available at actual book stores.

Miscellaneous Suggestions
Comfort clothes (robe and fuzzy slippers, sweat pants, but be careful; you may never change out of them. See here!)
Gift basket full of writing-related ideas (pens, notebooks, special beverage and glass, inspirational items or quotes, etc.)
Gift cards for books
Gift cards for office supply stores
Subscription to music source; such as Spotify
Lithographs: Shirts and totes printed with images and the text of your favourite novels. Tattoos available, too … here.

Out of Print Tee’s: T-shirts, tote bags, iphone cases – all sorts of things, decorated with your favourite book covers (here).
Premium level of online service (Dropbox for automatic backups, Amazon Prime for free shipping/lending library, etc.)
Entry fee for a writing contest
Massage gift certificates, a back or foot massager
A head scratcher  – which surely no writer can do without! (Dogs love them, too. Cats will tolerate them.)
Writing time (anything from babysitting to a writers’ retreat to a
housecleaning service)

P.S. Check out “Books make some of the very best gifts
 ~ Part 1 here. Part 2 here.

See the best Jewish Canadian books for kids and teens here and here.  

Gifts to make the world a better place here

And check out some of the very best gifts for writers here. 

Plus, don't forget, try to shop local. Buy your books straight from the publisher or from a book store

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

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Online Writing Personal Stories course, offered at 2 different times: Monday and Wednesday evenings

Writing Personal Stories 

 ~ A wealth of writing and sharing

Offered at two times:

New: Online: Monday evenings, 6:30 – 8:30
January 30 – April 3, 2023 (No class March 27)

Online: Wednesday evenings, 6:30 – 8:30,
January 25 – March 22 2023
Offered on Zoom and accessible from anywhere there's internet 

"Exploring Creative Writing" and "Writing Little Kid Lit" are also offered starting in January. Details 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.

Guest speaker Sue Williams lives in Guelph, Ontario, with her husband. She worked as an occupational therapist and never dreamt of being a writer. But, after a life altering experience, she found herself with a story she felt needed telling and set about learning how to tell it.

The first of many creative writing courses Sue took was Brian Henry’s ‘Writing Personal Stories’. It was exactly what she needed, and she has never looked back.

Sue’s memoir, Ready to Come About (Dundurn Press, 2019) is endorsed by Miriam Toews, New York Times Best-Selling author of Women Talking, and Cate Cochran, CBC Radio producer of The Sunday Edition. It has been promoted by The Globe and Mail, Canadian Yachting, Good Old Boat, and her professional magazine, Occupational Therapy Now. And it has been a staff pick at many independent bookstores. Also, it was recently released as an audiobook by Scribd and has been translated into Portuguese for release in 2023.

Sue is now working on a novel set in the largely invisible world of home care. 

You can read more about Ready to Come About at Dundurn Press here

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).

Fee: $176.11 plus 13% hst = $199

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2022

“What a City Girl Learned About Life North of Sixty” by Jo Anne Wilson



I had been in Yellowknife, in the northernmost part of Canada, for a little over two months and was slowly getting used to the cold and the darkness.

When I talked to my Toronto friends, they said, “But it’s dry cold.” Let me tell you, when it is 35 or 40 degrees below zero Celsius, cold is friggin’ cold! And everyone was so covered that if you didn’t know their particular parka or scarf you had no idea who you were passing on the street.

My colleagues were mostly welcoming, although I was conscious that they were wary of the Torontonian that had landed in their midst, a painted city lady with fancy clothes. I think they worried that there would also be fancy ideas that would antagonize the local tourism businesses I was now working with. What they didn’t know about me was that I love to listen to what life, my surroundings and other people can teach me. Perhaps because I moved so much when I was young, I am almost instantly attuned to the rhythms of life in a new place. And Yellowknife was no different.

Finding my rhythm in Yellowknife

Wrapping every part of myself in warm clothes, socks, boots, scarves, parka, hat and mitts; marvelling at the northern lights that I could see from my balcony some nights; not seeing the sun until 10 or so in the morning and then saying goodbye to it again at 2; watching foxes walking through the city...

Plus, paying an obscene amount of money for groceries or a bottle of wine; seeing more stars in the sky than I’d ever imagined; going to the Legion with my new friends for “meat night.” I thought it was “meet” night, but quickly learned that it referred to the raffle for a side of caribou – sadly showing my “city-girlness.”

One Saturday afternoon, my colleague Pete, called and asked if I would like to drive up the ice road with him the following day. You bet I would! “Dress warmly. See you at 9.” A few minutes later, Eric, another colleague, called and asked if I wanted to join a couple of workmates at the firing range the next day. Such exotic invitations for someone used to museum dates or eating out with friends after a movie on a weekend. I told Eric of my planned trip with Peter, asked for a rain check and said I would see him on Monday at the office.

An unexpected adventure begins

Sunday morning, I was bundled like the Michelin snow tire man and waiting in the lobby of my apartment building for Peter, who pulled up promptly at 9 am in his ancient Dodge Ram truck. We headed into the frigid, still dark morning toward the Ingraham Trail (pronounced “Ingram”). The Trail crosses the Yellowknife River then wanders for about 70 kilometres through jack-pine and spruce-lined trout-filled lakes – Prosperous, Madeline and Pontoon, Prelude, Reid and finally, after crossing the Cameron River with its enchanting waterfall, reaches Tibbitt Lake.

Peter gave me all the details of the pre-Cambrian terrain we were traversing. Over the next few years, I would return to parts of the Trail to stay with friends who lived or cottaged on one of the lakes to hike alongside the Cameron River, to kayak on Reid Lake and to go on a caribou hunt in the winter in the bush that hugged the Trail.

Peter also filled me in on all the safety gear he had in the back of the truck – an ax, candles, matches, tin cans, rope, hunting knife, rifle, space blankets, candy bars, extra socks and mitts, toilet paper, large plastic garbage bags, first aid kit, etc. etc. All I had with me was a large thermos of tea, my camera, some sandwiches and extra mitts.

Out in the wilderness in 30 below cold

After an hour on the road, the sun finally climbed above the horizon and we reached the very frozen and expansive Tibbitt Lake. Peter suggested we drive to the middle, stop, have some tea and walk around for a bit. I had walked on frozen lakes before in Muskoka but this was something new. The ice here gets between 50 and 130 centimetres thick and can bear trucks carrying up to 42 tons travelling the road daily from freeze up to thaw, taking supplies to the Lupin Mines 550 kilometres from Yellowknife.

Yet in all this harshness, there was beauty – the colour of the sky, a blinding bright blue so clear that it can only been seen where the soot of a city is not embedded in the air, and tender shoots of shore grass, trapped in clear bubbles of ice at the edge of a couple of small, low islands in the middle of the lake.

For those who have never seen true wilderness, it must be hard to imagine – no hydro wires or communications towers, no roads, no buildings, no other humans, no sound. Pure heaven! Both frightening and familiar at the same time. At one with nature, yet at its mercy.

Far from help, close to nature

After our break, we continued to the end of Tibbitt Lake and started to follow the ice road a bit further, when the truck started to make a growling sound and Peter said we should turn around and head back.

Shortly after the U-turn we started to see caribou and, Peter, a serious hunter, was frustrated. Minutes later, the truck came to a stop and would go no further. Peter swore, got out, popped the hood, tinkered around a bit and concluded it was a problem with the transmission.

So – I will set our new scene.

We were about 75 kilometres from Yellowknife, there was no means of communication with civilization; it was about 30 below and the sun was about to set. However, the North had some glory to show me even at this moment.

Sundogs appeared on either side of the setting sun. Sundogs are hexagonal ice crystals that form on either side of the sun like a halo when it’s too cold for clouds. They refract sunlight like a rainbow does; some people call them an "icebow."

A herd of about 40 caribou came to see what was up. The caribou knew they were in no danger and circled us. They even turned their rumps toward us in what Peter took as the ultimate insult to a now impotent hunter. But there was little time for loitering. We needed to make sure we were protected for the night and we needed to do it before the last streaks of the daylight disappeared.

Preparing for the worst

Peter and I dug a trench in the snow, lined it with boughs cut from the few spruce trees around us, covered them with the space blankets and covered the entire trench with a tarp anchored into the snow with rope and more spruce boughs. We were each alone with our thoughts – thoughts we only shared with each other days later.

Peter: She comes from the city. Any time now she is going to start panicking. I can’t stand weepy women. I hope I can calm her until help arrives. Goddamn truck!

Me: Okay – this is going to be a scary adventure. I think we’ll be okay. I wonder how many stories and campfire songs I can think of to get us through when we have nothing left to talk about and can’t sleep. Glad I’ve done a lot of camping. Damn, I hate being cold.

Peter said that we would have to rely on getting rescued by hunters going by or by a truck going to or from the mines since no one knew where we were and there was no way to contact anyone. (Remember I said no communications towers, therefore, no cell phones!!)

“Not true,” I said to Peter. I told him that Eric had called the day before and I had let him know that Peter and I were driving to Tibbitt Lake. When neither of us showed for work on Monday, someone would come and look for us. Whew – it would be a long night but help would arrive eventually.

Saved just in time

We sat in the truck, watched the caribou and waited for the last light to fade. About a half hour later we saw headlights coming up behind us. Hallelujah! It was three hunters in a truck, the back of which was filled with partly butchered caribou. We crammed into the two rows of seats in the cab of the truck amongst the guns and other equipment. The cab was filled with the metallic smell of freshly spilled blood, but we were safe now and comfort didn’t matter. The driver informed us that they were headed back to Yellowknife but had two stops to make first.

First, we stopped at a small gold mine that was operating on the east side of the lake. The hunters were delivering some of their hunt meat to the miners. We sat in a canvas tent beside a wood stove, drank tea, talked of our adventure and our rescuers’ hunt, and traded stories of where we all came from originally – not one of the 11 people was from the Northwest Territories. I recall that there were two of us from Ontario, three from Newfoundland, two from Germany, two from Quebec, one from Alberta and one from Scotland – a not atypical mix for the North.

Our second stop was at an old game warden’s cabin at the south end of the lake just as it joins the Trail back to Yellowknife.

Think of all the stories or cartoons or films you have seen of prospectors’ cabins or of what you imagine from the Robert Service poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee and you are now with us. Rough-hewn wood walls and roof. Small slits of windows high up in the walls, a hard wood platform that would have been a bed, a small table and a couple of rickety chairs.

But what dominated the small room was the stove in the corner, now burning so hot that the chimney pipe was glowing red halfway up to the roof. The hunters pulled out flasks of whisky and some caribou sausage from a previous hunt. The meat was skewered on a stick and thrust into the fire for a couple of minutes. We ate and drank, alternating bites of hot sausage with swallows of whisky from two shared flasks. And, yes, true to the setting, we each wiped the mouth of the flask on our sleeves before taking a sip.

Part of me was savouring all this adventure, part of me was worried that the stove would set the cabin on fire, part of me was trying to recite The Cremation of Sam Magee in my head from memory:

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;

Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher

The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see

And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

A grateful return to civilization

Finally, we were ready to head home. Fed and slightly tipsy, I was grateful to know that I would soon be able to soak in a hot bath and climb into my own mattressed and duvet-covered bed. But the North had one more marvel for me.

As we approached Yellowknife, the skies started to dance with a spectacular display of Aurora Borealis. Licks of green and pink and white twisted and turned and gyrated across the open skies and kept up their merriment for at least half an hour. Eleven hours in the wilderness, a day overflowing with Northern experiences – my senses were overwhelmed. Finally, at about 8 at night, we saw the glow of Yellowknife’s city lights on the horizon – civilization once more.

When I told the story to friends “south of sixty” (south of the 60th parallel) I said I thought Mother Nature threw all these quintessentially northern experiences at me to test me and see if I could stay. I’m glad I passed and neither had to leave nor had to meet an end like that of Sam McGee. The North, like so many other places I have lived in or visited, reached deep into my being and has remained a colourful thread woven into the tapestry that is my life.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.


Jo Anne Wilson was Director of Marketing for Tourism for three years in the early 1990s, working for the Government of The Northwest Territories (at the time, Nunavut had not been established as a separate territory). She and her staff promoted tourism to the NWT throughout North America, Europe and Japan and assisted local tourism businesses with their marketing. She is now a retired college professor who enjoys theatre, art exhibits, travel and writing. 

“What a City Girl Learned About Life North of Sixty” was previously published in Journey Woman magazine. 

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