Tag Archives: Coffee Shop Author

A-R International: Ranjini George

Ranjini George
Authors-Readers International

Ranjini George holds a PhD in English Literature from Northern Illinois University, USA, an MA in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, Canada. More recently, she won the first place in Canada’s inaugural Coffee Shop Author Contest for her travel memoir, a work-in-progress, Miracle of Flowers. She was a Georges and Anne Bochardt Fiction Scholar at the Sewannee Writers’ Conference and a recipient of the Arnold B. Fox Award in Research Writing.

She was an Associate Professor of English at Zayed University, Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. She currently teaches in the Creative Writing Program, SCS, University of Toronto; among other classes on mindfulness and writing, she teaches a Meditation and Writing Intensive at their Summer Writing School (St. George Campus) and No Mud, No Lotus: Writing and Breathing Your Way to Transformation and Healing (Mississauga Campus). In 2019 she won the Excellence in Teaching Award at the School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto. (Here’s the link to the university’s announcement about the award.)

A Shambhala Guide Meditation Instructor, she has studied with teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Lama Tsultrim, Shri Shri Ravi Shankar, Pema Chodron, Hari Nam Singh Khalsa and Lama Pema Dorje. Raised in the Christian wisdom tradition, she draws from Sufism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Stoicism, Mystic Christianity, and Buddhism in her writing and teachings.

She ran the Teaching with the Mind of Mindfulness series at Zayed University; she was the founder and editor of Studies in TESOL and Literature and The Arabia Review and the founder and Chair of the Literature Special Interest Group of TESOL Arabia. She has published literary criticism, stories, poetry and nonfiction in journals such as AGNI, The Ontario Review, WRITE, The Victorian Newsletter, Hamlet Studies and A Room of One’s Own. Her book, Through My Mother’s Window: Emirati Women Tell their Stories and Recipes, was published in December 2016.


Ranjini George was the first-place winner in the inaugural Coffee Shop Author Contest I created in 2010 when I was promoting authors and living in Calgary. This was an idea that came to me while I was spending a great deal of time in a particular coffee shop in Toronto writing my own novel. I had looked around the shop and noticed there were many others just like me, sitting alone and either writing on a pad of paper with a pen, as I was doing, or tapping away on their computers. And I wondered how many of them were writing creatively, penning the next great novel or non-fiction, and wouldn’t it be great to find a way to encourage writers to write in public so readers could actually see them working at their writing … So, with the help of Randal Macnair of Oolichan Books, we set up the contest and ran it nationally. Ranjini George entered with a travel memoir, Miracle of Flowers, and that submission was so exquisitely written that she was the favourite of the judges to win, hands-down! As first-prize winner, Ranjini was flown from Toronto out to Fernie, BC, for the Fernie Writers’ Conference, and was enrolled in Stephen Heighton’s classes for the duration of the conference. Since that time, Ranjini and I have met several times in person, the most recent being Oct. 2018, when we got together, along with her husband, author Lee Gowan, at the original shop in Toronto where the seeds of The Coffee Shop Author Contest were sown, The Remarkable Bean in my old childhood ‘hood – The Beach in Toronto!

Another author friend, Amy MacDonald, wrote an article in The Missisauga News about Ranjini winning the Coffee Shop Author Contest. And I previously promoted Cristy Watson in this A-RI series. Cristy won Honorable Mention in the same first year of this contest. Here’s a complete list of the winners in 2010: Coffee Shop Author – The Winners! Leslie Scrivener also wrote an excellent article that was published in the Toronto Star in June, 2010, titled “Got writer’s block? Try your local coffee shop.”

All this reminiscing lately about Coffee Shop Author and the great authors I’ve met has got me thinking about bringing back the contest … All I need is a sponsor and a few helping hands. WATCH THIS SPACE!


Through My Mother’s Window: Emirati Women Tell Their Stories and Recipes
Through My Mother’s Window: Emirati Women Tell their Stories and Recipes celebrates the voices of Emirati women and retells the stories of their mothers and grandmothers. Through narratives, photographs and recipes, this book offers a poignant, celebratory and wistful window into the landscape and culture of the Emirates–its past and its present, its food, weddings and important festivals. Through My Mother’s Window showcases the beautiful and vibrant city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Through My Mother’s Window takes readers into the heart of Emirati culture through its most essential ingredient — food. I savoured stories about mom’s cooking and memories of family traditions and cultural celebrations that nearly always revolve around food. Delightfully, this book opens a culture to us through relatively easy and accessible recipes that range from everyday to fancy feast. ~ Margaret Webb, author of Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms

Here’s the link to a podcast of an interview with Ranjini George about “Mindfulness, meditation, creative writing and the art of coming home …”

For more information about Ranjini George, her writing and teaching, the UofT Workshops, and Tara Mandala Retreats, please see her website.

A-R International: Cristy Watson

Cristy Watson
Authors-Readers International

I am a teacher and writer living in Surrey, British Columbia. I host open mic at my local coffee shop and enjoy entering poetry contests. I have worked with a Young Adult population for most of my career and I wanted to help readers find books to enjoy that were both at a level they could manage and that shared interesting and pertinent themes. The Orca Currents and Soundings Series, and the Lorimer Sidestreets are perfect for this YA audience. I feel privileged to now have eight accessible novels published by Orca Books and Formac/Lorimer Publishers. Room 555 and Unlocked are my newest releases!
Cristy Watson is an award-winning author of eight accessible novels for young people, and has three self-published chapbooks of poetry, with poems recently published in The Poetry Marathon Anthology, and CV2. She is passionate about teaching and writing and enjoys when the two passions overlap. Cristy loves hiking in the mountains and enjoying leisurely strolls by the beach. She also hosts a literary Open Mic in her local community, and she volunteers every year with the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, and with the Beach House Theatre in the summer. Over this break for the holidays, she hopes to finish book two of the fantasy trilogy for middle-grade and YA readers that she began writing during NANOWRIMO 2019.


What Cristy Watson does not mention in her bio, and the reason we “know” each other, is that she was one of the contestants in the Coffee Shop Author Contest I ran for a couple of years, and that her entry also placed in the first year. As she has reminded me:

It turned out you actually created the category of Honourable Mention for my poetry – you only had 1-3 places to begin with, so it was a real honour for me to win this!! My original book was called, The Coffee Shop Series but I later changed it to Poetry from the Pelican because the coffee shop I wrote most of the poetry in, is called The Pelican Rouge.
I had three sections in the book with coffee quotations to open them. I focused on the past, present and future. I had so much fun with the contest, and the Open Mic I now host is with the time-keeper and a ‘reminder’ of the event, Jim Williams (James) who also entered the contest with his book, which is now published – The Coventry Ghost.
So cool to have had the opportunity and I wish it could have gone on for several years. It was a great idea!

So, while Cristy Watson and I have never had the chance to meet in person, we’ve kept in contact over the years since that contest ran, and I have watched her publications grow in number. We’ve chatted often on social media about the idea of bringing back this contest in some form or another. And Cristy isn’t the only former contest winner who has gone on to publish, and remained friends with me over the years. I’ll soon be promoting a couple of these authors as part of this series. Oh, and the other connection I have with Cristy is that, long before the contest, I was a sales rep for both publishing companies that are now publishing her books!


Locked Up
When he was fifteen, Kevin took a car for a joyride and got in an accident that seriously injured a pedestrian. Now known as “Strider” in juvie, he has spent more than two years incarcerated, learning the hard way how to survive on the inside. Strider keeps his head down and in exchange for protection from another inmate, Strider provides “loans” of money and helps him cheat on schoolwork. But when his parole officer suggests that he apply for early parole, Strider realizes it would be hard for him to survive on the outside. Is there anything waiting for him back home, or should he stay where he thinks he belongs?

For more information about Cristy Watson, her writing, books, and teaching, please see her website.

Cristy Watson was a guest on my blog Reading Recommendations in Jan. 2014.

Frank Beltrano – Square-Foot Poet

Frank Beltrano was one of the featured Authors July 6th, 2014, over on my other blog, Reading Recommendations, and told us then of this unique way he’d developed of presenting his poems. He’s back now to describe a new project in which he’s participating that allows him to showcase his writing alongside the work of visual artists.

In March, when I unveiled my Coffee Shop Mysteries poems as shadow-boxes, it was suggested by the Westland Gallery that I participate in their Square Foot Show.

At that time I had already written a palindrome inspired by two greeting cards I kept on my desk. That poem benefits greatly from being read while viewing the artwork, watercolours by Cori Lee Marvin, that inspired it. So that was a natural for a visual poem.


I had also been asked by my friend, photographer Al Sugerman, to consider a series of photos he had taken of our mutual friend Tony Eyamie turning clay. The black and white photos were close-ups of his hands working the clay into the shape of an urn. My wife, Marie-Claire, and I visited Tony and Joan Bailey’s gallery, the Patina Studios in Bayfield, where my shadow-boxes are currently hanging, and Joan talked to us about the funerary urns Tony makes. All this came together in a second square foot piece entitled, “Hands and Clay”.


The Square Foot Show is an annual event at the Westland Gallery in Wortley Village, London, Ontario. Artists are allowed to submit no more than three pieces, which when framed must each measure one foot by one foot. This year, 172 artists are included. All sorts of media were used to create over 400 pieces.

I am honored my work is on the same wall as some of the finest artists from the region. My biggest thrill came from watching gallery-goers at the opening linger over my pieces and read the words. It is possible to see the observer’s attention shift from viewing to reading. It made me feel I have had an impact.

The show runs to August 16th. Plan to spend some time if you go. There is a lot to take in.

IMG_0237 Susan Toy & Frank at the Black Walnut Café  Oct 03 2013

And here I am, conferring with Frank Beltrano – who was also a Coffee Shop Author! – outside of one of the other popular spots in Wortley Village in London, The Black Walnut.

On writing contests

I used to enter writing contests. I quite enjoyed them. In fact, I entered the 3-Day Novel Contest four times since 2008, and I managed to complete three manuscripts and send them in after each contest ended. I never did win at all, but then winning wasn’t the reason I entered – completing a manuscript in 3 days was why I put myself through such a gruelling test. I’m about to ePublish the first of those three, That Last Summer, a novella I’ve been editing and preparing over the 5 years since it was written. This will be the next IslandShorts edition.

I’m mainly writing this blog post today to advise all of my readers that this year’s 3-Day Novel Contest is fast approaching! It will be held over the Labour (minus-a-U if you are American) Day weekend. I’m not entering this year. I am busy, as I said, preparing a manuscript I already have completed. And there are two other novellas that need work and some other short stories, too, from the one year I did not complete my entry. You still have time to enter though! The experience is, shall we say … Exhilarating? And the bonus is you will have a completed first draft, after all is said and done.

I also created this contest, Coffee Shop Author, which is no longer operating, but it was fun while it lasted and I’m still in contact with a few of the entrants and winners. There has been talk lately of creating an entirely new contest based on the same principle of authors being seen writing in public. Stay tuned. You just never know what will happen.

And, finally, I wanted to post this article on entering contests – How not to get Scammed: Strategies for Entering Writing Contests for those of you who do enjoy the thrill of entering but are afraid you may be taken to the cleaners.

Good luck to Everyone with your writing, whether you enter contests or just write!


WHO in the World is Reading Island in the Clouds??? – Susan, Frank and Judy!

I have received more photos and comments from three people who are reading my novel, Island in the Clouds – two in Calgary and one in London, Ontario.

But first I’m including a link to a blog post about a copy of Clouds being donated to a library in Dominica, WI. Gwen Whitford, longtime resident of a sister-island in the Caribbean, recently hosted a contest on her blog and part of my agreement with her was that she would receive an extra copy of the book that she could do with what she wished. Gwen asked if she may give it to her favourite library in Roseau and I wholeheartedly agreed.

Last week, Susan Calder, a fellow Calgary-based mystery writer and author of the recently released, Deadly Fall, A Paula Savard Mystery, published by Touchwood Editions, sent a picture for inclusion in this WHO in the World promotion campaign of mine.

Here’s what Susan had to say in her email: I took the picture at the start of Stampede and was looking for a mix of Island and Calgary Stampede – hence the island shirt and straw cowboy hat, purchased in Mexico. As you had suggested, I included both of our books. Susan also ran with this idea and posted a similar picture of her own book with an explanation on her blog. Good one, Susan!

Then I received a message on Facebook from Frank Beltrano of London, Ontario, previous two-time contestant in my Coffee Shop Author contest and last year’s third place winner! Frank said: Like a vacation “Island in the Clouds” is exotic, full of adventure and a little too short! (I’m working at editing the next three novels in the series, Frank!)

Not only do Frank and I share the experience of Coffee Shop Author, but we also discovered we shared the same childhood pony! These photos were taken a couple of years apart as well as many miles (I was in Toronto and Frank was in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario), but it is most definitely the SAME pony!

As Frank said when he discovered we’d had the same pictures taken, “That pony sure did get around!”

And finally, for this blog post, I have photos to share of my book at Indigo Signal Hill in Calgary, where my good friend, Judy Gardner – the best bookseller in the world! as I declare her to be on my Acknowledgments page – sells books several days a week. Thank you, Judy, for being the only bookseller so far to have sold out all copies of the initial order. I replenished stock today and Judy promptly put them on the New Mysteries display (where Island looks to be in good company!), adding her signed “Staff Pick” stickers to each copy. Thanks, Judy!

My day with writing pals…

I was the self-designated photog of that auspicious day when Dacie and Vicky and other writing pals and I all met, so here is the photo essay of My Day With Writing Pals – a day filled with much coffee, chocolate and laughter.

Darcie & Daphne

First I drove to the Starbucks at Crossiron Mills to pick up Darcie, who I had never met before in person. Then we met with Darcie’s sister so that the two could say goodbye.

Darcie & Vicky

From there, Darcie and I drove to the airport to pick up Vicky. Darcie was Vicky’s big surprise. Her flight was early giving us time to kill before our lunch date, so I took them to Inglewood

for coffee at Caffe Rosso…

where we had perfect lattes.

I didn’t tell my friends where I was taking them next, so they were totally bowled over by Choklat on 9th Ave. S.E., and we all got right into it, ordering and eating the very special chocolate prepared and sold in this shop.

one even draping herself across a stack of sacks filled with cocoa beans

All of this frivolity made us a bit late for our lunch date at the original Good Earth Cafe on 11th St. S.W.

where we met Betty Jane, Judy, and Athene.

Betty Jane, Darcie, Judy, Athene, Vicky

After lunch, the plan was to drive Vicky up to Banff where she was going to be doing a writing retreat for two weeks. We still had time, though, so I took them to Pages on Kensington for a quick visit. Then we hit the road, with a stop along the way in Canmore at Beamers, another great coffee shop…

and where I had made arrangements for Hazel Hutchins to join us!

I think we were all downright giddy at this point, but I agreed to allow Hazel to take a picture of the three, by now, old and familiar friends, as long as we had a mountain backdrop…

We said goodbye to Hazel and drove off to Banff so that Vicky could check-in at the Centre. The last person we were scheduled to meet was Susan Calder who greeted us at reception.

Darcie and I had to hit the road immediately after that in order to get her back to the airport in time for her early evening flight. We drove through a very surreal fog along the way, but managed to keep talking right up until we waved goodbye to each other at the terminal. The only coffee shop we didn’t manage to visit that day was the Wild Flour in Banff where we had hoped to see one of the authors registered in the Coffee Shop Author contest. So, a week later, I drove up to Banff again, this time with Kim, and we went out for lunch with Vicky at the cafe.

And that was that! A whirlwind day in Feb. when I not only met my best friend, but was also able to introduce her to many more best friends!

Why I still love Toronto

I was born in Toronto, and grew up in The Beach, but moved away to attend university. Other than a brief 9-month residence during my mid-life crisis, I have only visited Toronto over the years, always gravitating back to The Beach again. This area is much-changed in many ways, but some of it remains the same, and some friends, and my sister, still live in the old ‘hood, so I have people to visit whenever I’m in town.

Over the weekend, I attended an informal get-together organized by some of the women I graduated with from Malvern in 1972. But more on that in a future post. Here’s my photo essay on the other things I managed to do while there…

Leuty Lifeguard Station

I went for a walk along the boardwalk. There were police on horses, but unfortunately riding away from me so I couldn’t get a close-up. They’re in the second picture. Actually, they were racing along the sand, at one point. Horses must have been feeling frisky with all that sun and mild temps., for a change.

I stopped to sit on a park bench at the foot of Scarborough Beach Blvd., the street where our family house was located. I’ve sat on this same bench many times, to talk with friends, and just to be alone, to think, and write. It was a beautiful day on Sunday to sit there again, and enjoy the Rocket Fuel and chocolate croissant I had bought at Remarkable Bean on Queen St., the birthplace of my incredible brainwave for Coffee Shop Author, a writing contest.

On Sat., I met friends downtown and we went to see Ann Vanderhoof who was signing copies of her new book The Spice Necklace at The Cookbook Store. Great to have the chance to see Ann again! Check here for more on Ann’s new book.

Then I took the Neville Park streetcar back to The Beach and attended Sheena Fraser McGoogan’s show opening at Arts on Queen. Ken McGoogan, Sheena’s husband, was there, and it was good to see him once again. That’s a sample of Sheena’s art in the window. Check here for more.

I was fortunate to be in Toronto on Oscar night, so I took myself out on a typical Beach date – dinner and a movie at The Goof and The Fox! Can’t get much more nostalgic than that… I ate a hot turkey dinner at The Goof (sadly, Deep-fried Sweet and Sour Racoon Balls weren’t on the menu that night, Jim), complete with canned gravy, fries and green peas (frozen),

The Goof

although The Goof isn’t the same since they renovated and took out all the old tabletop jukeboxes. Then I walked across the street to The Fox

The Fox

where people were beginning to line up for the free showing of The Oscars, that included free popcorn and a drink! I sat in the third row, and made it through the entire show, to the end at midnight. Then I walked up Beech Ave., back to my sister’s place.

It was a great weekend to be in Toronto! The weather was incredibly beautiful, and people were happy to be strolling along the streets – even downtown on Yonge – enjoying an early taste of spring.

And that’s why I still love Toronto – after all these years.