Interview with Brian Henry of the Quick Brown Fox
I’ve been a follower of your blog, Quick Brown Fox, http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.com/ for quite some time and I am a huge fan. I was wondering where you find all the interesting and varied information? Do you have to look for it, or do people approach you?
Both. People who have been in my classes or workshops are always emailing me to let me know they’ve gotten something published. I post those emails, and I also check if I’ve done a post about the journal or book publisher they’ve gotten published with. So, suppose someone’s gotten published in CommuterLit or Jersey Devil, Ronsdale Press or ECW. Then I figure that’s a good place for other writers to send their work, so I make sure they can look up the submission info on Quick Brown Fox.
Also, I continually get emails from agents, literary journals, organizations sponsoring writing contests, book publishers, authors with a new book, etc. The bottom line is that Quick Brown Fox is Canada’s most popular blog for writers. So when someone wants to get info out to writers, they send it to me. I get more stuff than I can use.
Also, though, I have a clear idea of the variety of content people look for on Quick Brown Fox. Most Mondays, I post information about an upcoming writing contest. Thursdays I usually post information about literary agents looking for authors. Every two weeks, I post information about a literary journal looking for submissions and another post every two weeks about a Canadian book publisher.
Book reviews come from anyone who feels like writing one. For a writer looking to get published, submitting a book review to Quick Brown Fox is an easy way to add a writing credit to their resume. Yet I get few submissions. Frankly I’m amazed.
Stories and poems are by invitation only. They’re usually pieces that a writer started in one of my classes or workshops or that was read aloud at one of our reading nights at CJ’s Café. (The next reading night is Sept 13, by the way. Everyone’s invited. See here. http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.com/2011/08/were-reading-out-loud-at-cjs-cafe-in.html)
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I write myself occasionally – sometimes true personal stories; more often opinion pieces on political issues of the day. I’ve been a regular columunist for The Jewish Tribune – a national weekly newspaper – and I’ve had opinion pieces in The Toronto Star, the National Post, etc. I used to write book reviews for Books in Canada and for The Toronto Star, and I have a children’s book – a shortened version of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Primarily, though, my background is in the publishing business as a book editor. By profession, I’m a midwife, not a mom, which I think is why I’ve been successful as a creative writing instructor. After all, an editor job is the same as an instructor’s: to help a writer create the best work she can.
Tell us about the writing workshops you offer.
I offer both weekly creative writing courses and Saturday workshops. Some of the weekly courses are for beginners or people who have been away from writing for a long time or who need some inspiration to get them moving again. In these courses, we explore different kinds of writing and try them out.
Other weekly classes are for writers who have some work in progress – short stories, memoirs, a novel, or whatever. These courses provide the writers with on-going supportive feedback, teach the art of revising, and recharge them with a weekly jolt of enthusiasm.
The courses are all in the GTA – Mississauga, Oakville, Georgetown and Burlington. But I offer my Saturday workshops all over Ontario, and sometimes farther afield. Last year I was in Moncton and Charlottetown. This September I’ll be in North Carolina.
My Saturday workshops take a specific theme – such as plotting or dialogue, getting published, writing memoirs and other personal stories, or writing for children – and I address the topic in depth. You can see a list of my upcoming workshops and courses here. http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.com/2009/08/quick-brown-fox-newsletter-includes.html
I’ve heard you were a mentor to best selling Canadian author Kelley Armstrong, could you tell readers a little about this?
Sure. Kelley lives in Aylmer, down in Southwest Ontario, and she used to be a regular at my workshops in London. She asked me to look at a manuscript she’d been working on for five years and to tell her whether I thought there was any hope and maybe make some suggestions about how she might improve it.
Well, it was pretty rough in the way a manuscript always is when it’s a first effort and it’s been written and rewritten a dozen times. But – and this is the important thing – when I read it, I got goose bumps. The writing was brilliant.
Kelley reworked it a bit and then I phoned the agent Helen Heller to convince her to take a look at it. That was tough because Helen hates anything like a horror novel and this was a werewolf book. So I softened Helen up by explaining the manuscript was hip and contemporary, with sentences that skipped off the page. Then I just whined until Helen broke down and said she’d read the damned thing.
Well she did – and all in one sitting because she couldn’t put it down. She phoned Kelley the next day and offered to represent her. A couple weeks later, Helen took a brand new prologue that Kelley didn’t have in her original manuscript and a new opening chapter to the Frankfurt book fair. She quickly sold rights to the book to publishers around the world. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Kelley still comes to my workshops but as a guest speaker. But now that she’s a New York Times bestselling author she’s busy, so it can be hard for us to make a date. Right now, for example, she’s doing a book tour of Australia. Our next workshop together will be “How to Write a Bestseller” on March 3 in Toronto. (Details here.) http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.com/2011/08/how-to-write-bestseller-workshop-sat.html
You mentioned whining. Is that one of your talents?
Yes. In fact Ryerson University pays me to whine. Every year or every other year, I arrange for three people from the publishing industry – very senior people – to sacrifice a Saturday afternoon and come down to the university to answer questions for three hours straight. To make me feel better, my boss at Ryerson says I have this gig because I know everyone in Canadian publishing. Really, it’s because I whine well, and that’s how I get them to come.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes. The business is very straightforward; Write. Write better. And submit.
Other things will help. Beyond the actual writing, having a community is probably most important; sharing your work with other writers who can give you moral support and intelligent, supportive critiquing is invaluable. Learning something about the craft also helps. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There’s nothing secret about how to proceed in plotting a novel or about how write good dialogue.
But the bottom line is still: write, rewrite and submit. Do that and you will get published. It’s not that hard. Hey, I know a great blog that’s begging for book reviews. (Guidelines here.) Anyways, write and publish short stuff and eventually, you may get a novel published, too. The trick is to write a good one.
Thank you very much, Brian. I really enjoyed our chat and will definitely attend one of your course in the near future....Jeanne