My Haul from the South Gillies Book Swap

My Haul from the South Gillies Book Swap
All Books Free.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Book Lover Goes Wild

At the South Gillies Community Book Swap, South Gillies Community Centre, (corner 595 and 608) last Saturday, I was able to pick up several books I had sometimes considered reading one day, the kind of books that are on the mental list or books by authors that I admire. The Swap people had set out two storeys of books. They organized them by category on flat tables, the easier to browse. And, the books are free. (donations welcome and you can donate your own books to the hoard.).

The Swap takes place the third Saturday of every month, with the exception of September, 2016.

Here is what I took.  And why. 

The Mission Song by John le Carre I enjoyed  my first  leCarre book, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and every one after that. So I grabbed this one, hoping I had not read it before, which can easily happen with thrillers.

Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge I first encountered this book, or rather an excerpt, in my Grade Eight reader. I tried to read it several times but I could not understand it perhaps because it was published in 1865. Or maybe because no silver skates appeared. At twelve years old, I found it an incomprehensible mess. Timing is everything, and now, in my dotage, I may find out why it was once a heralded children’s classic.

Doors Open and Mortal Causes, both by Ian Rankin. Rankin always serves up a first rate police procedural, usually set in Scotland.

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver The Book Swap arranges its fiction by gender with female authors on the front tables and males at the back. A bit strange, but I suppose they like it that way. However Lionel Shriver, an excellent writer, is female but, perhaps understandably, she got mixed up with the guys at the back of the hall.

The Wisdom of Karl Marx – I had hoped for some pithy sayings that I could put in the mouth of a fictitious character. But Marx was more turgid than pithy. “Workers of the world unite,” seems to be his only memorable phrase. This collection includes gems such as this “The product of labour is labour which has been congealed in an object: it is the objectification of labour.”

In a Glass House by Nino Ricci A good writer. I am looking forward to this book.

A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory. I love historical fiction and Gregory is a master. I especially enjoyed her series on the War of the Roses. This book is set in the docklands of eighteenth century Bristol. Add in an arranged marriage and it all sounds pretty good.

The Story of the Port Arthur Clinic 1923- 2000 by Charles Wilkins. A slim book full of anecdotes as well as solid local history.  When I was a child in Port Arthur, I was often taken to the clinic to see our family doctor, Gordon Duff. Somehow, I learned that the clinic was a pioneer in medical services. Years later came a bitter strike by clinic workers and, leafing through, I saw this sad chapter was well covered. You can always count on Charlie Wilkins to entertain and interest at the same time.

The Four-Chambered Heart by Anais Nin. In my hippie days, everyone read  Nin. Except me.  I am still not sure if I will read this or not, but I will give it a fair try.

The Birth of the Modern: Post-Impressionism in Canadian Art 1900 – 1920. Lots of coloured plates of the works of the Group of Seven, the Beaver Hall Group and others including Emily Carr and David Milne. I snatched this one up.

Cavalcade of the North selected by George E Nelson. This early Canadian fiction compilation includes some old friends such as Jalna (by Mazo de la Roche ) and Barometer Rising (by Hugh MacLennan). I am more interested in the short stories by writers such as Garbrielle Roy, W.O. Mitchell, Ethel Wilson, Scott Young, and other early luminaries.

The Tale of Pig Robinson by Beatrix Potter. I could lie and say I took the book as a present for a child. But the truth is I wanted it for myself. The cover shows a benign porker, one Pig Robinson, in a blue bloomer suit seated in a beach chair and holding a spyglass to his eye. I have never read The Tale of Pig Robinson but I will now. A quick scan gave me the gist. A ship’s cook shanghaies poor Robinson with the intent of fattening him up for the crew’s dinner. An irresistible plot. Included, of course, are the wonderful Potter illustrations.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Vicious Dogs, by newcomer Henry Brock is, well, Canadian noir. Who knew such a thing even existed? Canadian noir—replete with a self-effacing, overly apologetic, and downright decent protagonist, Derek Lasker. Don’t get me wrong—Lasker is a private dick through-and-through. This down-on-his-luck, can’t-seem-to-get-back-on-his-feet, bordering-on-loser P.I. has total gumshoe cred: he drinks to excess, smokes like a chimney, curses without cause, and womanizes (unsuccessfully, of course, which both feeds into and is fed by his loser persona).
But Lasker is notably different than many of the “new noir” protagonists (if one can call them that) who seem pervasive these days—the soulless, irredeemable misanthropes with cockroach hearts and reptilian minds. On that front, Lasker is a breath of fresh air: he quotes from Macbeth, reads the Classics, embraces multiculturalism, and ponders the plight of women in the male-dominated profession of policing the State. Of course, he does all of this while living in the backseat of his too-old-to-be-hip Toyota (let’s just say it ain’t a Prius) after getting the bum’s rush from a fleabag hotel. Brock’s Lasker harkens back to the gumshoes of an earlier era—the intelligent, two fisted, and sometimes sensitive Marlowes and Spades of the hard-boiled world. And these traits serve Lasker well as he searches for a psychotic cat killer and mutilater in his hometown of Toronto. Yes, you read it right—cat killer and mutilater.
Brock spins a tale both twisted and twisty in Vicious Dogs. The intriguing plot keeps the reader turning pages while the colorful characters bid said reader to slow down and enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is—one that doesn’t let up until the final denouement arrives and Brock adroitly wraps up the mystery in a satisfying bow. If you like noir—real noir, with hardboiled dicks, dames, and good old fashioned psychotic killers—then you’ll love Vicious Dogs. Trust me, this one’s for you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Diane Schoemperlen Talks About Writing Her Memoir.

How hard could it be? I thought. How hard could it be to write a memoir? After all, I had already published a dozen books of literary fiction and I already knew the story I wanted to tell. And I already had the title: This Is Not My Life.

As it turned out, the answer to my foolish question was: Hard. Very hard. Extremely hard. It took me a whole year of frustration and false starts to even come close to figuring out how to do it. During that time, I read many other people’s memoirs and many books about how to write a memoir. Some of this reading was helpful, but some of it left me feeling even more confused.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that there are as many different ways to write a memoir as there are to write a novel or a short story. I had never been much concerned about abiding by the conventions of fiction writing. Now I had to dig up that kind of confidence about writing a memoir and do it the way I thought would work best for me and this particular story. At that point, I tried to put the daunting word “memoir” out of my mind and concentrate on writing the story, the true story of my six-year relationship with a federal inmate serving a life sentence for second-degree murder.

Every single one of the books about writing a memoir that I’d read said it must not be written in chronological order because that would be boring to the reader. This was the first so-called rule I had to set aside. I knew this story would not make much sense unless it was told chronologically.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Holiday Reading - Three Goodies, One So-so and a Clunker.

Reading in Dartmoor. The hills stretch far and away and I have the novels I like, stories about people who leave home and set out on adventures, often life-changing ones.

I started with Elizabeth Hay’s wonderful novel “His Whole Life.” Nan and her young son leave New York to find another reality in Canada. The Quebec referendum crisis is heating up and the possible departure of Quebec is mirrored by the possible collapse of Nan’s marriage. Young Jim, on the cusp of adolescence, is affected by his Canadian experiences and by the new friends his mom brings into his life.

Then a classic, “Good-bye to Berlin,” by Christopher Isherwood.  His writing is as clean and sharp as sunlight but pre-war Berlin is not a sunny place at all. Through the slowly invading darkness, he meets remarkable people including the scintillating Sally Bowles, a character famously depicted later in the musical Cabaret.

Next, Sweet Caress, the latest by William Boyd. A young fashion photographer, Amory Clay, becomes a war photographer recording some of the grimmest events of the 20th century. I have loved many of Boyd’s novels, especially Any Human Heart, his masterpiece, and in my opinion one of the best novels of the 20th century. But this book links a series of stock situations with long bursts of low energy narrative. Adding blurry photos and tossing in historical characters does not help. A disappointment.

 Then on to The South by Colm Toibin whose books never disappoint.  Kathleen, a Protestant Irish woman and a painter leaves her husband and child to move to Franco’s Spain, a country still festering from the civil war. Kathleen carries with her a terrible childhood memory of escaping a house fire set by her Catholic neighbours during a time of civil strife. In Spain, Kathleen takes a lover, Miguel, also a painter but a man with a past. He fought against Franco and his name is known to the authorities.  History’s knife stabs deep and Kathleen has to come to terms with its brutalities and find her way to reconciliation.

 In the second-hand shop in the lovely Devon village of Moretonhampstead, I found a book by Rose Tremain, called The Road Home. This was my first Tremain book. But, as The Road Home slowly revealed its deeply conservative and misogynistic viewpoint, I became more and more troubled and not only with the book but with myself. I kept reading. I wanted the main character, an immigrant called Lev, to find his happy ending. I began to think I was glossing over the reality in order to see that happen. Later, I learned, to my surprise, this novel won the 2008 Orange Prize and received glowing reviews. It will be the subject of another post.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Morphing. A Short Story

The economy crashes in 2008 but James and Mira Lorcas, an Arizona couple, handle the situation in a very creative way.A winner in the 2015 Canadian Authors Association Ten Stories High contest.
By Joan M. Baril
In 2005, in the early hours, a July storm blew through Tucson, Arizona. The locals call such a storm a monsoon: heavy downpour, thunder and hail. When James Lorcas got to his usual spot outside the Home Depot, the parking lot was a sea an inch deep. As he stood with his buddies, all shivering in the chill, he saw the first blue reflected in the water.
            The wavering colour reminded him of Mira’s tearful eyes when he had snapped at her that morning, said her house idea was the craziest goddamn stupid thing he had ever heard. Then he put his arms around her and they swayed for a minute in the middle of the small kitchen. She was just scared. They’d heard shots in the night, somewhere close. Their neighbourhood was getting worse and she wanted out.
She turned to finish packing Sammy’s school lunch. “We got to take any chance,” she said. “We’ll lose Sammy. You, of all people, should know that.” Her voice hardened. “He’s wearing that red tee shirt all the time. You know it’s a gang colour. The Bloods. If you don’t do something about it, I will.”
James had swung out of the door and down the stairs to walk two miles in the dangerous dark to the Home Depot parking lot. He didn’t believe Mira would go ahead with the silly house idea on her own. And he had no worries about her leaving him. They’d been a strong couple for twenty years. They’d been in the same class in high school. She was a beautiful sight, a quick moving, laughing girl with dark,  coffee-coloured skin, big blue eyes and black hair. He followed her from class to class just to see her fast swaying walk, hear her laughter and her soft pattering voice as she talked with her girl friends. He loved her absolutely.
She was right about Sammy. The once cheery boy was slipping away from them, getting sullen and mouthy. James himself had got into gangs when he was much younger than Sam. He started when he was ten, a smart-ass street brat, getting paid small change as a runner and then, when he grew up, a low-level street-corner pusher. Crack was just coming in and, it seemed, overnight, gun battles all around. Every evening, when he was eighteen, he stood at the corner of Grant and Alverson, one jacket pocket full of cocaine packs and the other full of money. He might as well have had a target on his back. Mira, the same age as he but smarter, much smarter, gave him the word. Break free. Get out. Go to the army base in Sierra Vista. Join up. If he didn’t, she’d walk. He knew she was right. The army saved him.
Mira saved him.
They’d married when he was in the army. After he was released, Mira helped him set up his electrical business and, fifteen years later, she helped fold it up when it went bankrupt. She always cheered him on, told him it couldn’t be long before a good job would open for him, maybe in one of those big construction companies that were covering the Tucson hills with new houses. The Home Depot gig was temporary.

Welcome to the Mix and Mingle.

A summer Mix and Mingle this coming Thursday, July 28th from 7:30-9:30pm at the Study at Lakehead University. More information is below and check us out in the Chronicle Journal.

You’re invited to mingle with a great group of writers.

The Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop is holding a Mix & Mingle on Thursday, July 28 from 7:30 pm until approximately 9:30 pm at The Study in Lakehead University. Meet other NOWW members, have a drink and some food and relax for the evening! This is a 'no-host' event (you are responsible for your own bill).
This is also a chance to become a NOWW member (if you haven’t already).

The Study is near Lakehead’s Security Office in the University Centre building, room UC 2035. Parking is available at meters in the Agora Circle.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

My 50th Published Story

A Milestone for This Blogger

I made the decision a few years back. I would try to write short stories. I would give up writing magazine pieces (mainly for Herizon Magazine and a few others) and my newspaper columns. I would reread Alice and Margaret and William Trevor and Hemmingway and Chekhov. I would study  the stories in the New Yorker, Room, the Antigonish Review and other lit mags and ignore the feeling of inadequcy they produced (especially the stories of the divine Alice)  and try my hand.  I would join two writing groups and let them hash over my stuff. I would send stories to the NOWW Blue Pencil editing program and let an anonymous editor rehash them.

I would ignore stupid rejection comments such as this one: "We only take stories in the style of Hardy and Dickens." Well bless my bustle I thought as I pressed delete once again.

I think, fifteen years later, I am improving. Yesterday I received a copy of Prairie Fire containing the 50th published story plus some nice words from Fred Stinson. "This piece shows fine narrative gifts. While telling a wryly funny story, it is also an account of an aesthetic coming of age."

The creative non-fiction piece is called "The Art of Housebreaking," and is based on my childhood pastime of breaking into neighbouring houses, not to steal but to satisfy my love of interior decorating. I was a severe critic. However, a break-and-enter gal never knows what she might discover once she gets inside.

I am so incredibly pumped about breaking the 50 story mark. I think I can call myself a writer now. Thank you Prairie Fire. And thank you to Room for publishing the first story "The Lover," way back in 2007. Thanks to the Antigonish Review for nominating my story "The Yegg Boy," for the Journey Prize. Thanks to Earnest Hekkanen of the New Orphic Review for encouraging words. Thanks to all those who sent encouraging words, even if a rejection was enclosed and that includes a wonderful rejection letter from the New Yorker.

I am going to get a Prairie Fire tee made just to celebrate. Maybe have a give away. PS The Prairie Fire should be available soon at Chapters.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Interview with Thunder Bay's Jean E. Pendziwol

Thunder Bay Public Library's series "Off the Shelf" presents an interview with local writer Jean E Pendziwol. The interview is by Shauna.

Jean E. Pendziwol is the award-winning author of eight published children’s books.  Her debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, will be published in 2017 by HarperCollins; her latest children’s book, Me and You and the Red Canoe, will also be published in 2017 by Groundwood Books. You can find her online at

Shauna Kosoris: Your writing career began with the publication of the picture book No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons), which was published in 1999.  What inspired you to write this book?
Jean E. Pendziwol: My writing career actually began a few years before that. Prior to having kids, and continuing on a casual basis after they were born, I worked as a freelance writer, mostly for trade publications. I researched, wrote, photographed and did editorial coordination. Having young children re-exposed me to children’s books, and in particular, picture books. I love the format – the partnering of images and text, the challenge of working within a limited number of words, and, especially at that time, the ability to hold a story completely in my head before I even put pen to paper.  No Dragons for Tea was inspired by my daughter.  At that time, she was extremely afraid of fires, and more so, by fire alarms. I was concerned that she didn’t have the necessary tools to respond in an emergency situation and searched out resources. What I found were a number of books about fire safety that were all either didactic or frightening. With the help of our local fire prevention officer, Brian Berringer, I came up with the idea for the book. I was thrilled when Kids Can Press wanted to publish it! I was fortunate in that it was timely, relevant, accessible and engaging and it carried an important message.

I love that it spawned a whole series of engaging safety stories for children, too!  Right now you’ve published eight picture books, with another one tentatively scheduled for release next year.  What is the appeal of writing for children?
I love the challenge of writing picture books. There is a misconception that because the stories are short and for children that writing them is a simple task. It’s actually one of the hardest genres to get published in, which I fortunately didn’t know at the time I headed down that path. Several of my picture books are poems, and while written for children, have a universal appeal. Once Upon a Northern Night in particular has touched many people.  I love that my stories speak to people in an intimate way. And because I value and respect children, I want to create something for them that is valuable and respectful.

Friday, July 1, 2016

NOWW Magazine

Roy Blonstrum double winner: first prize in the Bill MacDonald Prize for Prose and second prize in creative non-fiction

Big congratulations to John Pringle, Content Editor, and Glen Ponka, Design Editor, for a top-of-the-line magazine. The magazine will soon be available on-line. Stay tuned to this blog for info about how to buy.

Along with a report by Sue Blott on Michael Christie's workshop from last May, we have the works of the first prize winners in the 2016 contest with the judges' comments on each work.

Siobhan Farrell's three prize winning poems are simply wonderful.  Judge Molly Peacock noted their "zesty. memorable images" and "onward rushing rhythm."

Tessa Soderberg double winner in the Novel Excerpt category - first and third place

Judge Terry Fallis called Home Service" by Tessa Soderberg, "powerful."

"One Man's Love", by Sue Blott, which took first prize in the creative non-fiction category was described by Judge Rilla Friesen as "a powerful retelling of painful family moments."

 Add in Joan M. Baril's  first prize story "The Sisterhood," described by Judge Carleigh Baker as a charming look at a time when the world of women held so many secrets.

Roy Blomstrom's essay, "Elna and Sven," took the Bill MacDonald Prize for Prose. Judge Charles Wilkins described it as "an essay  rich in its portrayal of family and neighbourhood life."

Sue Blott first prize in creative non-fiction

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Austin Clark 1934 - 2016

Austin Clark, author of "The Polished Hoe," dies at 81

Friday, June 24, 2016

Insights from Judging a Writing Contest by Annette Gendler

I just wrapped up serving as one of the judges in the Hemingway Shorts contest sponsored by the Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, and I thought I'd share some of the insights I came away with:

1   Don't start your story with a weather report unless the weather is the main topic. This is my number one pet peeve from having judged this contest! About 80% of the stories submitted began with a weather report, and about 95% of them had nothing to do with the weather. Beginning with the weather is not the way to distinguish your work from a pile of submissions. Weather reports are boring, so even if the weather is the topic, get on with it.

2   Have your protagonist appear in your first paragraph. Readers relate to people, not things. Ditto the weather issue. If I couldn't figure out who this story is about by the first paragraph, chances are I didn't read on.

3   Too many actors spoil the story. A short story is, after all, short! Too many characters diffuse the action and tension, plus your reader gets easily confused if there are a lot of names to follow. It's another way to lose the reader's attention, and a contest judge has to pay attention to a lot of stories. If yours makes this hard, it's not going to happen.

4   Mind your grammar, word choice, and spelling. Errors in any of these resulted in prompt rejection. By definition, a writing contest is looking for the best writing in a given genre, and the best writing does not contain errors. While spelling errors weren't prevalent, I was astounded by the number of entries that had obvious language issues, such as using "attendance" when "attending" should have been used. Have someone else read your work before you submit, as those are the kind of errors the writer will easily miss.

5   Keep to the word limit. Entries above the word limit were immediately deleted. While I didn't come across many of these, there were still some.

6   Submit early. Judges have to begin reading submissions before the deadline because of the sheer volume. A lot of submissions do come in right before the deadline, but a judge will also simply get tired from reading the flood and might have already settled, in his or her heart, on the top choices.