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2020 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Shortlist
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2020 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Shortlist

By 49thShelf
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Rakuten Kobo, in search of the best books written by debut Canadian authors, today announced the shortlist for its sixth annual Emerging Writer Prize. The award was created with the intention of bringing literary recognition, and kick-starting the careers of debut Canadian authors. A $10,000 CAD cash prize will be awarded to a book in each of three categories: Nonfiction, Literary Fiction and Genre Fiction (Speculative Fiction this year). In addition, each winning author receives promotional, marketing and ongoing communications support throughout 2020. After hundreds of applications, the 2020 shortlist was selected by Kobo’s team of expert booksellers, who read each book, and considered customer ratings and reviews. The shortlist comprises five to six books from each category, and now three bestselling Canadian author judges have the difficult task of choosing the winners: Timothy Caulfield for Nonfiction, Marissa Stapley for Literary Fiction, and Andrew Pyper for Speculative Fiction. The winners will be announced in mid-to-late June, 2020. Details
South Away

South Away

The Pacific Coast on Two Wheels

Shortlisted for the Sixth Annual Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize - Nonfiction Category!

South Away follows Meaghan Marie Hackinen and her sister in the adventure of a lifetime: bicycling from Terrace, BC down the West Coast to (almost) the tip of the Baja Peninsula. Along the way Hackinen battles with the elements in Vancouver Island's dense northern forests and frigid Mexican deserts; encounters strange men, suicidal highways and monster trucks; and makes some emergency repairs as ties and sp …

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Highway 1 tapered south of San Francisco as my sister and I closed in on Devil's Slide. One behind the other, Alisha in the lead. Rubber tires clinging to the crumbling white line at the asphalt's edge. Devil's Slide's reputation for landslides and collisions preceded it--warnings about this treacherous, winding stretch of highway had plagued us since the Oregon-California border. Knowing this, we could have taken another route, detouring inland along the Interstate, but that would have added an extra half-day. Moreover, after sitting on our asses for a week in San Pablo suburbs--an hour-long train commute from the bright lights of San Francisco proper--we were anxious to hit the road.

It was November 10, 2009. Ten weeks earlier, I had collected my final paycheque, packed my bicycle panniers, and rolled down the driveway of the house in Terrace, British Columbia, where I'd been renting a room for the summer. I am as fresh and untired as they come, a brand new university grad with a B.A. in Archaeology and no actionable plan for the future. I knew I didn't want to end up like my mother--or the rest of the content-in-their-mediocrity middle-class who populated the Surrey suburbs where I'd spent my childhood--and I knew I wouldn't survive doing something that I hated. Rather than settle into a career (assuming there was a job waiting for me, which there wasn't) I had decided to ride my bicycle six thousand plus kilometres down the western coast of North America, from Terrace to Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja Peninsula. A month into the journey, my sister, Alisha, had joined me.

Now, we were careening down the dusty California coastline, halfway to Cabo, the torrential downpours of Washington and Oregon behind us and SoCal's palm-lined beaches beckoning us south.

At Devil's Slide the highway wound further inland, and soon Alisha and I found ourselves on a wooded mountainside, the rock-scree slope topped with deciduous trees whose fire-hued leaves were carried off by gusts of wind. Pale, near-bare branches ribbed over the roadway. Out of sight, a couple hundred metres to our right, the jagged cliffs of Devil's Slide promontory dropped into the frothing Pacific Ocean.

A horn honked--aimed at us? My heart slammed. Cars in quick succession, inches from the sides of our back panniers. Like a pair of rabbits that had inadvertently wandered onto the track of the Monaco Grand Prix, we were trapped. Why hadn't someone thought to lay the road six inches wider? With no place to pull off to let vehicles pass, we'd become hostages to this devil of a mountain.

I followed the hitch of Alisha's hips as she rocked up the slope, the incline so sharp that we were barely making headway; simply balancing, maintaining a straight course among the rush-wind of passing cars, was challenge enough. My ears echoed with the whir of traffic until at last we reached the summit. The woods cleared, our surroundings suddenly arid, barren. Straws of yellowed grass poked between smooth hillside stones to our left; sheer cliffs plunged into violent surf on our right. Once Alisha and I began our descent, I lost sight of the drop, but the snaking guardrail stood as a reminder of our precarious position on the mountainside. My eyes sped along the twisting white line of the highway shoulder. Another blaring horn, and my chest cinched tighter. My bike computer read thirty miles an hour, but traffic streamed past as if we were standing still.

Abruptly, Alisha's rear tire leapt into my field of vision. Too close--and still decelerating. I snapped the brake levers. My back wheel locked. Panic.

"Go!" I shouted. A fast-approaching potato chip delivery truck loomed like an aggressive T-Rex in my side-view mirror. "Go-go-go-go-go!"

I clipped her from behind, tire against spinning tire. She screamed. A feral, deep-bellied wail.

I knuckled down on the brakes again. My bike frame shuddered from the force, skidding. Even closer to the guardrail. Eyes fixed on the quicksilver sea, hundreds of metres below.

Holy shit, I thought. This is where my story ends.

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All We Knew But Couldn't Say

All We Knew But Couldn't Say

also available: eBook

Finalist for the 2020 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Nonfiction

Joanne Vannicola grew up in a violent home with a physically abusive father and a mother who had no sexual boundaries.

After being pressured to leave home at fourteen, and after fifteen years of estrangement, Joanne learns that her mother is dying. Compelled to reconnect, she visits with her, unearthing a trove of devastating secrets.

Joanne relates her journey from child performer to Emmy Award–winning actor, from hiding in the close …

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2002 — Princess Margaret Hospital

I never know what condition she’ll be in when I arrive at the hospital — if she’ll be lucid, rambling, awake, sleeping, in an altered state, or maybe even gone. Dead.

I wait, though, finishing my cigarette outside, squatting on the ground. My fingertips yellowed with nicotine. The skin chewed. The sky scattered and uncertain as if the spring sun might disappear and a storm might crash in. I exhale and stroke an exposed patch of grass as if it were the fur of a sleeping cat.

“Are you okay?” asks a woman.

I squint, shield my eyes, and look up from her stiletto heels to her bold red lips. Everything perfect and in place.

“My mother is dying,” I say.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly before walking away.

I stand up, squash my cigarette with my shoe, cross the street, and go through the revolving glass doors of Princess Margaret, Toronto’s renowned cancer hospital. I wait for the elevator, pop peppermint gum into my mouth, fish my shades from my pocket, and push them on, covering the dark circles around my eyes.

The elevator is crammed with gowned patients clutching their IV poles, hospital staff, and fellow visitors. Some are here for those in the beginning stages of the disease, the newly diagnosed who are in treatment or having surgery. Then there are people like me, the dishevelled and overtired, the ones on constant duty, hurrying to the bathroom or stealing away for a quick smoke, afraid to miss the end.

It takes forever to get to the seventeenth floor: the palliative care ward. My sisters are outside our mother’s room talking in whispers. My brother, Diego, is at home sleeping. We’re on rotating shifts. My sisters, Sadie and Lou, have travelled from Montreal and Vancouver to say their goodbyes; yes, even Sadie, who was taken by the Children’s Aid so many years ago, the day the rest of us were inexplicably left behind.

Mother slips in and out of consciousness, almost in a coma, her body bruised from multiple needles and the morphine drip. Her eyes are glassy, hollow. She is uncommunicative, the way my sisters like it. They don’t want to talk or listen; they have never believed a word she said anyway. Lou refused to even come to Toronto unless I was certain Mother was dying.

It was winter when my mother was admitted. I didn’t know then how long was left. Weeks? Months? I only knew she was declining, and unlike my sisters, I had questions that needed answering. I walk into her room. Her bare feet are exposed, the skin like cracked mud under a hot sun. I should apply cream but am afraid to touch them. I am thirty-three years old, but my insides still revolt when I get close to her. The need to feel separate is so big, so old. So immediate.

I ignore her parched feet, busying myself with the messy counter beside her bed while I formulate the first question.

“Do you want to finally talk?” I stare at her.

“Not yet,” she says and stares back.

I wipe the counter and rearrange the clutter: the box of Kleenex, the water jug, three Styrofoam cups, juice from breakfast. I throw out used tissues. I try again.

“Why did you marry him?” I ask. “Why Dad?”

“Because I had to,” she answers. She grabs the remote and turns on the extendable tiny television that stretches out from the wall like the arm of a crane. “The new kids are so good,” she says after finding a figure-skating competition. “That boy Sandhu, he can dance too.…”

“But why? Was it because you were pregnant with Sadie?”

She pauses as if the answer is lost to her. I’ve seen it before, this vacancy, how she fumbles, makes things up she doesn’t know, avoids reality.

“I think so.…” Mother says, her voice stuck somewhere in her throat.

“You think so or you know so?”

“I don’t know.… I … well, your grandfather wanted me to marry your father.” She turns off the television and shoves it away from her bed.

I actually know the real story, but not from my mother. From Diego, who told me years ago, after he had gone with Mother to a therapy session.

Mother was the youngest girl out of seven children: the “chosen” one, raped by her father. She told people, but no one believed her. I did. The moment Diego told me, I knew it was true. It was the only thing that made sense. A piece of her was broken long before any of us came along.

“And I loved your father,” she interjects before I can say anything more. “I loved him. Isn’t that enough?” She covers herself with the thin green hospital blanket.

It isn’t. Because it isn’t true. It can’t be. He was a brute; she was a girl. What was to love?

When I was young, I obsessively asked her why she married my dad. He was terrifying, and even at the age of eight, I couldn’t understand why she’d married him.

She would always say the same thing: “Because I loved him.” Then she would throw up her arms to shut me up, as if she thought I could believe her. It was the most insane thing I had ever heard.

She interrupts my thoughts. “I want to speak with all my children.” Her demeanour is imperious. “I forgive you all.”

“What did you say?” I turn to her, feeling nauseous, dizzy almost. After everything she has done, she forgives us?

“And what do you forgive your children for? What have your children done to you that requires your forgiveness?” My voice is low, measured.

She stares at me without answering, fidgets with her bedding. Her voice changes, becomes childlike. “Do you forgive me?”

“I don’t really know, but I know I won’t forget.”

I leave then, rush out, trying to stop the flood of memories. The dam breaks and I spend the night spinning backward, through my father’s violence and my mother’s collusion. And through something else, something hard to accept or talk about even now: how my mother touched me, and how I knew, even when I was a little girl, that it was wrong.

But I go back the next day, and she stares at me vulnerably from her bed. “I’m afraid of losing my hair.”

I am sitting as far away from her as I can. The hospital room isn’t big enough for the two of us. No room is big enough for the two of us.

“I don’t know if I can handle seeing it fall out in chunks. I’m scared.”

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From the Ashes

From the Ashes

My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way
also available: eBook Audiobook

*Winner, Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Nonfiction
*Winner, Indigenous Voices Awards
*Finalist, CBC Canada Reads
*Finalist, High Plains Book Awards
*A Globe and Mail Book of the Year
*An Indigo Book of the Year
*A CBC Best Canadian Nonfiction Book of the Year
In this extraordinary and inspiring debut memoir, Jesse Thistle, once a high school dropout and now a rising Indigenous scholar, chronicles his life on the streets and how he overcame trauma and addiction to discover the truth about who he …

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Heavy Flow

Heavy Flow

Breaking the Curse of Menstruation
also available: eBook

Finalist for the 2020 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Nonfiction

What do you know about your menstrual cycle?

Your menstrual cycle is your fifth vital sign — a barometer of health and wellness that is as telling as your pulse or blood pressure. Yet most of us see our periods as nothing more than a source of inconvenience and embarrassment.

The reasons for this are vast and complex and many are rooted in misogyny. The fact is, women the world over are taught the bare minimum about menstruation, and …

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I was, somewhat ironically, in health class when it happened. I didn’t even have to look to know what was happening — the telltale warmth spreading from between my legs told me exactly what I needed to know.

My pad was leaking.

I excused myself from the classroom, tucked a fresh pad into the sleeve of my sweater and stealthily inspected the chair I had been sitting on to make sure there was no blood on it. Thankfully, there was not — my classmates were still talking about the girl who stained a chair the term before. I shuffled my way to the washroom, keeping my legs tightly crossed to avoid another gush of blood and any further leakage.

Sure enough, I had soaked through my pad and stained both my underwear and my jeans. I changed into a fresh pad, but the damage was done — the blood was visible on the outside. Mortified, I spent the rest of the day with my winter jacket tied around my waist. While the bloodstain had been concealed, the jacket-around-the-waist trick was pretty much like sending out a bat signal to every other student in my school that my pad had leaked.

Does this sound like a familiar story? I’m sure anyone reading this book has a period horror story of their own; whether it’s the classic leaky pad in middle school, a bloodstain on the sheets of a new lover’s bed, or a tampon rolling out of your bag at the most inopportune time. Having someone know you’re on your period — or worse, actually seeing the blood evidence — is embarrassing.

Or maybe your period horror story doesn’t have to do with a bloodstain, but the pain that is often experienced with menstruation. Period pain is real pain, and it’s estimated that it affects anywhere from 70 percent to 90 percent of people who menstruate.

That’s a hell of a lot of “bad periods,” a term that Meghan Cleary, founder of the aptly named resource website, defines as “a condition enshrined in mystery, myth, cultural shame, taboo and clinical gender bias.”

Never mind bad periods: all periods are enmeshed in the same issues. Full stop.

Despite all our advances as a species, menstruation is something that remains a relative mystery for many humans. We can put a man on the moon, yet almost half of the world’s population is suffering on a monthly basis, often in silence, because of a perfectly natural bodily function. Menstrual cramps are the most common gynecological problem in adolescent girls and are the leading cause of short-term absences from school and work.

In a 1978 essay for Ms. magazine, Gloria Steinem mused that if men could menstruate, “Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea to help stamp out monthly discomforts.” Steinem adds that if men could menstruate they would brag about how long and how much, and menstrual products would be free. For anyone who has ever had a period, the essay is hilarious, but it’s also a bleak commentary on the ways in which menstruation is used as a tool of the patriarchy.

More than forty years later, Steinem’s missive is still relevant.

No such pain institute has been founded, and the options for managing period pain and other related symptoms are still limited — and many have to spend years convincing doctors to take that pain seriously.

We live in a culture that seems to have no taboos left, yet period shame still persists. In a world where the minutiae of our lives are live-tweeted, posted to Instagram, and enshrined online, we wouldn’t dare update our status to “menstruating.”

And menstrual products certainly aren’t free. In fact, quite the opposite — for some they can be downright expensive. The “feminine hygiene” industry brings in about $15 billion in sales worldwide; that figure doesn’t include pain medication and other sundries related to menstruation. There are many people around the world who simply cannot afford to purchase pads or tampons, or don’t have access to them in remote areas, relying instead on rags, grass, newspaper, scraps of fabric, or even cow dung to manage their flow. These found materials are itchy, unhygienic, and unreliable. Rather than risk the shame of having their menstruation exposed, many girls and women simply stay home from school and work.

It’s nothing short of a human rights violation. If that sounds extreme, the United Nations Human Rights Council says the same thing in no uncertain terms: “The lack of access to adequate water and sanitation services, including menstrual hygiene management, and the widespread stigma associated with menstruation, have a negative impact on gender equality and the human rights of women and girls.” (emphasis mine)

During my career as a nutritionist, I’ve developed an interest in menstrual cycles from a health perspective. Although I had a lifelong interest in reproductive health, even sewing my own pads and making zines about toxic ingredients in tampons while I was in high school, I was almost thirty before I learned about how my menstrual cycle really worked and that it was a vital sign, both a promoter and indicator of good health. It wasn’t until I was in nutrition school that I was presented with the idea that period pain wasn’t “normal.”

As a feminist, I see that menstruation is a complex issue that transcends physiology. The more time I spend writing, reading, and researching menstruation, the more I recognize just how far the influence of the menstrual taboo reaches. It’s entwined with feminism and patriarchy, gender and the rights of trans people.

Follow the red thread and you will uncover how the medical system’s paternalistic, “doctor knows best” approach has not just ignored, but denied the pain of so many for centuries and has literally failed women by leaving them out of medical and drug trials because controlling the menstrual cycle is, well, hard — 80 percent of the prescription drugs pulled from the U.S. market between 1997 and 2001 caused more side effects in women than in men.

Go a little further and you’ll see how menstruation is a sister to the conversation around hormonal birth control; cousin to female sexuality, fertility, pregnancy, and abortion. It’s about what we as a society think is okay to do to female bodies.

Menstruation intersects with capitalism, the illusion of consumer choice, and the role that product manufacturers have played in shaping the mainstream conversation around menstruation, for worse and for better.

It is at once a political issue, a cultural issue, a class issue, and a public health issue. Our attitudes toward menstruation mirror our discomfort with seasonality and change, death and renewal. It’s underpinned by centuries of shame and taboo, fear and reverence, misunderstanding and symbolism.

No wonder they call it “The Curse.”

Yet, I believe the curse can be broken.

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The Stone Frigate

The Stone Frigate

The Royal Military College's First Female Cadet Speaks Out
also available: eBook
tagged : military, canada, women

Finalist for the 2020 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Nonfiction

A memoir from the first female cadet admitted to the Royal Military College of Canada.

Kate Armstrong was an ordinary young woman eager to leave an abusive childhood behind her when she became the first female cadet admitted to the Royal Military College of Canada. As she struggled for survival in the ultimate boys’ club, she called on her fierce and humourous spirit to push back against the whims of a domineering and patriarchal org …

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Chapter 1: Brace for Shock

Classical music blared in the hall with the tempo of a horse galloping across an open field, and Mr. Kendall was hollering over it. “Rise and shine, recruits! You have until the end of the wake-up song to make your beds and be standing in the hall dressed in PT gear!”

I flew out of bed and looked through the window into pitch black. Morning already? A backlit clock face shone from a tower across the parade square. It read 5:30 a.m. It’s 2:30 a.m. in Vancouver. Nausea washed through me.

Meg jumped down and just missed landing on me. We pulled the bunk bed away from the wall and worked together to make the beds. I knew this song from somewhere, but I had no idea how long it would last. I threw on my physical training gear of pressed green shorts and a white T-shirt and rushed to the sink.

“Let’s leave the bunks pulled out at night and push them back in the morning,” I said through the foam of my toothpaste.

“Deal!” Meg said as she ploughed bobby pins into her bun.

“One minute!” Mr. Kendall, Three Section commander, our section, bellowed from the hall. We shoved the bed back against the wall. The music was reaching a crescendo and the yelling grew more intense.

We opened the door and tumbled out together. Meg stepped left and I stepped right in a moment that sealed our spots in the A Flight recruit hallway for the rest of the term. Twenty recruit bodies spilled out of doorways and stood at attention: four women and sixteen men.

Elated and nervous, I stared across at a room recently renovated in preparation for our arrival. On the door, the international symbol for women’s washrooms facelessly stared back at me. Her head floated, detached, above her body. Her arms stretched out to her sides in surrender.

I could smell fresh paint.

The song ended. Mr. Kendall yelled, “It’s showtime, folks!”

That was it! The song was from the opening scene of All That Jazz — the Alka-Seltzer, the cigarette in the shower, the eye drops, the Dexedrine.

“Fall in outside.”

We crowded down the stairs into the cool, damp pre-dawn air to find Mr. Theroux, Two Section commander, already waiting on the parade square. His full lips and dark-circled eyes gave me the sense that it wasn’t just recruits who were feeling tired this morning. “A Flight! A-ten-shun! Time to separate da boys from da men.”

The fourth years wore navy-blue T-shirts with a huge white spider blazoned on the chest above the letters SFMA — Stone Frigate Military Academy. I vied for a spot in the middle of the pack. I despised morning runs.

“A Flight, repeat after me,” commanded Mr. Kendall with a hint of playfulness. We mimicked him as he leaned his head back and yelled, “Yea stone, yea boat, yea, yea, stone boat!”

A responding cry from the seven recruit flights formed up across the parade square reverberated over us: “Stone boats don’t float! Stone boats don’t float!”

Mr. Kendall drew in a deep breath and shuddered in feigned enjoyment. I got it. Hudson Squadron stood alone in the cadet wing, as the undergraduate student body was known, in more ways than just our dorm being separate from everyone else’s. We were special and we owned it. I could handle being universally despised by the rest of the cadet wing if there was pride in it.

The morning run pace was double time, only twice as fast as walking. I took heart. I can do this! I was an athlete. I had just made it through ten weeks of basic officer training and seventy morning runs. How hard could it be? Half these guys looked like scrawny teenage boys.

We ran platoon style down a little slope and out onto a gravel road along the water, passing between an old boathouse on the right with an eclectic flotilla secured to a concrete jetty and a modern academic complex on the left, which appeared to interconnect over a few acres of land. From there, we crossed an expansive undeveloped field and then took a right uphill on a long, winding road toward the Fort Henry National Historic Site and down a steep path along the backside of the fort to the St. Lawrence River. I caught my first glimpse of the Thousand Islands.

We had run about three kilometres when the path, now as narrow as a goat trail, turned up a steep hill. The Stone Frigate came into view across a small bay. The old, yellow limestone building stood alone, separated from the other cadet dorms by 200 metres of parade square. The sun rose in a splash of colour across the phallic-shaped peninsula of the RMC grounds jutting out between Navy Bay on this side and Kingston Harbour at the mouth of the Rideau Canal on the other.

“Break ranks for Heartbreak Hill!” ordered Mr. Kendall. We morphed into a single line. One of the guys stopped dead in his tracks and grabbed his side.

“Let’s go!” Mr. Kendall screamed at him. “Are you a fucking pussy, Recruit Dahl?”

“No, Mr. Kendall!”

“You can’t even keep up with the girls. Doesn’t that make you a pussy, Dahl?”

“Yes, Mr. Kendall! I have a cramp.”

“No one cares, Dahl! If you’re looking for sympathy, you’ll find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis!”

“Yes, Mr. Kendall!” Dahl hollered. He was feigning an effort to run again as I shuffled past him on the path. He looked like he was going to cry, bending over now, clutching his side. He had an athletic build like Moose from the Archie comics. I left him behind.

“Passed by a girl, Dahl! Have you no shame?”

I cringed at being singled out by Mr. Kendall. I didn’t like him broadcasting the fact that I was female. I wanted him — and the rest of A Flight — to see me as just another one of the guys.

Mr. Kendall remained behind with Dahl. We reformed ranks at the top of the hill and ran on without Dahl. When we reached the edge of the field, Mr. Theroux turned us around.

“Time to pick up da trash,” Theroux said. “No one get left be’ind, if you know what I mean.”

Loud and clear. If you drop out, the entire flight will suffer.

We ran back up the hill, scooped up Dahl, and turned back toward home. He winced with each stride but stayed in our ranks. I wanted to punch him. One stride at a time, I concentrated on controlled breathing, keeping cadence with the centipede of legs shuffling alongside me. The repeat of the hill was a killer. I felt shaky with exhaustion.

We arrived back at the Frigate just after 3:30 a.m. Vancouver time. At this hour the previous morning, before our long day of travel to RMC, I had still been asleep in my bunk, freshly graduated from basic officer training on the West Coast at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Chilliwack. That night, when we had first stepped off the recruit buses from the Ottawa airport into the Kingston evening air, I was struck by an almost tropical humidity. In the distance, someone was playing a lament on the bagpipes and the notes squeezed in my chest. I was frightened. I didn’t know how to be a cadet at military college or how I should act.

I had been assigned to One Squadron in the dreaded Stone Frigate and formed up at the stanchion holding a navy-blue burgee, a tiny triangular flag, with a white number one on it. The flight leader had told us to stand easy and look in his direction. He was formally dressed in a scarlet uniform. His red doeskin tunic fit like a second skin, a red sash crossed his chest from his right shoulder to his left hip, his sleeves were adorned with badges, and his gold-trimmed pillbox hat hung precariously off the right side of his head, held on by a thin black chinstrap. He was good-looking in a dark, brooding way, like a pirate.

“Welcome to the Royal Military College of Canada,” he said. “I’m Fourth Year Donald Morgan, your recruit flight leader for One Squadron, known as Hudson Squadron. Do not speak unless I address you. Call me Mr. Morgan. Do not call me sir. We are all officer cadets here. First thing, grab your bags off the truck and get back here. STAT. Dismissed!”

We raced as a gang, alongside the other recruit flights, to the army truck full of luggage that had trailed our buses from Ottawa. I jostled for position at the ladder to get on the truck and help unload bags. A big guy shoved me aside and went up before me. I gained my balance and scrambled up behind him. I stood with the men, hurling luggage to the waiting arms below. I knew that first impressions were lasting impressions and if I could appear keen from the beginning, it would save me hassles later. Soon the truck was cleared, and I jumped down and found my bags. Then we were marched straight into the Frigate and assigned our roommates. Recruit term had officially begun.

For the next six weeks, we would have no control over whom we lived with or talked to, what we did, or where we went. Rumours had circulated at basic training about recruit-term hazing, physical exhaustion, lots of yelling, mind games, even death — at least one recruit had died running the obstacle course. Less than half of us would graduate.

I knew it was a game. They could haze me but they couldn’t really harm me. They called it recruit training, though it wasn’t really training but a test designed to crack us and expose our emotional underbellies, to see if we had the guts to be cadets at RMC and, later, officers in the military. I felt ready to face the big tests, physical and emotional, but as an eighteen-year-old girl, the concept of psychological warfare was lost on me.

That morning, after our run, Mr. Morgan met us in the recruit hallway. He was dressed in the dress of the day, the No. 5 uniform of navy-blue pants with red piping, a tricoloured belt, and a light-green short-sleeved shirt. He still wore his red sash, indicating his cadet rank of three barmen, from the night before. He gave us seven minutes to shower, dress, and be standing in the hall. The four women of A Flight — Meg Carter, Nanette Travers, Nancy Sloane, and me — stood smiling at each other in the women’s shower room, introducing ourselves in whispers. We didn’t have to say it. No men allowed. We could hear screaming from down the hall, coming from the men’s shower room, as the fourth years lorded it over the guys. Being amongst the first women to enter RMC, we had no one above us to supervise showers.

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Before the Lights Go Out

Before the Lights Go Out

A Season Inside a Game on the Brink
also available: Paperback

A love letter to a sport that's losing itself, from one of Canada's best sports writers.

Canadian hockey is approaching a state of crisis. It's become more expensive, more exclusive, and effectively off-limits to huge swaths of the potential sports-loving population. Youth registration numbers are stagnant; efforts to appeal to new Canadians are often grim at best; the game, increasingly, does not resemble the country of which it's for so long been an integral part.
    These signs worried Sean …

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Frying Plantain

Frying Plantain

also available: eBook

Set in a neighbourhood known as “Little Jamaica,” Frying Plantain follows one young girl from elementary school to high school graduation as she navigates the tensions between mothers and daughters, second-generation immigrants and first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity and predominantly white society.
Kara Davis is a girl caught in the middle — of her North American identity and her desire to be a “true” Jamaican, of her mother and grandmother’s rages and life l …

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From “Pig Head”
On my first visit to Jamaica I saw a pig’s severed head. My grandmother’s sister Auntie had asked me to grab two bottles of Ting from the icebox and when I walked into the kitchen and pulled up the icebox lid there it was, its blood splattered and frozen thick on the bottles beneath it, its brown tongue lolling out from between its clenched teeth, the tip making a small dip in the ice water.
My cousins were in the next room so I clamped my palm over my mouth to keep from screaming. They were all my age or younger, and during the five days I’d already been in Hanover they’d all spoken easily about the chickens they strangled for soup and they’d idly thrown stones at alligators for sport, side-eyeing me when I was too afraid to join in. I wanted to avoid a repeat of those looks, so I bit down on my finger to push the scream back down my throat.
Only two days before I’d squealed when Rodney, who was ten like me, had wrung a chicken’s neck without warning; the jerk of his hands and the quick snap of the bone had made me fall back against the coops behind me. He turned to me after I’d silenced myself and his mouth and nose were twisted up as if he was deciding whether he was irritated with me or contemptuous or just amused.
“Ah wah?” he asked. “Yuh nuh cook soup in Canada?”
“Sure we do,” I said, my voice a mumble. “The chicken is just dead first.”
He didn’t respond, and he didn’t say anything about it in front of our other cousins, but soon after they all treated me with a newfound delicacy. When the girls played Dandy Shandy with their friends they stopped asking me to be in the middle and when all of them climbed trees to pluck ripe mangoes, they no longer hung, loose-limbed, from the branches and tried to convince me to clamber up and join them. For the first three days of my visit, they’d at least tease me, broad smiles stretching their cheeks, and yell down, “This tree frighten yuh like how duppy frighten yuh?” Then they’d let leaves fall from their hands onto my hair and laugh when I tried to pick them out of my plaits. I’d fuss and grumble, piqued at the taunting but grateful for the inclusion, for being thought tough enough to handle the same mockery they inflicted on each other. But after the chicken, they didn’t goad me anymore and they only approached me for games like tag, for games they thought Canadian girls could stomach.
“What’s taking you so long?” My mother came up behind me and instead of waiting for me to answer, leaned forward and peered into the icebox, swallowing hard as she did. “Great,” she whispered. “Are you going to be traumatized by this?”
I didn’t quite know what she meant — but I felt like the right answer was no, so I shook my head. My mother was like my cousins. I hadn’t seen her butcher any animals, but back home she stepped on spiders without flinching, she cussed out men who tried to reach for her in the street, and I couldn’t bear her scoffing at me for screaming at a pig’s head.
“Eloise!” Nana called. My grandmother came into the kitchen from the backyard and stood next to us, her hands on her hips. The deep arch in her back made her breasts and belly protrude, and the way she stood with her legs apart reminded me of a pigeon.
“I hear Auntie call out she want a drink from the fridge. That there is the freezer yuh nuh want that. Yuh know wah Bredda put in there? Kara canna see that, she nuh raise up for it.”
“I closed the lid,” said my mother. “Anyway, it was a pig’s head. It’s not like she saw the pig get slaughtered. She’s fine.”
“Kara’s a soft one. She canna handle these things.”
I felt my mother take a deep breath in and I suddenly became aware of all the exposed knives in the kitchen and wondered if there was any way I could hide them without being noticed. We were only here for ten days and my mother and Nana had already gotten into two fights — one in the airport on the day we landed, the other two nights after — and Auntie had threatened to set the dogs on them if they didn’t calm down.
“Mi thought Canada was supposed fi be a civilized place, how yuh two fight like the dogs them? Cha.”
I wondered if all daughters fought with their mothers this way when they grew up and started to tear up just thinking about it. Nana looked at me.
“See? She ah cry about the head.”
“It’s not about the head,” said my mother. “She just cries over anything.”
“Like I say. She a soft chile.”

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In 1907, the fifteen-year-old French-Canadian Ernest Dufault left his home in Quebec for Montana, where he was promptly arrested as a cattle thief and, as a prisoner of the state of Nevada, passed himself off as an American cowboy named Will James. Over the next few decades, Dufault, a.k.a. James, would flourish as a cowboy and horsebreaker and go on to become an artist, a soldier, a Hollywood stuntman, a bestselling author of award-winning westerns — and his own false memoir. The Quebecer was …

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The travelling companions had been back on the road a few hours, and Lew had picked up his drinking where he’d left off before deciding to nap. As they made their way south through Spring Valley, on the northwest edge of Lincoln County, near the borders of White Pine and Nye counties, they caught sight of a herd out to pasture less than a mile away.

“Interesting,” Hackberry mumbled.

They approached slowly, and the herd didn’t scatter. The animals scarcely paid the two cowboys any mind. Will and Lew counted thirty-odd head, no horns.

“Thirty-one,” said Will.

“GS?” asked Hackberry, checking the brand high on their hindquarters.

“The Lazy GS. The Swallow brothers’ outfit over in White Pine. Got a whole post office just for them, up in the district they call Shoshone.”

“You know ’em?”

“By reputation, mostly,” said Will. “Smug bastards. Don’t treat their men good. Horses neither.”

Will and Lew stayed on their horses a minute, smoking in silence and circling the herd. The wheels in Hackberry’s head were turning, as if he were focusing every ounce of concentration on the task of sobering up so he could think clearly for a moment. He opened his mouth a few times but nothing came out. Will put him out of his misery.

“Something botherin’ you, Lew?”

“You reckon they just wandered all the way out here?”

“Sure do look that way.”

Nowhere did they see the slightest trace of horse tracks, either fresh or old. No one knew that these cattle were out here with the two men, some twenty miles south of the Lazy GS Ranch and the county line.

“Figger you could blot that brand?”

“I don’t have my gear on me,” answered Will. “Plus we’d have to wait for it to scar. Risky.”

“Well, we can’t just go and sell them in Ely. Word would get around too fast.”

Ely was the biggest livestock hub in this part of Nevada. Ranches from all over the eastern, central, and northern parts of the state sent their cattle through Ely on the way to Denver.

“Not sure what to do. The Swallows may be bastards, but we could still bring them their cattle back. They’d pay us handsomely.”

Lew sat up tall on his horse.

“Really, Bill? Really?”


“Did they castrate you along with them steers over the summer?”

Will thought for a moment.

“I know a place not far from the Utah state line. Oasis. Kinda place where they don’t ask questions.”

“You took the words right out of my mouth. Oasis! Now there’s the Will James I thought I knew.”

Now it was Hackberry’s turn to think a little. He was positively reinvigorated, and grinning like a kid.

“From Oasis, I’ll catch the train to Denver. I know people there. It’ll be easy and we’ll be rich. I’m sure we can get thirty-five a head, at least, maybe forty, who knows — maybe even fifty! Those sure are some nice fat cattle!”

Fifty a head was over the top. Will wasn’t about to get carried away, but the prospect of making somewhere in the region of five hundred dollars for a bit more than a week’s work was nothing to sneeze at. It would be enough to set Will up for the winter, maybe even the entire next year, without having to worry too much about what to do next. He’d finally have time to draw, maybe even travel to the West Coast and study at art school. He could visit his idol, the great cowboy painter Charles Russell, in his studio.

“Okay then,” said Will. “We should get there in ten days or so. But you’re gonna have to follow my lead. I know the area better than you, and you’re pretty damn drunk. You got many of those jugs left?”

Hackberry indicated that he did not, and adopted a malicious look that had been known to get him into trouble. Will steered them back to the matter at hand.

“Once we get to Oasis, I know I can trust you. But, until then, it’s me who’s in charge. And for God’s sake, try to sober up a little.”

Lew bared his rickety yellow teeth in all their splendour.

They decided to wait until sundown to make their move. That way, if other riders showed, they could always say they’d just arrived on the scene and were wondering what to do. Lew had no problem finishing his jug — he still had three left — as Will tried to convince him to get some rest. The next several days — or, rather, the next several nights — would be long.

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