Sunday, January 25, 2009

Winning Aurelia, Malcolm Matthews

The following is the first chapter of Winning Aurelia, an 80,000-word young adult manuscript about an autistic child who’s a chess prodigy and has a crush on the girl across the street.

“All my games are real.” Bobby Fischer

A long time ago in his living room, Owen Robertson woke up in the middle of a war. Arrows whipped past him through a misty haze. He ducked and scrambled for cover, but there were no trees. Not even a rock or a bush to hide behind. Rain pounded down, and Owen got mad because he hated being wet. He dodged between clashing groups of huge armored men and staggered on numb feet across a cratered field toward a black stone castle looming on the other side. Owen was breathing hard when he reached it. The castle walls were rough and cold, and he knew it was real even before he touched it.

He cringed when thunder blasted like bombs above him. Clamping his hands over his ears didn’t help. He squatted on the ground, rocking, his back against the castle wall. His pajama bottoms were soaked up to his knees and caked with mud.

A skinny man in a long robe slid over to him. Owen blinked a bunch of times but could barely see him through the rain. The man snarled, “Go away” and pointed with a bony finger.

A big man with a beard shouted across the battlefield: “Come here.”

Owen shook his head and didn’t get up.

A tall woman in a black dress glided past him, winked, and said, “This is the real world, Owen. The other one’s the dream.” Owen wondered how she knew his name.

She crossed the battlefield to join the bearded man and the skinny man with the robe.

Exploding through the swirling fog, a man in white armor on a giant horse galloped over. The horse skidded to a stop, and the armored man grumbled down, “Pay attention, boy. Focus.”
The horse shuffled in place under him, stomping craters in the frozen earth with its enormous hooves and making terrible snorting sounds. Owen shivered with his legs tucked against his chest. When the armored man kicked his heels into the horse’s sides and wrenched it around to charge across the field, Owen stood and ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction.

Before he could get out of the castle’s shadow, a line of soldiers in metal vests marched up and blocked his way. They glared at him and stepped forward one at a time, swords raised.
Before he could run again, behind the soldiers, a girl’s face appeared on the horizon. Past the castle and beyond the men and the fog. She was pretty and far away but close somehow. Almost close enough to touch.

Thunder roared in the air, and the girl and the rain and the armies disappeared.

In the living room, Owen’s father and his father’s friend Mr. Nasser leaned over the board. They played chess every Friday night and sometimes let Owen stay up late to watch.

Owen was six years old.

He was in the game.

Since that night in February, he’s grown two feet taller, been beaten up a dozen times, seen four different doctors, five psychologists, played more chess games and woke up in the middle of more wars than he could ever hope to count.

And once, only once, Owen Robertson fell in love.


To learn more about this book or to read Malcolm's blog, visit him at:
Notes: The photo is of an actual chess prodigy, Josh Waitzkin.
For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"A Long Story," Louise King Sindos

Lizzie Long was the school female bully. There was always one of the female type and one of the male type. Lizzie, representing the females, became my challenge. Everyone was afraid of her. She ruled supreme. If Lizzie said ‘yes’ it was ‘yes’. If she said ‘no’ it was ‘no’. I don’t know how Lizzie earned the title. Had she at some point in the past won every fight that she attempted? Or had she overcome all opponents who dared challenge her? Or maybe her reputation and title were just legend, passed on from person to person, age to age without test or challenge. No beginning. No end. Just a reputation conferred from above that everyone accepted and was, therefore, governed by. Whatever the explanation, Lizzie was the school female bully. No question and no doubt.

Lizzie was in the fourth grade and I was in the seventh grade, but she was a year older than I was. I guessed her slow passage through elementary school was not so much a reflection of her intelligence but rather more of her family’s way of life. The Longs decided what they were going to do and what they would not do. That included deciding whether the children would go to school on any given day or if Mama and Daddy needed them to stay at home. This was at a time in history when there were mandatory school attendance laws but nobody paid much attention to them. Even the superintendant of schools was granted immunity from caring.

A day of absence for all or some of the Longs might be a day the children were needed to work or harvest crops. Another day of absence might be when the Longs were feeling angry with the world. This seemed to occur often. If you met one of Mama Long in the street, her expression would warn you not to get out of place.

The Longs were tough and formidable. Lizzie, even at age nine, had scars to advertize the family’s way of life. Potential visitors were informed they were not welcome by a shotgun pellets ricocheting off the tree in the yard. An unacceptable suitor of the teenage Long daughter had a crease in his scalp to communicate that he should not have bothered to come.

Back to Lizzie. On this particular day, at break time, the class had decided that we would play a ball game that required a captain of each team. I volunteered to carry the ball. When Miss Carrie rang the bell for recess, we jumped up and barreled out of the room in excitement and anticipation. Our procession was unordered and undisciplined. We were eager to break free from the regimen and stifling atmosphere that school learning imposed. Recess meant free play, no supervision, no order, no directions and only a casual glance of disapproval from a teacher, who was just as relieved as we were to be free from bossing us and trying to transform us into readers, factors, ciphers and perhaps, by unintended consequence, thinkers.

Lizzie came out of her classroom across the schoolyard. She approached me and asked me for the ball as though it were her right to have it. Absolutely anyone else would have immediately yielded the ball to Lizzie. But selfish me, with my self-centeredness, my ego insisted that I wanted to command the ball. Oh me, of little concept-testing or awareness.

Lizzie demanded that I give her the ball. The other kids urged me to give the ball to Lizzie. Some kids started crying, “She’ll beat you up,” warned one. “Please Louise, give Lizzie the ball,” begged another.

Filled with an infusion of strength, I screamed at Lizzie, “You can’t have the ball! I had it first.” I turned to my playmates and yelled, “She can’t beat me up!”

One little boy timidly reminded me in an almost whisper that no one had ever beat Lizzie up before. I imagine they were thinking of the Long’s historical legacy. I was in a fix. I did not even have the encouragement, faith or belief from my fellow playground mates.

Lizzie gave me one more chance to surrender the ball to her. I gave her one more chance to get angrier as I refused her request. Playmates tried to defuse the escalating cold war by skipping around and singing: “Lizzie is going to beat you up.”

With no further intervention, Lizzie bore down on me and came across my head with her fist. She didn’t know it but she had just rewritten the future of the school’s legends. My head was throbbing and the fire in my head cruised down through my body. I jumped on Lizzie, driven by the hurt that I was feeling. I pummeled her from head to toe without thought or mercy. There was no fear, no concern and no cares.

Lizzie became a rag doll to my fists. She begged me to let her go but I was unrelenting. I’m sure some unconscious agenda from the past which I never analyzed drove me on. I don’t know how I held Lizzie down but I did until at last I felt her pleas for mercy were sincere enough. Then I got off her and helped her up. My playground mates of little faith now turn-coated on Lizzie. They cheered in triumph and hugged and praised me.

It seems ironic now but I don’t remember wanting to hurt Lizzie. In my young mind, I think I just wanted more equality on the playground. No one should be in control of another, by thought, word or deed.

At the time I was unaware of the concept of superhuman strength attributable to the fight or flight phenomenon or to the concept of the adrenaline rush. But thanks to their presence in my life on that day, I changed the politics and organization of the Albion Academy playground.

Note: To get to the main page, click the Home button at the bottom of this page, or you can go straight to another story by going to the blog archive at the top of the page on the right and clicking on any story.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My Schedule

For details of upcoming writing workshops and classes, email Brian Henry. I'll answer your questions and put you on the distribution list for the Quick Brown Fox newsletter. The newsletter will keep you up to date and will give you the scoop on excellent writing contests, agents looking for authors, markets and other information of interest to writers. Email:

Sun, Jan 18: “Writing Your Life,” Orangeville
Wednesday afternoons, Jan21 - Mar 18: “Extreme Creative Writing,” Burlington - full, waiting list only
Sat, Jan 24: “Real Characters,” Woodstock
Monday afternoons, Jan 26 - Mar 30: “Exploring Creative Writing,” Oakville
Sat, Jan 31: “How to Get Published,” Brampton
Sat, Feb 7: “How to Build Short Stories and Novels,” Kitchener
Sat, Feb 21: “Writing your travels & other paths into print,” Stouffville
Sat, Feb 28: “How to Build Short Stories and Novels,” Burlington
Sat, March 28: “How to Get Published,” Barrie
Sat, April 4: “How to Get Published,” St. Catharines

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Weather Report," Chris Laing

She storms into town yesterday like an Alberta clipper and smothers me with such a snow job that I’m still digging out.

We meet in the bar at the King Eddy and sip a few Howling Hurricanes, twirl our umbrellas, then a few more, and wham-bam we’re in her penthouse suite, a high-pressure area with a low ceiling.

“Fix us a couple more while I get comfy,” she says, taking off her Van Allen belt and everything else. “Isobar’s through there.”

In the bedroom, I know it’s true love when we form an occluded front and my dew point almost reaches saturation. Oh man, goes without saying, in these extremes of climatological conditions, a guy experiences oxygen deprivation. Or something.

I awake this morning in a vacuum. Search the suite for my lady love – in vane. Check the heel of my right shoe where I tuck away my rainy-day money – gone with the wind. Sneaking down the back stairway to an area of lower pressure, I’m nabbed by the manager waving the room bill.

“She said you’re understanding, sir. Fair and mild was how she put it. Sign here.”

I sign. I smile. I’m fair and mild, after all.

I read her note. “Morning, Sunshine,” it says. “I’m still on cloud nine. Ta, ta.”

I ask the manager, “What name’s on the register?”

He grins. “Betcha can’t guess.”

“Betcha I can.”

We extend imaginary umbrellas and sing, “April Showers.”


Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

"Letter to you," Natalie Bruvels

From “Letter to You,” a novel in progress by Natalie Bruvels
I’m trying to relax in the tub. You told me to relax. To take a bath. Yeah, a bath. They do that in the movies and commercials and music videos and it always looks like it’s working, but I can never get my bubble bath to look the way it's supposed to. I’ve tried an egg beater and that does help a little. But I can never get the sheet of foam to stay as long as I’d like.

There’s a blue puffy sponge hanging from the shower rack. It looks like a lion’s head, then a head bursting through the clouds, then the god of the underworld with a pointy nose pushing through the waves. I always think like this before I write an exam when I’m supposed to be studying. Any other time I would just see a sponge on the rack that I never use. But my brain wants so desperately to be elsewhere.

Get the blue sponge. Put your head down, Harriet. Okay. Close your eyes.

Oh, I should light a candle. The matches are in the bedroom. I should holler for you but I can’t handle loud noises, especially lately, and I just don’t like the sound of my voice. I especially don’t like the sound of my voice shredding the air. It’s like pollution or something. So I decide to get the matches myself.

“Christ!" you say when you see me. "You’re dripping everywhere!”

“I needed some matches.”

“Why didn’t you just ask?”

“Well I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Go take your bath and relax.”

The water is a little nicer now. It’s not poaching my skin. I light a votive in the tub and put it on the floor.

Put your head down, Harriet. I feel the steam on my skin and I can see the stream in the candle light. Oh this is kinda nice, maybe like a Roman bath. I hear bubbles crackling all around me. I try to move them away from my ears but they are caught in my hair. I can’t even see the candle. Close your eyes. All I hear are the bubbles. Epsom salts would have been better. But bubbles are so useful especially when your skin hasn’t seen the sun or felt a flex all winter. When you are trying to hide what lurks beneath.

This isn’t going to work. I grab my towel and open it on the floor. I move the candle over and start to get rid of the bubbles. Scoops of them come out on my hands and wrists and I rub them off with the towel until the towel looks like an untoasted meringue or the foam that washes up on the shore of some rivers. Someone told me that the foam in rivers has something to do with sewage.

There are only a few baby meringues left in the tub and they can stay; they are nowhere near my ears. I lie back down and push the meringues over my belly, the most vulnerable spot in nakedness.

Luce is scratching at the door and fortuantely the handle is within reach - it's a very small bathroom we have.
She says hi but why can’t I keep the door open.

“For privacy and heat but yes you're welcome in here. That is as long as you don’t moan Lucy, I’m trying to relax. I know we need to get you fixed.”

I wish she could learn to open the door herself. I don’t even see her trying to figure it out. She positions herself on the edge of the tub and does what she always does. She dips her paw in the water. She really looks like the Queen of the Serengeti when she does this.

Lucy has a drinking problem though. She will not lap up the water from her dish. She paws it then licks between her little fingers or spills the bowl and licks the water off the parquet.
Now, as she always does, Lucy dips her paw in and tastes the water. She takes great interest in the bathtub. She sticks her paw in and watches the water move. She focuses on the floating sponge in the amazed way somebody might if they saw tiny little gnomes sprout from the centre of a daisy.

You say I am like Lucy. Nervous. Tentative. Spoiled. I am like Lucy. Black and white. Black and white. I love the little Lucy who lets me feel life at my fingertips. But you are like Lucy too. Black or white.

Lucy just comes to relax me. I know it. She doesn’t come because she expects anything special. When I feed her, I don’t even give her wet food because I like to know that her love is pure.

I think I might like this bath thing. Bath for relaxation. I might bring my music in with me next time. It’s peaceful and steamy. Eyes close. Chest rises. Chest falls. Chest rises. Chest falls. Chest rises. Chest falls. Chest rises. Chest falls. Eyes open. Luce is gone.

Time to drain the water and dry off. There’s something stuck in the drain and the bathwater screeches as it leaves. It makes me jump and stiffen my back. It’s a thunderous screech. Christ, the water doesn’t shut up! Doesn’t it know it’s only moving? It’s not dying or anything.

I can’t do this now. I’ll have to drain it in the morning. I put the plug back in, blow the candle out and hope that the noise hasn’t woken you up.


Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.