Close Encounters

Close Encounters

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Literary Letter from Little Moma a.k.a Debbie Metzler

Little Moma 

Hello Joan,
As you already know Book Girl’s Big Read left the LU Radio building this spring.

 I am still sincerely committed to offering radio space to our local writers and I have a new opportunity for authors to chat on air. Little Moma’s Kitchen Party has been airing on Wednesday mornings (9:00 to noon) on LU Radio for over 3 years now and recently the station has asked me to increase my broadcasting by featuring a Monday afternoon edition of Little Moma’s Kitchen Party

Starting on August 11, 2014 I began hosting the afternoon edition of Little Moma’s After Party as well as continuing my Wednesday morning show. Each sow is a separate live broadcast. I no longer broadcast on Tuesday mornings.
I will be interviewing authors, musicians, artists of all genres, art reps, administrators & funders each Monday at approx. 4:30 pm. My Monday afternoon edition of Little Moma’s After Party begins at 2:30 pm and runs until 6:00 pm. I feature an eclectic line-up of folk, blues, light jazz, country, roots, Celtic and swing music. The last hour (5:00 to 6:00) Little Moma’s Got the Blues will feature exclusively blues music. The interviews will be shorter than the Book Girl interviews, running from 15 to 30 minutes in total.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Karl Wendt

books are pleasant things
you can read them if you want to

come grey dawn
so perfect and predictable
so give my tired wanderings
the peacefulness of rest


we fold our hands
and close our faces
but underneath....
just think of summer sands


the sound of your
burns like incense
in my mind

i sat among the pines
in the park
and listened to someone
play music in the dark

a simple time
with apple wine
and daisies
spread upon a lap


A round lake pink in evening's blush
sauna wood smoke hanging in trees:
hazy blue gauze weaving through the boreal forest
Loons calling across the lake.
Waves licking up the sandy shore
Five fuzzy ducks swimming in a row
behind mama.

You and I on the deck
and two mugs of hot tea.

More than enough.


Dancing Roadsides

waltzing daisies, jiving buttercups
tangoing yellow hawkweed
as their orange cousins
beat the drums of summer

Aspen leaves
Lessons from granddaughterJane

I've seen them flutter
I've seen them tremble
But now I hear them
gently clapping


Suddenly, there you were
in the middle of our well-trodden
muddy yard, blossoming
like a miniature queen;
four yellow petals
atop unobtrusive leaves
on a slender stalk.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer is a-going on

Annie Proulx

Patio or camp, Kobo or print, summer reading goes on. I remember a canoe trip where Robert Service was read aloud and the old chestnuts came alive in the firelight. “Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew…” and we listened as if we were kids again, hearing it for the first time.

Long drives require audio books. I am off on the 500k to Winnipeg and have two choices, The Brothers Karamazov or Saints and Sinners by Edna O’Brien.  Without hesitation, I pick Edna, first because Dostoevsky should be saved for a Canadian winter trip through endless snow and second because short stories are great for travel. They give you a dose of fiction between stops for food, scenery, chat or that mid-afternoon silence when you hunch over the wheel, thinking you might never get there.

Edna writes about the human heart, about love and loss and longing and all those emotions that crowd our days. Her language is simple and direct as an arrow. “You have to be lonely to be a writer,” she says and “My interior life is where I live… That’s because I am a writer.”  She often writes in the first person which gives her stories incredible power. You can drive forever across the prairies with Edna O’Brien.

This summer I decided to reread some old favourites. I unearthed an old copy of Huckleberry Finn but alas, unlike Robert Service, Huckleberry did not come alive for me. As most everyone knows, it is written from the point of view of Huck, the garrulous ragamuffin whose down-home, ah-shucks dialect twanged off the page.  I hate to admit it but I was tired of Huck’s voice by page 2. 

So instead I gathered up some of the books of short stories that I will never throw out and read a few from each at random. I started with Alice Munro’s deceptively simple story “Amundson,” from Dear Life. I reread “Cheating at Canasta” by William Trevor and “In the Ravine” by Chekov. But the story that stayed with me, even after all the above-mentioned masterpieces, was Annie Proulx’s, “Family Man,” from her second collection of Wyoming stories titled Fine Just the Way It Is.

In this story, Roy Forkenbrock, an aging former cowboy, now a resident in a seniors’ home, decides to tell his daughter the darkest, most shameful, family secret before he dies. She brings her tape recorder in order to collect his memoirs and with some trepidation he tells her about the life of his beloved father.  But the difference in values between the generations collide and she misses the point completely. The great shame of the past turns to platitudes in the present. The final pages of this story almost stand still, so fraught are they with meaning and missed connections.

The summer will end in novels: The Age of Hope by David Bergan, A Large Harmonium by Sue Sorenson and My New American Life by Francine Prose. The latest Evonovich and…..?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Storytelling Workshop - free! With Brad Woods.

 (photo taken at the Yukon International Literary Festival)

Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop will be offering a free workshop about storytelling. The facilitator will be Brad Woods who is a storyteller based in Guelph. 

He has told stories at festivals, theatres, prisons, churches and pubs all over North America and the UK and has performed for every age group and in every type of venue imaginable. 

Recently he has been conducting successful workshops at literary events (e.g., Eden Mills Writers Fest, North Words Literary Fest, Reading For The Love Of It) using storytelling as a close cousin of storywriting.

The date will be Sunday, August 24, 7:00-9:00 p.m. at Mary J.L. Black Library, 901 Edward Street, S.

No need to register.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Lovers Aid Grandmothers for Africa

Fiction outside and non fiction inside at the Unitarian Church on South Algoma.

Book lovers browsed and filled shopping bags with bargains. Hardcovers sold for a dollar, paper backs for less. A great selection was offered both outside and in.  All monies went to Grandmothers for Africa. Across Algoma Street music drifted over from Italiafest, just gearing up for the day. A fun time.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Dew is Gleaming on the Grass

Monk's Hood

In the early August morning the garden is very quiet. I hear only the honking sound of a nuthatch in the Manitoba Maples next door. The usual morning sing-a-thon has ended for this year. The birds have finished nesting and no longer sing to signify the boundaries of their feeding territories. (If only we humans could resolve our boundary disputes with a morning song!).

It may surprise some readers to learn that the migrating birds are now preparing to leave. Once the fledglings are out of the nest and independent, the time arrives to feed up and head south. Most of our migrating birds head down the Mississippi, and many carry on to South America. We now know that migrants move from one "island" of habitat to the next. In a world of urban sprawl, they are seeking brushy areas with water. I hope my garden provides what they need. Last spring, a few warblers, including a red start, stopped by for a rest and a drink. Many migrating birds are not looking for feeder food. Warblers, for instance, eat insects. The redstart worked the perennial garden for a day, eating bugs, and then it flew off. There were not enough insects in my small patch to entice it to nest.

Some of the migrants hang about to molt. This does not take long. An American goldfinch turns from hot yellow to delicate greenish yellow in ten days. The new feathers push the old feathers out. Gold finches are seed eaters who demolish the weed seeds in a garden.

With the abundant mosquito and fly population this summer, it has been a good year for birds, signifying reproductive success. The warblers come north for the bugs and we gave them a good feed up this summer.

I like to do my weeding in the early mornings. During the warm afternoons, the earth resists the trowel but in the dew-soaked earth, the weeds are easier to dig. The trowel attacks the dandelions and other deep rooted plants, but I also have another efficient weeding tool. I do not know its proper name but it is a simple thing, a loop of metal on a handle. It scrapes a layer of soil pulling out the plantain, the chickweed and other shallow rooted interlopers.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Greenwich Village Town House Explosion. "FDNY respond to Weathermen explosion. Firemen contain blaze caused and fed by gas lines broken in the explosion."  March 6, 1970.

Subterranean Homesick Blues
(a work of fiction based on real events)
by Joan M Baril
A light step on the wooden sidewalk outside wakes JJ from the old nightmare. In it, he’s twenty-three years old, sitting with the entire family on the long couch in the rec room and watching TV.  Ed Sullivan disappears from the screen and, a heartbeat later, a picture of his New York townhouse appears.
Walter Cronkite’s words streak through his brain like a line of fire.
At first the authorities believed the explosion was caused by a gas leak but now it appears dynamite was involved, perhaps some sort of bomb.
His father, ever the news reporter, leans forward. “Oh, my God,” he says.
His little brother Bob, five years old, kicks at JJ and yells, “Hey! Put back Ed Sullivan. I want Ed Sullivan!” 
His grandmother half turns. “Don’t you live close to there, JJ dear?”
No Grandma, I do not live close to there. I live in there. My friends live there. That is my house; my dynamite. He does not say these words out loud.

But now, twenty-seven years later, JJ, in his basement room in his house in Vancouver, feels the dream shredding as he tunes into the sounds outside, the foot steps on the long wooden walkway from the street.  He lies in his lounge chair, swaddled in sheep skins, a ridiculous fifty-year-old mummy, the blessed morphine pump near his shoulder, his lap top on the swivel tray, his cell phone beside it within reach, or whatever is left of his reach.
He’s never played a radio in his basement room, never a TV. The wooden sidewalk outside tells him all he needs to know.
Steps move lightly around the house. One person. He releases a breath. The pigs come in pairs. The ambulance dudes trundle a gurney, but there’d be at least four of them after what happened last week. They’d be bringing in the reinforcements.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Here Come Da Judge

Trying to Judge Short Fiction
By Joan M. Baril

The Antigonish Review asked me to be a judge of short fiction for the Sheldon Currie Prize.  After a while, a large package arrived. 

Great story after story. How can I possibly judge which is the “best?” Unlike the tales from other story judges that I have read on line, none of these stories show the faults so often mentioned there: no horrible grammar, terrible spelling, crossed out words or porn or manuscripts written in pencil.  The exception was one piece full of run on sentences and I reluctantly put it aside.

Being a judge of a story contest requires that you ask yourself the fundamental questions. What makes a good story? What are its basic elements? You think about the usual stuff: plot, theme, character, writing style and voice. You ask, why was this story written? What is the point of it? Is there really a point here or am I missing it? Should I read it again but I really do not want to.  Why is that? This one, on the other hand, I will read again. Why is that?  None of the above questions have good answers.

A friend advises. Read again the one that stays with you, that has lodged itself in your brain and pops up there in the morning. Good advice. Great stories latch on like leaches. Who can forget Chekov’s children playing cards or The Lady with the Little Dog? Or Munro’s Albanian Virgin? You think of Kathleen Mansfield and Denis Johnson and Pushkin and Mavis Gallant. Or The Dead, the greatest story written.  These stories have nothing in common. Yet they float.  They float.

All the stories sent from the Antagonish Review were good. Every one. But some stood out because they were odd, quirky and yet seemed plausible, part of the quirky world as we know it.  Our bonfire of inanities. You say to yourself, yes, this is what could happen, this is what it feels like to be an ordinary person in ancient Rome and know the barbarians will be arriving any moment.  This story about a party in Ireland examines the strangeness of life, examines it closely and in detail, does not flinch or look away but lifts the knife to the patient, etherized upon a table.

Maybe I am asking the wrong question. What makes a perfectly good story sink?  In many cases it is a fact left out, a disconnect. If a gun is in the purse, we have to know why. And if it sits there in the first paragraph it has to be used before the last.  Otherwise we feel cheated.  We were counting on that gun. If Tommy ties his dog to a tree before he confronts the bullies, he has to untie the dog later. He can’t leave it there. A bit of our heart has settled on the dog and we don’t forget him. We want to yell at Tommy as he runs home victorious, “The dog, stupid. You forgot about the dog.”  If Mary believes the house is haunted we have to know something about Mary’s character, what makes her jump to ghosts and not mice or scratchy branches or the neighbour’s bagpipes.  We think, “what a dim bulb is this Mary, who thinks there are ghosts whenever she hears a strange noise.”  A good writer would make us believe in Mary and her ghost-a- phobia. A good writer would make us believe in three handed flying forks with faces.

We, the reader, must not be distracted, not for an instant but alas, our fickle minds are made for distraction and we live in a shotgun society pelleted with distraction. So the author must fight distraction at every turn. Also a good editor is helpful.

At last I have settled on three stories, the so-called “best.”  The others, products of hard work and talent, visible evidence of the internal  creative struggle, go into the shredder, a horrible fate for good writing. I feel like Tony Soprano.

The best will get fed-exed away.  I will miss them.  Maybe I will read them one more time before they disappear into the envelope.

I do not know who wrote any of the stories. But thank you anonymous and talented writers. Thank you all.

Monday, July 14, 2014

5 lessons I've learned from Canada's great writers by Douglas Gibson

Douglas Gibson (with Joan Baril)

As Canada's most celebrated editor and publisher, Douglas Gibson has helped shape the country's literature for over four decades. And boy, does he have the stories to prove it. We were fortunate enough to sit down with him recently to glean some of the wisdom that just a few of his many colourful literary friendships have brought him.

From Alice Munro: Always tip the waitress

The question I’m usually asked about Alice Munro is 'What is she really like?' And I answer that by saying, 'You know what Alice Munro is really like.' She's the author of Who Do You Think You Are?— she's straightforward, modest, no fooling around, no fancy stuff. Ordinary nice person. And it's very unusual to find artistic genius, which is precisely the word for Alice Munro, genius. Other writers don't know how she does what she does, but that artistic genius to be allied with this genuine ordinary niceness, it's just extraordinary. 

"I’ll give you an example of the niceness with the following story. An American tourist was in Alice Munro country, in the little town of Blyth. He was at a chicken supper which was to raise funds for the Blyth summer theatre festival. And like all little theatre festivals, it runs on volunteer time, and chicken suppers, and raising funds. He had enjoyed his chicken supper and he said to the waitress, a grey-haired woman: 'Now I understand that there is a very famous woman novelist who lives nearby, could that possibly be her over there?' And framed in the window was a very dramatic looking woman with great coils of auburn hair, and she looked wonderful and very very impressive. So the harassed waitress clearing off the dirty dishes looks in that direction and says: 'I'm not sure,' she leans closer to the picture, then, 'Yes... maybe, that might be her...' And then, Alice Munro, the waitress, clears the dirty dishes away, takes him back to the hot kitchen where the other volunteers are hard at work. That's Alice. A part of the community, literally getting her hands dirty in a good cause, but also with that wicked sense of humour."

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Meditation on Peonies

Very pale pink peonies. Photo taken in my garden July 2013 

A Meditation on Peonies 
by Joan M. Baril

The peonies own July in the North and they make the most of it.  They start strong and never let up.  In the early spring, they arrive as a clump of fat red shoots, unmistakable and not to be trifled with.  If they are stepped on, they do not sulk and go bloomless for the season like the picky lily shoots. Instead, bent or broken, they revive.
            Peonies need cages early and big cages too.  Only young peonies are happy with regular size tomato cages. The cage that is composed of a single metal ring and a few legs to hold it up is, in general, a laughable and useless item except for the youngest plants.
            Mature peonies need a big peony cage but, alas, no cage yet made will contain a mature plant in my garden.  So, I make do with the fat cages and set them upside down with the prongs pointing upwards.  The very large and tall tomato cages do for the taller, thinner plants.  The greenery soon fills and overflows these constraints.  Occasionally, in the course of the summer, the cages start to lift on one side because of uneven ground or because these muscular plants push them around. The best anchor is a sandbag made of a green or dark plastic bag the size of a grocery bag and filled with sand and tied with a twist.  This sort of bag sits heavily on the ground wire and holds the lower wire of the cage in place better than a brick or even a stone.  A peony can lift a cage held down by a stone or brick but not a sand bag or two.
            At this pre-bloom stage, peonies will not fall down or be blown over by storms; nevertheless, it is always easier to put the cages on in late May than wait until the plant fills out.  By June, the gardener must keep her eye out for the first flower buds and have the tie wire ready.  The peony throws up a long stem for its flowers. In my garden this stem can be four feet tall or more.