Monthly Archives: December 2021

BWS 12.01.22: Jane Woods 

Jane Woods was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She grew up in Montreal and is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada. She has worked extensively as a voice actor and a translator. She lives in Toronto.

As everyone in the same boat knows, having a book come out during a pandemic poses no end of sticky challenges. With the doors shut tight against a frightening world, it’s just you, your mewling little newborn novel, and any harebrained promotional ideas you can dream up.

This homegrown video came about as a pandemic project, a way to stave off despair (oh, so much despair!) My talented collaborators and I tried to condense Running Downhill Like Water into graphics, music, and snippets of text so as to give a brief—and, I hope, intriguing— taste of the book’s characters and themes.

It was good, nail-biting fun to make, and I’m so pleased to have the chance to post it here!

Jane Woods visits Brockton Writers Series via our YouTube channel on Wednesday, January 12, 2022 starting at 6:30pm alongside Jessica Westhead, Becky Blake, and Hollay Ghadery . Our guest speaker Nadia L. Hohn gives us, “Writing Kidlit in a Nutshell.”

Please log in at 6:30.

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BWS 12.01.22: Becky Blake 

Becky Blake is two-time winner of the CBC Literary Prize and her stories and essays have appeared in publications across Canada. Her debut novel, Proof I Was Here, was published by Wolsak & Wynn in 2019. She is currently working on a second novel and a memoir-in-essays.

THE NAKED SAUNA ESSAY: A LESSER-ROBED SUBGENRE OF CREATIVE NONFICTION

One of the first personal essays I ever wrote was about my mortal embarrassment while visiting a co-ed sauna in The Netherlands. This piece almost got published once, but then the editor realized it was too similar to another recent story they’d run. Flash forward a decade and I discovered, as a creative nonfiction teacher, that this overlapping content wasn’t a huge coincidence. In fact, so many shy writers have a mortifying “naked sauna story” that it almost feels like its own sub-subgenre. While I wait for someone to edit an anthology of these blushing bare-all essays, I thought I’d share mine here:

A Spy in the Temple of Steam

The first time I traveled from Toronto to The Netherlands to meet my Dutch boyfriend’s parents, they invited me to a nude, co-ed sauna.

“It will be our treat,” said his mother, smiling.

“I don’t know,” I said, looking to my boyfriend for help. “I don’t think I really like saunas.”

“Don’t like saunas!” His father laughed.

I squeezed my boyfriend’s hand.

“I think we should just go for dinner instead,” he suggested.

The next afternoon, I sat cross-armed in the passenger seat of our rental car somberly staring out my snow-flecked window at the lowland fields rolling by. My boyfriend had dared me to go to the sauna—just the two of us—and because I like to think of myself as a risk-taker, I’d been forced to accept his challenge. Now I was having second thoughts. “It doesn’t seem like a very nice day for taking our clothes off.”

“Not true,” my boyfriend said. “It’s a perfect day for going to the sauna. It’ll help to warm you up.”

A group of blasé sheep turned their heads to look at me as we drove past. “What’s the big deal?” they seemed to be thinking.

I grabbed a black and white candy from a bag on the dashboard and popped it into my mouth. “Eww, what is this?”

“Double-salted licorice.”

I rolled down my window and spat it out. Candy was not supposed to be a punishment. And being naked in public was not supposed to be a treat. What was wrong with these people?

When we pulled off the highway at Sauna Soesterberg I was surprised at the size of the sprawling complex. The sauna looked like a four-star hotel, and the busy parking lot was full of young, attractive patrons—work colleagues, university students, and what appeared to be an entire soccer team—all streaming toward the entrance.

“Do people pick up here?” I asked my boyfriend.

“No. There are other saunas for that.”

“What other saunas?”

“Sex saunas. Swingers’ saunas.”

“And this isn’t one of those?”

“No. Don’t worry. This place is just for health and relaxation.”

I found it impossible to believe that this sauna’s clientele would be oblivious to the allure of each other’s bodies just because they were in a “health sauna.”

We entered the main building, and my nose tickled at the mingled scents of essential oils and chlorine. In the co-ed change room, I put on a robe as privately and quickly as I could. All around me extremely tall people were stripping off their clothes. A group of naked, post-sauna women returned to the change room and swarmed around my boyfriend’s locker. They were flushed and glowing, with damp skin and healthy teeth—like actresses from a pornographic milk commercial. I watched my boyfriend to see how he’d react, but he just continued to undress as if nothing unusual was happening, calmly folding his clothes and putting them into his locker.

When he finished, he turned. “Are you ready?”

I couldn’t believe I’d gotten myself into this situation. I was now only steps away from my nude debut. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Sure you can.” My boyfriend steered me toward the showers. “You’re never going to see any of these people again. And besides, it’s going to be fun!”

In the shower room I stood for a few seconds facing the wall. This was the moment I’d been dreading, but to hesitate any longer would telegraph to everyone in the room that I was stricken with fear. I hung up my robe, took a deep breath, and turned. The man under the nozzle across the way gave me a passing glance. I was sure he could tell that I didn’t belong, that I was thinking all the wrong thoughts: about his body, my body, everybody.

If I wanted to blend in, I had to find a way to look more relaxed. I tried to imagine myself as a spy on assignment, that I was investigating an important cultural anomaly on behalf of my country. This pretense allowed me to move forward again. On the surface I now appeared confident, while on the inside I was retreating, folding up my feelings into a dense packet of top-secret information that would only be accessible once I had safely escaped.

“What would you like to do first?” asked my boyfriend.

I looked around. There were atmospheric saunas with colored lights, and deep wells of frigid water where people were dipping themselves like popsicles. I pointed at The Herbal Temple which seemed to be dark inside. We opened the door and steam encircled us as we descended into a eucalyptus-scented hot tub. My nudity now partially concealed, I scanned the group. Three minutes into my career as an under-covered agent and I was alone in the Herbal Temple with twelve naked men.

I started getting hot, like maybe-I-was-going-to-have-a-heart-attack-hot. I had to escape but if I stood up I’d be exposed on every side. Everyone was speaking Dutch and I was pretty sure they were talking about me. Sweat ran down my face, and it was getting hard to breathe. My only weapon was the element of surprise. I rose up, sudden and unexpected like a sea monster, and began my epic getaway through the knee-deep water toward the door. The sting of twelve combined appraisals hit me. I broke through the door into coolness and light.

Outside the Herbal Temple, my boyfriend joined me and wrapped me in a towel. I was beginning to feel less like an international spy and more like a shy Canadian again.

“Do you want to leave?” he asked.

Through the main doors I could see the steaming turquoise water of an outdoor pool. I took his hand and pulled him outside, my bare toes curling up against the cold. At the edge of the pool, I let go of my towel and jumped. If I wanted to continue thinking of myself as a risk-taker, it was time to let go of more than just my towel; it was time to drop my alias and to fully inhabit this moment as myself.

Becky Blake visits Brockton Writers Series via our YouTube channel on Wednesday, January 12, 2022 starting at 6:30pm alongside Jessica Westhead, Jane Woods, and Hollay Ghadery. Our guest speaker Nadia L. Hohn gives us, “Writing Kidlit in a Nutshell.”

Please log in at 6:30.

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BWS 12.01.22: Jessica Westhead 

Jessica Westhead is the author of the novel Pulpy & Midge and the story collections Things Not to Do and And Also Sharks, finalist for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Her latest novel, Worry, was a CBC Books Best Book of the Year and longlisted for CBC Canada Reads. 

I’m excited to share some new work at the Brockton Writers Series in January! And I realized that I’m revisiting some familiar territory with the story I’m going to read from, with one character writing to another character about a recipe (among other things).

In my first short story collection, And Also Sharks, the title story is about an insecure woman who is obsessed with a self-help blogger named Janet. I read an excerpt from that story to narrate this book trailer, which still makes me smile, produced with the help of Jonathan Culp (who found the classic Super-8 film footage we used; I first performed the story at the 8 fest as part of a group performance that Jonathan curated called CounterNarratives) and Bryan Ibeas (my editor at Cormorant Books at the time, who is now the Editor-At-Large at Invisible Publishing). Please note that the video (which shows a woman’s hands preparing a casserole made from chopped-up hot dogs, diced onions and white sauce) does not have captions, so I’ll include the transcript of the story excerpt at the end of this post.

Another similarity is that the protagonists in “And Also Sharks” and in my new story “Gary How Does a Contact Form Work Do I Just Type in Here and Then Press Send and That’s It?” both lack basic self-awareness (because that’s my favourite kind of character to write), and they both have their own not-very-well-hidden agendas for reaching out to the other characters. And the letter writers and the letter recipients in both stories are women. In “And Also Sharks,” though, both characters are white, which was something I rarely, if ever, gave any conscious thought to. My characters are almost always “like me” in some way—usually created from the parts of myself that I’m most embarrassed by. But until very recently, I hadn’t really considered that, with the exception of maybe one or two stories, I had only ever written about white people.

In response to that realization, and out of my own belated “awakening” to the reality of white supremacy, I started writing the new story collection I’ve been working on. A Warm and Lighthearted Feeling attempts to shine a light on the obliviousness of white privilege and the violence of “polite” racism, and in particular, the harm that “well-intentioned white ladies” can do. In the story I’ll be reading from, “Gary How Does a Contact Form Work…”, a self-absorbed, middle-aged white woman is writing to a Black food blogger—on the surface to praise the younger woman’s culinary skills, but on a deeper, creepier level, she has a much more selfish reason for sending this email.

And here I want to thank Dorianne Emmerton, Brockton Writers Series host and all-around delightful person, for once commenting to me (in the nicest way!) that I was really good at writing from the perspective of unpleasant and entitled white women. That observation stuck with me, and helped to clarify what I wanted to do with my new collection. Thank you, Dorianne! And thanks so much for inviting me to be part of this excellent reading series, in such wonderful company.

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BOOK TRAILER TRANSCRIPT (EXCERPT FROM SHORT STORY “AND ALSO SHARKS”):

Oh my God Janet, you are so brave. Your bravery astounds me. Because you lay yourself bare for the world when you put your feelings out there to be known. But just basically because your words touch so many people, and there are so many of us in this world who are suffering from the self-esteem issues that affect our very lives. So I guess what I’m saying here is that you are doing something extremely BRAVE. Plus that recipe you shared on your last post for the ham casserole with white sauce is AMAZING! I made it the other day and it was so easy, exactly like you said it would be, and I was supposed to have my brother and his wife over for dinner and that was what I was going to serve, and they were going to bring a salad which I think was going to be a macaroni salad. But then they called at the last minute and said they couldn’t make it because her pregnancy was acting up, which I guess you have to understand, pregnancies being the way they are. But anyway, the casserole. You said it would nourish the soul, the making part and the eating part, and like you always are, you were right. Last week I did the exercise you suggested where you cut out pictures from magazines that appeal to you, and paste them onto a piece of paper to make a collage which represents how you want your life to be, but all I had at home were a bunch of Reader’s Digests and an old copy of National Geographic which was the Shark Issue, so my collage ended up being about this family that got trapped by an avalanche, and also sharks.

———-

Jessica Westhead visits Brockton Writers Series via our YouTube channel on Wednesday, January 12, 2022 starting at 6:30pm alongside Becky Blake, Jane Woods, and Hollay Ghadery. Our guest speaker Nadia L. Hohn gives us, “Writing Kidlit in a Nutshell.”

Please log in at 6:30.

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Brockton Writers Series 12.01.22

Wednesday, January 12, 2022 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series presents readings by:

Jessica Westhead 

Becky Blake

Jane Woods

Hollay Ghadery

Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted on the Brockton Writers Series YouTube channel! Please log in at 6:30.

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

 If you’d like to donate, please do so here.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

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GUEST SPEAKER

Writing Kidlit in a Nutshell

Nadia L. Hohn is an award-winning author, educator, and artivist who advocates for diversity in children and young adult literature. Nadia is the author of the Malaika Series: Malaika’s Surprise (2021), Malaika’s Winter Carnival (2017), and Malaika’s Costume (2016) illustrated by Irene Luxbacher, published by Groundwood Books. Malaika’s Costume was selected as the 2021 TD Book Giveaway title which means that over 550, 000 children across Canada will receive a copy. Nadia is also the author of Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter (HarperKids, 2018), A Likkle Miss Lou: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett-Coverley Found Her Voice (Owlkids, 2019), and Music and Media in the Sankofa Series (Rubicon Publishing, 2015). Her upcoming work includes a picture book and anthology in 2023 as well as a picture book in 2024. Currently, she is working on middle grade and young adult novels and plays.

Nadia holds a degree in honours psychology from the University of Waterloo as well as Bachelor and Master of Education degrees from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto (OISE/UT). Nadia is completing her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph.  She was an inaugural teacher at Canada’s first publicly-funded Africentric school and has been an elementary school teacher for 18 years. She is a professor of writing for children at post-secondary institutions and has presented across Canada, the US, and the world.

READERS

Jessica Westhead is the author of the novel Pulpy & Midge and the story collections Things Not to Do and And Also Sharks, finalist for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Her latest novel, Worry, was a CBC Books Best Book of the Year and longlisted for CBC Canada Reads. 

Becky Blake is two-time winner of the CBC Literary Prize and her stories and essays have appeared in publications across Canada. Her debut novel, Proof I Was Here, was published by Wolsak & Wynn in 2019. She is currently working on a second novel and a memoir-in-essays.

Jane Woods was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She grew up in Montreal and is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada. She has worked extensively as a voice actor and a translator. She lives in Toronto.

Hollay Ghadery is a multi-genre writer living in Ontario on Anishinaabe land. She has her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and her work has appeared in literary journals throughout North America. Fuse, her memoir of mixed-race identity and mental illness, was released by Guernica in 2021.

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