Friday 27 May 2016

4Q Interview with Author Maika Branch.

Maika Branch is our featured author on this month. It is a notable accomplishment to have two novels published but is even more newsworthy when the author is in their early teens. She has the pleasant distinction of being the youngest author on the Scribbler.

4Q: Please tell us about yourself Maika, the young lady

MB: Maika the person? Yes, I believe she's still in there somewhere. Well, I'm thirteen years old and counting, and have been told many times that I have an unhealthy addiction to books. Or stories in general, especially fantasy. Mystery is ok. Too many clichés.
I love snakes, rain over sun, and smile at strangers for no apparent reason. Surprisingly, aside from being an author, my life is pretty normal. My mother is Dutch and my father is Acadian, so I can get by in three separate languages. I go to middle school, in seventh grade. Writing and reading are my main hobbies. Aside from that, I draw, paint, make videos, and sing. 

4Q. Your mother, Lidia, has been a guest on the Scribbler (see here) and is an accomplished author also.  How have her accomplishments inspired you?
MB:  My mother has been an inspiration in so many ways. Her book, Baby Jonah, is her memoir about how she gave birth to my older brother Jonah (before the age of Maika). She has endured so much, has done so much, it was only through her encouragement and patience that I ever wrote a book at all. 

4Q: Please tell us a childhood anecdote or story.

MB: A childhood story? Well, let's see. As a child, a toddler really, I wanted desperately to go to school. From what I had heard, kindergarten was an amazing place filled with learning, fun, and friends. So when my older brother by two years, Jonah, was sent off without me, I was, of course, devastated. I didn't understand why I couldn't go on the huge yellow bus with my brother. Thankfully, my mother let me have homework, instructing me to write Z's all over a blank page. That was the first story I've ever written. 

4Q: To date you have published two novels. Please tell us about them.
MB: My two novels, Calagarmii Cliffs and Sisters of Serenah, are both fantasy genre, the former for preteens and the latter for young adults. My first, Calagarmii Cliffs is about two young girls, Emma and Kaila, as they go on a class field trip to the legendary Calagarmii Cliffs (inspired by the Hopewell Rocks). However, the duo get more than they bargained for when they get lost in one of the many caves there, in which they discover a magical world unlike anything they've ever known. With the help of Stefia, a local girl, and Squirt, a courageous creature, the group find themselves dealing with cunning spirits and battling evil foes to get back home.

            My second and newest novel, Sisters of Serenah, follows the story of two sisters – Larah and Skye – teens who have lived in the forest of Serenah for as long as they can remember. The two are hunter-gatherers, each with the power to shape-shift into different animals, and live alone. Alone, that is, until Skye finds a boy in the snow. A human. His name is Tai, and he comes from a mythical place called a cit-ai, having accidentally found his way here. He learns to hunt, build, and live in the forest. Perhaps he would go his own way and explore. But suddenly that is impossible. A hurricane wreaks havoc on the forest, and the three are suddenly forced to work together and leave the only place they know to find a new home.

 An excerpt from Sisters of Serenah

She soared upwards, catching a gust of wind and letting it carry her. She then used her powerful wings to go yet higher, clearing the treetops and grazing the clouds. Flying was easy. For a single blissful moment, she was so caught in flying that she forgot all about the race back to camp. She swooped down and soared back up, spinning and falling, free and without worry; she could dance and fly easily in the air...
Pay attention, Skye! she chided herself. Skye stopped in her dance and looked down. Where was Larah? She was probably ahead now. Later, when dinner was cooking, she could play sky games. Skye was very competitive, but stubborn. She loved a challenge. 
Thank you Maika for being our guest this
 week on the Scribbler. Discover more about

this clever storyteller by visiting her

Next week the Scribbler is pleased to post
 another 4Q Interview with professional artist
Nicole Tremblay of Shediac, New Brunswick.
A very talented lady.


Please leave a comment below as well as
your email address for a chance to win one of
two Dark Side of a Promise novels, shipped
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Friday 20 May 2016

Guest Author Lana Kortchik.

Lana Kortchik grew up in two opposite corners of the Soviet Union - a snow-white Siberian town and the golden-domed Ukrainian capital. At the age of sixteen, she moved to Australia with her mother. Lana and her husband live in Sydney, where it never snows and is always summer-warm, even in winter. She loves books, martial arts, the ocean and Napoleonic history. Her short stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. She was the winner of Historical Novel Society Autumn 2012 Short Fiction competition and the runner-up of 2013 Defenestrationism Short Story Contest. Lana's first novel, Savaged Lands, was published by Endeavour Press in January 2016.


 Chapter one from Savaged Land.
Copyright is held by the author. Used by permission.
It was a balmy September afternoon and the streets of Kiev were crowded. Just like always, cars screeched past the famous Besarabsky Market. And just like always, a stream of pedestrians engulfed the cobbled Kreshchatyk. Yet something was different. No one smiled, no one called out greetings or paused for a leisurely conversation in the shade of the many chestnut trees that lined the renowned street. On every grim face, in every mute mouth, in the way they moved – a touch faster than usual – there was anxiety, fear and unease. 
And only three teenagers seemed oblivious to the oddly hushed bustle around them. 
Natasha Smirnova, a tall, dark-haired waif of a girl, slowed down to a complete stop and turned around. Hands on hips, she glared at the other two. ‘Hurry!’ she cried. ‘We’re in so much trouble.’ 
‘Lighten up,’ said Natasha’s sister Lisa, eyes sparkling. ‘Papa won’t even notice we’re gone.’ 
Grabbing Lisa by the arm, Natasha replied, ‘He will if you don’t get a move on.’ At nineteen, she was only a year older than her sister but she was always the serious one, the more responsible one. There were times when she admired Lisa’s impulsive character. Today was not one of them. 
‘Get off!’ exclaimed Lisa, turning her back on her sister, her long red hair swinging out to whip Natasha across the face. ‘Alexei, are you coming?’ Her voice was too loud for the muted street and several passers-by glared in her direction. 
Alexei Antonov, a blond, broad-shouldered boy, had stopped at what seemed like the only market stall in Kiev that wasn’t padlocked shut and abandoned. The stall boasted a great selection of combat knives and Alexei was in deep conversation with the owner. 
‘Alexei!’ Lisa called again. Her voice quivered. 
Alexei handed the stall owner some money and pocketed the knife. ‘Wait up!’ he cried, breaking into a run. 
‘Dillydallying as always,’ said Lisa, her plump lips pursed together in a pout. ‘Keep this up and we’ll leave you here.’ 
‘Nagging already? And we’re not even married yet.’ Pecking Lisa on the cheek, Alexei adjusted his glasses, his face a picture of mock suffering and distress. 
‘Get used to it,’ said Lisa, pinching the soft skin above his elbow. He attempted a frown but failed, smiling into Lisa’s freckled face. 
They paused in the middle of the road and kissed deeply. A van swerved around them, a stream of obscenities emanating from its open windows. The two lovers didn’t move. They barely looked up. 
‘And this is why I walk five metres away from you. It’s too embarrassing.’ Natasha stared at the ground, her face flaming. Wishing she could run home but not wanting to abandon Lisa and Alexei in the middle of the street, she was practically jogging on the spot. ‘You heard Papa this morning. Under no circumstances were we to leave the house.’ 
‘We had to leave the house,’ said Lisa. ‘You know we did. It was a question of life and death.’ 
Natasha raised her eyebrows. ‘A wedding dress fitting is a question of life and death?’ 
Lisa nodded. ‘Not just any fitting. The final fitting.’ 
‘The final fitting,’ mimicked Alexei, rolling his eyes. ‘I had to wait for you for an hour! An hour in the dark corridor.’ 
Lisa pulled away from him. ‘You know you can’t see me in my wedding dress. It’s bad luck.’ She whispered the last two words as if the mere mention of bad luck was enough somehow to summon it. 
‘It’s bad luck to be outside at a time like this,’ murmured Natasha. 
Lisa said, ‘Don’t worry. The streets are perfectly safe. And Papa will understand.’ 
‘I doubt it. Just yesterday he said you were too young to marry.’ 
Lisa laughed as if it was the most preposterous thing she had ever heard. ‘And I reminded him that Mama was younger than me when they got married. And Grandma was only sixteen when she married Grandpa. When Mama had Stanislav, she was the same age as you.’ 
Exasperated, Natasha shook her head. 
Lisa continued, ‘Did you hear the dressmaker? Apparently I have the perfect figure. Mind you, I still have time to lose a few pounds before the big day.’ 
Alexei ran his hands over her tiny frame. ‘Don’t lose a few pounds, Lisa. There won’t be any of you left to marry.’ 
His words were interrupted by a distant rumble. Half a city away, the horizon flickered with shades of yellow and red. 
An explosion followed. 
And another. 
And another. 
For a few breathtaking seconds, the ground vibrated. Somewhere in the distance, machine guns barked and people shouted. And then, as if nothing had happened, all was still again. At the outskirts of the town, fires smouldered and smoke rose in gloomy, putrid mist.  
‘Don’t be scared,’ said Alexei, pulling Lisa tightly to his side. ‘There won’t be much bombing today.’ 
‘How do you know?’ demanded Natasha. 
‘Just something I heard. The Nazis don’t want to destroy our city. They’re saving it.’  
‘Saving it for what?’ Lisa asked. 
‘For themselves, silly,’ said Natasha. 
Lisa scowled. ‘And that’s supposed to make me feel better?’  
   Natasha could tell her sister was scared because Lisa no longer dawdled. Quite the opposite, she was walking so fast that Natasha had to make an effort to keep up. Racing one another, the three of them turned onto Taras Shevchenko Boulevard and dashed through the park adjoining the university. The ground was littered with shells that had once carried death but now lay peacefully at their feet. Natasha could feel their sharp edges through the soles of her boots. One of her favourite places in Kiev, the park was unrecognisable. Anywhere not covered by pavement was excavated. In the last three months, it had transformed into what seemed like the habitat of a giant mole, full of holes and burrows. All the trenches that the Kievans were digging, all the barricades they were building, enthusiastically at the end of June, habitually in July and sporadically in August, now stood empty and abandoned. How meaningless it all seemed now, how futile. 
   It was inexplicably, almost nonsensically warm. The splendour of Ukrainian autumn, its sheer joy, its unrestrained abundance seemed out of place in the face of German invasion. The sun, the blue skies, the whites and reds of the flowers contrasted sharply with fires and damaged buildings. What was happening to their city now, what had happened three months ago when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, none of it made sense to Natasha. She felt as if at any moment she would wake up only to find the streets of Kiev peaceful and quiet. 
   Since the day her city was first bombed in June, Natasha had waited impatiently to wake up. 
But the nightmare had continued. All through the end of August and the beginning of September, she watched as platoon after platoon of Red Army soldiers retreated, away from Kiev, away from Natasha and her family. Soon the authorities followed the army. Now, in late September, the city held its breath in fearful anticipation. There was nothing but melancholy faces, nothing but grim skies. 
Uncertainly Lisa muttered, ‘The Germans aren’t coming here. Haven’t you heard the radio?’ Like clockwork every few hours, the radio and the loudspeakers outside screeched that: ‘Kiev was, is and will be Soviet.’ 
How ironic, thought Natasha. As if anyone believed it now.  
‘The Red Army will soon push Hitler back,’ added Lisa. 
‘What Red Army?’ muttered Natasha. 
Lisa squared her shoulders but didn’t reply. Suddenly, on the corner of Lva Tolstogo and Vladimirovskaya, she came to an abrupt halt. Natasha, who was only a couple of steps behind, bumped straight into her sister. ‘What …’ she started saying and stopped. Her mouth assumed a shape of an astonished ‘Oh’ but no sound escaped. All she could do was stare. From the direction of the river hundreds of soldiers in grey were marching towards them. 
Wide-eyed, the sisters and Alexei backed into the park and hid behind its tall fence, watching in fear. 
The wait was finally over. The enemy was no longer at the gates. Surrounded by crowds of confused men, women and children and accompanied by barking dogs, the enemy were right there, inside their city, their grey uniforms a perfect fit, their green helmets sparkling, their motorbikes roaring, their footsteps echoing in the tranquil autumn air.  
It was Friday, the nineteenth of September, 1941.
Thank you Lana for sharing this captivating chapter. I look forward to reading more.
You can find out more about Lana at the following links.
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Friday 13 May 2016

Two Grumpy Old Men Cafe - a short story by Allan Hudson

If you don't like being insulted then don't go through the door.

This story was inspired by an afternoon sharing some drinks with a few buddies. Someone suggested that when we retired we could move south and open up a restaurant only serving breakfast and have the afternoons off. Most of us thought that wouldn't be a good idea because the person that made the suggestion was too grumpy in the mornings.

Two Grumpy Old Men Café was born.

The following is Part 1. If you would like to read Part 2, leave your email address in the comment box below and I'll send you a free Word or PDF version of the complete story.Copyright is owned by the author. This story was first published in SHORTS Vol.1

The TGOM café is open from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday to Friday for breakfast only. If the two Canadians that owned the place had to stay open any longer they wouldn’t be just grumpy, they’d be downright inhospitable. At 77 years of age, Wilmot Parker III is an avid golfer, not a very good one mind you; in fact his fellow hackers call him Trap. There is always enough sand in the cuffs of his golfing pants at the end of a game that management accuses him of trying to steal it. If he ever played eighteen holes under ninety, it was likely his turn to keep score that day. Nonetheless, he loves the sport and has to be at the clubhouse by 1 p.m. every day except Sunday, which is church day. He’d been a financial advisor most of his working life, a golfer for about nine years, a widower for twelve, restaurateur for three.

Clarence Jerome Parker (no relation), known as CJ, is 75 and has never been married. When questioned about his bachelorhood, his defensive phrase is “there are too many lovely ladies, and I only have one lifetime. It would be unfair to womankind for me to impose myself upon one partner for the rest of my life.” His afternoons are spent in front of his computer writing what he calls “smut novels” under the alias of John T. Boner. The series is a moderate internet hit, available exclusively on his web page. Other people manage the site now, but every day except Monday (restaurant accounting day) and Friday (happy hour day), he writes from 1 to 5 p.m. He’d been a building contractor for thirty-five years, a hobby writer most of his life, a restaurateur for three. He cooks the biscuits in the mornings.

Estero Boulevard in Fort Myers Beach is mostly deserted at 5 a.m. The café sits down a side street off the main road, third business from the corner. It’s tucked neatly between a family-owned hardware store appropriately named Family’s Hardware and a used book store called The Author’s Index, run by a retired couple from Burlington, Vermont. All the buildings are constructed of rust-colored bricks and flat roofs. The café is the brightest on the street. The brick is whitewashed under large tinted glass windows that are shadowed by a four-foot awning of wide black-and-white strips. The dark green letters TGOM dominate the center of the twenty-six foot canvas held taut by black wrought iron stays that had been installed by the former occupant, Mel’s Big and Tall, a haberdashery that suggested they “have you covered up to size 6X.” The inside had been gutted to expose the overhead metal joists and the raw brick walls when CJ and Wilmot bought the building four years ago. 

The coming day is a sliver of pink and orange that winks across the eastern horizon, threatening the night, forcing it to flee. The air is balmy, scented with palm and sea salt that CJ breathes deep as he unlocks the door to enter the pantry/office at the back of the restaurant.  A beeping warns him the alarm system is armed and needs the proper code or it will call the police.  He flips the light switch just inside the door, keys in his code – dthroat1 on the finger pad just below the switch. He grins as he does every morning when he enters the premises, liking how tidy Wilmot keeps his desk and how Taffy, their only employee, keeps the stores. The floors, shelves, refrigerators, cupboards are so neat and clean they look like they’re in an ad.

There is a staff washroom on the left, to the far right. The remaining portion of that side is a makeshift office. A shelf-filled wall that faces the back door is broken by a wide antique French door with translucent glass that separates the back room from the main cooking and seating area in the front.  The ceilings are tall and filled with sprinklers, water lines, wire conduits, air-conditioning and exhaust ducts that all roam the steel rafters in balanced order. The whole apparatus was sprayed a soft brown, like milk chocolate.  The brick walls that line the outer dimension of the restaurant were sandblasted then painted a buttery color much like the tiny yellow flowers in the center of a common daisy.
Large portraits of well-known Canadians – Karen Kain, Lester B. Pearson, Burton Cummings, Stomping Tom, Donald Sutherland and Celine Dion – adorn the walls in mismatched frames: black-and-white close-ups with large dark eyes that follow your every move.

CJ wears one of the “company issue” black golf shirts with TGOM tastefully stitched in gold over the left breast. A pair of leather sandals and khaki cargo shorts, pockets bulging like squirrel cheeks, complete his ensemble.  Shutting the door, he opens a narrow closet on the right, next to a food prep area, where among other things seven chef jackets hang, all black, double-layered cotton with the same logo as the golf shirts. Four are still in the plastic from the cleaners; three are stained and ready to be picked up tomorrow, on Tuesday. Two of the clean ones are a 44 regular; they belong to him. Wilmot wears a 42 tall. Shredding the clear covering on one, CJ puts on a jacket and buttons it up as he wheels about the pantry collecting bowls, spatulas, eggs, flour, baking powder, salt, shortening and buttermilk – all the ingredients needed for by his grandmother’s recipe, committed to heartwarming memory.

Soon, the oven is turned to 450 while the coffee finishes brewing – just one pot for the staff for now. The biscuit dough is rolled out on the counter, emitting a raw floury scent. Not long after, a two-inch round cookie cutter is poised to form the delicious circles when the back door roughly opens. High-pitched female chuckling precedes her as she bursts in with all the energy of a freshly lit flare. Taffy Fitzsimons’ whole being is a kaleidoscope of colors, emotions, kinetics.  Often reminding the owners of the drabness of the black golf shirt, she countermands their strict policy on company dress by wearing the most colorful of pants, often the stretchy version. Notorious among her peers for second-hand shopping, she always has something new on Mondays; there will be no disappointing the regulars today.  Her lower portion is clad in fuchsia tights; beige denim cut-offs with cuffs rolled at the knee cover her thighs; her shoes are high-heeled and orange. The golf shirt is just right clutching her tender curves.

At 68, Taffy is still an exotic sight. Her light brown hair is always pulled back into a delightful knot, highlighting her diamond-shaped face. She’s a beautiful Polynesian and Caucasian blend, originally from Hawaii. Eyes a rich brown find delight in almost everything; few wrinkles line the edges. Charming and witty, she trades gaffs with the Parkers, as she calls them, with aplomb. Insults come easy to her, she’s a retired firefighter. She followed husband number two to Florida, never to return. He died five years past, leaving her a mountain of money. No one would think to describe her as shy. The patrons love her.

Wilmot enters close behind, laughing at some joke he probably told Taffy. He brings her a new one every day.  How he remembers them is no mystery; he can even remember the one he told her last Monday. His memory is measured in terra gigs, fathomless. He’ll know what Apple’s shares are trading at as of a half hour ago, what they closed at yesterday, the day’s high, the low and what they were last Monday and the Monday before. He’ll know the final scores of every NHL game this weekend, which everyone will hear about whether they like hockey or the Toronto Maple Leafs or not. Except for the biscuits, he does the cooking.

He’s wearing his usual “business casual” shorts, dark grey today. The pleat is perfect, thin and sharp as a piece of paper. His golf shirt drapes his long frame and hangs out over the shorts. Every inch of his skin is tanned to a dark oak finish. His hair is greyish blond, like old age ripening in the sun; it’s full and sweeps back from an extended forehead. The nose is thin and the grin is wide. His eyes tell the world he is happy, it’s difficult for him to be grumpy. He heads to his desk, where he fiddles with the computer that is always operating. The ten speakers hidden subtly throughout the premises begin to emit the most soulful saxophone music via their favorite Internet station, The Jazz Groove.


CJ is cutting and sorting the biscuits on cooking sheets; Taffy grabs her waitress’s apron and, while tying it on, heads out into the main restaurant to start the coffee. The first customers will be here soon.

”Mornin’ to you, too, Wilmot. How’d the golf go yesterday?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Yeah, I don’t know why I torture myself like that.”

“I’ve been saying that since I’ve known you. Why don’t you find another hobby?”

“Whatever. Did you get a hold of the electrician? We need those extra plugs.”

“Yeah, he’ll be here around ten... Oh, and Mrs. Tucker called and wants scrambled this morning.”

“And when she gets her she’ll swear she said fried. Dumb biddy.”

Wilmot just shakes his head as he slips out of sandals and shorts, placing them on the office chair. His boxers have Ninja Turtles with menacing stares. He opens the closet to remove a pair of plaid chef pants from a hanger. Quickly pulling them on, he slips the sandals back on while removing an apron from the top shelf.

“It’s been hot lately; think I won’t bother with the jacket today.”

Donning the dark green apron, he chats with his friend for a few minutes, some business, most not. Their organization is pretty simple. They each own one half of the company, which includes the building. There is no debt. Like Taffy, they don’t need the money. This venture came not only as an outlet for the three friends, in alignment with the need to be around people for part of their day, but as a commitment to what the end of each shift would bring. After expenses, which are meticulously accounted for, they give the rest away. It all started with three friends drunk in a hot tub. It would end anytime one of them wanted out, no arguments.

Its five minutes until opening when Wilmot slides the first two flats of biscuits into the oven. CJ finishes cleaning up his mess before removing the jacket to re-hang it for tomorrow. He dons a short black apron over his khakis and will serve the clients that line the horseshoe counter that enfolds the cooking area, which is open to the patrons. Wilmot keeps everything spotless, as if the room is full of health inspectors. He’s fast and a damn good cook. Taffy serves the other customers that choose to sit at one of the wrought iron and glass tables for two along the front windows – the most popular seats – or one of the three booths for four along the right wall. Mondays are always busy. The first customer is outside the door right now as usual. CJ is in the back washing his hands when he hears Wilmot exclaim.

“I’m warning you two, no will-not jokes today, okay, I’m getting tired of them and they aren’t funny anymore.”

Neither CJ nor Taffy can respond because they’re laughing so hard. Taffy gets her snickers under control as she goes to unlock the door but can’t resist,

“Okay, we will not.”

The door quickly opens with a hydraulic whoosh to admit a disheveled middle-aged man clad in a black T-shirt half tucked in that reads Bonnie’s Bistro in neon pink letters across the back, jeans with one knee “fashionably” ripped, and scuffed LL Bean hikers. Taffy’s bonhomie will normally thaw most ice cubes, but Horatio Rasmussen is just totally disagreeable. It’s why he comes here. She doesn’t bother being nice.

            “Watch what you say today, Horatio. They’re in a bad mood.”

“Yeah, well so am I.” be continued!

Please leave your email address in the comment box and I'll send you Part 2 in Word or PDF for free, for "the rest of the story"

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