My 50th Published Story

My 50th Published Story
Thank You Prairie Fire

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Morphing. A Short Story

The economy crashes in 2008 but James and Mira Lorcas, an Arizona couple, handle the situation in a very creative way.A winner in the 2015 Canadian Authors Association Ten Stories High contest.
By Joan M. Baril
In 2005, in the early hours, a July storm blew through Tucson, Arizona. The locals call such a storm a monsoon: heavy downpour, thunder and hail. When James Lorcas got to his usual spot outside the Home Depot, the parking lot was a sea an inch deep. As he stood with his buddies, all shivering in the chill, he saw the first blue reflected in the water.
            The wavering colour reminded him of Mira’s tearful eyes when he had snapped at her that morning, said her house idea was the craziest goddamn stupid thing he had ever heard. Then he put his arms around her and they swayed for a minute in the middle of the small kitchen. She was just scared. They’d heard shots in the night, somewhere close. Their neighbourhood was getting worse and she wanted out.
She turned to finish packing Sammy’s school lunch. “We got to take any chance,” she said. “We’ll lose Sammy. You, of all people, should know that.” Her voice hardened. “He’s wearing that red tee shirt all the time. You know it’s a gang colour. The Bloods. If you don’t do something about it, I will.”
James had swung out of the door and down the stairs to walk two miles in the dangerous dark to the Home Depot parking lot. He didn’t believe Mira would go ahead with the silly house idea on her own. And he had no worries about her leaving him. They’d been a strong couple for twenty years. They’d been in the same class in high school. She was a beautiful sight, a quick moving, laughing girl with dark,  coffee-coloured skin, big blue eyes and black hair. He followed her from class to class just to see her fast swaying walk, hear her laughter and her soft pattering voice as she talked with her girl friends. He loved her absolutely.
She was right about Sammy. The once cheery boy was slipping away from them, getting sullen and mouthy. James himself had got into gangs when he was much younger than Sam. He started when he was ten, a smart-ass street brat, getting paid small change as a runner and then, when he grew up, a low-level street-corner pusher. Crack was just coming in and, it seemed, overnight, gun battles all around. Every evening, when he was eighteen, he stood at the corner of Grant and Alverson, one jacket pocket full of cocaine packs and the other full of money. He might as well have had a target on his back. Mira, the same age as he but smarter, much smarter, gave him the word. Break free. Get out. Go to the army base in Sierra Vista. Join up. If he didn’t, she’d walk. He knew she was right. The army saved him.
Mira saved him.
They’d married when he was in the army. After he was released, Mira helped him set up his electrical business and, fifteen years later, she helped fold it up when it went bankrupt. She always cheered him on, told him it couldn’t be long before a good job would open for him, maybe in one of those big construction companies that were covering the Tucson hills with new houses. The Home Depot gig was temporary.

Welcome to the Mix and Mingle.

A summer Mix and Mingle this coming Thursday, July 28th from 7:30-9:30pm at the Study at Lakehead University. More information is below and check us out in the Chronicle Journal.

You’re invited to mingle with a great group of writers.

The Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop is holding a Mix & Mingle on Thursday, July 28 from 7:30 pm until approximately 9:30 pm at The Study in Lakehead University. Meet other NOWW members, have a drink and some food and relax for the evening! This is a 'no-host' event (you are responsible for your own bill).
This is also a chance to become a NOWW member (if you haven’t already).

The Study is near Lakehead’s Security Office in the University Centre building, room UC 2035. Parking is available at meters in the Agora Circle.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

My 50th Published Story

A Milestone for This Blogger

I made the decision a few years back. I would try to write short stories. I would give up writing magazine pieces (mainly for Herizon Magazine and a few others) and my newspaper columns. I would reread Alice and Margaret and William Trevor and Hemmingway and Chekhov. I would study  the stories in the New Yorker, Room, the Antigonish Review and other lit mags and ignore the feeling of inadequcy they produced (especially the stories of the divine Alice)  and try my hand.  I would join two writing groups and let them hash over my stuff. I would send stories to the NOWW Blue Pencil editing program and let an anonymous editor rehash them.

I would ignore stupid rejection comments such as this one: "We only take stories in the style of Hardy and Dickens." Well bless my bustle I thought as I pressed delete once again.

I think, fifteen years later, I am improving. Yesterday I received a copy of Prairie Fire containing the 50th published story plus some nice words from Fred Stinson. "This piece shows fine narrative gifts. While telling a wryly funny story, it is also an account of an aesthetic coming of age."

The creative non-fiction piece is called "The Art of Housebreaking," and is based on my childhood pastime of breaking into neighbouring houses, not to steal but to satisfy my love of interior decorating. I was a severe critic. However, a break-and-enter gal never knows what she might discover once she gets inside.

I am so incredibly pumped about breaking the 50 story mark. I think I can call myself a writer now. Thank you Prairie Fire. And thank you to Room for publishing the first story "The Lover," way back in 2007. Thanks to the Antigonish Review for nominating my story "The Yegg Boy," for the Journey Prize. Thanks to Earnest Hekkanen of the New Orphic Review for encouraging words. Thanks to all those who sent encouraging words, even if a rejection was enclosed and that includes a wonderful rejection letter from the New Yorker.

I am going to get a Prairie Fire tee made just to celebrate. Maybe have a give away. PS The Prairie Fire should be available soon at Chapters.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Interview with Thunder Bay's Jean E. Pendziwol

Thunder Bay Public Library's series "Off the Shelf" presents an interview with local writer Jean E Pendziwol. The interview is by Shauna.

Jean E. Pendziwol is the award-winning author of eight published children’s books.  Her debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, will be published in 2017 by HarperCollins; her latest children’s book, Me and You and the Red Canoe, will also be published in 2017 by Groundwood Books. You can find her online at

Shauna Kosoris: Your writing career began with the publication of the picture book No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons), which was published in 1999.  What inspired you to write this book?
Jean E. Pendziwol: My writing career actually began a few years before that. Prior to having kids, and continuing on a casual basis after they were born, I worked as a freelance writer, mostly for trade publications. I researched, wrote, photographed and did editorial coordination. Having young children re-exposed me to children’s books, and in particular, picture books. I love the format – the partnering of images and text, the challenge of working within a limited number of words, and, especially at that time, the ability to hold a story completely in my head before I even put pen to paper.  No Dragons for Tea was inspired by my daughter.  At that time, she was extremely afraid of fires, and more so, by fire alarms. I was concerned that she didn’t have the necessary tools to respond in an emergency situation and searched out resources. What I found were a number of books about fire safety that were all either didactic or frightening. With the help of our local fire prevention officer, Brian Berringer, I came up with the idea for the book. I was thrilled when Kids Can Press wanted to publish it! I was fortunate in that it was timely, relevant, accessible and engaging and it carried an important message.

I love that it spawned a whole series of engaging safety stories for children, too!  Right now you’ve published eight picture books, with another one tentatively scheduled for release next year.  What is the appeal of writing for children?
I love the challenge of writing picture books. There is a misconception that because the stories are short and for children that writing them is a simple task. It’s actually one of the hardest genres to get published in, which I fortunately didn’t know at the time I headed down that path. Several of my picture books are poems, and while written for children, have a universal appeal. Once Upon a Northern Night in particular has touched many people.  I love that my stories speak to people in an intimate way. And because I value and respect children, I want to create something for them that is valuable and respectful.

Friday, July 1, 2016

NOWW Magazine

Roy Blonstrum double winner: first prize in the Bill MacDonald Prize for Prose and second prize in creative non-fiction

Big congratulations to John Pringle, Content Editor, and Glen Ponka, Design Editor, for a top-of-the-line magazine. The magazine will soon be available on-line. Stay tuned to this blog for info about how to buy.

Along with a report by Sue Blott on Michael Christie's workshop from last May, we have the works of the first prize winners in the 2016 contest with the judges' comments on each work.

Siobhan Farrell's three prize winning poems are simply wonderful.  Judge Molly Peacock noted their "zesty. memorable images" and "onward rushing rhythm."

Tessa Soderberg double winner in the Novel Excerpt category - first and third place

Judge Terry Fallis called Home Service" by Tessa Soderberg, "powerful."

"One Man's Love", by Sue Blott, which took first prize in the creative non-fiction category was described by Judge Rilla Friesen as "a powerful retelling of painful family moments."

 Add in Joan M. Baril's  first prize story "The Sisterhood," described by Judge Carleigh Baker as a charming look at a time when the world of women held so many secrets.

Roy Blomstrom's essay, "Elna and Sven," took the Bill MacDonald Prize for Prose. Judge Charles Wilkins described it as "an essay  rich in its portrayal of family and neighbourhood life."

Sue Blott first prize in creative non-fiction

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Austin Clark 1934 - 2016

Austin Clark, author of "The Polished Hoe," dies at 81

Friday, June 24, 2016

Insights from Judging a Writing Contest by Annette Gendler

I just wrapped up serving as one of the judges in the Hemingway Shorts contest sponsored by the Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, and I thought I'd share some of the insights I came away with:

1   Don't start your story with a weather report unless the weather is the main topic. This is my number one pet peeve from having judged this contest! About 80% of the stories submitted began with a weather report, and about 95% of them had nothing to do with the weather. Beginning with the weather is not the way to distinguish your work from a pile of submissions. Weather reports are boring, so even if the weather is the topic, get on with it.

2   Have your protagonist appear in your first paragraph. Readers relate to people, not things. Ditto the weather issue. If I couldn't figure out who this story is about by the first paragraph, chances are I didn't read on.

3   Too many actors spoil the story. A short story is, after all, short! Too many characters diffuse the action and tension, plus your reader gets easily confused if there are a lot of names to follow. It's another way to lose the reader's attention, and a contest judge has to pay attention to a lot of stories. If yours makes this hard, it's not going to happen.

4   Mind your grammar, word choice, and spelling. Errors in any of these resulted in prompt rejection. By definition, a writing contest is looking for the best writing in a given genre, and the best writing does not contain errors. While spelling errors weren't prevalent, I was astounded by the number of entries that had obvious language issues, such as using "attendance" when "attending" should have been used. Have someone else read your work before you submit, as those are the kind of errors the writer will easily miss.

5   Keep to the word limit. Entries above the word limit were immediately deleted. While I didn't come across many of these, there were still some.

6   Submit early. Judges have to begin reading submissions before the deadline because of the sheer volume. A lot of submissions do come in right before the deadline, but a judge will also simply get tired from reading the flood and might have already settled, in his or her heart, on the top choices.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thunder Pride Literary Evening

Poet Jayal Chung read  "A Poem for my Imaginary Daughter"

The   Thunder Bay Art Gallery hosted this year's Thunder Pride Literary Evening of wonderful readings, and book signings to an appreciative audience. But beyond the conviviality was a shadow, the massacre in Orlando, which host Susan Goldberg addressed in her opening remarks:

"I'm not scared about tonight. Maybe I'm overly optimistic, or maybe I'm just in denial, but I feel that the art gallery, in this city, is and will be a safe space for us. What I am is sad, and pissed off.

"Sad for the murders of 49 people who could have been any of the people who will gather tonight. It could have been me and my friends, dancing till 2 AM At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, like we did. Sad like I get teary at random moments throughout the day trying to process this.

"And pissed off that we still can't gather 90+ happy, arts-oriented, peaceful people into a beautiful space without it being an act of risk, an act of defiance, an act of supreme hope and confidence. I'm pissed off that as an organizer, host, executive committee member, friend, parent, teacher and mentor that I am creating and promoting an event the sole purpose of which should be joy but that carries an undertone of risk. And that, implicitly and explicitly, my job is to ask you now to manage that risk with me.

"Showing up and reading poetry, memoir, prose: it's a brave, beautiful, radical and angry act. "

Sarah Brennan read her poem "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
So many highlights. A stunning reading by guest speaker, Hiromi Goto, from her memoir. She spoke about a room of her own, linking her life to that of Virginia Woolf, two lives very different. She spoke of the need for a life of the mind, that strange and somehow old fashioned phrase, but so necessary for women and writers. 
Hiromi Goto
Ma-nee Chacaby spoke of her life as a two spirited woman. She talked about violence and sexual abuse in her past and continual harassment in the present. And she made the audience laugh too. She stressed the need for women to write their own memoirs to pass on to the young generation. "Don't worry if you think you are not educated enough. Just tell your story to someone smarter than you and get her to write it down for you."

The Authors at Thunder Pride Literary Evening

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mark Munger Discusses His Two Finland Themed Novels.

Book Talk with Mark Munger
Waverley Resource Library Auditorium
Friday 24th June 2 - 4 pm

Wonderful reviews have followed Marc Munger's two Finnish themed novels, Suomalaiset: People of the Marsh, set in Duluth, Ontario and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the labour unrest of the early 1900's.

It's sequel, Sukulaiset: The Kindred, depicts the reverse migration of the Finns from the US and Canada during the 1920's and 1930's to Karelia as well as the turmoil experience in Finland during WWII and its aftermath,.

Both books are big, bold historical novels that have received international attention.

Munger, a NOWW member and author from Duluth, will read from and discuss these books at the Waverley Library in the Auditorium on Friday June 24, from 2 - 4 pm.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Prideful Night Ahead at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

Tuesday June 14, 2016 

7:00 PM

Thunder Bay Art Gallery 

Join us for an author reading by West Coast–based writer Hiromi Goto, author of the beloved Canadian classic A Chorus of Mushrooms — winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in the Caribbean and Canada region — and, more recently, the young adult novels Half World (winner of the 2010 Sunburst Award and the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award) and Darkest Light. 

As well hear from Thunder Bay based writiers Ma-Nee Chacaby and David Belrose, and find out the winner of the third annual Youth Literary Contest

Thursday, June 9, 2016

First Nations People and Librairies

Resolutions passed by the Liberal Party at their convention in May. This blog does not, as a rule, use political content but I felt this was an important step to make sure all Canadians have access to public libraries. Please read the resolutions and you will see how much is is needed. The local law school also has a book collection for First Nations communities. Please support these initiatives (no matter what your politics.) Every child should have access to a library.
At the Liberal Party of Canada Convention in Winnipeg, Manitoba in May 2016 the following resolution was adopted unanimously:
WHEREAS every Canadian deserves access to a local public library;
WHEREAS an estimated 85% of Canadian First Nations communities do not have a local public library;
WHEREAS most Canadians know that a strong public library provides an opportunity to improve ongoing learning skills, literacy skills and social skills;
WHEREAS most First Nations are dependent on Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada for program funding, and 
WHEREAS Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has zero programs to support public libraries;
BE IT RESOLVED that the Liberal Party of Canada supports the establishment of public library services in Aboriginal communities.
The NRC understands that the federal government is not bound by party policy. But we believe this is a great sign of broad-based support for the cause of strengthening public libraries for First Nations, Metis and Inuit people in Canada.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Taka a Country Drive to the Book Exchange at South Gillies

Here's a great idea. Bring books, take books at the monthly South Gillies Book Exchange at the South Gillies Community Centre at the intersection  of Highway 595 and 609.  More at 11 am to 5 pm. Here are the dates.
Book Swap

Spring and Summer Schedule

June 18
July 16
August 20.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Three Reasons I miss the Northern Women's Bookstore

1. Neither Ma-nee Chacaby's memoir A Two-Spirit Journey nor Amy Jones' novel We're All in this Together are available at Chapters. Northern Woman's owner Margaret Philips gave priority to local writers and made sure she had them in stock in timely fashion.

2. At the NOWW award night Chapters provided the book table. Almost before the evening was over, they packed up and left. Few people got to buy books and even worse, the guest of honour, Michael Christie was not able to get many books sold. When Margaret had a book table, and she had them at every literary event, she stayed until everyone had a chance to browse and buy.

3. Drury Lane Books in the tiny town of Grand Marais hosts two or three literary events per month, including full moon readings and writers' salons. Chapters in Thunder Bay hosts how many? Zero. Margaret hosted many many and I have such great memories of hearing and meeting many local writers as well as local music plus eating delicious food.

Outside the Lines plays at The Northern Women's Bookshop. Margaret Phillips in blue.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Helen Cimone aka Book Bag Lady Presents Two New Books

Hello Joan
We have 2 new Book Club in a Bag titles to tell you about:
And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier, donated by the Food For Thought Book ClubA CBC Canada Reads 2015 Selection!
Finalist for the 2013 Governor General's Literary Award for French-to-English Translation

Tom and Charlie have decided to live out the remainder of their lives on their own terms, hidden away in a remote forest, their only connection to the outside world a couple of pot growers who deliver whatever they can’t eke out for themselves.

But one summer two women arrive. One is a young photographer documenting a a series of catastrophic forest fires that swept Northern Ontario early in the century; she’s on the trail of the recently deceased Ted Boychuck, a survivor of the blaze. And then the elderly aunt of the one of the pot growers appears, fleeing one of the psychiatric institutions that have been her home since she was sixteen. She joins the men in the woods and begins a new life as Marie-Desneige. With the photographer’s help, they find Ted’s series of paintings about the fire, and begin to decipher the dead man’s history.

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis donated by the Chick Lits Book Club
" I wonder", said Hermes, "what it would be like if animals had human intelligence."
" I'll wager a year's servitude, answered Apollo, that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence."

And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto vet­erinary clinic. 

Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old 'dog' ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings.

Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.

A big thank you to the clubs who donated these 2 great titles. If you are interested in booking either of these new Book Bags for you group, please call or email me.
Public Services Assistant

Mary J.L. Black Library
901 Edward Street South, Thunder Bay, On P7E 6R2


Andre Alexis