Some Really Good (under appreciated) Canadian Books…Part One

Some books get all the street cred. They win awards and hoopla. Their authors are invited every-which-where and are added to lists (CanLit, writers-to-watch, top 100, etc.).

However, like musicians and artists (in all disciplines), there are those writers and books that escape notice for whatever reason. The authors aren’t in the right circles or the right time and place or they simply miss out on luck. No denying there is a lot of luck involved in getting noticed as an artist of any stripe in this world.

I think about my numerous friends in the arts, too many of whom are devastatingly talented but heartbreakingly unrecognized or under-recognized. I’d like to take this and the nextreally-good-literature-is-seldom-appreciated-in-its-own-day-the-best-authors-die-poor-the-bad-ones-make-money-its-always-been-like-that-walter-moers blog to recognize just a few of these fine people and their fine titles. In fact, this week, CBC stole my blog idea and created this list: 12 Underrated Canadian Novels.   But here’s mine– cultivated with a little help from my friends–of summer reading suggestions (with brief annotations) for under-read Can Lit*:

The Next Margaret – Janice MacDonald   “The very first Randy Craig Mystery was published in 1994 and is the ‘lost book’ of the series. We first meet Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig as she returns to grad school to do an MA in English literature at the University of Alberta focusing on novelist Margaret Athers, a reportedly  reclusive figure who can only be contacted through her publisher. But all is not as it seems. Soon, Randy must use her literary deductive skills to prove that the Department of English is harbouring a killer.”

Doubting Yourself to the Bone – Thomas Trofimuk  “A story about the nature of grief, about what it means to be a parent in the face of great sorrow, the idea of re-invented love and hope. Set in Paris and a small town in the Canadian Rockies, the novel is propelled forward by a horrific car crash that reverberates for the victim’s husband and daughters….this story serpentines through the labyrinth of grief and pain as the victim’s husband wrestles with the question, was the car crash an accident or intentional?”

The Betrayal – Henry Kreisel  “This swift philosophical thriller explores the role of North Americans as witnesses to global history. With rich allusions to Joseph Conrad The Betrayal traces the effects of the Holocaust to Edmonton, Alberta, an unlikely spot for a moral showdown–or so one would at first think. A classic of contemporary Canadian literature.” – Goodreads

Allegra – Shelley Hrdslitschka  “[An] absorbing exploration of contemporary teen life…Hrdlitschka (Sister Wife) realistically depicts teenage emotional turmoil as Allegra’s growing obsession with Mr. Rocchelli combines with despair at her parents’ separation and the ups and downs of her new friendships. The main characters’ devotion to the arts enriches the drama.” – Publishers Weekly

Road Tripping – Conni Massing  “Every summer for the past 10 years, Conni Massing and a gaggle of her theatre friends have embarked on raucous road trips throughout their home province of Alberta….Massing’s funny, compelling, and educational account of these trips….may even inspire a bit of envy on the part of her readers. How can people have so much fun, one wonders, with so little? How do people make a pit stop for beef jerky an adventure?….Her love letter to her home province, is both funny and inspiring.” Quill & Quire

Delusion Road – Don Aker   “A taut, gripping murder mystery thriller… a page-turner that will leave readers both breathlessly cheering for the protagonists and eager to (re)experience the Bay of Fundy’s shoreline and all its rocky, majestic East Coast splendour. Aker excels is in his storytelling, creating vividly believable scenarios rife with razor-sharp tension, all wrapped up in an edgy, realistic portrayal of loyalty, the lies we tell, and the strength of the human spirit.” National Reading Campaign

A Wake for the Dreamland – Laurel Deedrick-Mayne  Friends William, Robert, & Annie are on the cusp of adulthood while the world is on the brink of war. Every arena of their lives is infiltrated by the war, from the home front to the underground of queer London to the bloody battlefields of Italy. Even in the aftermath, these friends fight their own inner battles: to have faith in their right to love and be loved, to honour their promises and ultimately find their way “home.” 

Ghost Messages – Jacqueline Guest  In pursuit of stolen treasure in 1865 Ireland, 13-year-old Ailish winds up trapped on the Great Eastern as it sails! The vessel’s mission is to lay the fi rst undersea telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean. On the journey, Ailish, disguised as a boy tries to track down the hiding place of her father’s treasure. With her trademark storytelling skills, Jacqueline Guest has fashioned a nail-biter of an historical seafaring action adventure.

Instruments of Surrender – Christine Wiesenthal  In this poetry collection, “Wiesenthal reveal[s her] mastery of craft and mature sensibilities. [She is an] excavator of past and present: … mining the uncertain terrain of childhood and youth, the hazardous surfaces of adult experience…[who] sees the wide world and record[s her] knowledge of its brutality. [She] write[s] of paternal betrayal with the same unsettling frankness they bring to day-to-day events.” – Antigonish Review

Gwen – Carolyn Pogue   Not only is Gwen a fantastic historical source with its references to Yonge Street, the St. Lawrence River and national heroes including Miss Pauline Johnson and Joseph Brant, it’s also a captivating story of a young girl determined to pursue her dreams and traverse new lands. Gwen is young, but her sensibilities and optimistic character are bound to evoke emotions from all age groups.

You Haven’t Changed a Bit – Astrid Blodgett Edmonton-based Astrid Blodgett’s debut story collection is a complex and darkly tinged look into the lives of troubled characters and the traumatic, life-altering events of their lives.“You Haven’t Changed a Bit” has the complexity and texture you’d expect from a well-established short fiction writer. The fact that this is a debut collection is a remarkable achievement and should convince you to keep an eye out for more of Blodgett’s work.

Finton Moon – Gerard Collins  Set in the fictional town of Darwin, NFL, Collins “build[s] his themes: of cruelty and malice, intolerance of every kind, violence, poverty, repression, and the pain of growing up, especially in the closed and claustrophobic environment of Darwin. But it’s not all to do with struggling against the cramped and insular confines of a small town. In the context of growing up, the book is about friendship; the obligations of familial and romantic love; and the hard, but often thrilling journey of self-discovery.” The Western Star

Part Two – Next Week!

(And thanks to all who suggested The Book of Mary by me!  Shucks.)

* You’ll note a decidedly Edmonton/ Albertan bias, but that’s just fine.


Writing Quote: “Even to be a famous author in America is no piece of cake. There are no screaming lines of fans waiting hours for the new release, no instant recognition that accords respect, no government funding for the arts to speak of and a risky living to be made at best. And for the other writers, it’s a struggle that only a passion for stories and books, bred early and deep, can sustain.” –

Writing Tips:  There’s a saying in publishing that the moment you spot a trend, it’s too late to join it. By the time you finish writing something you think will be popular because it’s popular now, that ship will have largely sailed. – Writer’s Digest

Writing Prompt: ‘Shh! Hear that?’ ‘I didn’t hear anything.’ ‘That’s right. That’s the sound of your own oblivion.’





CBC’s This is That Hoodwinks WIR

Yes, I’ll admit it. This week I was a victim of click bait on Twitter:

I saw this and mindlessly clicked:

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 4.34.49 PMI read the article with horror and spent the next hour constructing a passionate counter-argument.

Then I thought I’d better do a little research.  I could find no trace of either the Canadian Education Committee or of Harold Wright.  After more digging, of course, I found the link to CBC’s satirical This is That.

I felt my outrage go limp.

CBC had baited me, and I’d fecklessly fanned the flames of my righteous indignation to the point of indigestion.

I took a Tums.

But the entire episode left me thinking about children’s and young adult books that feature talking animals and anthropomorphized animals, in general.  As a teacher-librarian and a children’s literature specialist, I find children’s books featuring animal protagonists to be charming and illustrative.  As an educator, I’ve always felt that talking animals built empathy for animals and humans and indeed worked on the level of allegory for human behaviour.  I think of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan to name but three of my favourites.  For me these are the precursors for more advanced study of such works as Orwell’s Animal Farm, Richard Adams’ Watership Down, Martel’s Life of Pi, and even those hobbitty creatures.

So I found the U of T research cited in Dominic Ali’s recent article, “When kids’ books feature animals with human traits,” troubling:

“…kids’ books featuring animals with human characteristics not only lead to less factual learning but also influence children’s reasoning about animals.

Researchers also found that young readers are more likely to attribute human behaviors and emotions to animals when exposed to books with anthropomorphized animals than books depicting animals realistically.”

Well, this sounded much like the claims of the fictitious Harold Wright of the non-existent Canadian Education Committee. I felt my ire rise again.

I do see the argument that an exclusive literary diet of talking and dancing mice can limit a child’s understanding of the natural world. I agree with the lead author of the study, Patricia Ganea, that a variety of books from magical realism to realistic depictions of the natural world are important. We need to feed the imagination and the intellect.  But I would argue that the imagination is better fuelled by stories featuring animals that talk and behave as humans than by the factual science book.  (And the notion of displacement seems a significant means for children to deal with how badly or kindly humans disguised as animals can behave.)

Missing in the study is any discussion of the vital role the parent or adult reader, teacher or librarian plays in guiding young minds to see the link between human and animal, or to understand the difference between reality and fantasy, or to grapple with the often harsh and cruel realities of the animal kingdom. Early readers need adult guides to help them understand, and they have such helpers in schools, libraries and at the bedside to explain these crucial distinctions.

I leave you with two lovely sites to consider:

The Guardian’s “The best talking animals in children’s books


PETA Kids’ “The Best Books for Kids Who Love Animals

Writing Quote: “What I mean is, things like that happen. They may seem might cruel and unfair, but that’s how life is a part of the time. But that isn’t the only way life is. A part of the time, it’s mighty good. And a man can’t afford to waste all the good part, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad.” – Old Yeller, Fred Gipson (American author, 1907-1973)

Writing TipsTom Moorhouse, author of The River Singers and The Rising on writing about animals.

Writing Prompt: Musings on humans by your pet or choice of animal.


No Magic Elixir & BookBiz News

Delightful to be in the city of St. Ast-albert-placelbert ensconced in Douglas Cardinal’s beautiful building that houses the St. Albert Public Library.  I have a room with a view on the second floor.  Come by for a chin wag!

Just thought I’d share some articles on the elusive mystery of a bestseller.  Statisticians and computer analysts have spent many an academic career trying to chart just exactly what makes for a successful novel by tracking the algorithms of sentences and titles. The Guardian, one of UK’s most respected publications, offers these two stories:

But it seems there is no magic elixir to what constitutes a bestseller. Doggedness and hard work, though, seem to count for much. It’s also good to love words and writing them. Often.

In other bookish news, you’ve likely heard that e-book technology allows publishers to track the number of pages actually read on an e-book reader:

Of course, this lead to the inevitable “pay by pages actually read” model that Amazon (and likely others) will adopt:

Can you hear self-published authors everywhere offering up a collective groan? Sheesh!  Could the business of writing be even more fraught with uncertainty and challenge?

But here’s some good news!  Writing is actually good for you!  Of course, we writers have always known this, but now there is an actual study cited in Rachel Grate’s article, “Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write.” Writing is good for the mind, the liver (unless you’re a F. Scott Fitzgerald), helps ease the effects of asthma and high blood pressure, and may even release dopamine and allow one to sleep better.

Writing Quote: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London, novelist & journalist (1876-1916)

Writing Tip:  “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman, author (b. 1960)

Writing Prompt:

You’re Invited to Songs of Innocence & Experience

Please join me and friends in an exploration of poetry and song this Tuesday, June 16 at 7 pm at Fort Saskatchewan Library

SonBlake_sie_covergs of Innocence and Experience:  Explore the connections between rhythm and rhyme, poetry and song. Join Gail (who’s also a professional singer) and special musical guests, Angela Flatekval, Kevin McCann and Geoff McMaster, to talk about how these forms are interconnected, and how poets and songwriters can inform and enrich each other’s writing practice and performance. Plus, learn how you can record and edit your own songs using the library’s Music Creation Station.


Unknown-1Angela Flatekval has led a vast and varied creative life.  From choirs and cheerleading in high school to the Arthur Murray years to Theatre Arts at Grant MacEwan to working with local companies (such as The Mayfield and Workshop West) to founding, producing and performing with the independent theatre company The Unconscious Collective through to now parenting and working with the wee-est of artists as a Kindermusik educator, expression through movement, music and physicality is first nature to her.


UnknownKevin McCann grew up in Edmonton where he was immersed in music and theatre, attended Victoria School, and after graduation, the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria, BC. Kevin loves music, and during his school years received training in classical guitar, piano and voice. He’s had many wonderful experiences, from competing in local music festivals to singing “Bring Him Home” with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. Kevin is an avid reader, and has been inhaling fantasy novels since he knew they existed.

1926905_10152233587814116_103656239_nGeoffrey McMaster is a video producer, news writer and editor at the University of Alberta, and a jack of many trades. A university brat, he holds a number of English degrees (specializing in American and African American literature) as well as a degree in journalism from Ryerson. He has been a university professor and an instructor at YouthWrite®. As a freelance video director, he works closely with Jeff Allen Productions, Inc. While non-fiction in-depth pieces and video documentaries are his forté, he is also a photographer and an accomplished musician.

Writing Quote:  “Social media is a giant distraction to the ultimate aim, which is honing your craft as a songwriter. There are people who are exceptional at it, however, and if you can do both things, then that’s fantastic, but if you are a writer, the time is better spent on a clever lyric than a clever tweet.” Bryan Adams, Canadian singer songwriter (born 1959)
Writing Tip: Check out this blog: The poetry of songwriting: 10 top writing tips from

Song Writing Prompt:   Title:  “Playing with Matches”  Run with it, songsmiths!

How much can I quote? (or how to thieve but not break copyright)



8434683455_6f101169c0_bFair Dealing by Giulia Forsythe (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I get this question often.

It’s an important one because as creators, we don’t want to steal from our fellow artists, lest we be likewise stolen from (forgive my ending with a preposition).

Wouldn’t it be nice to include in your next novel a quote from J.D. Salinger or that perfect line from a Shakespearean sonnet?  Yay to the latter, nope to the former.  Why?  Because Shakespeare is dead and his works are in the Public Domain, while J.D. Salinger, though dead, has only been so for five years, and his works are still under copyright.

In Canada we use the term “fair dealing,” while the States uses the term “fair use.” It’s  important to distinguish between these two terms. The fair use exception in U.S. copyright law is NOT the equivalent of fair dealing in Canadian law, and wording of the two exceptions is different. Make sure that you consider the Canadian law and are not relying on U.S. information, which has no jurisdiction in Canada. In Canada, fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright.

Copyright basics – Insubstantial/Substantial (from Concordia University)

“The Copyright Act (s.3) protects substantial parts of works as well as whole works.

Since “substantial” is not defined in the Act, the quantity and importance of what is being copied must be evaluated. In deciding whether a part of a work is considered substantial, the whole work must be taken into account. A few sentences from a novel would probably be considered insubstantial but a single line from a poem might be essential to the work and be considered substantial.”

From the International James Joyce Foundation:  Under Canadian “‘fair-dealing’ provisions, the following uses do not infringe copyright:

  • for the purpose of research or private study
  • for the purpose of criticism, review, or news reporting, so long as the source and the name of the author are mentioned
  • for purposes of instruction to make a manual reproduction of a work onto a display board or to make a copy of a work to be used on an overhead projector
  • live, not-for-profit performance of a work by students at an educational institution before an audience consisting primarily of students and instructors.

Factors that may be considered in determining fair dealing in Canada… include the purpose and character of the use, the amount of the use, the alternatives to the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, and the effect of the use on that work. As with U.K. fair dealing, fair dealing in Canada… is generally less flexible and broadly construed than the fair-use doctrine in the U.S.; fair dealing… tends to be categorically limited to the purposes set forth above.”

So, if you really need that quotation, best to use the words of someone long dead or to seek permission from the copyright holder (necessitating payment, very often a substantial even prohibitive sum for a writer or a publishing house).

For more informed detail on Canadian fair dealing, visit Michael Geist’s excellent blog page.

Writing Quote:  “Writers write about what obsesses them. You draw those cards. I lost my mother when I was 14. My daughter died at the age of 6. I lost my faith as a Catholic. When I’m writing, the darkness is always there. I go where the pain is. – Anne Rice, American author (b. 1941).
Writing Tip: The Guardian’s “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.” (Part Two)

Writing Prompt:  Write a poem or prose anecdote about yourself in which nothing is true.

Copyright Info for Canadians

copyrightA number of visitors to my WIR office have asked me about copyrighting their work. Sometimes, I get nail-biting writers who fear someone may “steal” their beautiful words. So I thought I’d share some information today on Canadian copyright.

Here’s what John Degen, Executive Director of the Writers’ Union of Canada has to say on the subject:

While it is always a good idea to take some basic steps to indicate ownership of an original work, please note that registration of copyright is not required in Canada, and instances of ownership challenge are relatively rare. Your ownership of a work attaches to that work at the moment of creation. Steps such as keeping signed and dated drafts of a work, and using sealed registered mail to record ownership of a work are often advised if there are concerns about a potential challenge, but a paid registration is not necessary. You are advised to always indicate ownership by using the © symbol, and to not sign away or assign your copyright in a contract.

This well-produced video from the Intellectual Property Office in the UK, while concerned with British law, contains excellent information for Canadian authors as well. (Please note one important difference between UK and Canadian copyright – British law protects copyright for the life of the author plus 70 years; in Canada, for the time being, the term is the life of the author plus 50 years.)

If you are a published writer, you should also consider visiting these sites on copyright information:

Access Copyright

Canadian Intellectual Property Office

And if you’re a songwriter, check out SOCAN.

Here is an interesting article on blogging and copyright by Lesley Ellen Harris.

Writing Quote:  “My problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity” – Cory Doctorow, Canadian author (b. 1973).
Writing Tip: The Guardian’s “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.” (Part One)

Writing Prompt:  Just after he died, he sat up…


More Marketing Info for Writers

This is an update on my January 27th marketing post.

And a wee note: Gail will not be in her office on Thursday, May 28th.

As a follow-up to my workshop of last week, I thought I’d share some additional resources  about markets.

Strong recommendations:  mood-writing

  • always check out any website (a dead link likely means a defunct journal)
  • always check out the backlist to ensure that your piece is aligned with the sort of work the journal/ magazine/ e-zine publishes
  • READ the journal and consider subscribing (supporting literary mags is good karma!)
  • more generally, you should be READING all the time, especially in your chosen genre
  • check out this site (and Google others like it) for advice on some disreputable publishers:  “Contests and Services to Avoid” or this from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

General Manuscript Submission Tips:

Beware of any publisher who offers to publish your poem or story for money.  Can you smell the stink?  Something is rotten!  Publishers pay you for your work, not the other way around.

  1. That said, modest entry fees for a competition are not unusual, and may range from $5 to $50, depending on the calibre of the competition and the prizes offered.
  2. Always check out the website of any publisher, magazine, or journal.  Make sure that what you’ve written truly fits the “call for submission” requirements before you submit.  READ the magazine or journal first to see if your work matches the style and content.
  3. Follow submission guidelines meticulously.  Editors are busy people.  If your manuscript is messy, error-ridden, or incorrectly formatted, it’s likely to be filed in “recycle” also known as “rejected.”
  4. Use an easily readable font.  Size 12 – no bigger, no smaller. Double space.  Use 1 to 1.5 inch margins on all four sides of the page.  Print single-sided on white paper.
  5. Don’t send an electronic copy to a journal that ONLY accepts snailmail.
  6. If you send via snailmail, you may be asked to include a SASE (stamped and self-addressed envelope) or International Reply Coupon (IRC) for return of your manuscript.
  7. For Pete’s sake, for the love of Mike, PROOFREAD!!!
  8. Don’t pester the editors.  Read the submission guidelines for response times.  Many publishers, unfortunately, only reply to those writers whose work they are intending to publish.
  9. Never send original work or artwork.  Make a copy or keep your originals in a cloud storage like Dropbox.  Keep your originals safe at home, both electronic and hard copies!

If your work is rejected, take heart.  There are other publishers out there. Do consider editorial suggestions, but remember you are the author of your own story.  In the end, you are the arbiter of your own words.  Tinker or rework and send out your manuscript again.  And again.  And again.

TEN (Markets and Resources): 

  1. Places for Writers:  “[places for writers] helps writers find homes for their work. Our goal is to help you write more and get your writing published. Since 1997 [places for writers] has featured submission calls and contests for publications in Canada and around the world: from independent presses to large well-established journals, from blogs and web journals to print magazines with wide distribution.”
  2. Quick Brown Fox: “Brian Henry’s Quick Brown Fox – Creative Writing Courses and Workshops and other great stuff for writers.”
  3. Broken Pencil:  “Since 1995, we have been a mega-zine dedicated exclusively to exploring independent creative action. Published four times a year, each issue of Broken Pencil features reviews of hundreds of zines and small press books, plus comics, excerpts from the best of the underground press, interviews, original fiction and commentary on all aspects of the indie arts. From the hilarious to the perverse, Broken Pencil challenges conformity and demands attention.”
  4. The Puritan: “The Puritan: Frontiers of New English is an online, quarterly publication based in Toronto, Ontario, committed to publishing the best in new fiction, poetry, interviews, essays, and reviews. The Puritan seeks, above all, a pioneering literature—work that pushes boundaries, or sees boundaries as unstable, or lines to be re-drawn.”
  5. paperplates: “a literary quarterly published in Toronto….[that publishes] short personal essays, reminiscences, and travel accounts…. short stories, one-act plays, musical scores, poems short and long, extended travel pieces, formal essays, interviews, and reminiscences…. reviews, mostly of books.”
  6. forget magazine:  “What we are really after: what we are really after in this publication is the publishing of material that is ignored in the mainstream press and the even the independent news. Anything that has reason and passion. And more stuff that is Canadian than not.”
  7. Joyland: “is a literary magazine that selects fiction and essays regionally. Our editors work with stories and excerpts by authors connected to locales across North America.”
  8. Stone Soup: “the print magazine written and illustrated by young writers and artists. It is the leading publisher of creative writing by children ages 8 to 13.”
  9. “is a community of young writers, both new and experienced, dedicated to improving our writing.”
  10. Predators and Editors: “was founded in July 1997 by Dave Kuzminski as a resource and a simple compendium for the serious writer, composer, game designer, or artist to consult for information, regardless of genre.”

TEN More: 

  1. Room Magazine:  “Canada’s oldest literary journal by and about women…. showcases fiction, poetry, reviews, art work, interviews and profiles about the female experience. Many of our contributors are at the beginning of their writing careers, looking for an opportunity to get published for the first time. Some later go on to great acclaim. Room is a space where women can speak, connect, and showcase their creativity. Each quarter we publish original, thought-provoking works that reflect women’s strength, sensuality, vulnerability, and wit.”
  2. Glass Buffalo:  is a literary magazine in search of mythic power. We’re collecting the words and stories of emerging writers at the University of Alberta in order to cultivate a creative literary community.”
  3. Whetstone Magazine: “is a biannual literary magazine managed by student-enthusiasts at the University of Lethbridge with occasional help from members of the English Department. Originally established in 1971, Whetstone was revived in September 2009 and aims to attract writers from southern Alberta and the prairies. Whetstone accepts original works of prose, poetry, photography, and graphic design from students, scholars, and members of the general public.”
  4. The Fiddlehead: “is Canada’s longest living literary journal — now in its 70th year of publication, The Fiddlehead is published four times a year at the University of New Brunswick….[and] is known as a WHO’S WHO in Can. Lit. Many — now well-known — writers have found their first home in our pages, and they, as well as some of our editors and assistants, have gone on to win awards and prizes across the country and around the world. Do not look at this journal as old! It is experienced; wise enough to recognize excellence; always looking for freshness and surprise.
  5. Antigonish Review: “is a quarterly literary journal published by St. Francis Xavier University. The Review features poetry, fiction, reviews and critical articles from all parts of Canada, the US and overseas, using original graphics to enliven the format. For forty years, The Antigonish Review has consistently published fine poetry and prose by emerging — and established — writers. Their writing would not have been as readily available had it not been for the efforts of this review. Many young writers have been given a start here.
  6. The Capilano Review: “has a long history of publishing new and established Canadian writers and artists who are experimenting with or expanding the boundaries of conventional forms and contexts. International writers and artists appear in our pages too. Founded in North Vancouver in 1972 by Pierre Coupey, the magazine continues its original mandate to publish the literary and visual arts side by side.The print edition of TCR is published three times a year. A pdf version is available for purchase simultaneously. Our website features a free e-magazine called ti-TCR | a web folio, also published three times a year.”
  7. The Malahat Review“established in 1967 by University of Victoria English, is among Canada’s leading literary journals. Published quarterly, it features contemporary Canadian and international works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction as well as reviews of recently published Canadian poetry, fiction, and literary nonfiction. On occasion, it also publishes interviews, essays, and issues on a single theme or author.”
  8. Event: “in its 42nd year of publication, is an award-winning, internationally recognized literary magazine that publishes fiction, poetry, non-fiction and book reviews by emerging and established writers three times a year…our pages strive to reflect the diversity of the reading and writing communities we serve. Our publication acts as a stepping-stone for writers, many of whom go on to win literary prizes, receive artist grants, and get published elsewhere after having been first published in our pages. We have published many of Canada’s most distinguished writers both before and after they gained national or international recognition, and continue to support gifted new and emerging writers. The majority of our content remains unsolicited and we consistently provide advice and critique to emerging writers. It is our goal to support and encourage a thriving literary community locally, provincially and nationally, while maintaining our presence in North America and abroad.”
  9. Grain Magazine: “the journal of eclectic writing, is a literary quarterly that publishes engaging, diverse, and challenging writing and art by some of the best Canadian and international writers and artists. Every issue features superb new writing from both developing and established writers. Each issue also highlights the unique artwork of a different visual artist. Grain has garnered national and international recognition for its distinctive, cutting-edge content and design.”
  10. Prism International: “is a quarterly magazine out of Vancouver, British Columbia, whose mandate is to publish the best in contemporary writing and translation from Canada and around the world. The mandate of the magazine’s website is to provide a supplement to the print edition that connects readers with the literary community through author interviews, book reviews, news about Canadian writing and publishing events, and other information of interest to our readers, many of whom are writers themselves.Though best known for its fiction and poetry, PRISM does not neglect the other literary arts. Creative non-fiction, drama and translation are regular features.”

And for more helpful info, visit Magazine Awards.

Writing Quotes:

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”—Philip Roth, American novelist (b. 1933)

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”—Stephen King, American author (b. 1947)

Writing Tip:
  “Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce . . . Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.” — Sarah Waters, Welsh novelist (b. 1966)

Writing Prompt:  Put on a favourite or a random piece of music (preferably with no words or in a language you do not understand) and allow your pen to play or your fingers to click away freely and with abandon.  Explore the unexpected places the music takes you. If one piece of music doesn’t work, try another.

Have fun!  There are no rules here.  Treat this as an exercise or a beginning or a departure.

So long Strathcona County Library…

With a mixture of sadness and excitement, my last day at Strathcona County Library Strathcona-1draws to a close.  I’ve had a wonderful four-month chapter here at the library – I’ve met so many wonderful people and attended some truly lovely and meaningful events.

Thank you to all who’ve come to me for consultations and evening presentations.  Thank you to the great staff of this great library.  It’s been an honour and a privilege.

Yesterday, I made the trek from my alma mater, nearby Salisbury Composite High School, to the front of my adolescent home in the “bird” section of Sherwood Park.  It took all of twelve minutes to traipse across a field I remember walking so many times, many of them solitary, even lonely.  Twelve minutes to think and sort and reflect on the way to school, and another twelve on the way home.  I passed by the homes where I babysat, where my first boyfriend lived, and over to my friend Jon’s.  I tried to find the footprints of that adolescent girl:




But of course, they are gone.



I sang a few snippets of songs, just as I used to do when I was fifteen.  And Beth Nielsen Chapman‘s wonderful ballad, “Years,” came to mind:

“And I thought about years/ How they take so long, and they go so fast.”

Years have come and gone since I lived here in the Park.  I wrote some of my most wretched love songs and poetry.  And I met my dear, dear friend and mentor, my teacher, Duane Stewart, himself a singer-songwriter with the stage moniker of Duane Davis, in a past life.Slide37 copy

Suffice to say, he changed mine.  I am a writer, a poet, a lover of literature, because of him and our English classes together at SAL.  I am better because I know Mr. Stewart.

Not to wax too sentimental or nostalgic, though I still am and am not that lonely adolescent girl, I leave this place with a happier heart.  This residency has been a homecoming of sorts, a chance to relive the old and welcome the new.  I have more stories to tell because of my time here at SCL, maybe some songs and poems, too.

I wish I could find those twelve minutes twice every day, five times a week to do some reflecting and soul-searching.  I wish we all could.

I hope we all do.


Writing Quote:  “The Greek word for ‘return’ is nostos. Algos means ‘suffering.’ So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”
– Milan Kundera, novelist (b. 1929)
Writing Tip: “Sentimental fiction is a kind of pablum: Excessive amounts can spoil the appetite for reality, or at least for more fibrous forms of art.” – Zoe Heller, English journalist and novelist  (For further insights, see this excellent NYT article on sentimentality.)

Sentimental Writing Prompt:  She meant more to him than the stars ever could. (Your challenge: not to create pablum.)

Nostalgic Writing Prompt:  What is your character nostalgic for and why?

Happy birthday, Will!

shakes_bday_2009People often ask me to name writers who have influenced or informed my writing.  Hands down, that writer is Shakespeare. At last count, I’ve read 2/3 of his plays (all of the tragedies, most of the comedies, and a number of the histories) and all of his sonnets – some of these works multiple times, as I’ve taught many of them.  The bard’s words and rhythms infuse my own.  On several occasions, I’ve stolen directly from him:

  • a title as in A Winter’s Tale
  • lines of poetry (“by the pricking of my thumbs/ something wicked this way comes” and “’tis now the witching time of night” which I borrowed for In the Graveyard)
  • quoted lines used by characters such as Anise in Gravity Journal, who, as she cuts, cites Lady Macbeth’s famous lament:

    What hands are here? Ha! they pluck out mine eyes.                                             Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood                                                         Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather                                                    The multitudinous seas incarnadine                                                                      Making the green one red.     (Macbeth, II.ii.56-60)

I am an ardent fan. I marvel at his genius. I’d like to invite him to dinner or for a pint (my treat). But alack, he has “shuffled off this mortal coil” and “the rest is silence.”

You may find this interactive widget from Oxford English Dictionaries a lark!




Or you may find Stephen Marche’s book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything, enlightening (here’s a short overview.)




All jests aside, I do believe that reading Shakespeare makes one a better poet.  So often I am astonished by the number of poets who do not read poetry, the number of aspiring authors who do not read prose, the number of people who read neither.  Quite simply, as you no doubt know because you are reading this blog, a writer reads.  Widely.  Often. Across genres.

Today on Shakespeare’s birthday, in this month of poetry, it’s important we remember that poets in many places are revered and have been advocates for freedom, for the people, for social justice.  Some have been blacklisted or censored; some have been tortured or murdered. Why is that? Because a poet’s pen has power.

Today I remember these…
Ken Saro-Wiwa
Pablo Neruda
Victor Jara
Thomas McGrath
Langston Hughes
Pete Seeger
Dorothy Parker
Anna Akhmatova
Susana Chávez Castillo
Nadia Anjuman
Liu Xia
San San Nweh
and so many others…

Writing Quote:  “I keep reminding people that an editorial in rhyme is not a song. A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think.” – Pete Seeger, American folksinger and activist (1919-2014)
Writing Tip: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker, American poet, short story writer, essayist (1893-1967)

Writing Prompt:  Take the lyrics to a popular song and rearrange them into Shakespearean sonnet.


  • Rhyme Scheme: ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG
  • Each line shoudl be 10 syllables long or 5 feet in length (pentameter)
  • The first two quatrains should be a question and then 7 lines of potential answers/reasonings
  • The third quatrain should be a twist
  • Include a rhyming couplet at the end that summarizes the sonnet as a whole


April is all about poetry (and song) pilgrimages…

Yes, indeed!  As Chaucer himself, said:1414477077

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open eye-

(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

And specially from every shires ende

Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,

The hooly blisful martir for to seke

That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

Prologue, Canterbury Tales


Please join me and friends in a poetry pilgrimage this week.

Tuesday, April 14 at 7 pm at Strathcona County Library

SonBlake_sie_covergs of Innocence and Experience:  In celebration of National Poetry Month, explore the connections between rhythm and rhyme, poetry and song. Join Gail (who’s also a professional singer) and special musical guests, Angela Flatekval, Kevin McCann and Geoff McMaster, to talk about how these forms are interconnected, and how poets and songwriters can inform and enrich each other’s writing practice and performance.


Saturday, April 18th at 7 pm at Strathcona County Library

9th Annual Evening of Poetry:  As a continuation of our National Poetry Month celebrations, join us for an evening of poetry, featuring readings from Writer in Residence, Gail Sidonie Sobat, Mark Kozub (The Alberta Beatnik) and Mary Pinkoski (Edmonton’s Poet Laureate). The evening will also include an open mic session for those who are interested in sharing their own work. Wine and cheese will be served. Note: this is an adult-only program.

Purchase tickets at the Check Out Desk or at the door, $5 each.

Mark Kozub                                               Mary Pinkoski
Writing Quote:  “I consider myself a poet first and a musician second.  I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.” – Bob Dylan, American poet/ musician (born 1941)
Writing Tip: “Nothing’s wrong with rhyming poetry. Some people… really enjoy it. It’s wonderful to read good rhymes, and challenging to write them. I like to use rhyme to surprise readers by emphasizing interestingly paired words.  That said, many people put together predictable, Hallmark-style rhymes (usually paired with forced meter) and flood poetry contests and magazines with them. Publishers get annoyed (I’ve even seen some specify “no rhyming” in their submission guidelines).” –

Writing Prompt:  Find an unpublished poem of yours that you haven’t looked at in years. Randomly choose three lines from the poem. Write a completely different poem using those lines.