Cities in Books

As found in Volume 1, Issue 3

Cities in Books - a waste of words: on learning they are not by Tsara Shelton

The descriptions of cities in books used to seem like a waste of words to me.

While I skipped school, riding buses and subways around Toronto—uptown, downtown, outskirts of town—voraciously reading book after book, I would approach these descriptions with snobby annoyance. Tell me what they’re thinking, who these characters are! Tell me why they think what they think! Tell me what they’re going to do and why! I don’t care about the city, I care about who they want to include in their lives and the description of themselves.

As I tied my school uniform’s burgundy sweater around my waist, feeling it tickle the back of my bare thighs—exposed despite the school rules about the length of our skirts—I’d change the tape in my Walkman from Metallica to The Pogues and step off the subway. Smiling at strangers and delighting in the smell and wind of Toronto underground, I would promise myself that one day I’d write equally moving novels as the ones I collected insatiably. But I would use less wasted words. 

Describing cities and sunsets was for painters and poets, not novelists.


Blank Spaces - March 2017
44 pages, published 2/21/2017
Volume 1, Issue 3 of Blank Spaces is a celebration of Canadian talent, featuring the work of artists—writers, painters, photographers, poets, etc.

Tsara Shelton is an avid writer of musings, a sipper of coffee, a reluctant performer, and an unapologetic story addict. As the mother of four mostly grown boys, she loves discovering and sharing her own beliefs so that she can comfortably expect her sons to do the same. Her book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up, wants badly to gets its own place and stop talking about Tsara, but it’s just not looking likely.

Connect with Tsara on her website or on Twitter @TsaraShelton

In the Library with Norma Jeane, June 1, 2002

As found in Volume 1, Issue 3
In the Library with Norma Jeane, June 1, 2002 by J. J. Steinfeld

Once a week, on Saturday, Josh went to the library in downtown Halifax. It was a ritual of his, which included pausing before the statue of Winston Churchill in front of the library, and telling the immortal statesman that he was going to write a great play.

On an earlier Saturday he had told Churchill that maybe he would make him a character, have his statue able to speak. Oscar Wilde had a speaking statue in The Happy Prince, Josh informed the statue of Churchill.

The Happy Prince, such a magical story, and he had recently seen a play based on that marvellous story he had first read as a boy. He recalled coming home after school that day and telling his mother all about the story, and pointing out that it had a reference to “old Jews” and saying that his grandparents were “old Jews,” weren’t they? The Happy Prince had most profound conversations with a little bird, a swallow, he had told his mother, and his mother patted his head and complimented him on his use of the word profound.

“I will have a huge bird, not a little swallow, land on your magnificent presence, Winston, and you two can discuss world affairs,” Josh continued that afternoon. Oscar had stayed in Halifax, not far from where this library is now. In fact, as Josh confessed to the statue, he had a brief affair with a woman in that very hotel. He turned to see if anyone was watching him standing in front of the statue, having a Saturday afternoon tête-à-tête with the immortal statesman. 


Blank Spaces - March 2017
44 pages, published 2/21/2017
Volume 1, Issue 3 of Blank Spaces is a celebration of Canadian talent, featuring the work of artists—writers, painters, photographers, poets, etc.

J. J. Steinfeld Fiction writer, poet, and playwright J.J. Steinfeld lives on Prince Edward Island, where he is patiently waiting for Godot’s arrival and a phone call from Kafka. While waiting, he has published seventeen books, including Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Anton Chekhov Was Never in Charlottetown (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Misshapenness (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions), Identity Dreams and Memory Sounds (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions), Madhouses in Heaven, Castles in Hell (Stories, Ekstasis Editions), and An Unauthorized Biography of Being (110 Short Fictions Hovering Between the Absurd and the Existential, Ekstasis Editions).

A Beautiful Dissonance: Bach and the Art of Conflict Resolution

As found in Volume 1, Issue 3
A Beautiful Dissonance: Bach and the Art of Conflict Resolution by Janet Youngdahl

Bach solves everything. Resolves anything. Even the thorniest, most convoluted Bach melody filled with angular motif and dissonant harsh sonority is taken through a brilliant creative process, a process that holds the potential to solve difficult issues in music and beyond.

Once again, I find myself weeping when listening to one of Bach’s profound fugues, this time at an organ concert given at a small church in Alsace by the young organist Olivier Wyrwas.  Why do the fugues move me so much, what do I hear in them that pushes me into a realm capable of reconciling deep sadness and intense joy? Why are Bach’s fugues so painfully effective at eliciting a feeling of extreme hope and possibility in the face of difficulty?

Bach left us conversations in musical form. His scores are realistic navigational charts, comprehensive maps for forging respectful and meaningful dialog leading to resolved destination. Bach articulates problems in the human condition, supplying audible cues that create enriched landscape where musical gesture provides both geography and momentary weather events. He moves past simple solutions and suggests a procedure for the intimate understanding of conflicting points of view. In particular, his fugues can be mined as being functional examples of what we need to do to work together; they offer a process for working out solutions and resolutions to ancient and desperate disputes that require serious attention.


Blank Spaces - March 2017
44 pages, published 2/21/2017
Volume 1, Issue 3 of Blank Spaces is a celebration of Canadian talent, featuring the work of artists—writers, painters, photographers, poets, etc.

 Janet Youngdahl has published essays in Writer’s Digest, Malahat Review, and the Friends Journal. She is a voice professor at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, and appears on more than a dozen recordings on the RCA, Deutsch Harmonia Mundi, BMG, Phillips and BIS labels, including the Grammy nominated Chants de l’extase. She has recently attended artist residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts and the American Academy in Rome.

Nutella and Chesterfields

As found in Volume 1, Issue 3
Nutella and Chesterfields by Jennifer Ellis

A few weeks after we arrived in Toronto, my dad got a job as a driver for a hardware company and my sister Becky started grade ten at Winston Churchill Collegiate. I didn’t know what a Collegiate was but I guessed it meant high school.

I wasn’t allowed to go to school. Not yet, anyway. We were waiting for my school authorization to come through. Becky was born in Toronto. Almost three years later, my parents—then living in L.A.—had me.

After my mom died I was the only one in our family who was a native U.S. citizen. I proudly hung the American flag Grandpa gave me on my bedroom door, and I would stare at the stars and stripes, wishing it to be a magic portal like in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Only instead of Narnia I would go to the AMC 10 theatres at the Golden Mall in Burbank and get in line to see Back to the Future III.   I’d decide that I would get Twizzlers and use one to replace the straw in my soda cup, like Becky’s friend Hilary did when we went to go see Pet Cemetery—the movie that has since haunted my dreams. (Grab a box of Depends and Google Zelda Pet Cemetery and you will see why.)

So, even though I may have resembled Lucy from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, clearly I wasn’t in a C.S Lewis novel. I was stuck in this real-life trap. And I was gifted the benefit of hanging out with my grandpa until Becky returned home from school.



Blank Spaces - March 2017
44 pages, published 2/21/2017
Volume 1, Issue 3 of Blank Spaces is a celebration of Canadian talent, featuring the work of artists—writers, painters, photographers, poets, etc.

Jennifer Ellis was born and raised in Los Angeles, California until the age of twelve when she moved to Toronto with her family. Jennifer studied radio and print journalism and is currently working on her first book. She is an 80s pop culture fanatic, loves to travel and write about her experiences, especially when she finds the perfect apple fritter. She currently lives in Burlington, Ontario with her partner Mike and slightly insane, yet loveable cat, Friday.

Get a little more of Jennifer’s story by reading the story of her arrival in Canada

Help get the Blank Spaces Crew to WORD ON THE STREET

Last fall we crammed into a little red Chevy Sonic and took the long highway to the city to check out Word on the Street 2016. The day was gorgeous, the atmosphere was electric, and we wandered the booths saying over and over to one another: we have to be here next year!

At the time we had just released the first issue. I carried it around with me that day, tucked in my bag, ready to pull out the moment someone showed even a glimmer of interest. It was hard to be confident — we were like first-time mothers who weren't sure how to burp a baby — but we were hopeful. We were starry-eyed kids, determined to be the exception, determined to beat the odds and persevere.

And we have. By the time the next festival comes along we will be a whole year old. We will have five issues to brag about!

What we don't have is money. Because we care more about sharing Canadian stories and art than making a bundle we have exactly negative 500 bundles...which means anything beyond the actual magazine gets paid for out-of-pocket.

We're not complaining. Remember, this is a heart project, meaning we have and will continue to invest our own money into the continuance of this vision. But there is a limit. And there is also value in humility and asking for help. AND, when you invest in us, it affirms our vision and gives us energy to keep this machine running.

blank spaces at word on the street 2016Here's the hard truth: Festivals cost money

We estimate needing about $545.00 to make it all happen...and that's not even including things like inventory or printing banners for the booth.

  • A HOTEL FOR FOUR: $200.00
  • FUEL: $40.00
  • FOOD: $100.00 (we have intentions to brown bag our lunch, but we'd love to end our day with a nice dinner together)

Why is a festival valuable?

  • Thousands of people attend - that gets our magazine in front of a lot of eyes with great potential for expanded readership
  • Networking opportunities with some of the biggest names in Canadian literature
  • A great team-building experience for our crew

Every little bit helps! If you believe in the vision of Blank Spaces and want to help us get the word out, this is the perfect opportunity and we would be wildly grateful for your generosity!

blank spaces team


Alanna Rusnak is an author, a blogger, and a seeker of the extraordinary. Living with her husband, three children, and an overweight cat (who's kind of an idiot), on a small patch of untamable land in Southwestern Ontario. Trying to do it all with some measure of grace.
(She is also the founder and Editor-In-Chief of this pretty little magazine!) [author website, twitter, facebook, instagram]

Our December Gold Medal Winner

garth pettersen winner of flash fiction contestWe are so pleased to announce the winner of our second contest!

Congratulations to Garth Pettersen from The Fraser Valley in British Columbia on his winning story, 'Smoke and Pathos'. Using the provided image of a man sitting in the dark, Garth constructed a powerful tale that impressed our judges.

As a reward, Smoke and Pathos will be published in our March issue.

What the judges had to say about Garth's story:

"...relatable tensions." 

"I liked how the story gradually drew in elements of the writing prompt."

" ending I didn't see coming!" 



The light of his laptop caught the rising cigarette smoke from his exhalation. The wisps shone white and ethereal against the blackness before they vanished into the night. The computer screen illuminated him, as if he were an actor and the device a lone footlight celebrating his solo performance of despondency and pathos. Isn't that what he was doing here? Playing out the part of a young man wallowing in self-pity? Or was it self-loathing? Was it both?

To catch the rest of this story, order your copy of the March 2017 issue

Garth Petterson is a Canadian writer living in the Fraser Valley near Vancouver, BC. He has a Bachelor's Degree in History and a background in Education (History, English, Theatre). Garth taught Writing and English at Western Canada College once upon a time and has written children's stories, a YA novel, adult short stories, and an historical novel. His short stories have appeared in journals such as The Spadina Literary Review, The Opening Line Literary 'Zine, and Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, and in anthologies published by Main Street Rag, Zimbell House, Centum Press, and Horrified Press. 

Read his blogs on writing at or follow him on twitter @garpet011

Are you interested in entering one of our contests? Just click HERE and learn what we're running right now!

Our December Silver Medal Winner

crys wiltshire contest winner 

Crys Wiltshire first discovered her love of writing at age 6, when she had her first short story published in the school's yearbook in grade 1. It has been the one constant passion of her life ever since. She joined the school paper when she was 12 and went on to be an intern for her town's weekly paper and the editor of the school paper for the majority of high school.

She pursued marketing and advertising and has built a great career there for the past 12 years. However, as much as Crys can enjoy corporate writing, press releases, blog posts and how-to guides can start to wear on a writer's soul. She started her blog, as a way to get back to the free writing she loves to do, covering any topics and stories she feels like. You can also find her on tumblr (@CrysWiltshire), where she focuses more on creative work with fiction and poetry. She is currently finishing her debut novel and is excited to start on other projects currently living in her head.

The photo prompt:

The unedited story:
Chain-Smoking into the Night Air
by Crys Wiltshire

If it weren’t for the bright camping light in front of him and the smoke dancing around his head, the night would engulf his body completely. I half hoped it would, but I’m not ready to be an orphan yet. I stare into the black of the sky and his shadow for another moment before turning away from the kitchen window. On nights like this, when the clouds hold the moon and stars hostage, our little cabin feels even more empty.

Jake is still asleep on the couch. He passed out with a book still in his hand, not long after dinner. The poor kid is bored out of his mind, and I can’t say I blame him. I still haven’t figured out why we’re here. It has been nearly three weeks since Dad packed us up and brought us to the middle of Absolutely Nowhere, Ontario. This tiny two-room cabin has a thin coat of dust on everything, with a smell to match and no running water except the water tap outside. The one single bedroom has a creaky double bed and a set of bunk beds Jake and I use. I should be thankful we at least have electricity and a kitchenette to cook real food, but the outhouse got old quick.

I keep trying to make the best of it, romanticizing this time away as an adventure. Like living my own version of Walden. I brought a hefty stack of books to keep me company, but truthfully, I just miss my friends. Jake misses his too, almost as much as he misses the TV. This is not how either of us expected to start our summer vacation. If Dad is aiming to teach us some great life lesson, I think he’s failing. It might help if he spoke to us at all, but he’s become even more muted and stoic since Mom died. All of our conversations feel one-sided since Dad seems only to speak in 3-5 word sentences.

“Time to get up.”

“Just have cereal.”

“Leave your sister alone.”

“Come eat.”

“I’ll be outside.”

“Lights out.”

Watching Jake sleep for a moment, I think about the support he needs now. He’ll be twelve next month. It’s been hard enough trying to play the role of one parent. I don’t feel like covering for both. I grab a blanket off the back of the couch and toss it onto him. His eyes flutter, and he glances up at me.

“Thanks, Steph.” he mumbles, rolling over and dozing off again.

“Don’t mention it,” I reply quietly to nobody.

I walk back over to the kitchen area again and resume my spot at the window. Dad hasn’t moved from his position on the walkway. He is still smoking away, staring into nothing. He’s been out there every single night since we arrived. Some nights, he stays out until long after Jake and I have gone to bed. I want to scream. I want to smash the glass and hurl something at him. I want to snap him out of whatever the hell this is.

I am trying so hard to be strong. I am trying so hard to fill Mom’s shoes and help guide our little family through this. That was her ask of me, as I had sat on her hospital bed just two days before she left us.

“Be my strong girl, Stefy. Take care of your little brother and your father. They are going to need you, and you will need them. Try to be kind and patient with one another. Promise me.”

“I’ll try, Mama. I promise.”

I am trying, dammit, but he is not holding up his end of the bargain. My mother’s ask of my father was that he quit smoking and spend more time with us. I stare at him now, chain-smoking into the night air, ignoring us, and for one fleeting, horrible moment, I wish God had taken him instead of her. Guilt pours from my broken heart and flows with the hot tears running down my face. I’ve tried to be patient these past two months, but I feel more and more angry at the man I see in front of me. How can he keep filling his body with poison? How can he have so little regard for his own health, after what we have just been through? Doesn’t he know how much we need him? How much I need him?

I sob quietly and think about how much I miss her. I long for the way her humming filled the dead spaces, and her smile lit up every room. I crave her corny jokes and how they used to ignite Dad’s throaty laugh. I ache for the soft, loving way she used to look at Jake and I and the passionate look she reserved for Dad. I know he misses her too, maybe even more than I do. I wipe my cheeks and try to replace guilt and anger with understanding. I stare at the back of my father as he stares into the pitch black of night, and I wonder if we are both searching for her in the darkness in front of us.

Connect with Crys on Twitter  Facebook  Pinterest  Google+  Instagram 

Learn how you can participate in one of our Write-Prompt Flash Fiction Contests HERE

Our December Bronze Medal Winner


Vivian Medeiros lives in Oakville, Ontario with her husband and two children, whom she
uses as her sounding board. She always had a love of writing but a busy life kept her from pursuing it. She now enjoys taking writing courses and workshops and enters the occasional contest. During the summer months, she can be found on an island in Greece, spending time with her family.

When we contacted Vivian to reveal her placing in the contest finals she revealed that she'd entered on a whim. Well Vivian, we're so glad you did!

The photo prompt:

The unedited story:

Calm Before the Storm
by Vivian Medeiros

The smoke escapes his lips and snakes up into the sky. He immediately takes another drag from the cigarette and holds it in his lungs for a few seconds before exhaling. A hazy cloud soon floats in the air, swirling as it rises to meet the darkness above.

He could hear the snap and crackle of the fire behind him. Sitting cross-legged on the wooden walkway, eyes closed, head leaned to the side, he lets the raw emotion consume him.

As he does each time, he re-lives everything in his mind: The satisfaction of finding the perfect house. The nervous anticipation, waiting for the right time to enter and put his plan into action. And the euphoria when the magnificent flames rise up from the building.

The scenario unfolds behind closed lids. He watches himself enter the house and scan the room. The fire has to start at just the right spot to be effective. He notices the den and his heart starts to race. It's perfect. The walls are filled with books, paper is scattered on the large wooden desk, and most important of all are the many large windows that border the room.

He sets the gas can down and gets to work. He haphazardly knocks books off the shelves until he has created a large enough pile. He then opens the windows. The ventilation will help to accelerate the fire and he smiles as he imagines flames encompassing the house.

Satisfied with his work, he opens the gas can, vapours escaping to gently caress his nose. He inhales deeply, the fumes awakening each sensitive follicle as they travel through his nasal passage. He loves this part: the smell, taste and feel just before all hell breaks loose. The quiet before the storm.

He knows he needs to move, but takes a few more seconds to savour the moment. Taking one last breath, he slowly pulls himself back to present and sets everything in motion. He plans every fire, right down to the last detail, and never deviates from it.

This is it. He swings the container. Gas flows from the nozzle, the clear liquid creating an arc and dispersing when it hits the floor, large drops bouncing and bursting in the air. Once the room is sufficiently saturated, he creates a line of gas, moving backwards toward the front door. 

He lights the match and with a flick of his wrist tosses it onto to the gasoline. With a whoosh, the fire ignites the fuel and quickly snakes along the floor, fiery tentacles reaching into every crevice as it travels through the room. Embers scatter into the air like miniature red bulbs, and slowly float to the ground where they leave tiny black imprints. It's not long before the house is engulfed and he reluctantly turns and walks into the night.

His heart thunders and blood pulses through his veins at alarming speeds as he heads towards the boardwalk at the end of the property. He glances back to see crimson flames reach out from the blown up windows to wrap the house in their fiery embrace. He marvels at the crimson glow that lights up the sky. The fire is so intense, he can feel the heat on his face. 

Sitting cross-legged, he takes one last drag from his cigarette. The hazy cloud now shifts with the wind to meet the thick black smoke behind him.

Learn how you can participate in one of our Write-Prompt Flash Fiction Contests HERE

Aunt Miriam Rocks

by Diane Lowman

“Are we there yet?” we asked a hundred times. Could this scene be any more cliché? My parents sat in the front seat of our black, stick shift, VW Bug, circa 1969. I in the back, and my sister Suzanne wedged into the well behind the rear seat and…the engine. We were on our way from our apartment in Howard Beach, Queens to our small Upper Greenwood Lake, NJ cottage. We’d visited many times when my mom’s Aunt Miriam and Uncle Eddie owned it, but my parents had just bought it from them because he was ailing and they’d moved to be closer to their children.

aunt miriam rocks, diane lowman

As city kids, our exposure to outdoor colour was largely limited to the black asphalt of the playground outside our brick red high-rise, ringed by muddy white and pasty pink concrete. ‘The country’—as we called it—was Eden.

Going to ‘the country’ for the weekend meant lounging languidly by the mushy muck-bottomed lake, exploring the woods for flora and fauna, and savoring Hebrew National hot dogs that my father grilled outside.

Anxious to arrive, the nearly two-hour drive in Friday evening traffic tortured me, 9, and my sister, 6. We were whiny, kvetchy, and hungry. “Are we there yet?”

“Not yet. You just asked three minutes ago. Now stop. We’ll get there when we get there,” my father would say, no doubt frazzled from the workweek, the drive, and the cacophony behind him.

But my mom, hoping to pacify both him, and us, took a different approach.

“Girls. We used to drive up here all the time with Grandma and Grandpa, all the way from Union City. It was a long drive, too, and we couldn’t wait to get up here–like you. Here’s what Grandma Sally told me: When we get close to ‘the country’, you will start to see two very special things—these big greyish-purplish rocks that look like they’ve been splattered with white paint. And bright orange flowers that look like starbursts, with very long stems. We call the rocks ‘Aunt Miriam Rocks’,  because when you see them, you know we are close to Aunt Miriam and Uncle Eddie’s house. And the flowers are called ‘Tiger Lilies’. At night, they close up to sleep, and open again when they wake up in the morning. So keep very quiet, keep your eyes on the side of the road, and let me know when you see Aunt Miriam Rocks and Tiger Lilies.”

We were mesmerized. These landmarks took on mythical qualities. We believed they were put there—like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs—to lead us to the lake. We shut up and looked out, scouring the passing roadside, eager to be the first to spot them.

We’d point and shriek with glee when we did, and sure enough, we’d arrive shortly after they appeared.

I haven’t seen an ‘Aunt Miriam Rock’ anywhere since. I wish I knew what they were. But every summer, in late June and early July, the tiger lilies sprout along the roadsides where I live. They close up to sleep, and open up when they wake up in the morning. And when I see them, I know I’m close to my mom, wherever she is, and I’m close to home.

Diane Lowman is a single mother of two young adult men, living in Norwalk, Connecticut. In addition to writing about life, she teaches yoga, provides nutritional counseling, and tutors Spanish. She looks forward to writing the next chapter.

You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, and her websites [My Life On The Post Road, Lotus Haiku, and The Shakespeare Diaries]

Are you interested in being a guest blogger on Blank Spaces? We are open to submissions that fit into any of our regular categories. See the blog submission guidelines in our sidebar.