by Charles Campbell
Author Angie Abdou opened her May 5th workshop for over 20 people with these words: “Trust the process”.
Abdou—also keynote speaker for NOWW’s LitFest Gala—described writing as an exercise that may or may not generate results. Athletes train daily and for long hours so they will have the skill and discipline for infrequent events. In order to be a writer, she said you have to take the same approach.
Abdou’s first novel dealt with Olympic athletes, so her advice to treat writing like a sport is based on experience in both pursuits. Writers should write daily, she said, with the intention that while their word count will accumulate over time, much of what is written may never be published.
To that end Abdou recommended writers adopt a practice that includes timed writings that are either free flowing or prompted by a broad concept. Leave the mind open. When the time comes to review what you have written, take what works and don’t worry about what doesn’t.
“Write hard, write raw, write what hurts.” Ernest Hemingway
Abdou discussed how writing needs to engage the reader. It is not enough to write pretty words; the reader should feel emotion and urgency and believe that the stakes in the story are meaningful. She explained how we write about objects can convey emotion, rather than having the author describe how characters feel. In order to better understand this concept, Abdou gave workshop participants three writing exercises. First, we described an object special to us and second, we wrote about someone threatening that object. Then we put together the two for the beginning of a story. I wound up with a few hundred words that demonstrated how an object I own embodies my emotion and how a threat to it, threatens me.
Abdou discussed how important it is for the first few pages of a work to capture a reader’s interest. She provided openings to two very different books and asked us to explore what made them work (or not) and how they might be improved. No surprise that openings can come in many forms but need to provide characters that readers will care about. They also need to raise questions that create suspense without generating confusion for the reader which may take them out of the story. From the participants’ feedback, it also became clear that what hooks one reader might not hook another.
With a collection of short stories, four novels, and her first nonfiction book Home Ice to be released this fall, Abdou has a solid track record in publishing. She drew on her experience to let us know what we should expect when we have a novel that we consider ready to bring to the marketplace. The short answer is “more work”.
Editors will ask hard questions, Abdou said, and writers need to be ready to listen and consider what is being asked. An editor may not request a rewrite, but a few well aimed questions may give the writer pause to consider if the material deserves one. Abdou’s message: the writer-editor relationship has been around for a long time. Trust the process. While she does not see an agent as a requirement for publishing in Canada, the right agent can help to open doors in other countries and address the business side of publishing.
I went to the workshop ready to hear how to hook a reader. I learned this—and more. If we want to publish, we need to review our writing critically and listen to what others have to say. But first we need to write.
Charles Campbell is an accountant by day and writer by evening and weekend. Although he has had successfully submitted his tax returns for decades, he is far more proud of having his plays selected for the 2015, 2016 and 2018 10x10 Showcases. Charles joined NOWW to get away from financial statements and to dedicate more time to develop his writing, but much like Michael Corleone, he's been pulled back in and is serving as Treasurer.
by Emma Christensen
I’ve been asking myself different versions of the same question for years: “Could I make money from my writing?” You know, write as a side gig?
Although I’m grateful for the modest sums I receive from my writing, I return to my day job to really pay the bills. Writing for (more) money remains a bit mythical, an idea that generates more questions than actual dollars.
For freelance writers Graham Strong and Bonnie Schiedel, writing isn’t just a side gig, it is their day job. At a NOWW workshop held at the Waverley Library on March 20, 2018, Strong and Schiedel shared their best advice on how to make money from freelance writing, answering some of those many questions in the process.
Although Strong and Schiedel both make their living from freelance work of various types, they’ve taken very different routes to get to that point, proving that there is no “one size fits all” solution to breaking into the industry.
Schiedel was introduced to the world of magazine writing while working for Chatelaine in Toronto. Her articles have appeared in many of the consumer magazines we think of as household staples – Reader’s Digest, Canadian Living, and Best Health. She adapted to a changing economy by writing content for corporations.
Strong’s career began locally by writing for a community newspaper and editing the Robin’s Donuts employee newsletter. Within a few years, with the rise of digital content and internet advertising, Strong had connected with clients all over the world who employed him to write everything from web content to television scripts. Variety is what makes his work interesting. “For me, freelancing is a perfect fit,” he said during the workshop.
As full-time freelancers, being generalists—offering a wide variety of services—has been successful for both Schiedel and Strong. Schiedel recommended specializing in an area of knowledge or interest for writers who are looking to freelance part time. “It’s easier to market yourself if you have an area of expertise,” she said.
Strong and Schiedel quickly confirmed my long-standing hunch that success as a freelance writer requires more than strong writing skills.
Schiedel emphasized accuracy, adaptability, and the importance of having an approachable writing style—one that is easily understood without sounding simplistic. She also cautioned that working freelance does not mean working in isolation. She’s made good use of her ability to work with a team and develop a rapport with interviewees, skills that obviously transferred to her role as a presenter.
Strong emphasized the value of professionalism and good communication. For him, these qualities are even more important than his skill as a writer. He takes deadlines seriously and underscores the need to be self-motivated and to gracefully accept criticism and feedback from clients.
Both presenters conveyed information in a casual and approachable manner, welcoming questions and dialogue with the audience. The fact that they are peers in our local writing community—rather than professionals from faraway cities – made the presentation even more effective. Humour and personal anecdotes added a new dimension to the content of the workshop and to potentially dry topics like negotiating rates and contracts. I was happy to leave with an extensive list of additional resources, not in the form of a stack of handouts, but as a slim business card that directed me online to nowwwriters.ca/workshops.
Strong and Schiedel engaged the audience further by presenting an “elevator pitch” exercise, challenging us to think critically about how we would introduce ourselves as freelance professionals if we had only 30 seconds to do so. For me, the exercise brought another set of questions to the surface – “How do I want to present myself?” and “What skills and areas of expertise should I emphasize?”
Ultimately, I walked away from “Side Gig” feeling that many of my questions about a career in freelance writing had been answered. What surprised me was that I valued the questions the workshop posed—bigger, more career-defining ones that only I have the answers to—even more than the information I’d received. Thanks to Strong and Schiedel, the process of writing for money seems a little less mythical and decidedly more tangible.
Emma Christensen contributes regularly to The Walleye and indulges her love of fiction through reading and writing. She’s currently working on the second draft of a novel. Emma lives with her husband in rural Thunder Bay, where hiking, cycling, kayaking and other outdoor hobbies continue to fuel her creativity.
Wondering if you can get paid for your non-literary writing? Join two career freelance writers, Graham Strong [www.grahamstrong.com] and Bonnie Schiedel [www.northstarwriting.ca], as they talk about the ins and outs of a freelance writing business.
Meet the speakers:
Bonnie Schiedel is a freelance writer, editor, and content consultant. She got her start in the publishing world at Chatelaine magazine where she worked for several years, first as an assistant (lots of fact-checking, faxes and photo shoots) and then as an associate editor. In 2000, she moved to northwestern Ontario and launched her freelance writing business, North Star Writing.
Her award-winning work has been featured hundreds of times in national publications such as Best Health, Canadian Family, Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Cottage Life, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Canadian House & Home, and Outdoor Canada. Over time, the focus of her business has shifted to corporate clients, and the research and storytelling skills she honed with years of magazine writing work well in the business world too. For the last six years, she’s been doing content marketing, writing, and editing for top brands and agencies like Bravado Designs, PACE Communications, Green Living Enterprises, Scotiabank, TD Bank, fyp.io, and RE/MAX. From 2011-2014 she was a consultant on the Creative Services team for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. And while she still writes lots of magazine articles, she now also writes and edits copy and provides content strategy for blogs, websites, business emails, and apps.
Government and corporate clients include the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, the Ministry of International Trade and Investment, the City of Thunder Bay, Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre, Mobile Health Network, the Arthritis Society, St. Francis Herb Farm, BillyYTZ.com, RBC, Toronto Hydro, NorthernOntario.travel, and Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund. She also writes for trade and B2B publications like Grocery Business, Ignite (meeting planning, incentive programs and corporate travel), and Adrenalin (sports tourism). In 2016 she was nominated for a Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award in the Tourism Partnership category. Her passion project, Tbaywithkids.ca, a website about stuff to do with kids in Thunder Bay, just celebrated its first birthday.
Graham Strong is a freelance marketing writer, ghostwriter, journalist, and web professional. He started writing as a professional side gig in 1995, though he has been a writer of one sort or another most of his life. He majored in English at Lakehead University where he joined the student newspaper Argus and eventually became Editor-in-Chief.
After university – and a lot of travelling – Graham would get the occasional request to do some writing on the side. Most was free work for friends, but some were paid opportunities. It was through one of these freelance side gigs for a local community newspaper that Graham got a job editing the employee newsletter for Robin’s Donuts when its headquarters were still in Thunder Bay. That led to work with the graphic design company on the account, and eventually other organizations as well.
It was about that time that Internet advertising was on the rise, and Graham started getting clients from all over the world including Toronto, Calgary, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, London, England, and Frog Pond, Alabama. Most of those clients are still with him today. He writes in almost every format possible including articles, web content, brochure content, catalogue-like descriptions, annual reports, ads, TV and radio scripts, white papers, PDF brochures, and more. He transitioned to writing full time in 2005.
Graham also provides web services including website building for small businesses using the WordPress platform. Not only does branching out like this keep his days interesting, it’s another service he can offer to clients. Recently, Graham officially launched his ghostwriting services, providing professional writing for authors who have a great story to tell, but need someone to help write the book. He is also finishing his first novel, Social Grooming for Higher Primates, which is currently in the beta reader stage. Graham will be looking for publishers and agents later in 2018.
What to expect from the Side Gig workshop:
• an overview of skills that make a must-hire writer
• the wide variety markets out there
• money—what you can make, and how to keep the cash coming in
• tested tips on marketing yourself as a writer
• our top picks for helpful websites, books, and other resources
Date: Tuesday March 20, 2018
Time: 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Location: Waverley Resource Library Auditorium
Registration: Not required
Fee: Free and open to the public
By Jodene Wylie,
NOWW Writing Contest Co-ordinator
It’s the beginning of March and Spring is in the air. The temperature dips above and below zero and the snow shows signs of melting. With Spring comes the closing of the 20th Annual NOWW Writing Contest. There’s something special in the air this year. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been doing contests for two decades and we have an exciting set of judges. Perhaps it’s because we have a new category (Historical Fiction) and that we have three prizes being offered in every category (more than in any previous year). Either way you’ve found your way to this blog post and, maybe, you’re interested in participating this year. I hope you do.
First of all – if you’re a NOWW member then entering is free. That’s right – F.R.E.E. So why the heck wouldn’t you? Second of all – you can technically enter ten times and you guessed it – it’s still free. You can enter each category twice. That’s a whole lot of writing goodness.
As for non-members, we want to hear from you too! NOWW is a wonderful community of writers that hosts workshops, readings and contests that teach, support and celebrate writing here in Northwestern Ontario. Entering the contest this year (for the low price of $10) is your first opportunity to get to know NOWW and its community. Come join us for the Write NOWW LitFest on May 5th and you’ll see that community come together and celebrate all the writers and winners who participated this year.
I’m excited about each of our judges. Heather O’Neill (who you may have heard is also judging the CBC’s Short Fiction contest in the Fall) is serving as our Short Fiction judge. She is joined by Ross King and Helen Humphreys who both have made incredible strides in their genres of Historical Fiction and Creative Nonfiction. We are honoured to have George Elliott Clarke who was the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada (!) judging the Poetry category and our own Michael Christie serving as the judge of the Bill MacDonald Prize for Prose (in Nonfiction). These Canadian Greats may read your writing and award you a writing prize. That’s right – you.
I love writing contests because they offer an opportunity to challenge ourselves as writers. They come with a deadline which is something that most writers (myself included) need. They come with word limits and line limits so that we must force ourselves to focus our writing, make each word count and avoid unnecessary details that may not add to our entry. They also come with multiple categories. NOWW’s Writing Contest has five categories that are distinctly different from one another. You may not typically write Creative Nonfiction but perhaps you have a story that’s been floating around your mind and this gives you motivation to step away from your normal style and try something new.
I hope you enter the contest this year. I hope you try something new and challenge yourself. The contest closes on March 31st , so you still have some time to gather your thoughts and start writing and rewriting. I look forward to seeing your entry.
How long have you been a member of NOWW?
I’ve been a NOWW member for ten or more years. I’ve even served on the Executive as a member-at-large, vice-president, and secretary. I very much admire the energy and ideas of the current Executive!
What do you normally write?
I write fiction and creative nonfiction. I’ve published short stories and essays, and I’ve written some prose-poem-like things and tried a play. After stalling out halfway through three (four?) previous attempts, I’ve finally completed (and revised) a novel. I’m also gathering essays and other forms of creative nonfiction into a collection.
Do you have a favourite book or favourite author?
Oh gosh. Different books speak to me at different times. In fiction, I’ve aspired to write like Marina Endicott’s Close to Hugh and Good to a Fault. And there’s much excellent nonfiction to choose from! I’m currently reading Indigenous Writes, by Chelsea Vowell—such a rich resource.
Let’s get to know you a bit better. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you found your way to writing:
For decades, I worked in the U.S. as a technical writer and editor—lots of science and software, with technology transfer and economic development thrown in.
As my mother developed dementia in the late 1990s I began to write our family’s experiences of that process. Though I didn’t know it, I was nudging my way into creative nonfiction, a genre that wasn’t as well-established under that name then. (Nonfiction remains a vast and varied field, and it’s all creative in its own way.) I’ve been revising much of that material since, using it as a springboard for new nonfiction. About ten years ago, I began seriously writing short stories, and recently I finally finished a novel that’s literary with commercial overtones, or vice versa.
I enjoy the similarities and differences in fiction and creative nonfiction—showing and describing, gauging what NOT to say so that reader can draw a conclusion, admitting and excising parts that are just self-indulgent showing off, and pushing all the elements of a piece to do more work.
Tell us a bit about what interests you now:
As I work on yet another editing pass through my novel and allow those “last two” essays in the collection to ripen, I wonder when I’ll ever be free to move on to something else. That said, I am dabbling with a new novel, and my “to be read” stack suggests that more nonfiction about rocks, trees, and birds lies ahead.
Will we see you at any upcoming NOWW events?
You’ll find me at Ask an Author at the Waverley Library soon (February 24th, 1-4 p.m.), available to discuss those burning writing questions! Also, folks who came to the January NOWW reading kindly listened to an excerpt from my novel—reading aloud to people is such a good way to come face-to-face with your work as well as your readers.
Where can we learn more about you and your writing?
You can find out more about me at my website, www.marionagnew.ca, where I post something every week. The “Fiction and Essays” page there has links to some of my published work. I have the usual social media accounts. My current favourite is Instagram, where I see beautiful things created by artists I follow.
And to end things off, tell us something surprising about yourself!
I am perhaps overly fond of peanut butter on toast.
Marion Agnew is one of six authors available to answer your questions about writing at Ask an Author on Saturday, Feb. 24th, 1-4p.m. at the Waverley Library. You can pre-book a 20-minute one-on-one conversation with one or more of these published writers by calling 684-6816. Walk-ins are also welcome. Go to nowwwriters.ca/ask-an-author for more details.
How long have you been a member of NOWW?
Member of NOWW for over 20 years.
What do you normally write?
Genres and formats of my writing: I write mostly poetry and short fiction. Recently I’ve been trying my hand at creative non-fiction and have started a blog (www.awonderinglittlevoice.com). The posts will be short essays about things that spark my curiosity and wonder – like the tree frogs that showed up in my garden this summer or the symbolism of fire and light.
And who are some of your favourite authors?
My all-time favourite writers are Mavis Gallant and Bruno Schulz. I love Gallant’s subtlety and humour; her stories seem to unfold so naturally, you are not aware of any art or forced structure. On the other end of the realism spectrum, Schulz, a Polish Jew, described everyday life in a small, provincial town in the early 1900s as a journey through a mythical labyrinth where beds “disordered from the weight of dreams” stand “like deep boats waiting to sail into the dank and confusing labyrinths of some dark starless Venice.” He captures the magical thinking of a child’s mind like no other writer I’ve come across. I also like Colm Toibin, Don Delillo, Michael Christie, Frances Itani, and Neil Gaimen. There are many others. In general, I like writing that has a unique perspective or voice, and I don’t mind if there isn’t much plot as long as I feel the characters are real, if perhaps enigmatic, people.
Let’s get to know you a bit better. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I started writing, well, when I first learned how to make letters on a page. Journals, scrapbooks with notes and pictures of what I’d seen in nature. I was part of the Pulp Fiction Writers years ago – a group of us had so enjoyed one of Rosalind Maki’s writing courses at Con College, we got together to self-publish several chapbooks of our work. I’ve submitted several entries to the NOWW contest. (got 3rd in poetry in 2010!). My goals now are to go back to some work I think is worth revising, see what I can do to improve it and finding a home for it, and work on my blog of course. I write almost everyday, even if it’s a simple journal entry. And I follow Jo Fiorito’s advice and keep a journal of what I’m reading – what I like about it, what does or doesn’t work for me. My biggest challenge is fighting writer’s block – that cloud of razors in my brain that shreds to pieces any new idea as soon as it appears. Two things that help: reading poetry first thing in the morning (NOT the news) and forcing myself to write “pages” as I call them – just sitting down with a pad of paper and filling two to three pages with whatever comes to mind.
And where does your inspiration come from?
I’m inspired by nature and science. I like people watching too and am a bit mystified by today’s identity politics. How can you sum up a person with a few labels? Each one of us is a mix of contradictions and mysteries that defy labeling and can only be expressed through good art, like some of the writers I’ve mentioned above have the ability to do.
Can we see you at any upcoming NOWW events?
I’m looking forward to NOWWs upcoming workshops. I always come away inspired, ready to face another blank page.
Where can we learn more about you and your writing?
(See blog mentioned above)
And to end things off, tell us something surprising about yourself.
Surprising fact: In my next life I’d like to come back as a jazz pianist.
Holly will be leading a free workshop on sonnet writing on January 25, 2018 at 7:00 pm at the Waverley Resource Library. No registration is necessary.
How long have you been a member of NOWW? Since 1997-98 – Deborah de Bakker invited me to join and give a workshop at Confederation College. Jean E Penziwol was my student there, and protégée, let us say.
What do you normally write? I write it all! Lately my focus is poetry and poetic inquiry (a form of academic scholarship).
And who are some of your favourite authors?
Here are some who come to mind: Margaret Mahy, Roald Dahl, Aristotle, Thomas Merton, Isabel Allende, Kasuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Jane Urquhart, Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Wilkinson, Molly Peacock, Jan Zwicky, Yann Martel, and André Alexis. The last two came up out of my book club, which has always encouraged me to keep up with literary culture. Otherwise, I follow an idiosyncratic route, linking from books I’ve already read and liked, or else from an idea that comes to mind. For example, one summer I read nothing but dystopias. And I must also shout out to our regional writers; they are fam-jam!
Let’s get to know you a bit better. Tell us a bit about yourself!
Although I started my arts career teaching and writing for children, my interest in BIG IDEAS has led me into poetic discourse. All the same, small ideas make for good poetry, too. Poetry is really just a way of understanding life. When I say poetry, I don’t distinguish it greatly from story, which is just a synonym for how humans live life,
What’s your writing like?
For some time now, I have been absorbed by philosophical ideas such as: How is art a way of knowing? How does a metaphysics (personal and collective beliefs about reality and being) contribute to a grammar of art? These questions might seem abstract and abstruse, but they are ultimately what is behind poetics, the theory and craft of literature.
And where does your inspiration come from or who inspires your writing?
In terms of theories of art, I have been following the ideas of Umberto Eco, Northrop Fry, Elliot Eisner, Suzanne Langer, Giles Deleuze, Paul Ricoeur, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Richard Kearney and David Abram. An eclectic crew. One of them said this: “Because we are in the world, we are condemned to meaning, and we cannot say or do anything without its acquiring a name in history.”
Can we see you at any upcoming NOWW events?
I will be leading a free workshop on Sonnet Writing on January 25th.
Where can we learn more about you and your writing?
I have poetry published in a number or regional anthologies. I have two children’s novels, Dream Dad and Summer Dragons with Dundurn Press. My biggest social media presence is on Facebook, where I sometimes post poetry for my five friends.
And to end things off, tell us something surprising about yourself!
I can stand on my head. I still have all my own teeth. Iay ikelay otay eakspay inay igpay atinlay.
The Hosiery of Convention
Billy Collins says it’s nothin: just
a word, and then another, line by line
until you’re done; fourteen, thirteen, twelve
eleven; rock it with your thoughts, not iambs;
charms and pics instead of scansion; pitch
the hosiery of convention; ditch that girl
or boy’s dear ransome; blow out the blighted
pizzle, plant another row to-pickle.
But if the modern race ain’t for you; if
free-lovin verse has passed you; if you’d learn
the ease of rules; if you’d seek the wit
of fools; then come and sing a bygone song.
Within the sonnet's well-ploughed plot of ground,
let us reverse, where words of worth be found.
by Joan M. Baril
(3rd place winner in the NOWW Summer Flash Fiction Contest)
After the first few years, I never told my husband about the dream. I had seen him wince when I described the garden house. I realized he considered my dream an unconscious reproach against him for our crazy nomadic marriage. Neil is a mining engineer and we travelled the world together. But buying a house was impossible, not in the jungles of Ecuador or the mountains of Tasmania or the deserts of Arizona. So, for twenty-five years, I never mentioned the dream again even though its occurrence, every few weeks or so, gave me a happy-morning feeling.
The dream starts with an ordinary Canadian street and a front garden of foxglove, daisies, and roses. I love flowers. I always attempted a garden wherever we lived. At our mountain house in Kashmir, I grew blue poppies in painted ceramic tubs but abandoned them when we fled the insurrection. The nasturtiums beside our stone cottage in Scotland cheered a drizzly landscape. In eastern Turkey, I defended my plants from wandering goats. In truth, I loved the challenges of life with my handsome, adventurous husband.
As I breathe the scent deep of the flowers into my lungs, I admire the tall, stately house of cream stucco and green shutters. I drift towards it along the garden path. I mount the wide steps, and gently open the front door. All is silent. Sunlight dapples the hardwood floors leading to a comfortable living room with blue Oriental rugs, deep bookcases and pale leather furniture.
Here the dream ends. Happiness flows through me when I wake, ready to embrace the challenges of a new day.
But now, in Ottawa, I’m up early to drive Neil to the airport, his last northern trip. In a month, our wanderings end. Our condo in Vancouver, bought for our retirement years, awaits us.
Halfway back to our apartment, I brake hard. Is it possible? The house is identical. Lacy dawn shadows cross cream stucco, green shutters, and wide welcoming steps. Dazed, I get out and walk toward the garden. The honeyed smell of flowers enchants me. I float up the path.
An elderly woman in a long blue nightdress appears in the doorway, her face contorted, her hand over her mouth.
The spell shatters.
“I know you,” she says, pointing her finger. “You live in my dreams. Year after year, you walk through my garden straight into my house.”
We stare at each other. “Why not come in,” she says with a half-smile, holding open the door. “You’ve been here before. Maybe now you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
I step forward. I’m shaking. My dream has become a mystery, a strange step into another dimension. My Buddhist friends would call it a rare glimpse into “the reality beyond reality”. The early sun brightens, outlining the woman on the steps as fixed and immobile as a figure in a tapestry.
Her hand beckons.
I turn and run for the car.
Joan M. Baril is a Thunder Bay native whose stories have been widely published in Canada, mainly in literary magazines. Recently, she placed her sixty-first piece. Her prize-winning stories appeared in the compilations Twenty Miles on Snow Shoes and Canadian Shorts. This year she received the Kouhi Award for “outstanding contribution to the literature of Northwestern Ontario.” She believes Thunder Bay hides many ghost stories still to be discovered. She herself has lived with a ghost, discovered a ghost next door, and found a ghost in her dreams.
Joan’s blog, “Literary Thunder Bay”, follows the Thunder Bay literary scene.
by Sue Blott
(2nd place winner in the NOWW Summer Flash Fiction Contest)
Yahtzee with you is no longer fun. Drunk and blinded by the stinging smoke from your cigarette, you make stupid choices.
I cry out, “Wait!” but you roll again.
“What?” You rub your forehead, study the dice.
“You had Yahtzee! Five fives. Jeez, Larry!”
You giggle-snort and collapse back onto the couch.
I shake my head, sling the dice into the box, shimmy the lid on. I like winning but not at the expense of watching you spiral into stupidity. Together for seven years and you drink more and more until you flake out, leaving me to stub your stinking cigarette out so our house doesn’t burn down.
Time after time, you remember nothing.
I remember everything.
You exhale. “Let’s play that other game.” Smoke coils towards me like a snake about to strike. “Lists.”
“Lists. Okay.” A game that originated from counselling, a way of sharing and learning about each other. On a deeper level, the counsellor suggested.
I’m delaying going to bed. Why I don’t know. You’ll fall asleep in no time, perhaps in the middle of an embrace so I have to push the weight of you off me, your hand slapping my stomach as you roll over. Not on purpose, of course. That’s a no-brainer for me. Never physical abuse, just a gradual withering of love and respect.
When you choose a list, your favourite, I know I can’t tell you the last thing on mine.
“Hhmmm, let me think. I need tea. I’ll make you coffee—”
“ ’Sokay.” You point to the half-full scotch glass.
“So not okay,” I mumble as I walk into the kitchen, considering my list. The first things are a given. The cats. Marmalade—he’d never make it out on his own with that lame hind leg—then Tinkers and Siam. My journals, photo albums … Once you were my first thing on “A List of Things I’d Rescue From Our Burning House”. You still assume you are.
I know I’m top of your list. I am your list. You’ve never cared much for the cats.
I pour my tea, stir your coffee, my thoughts swirling with the dark liquid. How can I tell you that the last thing on my list is you? Until I can, all we’ll do is play games with each other.
In the living room, you’re sprawled on the couch, your lips strumming to snores. Drool glistens at the corner of your mouth. The cigarette has burned itself out in the ashtray. I watch you, know the peace a mother feels when her child is asleep at last. I cover you with the woollen throw scattered with blue hearts, your favourite from our Maritime trip. I tuck in your toes. You hate your feet to be cold. Leaving your coffee on the table, I carry my tea to bed where Marmalade will have warmed my pillow.
Tomorrow, I think, maybe tomorrow I can tell you the last thing on my list.
Sue Blott just loves writing! She is a member of a few Thunder Bay writing groups. Although Sue writes in many genres, she particularly delights in the challenges of flash fiction: how to convey so much in so few words. Not unlike this bio.
by Lisa N. Jones
(1st place in the NOWW Summer Flash Fiction Contest)
“There’s a reservoir in New Mexico,” she says, her eyes searching the harbour, watching the waves as they wrinkle under a heavy sky. “They flooded the area a hundred years ago. I think they were trying to irrigate the desert. Anyways, it was there a long time, and people forgot how it came to be there in the first place. Because really, why would it matter? It was just there.”
I nod absently. We are sitting on a bench at the Marina, watching sailboats tack gracefully out of the breakwater and into the open lake. Against the slate blue of Superior, the sails are stark wings drifting effortlessly. There’s no sense that they are struggling against the chop, even as they pass the lighthouse at the end of the breakwall. It all seems too easy, I think. I shift on the bench, uncomfortable on the hard seat.
”A few years ago,” she continues after a pause, “there was a drought. Not sure why, but it happened. All this water, gone. Must have terrified the locals.”
She pauses again; I wait. I know there’s a reason for this story. The best I can do for her is wait and listen. I am helpless to do otherwise.
“And you know what?” she asks, turning to me suddenly. Her voice is choked with trapped emotion suddenly released, the edges raw and sharp. “When the fucking thing dried up, guess what they found?”
I shake my head; I still don’t understand where this is going. My throat is tight and sore. I will not cry, I think. I cannot cry.
“They found a fucking town!” Her volume rises, her voice almost frantic. “A whole bloody town! No one knew it was there, not for a hundred years. Who forgets a fucking town? It even had a fucking church!”
I shift to face her, trying hard to meet her eyes. All I see are tiny cells, moving slowly but relentlessly, shape-shifting, gathering, splitting, attaching themselves to any available surface. For her, it is her pancreas. Terminal, they said. Treatment will prolong life, but not give any quality. Time to make decisions.
The tears fall freely down her cheeks: she who remained calm in the doctor’s office, thanked the oncology team, walked with quiet poise as we left the hospital. Now comes the wave of despair, and her words are gasps between sobs that grow louder.
“It’s not dying that scares me – I get that. I just don’t want to be forgotten. Promise you’ll never forget me.”
What can I say? I will always remember her voice? Her face will stay fresh in my mind? As long as I live, I will tell her story? It’s not enough. In this moment, I can promise nothing, so I nod, my own tears uncontrollable. Her head sinks as the sobs come harder, and I hold her, shaking with my grief, as we watch the water begin to rise slowly, steadily.
Lisa N. Jones: Born and raised in Dorion, Lisa has been a teacher for 30 years. She currently teaches International Baccalaureate English and Philosophy at Churchill High School. Along with four cats, three deer, and at least five raccoons, Lisa lives in Shuniah with her husband and daughter. Reservoir is the first piece of writing she has ever entered in a writing contest.
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