Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Last call for Fall Classes: Personal Stories & Other Nonfiction, Writing Kid Lit, and Intensive Creative Writing

Writing Personal Stories & Other Nonfiction

Offered at two times:

Online: Wednesday evenings 6:30 – 8:30
September 27 – November 29, 2023 {or to Dec 6 if it fills up} No class Oct 18


In-person: Thursday evenings 7:00 – 9:00
Sept 28 – Nov 23 {or to Nov 30 if it fills up} No class Oct 19.
Burlington Anglican Lutheran Church, 3455 Lakeshore Rd, Burlington, Ontario (Map here)

If you want to write any kind of true story, this course is for you. Personal stories will be front and centre – we’ll look at memoirs, travel writing, personal essays, family history – but we’ll also look at writing feature articles, creative nonficti0n and other more informational writing. 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 also have two published authors as a guest speakers. Details here.

Fee: $220.35 plus 13% hst = $259

To reserve your spot, email:

Writing Kid Lit – the Next Level

Online: Monday evenings, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Oct 2 – Dec 11, {or to Dec 18 if the course fills up} No class Oct 9 or 23.

This course is for adults {or teens} interested in writing picture books, Chapter Books, Middle Grade books, or Young Adult novels. It’s meant for people who have previously taken a kid lit course or who otherwise know the basics of the contemporary market for children’s literature. 

The focus of the class will be on your work – picture book manuscripts or chapters of novels or nonfiction books for young people that you’ll present to the class for feedback as to how to make them even better. We’ll also have discussions, talks from the instructor, and two children’s authors as guest speakers: Lana Button and Erin Silver. Details here.

Fee: $220.35 plus 13% hst = $259

To reserve your spot, email:

Intensive Creative Writing

Online: Tuesday evenings 6:30 – 9:00
Sept 26 to Dec 12 
{The Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning Intensive classes are already full, as is the "Extreme Creative Writing" class offered in Burlington}

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 several pieces of your writing for detailed feedback, including three 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: $264.60 + hst = $299

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, taught creative writing at Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University) and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Saint John. Brian is the author of a children's version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Tribute Publishing). But his proudest boast is that he has helped many of his students get published.  

Read reviews of Brian's various courses and workshops here (and scroll down).

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

Monday, September 18, 2023

“How two widows who failed at grief counseling fell into a healing friendship” by Barbara Barash Simmons


Widowhood is not a club one would choose to join – the membership fee is too high. I know, I joined four years ago.

My husband died right in the middle of a CatScan. All the medical professionals surrounding him in the imaging department of the teaching hospital couldn’t save him.

The doctor said: “Sudden heart attack.”

A nurse said: “It was just his time.”

The non-denominational clergy person who rushed in to console me said: “He’s in a better place.”

Really? I thought.

My fury was only outwitted by my disbelief. And then denial set in and stayed.

Acceptance seemed far away.

Continuing grief led me to find a bereavement group of strangers who would be fastened together by our new status. How long could I expect my friends to stay open to my endless stories of 25 years of memories with Will? Friends will never tell you the truth – that they’ve heard enough.

And so, on a dreary day in early April, I sat in my car mentally preparing for the first session, when through my rain-streaked car window, I saw a woman slowly moving through the parking lot as if she were carrying a heavy burden.

She looked like I felt. I just knew she was headed for the same grief counselling group.

We sat in a circle. Four women, two men. Everyone over 65, everyone had recently lost their spouse. I had some doubts about how the next six weeks would turn out as I studied the individuals in my group – everyone looked stunned and the quiet in the small hot room reflected our states of mind.

I almost stood up to apologize and leave; how could these people help me? Or me them, when clearly, we are all in our private hell. I can’t even help myself let alone someone else needy. But our leader had started with an overview of the sessions to help us “move forward,” and I stayed in my aluminum chair with my coat half on.

“Please introduce yourself, and tell us a bit about why you are here – what you want to get out of this group,” our social worker said.

No one spoke.

So, I heard myself start with my name, and then interspersed with weeping, I told them of my adorable husband Will, and that these past months have been caught up in some stagnant space since those awful days in the ICU, watching him disappear, first with his voice that I never heard again after he was intubated, and then, how, during a CatScan on a Tuesday afternoon, his heart gave up, gave out.

“I am not sure why I am here,” I said. “But I am hopeful,” I added. I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the social worker who was trying so hard to make us feel better with her smile when we had no smiles.

And then, when I thought I couldn’t feel worse, the next person who spoke was the woman I saw in the parking lot – and I could tell she was traumatized.

And so, it went. Each story as sad as the one before.

I knew by the third week that the group was not something in which I wanted to stay, but I did. After each meeting, the parking-lot woman and I would linger and talk at the bottom of the stairs, and those chats were more unguarded than the hour-and-half just spent in group.

After the six sessions blissfully came to an end, Susan, the parking lot woman, and I started meeting occasionally for coffee, then casual lunches, and then one day, one of us suggested we start walking together.

It started with a mile walk once a week.

In the beginning, all we talked about was how our husbands died, in the most brutal of detail.

Our feelings of guilt meshed; we said what we had not shared in group.

During the early walks, our husbands were flawless, we had perfect marriages. Then, bit by bit, we started sharing the now-funny stuff they did that had driven us mad, their foibles. Things such as never putting their used coffee cups into the dishwasher, or strewing newspapers on the floor after reading, or hoarding the TV remote and watching a show on fishing.

Eventually, we revealed that we had indeed worked on our marriages, it was not so seamless as we had deluded ourselves after they passed, a blurred memory of what they were actually like as people. Not perfect, not flawless. But, like us, works in progress, until their progress suddenly stopped.

We added a mile, then two to our weekly walks. Over time we started laughing and talking about topics other than our late husbands and our sadness; we marvelled at our grandkids and shared family issues that we would not tell anyone else.

The grief-counselling sessions worked in the sense that they made two widowed strangers into friends. Both of us were divorced many years before marrying our late husbands. And with our second chances, both of us know we were lucky having found husbands we adored to the core.

On Mondays, we walk and talk. We walk three miles in rain, snow, sleet or sunshine. We have kept in step throughout the pandemic, distanced and masked. We both have loving families and close friends, but we know that we can speak openly to each other, it takes another widow to really understand.

We two widows are not the same women we were four years ago. Before, it was so easy to have someone else make decisions. Now, not only have we both taken on what we had previously left to our husbands – car servicing, home insurance, calling the plumber, investment decisions – we are also comfortable in our new lives. We make our own schedules; we say, “No thank you,” to social offers that do not interest us. We hold the TV remote in our own hands.

One day, we stopped after our walk to sit on the memorial bench I had purchased for Will in a neighbourhood parkette he had loved. Sighing, and looking up at the snow-covered trees surrounding us, I said, “I feel happy again.” Susan nodded and said, “Me too.” And we smiled at each other as if we had climbed Mount Everest.


Barbara Barash Simmons has written for newspapers, magazines and radio. She holds a Master’s degree in Education and spent almost 40 years as a counsellor in elementary, university and adult educational settings. She is the author of the picture book Essie Solves the Mystery Who’s Snoring ‘till Morning? She was a columnist for the Toronto Star for four years and has had several memoirs/personal essays published in the Globe and Mail. She is currently completing her first novel.

“How two widows who failed at grief counseling fell into a healing friendship” was previously published in the Globe and Mail’s First Person column. For information on submitting a First Person essay to The Globe and Mail, {and 21 other places to send your work}, see here.

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

Friday, September 15, 2023

For Rosh Hashanah 5784: An excerpt from "Israel - War and Peace," a work in progress for young people by Brian Henry


Chapter 3 – Jews, Christians, Muslims

3.1 Judaism – The religion of the Jews

Not all religions are the same. Judaism is the name of the religion of the Jewish people. Someone is born Jewish if their mother is Jewish. Whether their father is Jewish doesn’t matter. Only mothers count – that’s the rule. Or at least it’s been the rule for a couple thousand years and it’s the rule most Jews follow.

But Jews are famous for arguing with each other; indeed, arguing is a core Jewish value. So do all Jews say it doesn’t count if the father was Jewish? Of course not.

Besides being born Jewish, you can also become Jewish by converting. In that case, the new Jew, the convert, joins the Jewish people. In joining the Jewish people, the convert takes on the religion of the Jews.

The Jewish holy books known as the Torah, plus the books of the prophets and the writings {which Christians call the Old Testament} are mostly about the ups and downs of the relationship between the Jewish nation and God. The basic idea is that there’s a deal between God and the Jews called a covenant.

You may have heard of the 10 commandments. Jews traditionally count another 603 commandments in the Torah for a total of 613. These are the terms of the deal that God and the Jews made with each other. 

In the Torah, Jews are called the Chosen People.  Jews have been arguing about exactly what this means for a few thousand years, but the most basic meaning is that Jews have been chosen to follow those 613 commandments, and other people don’t have to.

This is not a list of 613 “thou shalt nots.” Many of the commandments are positive. For example, the first commandment in the Torah is “Go forth and multiply” – meaning, Go have kids!

So why did God decide Jews should observe these 613 commandments? Traditionally there are two answers to this:

(1) It’s a good way to live. Jews haven’t been chosen to uphold the Torah; rather the Torah is there to help Jews live good, meaningful lives.

(2) In observing all 613 commandments and more generally following Jewish values, Jews serve as “a light unto the nations” (which is a famous quote from the Jewish prophet Isaiah). That is, Jews are supposed to try to be a good example to the other nations of the world. This doesn’t mean Jews go around telling anyone else how to behave or how they ought to practice their religion. As far as Jews are concerned, that’s none of our business.

Jews who try to observe all 613 commandments are called Orthodox. But most Jews aren't Orthodox. Some aren't religious at all. Are they still Jews? Absolutely. 

What has Judaism given the world?

The Torah does have a lot of important stuff that other people and other religions have adopted, especially:

One God, creator of Heaven and Earth {this is the Rosh Hashanah story} – not a whole sky full of squabbling gods and not a universe that’s all chaos, but an orderly universe that makes sense, and a world with moral values of right and wrong – not a world in which kings or other powerful people declare what’s right and wrong.


One humanity, made in the image of God, with every person in the world descended from the same original mother and father, Adam and Eve. All people, everywhere, are one family. And each and every person has something of God in them, which gives each person infinite worth, regardless of whether they’re rich or poor, king or beggar. 

The ideal of equality, as in the words of the American constitution: “All men are created equal,” comes originally from Jewish beliefs.

The ideal of human rights also comes from Jewish values. There can’t be such a thing as human rights for everyone without the idea of there being one humanity and moral values that apply to everybody.

Of course, the ideas of equality and human rights don’t just come from the Jewish tradition – really big ideas always grow out of more than one place.


The Ten Commandments. If you haven’t heard of these, Google them.}


A heroic origin story about escaping from slavery in Egypt – Jews retell this story every year in the Passover celebration. {Yay, Moses!} The story of the Jews’ escape from slavery in Egypt has been made it into a couple big Hollywood movies. More importantly, the Passover story inspired both Black slaves escaping from slavery in the American south and the Civil Rights movement that created legal equality for Blacks throughout the US in the 1960s.

For Jews, freedom is a core value that, like equality, has been adapted by good people the world over.


Other core Jewish values

Besides a belief in freedom, we should add at least a couple more core Jewish values that much of the world has also come to value:

Literacy and study: Jews are known as the People of the Book, “the Book” being the Torah. But Jews don’t just read the Torah and our other holy books, we study them. And it’s not just rabbis or other religious leaders who study, but everyone. This weird habit of studying has long set Jews apart, because until modern times, most people in the world haven’t been able to read at all.


Argument for the sake of Heaven: People argue for two reasons: to get their own way or to get at the truth. Jews call argument to get at the truth, argument for the sake of heaven.

Besides the books of the Jewish bible, the other main Jewish text is The Talmud. This is a long collection of interpretations of the Torah and of Jewish law. Almost every page of the Talmud includes an argument among different rabbis about the correct interpretation – and all sides of the arguments are given.

That’s actually very weird. No one else has holy books that feature disagreements on every page. But it’s through arguing and testing ideas that we understand them. If all we have is a conclusion, we can’t really understand it.

Besides, as long as everyone is arguing for the sake of

heaven, they’re pursuing truth. And the pursuit of truth is sacred.

            This book you’re reading is meant as one long argument for the sake of heaven – me trying to explain a complicated history as best I can.

While the Jewish devotion to reading, studying, and the pursuit of truth come out of our religious practice, it has spilled over into Jewish culture in general. Traditionally, Jews study hard. These days, they go to university. They become writers, doctors and scientists. As such, Jews keep giving to the world.

On our whole planet, there are just 16 million Jews. That’s .2% of the world’s population – just one out of every five hundred people is Jewish. Out of Nobel prize winners – that is people who have been recognized for making outstanding contributions to literature, medicine and science – more than 20% are Jewish, or one out of five. That’s one hundred times the number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners you’d expect from the number of Jews in the world.

Why so many?

People give different answers to that question, but a big part of the answer is simply that reading, studying, and the pursuit of truth are core Jewish values.

Connection to the Land of Israel

One more core Jewish value that’s highly relevant here: A connection to the Land of Israel or in Hebrew to Eretz Yisrael. Today, about seven million Jews live in Israel, a bit less than half the world’s Jewish population. But Israel isn’t just important to the Jews who live there; it’s important to most Jews everywhere, and always has been.

Jews aren’t just a religion. We’re a nation. And we’re not just a wandering nation. We have a home – Eretz Yisrael. At the spiritual centre of Israel is Jerusalem, which is also known as Zion, the nation’s capital and the site of the ancient temple. This is where the Jewish heart lives.

High Holidays prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Kudos to Karen for making the short lit for the Guernica Prize, to Wendy for publishing an article, to Gail for self-publishing her latest novel, and to Elizabeth for getting a three-book deal!

If you’ve had a story (or a book!) published, if you’ve won or placed in a writing contest, if you’ve gotten yourself an agent, or if you have any other news, send me an email so I can share your success. As writers, we’re all in this together, and your good news gives us all a boost. 

Also, be sure to let know if you're looking for a writers' group or beta readers; a notice in Quick Brown Fox, will help you find them. 

Email me at:


Hi, Brian.

I am happy to share with you that my third novel, Palmyra, was short-listed for the Guernica Prize for Literary Fiction, with the winner being announced on December third in Toronto. Set at the turn of the 20th century on the island of Trinidad, Palmyra is a historical fiction that I have described as Caribbean Gothic Suspense ... nothing like being creative with the sub-genres.

I want to thank you, once again, for all the tireless work you've done in building a successful, supportive community for writers in the GTA and beyond. Though I moved out to BC a couple of years ago, I am still very much in touch with the writers I meet through your programs.

I'll contact you when I have details of when Palmyra will be made available to the public.  

Karen MacDougal


Hi, Brian.

I don't know whether or not this is the kind of thing you like for your blog, but I thought I'd forward it just in case it is.

I was asked to submit an article about a local man who is celebrating his 100th birthday. He is amazingly sharp and active and has a great many stories to tell. Actually, I wrote an article for his 96th and updated it for this one. It was in both the Huntsville Forester and Bracebridge Examiner, as well as online. 

The gentleman and his wife are both thrilled with this article. Tomorrow our entire village, and anyone who's interested, is invited to a surprise party for him, and my husband and I will certainly be there.

I just thought it was such an interesting life to write and read about that your followers might enjoy it. 

Meanwhile, my latest novel, Dead Serious, which you helped coach a bit, is doing well. I have a small publisher in Arizona, who has been great to work with.

Thank you.

Wendy Truscott

You can read Wendy’s article about Baysville’s last war veteran turning 100 here.  

For more about her novel, Dead Serious, see here.


Hi, Brian.

After taking several of your writing courses, I improved, gained confidence and successfully published several short stories. Then, my first novel, The Price of Loyalty was self-published in February 2022. I am delighted to announce that my second novel has just gone live on Amazon. It is called Allegiance.

The first book was an adventure for Middle Grade readers taking place during the American Revolution. My latest book is for Teens or Young Adults and takes place during the War of 1812. It is told through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old girl whose home has been taken over by enemy soldiers and turned into a surgical hospital. She must struggle with caring for the soldiers, the patients, and her own family. She sees death and despair and struggles when she starts to feel affection for the army surgeon. The situation is impossible. Both books are based on the real-life stories of my Loyalist ancestors.

The link to the book can be found here. 

Thanks, Brian! 

Gail Copeland

Hi, Brian!

I took your seminar with the agent this year, and really enjoyed it. And now I'm signed to a publisher in California – a new one, still small, but I have a very good feeling about her.

Here's the weird thing – when I saw her call for manuscripts, I didn't want to put two days into a query letter if, say, she was only looking for thrillers or romance or something. So I sent a quick email saying that I had a YA fantasy, if that would interest her. 

She asked for the first three chapters, and the next day requested the entire manuscript. Two months later she offered me a contract. (I had John Degen vet it – I'm not as starry-eyed as all that!)

The book is The Swan Harp, a YA sword-and-sorcery, and the publisher is Type Eighteen Books. Since I wrote, the publisher has asked for the second book, and now we're talking about a name for the series, so things are ripping along at warp speed. The second and third books are The Lost King and The Shaman's Wife.


Elizabeth Creith

Writer & Artist

Note: Check out Elizabeth’s previous books: Erik the Viking Sheep (Scholastic) here and Shepherd in Residence (from the now defunct Scrivener Press in Sudbury) here or directly from Elizabeth. Email:  


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