Monday, June 30, 2014

Spoken Word

Perhaps it’s my narcissistic nature. I assumed everyone would read and promote one’s own work. I had a lot to learn about Spoken Word and the people who participate.

While chatting over coffee, my friend who had co-hosted Spoken Word for a number of years, asked Bob and me if we’d be interested in co-hosting the event for the coming month. I hesitated. Maybe I was finally maturing – or just getting old. Normally, I would jump in with both feet and then curse my impulsiveness.

I’m not a poet. I remember saying that. She said it was only my impression that it was a poetry event. No, it’s writing of all kinds. Then my thoughts went to the food they served during intermission. The conveners had always provided oodles of food. Though I’d partaken of the yummy fruit, veggies, cakes, cookies, de-alcoholized wine, etc. etc., I wasn’t interested in providing the spread. Thoughts of slugging coolers, bags, and bottles up the stairway to the top floor put me off. Then the time it would take to set up, not to mention the cleanup afterwards. Trudging down the stairs at the end of the night with leftovers and garbage. No, I wouldn’t commit to that.

On the other hand, I wanted to help my friend with Spoken Word. Bob and I decided that we would do it. For the next month or two. But no food. We’d toss in a case or so of water.

I also balked at having a theme. Keep it simple, I said. It’s an open mic event. Participants should share their work without searching for theme material. Sure, the theme was a fun suggestion and optional, but on occasion it had kept me from participating. If the conveners were encouraging guest hosts, then keeping it simple would make the job seem less daunting.

When Bob and I arrived to set up the room, we couldn’t find the podium. Minor glitch. Normally attendance is between 10 and 20ish. We placed a chair in the centre of the room and made a semi circle of chairs around it. Readers could sit while sharing their prose or poetry. (Many preferred to stand.)

I liked the new setup. The circle was more conducive to a gathering of fellow word lovers than the customary podium and rows of seating.

The regulars accepted the new arrangement without comment and the lack of food and refreshments was not an issue – well, one person mentioned it at the end of the evening.

As my friend said, anyone can read anything, but my first impression was right. It’s mostly poetry. A lot of the poetry is dark. Or maybe not. Perhaps the dark poetry resonated more with me.

Some attendees wrote their own material and others read poetry from their favourite collections. Poems they’d stumbled across over a lifetime of reading. Dog-eared books fall open to select passages. Journals that bulge with snips and clippings are held together with elastic bands. Scraps of yellowed paper flutter to the floor. A lifetime of keepsakes.

It is most revealing.

Readings of my fictional mystery, murder, and mayhem take away from the purity of the event. The soul-baring of an intimate group of strangers.     

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 Bony Pete Award Winner Phyllis Humby

If I had it to do over, I’d submit my entry with fingers crossed. Send up a little prayer before sleep. Re-read my submission daily with the burning thought, Is it good enough? Fidget through the banquet, inpatient for the awards presentation to begin. And when my story was announced as a first prize winner, I’d slap the table and grin at the people crowded around. At the sound of my name, I’d leap to my feet, pump the air with my fist, and begin my victory trot to the podium.

That’s not the way it went down.

It began with the audience cheering an Honourable Mention to Maggie Petrushevsky (Maggie Petru) and again when Joan O’Callaghan was named Third Place winner. I stretched my neck to see the Second Prize recipient Rob Brunet leave his table near the front of the hall to accept his award.

The applause subsided for the next announcement. The winning story is Reflections of Miss Sally.

I heard the words. At least I think that’s how the presenter announced it. Actually, the only words I was certain of were Reflections of Miss Sally. My words. The title I gave my story about a fading fan dancer back in the 40s and the hunt for her killer. My eyes bulged a little. For certain. Then Catherine Astolfo, award-winning author and Past President of Crime Writers of Canada, announced me as the winner of the Bony Pete Award for Best Short Story.

One of the two people at my table – her name was Andrea – nudged me. That’s you, she said. (Andrea if you see this, thank you for your cordiality during the conference) With that prompt, I stood. Shocked but thrilled, I weaved my way from the last table at the back of the hall to the dais.

I’m sure I wore a puzzled expression. I felt that way. I gave little thought to winning this contest. What were the chances? As a member of Crime Writers of Canada for less than six months, and this being my first Bloody Words conference, I wanted to take part in every aspect of the event. Of course, that meant sending a submission to the Bony Pete contest.

Cathy commented later that she wished I could have seen the look on my face when she handed me my Bony Pete trophy.

As I turned to leave, she asked if I’d like the box. I hesitated and then accepted. Without thought, I placed the trophy in the box and turned to the flash of a camera. I raised my hand in a thank you to the enthusiastic audience and made my to the back of the hall – all the while thinking of the picture taken of me holding a cardboard box covered in red tissue with white foam skull stickers.