10 Sites for Writers

10 Sites for Writers

Websites for writers can be a treasure trove of inspiration and resources. For this month’s 10 on the 10th, we’ve compiled, in no particular order, a list of ten helpful places for you to visit. These are websites that, as writers, we’ve found useful and upon occasion fun. Happy surfing!

#1 Writers’ Digest has been around for decades, first as a magazine and now also hosting a massive site that’s loaded with articles on just about any topic a writer might want to explore. Sign up for their newsletter — it’s full of advice and ideas. https://www.writersdigest.com/

#2 Literistic. Imagine receiving a monthly list of contests and magazines with upcoming deadlines for submissions. Literistic caters to people who write poetry, fiction and nonfiction in Canada, the United States and Britain. There’s a free shortlist or you can choose the $8.50/month list that is curated with only the markets and topics that you select. https://www.literistic.com/

#3 One Stop for Writers is a great site with a range of tools for writers. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (co-authors of six best-selling resource books including The Emotion Thesaurus) joined forces with Lee Powell (creator of Scrivener) to build what they term a “library” for writers. You can register for free and if you like what you see, sign up for a monthly paid subscription. https://onestopforwriters.com

#4 49th Shelf is a website focusing on the books of Canadian writers (but a great discovery for writers outside our borders). Why are we featuring a website about books? Let us quote an American writer here: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” from Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers. Yup. We agree. https://49thshelf.com/

#5  Word A Day. Five days a week, 52 weeks of the year, receive the gift of a daily word. Not only do you get a word, you get its pronunciation, meaning(s), and the history of that word. Each week is thematic. Last week’s theme: weird plurals. Who knew more than one charisma are charismata? Or on the theme of words that don’t mean what you think they do, bloodnoun — it has nothing to do with the stuff in your veins; instead, it’s another word for bullfrog. Words, words, words! https://wordsmith.org

#6  GrammarlyThe more you write (and read) the stronger your own store of grammar and spelling know-how should develop. However. There are times when having a quick resource to check for clear writing and correct grammar is appreciated. Like 3 a.m. when the deadline is looming and you need to feel confident. You’re welcome. https://www.grammarly.com/

#7  WorldCat Need an out-of-print book? Researching for a historical novel? Get connected to world-wide library catalogue system. A 3-minute YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vos5ivBeZ5c  gives you a walk-through on how to use WorldCat. Search by subject, title or author. Create your own lists of resources and add or delete items as it suits you. Locate books in a multitude of languages. Read and/or post reviews. A gigantic library at your fingertips. Meow!  https://www.worldcat.org/

#8  Poets & Writers Like Writers’ Digest, this is a wide-ranging website for writers, but it’s a non-profit organization. And we like seeing “Poets” listed first and foremost. Yes, there’s lots here of a general note for writers but P&W gives attention to those of us who work with fewer words on the page. The Bard would approve.  https://www.pw.org/

#9  The Writers’ Union of Canada  This website offers writers some free resources, such as lists of Canadian writing-related associations, literary agents in Canada, award programs for self-published authors,  and many more links. In addition, the union’s resource books for writers are low-cost and high-value: for example, negotiating your own contract, or estate and legacy planning for writers.  https://www.writersunion.ca

#10  Freerice This fun online word game is perfect for writers who want to challenge their brain while helping out a good cause, The Word Food Programme of the United Nations. The ad-supported site generates words with multiple possible meanings. You contribute 10 grains of rice for every correct answer. Increase your speed to raise the stakes and shift out of your comfort zone. Playtime for writers in English, French, Spanish, Italian or Korean! http://freerice.com/#/english-vocabulary/6116

By no means is this a complete list of useful or interesting writerly websites.

What sites have you discovered that other writers will find helpful? Suggest them in the comments section.

Postcard Story Winners!

Postcard Story Winners!

Thank you once again to all who entered our contest from Canada and abroad, and to our longlist finalists announced last week.

Today we take great pleasure in announcing and congratulating the top three winners:

Drum roll please……

  • 1st Place: Helen Bajorek-MacDonald – Woman with Cigarette
  • 2nd Place: Lori Twining – Smoke Job
  • 3rd Place: Ann Rocchi – Quarantine Dreams

Beginning today with our 3rd-Place winner, we will share these stories with you over the next three weeks and tell you why we chose them.

Before you read Ann Rocchi’s story Quarantine Dreams, here again is the contest image that served as inspiration.




Quarantine Dreams

by Ann Rocchi

Like a bad penny, her smoking returned. It was something to do! Something to fill the empty hours. Adrienne was usually a busy person – too busy, her friends said. This enforced isolation was not going well for her. She was lethargic, unmotivated…she felt like she had a piano tied to her ass.
So. Cigarettes. Social media was advising everyone to reach out to connections from the past. She always felt connected when she was smoking. Connected to the cool kids, the ones who wore buffalo plaid shirts over their school uniforms and reigned over the rearmost bench of the bus. Connected to the hip crowd in college, lighting up after one-off sex with whoever you had brought home from the pub. Connected to her ex-husband; even when they could no longer hold a civil conversation, they could sit in silent communion with their smokes.
She still smoked when she drank. And her drinking had skyrocketed lately, too.  Kool-Aid coloured cocktails with paper parasols in fishbowl-sized glasses. Why, oh why, had she gone through with the whole fortieth birthday trip? Of course, everything was booked and paid for long before a whisper of “pandemic”. But they deserved it, right, she and her posse of single moms? They had worked hard all winter, shoveled their own driveways, carpooled till the cows came home and now it was time to park the kids with the grandparents and party. It felt so good to lie in the sun, a lovely buzz going from that fourth fruity drink, without some sticky little hand grabbing at her.
There had been one sticky hand that trip, though, and not so little, either… Brendon? Brandan? One of those boy band names. He was tanned, taut and tattooed. They were partners for the Traditional Firewalking Event at the resort. He had talked her into it, had even done it already as a team building exercise back home with his work, Millennials R Us, or some other bullshit company she couldn’t remember. She was sauced, and when their leader exclaimed how empowered and spiritually connected she would feel afterwards, she ditched her shoes, grabbed the young hipster’s hand, and casually strolled across a fiery path of burning coals. She had ridden him like a goddess that night.
Adrienne leaned over, chugged her beer, then tapped her cigarette butt in a houseplant to dislodge the ash. She took a quick peek through the curtains at her kids playing in the yard, then nestled back into the curvature of the couch. She inhaled deeply, held, exhaled.  She felt like a lazy, good-for-nothing underachiever. This was her last smoke, she vowed. She would get up and make a healthy dinner for everyone. Baby steps. Just a quick rest first.
Resolved, Adrienne finally relaxed. Her head bobbed, her cigarette drooped. Her vision blurred, hazy and ash gray, like the smoke of the firewalk. Adrienne slid into a deep sleep, not even the whiff of charred fabric interrupting her descent.

Strengths:

  • voice — believable narrator, unreliable and sad – always in character of bargaining, denial, trying to fit in, lacking self-confidence etc.
  • the ending — oh we fear for her, for the smoking fabric, the fact she’s been drinking, the kids in the yard — it’s all about to go up in smoke.
  • especially enjoyed that the element of surprise at the end is built logically through the story but is still unexpected. The girls trip and that one night with Brendan/Brandan feels real from risking the firewalking to risking a random one-night stand.
  • setting the story during Covid19 lends a topical and contemporary feel. We all understand how depression and so many other feelings seem to be heightened in these times. Makes this scenario all the more believable.
  • good subtle foreshadowing throughout starting with the first line. We know things will not go well: Her smoking returned like a bad penny. This was her last smoke… ash grey, like the smoke of the firewalk.
  • style — mix of sentence lengths for effect, repetition and sets of 3 for effect, building on ideas such as “connected” from school to adulthood: Connected to her ex-husband; even when they could no longer hold a civil conversation, they could sit in silent communion with their smokes. (Especially effective as this narrator is clearly not connected emotionally to much — a worsening drunk making deals with herself to manage everyday life.)
  • some fresh and effective figurative language: like she had a piano tied to her ass; her posse of single moms; nestled into the curvature of the couch.
  • As she begins her final decent into lethargy, the language becomes slower and more lethargic too. No vivid descriptions. Short simple sentences. And one moment of heightened tension (peek at the kids in the back yard) to make the reader want to reach into the story and shake her out of her stupor.

What might strengthen this piece:

  • While this character is certainly increasingly passive and reflective as she slips deeper into her drink and eventual sleep, we suggest fewer instances of passive verb construction: lots of “to be” verbs, especially at the beginning, keep readers distanced from the rising tension. Look for “was/is/are” and replace with more active verbs or reorder the sentence to avoid it as much as possible: This enforced isolation was not going well for her. She was lethargic, unmotivated. Other possibilities: Enforced isolation left her lethargic, unmotivated. Or Lethargy and lack of motivation had gripped her during this enforced isolation.
  • Timeline glitch: 40th birthday trip took place “long before a whisper of pandemic”, but she went after “they had worked hard all winter.” The pandemic started at end of 2019. It reached us around end of Jan and into Feb. Lockdown began in March.

Quarantine Dreams was a pleasure to read. Congratulations Ann on crafting such a great story.

Next week we publish the second-place winner along with our comments and suggestions. In the meantime, if you would like to enjoy reading or learning more about flash fiction or postcard stories, check out these links.

Press Send Already!

Press Send Already!

Guest Post – Donna Judy Curtin

Now that things in Canada seem to be settling back into a form of normal, perhaps it’s time we gave more focus to getting published.

This week we welcome Writescape alumnus, Donna Judy Curtin as she confesses her submitting oops! and shares what she learned from it. You can find other writing-related blogs by Donna at Ascribe Writers blog.

It seems some days, I never learn from my mistakes.

I come from a long line of bad spellers. My mother has a t-shirt that reads: “Bad spellers of the world, UNTIE!” As much as it is funny, it is true. I come by it honestly.

Combine that with my vivid imagination and propensity to tell stories and you have a unique situation. If I don’t have the word in a moment, in life, in my writing—then I just make it up. I figure I can always insert the proper word later.

You would think, from the number of examples I can remember of my utterly dismal performance, that I would improve and learn how to re-read my work before submitting.

However, recent events would suggest otherwise.

I sent in an application for Pitch Wars, a competition run by an incredibly positive writing community, where if you are lucky enough to be chosen, a “Mentor” will provide feedback on your unpublished novel, and then you, the “Mentee”, can pitch your novel in an exclusive Pitch Wars Twitter party.

Well, on the last day for submissions, I proudly pressed ‘SEND’ on my application and then a day later, I got a confirmation email, only to discover, with horror, I had addressed the query letter to ‘Dear Mentee’ instead of ‘Dear Mentor’.

 I may as well have just written: “Go ahead; press delete now; this dummy doesn’t even know who’s helping who!”

 BUT… at least I sent it.

Yes, I submitted something.

And here is what I learned in the process:

  1. Learn from your common mistakes. We all tend to repeat our own tragic stories. Keep a list of your common misdemeanors so that when you are editing that next novel, you can return to that list and clean up those repeating words or run on sentences. Decide what you will do differently the next time and hold yourself accountable
  2. Search out amazing critique partners (CP). Not only do you need to work on your craft, you need CPs who will be your fresh eyes and be honest with you. A fresh perspective can shine light on that plot flaw or incorrectly used word and if they are good CPs, they will tell you when you are ready—or when you are not—to submit.
  3. Fear of making a mistake is a double-edged sword. You need to keep this in balance. This fear pushes me to edit and then edit again. To read and re-read my work. I think we have all heard a published author groan about the mistake they found the moment they opened their shiny new book. But they have a book! Had they never put themselves out there—there would be no book. Don’t let your fear prevent you from ever pressing SEND.
  4. Sleep on it. Although you may think you are ready. Stop. Don’t press that button yet. Take a break. Walk away from it and come back with fresh eyes. It is amazing what you miss, or skip, or spell incorrectly. Let it stew for a bit and come back to it.
  5. Forge ahead. You must press SEND eventually. Do it!

I know my writing will never be perfect. However, I will keep trying to improve. Cross your fingers for me, as I wait on that query and hope that at least one of my Pitch Wars “Mentee’s” has a good sense of humour.

 Donna Judy Curtin

Donna Curtin practices veterinary medicine in Bruce County, Ontario, close to her poultry and cash crop farm where she lives with her husband and two children. As a compliment to her veterinary career, she aspires to become a published novelist. In Dr. Curtin’s writing, animals play important characters just as often as people.

15 Minutes No Excuses

15 Minutes No Excuses

Sadly we had to postpone our Spring Thaw Retreat to the fall, but this week we are able to virtually welcome Seana Moorhead , a Writescape retreat alumus. Seana is a fine writer, a lawyer and a blogger at Ascribe Writers. She tells us her story of the old adage: “Write every day”.

Guest Post – Seana Moorhead

When I got home from Spring Thaw, Writescape’s writing retreat at Rice Lake, I committed to writing every day.

I had approximately sixty scenes to edit in my latest project. So I calculated that if I edited one scene every day, estimating to take about one hour each, I would need sixty days or two months.

Since the writing retreat was in late April, this meant that I should be finished by the end of June.

Easy, right?

Plan A in action

To meet my goal, I needed to find about one hour each day to write. At first, I tried to do this in the evening which was a complete fail. I do not have enough brain power and energy to write after a long day of work. Besides, I’m a morning writer. So at the end of May, I decided to add one hour in the morning to accomplish my goal.

I started getting up earlier. This was made easier by the longer days and I tend to get up earlier in the summer months anyway. Still, little to no writing was done. Almost half way through June and I had managed to do only one scene. A dismal failure. Instead I only managed to get to work earlier. Not exactly the result I was aiming for!

The re-think

Although I enjoy writing and wish constantly that I could find more time to write, I still can’t seem to get into a habit of writing every day. I began thinking about how to start a good habit.

For example, every morning before work I take my dogs for a walk. I do not allow myself any excuses. I started this discipline about eight years ago. It does not matter how cold it is outside, if it is raining, if I slept in, or if I feel too tired. When I do feel like skipping the walk, I tell myself, just fifteen minutes. No walk is not an option. So on those very cold winter mornings, it may only be fifteen minutes before the dogs and I run back to the warmth of the house. But on a beautiful spring morning, we take closer to an hour, roaming through the fields and woods. In the eight years of this discipline, the dogs and I complete our walk about 98 % of the time. I realized I needed to approach my writing practice in the same way.

Plan B

 Instead of trying to find an entire hour, I only needed to commit to fifteen minutes. I decided to try that for one week. 15 minutes. Every morning. No excuses.

In preparation, I created a play list that was 15 minutes in length. I also decided my 15 minutes would be after all my other morning routines – ie. Walking the dogs, breakfast, etc, since experience had taught me that I needed to get my regular morning routine done before I could write.

On Monday, I woke up early as per my new routine and walked the dogs. Then the distractions began. I had to take the recycling and compost out, and then the compost bin really needed a good rinse. The bird feeders needed to be filled. It’s amazing how many mundane chores can get done when I don’t want to focus my brain. By the time I did all of those things, I had twenty minutes until I had to leave for work. The excuses started:

  1. What’s the point of fifteen minutes? How much writing can I really get done in fifteen minutes? It’s probably not worth it.
  2. It’s Monday – maybe I should give myself a break and start on Tuesday.
  3. I could make it up tonight. Tonight I will do half an hour to make up for the morning.

I almost didn’t do it. But I started with turning on my laptop and ordered myself to sit down and write for the fifteen minutes. I sat. I wrote. Twenty-two minutes later, I raced to work so as not to be late. I had finished one scene. Yahoo!

The next day was a bit easier as I was prepared for my brain to make the usual excuses. Luckily, number one excuse (how practical is 15 minutes) was already proven wrong. I sailed through the next two days, writing every morning.

Then Thursday hit and my brain thought that maybe we had done so well for three days that maybe we could skip this one? I remembered my dog walking routine. No excuses.

So I squeezed in my fifteen minutes. And then on Friday, I woke up early and actually wrote for an entire hour before work.

Results

After one week of this discipline, I had completed editing ten scenes – more than I had done in the last two months. I found myself turning on my computer in the evening to write for another fifteen minutes and that often turned into half an hour to fifty minutes. I was excited about my novel again and was eager to keep working on it.

Writing takes creativity but it also takes discipline and commitment. But be realistic on goals. I didn’t finish my scene edits by the end of June, but keeping with my new habit, it will be done by the end of the summer. What writing goal do you have to complete this summer?

Seana Moorhead

Seana Moorhead is an aspiring author working on completing her first fantasy novel. She moved to Grey County in 2002, having a passion for outdoor adventures, including kayaking and wilderness camping. Suffering from a book addiction, she will read almost anything that will grab her attention, lead her into another world or teach her something new. Seana lives on a bush lot near Owen Sound, Ontario with her partner and three dogs.

Snippets of Intrigue at Mudtown Station

Snippets of Intrigue at Mudtown Station

These days more than ever, we need our “writing tribe”. This week Writescape welcomes guest blogger Lori Twining. She blogs with other writing friends at AscribeWriters.com and adds laughter and inspiration whenever she joins us on Writescape retreats. As we wait patiently for the days when we can once again get together with writing friends, we listen in on a gathering of Lori’s writing tribe when they met at Mudtown Station last summer.

Guest Blog – Lori Twining

I’m out tonight with my writing friends. You know them. People who hardly ever escape from their houses. Mostly introverts. But get my Ascribe Writers group to Mudtown Station in Owen Sound on the back patio (reserved for the noisy folks), drinking special beer, eating amazing cauliflower steak covered in almonds and raisins and special sauce, and these people want to tell stories. Their stories.

Storytellers know all the best stories are built around conflict and questions to be answered. Right from the start.

So we play a game:

Assume you only have two minutes to tell your story. Two minutes is generous, because everyone at the table has a story they are dying to tell too, and they want to cut in and interrupt your exciting tale. It’s a competitive world out there, so how do you compete?

You start out with a killer line full of intrigue or conflict. A line that grabs their attention so they want to hear more. They become quiet. They listen.

If you are eavesdropping on these loud and happy writers this Thursday night, you hear first lines of stories that are intriguing. They make you want to pull up a chair and join them:

“Well, the first time I tried Cocaine, it wasn’t good, I mean it was goooood, but…”

“We put in-floor heating in our butcher room.”

“It’s not easy for a woman to ride a crotch rocket at the age of 52.”

 “I made this new friend in Colombia, and I didn’t know he was a drug lord at the time, but he invited us in…”

“An active night of passionate sex is great for sleeping like the dead.”

 “My wife has a conversation with a guy named Rocky every single morning.”

 “My wife removed my island without asking me first!”

 “I might commit murder before I retire.”

“I hate wearing pants.”

 We writers feed off of each other. Our first lines with snippets of intrigue become stories full of conflict—suspenseful or creepy or funny enough to have us laughing until we cry. And keeping to the two minutes forces us to get to heart of the story right away and stay there.

Gather post-COVID

They say introverts are not that fun at parties. We say it’s all in the company you keep. For me, it’s these weird and wonderful people who write and create art in some way gathered here on Thursday night at Mudtown Station. Writing buddies getting together to share our knowledge, experiences and stories with each other.

Writing groups are great, if you keep in mind why you are hanging out with them. If they help you stay positive during your bouts of doubts, if they support you and don’t throw negative toxic comments out about you or your writing, then they are keepers.

These people I hang out with have crazy obsessions, strange thoughts and fantastic storytelling abilities, but they match my own and that makes me smile. Laughter is contagious and sooooo comforting. I think I’m where I want to be… surrounded by conflict and intrigue—and amazing writer friends.

Lori Twining writes both fiction and nonfiction, with her stories winning awards in literary competition and appearing in several anthologies. She’s an active member of many writing groups: International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters In Crime International, Toronto Sisters In Crime, Romance Writers of America, Toronto Romance Writers and Ascribe Writers. She’s a lover of books, sports and bird watching, and a hater of slithering reptiles and beady-eyed rodents.

Find more info at www.lvtwriter.com; Twitter: @Lori_Twining

Words For Comfort

Words For Comfort

Ruth E. Walker

On Friday evening April 24, like so many others, I watched the televised vigil for the terrible tragedy in Nova Scotia. Music, prayers and tributes were shared to honour the memories of the 22 people killed in a senseless rampage.

Senseless.

That word goes both ways. We are numbed by the loss and we can never understand the motivation. There’s no making sense of it. And no amount of evocative music or heartfelt prayers will remove how powerless we feel.

Words are just words even with the best of intention.

And then Sheree Fitch read a poem. The words came to her after she heard the news of the mass shooting. The poem arrived unbidden, landing on the page in the morning as if already written, ready to give voice to the unspeakable. Some of us writers know what that is like, when a scene or story comes to us and we are lost in the writing, almost on auto-pilot, possessed.

In these days of social distancing, how can anyone find comfort without a hug or handhold or hot cup of tea in a friend’s china cup? Yet I felt comforted by her reading. Her poem spoke of the child in all of us that when the inexplicable happens, we fall back into that child-place, where the world is strange and frightening and we need a voice that tells us our feelings are okay to have.

Sheree kindly gave Writescape permission to share her poem here. It’s a wonderful example of how words can find a way through the dark.

I hope Sheree’s poem brings the same comfort to any one of you, who, like me, is still trying to process how horrors could happen to ordinary people, living ordinary lives, just like ours.

April 20, 2020

Because We Love, We Cry

Sometimes there is no sense to things my child
Sometimes there is no answer to the questions why
Sometimes things beyond all understanding
Sometimes, people die.

When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared, suffering, confused
Even if we are not together
Together, let us cry

Remember there is so much love
Because we love, we cry.

Sometimes the sadness takes away your breath
Sometimes the pain seems endless, deep
Sometimes you cannot find the sun
Sometimes you wish you were asleep.

When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared, suffering, confused
Even if we are not together,
Together, let us cry

Remember there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.

Pray that I had answers, child
Pray this wasn’t so
There are impossible things, child
I cannot bear for you to know.

When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared, suffering, confused
Even if we are not together
Together, let us cry

Yes, there is still so SO So much love
Because we love, we cry.

Sheree Fitch by Keith Minchin

Sheree Fitch is the award-winning author of over two dozen books for children and adults, as well as a storyteller, poet and book shoppe owner. She lives with her husband, Gilles, and many critters on Happy Doodle Do Hobby farm in River John, Nova Scotia where they run a seasonal book shoppe, Mabel Murple’s Books Shoppe and Dreamery.

The Unexpected Visitor

The Unexpected Visitor

Gwynn Scheltema

Saturday, April 18 was the third Saturday of the month and the usual day for the breakfast meeting of my Northumberland County writers’ group “Spirit of the Hills”. Each month we meet in person at a local inn to check in on what everyone is doing and listen to a guest speaker. We usually go around the table and everyone has a minute or so to talk about what they are working on, share writing news and events and anything else writing related that might be of interest to the members. After that we have a guest speaker or a discussion. The whole thing lasts about two hours.

This month we tried on a new format—we met on ZOOM.

And I have to give a big shout out to our organizers, Kim, Felicity and Katie who made some interesting choices on the flow and content of the meeting so that it was long enough, but not too long, easily participated in without being a free-for-all and most of all for sending us away with inspiration to keep on writing.

The Guest House

Because April is poetry month, they chose that as a theme for the meeting.

Kim started us off with a reading of Rumi’s poem, “The Guest House”. This was such a good choice, not only because Rumi is much loved by so many, but because this particular poem, even though written in the 13th century, was able to speak to what we are experiencing as creators right now. For many of us, the muse is not showing up as she usually does. This poem reminded us to welcome whatever she brings.

Check-in

In our regular meetings, we would then have proceeded with our round-the-table check-in with everyone. Instead, earlier in the week, Felicity emailed those planning to attend asking them to email their usual personal “minute update” to her by the Wednesday before the meeting. She then compiled the responses into a document and emailed it to the group prior to the meeting.

I found this a great idea, because I find ZOOM meetings require more concentration than meeting in person, and so the meeting wasn’t as long as our usual in-person meeting and I have a copy of what’s going on among my friends and colleagues to read at my leisure.

Rumi’s poem in action

Next, Kim called on each of us in turn to read something we had worked on recently (max 4 minutes). We were all prepared, as the Zoom invitation had told us what the plan was.

It was interesting to see Rumi’s poem in action—the muse welcomed no matter what she brought. Several members read pieces in response to the pandemic (prose and poetry); others read pieces as far removed from the pandemic as possible. Some, it was clear, had managed to soldier on with existing projects despite it all.

In their introductions, readers commented on how these strange times had affected them creatively, and again, like the guests at the Guest House, some had found unexpected visits of creativity.

Keep the visitors inspired

Finally, Katie closed the meeting with some comments and resources to check out to keep the visitors to the Guest House inspired. I have shared some of them below for your inspiration too.

Brava Ladies! A job well done.

A poem a day (or week)

  • Poetry Present: If you haven’t signed up to receive or be a part of this delightful project from Cobourg’s own phenomenal poet laureate, Jessica Outram, now’s the time! Residents and friends of Cobourg and the surrounding area are encouraged to send in their own poetry, to be distributed to a growing number of subscribers, one poem a week from a different poet.
  • Poetry Foundation
  • Academy of American Poets’ Poets.org
  • Poetry 180 Project for schools of then-poet laureate of the U.S., Billy Collins:

Other Resources

We’re in this together

We’re in this together

We love our local—and indeed all—independent bookstores, and we wondered how they were faring under the impact of COVID-19. We wanted to shine a light on how they were being innovative during these strange times and how you, our readers, could help them to keep the cash flow…flowing.

Shelley Macbeth

Jennifer Bogart

So, we spoke (virtually) to two of our favourite booksellers, Jennifer Bogart of Let’s Talk Books in Cobourg and Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge:

1.Can you describe an average day prior to COVID and an average day now.

Shelley:  There is no average day! Part of being an indie bookseller is your ability to be nimble and roll with whatever challenge is set in front of you.  Our days now involve working twice as hard as ever before for half the sales. And then at the end of an exhausting day jumping in your car to deliver all the books. With a jaunty cap and a smile.

Jennifer: Days used to involve customers browsing, and perhaps picking up a book or two. At lunch, a “rush” of downtown workers on break and an afternoon of receiving inventory, calling customers about their orders, and of course, helping customers with their book, gift or card selections in person.

Let’s Talk Books Storefront
at 25 King Street, Cobourg

Now that we’ve turned to delivery only, days start with filling orders—online, by email, or phone messages and a flurry of returning emails and phone calls, making sure to give each customer the time and care we would have given in store, and sometimes more. New inventory is still arriving and afternoons are spent making deliveries all over Northumberland County, and sometimes even a bit beyond. We’re busy because every sale takes three times longer than it did before. But the store is quiet, missing the light conversation of customers, the chit-chat about the books, and that personal connection we all crave.

2. What have you done to adapt?

Jennifer: Our biggest adaptation was opening our website for online orders and payments. It’s been a learning curve, but has helped tremendously with workflow.

Shelley: We’ve turned to e-commerce. The store acts as a fulfilment centre, from which Emily and I valiantly sally forth each day with deliveries hither and yon. 

Parker and Scarlet ready to help you at Let’s Talk Books

Both Jennifer and Shelley have turned more to social media. Jennifer posts what’s in the store and Shelley has done video chats roaming the store, showing books to customers and created in-store videos to show people the store offerings. She’s also created an “order on-line tutorial” for those not familiar with the website.

Shelley normally has regular author visits, so to adapt did a Facebook live storytime with one of the cancelled children’s authors. Shelley says, “We’ll have more of this upcoming — once we straighten out the AV part.  That’s the other thing— we’ve had to learn LOTS of new skills!”

Jennifer has switched in-store book clubs meetings virtual. “Our book clubs have all moved to video conferencing, which in itself was a challenge, but I think we have it figured out now. “

“We’re in this together”

Jennifer tells us she has been connecting with other independent bookstores to share resources, and direct customers to neighbouring towns for inventory she doesn’t have in stock.

Shelley has partnered with the neighbouring natural product/tea/coffee store to send out custom “Bridge Boxes” (short for Uxbridge) Boxes choc-a-block full of toys, games, puzzles and healthy treats.

Shelley has also created a “Trust Us” delivery for gifts. You give them the parameters and the $$ value (e.g. man, likes scifi/fantasy, woodworking and alternative rock – $60 budget) and they send an amazing box full of delights.

Shelley has several teachers who have agreed to help with video lessons using the store’s Canadian Curriculum notebooks.

Jennifer sums it up beautifully: “We’re not in competition with each other; we strive to support each other by sharing online events, videos, and encouraging each other in our endeavours. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see, as we come together to work as a community of booksellers.”

 3. To what extent has this affected your bottom line?

Shelley: The first few days we were holding our own as people rushed to buy things before everything shut down. Now there’s still a steady stream of orders but nowhere near a typical day at this time of year. But we will suffer mostly because we are a big event store and we have lost all the revenue from the season’s events. We have only one full-time employee — Emily — and she is definitely not laid off. The part-timers are all very understanding. For now. The landlord directed me to the government assistance site.

It’s been much the same for Jennifer: Because retail stores are not essential services, even though many consider books to be essential, I had to make some tough decisions. Sales are down because there is no foot traffic. Normally, I sell a lot of greeting cards—close to 30% of my business is cards and gifts, and these are items I select and purchase in advance, which means I’m out of pocket for items that don’t sell, unlike books that can be returned to the publisher.

To reduce costs, I laid off my part-time employees, but they know they will have jobs to come back to when we can reopen to foot traffic. I miss their input and their contributions. They are such an integral part of Let’s Talk Books, and I look forward to them returning to work as soon as it’s viable.

At this time, I don’t qualify for any of the small business loans set up by the banks and government, so I am doing what I can to continue selling inventory so that Cobourg and the surrounding area will continue to have the services of an independent bookstore.

4. What can readers do to help you and all independent bookstores through this?

Jennifer: Shopping local is key to the survival of any small town or independent business that doesn’t have access to the resources that big box stores do and can’t afford to offer huge discounts.

What we offer that they can’t, is a sense of community and belonging, giving each customer a unique shopping experience with care and concern. You’ll find more than books on our virtual shelves; you’ll find individuals who genuinely care about the members of their communities, who try to support their towns, and are working really hard to keep their businesses going in these strange times. Also – it’s safer to shop from home and have us deliver to your door.

Shelley: If you are ordering a book, game or puzzle, check us first.  We are quicker than Amazon (they have de-prioritized books); we are cleaner than Amazon — a two-person production rather than thousands of employees and—we wear a jaunty cap.

Meet our Booksellers

Blue Heron Books; Shelley Macbeth

62 Brock Street West, Uxbridge

Established in 1989, Blue Heron Books is more than a bookstore. It has twice been awarded Bookseller of the Year Canada and is the hub for all things cultural in the quaint town of Uxbridge and for its many satellite communities. The store services over 100 area schools and an astounding 27 book clubs. Known for its top-notch event series offered spring and fall, as well as the Book Drunkard Literary Festival annually at the end of October, and the numerous classes and programs for adults and children alike, Blue Heron Books offers something for everyone.

Website: www.blueheronbooks.com
Phone: 905-852-4282

Let’s Talk Books; Jennifer Bogart

25 King Street East, Cobourg

Founded in 2016, Let’s Talk Books is Cobourg’s only independent bookstore. In addition to new release books, you can find magazines, greeting cards, puzzles, and a selection of gifts. Special orders are always welcome if the book you are looking for isn’t in stock. The store offers four incredible book clubs, the details of which can be found on the website, and hosts authors, guest speakers, and workshops throughout the year. The store shopdogs, Parker and Scarlet, are usually on hand to greet customers, but you’re better off asking staff for help, as the dogs have limited tastes in reading material.

10 Great Responses to COVID-19

10 Great Responses to COVID-19

Today we focus on how organizations, businesses, authors and artists have stepped up and adapted to respond to the pandemic. We’ve picked 10 but please share other resources you’ve come across in the comments section. Remember to be safe and keep well in the weeks and months to come.

1.  Virtual Book Clubs

Now that we can’t meet in person, Zoom is the new virtual meeting space. It’s free, and all kinds of businesses are turning to Zoom and adapting it to the needs of their customers and clients. Gwynn’s local innovative independent book store, Let’s Talk Books has switched their book club meetings virtual via Zoom.

You can link via cell phone, tablet or laptop and talk face-to-face, meet the author, and stay safe and healthy. NOTE: In response to online trolls and bored fools, Zoom is upgrading their security by April 15.

2.  Virtual Writing in Community

Inkslingers is in its 15th year of providing workshops and guided writing practice programs and travel experiences. Helmed by Sue Reynolds and James Dewar, certified Amherst Writers & Artists workshop leaders, they’ve offered regular Sanctuary Sundays for communal writing at their country home. But they can no longer invite writers to come and immerse in their inspiring landscape so they’ve gone online, offering the same supportive space virtually.

3.  Virtual Critique groups

Not just businesses have turned to Zoom. Gwynn and Ruth’s critique group now meets every two weeks via Zoom. Critical ms is a serious group of serious writers, many of whom write professionally. Pre-pandemic, the group met every two weeks alternating between Whitby and Peterborough for in-person deep critiques of one or two members’ submissions. Now the writers keep to that schedule but see each other’s smiling faces online. Yes. Smiling. Critical ms is a serious group but everyone enjoys a good laugh. And these days, we all need that.

4.  Online Courses

Online courses are nothing new. What is new, is that many providers have recognized that with so many people forced to isolate and with added time on their hands, learning something new is a positive way to cope. To that end they have offered their courses for free or reduced prices for the next few months. A couple you may like to check out as a start are  Coursera and #Stayhome@News18

5.  Online Writing Prompts

Most of us know daily writing prompts are easily found in places like Writers Digestonline. Poets & Writers online is another option. P&W offers a mix of inspirations 3 times a week — poetry, non-fiction and fiction each week gets a prompt. Of course, our current pandemic flavours the prompts, but they are subtle about it. From an excerpt of Samuel Pepys plague-time diary to exploring the small details found places in the world using Google’s Street View, the prompts give writers a multitude of ways to stretch their pens during these distracting days.

Whether you start a new piece, add a scene or chapter to a work in progress or just play with words in a different way, it’s exercise for the brain and a welcome tickle for your muse.

6.   Face-time Learning from Artists

Artists of all kinds are sharing their talents via the internet right now to help teach and entertain people around the world. Best-selling illustrator and graphic journalist Wendy Macnaughton hosts a weekly a live class “for kids of all ages, parents of kids, parents of parents, aunties/uncles, friends and pets.” Canadian band the Arkells host “Flatten The Curve Music Class” sharing the chords and lyrics for their music.

7.  Virtual Tour of Museums and Art Galleries

The Guardian newspaper has a list of the “top ten museums and galleries to visit in the world.” There are different ways to virtually tour art galleries and museums but we were intrigued by the British Museum’s virtual Google timeline that users scroll along, choosing time and place in the world to explore the museum’s collection.

Canadian War Museum

In the Canadian War Museum, you can experience trench warfare through an interactive video presentation Over the Top. Narrated voice over leads you to several “choose your own adventure” moments.

Washington’s National Gallery of Art is offering 10 Digital Education Resources that are family friendly. And their online collection highlights is an amazing opportunity for close up views of masterpieces of paintings, sculptures and photographs over the ages.

8.  Copyright Accessing

The Association of Canadian Publishers and Access Copyright announced temporary permissions for online storytime to help educators and librarians connect with students through a program called the Read Aloud Canadian Books Program. Under this program licence fees related to the reading of all or part of select books from participating publishers and posting of the video recording online have been waived.

Publishers who have signed up so far include: Annick Press, ARP Books, Orca Book Publishers, Owlkids Books, Portage and Main Press, Running the Goat, Books and Broadsides, Groundwood Books, and Linda Leith Publishing.

9.  Public Story Time

Educators and Librarians are not the only people who bring stories to kids online. For more than 20 years LeVar Burton has been the star of the show “Reading Rainbow.” During this difficult time for families at home, he decided to do a live-streamed version of #LeVarBurtonReads, but as you see in this twitter exchange, he ran into a problem. One of my favourite children’s authors stepped in immediately with a very generous offer. 

10.  Financial Support for Writers and Artists

Finally, we end on something we know is important to all of us who live by our words.  Our financial position has always depended on our ability to work. For many writers, freelance opportunities have vanished. Publishing houses are looking at their already uncertain bottom lines and must be rethinking their coming seasons. Fortunately, there are extraordinary financial supports for businesses and individuals coming from the Government of Canada — the Canada Emergency Response Benefit for example.

For writers, there’s even more help.  The Writers’ Trust of Canada, The Writers’ Union of Canada and RBC launched the Canadian Writers’ Emergency Relief Fund to support writers and visual artists who are suffering substantial income losses during this time. Applications closed on April 9. On April 8, Access Copyright announced a $100,000 donation to ensure the important financial support offered by the Canadian Writers’ Emergency Relief Fund can continue. The second round of applications open April 10 and close April 20.

The Fund provides grants of $1,500 to those who meet the eligibility criteria. Details are on the Writers’ Trust website. And if you’re in the fortunate position to help out a writer in need, details on donating to the fund are here.

A new take on an old genre?

A new take on an old genre?

Gwynn Scheltema

So much dystopian literature is big on a military or quasi-military response from authorities to a global pandemic. Sheep-like broken people follow orders because of fear of the authorities and are hostile to anyone showing signs of infection.

But here we are in a global pandemic crisis and I’m learning that things can be very different and that there are many facets to consider. I don’t see people locking their doors and guarding their “territory” with a gun. I see instead so many kind and generous actions. I see cooperation and compassion. And I’m wondering if a new dystopian genre will (or should) reflect some of what I’m seeing.

The pace of change

If I had to name one thing about the COVID-19 crisis that really boggled my mind, it was the rapid pace of change. I remember doing the math around projected rates of spread at the beginning of March and rechecking my figures because I couldn’t believe the answers I was getting. What I knew yesterday is different today and who knows what tomorrow will bring– that’s a huge source of tension. Any story that mined and recreated that tension would keep me on the edge of my seat.

The hidden human consequences

I don’t see muscled men riding in jeeps brandishing sub-machine guns, or fenced off confinement areas full of people dressed in grey ragged clothes. I see very little of every-man-for-himself attitude (except around TP!!) But the virus aside, there are a host of dangers to be considered–just more subtle hidden consequences:

  • leaders who won’t heed the advice of experts
  • a lack of resources for frontline workers
  • the effects of isolation.

Yes, isolation is vital to stop the spread of the virus, but what dangers can bubble up:

  • women or children with abusers in the home
  • caregivers who get no respite
  • addicts with no access to their poison
  • street people forced inside
  • people living alone not having human contact for prolonged periods
  • mounting stress levels…

Currency

In this new take on the genre, will military, money and politics talk as loudly as before? Or will human interaction, village co-operative strength and simple needs become the top currency? Already dystopian literature often features barter rather than money as water and food resources become currency. In this revisionist genre will digital communications, farming and medical skills, and even art also play a part?

New sets of characters

In the cast of characters, I hope dystopian writers will give due weight to the “unseen” workers. I’m seeing grocery cashiers, fast-food servers, truckers, delivery people, the “unseen” hospital workers and so on, all being as vital to survival as first responders and lawmakers.

The change in attitudes

My observation has been that many people during the COVID-19 distancing have had very little trouble ditching the malls and stadiums and old “must haves”. Some of us quickly realized that we like the extra time with family, no commuting, less waste, less smog, and simpler expectations.

Shifts in values

I saw a post on Facebook that said “In the rush to return to normal, give great thought to what you want that normal to be.”

For dystopian writers— and indeed for all of us—will we find that more companies will allow work from home? Will retail shift from physical stores to online? Will we continue to take walks in the woods, be grateful for fresh produce, take better care of our planet? Will we take more time to connect with family and friends and be more grateful for what we have?