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Brockton Writers Series 08.03.23: Yolande House

Yolande House is a bisexual, disabled writer whose essays have appeared in literary magazines such as The Rumpus, Grain, Joyland, and The Fiddlehead. Her writing has made it to the finalist round at Creative Nonfiction three times, and her Entropy essay was selected as one of the magazine’s “Best of 2018.” She can be found online at, on Instagram (@healthruwriting), and on Twitter (@herstorian). She is currently working on a childhood memoir, as well as an essay collection about invisible disabilities.

How to Write About Trauma in a Safer Way

When I first wrote about childhood physical and emotional abuse in 2006, I did almost everything wrong. 

I wrote for hours at a time, scrunched over my computer, interspersing angry rants amidst spare details of memory, tears streaming down my face. Meals were takeout and junk food was my constant writing fuel. Exercise was a short walk to the café where I continued to rant-write with friends, timing ourselves to see who could write the most words in a given amount of time, what we called a “word war.” I usually won. 

It was National Novel Writing Month, where enthusiasts aim to write a 50,000 word novel. I crossed the finish line on day thirteen, my friends blinking their astonishment. By November 30th, I’d doubled my word count, clocking in at just over 100,000 words. Triumph!

Two weeks later, I rushed to the ER with severe chest pain similar to a heart attack.

My father held my hand as we waited for a doctor. “How did this happen?” he asked, shaking his head. 

“I think it’s from writing about my childhood for NaNoWriMo,” I said, eyes lowered. “About Mom. I was crying every day, not sleeping well, not eating well…” His face cleared and he nodded. Of course. 

Test after test, the doctors found nothing wrong. Finally, I was diagnosed with severe acid reflux—so severe I could only drink water and swallow a little bread for the next week. My naturopathic doctor told me later that if I hadn’t followed her strict, low-acid diet, I would have developed an ulcer.

I threw my memoir manuscript in a drawer and slammed it shut. When I read it again a couple years later, I thought, No wonder I got sick! Grief burned through the thick stack and distress etched each page. My stomach clenched. I shoved the papers back.

Now, twelve years later, my writing is much more emotionally processed. I’ve learned to explore painful memories with an aim toward healing. But I still find myself needing to tread carefully in the rushing waters of remembered trauma, finding toeholds and grabbing onto tree branches to stay upright through the thunderous tide of resurfacing pain. 

I’ve come up with some guidelines for writing about painful events in a more balanced way. I still mess this up, but when I do my best to live these out, both my body and my writing are lighter, happier, healthier.


  1. Don’t push. If you don’t feel ready to re-visit trauma, then don’t. A fiction writing friend once told me, “You’ve been writing this for seven years now, right? You should be done by now.” My creative non-fiction instructor said, “We’re making art. It takes as long as it takes—usually years, maybe decades.” My childhood memoir has taken eleven years so far. When I made a push to finish it early in 2018, my stomach issues returned. Now, it’s on the back burner again. It’ll take as long as it takes.
  2. Listen to your body. Tune in when it says no. Do you know how your body says no? Is it a tightening in your gut? A feeling of dread and dragging feet? Procrastinating by playing online games? Overworking? Your body is a compass to your emotions and your limits. Stop when you need to.
  3. Stay in balance. When writing about difficult subjects, think of yourself like a see-saw. Counterbalance challenging stories with subjects that make you happy. Write about your gratitude for something a difficult person taught you. How did you grow from the experience?
  4. Take long breaks. Vary difficult writing with submissions to literary journals, revising stories on other subjects, free writing, or critiquing stories for others. If you need to put a subject aside for months or years, do it. If you suddenly realize, “I don’t ever want to write about this,” trust and honour your limits.
  5. Practice more self-care than you think you need. Eat nourishing food you enjoy. Devise a daily or weekly exercise goal, (one year, mine was to play Pokémon Go every day. A friend gets chased by the undead with the Zombies, Run! app). Give yourself naps, an early bedtime, the gift of sleeping in.
  6. Take a class. Following a step-by-step process with feedback and support from a trusted mentor is helpful when I’m struggling to approach a subject or am otherwise not feeling well. 
  7. Get support. You need an outlet for the intense emotions resurfacing as you write. Talk to a friend or therapist about how you feel.
  8. Keep a writing process journal where you record your feelings about what you’re writing. I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve recently started The Artist’s Way, and my three stream-of-consciousness morning pages have helped me feel productive even if I’m only recounting my shopping list. When I explore emotions on the page, my other writing tasks seem to flow more easily afterward.
  9. Start a writing group to support writers like you. You could begin with a meditation and then do a few short exercises before each person gets twenty minutes to talk about how their writing is going, how they’re feeling, and what old emotions and memories are surfacing.
  10. Add a new relaxation technique to your routine: meditation, yoga, trauma releasing exercises, colouring, journaling, bubble baths, evening walks.


It’s essential to not only honour your process, but to discover and develop one that works for you, whatever form it takes. And it’s an ongoing lesson, one that teaches me new things all the time—even with this article!

I wrote half of this piece in a couple of hours. Then ongoing stomach issues slowed me down, and it took me another two weeks to put together the second half. But I kept at it, telling myself I was writing this because I need these guidelines as much as anyone else. Now that it’s done, it’s a gift from my well self to my ill self. Both of them deserve to tell their story and stay safe while doing it.


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Brockton Writers Series 08.03.23: Anto Chan

Anto Chan is a queer HK Chinese-Canadian spoken word performance artist, writer, facilitator, entrepreneur, producer, and caregiver. He performed his one-person show Love So Far at the Montréal Fringe Festival in 2019. He currently co-curates and hosts the variety show FreeFlow Showcase, and his poetry chapbook Romantic Reflections was released in 2020. He is passionate about mentoring the next generation of artists to overcome personal obstacles, leading to sharing their stories authentically. His life’s work is to create and support meaningful art that centres around the journey of growth, self-love, and healing intergenerational trauma. He recently started studying Expressive Art Therapy with Create Institute.


The unfolding of self-discovery has been a lifetime of feeling as if I’m not enough. Consistently pleasing my family’s views on sacrifice and big-picture living, left me disconnected from my reality and identity. Only this past year have I fully accepted my queerness, including it in my writing, my stories and sharing with friends/some family. The deep joy that has come from stepping into my full self has been immeasurable, and this poem was a checkpoint in this ever-expanding experience. 


The In-Between

She told me it wasn’t common 

that I loved flowers as much as I do

Realizing that I am not the norm 

Well for a guy she says 

I like that about you 

A soft kiss onto my beard 

That I wear to make sure 

you know I’m a man 

The masculine presented 

Ensuring the feminine repressed 

Just like every time my mom asks me 

If she can expect grandkids soon 

I tell her she can expect it 

Luckily I have a brother and a sister 

Both following the lead 

Of the classic road

Filling the void 

As I avoid the queries…

I am queer in so many ways 

I wondered how to explain to her 

The best way I could 

We ended on “if there was no women on earth I would with a man, 

I just love women too much”

The only vision of her children is in nuclear families

But maybe that’s why ours 

was so toxic and destructive and radioactive 

How did I myself realize? 

I just met enough straight people to know I’m not them 

For sure. 

And I’m queer in all my doings, 

my career

my friends

my performances

my gender roles in relationships 

The amount of comfort I find being the small spoon 

Small enough to be decorative 

Side note, whichever way you enjoy cuddling

is telling of what you enjoy in the bedroom too, 

I enjoy big and small spoon, 

vers/switch as they call it…

think about yours!  

For years felt the imbalance 

with the numb arm 

never resting my head on lovers bosoms 

Nurtured held 

I also enjoy being pursued

to have dinner bought for me too 

And my hair brushed softly 

And pulled 

Patiently pure care for one another 

But I date women still

so why is it important to share my queerness? 

I can be hidden from

the possibilities of judgment 

be among straight passing people 

Because this is my truth 

the reality of my existence 

deserves to be present

In silence takes away 

the representation of the in between

The crossroads of the intersectionality 

The not this/not that/just so 

The goldilocks and three bears

porridge just right 

Have a stove and pot to heat it up 

to your liking

Customizing our lives 

our love to exactly as we need 

Cause close enough isn’t enough anymore 

So just like my performance, I don’t know how to label what I do,

I wrote miscellaneous—misterlaneous 

These checked boxes are too general and generic 

These labels geriatric

I am just me

Flowers in my hair 

Surrounding me with scentimental aromas 

my love and gender and identity

Taking Pride in persistence 

We’ve made it 

In a space that’s here 

to be our big spoon 

to hold us wholly

Masculinity femininity infinity 

And beyond

Because we are Outta this world.

Original Art by Samantha Dennis @samanthadenniis


Photo by Andre Saunders @dreygasai

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Brockton Writers Series 08.03.23: Seán Carson Kinsella

Seán Carson Kinsella (ê akimihtt nêhi(y/th)aw/otipemisiwak/Nakawé/Irish) is migizi dodem (Bald Eagle Clan) and Indigequeer/aayahkwêw/tastawiyiniw with ancestors and extended kin who were signatories of Treaties 4, 6 and 8. They are a sought keynote speaker, storyteller, and smutty poet and are have been featured in the Toronto Festival of Authors, the Naked Heart Festival, and are a regular reader at Glad Day’s Smut Peddlers reading series.

triptych of Indigequeer desire (giimikan) 


the word for an orange 

in nêhiyawêwin speaks to the colour

of the juice currently splashed on your

chin. in the queer brunch please with

all the mutual cruising, i am fixated on

the small drip as it meets the creases

of your mouth and has dribbled down

poised to fall on the paper tablecloth. 


i want to tell you about how many of

the stories i wrote with oranges end 

with piles of sweat covered beings 

incorporating each other but it would 

mean leaning close to your ear and

i would be tempted to use tongue to

lap the moisture up. when we split

the bill and leave you lean over and

whisper that you are as slick and

juicy as those slices, cut the way

i would at home, and that you want

to find a place just private enough 

to avoid public fines and colonial

justice systems obsessed with 

decency but give no mind at

all to the small acts that add up

to genocide, the trauma of which


we come against over and over

until we find ways to spit it out 

like an errant seed that brings the

potential for new growth in us. 


sour key

i tell you i am like a sour key, tangy on the outside

and sweet and gelatinous on the in. you tell me it

is your favourite thing to suck on and smirk when

i ask “candy…or?”. we’ve moved on to topics of

land back and sovereignty and i find myself just

staring at your lips as they say the brilliant things

and realize when we shift positions that i am wet,

very soaking wet. when we leave the cafe, you 

ask, “still thinking about that sour key?” and i

drop my eyes and turn crimson. “you are lucky

red is your colour” you say as you pull a sour

key out of your bag, and slowly unwrap it. “now

let’s see if we can find a place to make this stick.”

your tongue is slowly wiping the sugar off and

i tell you “i have a few ideas, but you may need

to tie me up and try a few before we see where

it holds the longest.” you nod, look deep into my

eyes and say “let’s see where the night takes us.”


sacretest of liquids

i’ll always be one to stain pots and sheets with the sacretest of 

liquids. cedar can leave rings if you leave it too long, and i’m

one to always remind myself and sweeties that it is just stuff

that is meant to be used, thanked and honoured. i am as 

sentimental as anyone, and still keep my kookum’s dishes in a 

rubbermaid in the basement to use on special occasions – 

her first real set of china that my auntie and nimama got her. 

to exist as an ndn is to know we will cause these marks and 

to keep going – for like the tricksters in our stories we tell in 

when snow is on the ground, life is about learning, making 

mistakes and figuring out how to correct them, those little 

rings and marks on sheets reminders of all we have learned, 

and the simple pleasures of finding medicines that help us 

survive in whatever forms we can – away from the ideologies 

that tried to tell us we were savage and heathen, when we

are still just trying to find those sacred moments of creation,

and both tea and sheets are meant to be shared with as 

many sweeties as medicine and space will allow us to find.

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Wednesday, March 8th, 2023—6:30 p.m.

Brockton Writers Series presents readings by:

Daniel Sarah Karasik

Seán Carson Kinsella

Anto Chan

Yolande House

Special note: As we adapt with current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted in-person at the Glad Day Bookshop, located at 499 Church St., Toronto. We will also live stream the event on the Brockton Writers Series YouTube channel! The event starts at 6:30 p.m.

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.




“Meditations on Heartbreak: A Writer’s Story” by Laura Pratt

Laura Pratt is a journalist, writer, and book editor whose second book, Heartbroken: Field Notes on a Constant Condition, was published in January 2023 by Penguin Random House Canada. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction. She lives in Toronto with her kids and dog.


Daniel Sarah Karasik (they/them) is the author of six books, most recently the poetry collection Plenitude (Book*hug Press). Their work has been recognized with the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Emerging Artist Award, the CBC Short Story Prize, and the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Award.

Seán Carson Kinsella (ê akimihtt nêhi(y/th)aw/otipemisiwak/Nakawé/Irish) is migizi dodem (Bald Eagle Clan) and Indigequeer/aayahkwêw/tastawiyiniw with ancestors and extended kin who were signatories of Treaties 4, 6 and 8. They are a sought keynote speaker, storyteller, and smutty poet and are have been featured in the Toronto Festival of Authors, the Naked Heart Festival, and are a regular reader at Glad Day’s Smut Peddlers reading series.

Anto Chan is a queer HK Chinese-Canadian spoken word performance artist, writer, facilitator, entrepreneur, producer, and caregiver. He performed his one-person show Love So Far at the Montréal Fringe Festival in 2019. He currently co-curates and hosts the variety show FreeFlow Showcase, and his poetry chapbook Romantic Reflections was released in 2020. He is passionate about mentoring the next generation of artists to overcome personal obstacles, leading to sharing their stories authentically. His life’s work is to create and support meaningful art that centres around the journey of growth, self-love, and healing intergenerational trauma. He recently started studying Expressive Art Therapy with Create Institute.

Yolande House is a bisexual, disabled writer whose essays have appeared in literary magazines such as The RumpusGrainJoyland, and The Fiddlehead. Her writing has made it to the finalist round at Creative Nonfiction three times, and her Entropy essay was selected as one of the magazine’s “Best of 2018.” She can be found online at, on Instagram (@healthruwriting), and on Twitter (@herstorian). She is currently working on a childhood memoir, as well as an essay collection about invisible disabilities.

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BWS 01.11.23 report: “I Have a Voice Here”: Writing as a Doorway to Community, Belonging, and Agency

Chris Kay Fraser is a writing coach and founder of Firefly Creative Writing, a small business in Toronto that helps people reconnect to the joy and power of writing. She has devoted her life to walking with others to strange, raw and delightful places words can reach.

“I Have a Voice Here”: Writing as a doorway to Community, Belonging and Agency

by Chris Kay Fraser

Let’s start here: three million years ago, our early ancestors learned to throw, and we started to learn how to be in community.

Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general of the US, explores this moment in his book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World ( Once we could throw, he explains, we could hunt, which worked much better in groups. When hunting worked, we had more food than we needed. Working together made more and more sense.

But here’s the tricky part… To make community work, we needed trust. And to build trust, we needed a way to show each other who we were. That’s where stories came in. When we told stories, we saw each other’s inner worlds, found out who was safe to leave our kids with, who we should follow through the woods, who we should avoid. Murthy states that “humans survived as a species not because we have physical advantages like size, strength or speed, but because we have the ability to connect as social groups.”

Can we pause here? This is incredible to me. Stories are how we learned to trust. And trust is what got us this far as a species. And here we are in 2023, in a moment of collective loneliness so wide and deep that Murthy compares it to an epidemic.

What happened?


It’s a beautiful spring day in grade four. We come in from lunch to see that our desks are rearranged.  This is curious, and a little exciting. We dash around, looking for our new seats.

I find mine; it’s with most of the other desks in a big C-shape around the outside of the room, facing in. The other desks, six or so, are in a little cluster in the middle.

Class gets started and everything seems normal, and then something heavy moves through me. I don’t remember if the teacher explains it, or if I just know, but the island in the centre is for the good kids. These were the kids who have the best grades, who are polite and well-dressed, who don’t speak up or speak out.

The rest of us are the moat. Our job is to watch.


It’s fourteen years later and I’m 23, confused by everything and drowning in the hyper-competitive world of university. I find myself at a five-day film-making program in an old logging camp on a small island off the coast of Vancouver.

The school (gone now) is called the Gulf Islands Film and Television School, or GIFTS. It presents us with an impossible task—to learn everything about writing, shooting, producing, and editing a film in five days, working with a group of strangers.

It’s not the technical challenge that get us though. The first night, we’re put in pairs to play a game called, “That’s a great idea.” We face our partner, and take turns spouting every idea we can possibly think of for a film.

“Stop motion animation about chipmunk lumberjacks!”

“A documentary about the secret life of shoes!”

“A horror movie that takes place in an M&M’s plant!”

The other person can only do one thing. They say, “That’s a great idea,” over and over and over until the timer goes off.

I am sitting across from my partner, feeling my imagination melting out of its stranglehold. His eyes are bright, his enthusiasm genuine. My ideas start coming faster, filling the forest air. By day three, we are making dollies out of sofas and roller skates and throwing cameras in the evergreen air, just to see the footage.

We all become artists that week, not because of the quality of our films (though we all love every single one of them), but because we are taught to believe in ourselves and each other, and we are shown how.

On my way home, I stand in the fierce wind on the ferry deck, trying to figure out how I can spend the rest of my life in this feeling.


It took me a long time to understand why that experience at the film camp changed me so drastically, but few weeks ago I was talking to Toronto-based writer and teacher, Kate Klein, ( and I got a clue. Kate is working on a book right now called Rebel Pedagogy about how spaces of adult learning and connection can be a way to heal and repair school wounds.

And that term, “school wounds,” went right to my softest insides.

It was the moat of desks in grade four, but it was also standing in line in gym class waiting to hear my classmate finally call my name. It was walking home with a report card in my backpack that felt like a ticking bomb, my worthiness in a naked, little column.

It wasn’t just school; it was all the systems that hold this culture of evaluation at their core: colonialism, capitalism, classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and so much more.

We are taught young that human hierarchy is natural and inevitable.

Which is the opposite of what we were figuring out three million years ago, when we started to come together.

And it’s the opposite of what stories are for.


Let’s talk about writing, then.

For most of us, our first experiences of making stories happens in school, right at the heart of that culture of evaluation.

Our first collections of words are given back to us marked up in red pen with a number at the top announcing their worth. We’re told how stories work—beginning, middle, end, show-don’t-tell, avoid adverbs. We become trained to follow structures outside of us, and tokens of external validation (thank you for that term, Hannah Gadsby) instead of following our inner cues—the wild call of our imaginations, the comfort of creation, the joy of the way words can build trust.

If we don’t explicitly work against it, these patterns and assumptions follow us into adult writing spaces, and they push us away from each other when we get there.


My job these days is to build community for writers. I spend my time running workshops and retreats, and overseeing a stupendous team. And every day, school wounds get in the way.

When we’re stuck in the culture of evaluation, we think our job is to rank. We sit safely in the quiet of our minds putting other writers down (“Don’t they know an essay should only have one argument and three supporting facts?”), or we lift them above us (“I’ll never write like that”).



Middle of the room/moat.

And all around, loneliness surges.


I know we can do better. I believe that it’s our job as a writing community to believe in our imaginations, and to spread that to one another, even when it’s hard.

So, I want to leave you with four wishes:

  1. Remember that stories are a meeting place. They are how we learned to trust, and if we let them, they’ll lead us back there.
  2. Know that comparing yourself to others is meaningless, and it will leave you alone. When you start to feel the tug of the culture of comparison, recognize it as woundedness and not truth. Remember something better is possible.
  3. Keep close to the joy of writing. Writing is an act of joy. Whatever that is for you—the exquisite “yes” of finding the right word to finish a poem, the feeling of handwriting racing across the page—hold on to it. It will carry you much further than external validation.
  4. Whatever you want to write next, hear me when I say: That’s a great idea. That’s a great idea. That’s a great idea.

Murthy writes, “our ancestors’ default setting was togetherness.” Under all the pain and layers, I believe that hasn’t changed.

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BWS 01.11.23: In Case You Missed It!

Click here to see the recorded live stream of our January 11th event featuring Suzan Palumbo, Kathy Friedman, Liz Howard, and Fran Skene, and guest speaker Chris Kay Fraser who spoke to us about belonging, community, and feedback in our writing.

This was our first event of the new year, and we are so thrilled to still be offering our events in a hybrid format! Please stay tuned for more updates about our next events.

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Brockton Writers Series 11.01.23: Kathy Friedman

Kathy Friedman is the author of the short-story collection All the Shining People (Anansi, 2022). She was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, and her writing has appeared in Grain, Geist, PRISM international, Canadian Notes & Queries, and the New Quarterly, as well as other publications. She is also the co-founder and artistic director of InkWell Workshops. She lives in Tkaronto.

Writing Towards Joy

I’m thrilled to be returning to the Brockton Writers Series. I came by last September as a guest speaker to share strategies and resources I use to maintain my writing practice while living with mental illness, (you can check out the recap here). I’m so excited to come back to read from my debut collection of short stories, All the Shining People. In this post, I wanted to connect the dots between my two appearances, since mental health has been a huge part of my life and my writing journey. It’s also one of the themes in my collection, which explores identity, connection, healing, and belonging among Toronto’s Jewish South African community.

In 2014, I was one of seven nervous women seated around a table at CAMH, pens in hand. This was day four of an intensive group therapy program, which had a creative writing component, and every time I took a smoke break on College Street I was terrified someone I knew might spot me.

At the time, I believed that writing, and the pressures of building a writing career, only worsened my chronic depression and anxiety, which had peaked while I was finishing my MFA and threw me into a full-blown mental health crisis. A couple of years later, still working on the same collection of short stories and trying to piece my life back together, I was sure I wouldn’t find writing for five minutes among strangers the least bit helpful.

For the first prompt—what did we like best about this time of year?—I wrote about walking to a bar through the long July twilight, bare-legged in a powder-blue summer dress. When our time was up, I was eager to read my paragraph aloud to the other women, and proud to hear them sigh when I finished, as though after a good meal. Not for the first time, writing and sharing what I’d written brought me real joy.

This incident led me to co-create InkWell Workshops, which runs free creative-writing workshops for people with mental health and addiction issues, led by professional writers with lived experience. In 2016, after partnering with a local drop-in centre, I taught my first workshop. It was a disaster: one participant loudly objected to the material I’d brought, and many of those who’d gathered out of curiosity slowly drifted away. But I persisted, and gradually, the project began to gel. Every Wednesday afternoon, the drop-in would overflow with writers from across the city, ranging in age from their early twenties to their eighties. As InkWell’s lead artist, I published their work in anthologies (see here and here), organized launches and public showcases, provided one-to-one mentorship, and arranged tours of local cultural institutions. Two weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, we shifted our programming online and continued to gather.

Some of our writers have called the workshops “lifesaving,” saying the group has given them a sense of belonging and purpose. They’ve found their confidence growing and their identities shifting. “I now feel like I’m a writer,” one told me recently.

The uncertainty of both the writing life and the publishing industry makes such assurances key: as the years passed, and my MFA peers were publishing their first and second books, I still couldn’t land an agent. “The writing is amazing,” one said via email about my manuscript. “But a story collection rather than a novel is going to prove difficult in the marketplace.” In response to the rejections, I kept revising. Meanwhile, through InkWell, I was building recognition and valuable connections in the literary community. I was also learning to stop hiding my mental health challenges, and to use my voice to advocate for the value of Mad people’s stories. Eventually, I grew confident enough to send my short story collection to publishers directly. To my terror and delight, All the Shining People quickly found a home with my dream press, House of Anansi.

Published last spring, my debut seems to have resonated with readers, a gratifying experience. But regardless of the response, my recovery journey has taught me that sustaining a literary life involves always returning to the simple pleasure of crafting and sharing stories. This task is made far more joyful when we pursue it with others. I may always have struggles, but these two goals—finding joy and community—have kept me writing, no matter what.

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Brockton Writers Series 11.01.23: Suzan Palumbo

Suzan Palumbo is a queer Trinidadian dark fantasy/horror writer, Nebula Award finalist and co-founder of the Ignyte Awards. Her debut short story collection Skin Thief: Stories will be published by Neon Hemlock in October 2023. Her novella, Countess, will be published by ECW Press in Spring 2024.

A Gothic Writer’s Tribute to Fog

I’ve loved the Gothic in all it’s literary and artistic forms my entire life. Give me damp castles, crumbling abbeys, ruined estates, dead space ships, becalmed boats, dilapidated strip malls, and abandoned apartment complexes housing dark secrets, in any region or even in outer space. I will be rapt. 

Unlike the tragic heroines fleeing dark mansions on the classic gothic Romance pulp covers we are familiar with, I run towards the Gothic. I seek out its aesthetics daily and use them as inspiration for my writing and art. A difficulty I’ve encountered in accessing the palpable, brooding mood I adore is that I live in a cookie cutter suburb. The Gothic, if it exists here, is fittingly hidden by sunshine, or perhaps more sinisterly, behind the closed doors of my neighbours’ homes. That is, unless a thick fog creeps into the community. Then, the Gothic arrives at my doorstep and seeps into my creative brain.

The fog was generous with me this past November. It enveloped our streets for several days, muffling sound and filtering light. Each morning while it remained, I ran out into its shroud to welcome it with my smartphone camera. Each day, the street where I live became otherworldly in a different way. Here are some of the transformations I captured:

(Suzan Palumbo, 2022)

The first day, the trees at the intersection were black silhouettes, backlit by a sickly sun. I half expected to encounter a horseman riding through the mist towards me, headless and determined. The light was so beautifully eerie, like the world was part of an old black and white movie. It was cool, noir-tinged, and glorious.  

(Suzan Palumbo, 2022)

The next day, the gazebo near the play structure had transformed into a spectral meeting place. The light was warmer. I sensed that if I walked the path of fallen leaves between the trees to the benches, I would encounter the ghost of a child waiting to whisper a secret to me. If you stare hard enough, you can almost picture someone sitting on the bench, waving at you, hoping you’ll come sit with them. 

(Suzan Palumbo, 2022)

On the third day, I ventured to the nearby catchment pond. There was no wind and the heavy fog had turned the water into a silver mirror which blurred the boundaries between the water and sky. I found myself staring at the monochromatic reflection of a dead tree near the edge of the pond. Angled the way it was, it was as if the tree was watching its doppelgänger reach its branches deep underwater, where they didn’t belong. 

(Suzan Palumbo, 2022)

The fog did not return on the fourth day. The weather pattern changed and there was sunshine and blue skies for a week. It reappeared however, at the end November, with ice and snow. I went out to the catchment pond again. The mood there had shifted. Ice added sparkle where before the grays and whites produced by the filtered light were flatter. This was glorious Gothic glamour. I imagined a fog queen wrapped in a charcoal cloak, walking along the icy edge of the pond, her face forever hidden by mist. 

The fog hasn’t returned since November. I look out for it every morning. It’s beautiful and fleeting. I never take its presence for granted. Its transformative qualities are an endless source of inspiration for me as writer. 

If you’re ever craving something Gothic, I encourage you, if it’s safe, to go out into the fog when it descends. Perhaps you will see the fog queen or envision a child whispering, or maybe you’ll be haunted by a vision that is uniquely your own.

If you’re interested in seeing how my love of gothic has worked its way into my published short stories, my short fiction collection Skin Thief, published by Neon Hemlock, will be out in fall 2023. I’ll have updates on my website, Suzan Palumbo: Horror, Dark Fantasy, Weird Writer (

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Brockton Writers Series 11.01.23: Fran Skene

Fran Skene is a retired librarian who has written in a variety of forms. Two one-act plays were produced in the 1990s and later she published a poetry chapbook. She is a co-author of the SF novel Windship: The Crazy Plague, available from Amazon. Most recently, some poems and stories were accepted by the online magazines Polar Starlight and Polar Borealis.

Journaling is one way I cope with all that’s going on in my life and the world. Here are two of many pieces that were written during a Callanish Society writing workshop. Callanish, a nonprofit society in B.C., supports people whose lives have been affected by cancer.

Late Dusk to Dawn

May 2020

It was late dusk, my one full day in hospital. I’d been sleeping. I heard a voice reminiscent of my daughter’s and opened my eyes. There she was, standing at the foot of the bed.

“Sweetie pie, how nice to see you!” I exclaimed.

Then I blinked; no one was there.

Of course not, since no visitors were allowed. After a moment of shock and a feeling of loss, I realized I’d dreamt her, between sleep and waking. “Oops,” I said, again out loud.

A nurse came into sight from behind a curtain. “Are you all right?” she asked. I explained what happened and she laughed and said something intended to assure me I’d not gone crazy. What I didn’t say to her was that I was all too ready to imagine someone I loved, there in person.

It was easy to feel okay in that hospital while medical staff came and went, some of them students in the nursing program at the nearby junior college. But early evening was slow. Hour after hour of light fading and no one there except for two roommates sleeping behind curtains. I could text people on my phone, or read more Covid news.

I’d not brought my laptop, so I begged paper for writing on, but I was so involved in a project that I couldn’t get into a new story or poem. The feeling of isolation increased. And I wondered why no one had come to clean the bathroom, or why staff were not in PPE, or why I’d been asked only the most cursory of questions during admission to this non-Covid wing the day before, which meant that’s all they’d asked my roommates as well.

But the vision of my daughter, and the assurances of the nurse, her friendliness, did help. The rest of the night was okay, and I made it through until morning.


Finding Hope 

It was early 1980. I was flying across the country, the last leg of a trip home from a visit to a friend in New York state. I was still mourning the end of a relationship.

I wrote a poem about that flight. Look down, it starts. Look down as you follow the afternoon sun to the west. Look at the amazing geography of the country you live in. And that did help. For a short while, I could look into the future without despair.

Looking at and smelling and hearing the world around me has always brought hope with it. I remember as a child seeing the Milky Way across the night sky in our small town, or more recently when the planet Mars was at its closest, so close that it reflected off the Fraser River near my home. A reflection of Mars! Not just the moon, or lights from airplanes coming to or from YVR.

I remember the sound of chopping wood in a section of forest by the river path. I got to the source, and saw a pair of pileated woodpeckers the size of ravens. And I remember an actual raven in a highway rest stop, a bird far bigger than I expected. Yes, it was scavenging, but to my eyes it was magnificent. My brother and I were returning from a trip to bury our mother’s ashes in Revelstoke Cemetery.

Poetry itself, the writing and reading of it, also gives me hope. Also journaling, or writing plays or fiction or creative nonfiction, or drawing and painting, or printmaking. And I love learning about the lives of famous artists, women especially. I envision myself in a studio doing what they do, perhaps getting inspiration from the forest or desert outside.

At the same time, sitting here at my desk, typing this, lifts my spirits.

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Brockton Writers Series 11.01.23: Liz Howard

Liz Howard is the author of Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent, which won the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize, and Letters in a Bruised Cosmos, which was shortlisted for the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize and the Trillium Poetry Prize. Born and raised on Treaty 9 territory in Northern Ontario, she currently lives in Toronto.

To learn more about Liz before her upcoming reading with BWS, please look at the Griffin Poetry Prize‘s page about her work.

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