Monthly Archives: August 2013

BWS 11.09.13: Sheila Toller

In addition to serving as photographer for Brockton Writers Series, Sheila Toller has had her short fiction published by Diaspora Dialogues and House of Anansi Press. In advance of her reading at our September 11 event, she wrestles with the Rules for Writers laid down by the great, and now late, Elmore Leonard.

Rule #9

“I love this place,” said a writer friend of mine about the brewpub we were in. “I can’t wait to sit down and put it all into words.” She’s good at that, and I envy her for it. “Dark” is how I remember the place, and “with wood beams,” I think. 

Setting is not my strong point.

With this in mind, I was glad to revisit Elmore Leonard’s famous rules, much as I was sad to hear of his recent passing. I’m a big fan of Rule #9: Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. That’s a rule I can get behind. (Full disclosure: I had never read Elmore Leonard until this week. I’m now three murders, two incarcerations, and a balcony-shove into Gold Coast, in which “Southeby estate-sale furniture and Italian marble” = the interior of a mafia boss’s mansion. Works for me.) And while it may have been sheer laziness that made me recently describe the town of York in the 1820s as “oil lamps and horses and unpaved streets,” for now, and at least until I hear back from the editor, I plead the 9th.

As I write this, I’m sitting under a tree by a lake, as eager to tell you how great it all is as my friend was to describe the dark and maybe wood-beamed bar. “Like tiny diamonds” is what people will tell you about light on the water (they really do), but c’mon. Searching for something better, my mind thinks of camera flashes. Fish paparazzi. It makes me smile — I’m easily amused — but unfortunately, it doesn’t tell you much about what the light and the water and the wind are so expertly doing. (Also – so much for the originality of my vision – a Google search reveals that paparazzi fish are well-established and adorable characters in an iPad game called Fish with Attitude.)

I admit it, I freeze up at describing the larger things of this world – built environments, the magic tricks of nature – but I’ll happily tell you what these pages look like as I write. Due to the circumstances of the purse I brought with me, I’m writing on blank notebook paper with a chisel-tip Sharpie. It’s loud. Not yell-y exactly – I’m not writing IN CAPS – but it looks like a voice that doesn’t know how loudly it’s speaking. “Geez, I thought for sure there would be an intermission.” Shhhhhhh…

My “writing” is printing, scrawled and illegible, since I gave up on cursive way back in Grade 9. The mangled words in thick black marker bring to mind those photocopied manifestos on downtown hydro poles, documenting injustices both imagined and real.

Bear with me, Rule #9. I might bend you or break you, and I may never be worthy of exemption. But someday, I’ll put this lake into words. Only a few, and only the right ones.

Sheila Toller visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) – along with Valentino Assenza, Catherine Hernandez and Christine Miscione.

Watch this space for more with each of our readers in the month leading up to the event!



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BWS 11.09.13: Christine Miscione

Christine Miscione

Photo by Mark Tearle.

With her first collection of short stories, Auxiliary Skins, about to launch, Christine Miscione is currently working part-time at a kiosk in a mall. She has never liked malls, and never spent more time in them than she’s had to, but she can now say that she has sat all day, eight hours, in a mall—and liked it. It’s rife with inspiration. “Tales from the Kiosk” is a fictionalized account of one such day, and she asks that you note she has nothing against Bowring.

Tales from the Kiosk

Saturday. 9:25am: Mall sleepy-eyed, quiet. Yawns through the hallway. The dusty sun, skylights. Store doors opening, gates opening, intercom opens the day, GOOD MORNING SHOPPERS. Stores are not islands. Stores are closets of a greater continent. Stores like organs bound by mall arteries. People entering and exiting. Entering and exiting. Blood cells entering and exiting all day long. Blood cells married and bickering and tired because the dog barked all night. Blood cells pregnant. Teenage blood cells on their cell phones and the blood pressure pill Vietnamese-Hat Lady who is not Vietnamese tells me makes her feel like dancing again. The blood-red door propped open beside my desk, frameless, keeping nothing in or out: a showstopper. The one behind it the colour of lymphocytes with a large glass insert, then the maroon door next, the razor grey, the hunter green, and finally the token blue door; it reminds me of my nails when I get cold. An array of doors to my left, a bouquet of doors. Fibreglass doors can be made to look like wood, indestructible. Otherwise: 24-gauge steel doors. Fireproof doors. Resilient. One grade below the banks’ doors. Or the slider doors behind me. Double-lock and cathedral glass bevelling; elegance in a suburbia kind of way. And to my right, another bouquet, this time windows. Casement. Double sliders. A pair of double hung which are too naughty for the man in the argyle suspenders who says he doesn’t like my French. From the skylights nearby, sun like a checkerboard across the ARDENE sign visible through those glass walls of Bowring. I can see it from my desk. Little toddlers squeaking come running through sunbeams, run to the door bouquet, hide between, put their faces on the glass inserts. I’ll break their hearts if I tell them to stop. I’m hungry. 11am. Greek food in the food court. ‘Spinach and cheese pie’ is a boring way of saying spanakopita, but I’ll take it. It tastes like the spinach and cheese pie of a North America that loves Bowring. They just love Bowring. In and out of BOWRING. Gift baskets of Bowring. Parade of Bowring bags. Do I like Bowring? And the gift baskets with yellow, green and orange ribbon tied beautifully, I see them a mile away while I’m walking back from the washroom. I have a blister on my foot. I smell Kernels popcorn: heaven. I return to the kiosk and find my first lead waiting for me. A woman who reminds me of Tinker Bell’s red-haired nemesis; she’s been planning on coming all day. All day long I was going to meet her, destined to, inescapable. In and out, she knew exactly what she wanted. Wave goodbye. And the sea of people swells around 2:30pm while an elderly woman tells me about her cape-cod-style home and would we make sure to do three layers of silver paint on the virgin vinyl trim? Could we do a wrought iron inlay of her miniature schnauzer inside each windowpane? And could the ashes of her late husband be sprinkled inside the glass panels with argon gas? Everything is customized, I say. Everything. She winks at me and walks away, passes three Italian men lounging in leather wingbacks, and a young girl carrying a kitten. I’ll never see her again. I’ll never hear her voice again. In and out, in and out, in and out. I notice the sea falls away around 4:45pm. I’m training my brain with puzzles – PARIS written in every direction. Find it – training it for a future when brains are finally given their own Olympics. Can you work out the logic between the numbers in the limbs shown, determining a number sequence to replace A and B? OR: Only two of these twenty images of teeth are exactly the same – be a dentist, spot the matching pair. And suddenly, looking up, only a trickle of people. The last-minute missions, the stragglers, moms dragging kids, husbands picking up wives. When does it happen—the dying down of a Saturday? The mall feels light-headed now, all the blood rushed from it, the sunlight waning, and everything is pale, tired, yawning. 5:59pm and the closing of gates, the closing of doors, the intercom saying, THE MALL IS NOW CLOSED.

Christine Miscione visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) – along with Valentino Assenza, Catherine Hernandez and Sheila Toller.

Watch this space for more with each of our readers in the month leading up to the event!


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BWS 11.09.13: Catherine Hernandez

Catherine Hernandez is a Dora-nominated, twice-published playwright and the Artistic Director of Sulong Theatre Company. She is a proud queer femme of colour, single mom, and burlesque performer. Today she stops by the blog and talks about mothering and creating.

Catherine Hernandez PhotoWhen people ask me what it’s like being a mother and a theatre practitioner, I often say, “Before I had Arden, I worked in the arts. After she came into my life, I became an artist.” This may seem strange since the act of creating, auditioning, writing, performing gets kicked in the nuts when you have a kid in your life. Your schedule, sadly illustrated by a variety of coloured rectangles on your Google calendar resembles a dizzying patchwork quilt being sunk slowly by the weight of responsibility.

You find yourself apologizing to actors who are delivering a vulnerable moment at a table reading you are dramaturging because your toddler is dumping pasta all over her dress. You find yourself choreographing dance numbers with your screaming baby swaddled onto your aching body. You find yourself asking your precocious kiddo to “please stop begging the cast members for college money.”

But then magic happens.

In an act of pure necessity I had brought the then 5-year-old Arden along with me to Medellin, Colombia to teach theatre and photography workshops alongside Aluna Theatre, Kahaniya and Fundacion Imaginacion. We were heading high up the mountainside into what was a guerrilla stronghold to share with former child soldiers our skills in art making so that their stories would be heard and not forgotten. People thought I was being careless for bringing my own child into what some of my friends called a “war zone.” But I knew in my heart we would be safe.

We were prepared by the folks at Imaginacion that we were going to be dealing with a population rife with trauma. Her presence, her small stature, her shy, gentle nature, became essential to the healing goals of our workshops. I trusted them as Arden travelled from lap to lap; drawing pictures and gawking at donkeys built an intense friendship between us all. These souls, these brilliant minds who were taught at a young age to be killers — caught in a war between drug lords, landowners and the insatiable worldwide appetite for blow — were the giving community that helped me care for my daughter and involve her in the workshops we led. The weight of that time we had, the glory of childhood, the celebration of innocence and the mourning of lost innocence would have never been discovered had Arden not been there.

It is true that, as a single mother, my creation time must happen during evenings and weekends. It is true that my career moves at a slow pace because I cannot build networks or attend every event like my childless or partnered colleagues. Nor can I dreamily walk through forests during the day waiting for inspiration to hit me; nor drink coffee slowly in a cafe, typing whenever I want because my time is my own.

I remember my good friend and fellow theatre creator, Jean Yoon, visiting me weeks after Arden was born to tell me about the reality of being a writer and a new mom. “You think up the words while you’re breastfeeding. While you’re changing diapers. Pushing the stroller. Wait until the words are all over you. Then when she’s asleep, you write, you dump it all onto the paper. This is how it is now.” I still write this way. I wait until the words are all over me, heavy in my head, heart and hair, and I dump it onto the page as soon as my now nine-year-old daughter goes to sleep.

But the truth is, no matter how much I believe creation happens after Arden is away from me, she is the best act of creation I have ever executed. That her limbs have grown on dimes I have earned through my work makes me so very happy. That I will catch her up late at night penning the words to her next song makes my heart leap. That the universe has granted me this most perfect person who acts as my audience, my muse, my everything, leaves me entirely grateful.

For a glimpse into the Colombian project, take a look here:

Catherine Hernandez visits visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) – along with Valentino Assenza, Christine Miscione and Sheila Toller.

Watch this space for more with each of our readers in the month leading up to the event!


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BWS 11.09.13: Line-up change

Unfortunately for Brockton Writers Series, the Toronto International Film Festival has stolen one of our September guests, Katie Boland, who is also an actor. (This is quite good news for Katie, however – congratulations!) We look forward to hosting her in January.

In her place, we’ve added Christine Miscione, whose first book is still warm from the printers and whose bio is below. And stay tuned: this Wednesday, the first of our four September writers, Catherine Hernandez, will be dropping by with a guest post for the BWS blog.

Christine Miscione has an MA in English Literature from Queen’s University. Her work has appeared in various Canadian publications, such as Exile: The Literary Quarterly, This Magazine, and The Puritan. In 2011, she was the recipient of the Hamilton Arts Award for Best Emerging Writer, and in 2012, her story “Skin, Just” won first place in the Gloria Vanderbilt/Exile Editions CVC Short Fiction Contest (emerging writer category). Her debut short story collection, Auxiliary Skins, will be released in September 2013 through Exile Editions. Find her at

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Brockton Writers Series 11.09.13

Instead of being sad that summer is winding down — a summer in which BWS held two reading events, check out the photo galleries below! — why not join us Wednesday, September 11 at full of beans Coffee House & Roastery (1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto) for readings by:

Valentino Assenza, Katie Boland, Catherine Hernandez and Sheila Toller!

And, come early — 6:30pm —  to meet special guest Patricia Westerhof, author of the novel The Dove in Bathurst Station, the short story collection Catch Me When I Fall and the textbook The Writer’s Craft, who will be giving a talk entitled “Best in Class: Making the Most of Your Visits to Schools.”

PWYC (suggested $3-$5). Q&A. Books and treats available for sale. Please note that while the venue is wheelchair accessible, washroom facilities are not.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.


As always, watch this space for more with each of our writers in the month to come!

Valentino Assenza has been writing and performing his poetry in Toronto for nearly two decades. He has four chapbooks of poetry, his latest entitled “Make Our Peace With Rattlesnakes” from LyricalMyrical Press, and his individual pieces have appeared in journals and literary magazines such as Descant, Mic Check: An Anthology Of Canadian Spoken Word Artists (Quattro Books), and Labour Of Love. Valentino was a member of the Toronto Poetry Slam team in 2009 and 2010, performing in both the Canadian Festival Of Spoken Word and the National Poetry Slam in the U.S, and for six years he ran his own poetry reading series, Cryptic Chatter, at the Renaissance Cafe on the Danforth. He sits on the committees for both the Toronto Poetry Project and the ArtBar Poetry reading series.   

Katie Boland is an actress and writer who divides her time between Los Angeles and Toronto. She was chosen as one of the Toronto International Film Festival’s “Rising Stars” and as one of three Canadians to watch by Elle Canada. She has appeared in over 40 films and her writing has appeared in the Toronto Star and TChad Quarterly.

Catherine Hernandez is a Dora-nominated, twice-published playwright and the Artistic Director of Sulong Theatre Company. She is a proud queer femme of colour, single mom, and burlesque performer.

Originally from Ottawa, Sheila Toller writes and edits in Toronto. Her (very) short fiction has been published by House of Anansi and Diaspora Dialogues. She has studied creative writing at the University of Toronto and the Banff Centre for the Arts. She is working on a collection of stories, featuring albino squirrels, hairless cats, and William Lyon Mackenzie.



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