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  • Title: Little Bird Stories, Vol. 9
  • Editor: Cherie Dimaline
  • Genre: Short fiction
  • Publisher: Invisible Publishing
  • Pages: 40

Every season is reading season for a reader, but every season leaves its own texture on the page. Some in summer set their own homework and plan to attack Ulysses, In Search of Lost Time, Infinite Jest – whatever tome is their literary Everest – and by now can taste, alongside watermelon or barbecue, success or failure. The rest of us, I think, will be eternally tethered to the rhythm of the school year: Summer is for pure pleasure and the unique sensation (at least in Canada) of reading outdoors. If the typical “beach read” isn’t your ideal, here’s another idea: the new pocketbook volume in the Little Bird Stories series.

A collaboration between the Sarah Selecky Writing School and Invisible Publishing, Little Bird Stories emerged out of the daily writing prompts Selecky began tweeting when she first joined Twitter. (A recent example: “Write a scene that uses the following words: ghosted, flex, and granite.”) These prompts help writers develop a daily writing practice – even if it’s just for 10 minutes a day – and overcome writer’s block or their own inner literary critic. When Selecky’s prompts proved popular, writers began asking what they could do with their resulting writing. The Little Bird Writing Contest was born.

The rules of the contest, which opens in spring “when the birds come back,” are simple. Contestants must be emerging writers and have six weeks to respond to the contest’s writing prompt in a story of no more than 2,500 words. An established writer serves as judge. The Marrow Thieves author Cherie Dimaline picked this year’s winners from 86 blind entries.

As Selecky notes in her introduction to this volume, the contest format and the diverse stories that result give a window into the creative process. The 2019 prompt:

“Write a story that starts with an ending. Give your character an unusual watch, use the words ‘striped’ and ‘innovative’ somewhere, and end your story with fruit.”

The contest winner, Rea Tarvydas of Calgary, crafted the prompt into a story of a claustrophobic small town, the need to escape and a house party gone wrong. Meanwhile, runners-up Anna Rumin and Dolly Reisman, of Ottawa and Toronto respectively, took off to cottage country and the Nevada desert. In one, an encounter with a visitor opens possibilities for a woman whose marriage is on the rocks. In the other, adult children abduct their father only to possibly lose him.

I happen to be a big believer in little books. They’re fun to carry around and make you look infinitely cooler than anyone staring emptily at a device. At 40 pages total, this volume is the perfect length for a summer afternoon.

Invisible Publishing, based in Picton, Ont., donates proceeds from the $8 anthology to the Pelee Island and Prince Edward Point bird observatories, “to help protect the real little birds out there.” Both conservation areas are significant sites for migrating bird species in Canada.

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