Saturday, July 31, 2010

"People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks, reviewed by Ann Strickland-Clark

What is particularly striking about People of the Book  is the masterly way Geraldine Brooks changes her style from the present day vernacular as spoken by an American girl to the ancient voices of Europe in the 15th, 17th, and 19th centuries. The American girl is the interesting and talented book researcher, Hanna, who is unearthing the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah. 

Fiction and reality intersect in this novel, as the Sarajevo Haggadah is an existing illustrated manuscript, whose history as told in this novel is basically true.

The interspersed mysteries of the butterfly wing, the wine stains, the hair and the salt water are a literary jigsaw puzzle which all gratifylngly slots together under Hanna's dedicated research and imagination.

It is a nice turn of events when Hanna discovers the identity of her father, even though this is something of a stretch on the author's part. There are so many memorable characters in this novel, all suitably located in their time and place; it all rings beautifully true, so one can forgive this implausible lapse. What mother would so steadfastly refuse to reveal her daughter's father? It must have been her guilt at her part in his demise.

Among the many wonderful characters in this novel Serif Effendi Kamal stands out.  He gives no allegiance  to the tribalism of Judaism, Islam or Christianity but to the cultural heritage of every religion and philosophy. His compassion, integrity and bravery shine from the page. He plays a major part in saving the Haggadah for posterity.

Also very likeable is the character who painted the glories of the Haggadah in 1480 with a cat hair but whose identity is not revealed until late in the book and so should not be revealed here.

The history of the book goes backward from century to century until all the clues fall into place. Even Hanna's love story ends well – a sop to the romantic.

A woman of opinion, Ann Strickland-Clark tries not to lose friends by forcing her extreme views, political, religious and grammatical onto reluctant listeners. For years a frustrated writer, Ann, since her long departed youth, has had no doubt that one day she would be the acclaimed successor to Jane Austen. With not much time left in a wasted life Ann suspects that perhaps she should have been writing something (at least a diary of her day to day doings?) on a regular basis in order to hone her latent skills. Non-practice makes imperfect. There’s now not even enough time to become the Grandma Moses of the literary world. Ah well, there’s always the next life, if only one believed in it.

A personal/historical note
by Brian Henry

A Haggadah (plural: Haggadot) contains the Passover service which commemorates the freeing of the Jews from Egyptian slavery and is read aloud around the table in Jewish homes at Passover. Contemporary Haggadot are typically printed in Hebrew on the left-hand page and in translation on the right-hand page. At our family Passovers, we have Haggadot in English, French, and Ladino (a Spanish dialect spoken by Mediterranean Jews).

The Sarajevo Haggadah, which is now on display in the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is an illuminated manuscript created in Spain. It was a product of the great flowering of Jewish culture during the period of Muslim rule, which came to an end with the Christian conquest of Spain and Queen Isabella’s expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

Some of the Spanish Jews fled to Amsterdam, my wife’s ancestors among them, where they contributed to Amsterdam’s rise as one of the foremost trading capitals of Europe. Many more fled to cities under control of the Ottoman Empire, and to assist the fleeing Jews, Sultan Bayezid II sent his navy to Spain. The Spanish refugees brought the Sarajevo Haggadah to Bosnia.

Neither the Amsterdam nor the Sarajevo Jewish communities survived the Nazis. Fortunately my wife’s grandfather had immigrated to England before the war and so that line of the family continued. Indeed, my own daughter has inherited a wonderful semi-Mediterranean skin colouring, several shades darker than the northern European skin tone of everyone else in the family.

By the time of Sultan Bayezid II, the Jewish community of Turkey at the centre of the Ottoman Empire was already 2,000 years old, pre-dating both Christianity and Islam.  Its decline began when the Ottoman Empire dissolved following World War 1 and Turkey transformed itself into a modern nation-state.  It became more xenophobic, and Greeks, Armenians and Jews living in Turkey suffered suffered persecution. Because it stayed neutral during World War 2, the Jews of Turkey weren't murdered in the Holocaust. But following the war, many emigrated to Israel.  Still, Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Israel and the two countries developed a close economic and military alliance.

But the 2,500-year-old story of Turkish-Jewish friendship may finally be coming to an end. The Jew-hatred and anti-Western animosity that has been adopted throughout too much of the Muslim world has infected Turkey, too. The small Jewish community in Istanbul suffers periodic terrorist attacks, and currently Turkey is ruled by an Islamist party that has ceased military cooperation with Israel and is building alliances with the thuggish regimes in Iran and Syria.

In People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks tells a beautiful story of people crossing cultural barriers and ethnic divides. May such crossings ever continue in the real world, too.

- Brian

Friday, July 30, 2010

GAM on Yachting ~ call for submissions

Hi, Brian.

I am still constantly seeking publishable articles, stories and series with a naughtical theme. Currently we don’t pay, but many of our writers over the past 52 years have gone on to publishing and writing careers.

We publish a mix of readable stuff: true stories, fictional stories, poetry, essays/ruminations, photographs, and articles. Our readers enjoy pieces that run 850 – 1000 words.

I find it hard to believe that every month I have to hunt and cajole potential writers into submitting stuff.

Anyone want to submit? Just send your work to me at:

John F. Grainger
Publisher & Editor
GAM on Yachting

For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jason Pinter joins the Waxman Agency seeks commercial fiction, etc.

Waxman Literary Agency
80 Fifth Avenue
Suite 1101
New York, NY 10011

The Waxman Agency is a successful New York agency representing many best-selling authors.  The agency mostly handles nonfiction, but also represents commercial fiction, and new agent Jason Pinter includes "quirky literary fiction" among his interests. Check out the agency's list of bestsellers here and recently published titles here.

What Jason Pinter says about himself:

"Having worked as both a book editor and author, I bring a unique perspective to my role as a literary agent. I am intimately familiar with the ins-and-outs of the publishing process from multiple angles, from inception to acquisition to publication, enabling me to help authors--both veteran and new--maximize their potential.

"Prior to starting at the Waxman Literary Agency, I worked as an Editor at St. Martin's Press, Random House and Warner Books (now Grand Central Publishing). I am also the internationally bestselling author of five thriller novels, which have been nominated for numerous awards with 1.5 million copies in print in a dozen languages (see here). I bring my varied publishing experiences and expertise to not only guide authors through the submission process, but through the publication of their books and beyond. I want to help new authors build successful careers, and give published authors the tools and guidance to reach the next level.

"I am looking for:
- Commercial fiction (mysteries, thrillers, romantic suspense). Plot is an important vehicle, but only if there are memorable characters and a strong voice to drive the train.
- Pop culture/Entertainment/Media
- Sports
- Humor
- Quirky literary fiction
- Politics/Current Events
- Urban Fantasy
- Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction

"I'm a sucker for stories about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations, and normal people who must overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. If you have a great story and a unique voice, I'll look forward to working with you."

Query via email to:
For nonfiction, send a query only.  For fiction, include 5 – 10 pages of your manuscript in the body of your email.  No attachments.

Agent biographies here.  Submissions page here.

Note: Brian Henry has "How to Get Published" workshops coming up in Sarnia on August 22 (see here) and in Mississauga on December 4 (details to come).
For information about all of Brian's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Upon Leaving the Branch" by Debbie Okun Hill

Upon Leaving the Branch" recently won third place in the individual poem category of the 2010 Writers' Federation of New Brunswick Literary Competition...

He enters the Royal Bank
without a pinstriped
“I’m in charge” suit
shoulders drooping
like tired spruce limbs
his scuffed work boots
shuffling against
white tiled floor
crimson sap blood
congealing near his ear

She does not notice at first
this rag doll man
standing in line
hands “without coins”
in cargo pant pockets
no shaking knees or leaves,
no pine needle marks on arms
just a gentle weeping inside
like dying wind breath
against willow limbs
imprisoned in a dark forest jar

At her wicket, close-up
he appears nervous
rocking side to side
glancing over his shoulder
once, twice, three or more times
the smell of dandruff dirt
asking her to withdraw all his funds
but yesterday’s deposited cheque
still isn’t cleared
today’s cheque is postdated
and none of the bank tellers
know who he is “Who is he?”
this stranger in tree-lined village
where everyone knows everyone
So she says, “come back in a few days”
And he begs, “please!”
“They are after me. Call the police”

Following his deep set stare
the blood still thickening on his ear
she “eye spies with her little eyes”
two tall oak-sized men
leaning, loitering near exterior door
jean jacketed, black leather belts
their boots tapping
waiting, waiting
tip, tap,
the sweat dripping
drip drop dripping
from rag doll man’s brow
her heart tic tock ticking
with postdated cheque bomb
his life in her hands

“I’m sorry, I’m new…
I need to talk
to my supervisor”

He trembles
eyes glazing over
fingers fidgeting
The two men, sunglass shaded
their bark, faces turning red
gruff and mean spirited
their hands now curling
into fist knots, the tension
leaving their root posts
moving slow, edging closer
coming closer to listen

He turns, pushing
through bank crowd
runs, running, lurching
stumbling from the branch
tripping, rolling out the door
like broken log past her view
his rusty hair, bark colored complexion
now turning over and over
not yet composting in her mind
wondering where he went
if his mother knew where he was
whether his acquaintances
would thrash him again and again
for thick and thin wad of money
autumn shaded
red, orange, brown Canadian
this paper currency
she refused to rake up
to place in a blistered bag
now wiping blood off her hands

Debbie Okun Hill has received several poetry awards.  "Upon Leaving the Branch" won third place in the individual poetry category of the 2010 Writers Federation of New Brunswick's (WFNB) Literary Competition. More about the WFNB here.  Debbie's poetry also won an honourable mention in The Binnacle's 2010 Annual Ultra-Short Competition.  Info about contest here. Several of Debbie's award-winning poems appear in her first chapbook Swaddled in Comet Dust (Beret Days Press, 2008) with additional prized work to be published in her second chapbook More Comet Dust to be released in late 2010. See her profile at the Ontario Poetry Society here.

For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"How to Make Yourself Write," Saturday, November 13, Brampton

A creativity workout
Saturday, November 13
10:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Four Corners Library
65 Queen Street East, Brampton (Map here.)

Do you find it difficult to keep yourself motivated? To find time to write? Do you ever find yourself just staring at a blank screen? Come to this workshop and give yourself a kick-start, and then learn how to keep going. This creativity workout will get your words flowing and help you make the breakthrough into the next level of writing.

Workshop leader Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He has helped many of his students get published.

Fee: $38.94 plus hst = $44 paid in advance, or $42.48 plus hst = $48 if you wait to pay at the door

To reserve your spot now, email

For information about all of Brian's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Napoleon publishing seeks contemporary urban novels

Dark Star Fiction: We are currently accepting submissions for Dark Star Fiction, a new literary imprint. The goal of this imprint is to publish new young voices in Canadian literary fiction, involving non-conventional themes and settings, and aimed at audiences which reflect Canada's developing urban environment and modern concerns. Please note this is not a children's or teen imprint.

Please send either sample chapters or finished manuscripts. Submissions must be accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed envelope or mailer.

Submissions that are not accompanied by a SASE will not be read or returned. All authors submitting to any of our imprints must be based in Canada. Please do not send fiction proposals that are not accompanied by sample chapters or a full manuscript.

We are not accepting children's, crime fiction or general fiction submissions at this time. Submissions should be sent to:

The Editors
Napoleon & Company
1173 Dundas St. E, Suite 235
Toronto, Ontario
M3M 3P1

Submissions page:

Company Profile by Napoleon & Co. publisher Sylvia McConnell

Napoleon Publishing began its publishing program in 1990 with children's picture books, quickly branching into junior and young adult novels, and biographies of Canadians who have made a difference.

Some of our best known award-winning children's authors are John Wilson, Peggy Dymond Leavey, Robert McConnell, Rosemary Nelson and Christopher Dinsdale. Our focus is on fiction which reflects the world of the Canadian child. Titles such as Many Windows, Yuit, Muslim Child and Singing towards the Future show our country in all its diversity. Some of our other well known children's titles are Norbert Nipkin, Thanksgiving Day in Canada, Desperate Glory: the Story of WWI, Dragon in the Clouds and The Deep End Gang. Our authors come from across the country, but we also have wonderful Toronto authors - Sarah Hartt-Snowbell, Sydell Waxman and Karen Krossing.

Napoleon Publishing is still the imprint by which our company is best known, but in 1997 we added adult fiction, (RendezVous Press) and in 1998, our fastest growing line, which is RendezVous Crime. RVC produces Canadian mystery and crime stories by Canadian writers, many of them featured on the TV series, True Pulp Fiction.

RVC's authors have won Canada's only crime fiction award, the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel, three times in the past four years: Barbara Fradkin's novels Fifth Son and Honour among Men, and then in 2008, Jon Redfern's Trumpets Sound No More. Other best selling mystery authors in our line-up include Mel Bradshaw, author of Death in the Age of Steam, which tells the story of a love-sick banker searching for his lost love in the Toronto of the 1850s; and Rick Blechta's and his musically-themed mysteries, A Case of You and Cemetery of the Nameless.

Inside Music Books is dedicated to the outstanding musical groups and artists in our country. Hedley: Fan Lowdown accompanied the band Hedley on their rocking tour across the country in October. A book on the newest Canadian Idol, Theo Tams, will follow in the spring.

Our final and darkest imprint is Darkstar Fiction, dedicated to all those young urban adults who want to see themselves reflected in modern literature. A gala for Darkstar Fiction and its new authors, Laurie Channer and Kerry Kelly, will be held on November 24th at the Gladstone Hotel. See the events section of this site. All are welcome. Come and meet us but meanwhile, check out our publishing program at

For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bottle Tree Productions' 2010 One Act Play Competition for Writers

Bottle Tree production of
August Strindberg's "Miss Julie"
One Act Plays of up to 70 minutes may be submitted to Bottle Tree Productions at 445 Southwood Drive, Kingston, Ontario K7M 5P8 or check out their website for email submissions.

Please have your copy bound and if you wish it returned, please include a manuscript-sized SASE. Multiple submissions accepted. Plays can have previously been produced but not professionally. Please do not attach your name or contact name to the script but have that information on a separate sheet of paper.

If you want a critical analysis of your work please enclose a cheque for $50 made payable to Bottle Tree Productions.

Deadline: November 30th 2010.
Entry Fee: $25 per entry. 
First Prize: $1,000 Second Prize: $250 Third Prize: $100
Complete rules here. 
Note: For information about all the annual writing contests in Canada, order The Canadian Writers' Contest Calendar, on sale now for $3 off the regular price. Details here.
For information
about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

"The Garter Belt," a true story by Patricia Howard

In 1978 I arrived in East Berlin on a posting with the British Embassy. It was a time of considerable tension between East and West, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and while I lived and worked in the East, I was able to move freely to the west of the City.

At the time I was a rather unworldly single twenty-something who was not only new to living overseas in this considerably hostile environment of the day, but also new to living on my own.

My few possessions were still en route by road through the Berlin corridor, the highly policed road between West Germany and East and West Berlin. So, one sunny Saturday, with nothing to do in a virtually empty apartment, I decided to head through the check point, to the heart of the West Berlin shopping district.

Passing through Checkpoint Charlie and into the centre of West Berlin were the delights of the Ku’dam, as the Kurfurstendam was known locally. The Ku’dam was the Mayfair of West Berlin’s shopping district. This street was lined with huge department stores and fashion boutiques interspersed with cafes where ladies did lunch or drank bitter coffee with a bowl of whipped cream on the side. It was frequented by the ultra-chic and ultra-wealthy living in the highly commercialized and democratic western half of Berlin.

These people seemed to disregard the fact that their bubble of democracy was totally surrounded by the hostile, communist East Bloc while they shopped for anything that money could buy. The jewel in the crown of the Ku’dam was undoubtedly KaDeWe, the Harrods of West Berlin, a multi-storied department store that surely housed anything that anyone would want, and had the money to pay for.

Round and round the store I went, exploring the delights of the various bars in the food hall serving every kind of delicacy from lobster and caviar to the cheeses of the world. From there to the fashion departments with dresses that would take me a year’s salary to pay for; to jewellery and leather goods: everything sparkled and gleamed while the frenetic pace of the shoppers seemed more atuned to the fact that the store closed earlier on a Saturday and they had a limited time to spend their Deutschemarks.

In due course I found myself in the lingerie department. Berlin has a very exotic side to its night life and this was clearly reflected in some of the underwear beautifully and artistically displayed there. I noticed a gentleman waiting in a comfortable armchair while his wife entered the changing room with a sales assistant who was to help the wife to pour her corpulent pounds into a girdle. I wandered around, gazing at all these delightful undies that not only would I never wear but would probably stretch my limited imagination about how to wear, let alone ever be able to afford to buy.

I picked up a garter belt, its dainty hooks dangling enticingly from mere threads of lace – and then it happened. I was pounced upon by a middle-aged sales assistant who obviously thought me a potential customer. She chattered away in rapid-fire German, of which I caught perhaps one word in ten…. Something about lace and very chic and ‘just my size’…

Still talking without pause, this very brusque, no nonsense lady then proceeded to whisk the garter belt from its hanger and fastened it around my waist to see if it would fit. Still talking, she took my arm and marched me over to the gentleman waiting in the armchair for his wife to try on her girdle, obviously not understanding that he and I were total strangers. I was mortified as she began to explain the neatness of the fit to this gentleman. He smiled broadly and clearly thought that garter belts were more interesting apparel than girdles, as he nodded enthusiastically at everything the sales assistant was telling him. Oh dear – how to get out of this predicament!

I finally managed to cut into the conversation and said in very halting German, doubtless made even more unintelligible by my flustered state, that I really didn’t like this garter belt swinging on the outside of my skirt, and that I didn’t want it. So, clearly disappointed, the sales lady turned me around to unhook the offending piece, aware at this point that she would make no commission out of me today.

I stood as still as possible while she fumbled with the hooks behind my back. I was mortified, standing in the middle of a very sophisticated department store, while people looked on in amusement and I blushed scarlet. Still the lady was unable to get the wretched thing off. She began to mutter. I did not know much German but I certainly knew she was not pleased at this clear waste of her time. She pulled it, she stretched it, she tried to pull the garter belt over my hips, then over my head, but clearly it was not going to budge. I was frozen to the spot while trickles of perspiration ran down my spine at the sheer embarrassment of this whole fiasco.

After several minutes of tugging and muttering, the sales assistant gave up. With some annoyance, she took me by the arm and again marched me through the racks of enticing silk and lace unmentionables, this time to the men’s department. At the sales desk, she asked in a rather loud voice for the use of a pair of scissors. I was rooted to the spot, suddenly panicking about her intentions. Every instinct urged me to run, to get away from all the stares and titters of amusement of the men lining up there waiting to pay for their purchases. A pair of scissors was procured with a flourish and the offending garter belt was unceremoniously cut away. The sales assistant glared as I thanked her and tried as nonchalantly as possible to leave, my cheeks aglow with embarrassment.

I vowed to henceforth always wear pantyhose instead of stockings. I also vowed never to enter a lingerie department again unless I had enough German vocabulary to defend myself.

Patricia Howard is fairly new to the writing game, and has been greatly encouraged in her endeavours by Brian Henry’s courses. She writes humorous short stories based on her life’s experiences while living and working in various countries around the world.
Patricia now lives in Burlington with her husband Richard and her menagerie of dogs, cats and tropical fish. On 17, she gave a reading of The Garter Belt at CJ’s Café. You can read another of Patricia’s stories here.

For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Riddle Fence ~ Call for submissions

Riddle Fence, A journal of Arts & Culture
St. John’s, Newfoundland

Riddle Fence is a Newfoundland-based journal of arts and culture, published three times yearly by Riddle Fence Inc., a registered Canadian charity. Its mandate is to publish high quality essays, poems, short fiction, reviews, interviews, and artwork. It is distributed in Newfoundland & Labrador by Downhome Distribution and by Magazines Canada in the rest of the country.

Riddle Fence is currently considering submissions of previously unpublished fiction, creative non-fiction, and artwork for its seventh issue. (Please, no poetry submissions at this time.)
Submission deadline: September 1, 2010

Please send no more than 1 piece of prose (maximum 5,000 words) or 3 pieces of artwork (300 dpi minimum). We pay $30 per printed page for prose and $30 per image for artwork (plus a copy of the issue in which your work appears) for first Canadian serial rights.

Please submit by email to:

For information about Brian Henry's writing worskhops and creative writing courses, see here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Elaine English seeks women's fiction; Naomi Hackenberg seeks young adult & midle grade fiction

Elaine P. English, PLLC
4710 41st Street NW, Suite D
Washington, DC 20016

Elaine English acts as a literary agent and offers a general legal practice that focuses specifically on media, entertainment and publishing law. As an agent, she looks for books that will appeal to women, including commercial fiction, including women's fiction, romances, mysteries and thrillers. For more on Elaine's tastes, see here. She defines women's fiction and romance broadly to include chick lit, erotica, and a full range of works from light contemporaries to dark historicals. She is drawn to good stories with strong, believable characters.

You can contact Elaine at

Naomi Hackenberg has assisted Elaine since September 2008, but is now building her own list of authors. Like all new agents, she really needs to find good books to represent.  Naomi represents a range of young adult and adult fiction projects, but accepts unsolicited queries exclusively for YA and Middle Grade fiction. Her fiction tastes include any and all novels with strong writing, stand-out narrative voices and compelling characters.
Naomi's academic background is in Creative Writing and American Studies, and she holds a Bachelor's degree from The George Washington University and a Master's degree from The University of Chicago. Naomi is a member of the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and an associate member of the Association of Authors' Representatives.

You can query Naomi at

Submissions: The agency prefers a 1 - 2 page, single-spaced, query letter giving an overview of what your story is about -- that means a brief summary of the main plot and characters. "We recommend that this summary be patterned after the back cover copy you might see on a published book. If you are previously published, a contest winner, or have other information specifically relevant to the work you are pitching, you may include that information in this letter. For prior publications, please give the name of the publisher and the date of publication.  Do not include any attachments with your e-mail query."

Full submission info here:

Note: Brian Henry has a "How to Get Published" workshops coming up: in Waterloo on July 24 (see here), in Sarnia on August 22 (see here) and in Mississauga on December 4 (details to come).
For information about all of Brian's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"The Perfect Wife," by Fran MacKenzie Peacock

6:00 a.m.
I awaken first, tiptoeing down the staircase to my all stainless steel kitchen, making sure that I don’t awaken my husband. I start his coffee, let the cat out, and set the table for breakfast. It’s now spring, so of course, we use the apple green place mats, with white plates rimmed in apple green. Juice glasses on the right corner of the place mat. Linen napkins under the forks on the left.

I return upstairs and turn the shower on for my husband Brent, and while he is slowly awakening, I brush my teeth and comb my honey blonde hair. As he showers, I make the bed and lay out his suit.

I return downstairs, fry him a couple of eggs with bacon, lightly buttered toast and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Brent descends the stairs, and as he sits at his place at the table, I pour his coffee for him.

“Don’t hold dinner for me,” he states. “I may be a little late tonight. The guys are thinking about going to the club to play a round of golf. I’ll get dinner with them after the game.”

“Of course, did you need me to put an extra pair of slacks and a golf shirt on a hanger to take with you?” I demurred.

“Yes, that would be great. What have you got planned today?”

“Not too much. I’ll drop the kids off at their camps, go to Pilates, and maybe go to the spa with the girls. I have some reading to do for my book club. I would like to talk to you about going back to work, you know, even part time. Just to earn my own money. What do you think?”

Brent put down his cup and stared at me from across the table.

“Ashley, I thought we’ve talked about this. I’m the breadwinner, and you take care of the house. I make enough to support us. What more do you want? I think you just need to focus on the house and the kids.”

I lowered my eyes. “Of course. I’ll do that.”

Brent nodded his approval. I was being the perfect Oakville wife. Just keep myself occupied, but make sure that the family ran smoothly. Don’t upset the natural order of things.

Brent gave me his perfunctory kiss on the cheek. I let Nina, my housekeeper and nanny clean up the breakfast dishes, and then she set the table for the kids’ breakfast. There was no point in their getting up and disturbing their father’s morning routine before he went off to his job, where he was a senior partner in a law firm downtown. He liked to be in his office nice and early to get a head start on his day when ever he could.

I went upstairs, woke my children, Madison, 10 and Mitchell 12. Maddie was in soccer camp and Mitchell was in hockey camp for the summer. Mitch loved his hockey camp, always so excited to let me know how his skills were improving and how they were playing this team or that team. He was small for his age, but he made up in speed what he lacked in weight. He was growing up so quickly and when he smiled, well he looked just like his father.

I was dressed in my Lululemon pink tracksuit, and my Louis Vuitton purse secured on my shoulder. The kids piled into my Lexus SUV, and I dropped them at their respective camps. They were so excited to see their friends, and they gave me a quick wave goodbye as they scampered off for their day’s adventures.

My phone rang. I could see on my Iphone that it was my best friend Michelle.

“Hi Mich. What’s going on?”

“Come to Starbucks. I need a latte in the worst way,” she said

I drove over to our favorite Starbucks. I saw Mich with another friend of ours, Tanya. I waved, and they indicated that they had already gotten my latte for me. We all hugged and then we sat in the comfortable chairs.

“What’s up?” I asked.

Mich looked great in her lime green Lululemon tracksuit, gold Puma sneakers, her Prada sunglasses pushed up on her hair like a hairband. Her tanned complexion was perfect. Tanya also looked great in her yellow and black Lululemon tracksuit, her D&G sunglasses pushed up like Mich’s. My Gucci Sunglasses mirrored theirs.

“We have a scheduling problem,” Mich said.

“Really?” I asked. “How so?”

“I was supposed to take the new guy tonight, but I have to be a John’s parents place. I was hoping one of you could do it.”

Tanya shook her head. “Can’t. I have a cocktail party at Peter’s work.”

I shrugged. “It’s not a big deal. Brent’s going to play golf; I can take it, just so long as I can be home by eight.”

Mich smiled. “That shouldn’t be a problem. He’s coming in at 5:30 and he’s only paid for an hour.”

“I asked Brent if I could go back to work, but he said no.”

Mich sniffed. “Yeah, ever since Lori got divorced and her ex got himself a nice young thing, I guess it’s passed through our minds that we need to put some money away. That’s why this little thing we have going is so great. We do our thing and we still have time to take care of the kids. And really, you would miss our little coffee klatches.”

Tanya smiled and pointed one perfectly French tipped nail at me. “Let’s face it; you wouldn’t have as much fun as this.”

I nodded and laughed. They were so right. This job was so much more fun.

I ran to do my errands, and instructed Nina to pick up the kids and give them dinner. Then I drove over to the mall and parked my car in the far lot. I picked up a small nondescript Japanese car and drove over to an industrial complex.

We took no chances in our little community. God forbid should someone see one of our cars and ask the question, “So, what were you doing out in that area of town?”

I opened the door, one that was like every other door in the complex. The only distinguishing mark was the number plate, a buzzer, and a speaker. Above the door was a camera, but this was hidden and only the occupants of the building were aware that it was there.

Once inside, there was a change room and another door with a buzzer. Once the patron was ready, he would push the button and was granted entry.

I went in and went to a separate change room in the back. There, I removed my Lululemon tracksuit and put on black fishnet tights. A tight vinyl corset fit snuggly around my waist with leather hi cut shorts. I finished my ensemble with stiletto boots that boasted a 2-inch platform and a four-inch heel. I removed all my jewelry and put on a fitted mask that covered my hair and face. I could see out, but no one, not even my own mother could have recognized me it this get up.

I went out into the dungeon and checked out all our equipment. Whips, chains, flogging posts, St Andrew’s crosses, and a Catherine’s wheel. Over on the other side, a medical room, and in another corner, a schoolroom. Yes, we had it all, for all the discriminating tastes.

The buzzer rang, and I went to the camera to see what the patron looked like. I couldn’t see his face, but there was something oddly familiar about him. I buzzed to let him in.

The second buzzer rang and I released the door and let him in. The room was dim and it was difficult to see him.

“Welcome to Mistress Venom’s house of Pain. How would you like to be humiliated today?”

A voice that was so familiar to me spoke in a timid fashion. I knew the voice, but not the tone.

My husband Brent stood there, head down; hands folded in front of him, a frightened child awaiting punishment.

It took everything I had to conceal my shock. Is this what he did when he told me he was going out with the boys? Had he been here before? No, of course not, the girls would have said something. Well, he was going to get the works today, and not on the house. No, baby, if it was humiliation he wanted, well, we were here to please.

I walked around him, stopped to run my crop down his naked back. He shivered and started to raise his head. I cracked my crop across his ass, raising an angry welt. Let him try and explain that to me.

“Slaves shouldn’t talk. Now get down and lick my boot.”

He dropped down and wrapped his hands around my ankle and started to lick the tip of my boot. A minute later, I flicked my boot to shove him away. Another crack with my crop raised another deep welt across his back. He was still kneeling in front of me, waiting for instructions.

“Oh, Mistress, I’ve been very bad. Please, punish me,” he begged.

I love my job. This was going to be fun. Crack!

Fran MacKenzie Peackock has been writing for over 35 years, but most of those years have spent scribbling absent notices for her kids and permission slips. More recently, now that the kids are grown, she is attempting to write real fiction or, as her friends tell her, the stories with the twists. But then, isn't life about the twists? On June 17, she gave a reading of "The Perfect Wife" at CJ's Cafe in Bronte.  Read another of Fran's stories here and a short memoir here.

For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Writing & Revising," Peterborough, Saturday, October 23

The Canadian Authors Association, Peterborough, presents…
“Writing and Revising”
Saturday, October 23
10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Jackson Creek Residence
481 Reid Street, Peterborough
(South off Parkhill Rd W, north off Sherbrooke St, at the corner of Murray St. Map here.)

If you want to refine your story-writing skills and cut the time you will need to spend editing, this workshop is for you. You'll learn how to step back from a manuscript in order to find - and fix - flaws in your plot, structure, characterization and style. You'll learn how to rethink, rework and rewrite so that your manuscript will live up to your vision.

Special option: Participants are invited to bring a piece of their own writing (though you don’t have to!) If you do bring a piece, bring 2 copies of something short (1,000 words maximum, though 800 words or fewer is better).

Workshop leader Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructo for more than 25 years. He teaches at Ryerson University and George Brown College and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Charlottetown.  But his proudest boast is that he has helped many of his students get published.

Fee: $38.94 + 13% hst = $44 paid in advance
Or $42.48 + 13% hst = $48 if you wait to pay at the door
(Canadian Authors Assoc. members pay $40 in advancce; $48 at the door)

To reserve a spot now, email  

Full current schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, Kitchener, Orangeville, Gravenhurst in Muskoka, Peterborough, Kingston, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Comic by T McCracken,

Monday, July 19, 2010

James Lorimer & Company seeks middle grade and young adult authors

Adrenaline High by Christine Forsyth,
a book in the SideStreets series
James Lorimer & Company is looking for writers to contribute to its children's series: Streetlights, for ages 8-10, see examples here; Sports Stories ages for ages 9-12, see examples here; and SideStreets for ages 13+, see examples here. Only realistic, contemporary fiction. Canadian authors only.

Update June 13, 2011:
The company is now also seeking Recordbooks
* Interest Level: ages 11 and up
* Reading level: grades 3-5 (hi-lo)
* Length: 15,000 words
* Genre: Nonfiction

Recordbooks are nonfiction biographies that explain how one athlete or group of athletes overcame issues to succeed at sport. These issues can include, gender, race, or political or economic barriers. . Profiled athletes/teams are to be Canadian or Canadian-born, or have had a significant influence on Canadian sports history. We are emphasizing sports figures who are meaningful and appealing to contemporary readers rather than historical figures who have no immediate appeal for our audience.

Before you submit, please read the following books to get a sense of what we�re looking for:
Choice of Colours by John Danakas
Knockout! By Rebecca Sjonger
Crazy Canucks by Eric Zweig

Manuscripts should be mailed to:
Attention: Children's Book Editor
James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers
317 Adelaide Street West
Suite 1002
Toronto, ON M5V 1P9

Full submission guidelines here.
Brian Henry has a "Writing for Children and for Young Adults" workshop coming up on on August 20 in Oakville. (See here).

Also, Brian is leading "How to Get Published" workshops on August 27 in Woodstock, Ontario, (see here) and on September 24 in Guelph with guest Monica Pacheco of the Anne McDermid literary agency. Monica specializes in representing middle grade and YA authors (see here).

See Brian's full schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, Kitchener, Guelph, Orangeville, Barrie, Woodstock, London, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Writers wanted to read their work out loud at CJ’s Café

Monday, September 13
6:30 p.m.
CJ's Café in Bronte
2416 Lakeshore Road West, Oakville
(On the south side of Lakeshore, just east of Bronte Rd, next to Lick’s ice cream)

You’re invited to come and give a public reading of your writing at CJ’s Café – if you’ve ever published a piece on Quick Brown Fox (or you have a piece in the queue waiting for publication) or if you've taken any of my "Intensive," "Intermediate," Extreme," or "Advanced" writing courses.

If you’ve done this before, you know what a charge it is. If you haven’t done it yet, don’t miss this opportunity! For details or to reserve your spot on the readers’ list, email:

But don’t delay. We can have only a limited number of readers in an evening.

For information about Brian Henry's creative writing courses and writing workshops, see here.

“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, reviewed by Ted Wolfe

Set in post-war Barcelona and steeped in fog and rain, in desolate and macabre incidents, The Shadow of the Wind is a book lover’s treat. It’s a book about a book. The narrator is a young boy, Daniel Sempere, who is still mourning the loss of his mother. His father, a dealer of used and rare books seeks to lift the pall of sadness that pervades both their lives by taking him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

His father tells him, “When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure it gets here.” In the Cemetery, “books that are lost in time live forever….Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend.”

His father asks him to chose a book and make it his own. Daniel finds The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax.

When he reads the book Daniel is filled with delight and wonder. He tries to find out more about Carax and whether he wrote other books. Daniel’s father has never heard of Carax. They ask other book dealers. One of the dealers offers Daniel a lot of money for his book and won’t say why he wants it so badly. Daniel refuses to sell it.

As years pass, Daniel hears tales about Carax and the books he wrote. A strange looking individual is seeking out copies of Carax’s books wherever he can find them. And when he finds them he burns them. Who would go out of their way to burn these books – and for what reason? The answer is worth waiting for.

In Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon has written a book reminiscent of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is a multi-layered love story that unfolds over a long period.

Much remains hidden about Julian Carax. No one seems to know if he is alive or dead. Zafon gives the reader subtle hints and speculations along the way finally presenting the background information about Julian Carax as he was and is through a posthumous letter to Daniel from a relatively minor character who has been murdered.

This a rich and complex novel out of which flows the pain and joy of being in love in different times and contexts. He creates characters beautifully and honestly. Fermin Romero De Torres is an over-the-top but believable character and a source of humour and pathos in the book. Within the first few pages readers will be drawn into the mystery, the shadows, the speculation and the pursuit that pulls them down the twisting Calles and Avenidas of The Shadow of the Wind.

Read it first for enjoyment and read it again to see how Zafon does it.
Ted Wolfe is an emerging writer who is currently writing a novel called “Class Action.” which is a legal action thriller and more. Ted lives in Brampton, Ontario with his wife, Sandra. They have two children.

Note: If you know of a good book, let us know about it.  Send your book review to

For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing classes, see here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Travel Generation is a travel-planning site that publishes a lot of travel narratives. They don't seem to have much North American content, which we should look at as an opportunity.  Their submission guidelines are brief:

"Do you simply love travelling and want to share your experiences with fellow travellers? If so, then we would love to give you the opportunity to write travel stories for Travel Generation. We pay up to NZ$50 per article that we publish about travelling around the world.

"Contact Dan Roberts for more details and to enquire how you can turn your travelling into a money making venture here."

Check out the variety of travel stories they publish here:

For information about Brian Henry's writing workhops and creative writing courses, see here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rachel Vogel joins Movable Type Literary Group

Movable Type Literary Group
58 East 11th Street
Third Floor
New York, NY 10003

Movable Type positions itself on the cutting edge of pretentiousness. Here’s what they have to say about themselves:

“We have arrived, as Harold Bloom would say, belatedly. The scene is established, the paradigms rigid, the machine stubborn and aging. Now half a millenium removed from the prima typographicae incunabula…”

I’m not making this up. On the other hand, in spite of the babble, they could be a fine agency, and they just started in 2009, so they’ve got to be in need of clients.

The agency has a fairly useless website here, but two of the agents, co-founders Meredith Dawson and Jason Allen Ashlock have useful pages at Publishers Weekly, here and here. 

Until now, the agency has represented some fiction writers but has mainly been in nonfiction, including: Reference, Biography, Computers/technology, Business/investing/finance, History, Religious, Mind/body/spirit, Travel, Lifestyle, Cookbooks, Sports, Science, Pop Culture, Politics, Art/Illustrated

Rachel Vogel is the newest addition to their staff.  Rachel has joined Movable Type as associate agent and international rights manager. She was formerly with the Lippincott Massie McQuilken agency (see here) representing authors like Gina Shaw (Cancer, Baby: You Can Have Children After Cancer) and Rebecca Dana (Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde). In addition, she worked as a junior scout at the international literary scouting agency Maria B Campbell Associates (see here)  and a production assistant at Henry Holt & Company.

At Movable Type, Rachel will specialize in upmarket fiction and narrative nonfiction.

Submissions: General submissions may be sent via e-mail to

For non-fiction proposals, MTLG requests a variation of the traditional query letter, a less formal, more efficient document: one page with three paragraphs. First, personal history and platform, including previous publications, media appearances, training, etc. Second, a concise description of the book concept, including unique selling points. Third, a preview of the promotional plan, including endorsements, media contacts, and brand development.

For fiction: Having found that that query letters do a fine job of showcasing one's talent in writing jacket copy or promotional material but rarely offer agents a useful preview of a writer's prosecraft, in lieu of query letters, MTLG asks that authors send the first ten pages of their manuscript, followed by a one page synopsis of the balance of the work, and a word count.

Note: Brian Henry has a couple "How to Get Published" workshops coming up: in Waterloo on July 24 (see here) and in Sarnia on August 22 (see here).

For information about all of Brian's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

“Jazz,” an except from a novel by Elizabeth Copeland

Jazz pushed back his thick black hair and inhaled the fragrant smoke. Holding his breath, he told himself to relax. Exhaling slowly, he pushed the sleeve of his t-shirt up over his shoulder to catch some rays on his coffee coloured skin. He was owed some good feelings today. Inhaling deeply and suppressing a cough, his mind drifted back to the scene with his mother.

"Jaswinder," she’d pleaded. "This is foolishness. You are no more a man than I am an elephant. Look at you. You have cut off your beautiful hair and your eyebrows are like a bush. You are letting too much sun come to your skin, and you look like an African. You will shame your father and I if you continue with this. What will Auntie Nazneen say? You must stop this nonsense. You smell like a goat. Go and bathe, you will feel much better. I will draw you a bath and lay out fresh clothing, clothing befitting the beautiful young woman you are. Then you will have food and sleep. Don't wrinkle your brow, my daughter. You will create unbecoming lines. I know that you are troubled and that this is a difficult time of life. Maybe you are just one of those women who love women. What do they call them here - lesbians? This we can keep a secret and you can still marry and have children if you are discreet about your perversion, for that's what it is, my daughter. You will come to love the husband we have chosen for you. This is the way of life. You cannot be a man. Jaswinder, where are you going? Talk to your mother! If you go, you cannot come back!!"

Throwing the door open, he stumbled out of the artificial coolness of his suburban home into the hot sticky day. Christ, so much for mother love. Heading for the park he played in as a child, he fished around in his pocket for the joint he had put there that morning. Suburban parks were not known for their tree cover, but he found a place behind the swing sets where he could smoke and avoid being noticed by some racist white housewife who would smell the smoke and call the cops. He didn't care about being arrested, but did care that he might be thrown into a cell with men who would see that he didn't have a dick and mess with him. Or worse yet, if they checked his I.D. that identified him as female, they would put him in with women who would either try to mother him or treat him like a freak. Either way he'd be royally screwed. Hopefully if someone smelled the dope and saw him, they would fall prey to their prejudised assumptions and think the smell was curry.

Instead of calming him, the smoke set his mind on some kind of crazy trajectory out into a very bleak universe. What was he going to do? What stupid god had planned his life?
He had told his mother that he was a boy when he was four. Grinding the spices for the evening meal, she had stiffened and then rolled her eyes. The next day Auntie Nazneen magically appeared bearing gifts - cookies, brightly coloured hair ribbons and white skinned dolls with curly yellow hair. Weeks later, his mother found them hidden under his bed, their hair cut short and their girlish garments ripped to shreds. On the first day of school, his mother spent what seemed like hours dressing the long thick hair, which was such a source of pride in his family. Jazz waited until snack time to pull out the ribbons before he joined the boys jumping in the puddles.

In the years that followed, there were many such indignities - ballet class where he was outfitted with pink tights and a tutu; gatherings of giggling girls playing dress-up while the boys played outside in the ravine; and the quiet walks in the park with Auntie Nazneen.

"Why, you will not believe this Jaswinder, but as a child I sometimes wished I was a boy. Boys have all the luck, don't they? But when you are grown you will find that a woman's life has many pleasures. We must be as Shakti intended us to be. Otherwise we tempt Fate."

And then came adolescence, with blood coming out of the hole between his legs, the sprouting of breasts and the buying of brassieres - all the while with his mother fussing over him. He was horrified the day she took him to The Bay to have a bra fitting and announced in a loud voice to all and sundry that …"my daughter, like all the women in our family is destined to be deep chested.” The back of his neck had burned in shame. That night when he went to bed, he began taping down his bosom, hoping that the pressure might stifle their growth. In spite of his mother's protests and his father's stern looks, he began insisting on wearing pants at home. The headboard of his bed became the outlet for his rage - nighttimes found him in his room, the door locked, playing the knife thrower with his headboard some not yet identified enemy. By the time he was 15, he made a practice of walking every Saturday afternoon to the local Tim Hortons - telling his mother he was going to the library to study. There he shed his dress for a t-shirt and a pair of his older brother Sugith's worn jeans, and tucked his long hair up into a cap. Hopping the bus into the city, he strode down Bloor street flashing smiles at the beautiful young women sipping café au laits in the trendy shops there. The first time Sugith caught him doing this, he shook Jazz until his teeth shook.

"You freak! Get home before I tell Father. And put my jeans back. I wondered where they went."

Jazz swaggered back a few steps, shook his head and then glared at Sugith, curling his upper lip back into a snarl.

"Go ahead, you stupid goon. And I'll tell Mom about the porno you keep under your bed."

The cocky look on his sister's face made Sugith's blood boil. He pushed Jazz hard down onto the pavement, and then standing over him swore him to secrecy.

The day came when Sugith could no longer contain the need to stop his sister from parading around the downtown core like the homo that she surely was, After all, his friends were now laughing behind his back, and the girl he was hot for rejected him saying that he probably had homo tendencies like his little sister. When he blurted out the truth to his father he immediately regretted it. Amarjit's face became stony. He accused Sugith of a great unkindness and barred him from leaving the house until the truth could be discovered. The next Saturday afternoon Amarjit went first to the library, then to the corner of Bay and Bloor where he saw for himself the shame that was his daughter. He pulled her into an alleyway and for the first time in his life, struck her.

"You have brought great dishonour onto our family. Back home, you would be severely punished for your actions. But let this be enough. You will come home with me and you will not be allowed out without supervision. I will show you to your mother dressed as you are. If she does fall dead immediately, she will make sure that you understand your place in this world. Stand up and follow me to the car. And lower your eyes as is proper!"

When Jazz refused, Amrjit struck him again, this time full on the face. His lip began to bleed but he did not care. 'You may take me home and dress me like a sheep of a girl, but inside I will not change', his thoughts burned in him. 'From this moment forward, I hate you.'
Two years passed and Jazz grew to be a man in the body of a woman. His sojourns downtown continued, but now happened during school hours. Instead of the trendy Yorkville district, Jazz chose Church Street. Originally he chose this spot because he knew Sugith would not be caught dead in 'Homo Central', as he called it. But eventually he began to feel relaxed in himself in a way he had never experienced. He was accepted, no only by the homosexuals but by people like himself - who called themselves transgendered, transsexuals or - in the way of the North Americans who were called 'Indians' by mistake - an error perpetrated by Columbus which was never corrected - 'two feathered'.

A red-skinned man name Jean Paul told him,"In our culture in the olden days, we were considered holy. My medicine name is Red Feather. The Great spirit speaks to me when the moon is full." He took a drag from his cigarette and took a swig from his bottle of Johnny Walker Red. "Go in peace little brother."

In the local Starbucks he met a young black man - self-identified as a flaming queer -named Marque. Marque took him under his wing, introduced him to the other 'two feathered' people and to the joys of cursing and smoking marijuana.

"Don't people in your country smoke? Isn't that where the hookah comes from?"

At home, he dutifully donned saris and other loathsome female apparel and applied kohl around his eyes as his mother had taught him. But passive acceptance became revulsion when at age 18 his mother introduced him to the young man they planned for him to marry.

"His parents are from the village of our ancestors. You will not love him at first. But understanding will grow, and from understanding will come love. You will marry and have many children and in this, my daughter, I know you will find happiness.'

Jazz sat in the living room and coolly regarded the young man her parents had chosen. He was pale skinned and had thick glasses that slipped down his nose regularly. Not that there was anything wrong with him. He was nice enough, quiet and kind. But at their third meeting, when the boy smiled and complimented her on her beauty…'like a spring flower' he had said shyly, the volcano brewing inside Jazz erupted. His entrails rising up in his throat, he tore off his glass bracelets and spit on the floor.

"You stupid geek! You bleat like a goat and smell like one too! Jazz stormed out of the living room and up the stairs. In his room he ripped off his sari, pulled on his jeans and t-shirt - as well as a newly acquired bomber jacket - out from their hiding place behind the dresser, changed and left the house, slamming the door.

The first thing he did was go to a department store and buy some scissors. Off came the long black hair that his mother loved so. He jumped the bus and went downtown, passing by Jean Paul on the street corner. His two-feathered brother was too drunk to recognize him. Jazz looked away and rubbed his hand on his scalp, not yet used to the feeling of having short hair. Jumping off the bus and running down the street, he pushed past the homeless man standing in front of Marque's apartment building,

Thankfully Marque was home, but getting ready to go out. He half listened as Jazz poured out his tale and then picked up his keys.

'Stay here, baby. Smoke a joint if you like, I'll be home in a few hours. How do I look?' Jazz looked at his lanky black friend.

"Not as good as you do in drag, but not bad."

"You look like shit," quipped Marque grinning. Throwing his knapsack over his shoulder, he sashayed out the door, his tight jeans revealing every contour of his high round backside.
Jazz hung out at Marque's place for a few days, until he wore out his welcome.

"I love you sweety, but I can't keep you. You gotta get a job or go home."

Jazz opted for the later choice. He called his mother.

"Of course you may come home, my daughter. I have been so worried. Your father has grown old overnight. But we are a family. We will work this thing out. When should I expect you? I will make your favourite - lamb curry with saab."

Stepping into the air-conditioned quiet of his family home, Jazz knew he had made a mistake. Usually at work at this hour, his father was at home standing by the window with his hands clasped behind his back. Sitting in his mother's favourite chair was Auntie Nazneen, back from her extended trip to the village back home. Neither father nor aunt looked up at him. He greeted both his aunt and Amarjit deferentially. His father did not turn around. His aunt regarded him coolly, her lips set in a stiff line, and her hands folded neatly in her lap. His mother shuffled into the room, saw him and stopped. The blood drained from her face.

"Jaswinder, what have you done? You have ruined yourself."

Her jaw hung open. She looked older by years than she had just days ago. She pulled her lips into a tight smile. "Say hello to your Auntie Nazneen. She has come all this way just to see you."

His mother shuffled out. Jazz stepped closer to his aunt, but found he could not speak. She looked up at him from under her dark lashes, clicking her tongue. Jazz felt naked under her gaze. He lowered his hers/His mother returned with a tray of samosas.

"Jaswinder. Take this tray to your father and serve him. He is surely hungry. Father, your daughter has returned to us."

Amarjit stood still as a statue.

"Amarjit please." His mother's voice came out all broken.

Amarjit turned his head and regarded Jazz from the corner of his eye taking in his shorn head, flat chest and boys clothing.

"Get out of my house, you pervert", he hissed at Jazz, his eyes full of malevolence. "You are no longer welcome here."

"Brother, not so fast," Auntie Nazneen pleaded, rising and moving toward her brother. " I agree it is shocking the way she looks. But it is just a phase that she will grow out of." She turned and fixed Jazz with a piercing stare. "Am I not right Jaswinder? Remember the talks we used to have. I understand and I will help you find a way…"

"Enough Nazneen!" Amarjit commanded. "No more chances for her!"

His father folded his arms and sat down on his chair. Picking up the newspaper, he pretended to read. Auntie Nazneen drew herself up and spoke to Jazz as if to an erring servant.

"One word for you. For shame."

Like a ship on still water, his aunt moved gracefully to the foot of the stairs. With her back to him, she spoke.

"Though you disgust me in your current state, I am still your Auntie Nazneen. I will take you home with me if you want. We will talk as we once did. I will leave it in your hands, Jaswinder." Her sari trailing behind her, she sailed up the stairs.

His mother stood helplessly, looking back and forth from her husband's back to the retreating form of her sister-in-law. The silence hung like lead in the air.

"You must go, my daughter." Moving to the front door, she opened it.

"Mother, I want you to understand…'

Sighing, she took his hand and drew him closer to her. " Understand what? That you have taken leave of your senses? That you want to be a boy? Do you not understand that life does not always give us what we want and that we must accept the way we are made? Do you not understand that you are killing your father?"

Dropping his hand, she stepped back. "Go from this house. Your father and I are decided."

Jazz held his chest up and clenched his jaw, determined to hold in the tears that threatened. Half choking, he shouted, "Mother, Father… I want you to understand. I am a man. This is how I was born. I cannot change this!"

In a rare fit of temper, his father stood and picked up an antique vase that had been in the family for hundreds of years. He hurled it on the floor at Jazz's feet, where it shattered into tiny pieces.

"This is not how you were born. I remember when you were born. You are no longer my daughter. I disown you."

Amarjit stormed from the room. His mother looked up at him.

"You see what you have done, Jaswinder? Do you see that I am crying? You are killing us Jaswinder. Go for a walk and think, and then come home. I will make it right with your father. You will bathe and make yourself beautiful. Your hair will grow again. My arms are open to you as they always have been.'"

"It isn't my choice, mother. Please understand."

"How have you been eating? You are looking thin, too thin for a girl of marriageable age…'

Interrupting her, Jazz cried, "There are lots of people who are like me."

Fussing with his jacket, she appeared not to hear him. "The binding must hurt your breasts. In our family the women are deep chested."

"Listen to me mother! I am a transsexual…"

"Stop that talk. Do not use that dirty word in this house ever again!"

"Mother, please listen, I have researched this."

Shaking her head back, his mother stepped away from him, her eyes flashing.

"You are out of your mind. I do not need research to tell me that."

"I have felt this way since I was a child."

"And I felt I was a princess when I was a child, but I am not! We have worked hard to make a home for you. Do you think I liked working in that doughnut shop serving coffee to people who looked at me as if I was some sort of witless idiot? I did not wish that. Sometimes I felt that I did not wish to work so hard. But I did. For you. Please leave now. You have one week. Then we must cancel your marriage contract if you continue to be crazy. If we have to cancel the contract, we will be shamed and you will be lost to us forever. Go now Jaswinder. I cannot bear the sight of you."
"You can't stay here tonight, unless you want to hear me doing it."

"Whatever." Jazz mumbled.

"How do I look?" said Marque, stuffing his already burgeoning bra with yet another sock. Dressed as an everyday male, Marque was nothing special. Six foot two with skin the colour of a dark chocolate bar, his face was unremarkable and his eyes always looked a bit sleepy, possibly the result of waking up with a joint every morning. But when he got out his ruby red size 14 pumps, put on women's underwear and did his face and hair to look like Tina Turner, he was a smash. Top it off with a strapless teal green silk dress with boobs to rival Dolly Parton, Jazz had to admit, he played the part of a woman better than most women he knew.

"Shit, I broke a nail," Marque whined.

"Let me help." Jazz pulled out the nail repair kit and got to work.

"How did you get so goddamn good at this? Oopsie, I forgot. Sorry."

Marque admired his long legs in the fishnet stockings while Jazz applied the blood red polish.

"You know when I look like this I could have six dicks at my beck and call if I wanted." Marque's baritone laugh rang out.

Jazz flinched. "I'd be happy with one of my own. Got any pot?"

Marque lifted his eyebrows and looked intently at Jazz. Reaching out to pat his face, he said, "Here sweetheart, let me smoke you up and then I gotta go. If I can find another place to get it on tonight, I'll go there. I forget that you are just a baby. I don't mean to be crude."

Lighting the joint and elegantly blowing out smoke, he laughed."O, who the hell am I kidding? I am the Queen of crude."

Marque handed the joint to Jazz.

"O.K. my little lost prince. I gotta go."

The next morning Jazz awoke after only a few hours sleep with a new sense of purpose. Listening to Marque and his new paramour do it all night was enough to shake him from feeling sorry for himself to the knowledge that he had to take the bull by the horns - to coin a phrase. He stepped into the early morning sunlight and wishing he had enough money for a coffee, walked down the street to the Christian Community Centre. Jean Paul had told him that there was someone there who could help him make his transition to being a full man.
"Hello, I'm Sister Mary Francis, come on in and take a seat."

Jazz sidled into the office and looked at a worn chair, it's stuffing peeking out at the bottom above the wooden legs. The burgundy fabric was stained and Jazz wondered what kind of people had sat there. He suddenly felt a little queasy and wanted to go home.

"When will the counselor be here?" he asked the dour faced nun.

"You're looking at her." Sister Mary was seated behind a desk covered in reports, empty diet coke cans and a computer that looked like it came from the Stone Age. "How can I help you?"

"I thought this was a place where transgendered people could get help."

The word transgendered felt funny in his mouth.

"Uh, huh" said the nun, rooting around in a drawer. "Have a seat, please. I'll be with you in a moment."

Jazz looked around and considered leaving, then thought better of it and flopped down in the worn chair. The nun pulled some papers from a box on her desk and handed them to him, still making no eye contact. She stood and moved out from behind the desk. Jazz noticed that cracks in the leather of her white runners.

"Fill out these forms. I'll be right back. Want a cup of coffee?"

A coffee sounded good, but he wasn't sure if he wanted to stay. How could he talk to this woman? Throwing a challenge out, he asked, "How could you know anything about being a transsexual?'

"Good question. Fill out the form, and we'll answer that and other interesting questions when I return. How do you take your coffee?'

Slumping down in the chair, Jazz stared at the scuffed hardwood floor.

'Two creams, two sugars."

"We only have milk - 2%. I'll be right back.'

Jazz looked down at the form. Most of it was fairly basic stuff, name, address etc. But then it got into some pretty personal questions about when he had first felt that he was a different sex and what kind of things he had done to express it. Express it? He shook his head and began to write. Page two he refused to fill out. The questions were ridiculous. Had he ever tried to commit suicide? Had he had any surgeries and was he on meds? Forget it. He didn't come to see her for therapy. Why the hell had Jean Paul sent him here?

The old door creaked open and Sister Mary shuffled in, his coffee in hand. Handing it to him, it spilt over onto Marque's clean shirt.

"Shit," he said.

"Hey! No one gets to swear here but me!" The stern look melted from her face. Looking at his sullen expression, she chuckled. "Good I laugh at my own jokes here, 'cause no one else sure does. Now, let me see your intake form."

Cracking open a can of diet cola, Sister Mary Francis began ticking off things on his form. "No place to live. Well, that's the first thing we have to deal with. How are you eating?"

Jazz suddenly felt like he was talking to his mother again. He sat up straighter.

"I'm fine. I crash with friends. I don't need you to help me eat. I need you to help me book a surgery so I can really be a man."

"Honey, you are either a man or your not. There are lots of human beings walking around with penises that are about as far away from being a man as our Prime Minister is from being honourable. Surgery is the last piece of the puzzle. First we need to make sure that you have a roof over your head and food to eat. You can only rely on the kindness of strangers for so long. Are you sure your parents won't take you back?"

"Only if I'll put on a sari and marry the man of their dreams."

"So, the kid's got a sense of humour. Good. Are you willing to get a job?"

"I'm supposed to be going to school in the fall. To study economics." Jazz clenched his fists.

"Economics. Good choice in today's world. Maybe when you graduate you can come and help me get some proper funding to run this place. Do you have a place to stay tonight? If not, I can get you a bed in a shelter."

"No, I have a place to stay," Jazz lied.

"Good, come back tomorrow. Sorry, but I have to run. I have an appointment with my hairdresser." Sister Mary Francis stood and smoothed the front of her habit. "No good joking with you, I can see that. Seriously, I have another appointment.'

"Is that it? We're done? I don't have time to screw around lady. Is there someone else I can talk to?"

"You want to be a man?" said Sister Mary Francis looking directly at him for the first time since he'd come into the room. "Then listen up. You have no money, no place to live and no food to eat. Your parents have 'cast you out', as you say on this form. You want to go to university, but have no idea how to fund it. Being a man means first and foremost facing and dealing with those realities. I can help you with that. Now, do you want my help or should I return the call of the 14-year-old girl who just ran away from home because her father beat the shit out of her when she told him she is gay. I can help her if you don't want my help. What's it going to be?"

"Man, I thought Christians were supposed to be nice," Jazz mumbled, slurping the rest of his coffee and pushing himself up from his chair

"Nice is a four letter word that has nothing to do with the work of the Jesus Christ. Shall I see you tomorrow at 2?"

"Fuck you, sister!" Jazz cursed out loud as he walked down Church Street. He threw the intake forms into the garbage, and then stopped. Turning around slowly, he reached his arms into the garbage can and took them out, pulling the rotten banana peel away from the first page. Grinning at the spiky haired blonde who waltzed by him in her green pumps, red lipstick glistening and hips swaying, he laughed out loud. He rolled up the intake forms and shoulders swinging, rolled down the street. It was going to be a good day.

Inspired by the work of Emily Bronte, Tennessee Williams and Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Copeland has always been fascinated by the world of story. It started with an introverted little girl made up stories and blossomed into her career as an actor (acting out stories), singer (singing stories), storyteller (stories memorized and told to an audience) to her work as an arts educator (stories as tools to teach).
She began putting her stories down on paper ten years ago, but has only recently had the courage to send any of it out. Her work has been published in Vitality Magazine, So to Speak and most recently an article included in a collection entitled – ‘Stories of prayers and faith.’ She has self-published the booklet ‘Into the Spotlight’, and is currently working on a novel for young adults. She lives in Burks Falls with her husband and two cats. You can read another piece by Elizabeth here.

For information about Brian Henry's writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.