Category Archives: F and G Writers

Fable Experience

Months ago I was contacted by Robin D. Laws, Creative Director at Stone Skin Press. He asked if I would be interested in writing a fable for an anthology. Richard Scarsbrook had passed my name along.

My first thought was—fable, what’s a fable? I knew there were animals in these tales and usually a lesson of some kind. Off to the library I went to investigate.
Commonalities I found included talking animals, the appearance of humans although rarely referred to by name (the boy, the farmer, the vet), lots of dialogue (often the last line), descriptive verbs and adverbs, the occasional God (Aphrodite, Zeus) as character, an omniscient pov, and an amusing tone. The morals often related to a deadly sin with a single action ending the story. Stories ran 100-400 words and their titles were often simple (The Neighbouring Frogs.)
A project brief explained the boundaries. The fable was to be original, not a retelling of an existing one; word count to be 300-1500; the tone a mix of “pedagogical seriousness with 2,500 year old whimsy”; and the message could be expressed as a last line of dialogue or left implicit. I would have two months to finish the fable. Surprisingly, I was very calm about having a deadline, it helped me focus. 
Robin had received a first wave of fables and said he had enough featuring cats, mice, and fish, as well as stories in which the main character gets eaten by a predator at the end. Of course cats were to figure in my story, but that would have been too easy.
I wanted to choose animals I understood and my first choice was racoons (my mum raised orphans), but I settled on rats (wonderful pets) to be the main characters. I added an army of cockroaches as I’d had the unfortunate experience of living with these. I sent Robin my synopsis: “Domesticated husband and wife rats share flat above sandwich shop with band of cockroaches.”
I knew my story and thought the moral would clarify itself as I went through—not exactly. A friend suggested I choose the moral first and then write from there, but I was already set on the storyline. I was lucky enough to workshop “The Rats and the Cockroaches” with Richard Scarsbrook and Dan Perry (both in the anthology), and F&G Writers. It’s reassuring when the concerns you have are reflected in other’s feedback. This happened again when I sent Robin my final script. He pointed out something, which I thought I might be getting away with. A few more tweaks and zoop—out to the universe.
Super excited to read the anthology. Keep you posted.

Writing Workshop Success

F&G Writers began as an idea over beers at Betty’s two years ago. Fellow students and I had just finished Short Stories II, a creative writing class taught by Emily Schultz, and thought it would be cool to start a writing group. After a few pints, I volunteered to organize. The next morning, I woke not only with a hangover but also with fear and dread. What did I know about starting a workshop? 

Weeks later, two of the kids from school sent me emails. Was I still on board? Crap, they were serious. My comfort zone would need serious renovations. I had taken three classes with Emily who ran super fluid productive workshops; I used her as a model. I also talked to writer friends, and yes, there were discouraging tales of woe, but after sixteen workshops, F&G is still going strong.

Tips and Strategies for Organizing and Moderating a Workshop:

1. Personalities. This can be tricky because writers are a strange lot. Invite writers you’ve met in classes and friends whose work you’ve read. Diversity of life experience, style, voice, and the ability to give constructive feedback are all important factors. No hotheads or crybabies.

2. Commitment. Crucial for longevity. You want members who are focused on their writing despite other interests and day jobs. The group can’t be a drop-in.

3. Size. It matters. I thought eight was the magic number, but it took careful time management and lots of reading and critiquing. Two writers left in the first year and then six seemed perfect. We lost one more and five works fine although new blood is about to be injected.

4. Consistency. We meet on a Friday night, every six weeks for three hours. Do not deviate from your plan as juggling dates around individual schedules is a nightmare. We meet at my home. You want a place that is comfortable, quiet, and accessible.

5. The Work. Anything goes fiction. We write short stories, flash fiction, excerpts, beginnings, and the occasional genre piece. Encourage submissions that are under twelve pages. Give occasional prompts to challenge one another (e.g., write 2nd person POV, use the word murder on the first page, write an urban legend).

6. Format. Ask members to email their fiction one week prior to meeting. At the workshop each writer reads a passage before the group gives feedback. Encourage everyone to comment before the member explains and/or asks questions. Written feedback is optional. Give equal time to each story (varies with story length).

7. Chill. Writing is serious work but workshopping doesn’t have to be. As time passes and trust is built the group will become more laid back and open. We take each other’s work seriously, but there’s a lot of laughing and joking too.

8. Extra Curricular. Plan dinners out between workshops. This gives you a chance to talk shop (processsubmissions, books, rejections and successes), and of course, to have fun. Add literary field trips to book launches and readings.

Running F&G is about process, much like writing. I didn’t know how it would work or if it would work before it began, but it has definitely been worth the effort.

“Girl in Dryer” in Broken Pencil

My short fiction “Girl in Dryer” appears in Broken Pencil 54. The story revolves around Alice, a twelve-year-old who lives with unrelieved suspense. She gains temporary relief when she befriends a man and his pig.

This story, inspired by a dream, has four firsts:

Wilbur and Alice

First story to be accompanied by illustrations. Beautiful work by Lisa Vanin.

First story I workshopped with F&G Writers, my amazing writing group that will celebrate its two-year anniversary this May.

First time I was invited to participate in the editorial process, a back-and-forth dialogue with BP founder and fiction editor Hal Niedzviecki.

First time I have been paid for any piece of writing. Have to think of something special to do with it.

Girl in Dryer

F&G Writers

F&G Writers is a Toronto-based writing group that was forged in May 2010. We workshop short fiction every six weeks. Members also get together for talk-shop dinners and literary field trips.

Susan Alexander  lives in Toronto. In addition to her satirical newspaper, The Mammalian Daily , she is working on a book of short stories entitled Substitute Decisions. Check out her innovative short story site She Came to Play. Read “Cecilia” at Joyland.

Julie McArthur grew up Ottawa. She works an a nanny and freelance editor. Read “The Promise of Puppies” at Dragnet Magazine and , “Hybrid Love” at Lies With Occasional Truth.

Tavish McGregor lives and writes in Toronto.

Nadia Ragbar lives and writes in Toronto. Her non-fiction has been published in the Globe and Mail. Read her flash fiction, “RR 21” at The Glass Coin and “Wolves Using the Patio Furniture” and “The Fair” at Dragnet Magazine.

Rob Shaw is enrolled in the Creative Writing Optional Residency MFA program at the University of British Columbia. His work appears in The Dalhousie Review.

Brad Weber lives and writes in Toronto. His work has been published in The Dalhousie Review and The Toronto Quarterly.


I’ve been drawn to the good, the bad and the ugly of metaphors lately. I admit, I am jealous of those that can write amazing metaphors. In a writing excercise at school, I sat, staring into space for fifteen minutes, unable to come up with a single metaphor from scratch. So, if the odd decent one comes through my pen I am happy.

I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. There were often three, four, sometimes five lengthy metaphors on one page. I thought, give me a break, does everything have to sound, look, smell, feel, or taste like something else? Can’t some things just be? I did finish the book.

There are metaphors that stand out, not because they are good, but because they sound like the writer was trying to be clever. A good metaphor is seamless. I read Danielle Egan’s short story “Strange Attractors”. I shook my head and stopped reading at this one. ‘You clear your throat and I picture fossils of tiny seahorses dislodged and swallowed.’

Good metaphors stay with you. Anu Jindal’s short “Saul and Millie are Sisters” has this gem. ‘She could hear voices from the kitchen, though they were muffled by the walls: the bugle call of her mother, the low bassoon of her father, and her grandmother’s french horn.’

I worry I will become a writer that has difficulty reading fiction as I am too busy picking away at the construction to enjoy the story.