WordWorks 2023 Vol 2

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2023 Volume 2


1st place prizes for each category CATEGORIES

Poetry ~ Flash Fiction

Creative Non-fiction

Short Fiction


contest now open
bcwriters.ca/contests2023 Enter
by September 15, 2023

Cover: Enjoyable for kids and grown-ups alike, this word game is also a fun way to illustrate this issue’s theme, Learn, Play, and Grow. Our editor Cadence pulled some common words from the following pages for the puzzle. There’s also a second set of the words Learn, Play, and Grow, along with those circled, for a total of 25 words. To sweeten the challenge, we’re not telling you what those words are (sorry-not-sorry). Good luck! —Diana Skrepnyk

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Letter from the editor 3 Letter from the programming coordinator 3 Permission to play 4 Storyboard your way to great writing 6 Unleash your writing potential with ChatGPT 9 Midlife musings of a mature student 10 Research: An enjoyable challenge 12 Critique: Powerful medicine if you can stand it 13 The beauty of informal education 14 Playing with prompts, constraints, and competitions 16 Four questions with the 2022 FBCW literary contest winners 18 How to enjoy conversation more: Stop talking 21 Member milestones 23 Launched! 24 The last word — with the Darling Axe 28

WordWorks is published by


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WordWorks is provided four times per year to FBCW members and to selected markets. It is available on our website at bcwriters.ca and in libraries and schools across BC and Yukon.

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Greg Blanchette, Katherine Wagner, Suzanne Venuta, Wiley Wei-Chiun Ho, Craig Copland, Finnian Burnett, Genevieve Wynand


Bryan Mortensen, Executive Director

Cadence Mandybura, WordWorks Managing Editor

Diana Skrepnyk, Design Director

Meaghan Hackinen, Programming & Events Coordinator

Rachel Muller, Community Engagement Associate

Emma Turner, Executive Assistant

FBCW AMBASSADOR: Christina Myers


Cadence Mandybura, Managing Editor

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WRITE FOR WORDWORKS: Visit our submissions page at bcwriters.ca/submit.

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The Federation of British Columbia Writers functions on the unceded and ancestral territories of many Indigenous Peoples and cultures. As champions of language, we cherish the oral and written traditions of the Indigenous Peoples of this land. We commit to uplift the voices and stories of marginalized peoples and communities wherever we work.

We celebrate submissions from underrepresented communities and are actively seeking contributions from writers of all races, genders, sexualities, abilities, neurodiversities, religions, socioeconomic statuses, or immigration statuses. We encourage submissions from both published and emerging writers. We believe our strength as a community is in the breadth of our stories.

The FBCW gratefully acknowledges the support of the Province of BC, the BC Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of Canada, and the Magazine Association of BC.

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Letter from the editor Letter from the programming coordinator

Putting together a WordWorks issue on the theme of Learn, Play, and Grow was a delight. While growth can be painful and learning is sometimes daunting, our writers don’t linger on the challenges; rather, this issue is packed with optimism, helpful advice, and a sense of fun.

Start by giving yourself permission to play with some activities recommended by Rachel Dunstan Muller, or try your hand at storyboarding with the guidance of Myriam Steinberg (no drawing skills required). To broaden your perspective, Ian Johnson gives us some tips on engaging in meaningful conversations, Michael Rice writes about the joy (and necessity) of research, and John Beaton shares eight essential lessons on making the most of critique.

Thinking of applying for that MFA? Learn from Mark Cameron’s reflections about going back to university as a mature student. Formal schooling not a fit right now? Angela Douglas has you covered with many excellent avenues of informal education, and the Darling Axe shares insight on how you can read like a writer.

For those in a generative mood, Cathalynn Labonté-Smith shares some tips on how ChatGPT can be a tool for creativity, and KT Wagner explores the paradoxical freedom you can find in playing with constraints, prompts, and competitions. Speaking of contests, get inspired to submit to this year’s FBCW Literary Contests by reading a Q&A with last year’s winners. We’re currently redesigning bcwriters.ca, and so in addition to the print magazine, you’ll soon see a steadier supply of articles posted to our website through WordWorks Online. Read, share, and pitch me at cadence@bcwriters.ca if you have ideas for articles of your own.

Happy summer, everyone! I hope you find great joy, curiosity, and growth in your writing this season and beyond.

This issue’s theme of Learn, Play, and Grow resonates with me deeply. Both my personal and professional life have taken a circuitous route. Instead of an arrow-straight line, my trajectory is better imagined as a spiralled doodle. Each curlicued loop—going back to school for an MFA, plunging into work as varied as caregiving to cannabis trimming, and taking time off to travel—has been a necessary step in becoming who I am today: a competitive ultra-cyclist, published author, and, as of June, FBCW’s new programming & events coordinator.

I’ve taken over this role from Megan Cole, who did a fantastic job of liaising with presenters and bringing together another inspiring BC Writers Summit. Though there’s much to look forward to in our upcoming programming, I’ll share two initiatives that are top of mind: Writing Circles and our first-ever Writing Intensive. We launched Writing Circles—online groups that meet regularly to support participants’ creative journeys through discussion, critique, knowledge sharing, and more—last summer. Unfortunately, we ran into technical challenges that prevented us from growing the program. I’m excited to announce that we are re-launching Writing Circles in August, with groups dedicated to a range of topics, including self-editing, children’s literature, historical fiction, and memoir. Visit bcwriters.ca/circles to learn more. Next up, Writing Intensives. Based on our popular mini-summit model from last year, Writing Intensives are focused career-development opportunities featuring daily workshops with award-winning authors and publishers alongside invitations to engage and create. Our first Writing Intensive: Getting Personal with Memoir and Creative Non-Fiction is taking place July 24–29, and we are planning another one for the fall. If you have suggestions for future Writing Intensives, get in touch with me at meaghan@bcwriters.ca

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Permission to play

As every writer knows, there’s a time for facing the blank screen, for showing up and doing the work even when it takes discipline. Wellcrafted poems/chapters/essays don’t write themselves, after all. But if there’s a time to buckle down, there should also be time to play in every writer’s life.

Pre-COVID, I offered a storytelling workshop called “From Seed to Story.” My stated objective was to take the ten participants through the process of writing the complete first draft of an original “tellable” story from scratch. Some of the participants had previous writing experience, but at least half did not. Aware that fear, self-doubt and perfectionism are all enemies of creativity, the exercises I’d planned gave the participants explicit permission to be playful— and that in turn resulted in some unexpected and wonderful fruit by the end of our shared session.

It wasn’t only the beginners in the group who benefited from this approach, however. Taking ourselves and our craft too seriously as writers inhibits creativity; giving ourselves permission to explore and make a mess does the opposite— which is a lot more fun, and almost always more rewarding, especially in the initial stages of creation. But what is play? A child would be puzzled by this question; play just is when you’re six years old. Grownups, on the other hand, often benefit from definitions, so let’s start with what play is not. True play is not performance, perfectionism, or rigid structure. It says NO to pressure, to judging, to comparing or criticizing.

True play is about taking pleasure in the process. It says YES to observing, exploring, and experimenting. It says YES to risk-taking, surrendering, and

letting go of expectations. True play is about reconnecting with our four-year-old selves, the ones fuelled by curiosity and wonder.

If you still need a reason to make play part of your life as a writer, consider this: creativity isn’t linear. It doesn’t move from A to B in a nice, efficient line. Creativity is lateral; it takes its own time, branching out and connecting to distant, seemingly unrelated ideas until a new pattern emerges. Play trains our brains to make these lateral connections—teaching us to see the world in new ways and increasing our creative capacity. It’s the perfect prescription for the poet stuck in a rut, or the author struggling with writer’s block. We’re all unique, of course, so the play activities that work for me may do nothing for you. And that’s just fine. There are infinite ways to play, and brainstorming ideas can be a fun activity in itself. Whatever you choose, try engaging your senses in new ways—with colour, shape, sound, texture, movement, rhythm, and more.

To give you somewhere to start, here are a few adapted exercises from my workshop.

Get your hands on a new box of crayons. A basic eight-pack will do, but a jumbo pack is even better. When you get them home, take them out of the box and let the smell of paraffin wax transport you back to kindergarten. Now draw something—just for the pleasure of putting colour on the page—a flower garden, a mythical beast, or something completely abstract. Then take it up a notch if you dare. The participants in my workshop drew with their non-dominant hands, filling the page with colour as they listened to a recording of Yo-Yo Ma playing Appalachia Waltz.

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What does this exercise have to do with writing or storytelling? Not much—at least on the surface. But there was laughter in the room, smiles on some faces, childlike concentration on others. Egos relaxed as the pressure to produce fell away. Everyone was in a much more receptive state when we moved into the next exercise, which did involve writing. Science backs this up—we enter “flow” much faster when we are relaxed. Listen to instrumental music—then draw what you hear. We did a second drawing exercise a little later in the workshop. This time participants closed their eyes and listened to an instrumental version of Debussy’s Beau Soir, allowing themselves to visualize colours and images in the music. Then they listened again as they drew some of those images with their crayons. “Play” with interesting objects. To give my workshop participants “seeds” for the stories they were going to compose, I brought a box filled with interesting objects and set them out on a display table. Each participant chose an object that resonated with them, and then explored that object in multiple ways—imagining where it had come from, who it had belonged to, and what special qualities it might possess. They continued to “play” with their object, both in their imaginations and on paper, until the outline of a story began to emerge. You can duplicate this exercise either by finding an intriguing object in your own home, or, better yet, by taking yourself on an artist’s date and searching for one at an antique shop or thrift store. Borrow from the picture book section of the library. At the close of our workshop, I recommended this exercise for homework. Visit the children’s section of your library and collect a generous armful of picture books. Take the time to find titles and illustrations that ignite something in your inner

child, and then bring them home to read purely for pleasure. If you write for children already, this is more ongoing professional development than play. If you don’t write for children and haven’t opened a picture book recently, be prepared for delight. You don’t need to set aside a specific block of time to make play part of your life. A few minutes of microplay can be effective as well—especially when you’re struggling to start a writing project, or when you need a break from the keyboard. Draw in the margins of a notebook. Look out the window and daydream. Mould something from clay or arrange paperclips into a pleasing design. Write a silly limerick or a heartfelt thank-you note to a favourite item of clothing.

If it sounds like procrastination, remember that beginning with a few moments of lighthearted play can set the tone for a very productive writing session. Just be sure to take that playful attitude with you into your writing as well, giving yourself permission to explore, experiment, and enjoy the process—wherever it leads.

Rachel Dunstan Muller is an oral storyteller and the author of four children’s novels and over a hundred essays, articles, and stories for adults. She has produced two podcasts: Hintertales: Stories from the Margins of History, and Sticks and Stones and Stories

Find her online at racheldunstanmuller.com

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Storyboard your way to great writing

The words won’t stop! Word after word, sentence after sentence, detail after detail is tumbling onto the page. The scene is growing, expanding, becoming more complex. When you finally take a breath and read over what you wrote, you’re no longer sure what the story is about. People, places, and events are inconsistent, overexplained, or woven into an intricate yet ultimately confusing web. It’s overwhelming and difficult to figure out how to untangle it.

Storyboards—sequential illustrations of a storyline, rather like a comic strip—can help make sense of it all.

Storyboards are essential tools in filmmaking. They keep filmmakers on track for a story’s flow and sequencing, as well as its character development, dialogue, environment, imagery, and tone. The same thing can be true for writers. Because storyboards restrict your story to the size of a page, panel, and speech bubble, they are a game changer for creating a cohesive, tight story. It sometimes means “killing your darlings,” but it inevitably shapes a story in interesting, enriching, and sometimes unexpected ways. More often than not, it boils a story down to its essence.

Storyboards don’t need to be polished drawings, but they do need to represent the story you want to tell. They allow you to visualize an entire

scene at a glance to see if the reading experience is smooth, if the character and environment descriptions stay consistent, if the story is engaging, and how you can play with points of view.

Sketching out a story will give you a better sense of place and situate you in a world that, once drawn, becomes easier to describe. It can show you which character you want to focus on at any given time and what dialogue works or doesn’t. As a result, this process can change how characters interact with the environment and with each other.

“But I can’t draw,” you may say. It doesn’t matter! The point is to get the crux of the idea down. The challenge is to surprise yourself, and to let the drawings guide your story. The goal is to create a new way of looking at your story, find the holes and redundancies, and enrich your narrative in creative, sometimes unexpected, ways. Stick figures are perfectly fine for this purpose.

If you’re curious to try it out, here’s how to start:

1. Choose a scene to illustrate. It can be from a book you’re working on, or a moment in your life that stands out.

2. Pick one frame from that scene. What is the principal emotion or mood of that frame? Is it the character expressing the sentiment? If so, draw them emoting that feeling. Is it the environment that is the source of the mood? If so, create an

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environment that reflects the feeling you want to convey. Think about how the environment is affecting the character(s) in the panel. Do you see the scene unfolding realistically or in visual metaphor? If you are using metaphor, what does joy, grief, anger, hope, peace, or confusion look like? As a basic example, an angry person could be drawn with their head exploding. Are the characters or the environment the visual metaphor? How much “real estate” do you give it in a given panel or page? It’s often useful to think of the visual metaphor taking over the same amount of visual space as it takes in the mental space of the character.

Visual metaphor is also useful in depicting feelings and events that are so intense that there aren’t adequate words to describe them. It can tease out the emotional truth of a situation. When it’s time to translate the illustrations into prose, each image will help you conjure up the words you wanted to write.

3. Now stretch that one frame into a full scene. Quickly sketch out a few “pages” with a set of panels that you think will fit the flow of your story. The number of panels and pages will likely change as you start putting down your story, so don’t get too attached to the number or size of panels.

Imagine there’s a movie camera moving around the scene, highlighting different angles and points of view.

As an experiment, try establishing who is talking in the first panel, and then, while still keeping the dialogue with that character, invite the reader to see what the character sees. Playing with distances can also set a mood. A distance shot can convey pensiveness, loneliness, or nostalgia. A close-up can emphasize anger, fear, or joy. Middle distance can convey neutrality, and be useful for bridging two moments. Use small panels for parts that don’t have much action (like one person talking), larger panels for lots of action and talking. The size of the panels can also dictate mood and pacing. If you feel small and insignificant in a scene, you could draw it as a large panel or full page with a small character somewhere on the page. If you want a scene to take a while, divide the conversation or action into several panels of small to medium size and make the reader spend time with them.

One person can have both thought bubbles and speech bubbles coming from them. This allows you to play with what the outside world hears from the character and what the character may actually be thinking (which might contradict the words coming out of their mouth, reveal secrets to the reader, or add layers of meaning to what is being verbalized).

4. Tape the storyboard up on the wall or spread it out on the table. Notice what fits in each panel. If words start taking over the image, consider either adding more panels or pages, or boiling down a thought to its essence. Be ruthless and chop out anything remotely redundant or extraneous. If something

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Image by Myriam Steinberg

Other fun exercises: Try telling your story from the point of view of an inanimate object or a fantasy character in the scene.

Tell the story from two simultaneous but differing points of view. Create a fantastical spokesperson for your characters’ inner voice who tells the truths one would never dare say in public. When your inner voice is a separate character from you, it becomes safer to express things you wouldn’t otherwise—for fear of judgment, recrimination, or social repercussions.

happens frequently, is there a way of condensing it into one poignant scene? If you need to, take a pair of scissors and move the panels around.

5. Transcribe what you’ve drawn into prose. Go panel by panel. Try to maintain the conciseness, movement, and emotional impact you’ve created in the storyboards. Has your story evolved? Did you find you had to cut dialogue or characters? Did you have to add anything in order to better explain something? Did a scene sequence become clearer?

Storyboards are a great place to popcorn ideas and imagery. They bring life to a story, and they provide a way of experiencing your words in new ways. Play with them, use them, and see where they take you.

Myriam Steinberg is the author of Catalogue Baby: A Memoir of (In)fertility, which has won the Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature, the Independent Publisher’s (IPPY) Award, and the Foreword Indies Award. Myriam has written for Birthing Magazine, She Knows, and the CBC. She is currently working on her second graphic novel, Stick, Stay, Grow.

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Image by Myriam Steinberg

Unleash your writing potential with ChatGPT

When you hear “ChatGPT,” do you feel an impending sense of doom, or wonder, “What the eff IS it?” ChatGPT is a large language model developed by OpenAI that creates human-like language when given a prompt, and new jobs are opening up for people who know how to ask Chat the right questions. Who knows how to ask great questions? Why, journalists, authors, librarians, historians, archivists, and other knowledge professionals do.

To start, open a free Chat window at chat.openai. com/chat. Click on the Try ChatGPT button to enter a prompt. Here are just a few ways you can use Chat to support your writing.

Writers have a wide range of audiences, from different age groups, reading levels, and subject expertise. Chat helps you adapt writing to target audiences appropriately.

> Hey ChatGPT. I want to learn about (insert specific topic). Explain (insert specific topic) in simple terms. Explain to me like I’m ________ years old. (Example: “Explain ChatGPT as if I were a ten-year-old.”)

You can also copy your writing sample into Chat and it will clone your writing style to turn it into another genre, or a different story on a new topic.

> Write about (insert text topic) as the above author would write. (Example: “Write a How-To about tightrope walking like Cathalynn would.”)

Call on subject matter experts at any time in Chat not only for content, but also to support arguments.

> I will provide you with an argument or opinion of mine. I want you to criticize it as if you were (person).

> Person: (insert expert name) Argument: (insert desired topic) (Example: “Person: Stephen King. Argument: Sequels.”)

Chat has limits and can plagiarize, so edit and factcheck content. Use it for brainstorming or to get through writer’s block. For the most part, you will find its responses too general and unsuitable for

your specific piece of writing. Chat can also generate harmful or inappropriate content, depending upon input. Also, be aware that some publishers now have policies against AI-assisted content. Because Chat lacks common sense, it may not understand that “I put my shirt in the washing machine and it turned into a frog” is impossible in the real world. It also struggles with the nuances of language, such as sarcasm, humour, or metaphor, so it’s better for technical types of writing.

Chat is powerful, incredibly fast and will help you meet deadlines and do rough drafts quickly. Ultimately, the writer is still the creator in control of their own excellent writing, and Chat is a tool—just like word processors, grammar checkers, and other past inventions. AI in the writing profession has already been here for some time and Chat is too useful not to be the next great writing tool. After working with Chat, you may wonder how you lived without it.

Visit bcwriters.ca/articles for an expanded version of this article with more ChatGPT info, tips, and tricks!

Cathalynn Labonté-Smith grew up in Alberta and completed her BFA in creative writing at UBC in Vancouver. Having worked as a freelance journalist, technical writer, and teacher, she founded the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society and now lives in Gibsons and North Vancouver. Her book Rescue Me: Behind the Scenes of Search and Rescue (Caitlin Press) is a BC bestseller.

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Midlife musings of a mature student

Amosaic of student life fills my Instagram feed, marking the end of school and the emergence of spring. Celebratory posts—of nightclubs and family reunions, of surfboards, snowboards, and road trips—evoke a mounting sense of nostalgia for the university that has become my alma mater. Many of these faces are vague reminders of group projects, contacts accumulated during three years of undergraduate studies at UBC. But despite the considerable age gap between me and all these young adults, I count several of them as friends.

My return to university at age fifty-one began as a dream to teach creative writing. In 2020, almost a decade after I’d left the software industry to focus on writing and raising two kids, I was ready to take the next step in my literary career. Having independently published two novels, designed dozens of books for other authors, and attended countless writing and publishing workshops, I wanted to help fellow writers tell their stories while continuing to share my own. Imposter syndrome and a lack of credentials stood between me and most teaching opportunities, so I researched master’s degrees in creative writing, commonly known as MFAs (master of fine arts). There are dozens of in-person MFAs to choose from, but I was most attracted to Canada’s two optional-residency programs at UBC and University of King’s College, since I could attend them remotely from my home on the Sunshine Coast. I set my sights on UBC due to my interest in writing across multiple forms and genres. While I worked on my application, I took advantage of a pandemic silver lining—UBC’s temporary transition to online education—and registered for a handful of undergraduate courses in English and creative writing.

I was not surprised when my MFA application was turned down in early 2021, a rejection I

attributed to subpar grades (from a BSc in computer science during the 1990s) and a lack of academic references. To strengthen my portfolio, I turned my attention to a bachelor of arts degree with a plan to reapply for the MFA program two years later.

In September 2021, I embraced the challenge of a thrice-weekly commute—a five-hour round trip to UBC’s Vancouver campus—and attended my first in-person university classes in twenty-six years. My three years at UBC have been among the most rewarding and humbling of my life. I have learned so much about English language and literature—about prose and poetry, playwriting and genre fiction, world-building and character development. About migration, anti-racism, revolution, and dissent. About how to write a better research paper and construct a braided essay. About poetic presence and the power of revision. And most importantly: about myself. This past February, UBC turned down my second MFA application. Thanks to a timely rejection and my research into other programs, I was able to quickly retool my portfolio into a successful application to University of King’s College. I am excited by this new opportunity, which will allow me to work from home except for two brief trips to Halifax. I also appreciate my time at UBC, which offered me a wonderful blend of work and play. While midlife work habits enabled me to approach schoolwork with greater diligence than I could when I was younger, it was

my willingness to play that made my undergraduate adventure truly memorable—a spirit that I will carry into the next chapter of my academic journey.

As I reflect on my recent post-secondary experience, I would like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

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There is no way to shortcut learning a new skill. With each story, poem, essay or play that I write, I am reminded how much I have yet to learn. I’ve also learned to trust that each assignment I complete will contribute to both my knowledge and my GPA.

Beware of deadlines! Entrance applications often require six to twelve months’ lead time, and many require significant preparation, such as ordering transcripts, lining up references, and compiling portfolios of sample work.

Submit to multiple institutions. Admissions can be highly competitive. For example, UBC accepts only ten to twenty percent of MFA applicants each year. For domestic students, Canadian tuition is more affordable than paying international fees in the U.S. and U.K. There are bursaries, grants, and student loans available for those who need financial support, as well as scholarships based on academic achievement. Some institutions also offer non-degree options that are shorter and less expensive than BFA or MFA programs. Plenty of international universities offer free or almostfree English programs to Canadians. Affordable MFAs are difficult to find overseas, but there are many shortterm study-abroad programs and courses available.

Clubs and teams provide great opportunities to build community. One of my best decisions at UBC was to join a flag football team, which gave me a sense of camaraderie and led to unexpected friendships. Most institutions offer plenty of clubs and teams to meet a variety of interests.

Say “Yes!” whenever you can. I wasn’t comfortable asking younger students to join me for social outings, but I accepted invitations to study or grab a bite, and

I made the most of extracurricular opportunities like theatre tours, open mics, and script read-throughs. If you’re “mature” like me, trust that other students don’t care how old you are. Sure, a few people may look askance or ask if you’re a professor—but if you behave like just another student then others will treat you as one, too.

Returning to university later in life can be daunting, but the experience has enriched my life—and my writing skills—in unexpected and delightful ways. If you’ve been itching to go back to school, I recommend that you take the first step and apply. You can always pivot in a new direction later, so pick a path and approach it with a playful and curious mindset. I’m willing to bet that you won’t regret it!

Mark Cameron is a poet, songwriter, essayist, and author of two novels: Goodnight Sunshine and 17 Weddings. Based on the Sunshine Coast, Mark is currently working on a young adult speculative fiction trilogy while pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction. Mark can be found online at markofwords. com or reached at markofwords@gmail.com.

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Research: An enjoyable challenge

There’s a saying attributed to Davy Crockett: “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” With kind thoughts to Davy, whose Hollywood-enhanced legend was beloved by kids in the 1950s, that’s good advice. Readers, may they all be blessed, have knowledge of many things. I, too, know many things, but others know more, and that’s why they win Jeopardy! and I carry a grocery list. In writing, going from concept to the first draft is great, but research is the “missing middle” that builds on and strengthens your idea. If your story is set in past times, if your hero teleports to work (“beam me up” got us thinking), or a character succumbs from a rare poison, then research is key to your plot and enhances your audience’s experience. Your goals are to generate a “Wow—I didn’t know that!” and to encourage your readers to travel happily through pages yet unread. A recent article I read mentioned Lewis and Clark using covered wagons on their expedition west. Didn’t L. & C. paddle down a river? From contacting a historical society, I learned the expedition used keel boats and pack animals, but nothing with wheels. Wikipedia is your friend, and likely where you will head first. Their database is incalculably large, and its ongoing strength depends on contributed updates and corrections. A potential problem with all research is that what was accepted as fact can be carried forward in publications without checking for corrections and new discoveries. I look on Wikipedia and other major online sources as I do Reader’s Digest—the spine and rib cage of what I want are there, but more is needed to make a meal. For almost any subject that comes to mind, there are clubs or other organizations whose members collect, study, and discuss every conceivable aspect of it. For subjects as diverse as air-sickness bags, barbed wire, and parking meter heads, there’s an interest

group and almost certainly a social media group for each. (If you’re currently writing A Field Guide to Parking Meter Head Design, forgive my tossing a pebble in the bird bath of your creativity. While your book may not achieve bestseller status, you have however produced a new standard reference!) Group members love receiving queries regarding what’s closest to their hearts, and I might gather enough background info to spin off into my next project. I’ve often been invited to be a guest speaker, and who can turn down a face-to-face chance to learn more?

A quickie caution, though. Use your newly gathered information where it will best enrich your narrative rather than causing your readers to backstroke through a marinade of minutiae. Is it necessary to say, “he climbed into his saddle, a fine product of Mexican craftsmanship with fourteen stitches to the inch and a pommel gleaming with countless applications of high-quality leather polish” or to say simply, “he mounted his horse”?

So, go explore some, learn lots, and use it well. There are many folks who live what we’re writing about and would be happy to lend a hand—and they deserve thanks in our acknowledgements.

Michael Rice has been a casual articles writer since the late ’70s, contributing to a variety of antiques/ collectibles publications and, for many years, writing a monthly column (“Bygone Treasures”) for Senior Living Magazine. He imagines himself the literary offspring of a brief union between Diana Gabaldon and Dave Barry.

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Your goals are to generate a “Wow—I didn’t know that!” and to encourage your readers to travel happily through pages yet unread.

Critique: Powerful medicine if you can stand it

Most of us find joy in writing and in sharing our work. Should we be satisfied with that or invite suggestions for improvement?

Comfort zones vary, but I’m solidly in the latter camp. Feedback, both gentle and robust, has benefited my writing immensely and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process. Here are some lessons I’ve learned.

1. Choose your feedback sources carefully. Friends and family are often too close to be an acid test. Ditto for some writers’ groups that lean toward mutual supportiveness. That said, these options are usually free, fun, comfortable, and helpful. Some reciprocal critique workshops, available online or through writers’ associations, expose your work to people you don’t know personally. These tend to be more objective. However, the attentiveness can be erratic and the tone ungentle. Be choosy. I’ve made good literary friends through such groups.

Professional editors and beta readers can give valuable insight into publishing industry constraints and expectations. But the quality varies. I’ve paid for manuscript reviews that, on a scale from 1 to 10, vary from 1 to 10.

2. Revise aggressively but keep your drafts. If you can tell good writing from bad, revision should never make your work worse. You can always step back. And don’t be afraid of deep revision, even full rewrites. “First thought best thought” may turn out to be true, but you’ll never really know unless you’ve plumbed alternatives. In depth.

3. Accepting feedback is optional. You can take it or leave it. If you leave it, do so politely: “Thanks, I’ll consider that.” But first, ask yourself, “What made that thought cross the reviewer’s mind?” Often, an indirect adjustment is what’s needed.

4. Don’t take feedback personally. Even when the feedback is harsh, remember the reviewer has taken the time to read, consider, and comment on your work. Be respectful. Spats will spoil your experience. Discussion for clarification is fine, but don’t engage in defensiveness or argument.

5. Beware premature detail. Debating le mot juste is okay, but only after you know the work in which it resides is solid. Don’t let reviewers draw you out of the forest into the trees too early.

6. Don’t let praise turn your head or tempt you to showboat. Someone says, “That paragraph is great.” Another opines, “It needs work and here’s why.” The former won’t improve your writing. The latter might. If you prefer praise to critique, that’s okay, but seek ways to share that don’t squander the time of serious reviewers.

7. Resolve conflicting advice early. One reviewer says cut to the chase. Another: you need more upfront backstory or readers won’t care about your protagonist when the action starts. Compare rationales and make a firm-ish decision early on. It can save you future rides on a flip-flop rollercoaster.

8. Critique your critiquers. Some editors help you write the work you want to write. Others push you to write the work they want you to write. Check bios and references for affinity with your work or lack thereof. Client satisfaction and the “fit” of qualifications, experience, and personal values and preferences are the points to watch for. Happy writing and happy revising. And if you’re not paying for critique, be sure to reciprocate. That’s educational too.

P.S.: Feedback from the WordWorks editorial staff dramatically improved this article!

John Beaton writes and recites metrical poetry and has been a member of several writers’ critique groups. He was moderator at The Deep End workshop on the Eratosphere website for almost four years and is author of Leaving Camustianavaig. He has commissioned several professional reviews of an in-progress novel.

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We’re launching new Writing Circles in August! Learn more at bcwriters.ca/circles

The beauty of informal education

Often, “education” brings to mind big institutions, in-person classrooms, and multiyear accreditation programs. However, like many of you, I am busy and have responsibilities that leave me without the time and money to pursue a degree in writing. To clarify, I am not knocking traditional education. But now, there are other options. With the increased access to knowledge over the last few years, there has never been a better time to learn to write or enhance your skills on your own. Whether you have hours to dedicate or short chunks of time, you can do most of the below from home or on the go.

Self-paced courses and webinars

Webinars and non-credit courses or lectures will not only teach you your craft but can also inspire you out of a lull. Many writing organizations put out incredible programming, and a lot of it is free or inexpensive if you are a member. For example, the FBCW and other provincial organizations, genre-specific groups such as International Thriller Writers or Sisters in Crime, and festivals like FOLD all offer a range of programming. There are also endless self-paced programs. If you want to write a novel, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is a great resource in Jessica Brody’s Writing Mastery Academy at only $15 USD per month. You can also take part in courses from some of the writing greats through MasterClass, including authors like Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown, and RL Stine. Watch the videos or play the audio from

anywhere, and take advantage of their recommended exercises and resources for further learning.

Books and newsletters

Sign up for writing-related newsletters, like Writer’s Digest, Publishers Marketplace, Reedsy, and your favourite authors. You will learn a lot about writing, plus some marketing tactics. Carry craft books or books in your genre with you. You will often find time to read a chapter or two, waiting for whatever errand you are doing to start. Some great craft books: On Writing by Stephen King, A Passion for Narrative by Jack Hodgins, The Virgin’s Promise by Kim Hudson, and Story Genius by Lisa Cron.


Mr. King has said you have no business writing if you are not reading, and that includes audiobooks. Audiobooks are a great way to multitask if your eyes tire of staring at screens and paper. Listen to books in your genre or craft-related ones. Then, your hands will be free to take notes or do some dreaded housework.


If you are in the querying phase or curious about the process, the weekly podcast The Shit No One Tells You About Writing is an incredible tool to elevate your query and writing. Two literary agents dissect several query letters at the start of each show. Following the query letters are interviews with industry experts.

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Other writers have recommended The Creative Penn Podcast and Writing Excuses, just a few of many writing-related podcasts worth listening to.


Writing conferences are my favourite way to learn. These also come in various formats: entirely online like the FBCW’s summit, inperson regional conferences such as the Wine Country Writers’ Festival, or massive international conferences like ThrillerFest or StokerCon. There are many benefits to attending these. The first one is being able to devote two, three, or more days directly to your craft with minimal interruptions. The second is attending sessions hosted by experts currently having success in this tough-to-navigate industry. And last but not least is the networking. Writing is a solo sport. We hear it often, and some of us prefer it that way, but it is much better with support. The writing world is small. A new contact could turn into a beta reader, blurb writer, job offer, editor, or friend.

Advanced Reader Copies (ARC)

Signing up as an ARC reader is a fun and often overlooked opportunity. You can sign up directly with your favourite publishers, through NetGalley or entering giveaways on Goodreads. You learn a ton about the publishing industry, timelines, and production schedules when you set your eyes on an ARC copy. Not only do you get to read and review it, but you are also helping another author, and you can marvel at the number of typos still in the copy despite it already having been through six or more edits. If you are already published, you may read these ARC copies to provide a blurb to the author instead of a review.


Several feedback opportunities exist, such as signing up for blue pencils, contacting a writerin-residence, or joining a writers’ group. Blue pencils can be purchased directly from editors or through some writing festivals, and writers-inresidences are part of post secondary institutions or writers’ organizations. All terrific ways to get personalized help with your work.


Mentorship programs are run through writing or editing organizations, or some authors offer them

directly. Depending on the structure, you can solicit feedback on one manuscript or on standalone pieces of work. Do your research first to ensure the mentor is ethical and knows what you aim to achieve, and that they are the right fit for you, your genre, and your project. A successful mentor-mentee relationship thrives on trust, respect, and effective communication. There are variations in agreements, duration, delivery, and pricing, so explore several options before committing. Grants can make these expenses more palatable; look for opportunities through the BC Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Writers’ organizations

As mentioned earlier, being part of any writers’ organization can provide you with free or inexpensive programming and many other membership benefits. Also, why not volunteer? You will learn the organization’s features and benefits while connecting to its staff, board, and members.


Sitting down and writing is the best teacher. Start writing a journal or blog, pitch articles to magazines, or enter contests—all worthwhile endeavours that will get you experience and bylines.

From audiobooks, podcasts, critique groups, conferences, mentorship, and more, informal education is at your fingertips when and how you want it. Take what works for you, reject what doesn’t, and no matter how you get there, through traditional or informal learning, do yourself (and the world) a huge favour and just get there. No one else can write your story but you.

Angela Douglas is a marketing communications professional and writer. When she isn’t working or chasing kids, she hides in her studio with her bulldog Frankie, writing her next book. Her debut novel, psychological thriller Every Fall, published by Rising Action Publishing Collective, comes out in January 2025. Find Angela at angeladouglas. ca or @anglynndouglas on social media.

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Playing with prompts, constraints, and competitions

The shortest path to writer’s block for me involves staring at a blank page trying to come up with a story idea. The infinite choices overwhelm my creativity, and my mind gravitates toward the familiar, the clichéd. Too often, my brain is more stubborn than my intention. My thoughts start looping. Frustrated, I give up.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered two tools that not only help but are fun and challenging: constraints and prompts.


Poets have long experimented with constraints using forms such as haiku, ghazal, sestina, and villanelle.

All writers use constraints to some extent—genre, outlines, character sketches, length, grammar—but deliberately introducing a random vessel, frame, or other restriction can take a story in surprising directions.

In 1960 a group of writers and mathematicians founded the Oulipian movement. They devised lipograms (avoidance of specific letters or groups of letters) and algorithms for use as self-imposed literary constraints, claiming they harnessed and guided inspiration. It seemed worth a try.

For my first attempt, I chose a word cloud posted online by Neil Clarke, editor of Clarkesworld Magazine. He’d generated the cloud using the titles of thirty thousand story submissions. For

my constraint, the words in the title and the first word of every paragraph had to be from the word cloud. Each word could only be used once.

It surprised me how quickly I wrote a 3,000-word story. First drafts had always been the most difficult part of my creative writing process. The exercise wasn’t easy, but it was fun, and I’d written something that didn’t feel predictable. I was hooked.

Other constraints I’ve used include a phrase list from spam emails, a botanical garden map, nursery rhymes, and shapes such as a spiral.


Almost a decade ago, I first took part in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Round one was eight days to complete a 2,500-word story using three randomly assigned prompts—genre, subject, and character. Again, I wrote a story that tapped into my creativity in ways I hadn’t expected. The experience was engaging and satisfying. Our brains are wired to look for and identify patterns even where none exist. It’s largely an evolutionary adaptation—the ability to quickly make sense of external cues helps humans survive.

I began looking for ways to incorporate prompts into my writing practice.

Prompts and constraints overlap, and I don’t try to differentiate when collecting them: things that exist as sets of three or four such as the seasons or primary colours; snippets of overheard dialogue;

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...I’d written something that didn’t feel predictable. I was hooked.

colour names of yarn, paint chips, and nail polish. Visual prompts include themed tarot cards, Dixit game expansion sets, and Pinterest boards. I also write twenty-item lists such as obstacles, setting, hobbies, or monsters. A twenty-sided gaming die or online random number generator determines the choice. I ponder the prompts while doing something physical that leaves me free to think—deadheading flowers, taking a walk, or peeling potatoes. I mull over possibilities searching for a character and situation until an idea begins unspooling in my brain. I don’t stress if nothing appears immediately, because I know from experience it will. Often, I make notes before falling asleep and wake in the middle of the night with a story start.

My first draft explores. Fictional characters and situations don’t come alive for me until they are on the page. I only adhere to the prompts and constraints while completing a first draft unless they’re required for a contest or submission call. For subsequent drafts, the emerging story guides my creative choices.

Prompts aren’t only for new writing. The creative work of trying to incorporate a random prompt into a work-in-progress can help break literary logjams.

Speculative memoir

Like everyone, intense emotion defines my strongest memories. As stories, few of these experiences are complete, nor do I remember every detail, but the core emotional experience is writing gold. As a form of speculative memoir, I write first person story drafts exactly as I recall an event with a particular focus on capturing the emotion without naming it. Then I choose random speculative elements to incorporate and rewrite the story in third person, altering the first draft to fully incorporate the prompts with an eye to preserving and amplifying the central emotional thread.

Themed calls and competitions

Prompts, contests, and themed calls are more fun with friends. A group of my writing friends have formed a micro-community around the NYC Midnight challenges.

Steveston-based writer J.M. Spronk shares that it addresses several of their writing issues. “The tight deadlines combat my inclination to procrastinate. The massive number of writers doing the same thing at the same time give the event the same aura as a fun run. I’m in it for the camaraderie, not to win, and that fights all kinds of unhelpful phobias: imposter syndrome, fear of

rejection, toxic competitiveness. The constraints are the best of all because they jerk my brain out of the fruitless ruts it insists on carving over and over again.”

Coquitlam-based author Bonnie Jacoby explains, “The prompts and word count limit somehow frees me from taking myself too seriously. I love the stories I’ve created, and this playing has opened me up to taking chances in my novel writing.”

For poets, Contemporary Verse 2, a Canadian organization, runs an annual two-day contest in April supplying a list of ten words to incorporate. The Australian Writers’ Centre offers a monthly 55-hour, 500-word flash story contest based on a set of required elements.


Some generative writing workshops encourage exploring and combining prompts. Taking a workshop is another opportunity to engage with a microcommunity of writers for brainstorming and critique.

There’s no right or wrong way to play with prompts and constraints. My advice is to settle on a character with a problem before putting pen to paper, stick to themes that resonate, and don’t overthink it. I’m primarily a short story writer, but restrictions can work well for novels, and random prompts can help shape chapter-sized segments. This form of literary play is also an excellent way for all writers to connect and support each other. Give it a try! You may be pleasantly surprised at how constraints unleash your creativity.

Surrounded by gnomes, gargoyles and poisonous plants, KT Wagner writes Gothic horror and op/ ed pieces in the garden of her Maple Ridge home. She helps create literary community through teaching, an annual ghost story writing retreat, volunteering with FBCW & HWA, and coorganizing Golden Ears Writers. KT’s online at northernlightsgothic.com.

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Four questions with the 2022 FBCW literary contest winners

Meet the four winners of the 2022 FBCW Literary Contests: Barbara Black (flash fiction, “The Map of My Wanderings”), Doni Eve (short fiction, “Life in the Grain”), Rayya Liebich (creative nonfiction, “The Happiest Baby”), and Susan McCaslin (poetry, “Consider the Western Red Cedar”). They generously shared some thoughts about their winning pieces.

Tell me about your winning piece. What was the inspiration behind it?

Barbara Black: I was reading Lydia Davis’s intriguing Collected Stories when this line jumped out at me: “Mrs. D consults a doctor about her trouble conceiving.” Something about the tone of it got stuck in my head and I knew a flash story would soon drop down on a new white page of my notebook!

Doni Eve: In several short stories recently, I’ve been exploring the depths of human emotion. Using the point of view of a man recalling moments of his life, his marriage, and his son as he pulled out old, dusty layers of boards accumulated from woodwork projects over the years became very interesting. Many men I am close to often express

their emotions by doing, rather than saying, so the working with wood was an inspiring metaphor.

Rayya Liebich: I have just completed a memoir about my thirties called Milk Teeth that explores the decade in which I became a mother and lost my mother. As I revisited my own early mothering, I had to acknowledge that even prior to my loss, I was not in a cocoon of bliss living the best time in my life. Nothing about motherhood felt easy or natural despite my lifelong desire to become a mother. I have always tried to read my way through struggles, but there are no textbooks that can prepare you for the real challenges of parenting, and Dr. Harvey Karp’s quick-fix solutions did not solve my problems. It was the almost stranger who came to my door who made me feel like I could survive.

Susan McCaslin: I live along the Fraser River in Glen Valley outside Fort Langley where I take daily walks with my dog Rosie. About a year ago on one of my rambles I came upon what is known as a mother tree, one of the largest I had yet encountered near my home. Some branches bowed low while others swept upwards. Her aromatic, ambrosial scent lingered in the air as the tree-hugger in me felt another tree poem coming on that I later titled “Consider the Western Red Cedar.”

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What was surprising, challenging, or exciting for you about the creative process for your piece?

Barbara: Right away, the piece emerged with a flippant and defiant tone of voice, which gave me permission to push the story into hyperbolic realms. I had fun shaping it into a sort of warped surrealist fairy tale while trying to retain a subtext of seriousness, referring to the trials of infertility.

Doni: The first draft was about 900 words, and I felt the story was told, so it was actually a challenge to add detail and subtext to really nail the mood and imagery. It was exciting as those sensory details emerged while I worked to hold back enough to create tension. It’s the opposite to what many writers experience in trying to hone down and polish their work. This was more like completing a painting— sketching in the outline then building layers of detail and colour where I wanted the reader to focus in.

Rayya: Using five S’s [Swaddle, Side or Stomach, Shush, Swing, and Suck] as a springboard for story allowed me to re-enter my memories in an authentic way. I am amazed at how containers and form can create both safety and expansion in storytelling. I would never have been able to find the words or the courage to write this “head-on.” The newborn I wrote about is almost seventeen (!) and sometimes it takes that long to be able to process traumatic events and tell them in a way that feels right.

Susan: The flow of words, the assonance in the lines, “join the round and round / antics” of squirrels and alliteration in “lichened layers” came to me quite intuitively. What I had to work on more diligently was arranging the words on the page to create analogies to the movements of a tree in the wind. At last, I opened spaces in the lines for silences and allowed the lines and stanzas to be of irregular lengths. I was happiest with the paradoxical closing lines, which came to me unexpectedly: “leaning together in this zero / and everything zone.”

What do you hope readers take away from your piece?

Barbara: I hope readers will enjoy the rollicking ride into the wilds of fertility, the crazy antics (and the related metaphors scattered about). But also, I hope they’ll sense underneath that bombast the undertone of desperation and frustration.

Doni: Well, without spoiling it, I hope they experience a deep impact from the ending and final reveal—seeing how everything led up to an inevitable conclusion. There’s a message there, as well, about a disturbing and tragic social issue that I hope they take away too.

Rayya: I hope we can change the discourse on mothering as a monolith and make room for the diverse and difficult experiences so many new mothers face. More than anything, I hope a new mother who is struggling reads this essay and feels less alone.

Susan: I hope readers take away a desire to spend time with their favourite trees, giving specific

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Clockwise, from top left: Rayya Liebich, Barbara Black, Susan McCaslin, Doni Eve

trees their full attention, and not being afraid to be caught tree hugging. Then I would hope many become activists who lobby to save the rapidly diminishing old growth in our province.

What advice do you have for other writers in your genre?

Barbara (flash fiction): Jump right in, both feet first. Skip the preamble. Make every sentence a compact gem that provides back story or advances the narrative. Use rhetorical devices or form as architecture. By the end, the reader should feel changed.

Doni (short fiction): The best thing any writer can do is have a writing community. I’ve found this through the FBCW, other writers from SFU’s Writer’s Studio, and my local Sooke Writers Collective. The feedback, support, and inspiration I’ve received from other writers has kept me going and made my work immensely better.

Rayya (creative nonfiction): My best advice is to encourage CNF writers to use the safety of the blank page to pin down and explore their true stories. Lean into the discomfort and the darkness. And time! Writing takes time. Processing difficult experiences takes time. Publishing takes time. There is no race or deadline. Just keep writing.

Susan (poetry): Trust your own deepest instincts. There are many kinds of poetry to explore. Read and listen to different styles of poetry from both present and past and from a diversity of cultures. Then gradually you will find your own unique voice.


Winner of the 2023 Raven Chapbooks Contest

“ Green Islands presents a thrilling fusion of the finely observed and the visionary poetic….abundant with lines that keep ringing, in the mind and the body, long after they are read.”

-judges’ citation

Green Islands—Poems from the Great Bear Rainforest

ISBN: 978-1-7781603-1-8 $22.95

book orders: RainbowPublishers@shaw.ca ravenchapbooks.ca

You can read the winning and shortlisted pieces from our past literary contests in our Roots to Branches anthologies. Also, the 2023 FBCW Literary Contests are now open! Learn more at bcwriters.ca/contests 2023 .

Barbara Black is an award-winning poet, short and flash fiction writer, and librettist who enjoys working in several genres and in collaboration with others. Her award-winning debut short story collection Music from a Strange Planet was released to critical acclaim in 2021. A flash fiction collection is forthcoming in 2024.

DK Eve is grateful to live, work & play in T’Sou-ke traditional territory. Vancouver Island’s characters and settings inspire award-winning poetry and short prose published in several journals and anthologies.

Rayya Liebich (she/her) is a writer and educator of Lebanese and Polish descent. She is the author of the award-winning chapbook Tell Me Everything (Beret Day Press) and the full-length poetry collection Min Hayati (Inanna Publications). She finds joy in teaching creative writing classes in Nelson, BC.

Susan McCaslin is a poet, essayist, scholar, poetry editor, and Faculty Emerita of Douglas College in New Westminster, BC, who has published sixteen volumes of poetry, including her most recent, Heart Work (Ekstasis Editions, 2020). Susan initiated the Han Shan Poetry Project in 2012, which helped save an endangered forest in Glen Valley, Langley.



This year, the Raven Chapbooks Poetry Contest is open to all emerging and established poets living in B.C. Full description and contest guidelines available on the website: ravenchapbooks.ca

We are pleased to announce the 2024 contest judges, Mary Ann Moore and Ursula Vaira.

Entries must be received by November 30, 2023. Manuscripts are blind judged—winner will be announced March 1 and published June 2024.

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How to enjoy conversation more: Stop talking

My wife and I are sitting in our favourite cafe. We’re drinking coffee, lost in reading. As a natural-born researcher and writer, I am currently fascinated with the rise of ChatGPT; I want to know what she thinks. I say, Let’s have a conversation. Without stopping to hear her response, I start talking … and talking … and talking. In exasperation, she says, Hon, stop it! You’re talking at me again I’m caught off-guard; as usual, she’s right.

Exercises to strengthen conversational skills: Notice how much time you spend thinking about what you’ll say next. Are you listening or just looking for your chance to talk?

I wasn’t engaging in conversation. I hadn’t committed to listening. We’re losing the art of conversation. Many aren’t bothering to engage in it, or they don’t know how. Our society encourages one-way communications, texts, tweets, emails, chats—anything but face-to-face conversation. We’re talking at each other, not with each other, and we’re poorer for it. And there’s a coincident epidemic of loneliness, intensified by our Zoom-heavy era. People are thirsty for conversation; writers can quench that need while gaining incredible resources. Through those connections, we’ll gain a better sense for developing characters, be exposed to new topics, and learn about people’s histories, experiences, occupations, and more. We’ll find insights we hadn’t anticipated that can help spark ideas for new creative works. Our writing becomes more authentic, relatable, and inviting. Readers follow writers who make them feel like they’re listening in on a great conversation. Developing stronger conversational skills is a way to meet and genuinely connect with a broader range of people and perspectives. By using the two secrets of great conversationalists, we can excel at holding conversations people will value having.

Practise reflective listening while tuning in to your favourite podcast. Challenge yourself to think of follow-up questions you would ask in response to the information people are sharing. Practise with a friend. Ask them to share something they’re passionate about, and then ask follow-up questions to show your interest and deepen your understanding of them.

Let’s be brave and tell the people we have conversations with that we’ll listen intently. This conveys empathy and caring; it signals that we respect them and their time. This changes a conversation’s dynamic immediately. By giving attention, we’ll meet their fundamental human needs to be seen and heard; that experience is nourishing. We must also support them by using reflective listening. As they speak, listen for key points and, when appropriate, repeat their last words back to them. Some points will merit a follow-up question. Can you tell me more about…? Both verbal cues show we’re paying attention; that breathes life into our connection and invites them to share more deeply. Listening leads to an uncommon level of sharing that we desperately need in our modern world. It’s one action we have complete choice over. Anyone can listen, but do we?

I know I will the next time my wife and I go out for coffee.

Ian Johnson embraces being in life and has let go of trying to do life. Writing about three topics— listening, invitation, and questions—fills his writer’s life. He loves to find a good question every day. He invites you to his Instagram, @MakingApparent, to find your meaningful question. Comment, and he’ll listen.

1) Be a generous listener. 2) Don’t talk too much.

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pulp Literature

Calling All Writers!

The Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest

Deadline: 15 February

Prize $300

The Magpie Award for Poetry

Deadline: 15 April

Prize $500

The Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize

Deadline: 15 June

Prize $300

The Raven Short Story Contest

Deadline: 15 October

Prize $300

Enter today: pulpliterature.com/contests

Good books for the price of a beer 22 wordworks | 2023 Volume 2

MEMBER milestones

Angela Douglas’s debut novel Every Fall, a psychological thriller, was acquired by Rising Action Publishing Collective for publication in January 2025.

Gordon Dawson’s comedic stage play Able Cable had a two-week run by Dewdney Players of Okotoks, Alberta, and was also entered for the annual Foothills One Act Play Festival. Tasos Livaditis – Poems, Volume II, translated by Manolis Aligizakis, was longlisted for the 2023 Griffin Poetry Prize.

After years of exploring the story of her publisher grandfather, Franklin F. Appleton, Sarah J. Clark has combined her love of words, books and good design, to create an imprint with a rich history, “house of appleton.”

On May 11, Chris Lihou submitted another piece of writing, his fiftieth submission within a year. Twelve months ago, he kept all his work to himself. Now, 35% has been accepted by editors.

Howard Dallin wrote a 6,016-word story titled “The Mystery of Aspen Manor” aimed at children and young adults and sent it off to a children’s book publisher. He’s waiting to see what happens. Three of Kate Bird’s essays will be published this year in Prairie Fire, Queen’s Quarterly, and the Humber Literary Review.

Denise Nadeau has been awarded the Canadian Society for the Study of Religion’s Book Prize for 2022 for Unsettling Spirit: A Journey into Decolonization (MQUP 2020).

Patti Shales Lefkos, author of Nepal One Day at a Time, recently finalized the itinerary for her upcoming fourmonth research trek on Nepal’s Great Himalayan Trail. Look for her new travel memoir in December 2024.

Joyce Goodwin’s poetry book Fragments: A Poetry Mosaic is in the North Shore Libraries Local Author’s Collection and is available in local libraries.

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Launched! New titles from FBCW members

The Draper Catalogue

Brian d’Eon | Home Star Press | November 2022 | 979-8-215-41617-4 | $25

A Jules Verne-type interstellar adventure story, complete with truly frightening creatures, narrow escapes, comical culture bumps, and a good-humoured and brave protagonist named Hattie.

I Heard the Turkki Call My Name

Mike Turkki | FriesenPress | March 2023 | 978-1-03-916910-4; 978-1-03-916909-8; 978-1-03-9 16911-1 | $20.49

Growing up in a broken home during the 1970s wasn’t easy. This comingof-age memoir about a city boy marooned in Northern BC will have you laughing, crying, and reflecting on your path to adulthood.

What I Know of Me . . .

Carol Garvie | Pod Creative | March 2023 | 9798211510074 | $23.95

The book is a retrospective selfdiscovery about the author who, as a little girl growing up in 1950s, felt imprisoned by her inability to speak. Why she faltered has remained a mystery until now.


Life of Gronsky

Bill Engleson | February 2023 | 978-0-2288-8841-3 | $26.95

During the depths of Covid, Gilbert Gronsky decides to write mysteries, discovering along the way that life is the greatest mystery.

Murder in River’s Bend

Lyn E. Ayre | January 2023 | 978-1-989630-08-2 | $19.99

After Andrew Qiáo is poisoned, he’s pushed off a mountain highway. Who did this horrible thing? Police detectives McClintock & Miller interview friends and family, track down evidence, and confirm alibis until five suspects come to light.

The Winter Knight

Jes Battis | ECW | April 2023 | 1770417206 | $24.95

Arthurian legends are reborn in this upbeat queer urban fantasy with a mystery at its heart.

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Wind on the Sounds: A Novel Set in the Yacht Race Around Vancouver Island

Barbara Wyatt | April 2023 | 978-0-9984466-5-3 | $16.99

The only novice in a yacht racing crew, Rebecca discovers a world with galeforce winds and rough seas as well as gentle sailing past the wondrous natural beauty of Vancouver Island.

Finding Home Within:

Sanctuary and Solace During Tumultuous Times

Salt Spring Island Circles of Women.

Co-Editors: Aly Coy, Wendy Judith Cutler and Maggie Ramsey | Rambling Roots Publishing & Circles of Women Press | April 2023 | 978-1-9990482-3-5 | $25

This collection reflects the collective experiences and creative challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic as we continue to engage our creativity and negotiate life during these turbulent times.

Bramah’s Quest

Renée Sarojini Saklikar | Nightwood Editions | June 2023 | 9780889714304 | $26.95

The ambitious second instalment of Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s epic fantasy saga in verse: Bramah the locksmith is back on planet earth, on a quest to save seeds and find her people.

Cooking Tips for Desperate

Fishwives: An Island Memoir

Margot Fedoruk | Heritage House | October 2022 | 9781772033953 | $22.95

Part love story, part survival story, part meditation on family dysfunction, this offbeat memoir with recipes chronicles the unpredictable life of a young wife and mother on Gabriola Island.

Four Seasons by the Salish Sea: Discovering the Natural Wonders of Coastal Living

Carolyn Redl | Heritage House Publishing | May 2023 | 9781772034479 | $32.95

Travelogue, natural history, and memoir, this book explores parks, local history, and events experienced by Redl through the seasons in nature and in her garden by the Salish Sea.

The Geography

of Belonging.

A Love Story of Horses & Africa

Oriane Lee Johnston | Salmonberry Arts & Publishing | May 2023 | 978-1-7771492-2-2 | $25

An unexpected liaison with an African horseman takes us from the West Coast of Canada into present-day Zimbabwe. A memoir exploring ethical relations with land, with culture, the sacred and the human heart.

Kennedy Girl

Caitlin Hicks | Sunbury Press in Pennsylvania | June 2023 | 978-1-62006-002-9 | $25

The unforgettable heroine of A Theory of Expanded Love returns in this adventurous coming-of-age story about love, justice, the RFK assassination and the memorable year of 1968.

Secrets & Truths

Marlene F Cheng | January 2023 | 9798367648553 | $14.99 (paperback), $4.99 (e-book)

The emotional first book in the women’s fiction series, Their Hearts’ Desires. If you like tormented heroines and deep moral quandaries, then you’ll adore this riveting read.

25 2023 Volume 2 | wordworks

Beach Moose & Amber: Finding My Jewish History

Sharon Easton | March 2023 | 978-1-7779421-0-6 | $22

A family’s remarkable escape through the Russian Revolution, Nazi-occupied Lithuania, and on to rural Nova Scotia, Canada. Sharon beautifully honours her mother’s last wish—not to be forgotten.

The Broken Heart of Winter

Judy LeBlanc | Caitlin Press | March 2023 | 9781773861050 | $24.95

Three generations of women grapple with the reverberations of the Acadian expulsion. Each, at a pivotal point in their lives, must confront an intergenerational violence and draw on their resilience.

The Boy From Under

Craig Spence | March 2023 | 978-1-7388526-3-5 | $6 (ePub)

Victor Daly has a past that’s going to catch up with him on the evening news. The world as he knows it is about to bend and buckle “under the influence of an irrational new gravity.”

Where Is the Magic?

Sharon Baker | January 2023 | $25

A hilarious cat tale for kids ages 3–6 who love animals and adventure.

Ruby’s Spring

Marion Waters | April 2023 | 9780228887836 | $20.99

Ruby’s Spring is a teen/YA novel about a young girl whose mother is withdrawn due to a mental illness. The story follows Ruby as she finds creative ways to cope with her loneliness and isolation.

A Deadly Quartet in Bali

Gregory J. Corcoran | May 2023 | $9.99 (paperback), $2.99 (e-book)

Exposure of the dark side of an island paradise–espionage and murder.

Tempest Predicament

Dorothy Collins | March 2023 | 978-1-7386649-0-0 | $17.82

Lost in a fog (in an undesirable area) in a car out of gas, Anna is just attempting to lock the door when a man with a knife hops in the back. Can Anna and Sophie be saved?

Little Crow

Albert Sandberg | March 2023 | 9798387858482 | $17.50

A chance encounter on a train in 1910 between Edward, a down and out newspaper reporter on the run from a vengeful hoodlum, and Little Crow, an Arapaho man with a fascinating story to tell.

On Love and Death and Belonging

Daphne Leonie Wright | January 2023 | 978-1-7387424-0-0 | $20

A profound yet lighthearted look at the lives of three strangers, On Love and Death and Belonging, speaks to today’s issues— marginalization, domestic abuse, MAID and, ultimately, friendship.

26 wordworks | 2023 Volume 2
RUBY’S SPRING MARION WATERS thirteen-year-old Ruby can remember, her mother a strange illness that strikes without warning sleep for days on end. Her dad copes by workshop. Ruby is on her own. She and her loyal most of their time exploring the nearby forest. discovers that street-wise Taz also hangs out in the predictable life begins to unravel. Drawn into Taz’s secrets, Ruby spins her own fragile web of her tracks. friend since kindergarten, seems to have it friends, great clothes, wonderful family. But increasingly aware of their many differences. She distance. At the same time, she learns that been hiding tragic secret. Without the support friendship, Ruby is more isolated and alone than ever. Driftwood Middle School triggers string of of her misery, Ruby is determined to unearth Taz, about her parents, about herself. This book contains scenes of touching which emotionally difficult for some readers.

Dreams of a Dragon Girl

Bonnie Jacoby | March 2023 | 9781738797400 (paperback), 9781738797417 (e-book) | $27 (paperback), $6.99 (e-book)

When dragons return to a world that blames them for the plague, a teen girl with new empathic abilities and a teen dragon trying to prove himself work together to save dragons from extinction.

Bosun: The Mariner’s Journals

Gary H Karlsen | April 2023 | |978-1-7752669-1-4 | $24.95

A legendary master mariner suffers the horrors of whaling, the Battle of the Atlantic, and the nonsensical nature of men at sea. Bosun’s Anchor represents intelligence, leadership, loyalty and love.

Wild Kin

Marlene Grand Maître |

Raven Chapbooks | May 2023 | 978-1-7781603-2-5 | $20

Suffused with elegiac longing and female resilience, these poems inhabit the west coast, and speak of our need for connection with the natural world, and the consequences of our estrangement from it.

Language of Light

Diana Hayes | House of Appleton | June 2023 | 978-0-9783474-5-1 | $20

Language of Light traces a healing journey, following the loss of the poet’s mother. “Ultimately, it was poetry that lifted the veil … and revealed the indisputable oneness of our true nature.”

Shuttered Seductions

Felicity Talisman | March 2023 | 978-1-7386583-6-7 | $2.99

Julia-Rae wanted to shut him out of her heart like every other man that ever got close. Roy only wanted to seduce JuliaRae and convince her to sell him her company.

Beauty, Born of Pain

Sally Quon | Okanagan Publishing House | April 2023 |

978-1-990389-30-6 | $23.99

Join Sally Quon as she journeys from an abusive marriage to healing from trauma through poetry.

Between Two Worlds

Kay McCracken | Gracesprings Collective | May 2023 | 978-1-7770858-3-4 | $28.95

The love between Bobby and Sally in their elder years transforms both their lives. Their love of family, both the Settler and Indigenous, will carry them off on an adventure or great discovery.

Layla the Yellow Balloon Comes All Undone

Louisa Lawson | April 2023 | 978-1-03-917037-7 (paperback), 978-1-03-917038-4 (hardcover) | $17.37 (paperback), $44.76 (hardcover)

When her string quite suddenly comes untied, Layla the yellow balloon finds herself floating away into the wide, blue sky, and into the adventure of a lifetime! How does one enjoy such a scary trip?

27 2023 Volume 2 | wordworks

Reading: The writer’s secret weapon

In the craft classic On Writing, Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” When it comes to learning, growing, and playing, reading is a writer’s secret weapon. Learning the fundamentals of writing is essential for any aspiring writer. By immersing ourselves in literature, we absorb the nuances of tension, rising action, promise, and payoff. Reading widely exposes us to different writing styles, techniques, and devices, helping us develop a strong foundation in our craft. As we read, we observe how authors create compelling narratives, develop characters, and evoke emotions, equipping ourselves with the tools we need to write effectively.

Craft books are valuable when it comes to learning the rules of writing, but in the right hands, every rule can be broken. Reading allows us to see how other authors have played with these rules—what works and what falls flat. Francine Prose has written an excellent book called Reading Like a Writer to encourage aspiring authors to slow down and pay attention to a story’s craft.

But growth as a writer extends beyond honing our skills; it also involves expanding our worldview and cultivating empathy. Through reading, we walk in other people’s shoes, experiencing a range of perspectives and cultures that we might not otherwise encounter in our daily lives. By observing complex relationship arcs and delving into diverse settings, we broaden our understanding of the human experience. This expanded perspective not only enriches our writing but also fosters personal growth, shaping us into more empathetic, open-minded individuals.

Reading as a form of play is equally essential for writers. It offers an escape from our daily routine and the opportunity to immerse ourselves in different worlds. Reading can serve as a great buffer between big projects, a way of “filling the well,” as Julia Cameron describes it. Engaging with different stories can be a way out of a slump, an invitation to see the world differently, and a source of motivation for our own work. Sometimes all it takes is immersion in another fictional world to get us back to our desk.

So, how do you read like a writer? Choose your reading material deliberately. Think about genre or a craft rule you’re trying to master, such as writing in the first person. Choose a companion novel to the one you’re working on. Consider that some books deserve to be read twice: the first time to enjoy them, the second to understand the magic behind them.

Reading is more than a leisurely pastime; it’s the key to unlocking your full potential as a writer. So, indulge in stories, sharpen your skills, and expand your horizons. The most captivating tales are written by the most seasoned travellers.

Michelle Barker and David Brown are award-winning writers and senior editors at the Darling Axe, which offers narrative development, editing, and coaching. Learn more at darlingaxe.com.

28 wordworks | 2023 Volume 2 The last word
28 wordworks | 2023 Volume 2
Reading allows us to see how other authors have played with these rules—what works and what falls flat.
malahatreview.ca malahat@uvic.ca Open Season Awards byEnterfor$35 Nov.1,2023 $6000 prize money in three categories • Poetry • Short fiction • Creative nonfiction

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