Tuesday, May 30, 2023

“Mrs. Walker Comes to Town” by Norma Gardner


Couples of long tenure often complete each other's sentences, as if there is an inverse relationship between years spent together and words required to get our point across. That being said, there was one morning about ten years ago when I guess I failed the “fill in the blanks test.”

It was a cold, icy winter morning in Northern Ontario, and on my way home from a business trip in Toronto, my flight landed late at our small local airport. My husband planned to pick me up and drive me straight to work for the rest of the afternoon but when I came into the terminal, he was nowhere to be found.

I thought perhaps he was running behind so I waited at the curbside until I realized it was about -20 C and decided to go back inside to stay warm. As I was already behind schedule, I started to become a bit anxious, but impatience gave way to worry after about 10 minutes of waiting with no husband in sight. He was nothing if not annoyingly punctual (and still is).

Meanwhile, my usual airport limo hires, many of whom knew my husband, were at the curb waiting for their next fares and very rightly pointed out that, had I booked with them as I usually did, I would be sitting in a warm vehicle, halfway into town by now, and in their opinion, riding in much better company.

I decided to try and call my husband in the hopes that he would actually have his cell phone with him and that he would have it turned on. When he answered and I asked where he was, there was a pause, some of what I thought was static and then I clearly heard him say "I'm on Airport Road,” and then we were cut off. Knowing he was close, I went back out to the curb to wait.

He pulled up a few minutes later and came out of the car in order to put my luggage into the back of our SUV, or so I assumed. Instead, with what looked like a lottery ticket in his hand, he tore past me in a hurry and said something about "Mrs. Walker." 

I didn’t know a Mrs. Walker, but before I could ask, he was inside the terminal building and I was left to take care of my own luggage. I took my seat on the front passenger side and waited, still puzzled, but hoping to be enlightened soon. I was mistaken. Out came my husband with a very elderly woman on his arm and another woman, perhaps the daughter, following behind, all of them in lively conversation.

My instincts told me that these people, who I vaguely recognized from my flight, were getting into our vehicle so I gave up my seat in the front, allowing the elderly woman to be more easily seated, and got into the back seat with her travel companion. They did not have to stow their own luggage.

No introductions were offered, but I had learned over the years that my husband wasn’t good at this type of thing so my expectations were low in this regard. After a few minutes of awkward small talk, mostly on my part, as the women seemed to think I knew what was going on and I didn't want to be rude or, worse yet, admit that I was the only uninformed one, we pulled into a restaurant near the airport.

My husband proceeded to unload the ladies and the luggage with thanks and good-byes all around. I took my rightful place in the front seat and waited for my husband to return, hoping that a very, very good explanation was forthcoming.

It turned out that, unbeknownst to my husband and due to spotty cell phone reception near the airport, I had missed the part of the conversation where he explained how he had pulled over to help a woman whose vehicle had slid into a ditch on an icy patch on Airport Road. She was on her way to the airport to pick up her friends, Mrs. Walker and her travel companion, who were arriving for a visit with friends and family.

My husband, frequent rescuer of damsels in distress, was the only one that stopped to help, assisting the distraught and thankfully uninjured driver out of her car and safely depositing her in a nearby restaurant to stay warm and call for a tow. She was quite concerned that she had no way to get word to Mrs. Walker, who would surely have landed by now.

Since my husband was already en-route to the airport, he offered to also pick up Mrs. Walker and companion, and drop them at the restaurant with their stranded friend, on our way into town. The driver had written her name and her friends' names on the first slip of paper she could put her hands on, an old lottery ticket selection slip. This was, I suppose, meant to serve as evidence to her friends, that my husband could be trusted and that he was not a stalker of air travelers. 

This was one instance when I didn't successfully complete my husband's sentence. (In my defence, it wasn’t just one sentence!). Instead, I had to fall back on trust in the unspoken words, luckily also a privilege of the long time married.


Norma Gardner retired from the corporate world a few years ago. Her longtime side gig as a seamstress, is now mostly limited to taking requests for superhero capes and the like from her grandchildren. She is content to spend time with family and friends, travel, and practice perfecting her sourdough recipes and her writing. 

“Mrs. Walker Comes to Town” was first published in White Wall Review. 

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

Monday, May 29, 2023

“I love the smell of newsprint in the morning” by Laurie O’Halloran


Six mornings a week it hits my front door with a familiar thud, usually around 6 a.m. That thud used to be a lot louder, but it still signals my morning newspaper has arrived. Time to get up.

I open the front door to grab what is now two newspapers – the Hamilton Spectator and the National Post – bound together with an elastic band. If it’s raining, they’ll be wrapped in a blue plastic bag.  Sadly, it’s a pretty light load these days but I still look forward to spreading them out on my kitchen island and scanning the day’s top headlines.

My fascination with newspapers began with my father. Watching him pore over the Globe and Mail – pipe in mouth and coffee in hand – was a comforting sight each morning. He would bitch about the government, cheer on his favourite sports teams and closely examine the stock index. For my part, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to read a newspaper that didn’t have comics. Or Dear Abbey. The only useful part of the Globe were the horoscopes, but even they seemed written for ‘executives' and were of little value to a girl who simply wanted to know if that cute guy in biology class was going to ask her out.

As I matured, however, so did my reading preferences. By my teens, I was reading the feature articles and book reviews in the Saturday edition. It was also the beginning of my lifelong love affair with obituaries. I couldn’t resist reading every single one, still can’t. Some are beautiful, a few are funny, many make me cry, and all provide a fascinating look inside people’s lives.

Beloved journalist Christie Blatchford

By the end of high school, I had decided to study journalism and that was when I started reading the entire front section of the Globe. In college, I developed preferences for certain columnists and couldn’t wait to read their opinions. The late Christie Blatchford was my absolute favourite. With her sharp wit and insightful observations, she made me laugh … and think differently.

The one section that remained untouched until my 30s was the Report on Business (ROB). That changed when I made my first investment and I started following the stock market. Like reading obituaries, studying stock prices became an addiction. Before it all went online, I depended on ROB to feed my addiction.

In my 50s, I discovered crossword puzzles, and my dependency on newspapers deepened. Unlike the news or stock prices, however, the crossword could wait. I would often set it aside to savour late in the day, usually with a cocktail before dinner.

The Globe had become my daily fix when, suddenly, I was faced with a serious dilemma. Conrad Black launched the The National Post. As crazy as it sounds, I had always had a secret crush on Mr Black. I didn’t care for his politics but I was in awe of his writing ability and spectacular vocabulary. What to do? The Globe and I had been together for decades and we were comfortable in our relationship. But sometimes change can be good. Was it time to break up? Fortunately, the decision was made for me when Christie Blatchford jumped ship and joined The Post. I cancelled my Globe subscription, called the National Post, and never looked back.

Of course my kids think I’m terribly outdated. (To enhance my dinosaur status, I also insist on reading hard cover print books!) Their phones are their sole source of news and information. If it’s not on a screen, they’re not interested. But there is something so detached and impersonal about screens. And research shows more information is absorbed and retained after reading the printed word. Plus, newspapers have always provided a tactile record of our history. War and peace, births and deaths, everything is right there in black and white, ready to be clipped and saved for future generations. Those clippings are a catalogue of the milestones of our lives.

The Post and The Spectator are now shadows of their former selves. I fear the end is near and am already dreading the day I hold the last print newspaper in my ink-stained hands.


Laurie O’Halloran is the former publisher/owner of Home Style Magazine, a national trade magazine for kitchenware retailers. She retired two years ago and moved back to her hometown of Burlington, Ontario, where she indulges in her love of travel, golf, jazzercise, jigsaw puzzles and honing her writing skills so she can one day complete that book.

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


Thursday, May 25, 2023

Late Summer Writing Retreat at Arowhon Pines in Algonquin Park, Tuesday Sept 5 – Friday, Sept 8


Algonquin Park Writing Retreat

Tuesday, September 5 –  Friday, September 8, 2023
Arowhon Pines Resort
Arowhon Pines Road
Little Joe Lake, Algonquin Park
Ontario, Canada

Stretch out your summer and give yourself the time to write  four days of instruction, inspiration and creativity. Award yourself with time away from distractions, with no dishes to do and wonderful food at every meal, as you sit with your feet up and write in the most beautiful wilderness setting in Ontario. This is where the Group of Seven got its inspiration (Tom Thompson is buried just a couple of lakes over); it’s a wonderful place for you to find your inspiration, too.

The retreat will feature both instruction and guided writing exercises, plus one-on-one critiquing and coaching from Brian.  You’ll also have lots of time to relax, rejuvenate, and reconnect with your creativity.

All writing levels welcome. Whether you are just beginning or have a novel in progress, please join us. 

This year, the retreat will again be limited to eleven participants. This will mean plenty of one-on-one time with the instructor.

The setting: Arowhon Pines is a peaceful, quiet resort nestled in the woods on Little Joe Lake inside Algonquin Park. There are no motorboats on the lake, except for the resort’s own pontoon boat which takes guests on occasional wildlife tours.

The resort is without TV and is far from the roar of traffic. The cry of a loon is the loudest noise you’re likely to hear all day.

Rates include charming accommodation (cabins have a mix of queen beds for one person or couples or twin beds for two people rooming together; rooms also have private bathrooms and each cabin has a lounge with fireplace to share with your fellow writers). 

Three all-you-can-eat gourmet meals per day are provided, featuring an abundance of fresh food prepared by master chefs and an inspired kitchen staff. (Bring your own wine or beer!)

All activities included. When you’re not writing, or for spouses who accompany you, there is plenty to do: canoe or kayak a series of lakes or hike trails to see wildlife (moose, loons, beaver, turtles, fox, deer), swim in the lake, sail, stand up paddleboard, play tennis, relax. For indoor activities there is a games room with table tennis, shuffleboard, books, board games. Your stay also includes access to all Algonquin Park programs and activities including a car pass for you to fully enjoy the park.

Check-in isn’t until 3 p.m., but guests can arrive in the morning to fully take advantage of the facilities (though the meals included in your package don’t begin until after check-in time, so lunch on Friday is extra if you arrive early). Each guest can borrow a day pass for Algonquin Park. The formal retreat will begin late Friday afternoon. On Monday, we'll have our last formal get-together at 11 a.m., ending at 12 noon. Check out time is at 1 p.m.  Most guests have lunch while the bellhops load the car. But once you’ve had lunch, don’t feel you have to rush off!

Participants are welcome to bring spouses, partners or friends, as there will be plenty to do while you’re writing – canoeing, kayaking or sailing, swimming if warm enough, tennis, reading and just plain resting and unwinding, enjoying the wilderness.

Read about a stay at Arowhon Pines 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 has helped many of his students get their first book published and launch their careers as authors.

Read reviews of previous writing retreats at Arowhon Pines here (and scroll down). 

To see more reviews of Brian’s weekly courses and Saturday workshops, see here

Seminar fee:

For the full 4-day, 3-night retreat: $221.24 plus hst = $250

Accommodation fee (including accommodation and food, plus use of all the resort’s facilities):

$419 per person per night double occupancy ($836 per couple) OR $524 per night single occupancy, plus 15% service charge (in lieu of tipping), then plus 13% HST. 

Book early – space is strictly limited! Full receipts issued.

For more information or to register, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

If you have questions or need more information about the accommodations,
phone the resort: 1-866-633-5661

Who can attend the retreat?

Everyone interested in developing their writing skills is welcome to attend, whether you're aspiring writer or an accomplished author or simply enjoy writing as a hobby. There is no requirement for you to have been previously published or even to have an intention to publish.

I'm a poet / playwright / other writer. Is this retreat for me?

The retreat is open to anyone who enjoys writing. Instruction will focus on narrative writing; i.e., stories, whether fiction or memoir. But if you’re an essayist or poet or whatever, you’re entirely welcome.  

Should I bring my work in progress?

Yes! If you have an on-going writing project, bring it with you. Bring more than you expect to get to; you'll have lots of time for writing. Besides, you may want to switch projects or share a project that’s just started or one that’s all done, except for reading it to a small, appreciative audience. If you’re not currently working on anything, don’t worry, we’ll get you writing.

Should I bring my laptop?

Yes, if you prefer to work on your laptop. If you prefer to work on paper bring that. Or go crazy and bring both your laptop and your notebook.

Can you cater to specific dietary requirements?

Yes, just let the staff at Arowhon Pines know beforehand about your needs.

I want to stay longer or arrive early. Is that possible?

If you want to arrive earlier or stay longer, that’s fine. Just arrange it with the resort. There is plenty to see and do in the park, and Arowhon Pines is a lovely base from which to explore. 

Is there cell phone reception and WIFI?

Arowhon Pines is an island of luxury, but in the midst of wilderness, so spotty cell phone at best and no WIFI, though there are landlines and there’s access to the resort’s Internet connection. (Contact the resort for details.) But be sure to have your writing projects on your laptop when you come, not stored in the Cloud.

How about alcohol?

Arowhon does not serve alcohol, but guests are welcome to bring their own wine, beer or whatever to have with meals or back at your cabin or wherever. (Though do note that Hemingway’s advice to write drunk, mostly produces drivel.)

Can I bring my spouse?

Certainly. Just let them know you’ll be spending most of your time writing, (though you will have some free time every day), and make sure they enjoy superb food, beautiful wilderness, and relaxing on the deck or the dock or out on a canoe as they glide past a moose munching on water lilies.

For more information about the resort, visit their website here.

For more information or to register, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca 

To book your accommodation at Arowhon Pines, phone toll free: 1-866-633-5661
And be sure to tell them you're with the writing retreat!

Or you can book on-line here~ But be sure to also phone and tell them you're with the writing retreat!


Sunday, May 21, 2023

Annick Press seeks Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, and nonfiction for all ages

Annick Press

388 Carlaw Avenue
Suite 200

Toronto, Ontario


Note: You can hang out and chat with quick brown foxes and vixens on my Facebook page (here). 

Also please check out my new Facebook Page and please Like it here. ~Brian

Annick Press is currently accepting submissions of picture books, middle grade fiction, YA fiction, and nonfiction for kids of all ages. Annick’s stories feature contemporary themes (even if the setting is historical) and aim to instill kids with the joy of reading.

“We are committed to publishing diverse authors and illustrators and believe strongly in producing books that reflect our readers' own experiences while broadening their perspectives. In considering submissions, we prioritize #ownvoices representation of underrepresented and marginalized communities and identities. We encourage creators who identify as LGBTQ2SIA+, Indigenous, Black, and people of color to submit their work. We also encourage submissions from creators living with disabilities. Click here to read about our new Editorial Mentorship Program.”

Send submissions to “The Editor” at: submissions@annickpress.com

Attach files in .docx or .pdf format

Katie Hearn, Editorial Director, Annick Press

Note: Katie Hearn, editorial director, Annick Press, will be the guest speaker for Writing for Children and for Young Adults, an online workshop Sunday, 25, 2023. Details here.


Picture Books

“The picture books that excite us most combine original ideas with strong storytelling and inherent appeal for kids. We prefer child-centered stories that tap into deeper issues and emotions, conveying poignant messages without being didactic. Generally, we prefer to receive the manuscript alone, without illustrations, though you are welcome to include suggestions. Our picture books tend to be 32 pages and no longer than 1000 words.”

Submit your full manuscript and cover letter to submissions@annickpress.com

Middle Grade Fiction

“Annick’s middle reader novels aim to engage kids with exciting stories that inspire deep thought and reflection. We’re looking for original stories with motivated characters, high stakes, and gripping action, even if it’s delivered in subtle form. Humor, even if used occasionally, is an asset. The typical length of our middle reader novels is 20,000 to 40,000 words.”

Submit your first chapter, synopsis and cover letter to submissions@annickpress.com

Young Adult Fiction

“Annick’s YA fiction features distinctive contemporary voices that wrestle with the big issues that matter to teens. We’re looking for powerful, dramatic, thought-provoking stories across most sub-genres, though the best way to determine if your manuscript might be a fit for us is to check out a few of our recent teen titles. Our YA novels tend to range from 50,000 to 70,000 words.”

Submit your first chapter, synopsis and cover letter to submissions@annickpress.com


“Annick’s nonfiction titles aim to hook readers with fascinating subject matter, appealing to their natural sense of wonder. These books give kids a solid foundation of facts while allowing them to draw their own conclusions. 

We’re looking for manuscripts that combine an original idea with narrative skills, a distinctive voice and dedication to accuracy. Show us your passion for the material and the little-known details that will captivate kids and encourage further exploration.”

Submit a sample chapter, detailed outline and cover letter to submissions@annickpress.com


“We’re always looking to add new illustrators to our list. We’re keen to see portfolios that demonstrate stylistic range, expressive characters and visual storytelling. Don’t forget to include illustrations of kids!”

Send sample images or a link to your portfolio, along with a few words about yourself, to submissions@annickpress.com

Full submission guidelines here.

Don't miss our Sept 2023 writing retreat
in Algonquin Park. Details here.  

If you’re interested in meeting an agent and in getting published, don’t miss our upcoming How to Get Published workshop. Details here.

If you’re particularly interested in writing Kid Lit and meeting an editor from a children's publishing company, don’t miss our upcoming Writing for Children and for Young Adults workshop (see here).

And you might be especially interested in our upcoming weekly Kid Lit class (see here).

Check out upcoming Writing Retreats here {and scroll down}.

See all upcoming one-day workshops, writing retreats, and weekly classes here.