Monthly Archives: February 2016

BWS 09.03.16: Shauntay Grant

shauntay afro_color

Shauntay Grant is Halifax’s third Poet Laureate (2009-11). Her other honours include a Best Atlantic-Published Book prize from the Atlantic Book Awards, a Poet of Honour prize from Spoken Word Canada, and a Joseph S. Stauffer Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts. She teaches creative writing at Dalhousie University.

In addition to Shauntay’s poems, plays, children’s books and 2010 book and CD combo, City Speaks in Drums–from which you can hear a sample here–she released Say Sumthin in 2014, a full-length album containing both songs and spoken word recordings. Check out “Change 2.0” below, ahead of her March 9 appearance at Brockton Writers Series!

Whip water pistols 'round

Scene from City Speaks in Drums.

Shauntay Grant visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, March 9, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Phil Dwyer, Terry Watada, Naomi Zener and a special guest talk by novelist Eva Stachniak entitled “Making History Come to Life in Your Fiction”.

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BWS 09.03.16: Naomi Elana Zener

NEZ HEADSHOT (2014)

Naomi Elana Zener is the author of the novel Deathbed Dimes as well as satire fiction posted on her blog, Satirical Mama. Her vociferous blogging has been read and appreciated by industry bigwigs such as Giller Prize winner Dr. Vincent Lam and New York Times best-selling author and journalist Paula Froelich. Naomi’s blogs and articles have also been published by Kveller, Absrd Comedy, and Erica Ehm’s Yummy Mummy Club. She’s currently working on her sophomore novel.

Naomi kindly offered up this satirical story ahead of her March 9 BWS visit.

Hell Hath No Fury

“These unscheduled emergency sessions have to stop. If you want to continue to be my patient, you must make an appointment,” Dr. Freud advised.

Sigmund Freud’s office in Purgatory was an exact replica of the one he’d occupied on Earth. Photographs and his university degrees lined the walls, hanging above the Cabernet red velvet sofa on which his analysis patients would lie, which sat atop a brightly hued Persian rug. A rich, deep mocha desk sat in front of Dr. Freud’s high-backed, elegantly curved and well-worn leather armchair where he was sitting, jotting down notes from his previous patient session prior to the unwelcome interruption.

“Alright, lie down and we’ll begin in a moment.”

“Fine, but hurry it up. My time is precious,” Satan advised, flopping down on the Persian rug covered sofa. “Didn’t I tell you to get rid of this rag of a rug? It chafes my skin.”

“Did you come here to waste your precious time telling me that?” Dr. Freud queried, peering down condescendingly over his wire-rimmed round spectacles. “My time is equally important. I thought we covered that last time.”

Disgruntled at being reprimanded like a small child, Satan huffed a fireball in the direction of a small pile of books sitting on the floor next to Dr. Freud, setting them ablaze.

“Passive-aggressive behavior will only result in my referring you to another psychiatrist for analysis.” Putting out the fire, Dr. Freud smiled. “Oh, those were only Nietzsche’s books. No big deal.”

Having no jurisdiction over Freud because he resided in Purgatory, Satan was incapable of coercing Freud to see him whenever the mood struck. All he could do was blow off steam by setting fires in his office, which never made an impact since God always replaced the damaged items.

“So what’s your crisis du jour?”

“Everything seems to be exploding all around me. Hell is overcrowded so we need to renovate to make more space. I hate dealing with trades. God is giving me grief that Heaven is on the light side these days. Can I help it that my followers are more loyal to me than his are to him? I can’t help the fact that Americans love their guns and join stupid political parties like the Tea Party. Blame Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and the NRA. And, to top it all off, my IBS is flaring up. It’s like the time Montezuma took his revenge on me in Mexico – it’s a runny colon: morning, noon and night.”

“Do you ever stop to think about why your body is reacting so negatively to stress? I’ve told you a million times, until you accept your emotional issues at play, you’ll keep having bowel trouble. Come on, Beelzebub. You’re the ruler of the scariest place known to man. You’re telling me that you’re scared to confront your inner demons?”

Satan took a vow of silence for an eternity. With Purgatory being devoid of a clock or the concept of time, time literally stood still. Gone were the days of the forty-five minute session, Dr. Freud thought wistfully to himself.

“I think I’m having an identity crisis,” Satan admitted.

“Okay, we’re making progress. Tell me what you mean by that.”

Satan pursed his lips, sitting in his chair quieter than a monk.

“Come on, my little devil. You can do it. You’ve been working on this since I arrived here.”

“I…”

Dr. Freud nodded his head encouragingly.

“I, uh, I want…”

“Go on.”

“I want to be…”

“For Chrissakes, will you just spit it out already?”

“I WANT TO BE GOOD!” Satan confessed. “I’m so tired of being bad all the time. I hate living amongst murderers, priests, dictators, Charles Manson followers, politicians, investment bankers, Hitler, porn stars and strippers.”

Freud raised a skeptical brow.

“Okay, I don’t mind some of the porn stars and strippers.” Satan chuckled. “I like the ones who don’t have VD. But, truth be told, I’m a bit bored with our hourly orgies. I feel like a gynecologist: once you’ve seen one vagina, you’ve seen them all. And I’ve seen trillions.”

“So, what do you want to do about this? With your unique background, it’s not like there are many vocations suited to your skill set. Being a lawyer is out of the question since they all end up with a Hades zip code when they die. Maybe you could be a doctor?”

“And have to touch sick people whom I cursed with diseases in the first place? Uh, no thanks.”

“Your altruism is impressive.”

“Actually, I do know what I want to do,” Satan advised honestly.

“And, that is?”

“I want to be God.”

“You know he can hear you, right?”

“I want to be God,” Satan bellowed. “For once, I want to lay my head down on a fluffy cloud when I go to sleep instead of brimstone. I’d like to have cherubic angels serenade me with lullabies instead of listening to the noise pollution of Kurt Cobain and his grunge rock friends on repeat. That music has no melody. How did they ever get record deals?”

“Since most of dead Hollywood lives in Hell, ask one of the record executives spending eternity with you.”

“And, I want to experience that natural high God gets everyday from seeing people do good things. I’ve had enough of the LSD, Special K, Ritalin, Lithium and other mind-bending, feel-good drugs to know that they can never make you feel as good as a good deed does. Kids today overdose on horse tranquilizers trying to feel good. They’re batshit fucking crazy!”

Without warning, the ceiling of Freud’s office was parted in two like the Red Sea by a lightning bolt that pierced the leather top of Freud’s desk.

“LUCIFER!” God bellowed. “How dare you take my name and try to go after my job.”

“Whatchya gonna do about it?” Satan taunted, challenging God to a sparring match. “Report me to HR? Tell me to go to Hell?”

“You think it’s so easy being me? Do you know how hard it is to figure out which prayers should go unanswered? Or, to let a good person die before their time? Like a child? Or, not helping someone who’s been barren get pregnant, while watching a crack whore deliver her seventh bastard child from an unknown baby daddy, whom you’ll no doubt house in your cesspool? You have no clue what that kind of pressure is like.”

Freud sat back and watched the holy ping-pong match.

“That’s just because you’re too damn picky. If I were God, I’d grant every wish and prayer intended for my ears. I’d let everyone into Heaven who deserves to walk through the pearly gates.”

“If I did that, I’d have the same overcrowding problems that plague you.”

“So, maybe I’ll just send them to Purgatory.”

Freud grew agitated at Satan’s suggestion. He liked the quiet of his surroundings, enjoying the solace of being in limbo. It represented the perfect Ego-like balance to the Super Ego that was Heaven and the Id that was Hell.

“Since it sounds like neither one of you has total job satisfaction, perhaps you should each spend a day in the other’s shoes. A job shadow of sorts. If after walking a mile in the other’s sandals, you’re still unhappy, then maybe a role reversal will provide you each with the change of scenery you both need,” Dr. Freud suggested.

“Good thinking, doc,” Satan said.

“Finally, we’re on the same page for once,” God advised.

“This is what I like to call a breakthrough,” Dr. Freud surmised.

Naomi Elana Zener visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, March 9, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Phil Dwyer, Shauntay Grant and Terry Watada and a special guest talk by Eva Stachniak entitled “Making History Come to Life in Your Fiction”.

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BWS 09.03.16: Phil Dwyer

Phil Dwyer

Phil Dwyer’s journalism, essays, travel writing, and fiction have been published in over fifteen international titles, including The Financial Times, The Times (of London), and The Globe and Mail. He is an alumnus of the Humber School for Writers. He lives in Toronto.

Phil dropped by the blog this week with a guest post. Enjoy!

In Praise Of Encyclopedias (and The Three Princes of Serendip)

I was a sick kid, asthmatic in an age before steroid-based drugs. My local GP, the English version of a family doctor, prescribed three medicines for my asthma: a yellow, opaque solution of penicillin for lung infections; a red, sticky and impossibly sweet and then disgustingly bitter syrup which I believe was supposed to ease my cough (I never really had a cough); and a brown poison the purpose of which I was never able to penetrate. Of the three the brown was by far the vilest. Its only virtue was that it made the other two taste less heinous.

These three potions did little for my wheeziness. My mother’s folk remedy, a hot toddy—brandy, sugar, hot water and lemon—was far more effective though probably highly illegal for a ten year old. These were the days of laissez-faire parenting. The sugar, hot water and lemon were useless too, of course, but the brandy helped me to relax and did seem to ease my breathing. It also gave me a lifelong taste for brandy, although these days I prefer Armagnac to the cheap, astringent, generic brandy my mother used for her concoction.

Despite the toddies, when I was twelve years old I had a sustained asthma attack I just couldn’t shake. It lasted from September to March, an entire winter and into the British spring. Imprisoned indoors, the days moved at a glacial pace.

The school sent work for me to do, but not enough of it; I was generally finished by Monday afternoon. This was decades before daytime TV arrived in the UK. In those days, television started at 4:45 P.M., with children’s programs—Noggin The Nog, Ivor The Engine, Captain Pugwash—before the evening news. The only exceptions were a quarter of an hour program at lunch, and, for perhaps an hour a day, dour educational programs for schools. The rest of the time the BBC and ITV broadcast a test card.

test card

BBC test card, circa 1967.

There was nothing to fill those endless days with but books, and at first, just my library books. But as a “junior” member of the library I was allowed only four books a week. I’d usually blown through those by Monday afternoon—a whole five days before my twin sister replenished my stash.

I started in on my elder brother’s English set texts: The Catcher In The Rye, Don Quixote, Animal Farm, and Dombey & Son. I abandoned the Cervantes, feeling the adventures of a crazed Spaniard were a little too juvenile for a twelve year old. I had similar reservations about the Orwell, but I thought the allegory clever so I forgave him its innocent simplicity. I fell in love with Salinger. He offered a glimpse of an alien world, so different to the constrained, polite world painted by the English authors I’d read up until then: dangerous, rebellious, loaded with racy language. I didn’t know it was possible to write those words down. To publish them. I re-read Catcher once a year for the following five or six years.

Soon, though, I was through those books too, so I started to devour my mother’s collection of whodunits: mainly Agatha Christie. I drew the line at Mom’s romance novels. Barbara Cartland was a step too far.

Desperate, I scoured the house for more reading matter. In the dining room I uncovered a treasure trove, an Odham’s Encyclopedia set my mother had brought from a door-to-door salesman on a weekly payment plan some years before.

I remember the slight resistance of the encyclopedia’s pages against the outside air the first time I opened a volume: the red-speckled fore edge; a faint whumph as it yielded, as if the book were taking its first breath; a vaguely nutty, musty smell. Mine were likely the first human hands to plunder its treasures. For ten years or more it had sat undisturbed on its “handsome dark-wood presentation shelf”, jammed tight against its sister volumes. I felt like the prince in the fairy tale, waking a sleeping princess.

I spent hours with those encyclopedias, returning to them day after day. Every entry I read seemed to make me more curious, hungrier for more. The serendipity of alphabetization jammed charmingly disparate subjects together — alchemy, alcohol, algebra, algorithm. Simply by turning the page I could enter a new and equally fascinating world. It was there I learned that ice expands as it melts, one of the only materials on earth that does so. I also learned that Mozart was an accomplished mathematician, that he’d come up with a composition method based on dice throws. I tried out the resulting music with my recorder—ironically, the only instrument I could play, given my asthmatic condition.

An avid reader before those six months of sickness, the months spent with the encyclopedias were responsible for a profound shift in my psyche. When I returned to school I felt as if I’d come untethered from my classmates, had drifted off on my own tides. I felt like an outsider, an observer, not a participant. I saw the other boys’ quirks and foibles, saw them as material, interesting characterization. I started to record the things they said and did in a notebook.

For the most part I was forgiven this oddness because I was a good footballer and a useful cricketer, valuable currency in the strange tribalism of young boys. But I sense they never quite trusted me again. I had learned to let my own instincts and passions lead me, to find my own paths. I’d learned to allow curiosity carry me in whatever direction it demanded, and I was comfortable with it, with being different. I knew too much, saw too much, and was very likely to write it down.

Phil Dwyer visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, March 9, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Shauntay Grant, Terry Watada, Naomi Zener and a special guest talk by Eva Stachniak entitled “Making History Come to Life in Your Fiction”.

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Brockton Writers Series 09.03.16

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 9, 2016 – 6:30pm

Spring into Brockton Writers Series’ second event of 2016 with readers:

Phil Dwyer
Shauntay Grant
Terry Watada
Naomi Elana Zener

and special guest speaker

Eva Stachniak

AT

full of beans Coffee House & Roastery

1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and treats are 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.

Print

GUEST SPEAKER

“Making History Come to Life
in Your Fiction”

EvaStachniak

(c) Mark Raynes Roberts

Eva Stachniak was born and raised in Wrocław, Poland, and moved to Canada in 1981 to pursue her post-graduate degree in English at McGill. She has since worked for Radio-Canada International (Montreal) and taught English and humanities at Sheridan College (Oakville). Eva’s debut novel, Necessary Lies, won the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2000, and The Winter Palace, her first novel of Catherine the Great, is an international bestseller that was included in the 2012 Washington Post list of most notable fiction and The Globe and Mail‘s Best Books of the Year. Empress of the Night, her second Catherine novel, has been on bestseller lists in Canada, Germany and Poland.
Eva Stachniak lives in Toronto.

 

READERS

Phil Dwyer

Phil Dwyer’s journalism, essays, travel writing, and fiction have been published in over fifteen international titles, including The Financial Times, The Times (of London), and the Globe and Mail. He is an alumnus of the Humber School for Writers. He lives in Toronto.

shauntay afro_colorShauntay Grant is Halifax’s third Poet Laureate (2009-11). Her other honours include a Best Atlantic-Published Book prize from the Atlantic Book Awards, a Poet of Honour prize from Spoken Word Canada, and a Joseph S. Stauffer Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts. She teaches creative writing at Dalhousie University.

DEN5934x900Terry Watada has published four poetry collections, a short story collection, histories of the Buddhist Church in Canada and Toronto, a children’s biography, two manga and a novel. His third manga is due in 2016. He has drafts for a second and third novel. He has also written produced-plays, edited anthologies and composed music.

NEZ HEADSHOT (2014)

Naomi Elana Zener is a new writer with a fresh satirical voice. She’s the author of both Deathbed Dimes and satire fiction, which is posted on her blog Satirical Mama. Her vociferous blogging has been read and appreciated by industry bigwigs such as Giller Prize winner Dr. Vincent Lam and New York Times best-selling author and journalist Paula Froelich. Naomi’s blogs and articles have also been published by Kveller, Absrd Comedy, and Erica Ehm’s Yummy Mummy Club. She’s currently working on her sophomore novel.

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