Tag Archives: Prose

Princess Margaret

by Lee Anne Johnston

Photo by Simon Howden; freedigitalphotos.net

I walked slowly beside my Dad along the 14th floor corridor to the vast windows overlooking the Creating Memory garden. I caught my breath in delight at the life-sized steel sculptures running, jumping, dancing. Their bodies were stiff in joyous motion. Flowers embraced them, blooming promiscuously in a riot of pinks, purples and crimsons.

“This is wonderful Dad!”

My gravely ill father who had scared the shit out of me all my life, stumbled on his stick thin legs. I held him tenderly, afraid to bruise his translucent, papery skin.

“This place is full of cancer. Take me back to my bed, Lee Anne.”

Lee Anne Johnston is a devoted member of the CWC and writes historical murder stories as well as varied flash fiction.


Prose Writing, Revised

by Lee Anne Johnston

Image: ningmilo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It can feel very daunting to write prose. At the beginning you get a great idea, or so you think. Doing the research is very satisfying (thank you Google). But too soon it becomes a grind to churn out paragraph after paragraph, try to keep track of your characters’ names, and life histories, as well as incorporate all of that research seamlessly into your narrative.

The method that works best for me is to simply set aside ten to fifteen minutes per day, sit firmly down at the computer, and write. As I am actually pounding away at the keys, I am usually convinced that my creation is trite, boring, loquacious, and badly constructed. Sadly, this is often the case. At least I have a starting point to work with when I begin to revise.

I am ever so grateful to my fellow CWC members for pointing out where I go wrong. I have learned so much from my mistakes at CWC and appreciate every single correction. Criticism is more helpful than praise: my writing is prodded, poked, and shaped into something at least acceptable. At times, it sings.

Thank you.

Lee Anne is a prose writer and has been a member of the CWC for two years. Her love of writing started when she learned to read as a young child. She holds a BA and an MA in English from the University of Toronto. One of Lee Anne’s current works in progress is a Victorian piece set in the City of Cambridge. It is chock full of drama, rich language and time period references. Lee Anne currently lives in Cambridge with her husband and daughter.

Handed-Down Recipes

by Wendy Visser

Hot cakes on the griddle, bacon’s sizzle in the pan, coffee fragrance floating up the back stairs followed by my father’s bellow, “Breakfast’s ready. Last one at the table does the dishes.”

The stampede of feet, the arm punching and head swatting as chairs scrape the floor of their respective places in the mad necessity to not be last. “You’re after me” hollers the middle sibling. “Am not”, shouts the youngest.

“Are too!”

“Am not!” choking on her tears.

Over the din, the parental command, “That’s enough. Another outburst and you’ll both be in hot water and I don’t mean dish water”.

Between the yawns of dawn-time risings and the noise of adolescent squabbles father bows his head then mother serves. . .


Mid-day’s mushroom and leek homemade soup with a just-picked garden salad and dad’s yell upstairs, downstairs and the backyard. This time it’s the oldest and the fourth from the end who don’t see eye to eye around the kitchen table in spite of paternal threats of more hot water. Father bows his head. Between the rush of daytime chatter, mother serves. . .


Within day’s falling, every pot and pan is heaped with mother’s secret blends of home-grown spices-a dash of this-a hint of that. The clang of the porch bell calls us from field chores and bedroom homework. In the hush of twilight prayer, mother serves. . .


Everyone is scattered now to houses of our own, mom and dad no longer a part  of our earthly landscape but when we get together our childhoods are like handed-down recipes fed to us around a table full of memories.

Image: Giovanni Sades / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wendy Visser is a long time member of the CWC who has served as president, anthology co-ordinator, and membership chair through the years. She is a prize-winning poet and is the author of, ‘Riding A wooden Horse’. Her second full collection of poetry, ‘This Side of Beyond’, is scheduled for publication later this year.

It’s All About the Art!

by Diane Attwell Palfrey

Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A couple of years ago, I was approached by an Oakville artist who wanted me to write her “artist statement”. Most of my recent work was dabbling in poetry and I wasn’t sure I was up for the challenge. The right message was so important to the artist and after some consideration, I agreed to write the text for a specific piece of art that was featured in the exhibition.

I spent a few hours researching “the artist statement”. Ideas on how to write an artist statement are as diverse as writing bios. Everyone has an opinion of content, length and what is considered appropriate. But after several e-mail messages, a few phone calls, several pictures of the work in progress and the finished piece – I was able to construct the first draft.

This artist is known for her work with the model – sculpting and painting the nude. Her work is organic, raw and primal. It was paramount that the statement conveyed her truths, but that the piece be open to interpretation by the viewer. I also had to ensure that I wasn’t putting my spin into the verbiage. I kept reminding myself that my ideas about the huge canvas covered with entwined bodies – were merely my ideas and I didn’t want my thoughts to impact the reader. It was a difficult task with such a beautifully haunting piece of work. During our conversations, I found that the artist’s beliefs and visions for her work are very similar to my ideas about poetry. I like my work to convey who I am, but at the same time I like some ambiguity so the reader can walk away with their own viewpoint.

The final statement was several paragraphs and captured the essence of the
artist and her work – with just enough evasiveness to leave the audience
creating their own opinions. I feel about art the way I feel about poetry. And the late Gilda Radnor summoned it up beautifully in her quote “I always wanted a happy ending… Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”

Note* As payment for my services, the artist let me select a piece of work from one of her collections. It is now proudly displayed in my home. As writers, we have numerous opportunities to use our craft. Sometimes all we need to do is just meander outside of the box.

Diane was born in Toronto and has lived in Cambridge for the past twenty-two
years. She is a poet and prose writer. Diane is a member of the Cambridge
Writers Collective and has poetry published by the Waterloo-Wellington CAA,
Serengeti Press, Craigleigh Press, Hammered Out, The Ontario Poetry Society,
Cruickston Charitable Research Reserve/RARE, & Ascent Aspirations Magazine. Diane is also the first place winner of the Cambridge Arts Festival Poetry Contest for 2009 and 2010.

Bringing Characters to Life

by Michelle Mills

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I first started writing prose it was like experiencing first-love all over again—the epic kind.  This was not just another creative hobby—one in a long line in which I’d dabbled—I’d found my soul mate in a journal.  I’m going to write a book, I decided after composing my first short story.  My imagination was in over-drive and my determination was fierce, but I’d yet to master some of the critical techniques. I was heavy on the narrative [yawn], and I wasn’t overly skilled at distinguishing my characters through dialogue [dangerous]. I didn’t want to bore and sedate my readers—after all, I quite likemy book club and writing critique group friends!  But I wouldn’t be offended if they ordered take-out instead of cooking dinner, and then stayed up all night because they couldn’t put my book down …  I might not be there yet, but I’ve made some inroads with my dialogue.  Recently, the most positive feedback I’ve been granted relates to my dialogue and character development:  “You have a gift for bringing your characters to life.”  “Your characters are 3D.” These were tremendous compliments, as somehow I’d managed to turn my weakness into what I hope is an entertaining and believable rhythm of dialogue.

How did I transition my writing?  I paid careful attention to the feedback I was getting from my critique group; I read numerous books and articles about my craft, and I continued to write, and write, and rewrite. I am still learning, but I’ve discovered a few things along the way that work well for me:

Get intimate with your characters
In order to express your characters effectively, you need to know them intimately first.  Pretend you are their shrink—go beyond the questions you might ask an interesting new acquaintance, as well as the questions that would get you punched in real life.  The latter is crucial; you need to know what makes them tick, and understand what their motives are.  It is also important to understand the reasoning behind their actions, however delusional it might be.  It could be psychological or circumstantial, or a combination of both.   We all know we should do this, but not everyone does, or we mistakenly focus on character sketches for the protagonist, hero, and villain, and then neglect our supporting characters.

Um, uh …you know what I mean…
Cut this stuff out!  People say these things in real life, but they serve no purpose and will do nothing other than stifle your conversations and bore your reader.  Be realistic, but concise—employ your dialogue to propel your story forward or develop your characters.  Watch out for those “couch potato” words that merely expand the waistline of your novel’s word count, but do little else—they need to go!

Make your reader laugh!
Jeannette Walls, author of the Glass Castle has it right.  Regardless of how serious your topic is, timely injections of humour keep the reader engaged and wanting more.  I like to accomplish this through dialogue.

“For crying out loud—don’t you two have anything better to do than argue over what kind of tea you’re drinking?  It’s EARL GREY for heaven’s sake,” Alice yanked up the label with an arthritic hand—“says so on the tag!”

I envy the writers in my group who put pen to paper and the words flow as delicious and smooth as melted chocolate.  I can only do that if I have solitude, and I’ve played the scene in my mind like a movie first.  I watch the characters, their facial expressions and their movements, and listen to what they are saying—then I write it down.

Strick a balance – Narrative vs. Dialogue
It is important to appeal to the five-senses of the reader, and this is where the narrative plays an important role; dialogue alone cannot accomplish this.  It would be odd—disturbing even—if a character was to say this:

“Claudia, it’s so nice to see you on this exquisite May morning of 2011.  The scent of spring flowers is in the air, tiny birds are chirping a cheerful song and the sky is as lavender as Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes.  Your gold sandals, breezy white sundress and spiraling, raven hair are reminiscent of a Greek goddess—you are beautiful.  I’m guessing you are in your mid-thirties?”

If someone ever said that to me, I would respond like this:

“I have to go …please don’t follow me.”

Having said that, it isn’t a good idea to rely too heavily on the narrative—your prose should not resemble a speech.  There should be a harmonious and effective mixture of dialogue and narrative:

“Hurry, Matt.  My mother’s gonna kill me—I was supposed to be home by nine.”

“I’m coming.”  Matthew assured, springing to her side.  “But no one’s going to kill you,” he chuckled, “at least not today.  These are for you.  Happy Birthday.”  Matthew pressed the flowers into her hand with a shy grin before turning away.

“They’re beautiful, thanks.”  Emily’s cheeks grew warm.

Matthew shrugged his shoulders, “You’re welcome.”

Emily narrowed her eyes mischievously when he wouldn’t meet her gaze.  “Do you always blush this much when you give flowers to a girl?” She smiled at him when he dared to face her once again, her silver braces reflective in the sunlight.

Sources of Inspiration
Dialogue should be interesting and dramatic.  As a writer, I feel as though I’m always collecting tidbits and storing them in my mind or inside a journal.

  • Reminisce:  Dig deep into the attic of your mind.  You’ll find all kinds of characters, anecdotes, sights, sounds and smells.  Why not build that weird uncle or neurotic cousin into your story?
  • Eavesdrop:  I was at Starbucks once and a lady described a baby as “a cottage-cheese factory.”  I thought it was a gem, and her comment made its way into the dialogue of a short story I was writing
  • Dreams:  I feel especially creative in the morning when my mind is fresh from dreams.  A journal and pen are always beside my bed
  • The News:  They say that truth is often stranger than fiction—so true.  The news is also an excellent source of determining how the law deals with crimes in specific regions.
  • Media:  Our world is saturated with media—it’s everywhere.  Take advantage of the inspiration that is available at your fingertips, whether it’s in the form of Google, or a glossy magazine.
  • Pay close attention to your surroundings: I once saw an older man who walking through the streets alone, wearing a gaping hospital gown that revealed his underwear. From this I formed the character of a man with Alzheimer’s and a big secret.
  • Read often:  You will be influenced by what you read, so read books from authors that inspire you in the genre of which you are writing.  Take note of what bores you and what captures your interest.

Michelle Mills resides in South Western Ontario with her family and is a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective.  She is excited to be working on her first romantic suspense novel.

Some dark Christmas humour for this fine Spring day

Code Name: SC
by Marcie Schwindt

Image by Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We were all chasing the same phantom killer. Scotland Yard and most of Europe called him The Biscuit Butcher, the Australians, Arsey Assassin. To me he’s The Exterminator. No matter what the name, the story’s the same. His victims, bachelors and childless couples, are found on Christmas Day with their throats slit. The weapon is unknown. The crime scenes are void of fingerprints and DNA. The only witnesses are cats and dogs—often drugged. Then there’s the calling card: cookie crumbs and tinsel in the victim’s hair.

We agree on the killer’s profile: assassin-for-hire with multiple identities and unlimited, untraceable access to anyone and anything. He’ll be someone seemingly above reproach and have a convincing alibi. Undoubtedly he’ll also be considered a myth to the slack-jawed masses who’ve been spared the gruesome details of these cases.

For the past four hours of this latest closed-door Intelligence session, I’ve listened patiently to theory after theory. Crime scene photos and empty coffee cups litter the table, mocking me. I cannot remain silent any longer.

I’ve hunted this guy for my entire career and, overwhelmingly, the evidence points to only one man. A man who lies low 364 days per year. A man with leverage against exposure. A man who wears red (blood red) to confuse colour-blind pets.

No wonder he never comes to my house, he knows that I know.

Marcie Schwindt makes stuff up for a living and loves every minute of it.


photo by Michelle Meiklejohn on freedigitalphotos.net

My husband had just finished cooking dinner and my stomach growled when the doorbell chimed. I opened the door and stepped outside to greet my suit clad visitors, one of whom thrust a pamphlet with a vivid sunset on the cover into my hand. “What will happen if you should die tonight M’am?” he boomed rhetorically.

My previously growling insides lurched. “But I am a good Catholic,” I quavered.

“Do you know the truth of God’s holy word?” the man continued, unwilling to unlock his stare.

I quietly thanked my unwelcome guests and emphasized again my happiness with my own beliefs. I returned to my cooling dinner. My appetite was not quite as greedy as it had been five minutes earlier.

Lee Anne is a prose writer and has been a member of the CWC for two years.  Her love of writing started when she learned to read as a young child.  She holds a BA  and an MA in English from the University of Toronto.  One of Lee Anne’s current works in progress is a Victorian piece set in the City of Cambridge.  It is chock full of drama, rich language and time period references.  Lee Anne currently lives in Cambridge with her husband and daughter.