Top News

JOAN SULLIVAN: ‘Harbingers’ — 20 short stories from Newfoundland and Labrador writers worthy of your attention

Stock photo
Stock photo

A short story can be defined as a piece of prose that can be read at one go, focusing on a single happening, or series of linked events.

Like a radio talk show host needing to “hit the post” while opening and wrapping their programs, short story creators need a similar accuracy and timing.

Not to mention hooks, compaction, and reader investment and reward.

This volume contains 20 short stories. Thirteen are by Lawrence E. Collins, and are often quite short, even just a page or two (which can be called “flash fiction,” the most famous of which would be Ernest Hemingway’s: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”).

Beverly Anne Callahan and Tony Collins each have a story, and the rest are collaborations. All are posited on the need to introduce your protagonist quickly, with deft set-ups in terms of dilemma and placement.

A detective meeting a new client, perhaps, or a frightened wife hiding in a bedroom closet from a stampeding husband.

Domestic violence is actually a recurring theme ricocheting between different authors. From Callahan’s “Where ‘The River’ Flows”, for example: “I know Father had an explosive, irrational temper. Like the time he cut up (Mother’s) good coat, put it in a garbage bag, and threw it in the ocean. Afterwards, when he was sober and realized what he had done, he went and bought her a new coat.”

This is a good piece, reading like a memoir — then again the cover says “Stories” not “Short Fiction.”

It has a leisurely, flowing structure, eddying around her mother. “Mother dressed us in second hand clothes, for school and church, shipped from the United States in barrels at that time. I had a song made up about second hand clothes to sing to her when I hated what she had for me to wear. It always looked nice in the pictures though.”

Lawrence E. Collins’ “White Wedding Shoes” runs just nine paragraphs, but each pushes the narrative forward, conveying the delivery of a COD package through criss-cross expectations of impending nuptials.

Other works saunter into predicament. “Since the stormy night I slept alone as a child in the dark, save for the dim glow from the light of the crescent moon through the chink in the curtains in the creepy bedroom attic, listening to the comforting tick-tock of the family clock in the downstairs hall, old age has always fascinated me,” reads the first line of “Rosary Beads’n Wax,” by Callahan and Lawrence E. Collins.

This duo also co-wrote “Lady Other Side Of Lens,” with its kicker closing line.

Tony Collins’ “Bring’er In” seems to arise naturally from hard-earned experience. “The forecast isn’t good. The glass is dropping and they are calling for gale force northerlies and snow later in the evening but (Michael) figures he’ll be back out of it by then. Whichever way one looks at it fishing has its risk and the threat of rough weather seems to stir up the fish.”

As Michael spends the first early morning hours jigging cod, he remembers his last trip in the dory with his father. “He’d got a trawl hook stuck in his hand … His father had to push the point all the way through, cutting off the barb with a pair of pliers to free the hook from the flesh. His hands, normally so steady, had shook all the while and when he’d finished he’d put an arm around Michael’s shoulders.”

Lots of resonance there, with echoes of trouble and the rising weather.

The last piece, and the longest, is “Where the Heart is,” a two-parter co-authored by Willliam E. Coady and Lawrence E. Collins.

Linked, episodic, it includes a house fire, a desperate young woman kneeling in a church, the psychological battle scars of a veteran of the First World War, and the flickering motif of a blue jay.

The title appears to be on loan from Lawrence Collins’ “Fine China,” where “The cacophonous cawing of crows carried on the wind. The discordant sound and sight of these scavenger birds, harbingers often forewarning of a person’s impending illness bringing calamitous change, disturbs him.”

Although some of these works previously appeared in different magazines, this volume is self-published.

The writers, individually or collectively, seem to have done a nice copy-edit, and there are no flagrant typos. IPNL ( is a great resource for anyone considering a similar path.

Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.


Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories