After a year of co-hosting Simon Fraser University’s Writer’s Studio Reading Series with Esmeralda Cabral, we have handed over our duties to Karen J. Lee and Ivan Antoniw, who start in September.

I began to attend this series as an audience member in late 2009. Back then, I felt as if I was standing on a sidewalk, up on my toes, leaning against a large glass window with my hands cupped around my eyes, looking into a warm, bright, energetic room, watching a group of creative people doing their thing inside. My heart sank as I left that first evening, but I was also exhilarated as I began to work on a plan to find a way in.  I applied to The Writer’s Studio with my 20 page portfolio and writing resume – a daunting task in itself. I gathered up the stories that I had written over the last couple of years and tried to make something of them. I was lucky to have a friend who had attended The Writer’s Studio a few years back to both encourage and help me polish these stories. There was something about being a part of the community I had seen at the reading series though, that was what attracted me most.

I told myself not to get discouraged if I wasn’t accepted, and that I would apply two or three more time if need be. It was hard to remain positive yet realistic, however, a month later I received an email that I had been accepted into the poetry group. My heart almost came out of my chest and I literally jumped up and down screaming, then finally dropped to my knees as if I had found water after a long drought. A bit too dramatic for you? After the death of my sister, my father, and putting my mother into a care facility all in a three year period, this was the first thing that was all mine in this new life without my family.

I did find it odd that I had been chosen for poetry, having only produced two poems in my life, but no matter, I would learn. A am a poet! Once the euphoria wore off I realized that I was in fact attending a writing program and would be surrounded with people much more experienced than I, many of them published. I started to panic and borrowed six poetry books to study. About a week later though, I got another email saying I had been accepted into the non fiction group (which made more sense to me). Confused, I inquired about the group change, and was told that non fiction was what I had been chosen for and poetry had been a mistake. “No matter” I thought, and switched gears immediately by writing a series of short non-fiction stories, just to get warmed up.

The year 2010 proved to be a life changing time for me, making the transition from sporadic writer at best to producing many short stories about not only my life, but my family’s.  I wrote stories as a child and here I was again in my forties pursuing something that had remained dormant for most of my life. I continued to attend the reading series, sometimes to read myself, but mostly to blend into the writing community I was getting to know. When Fiona and Marnie, the 2011 co-hosts, asked me if I wanted to succeed them, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Not only was I now in that warm, bright, energetic room with creative people doing their thing, I was going to help to keep that atmosphere alive. My non fiction cohort Esmeralda joined immediately after me, and we began to work on this new project together.

Me at the microphone at the Take 5 Cafe

The writers I have met and listened to have been so inspiring to me that I now prefer to read local authors instead of the big names I had read exclusively. Talent in a community is a powerful thing, and to hear people from all walks of life, education, gender, race, sexuality, and focus is, well, the way the world should be. I have collected many signed copies of books (one of my drugs of choice), and admire them regularly, not just because of the entertaining and enlightening stories, but because I’ve met and chatted to these authors. Working with Esmeralda was what made the experience such a fun and happy one. By doing it together, we have become good friends through all our emailing, talking on the phone, having lunch, and just plain chatting whenever we could. I have learned how to give back to a community I want to be around for many years to come, and I hope that the new people who join us feel just as welcome as I did.

For our final duty, Esmeralda and I will be at the Summer Dreams Festival representing and promoting The Writer’s Studio Reading Series on Saturday, August 25 from 11am to 7 pm at Trout Lake. We will also be reading on stage from 4:45pm to 5:00pm so don’t blink if you’re there or you’ll miss us.

 

 


After six diplomas over the course of my adult life, I am finally back, yet again, this time to get a degree in Creative Writing. It will literally take until I retire – seven to nine years from now – to finish. I am doing this part time while working full time as a trainer and technical writer (if you want the creativity sucked right out of you, just concentrate on some technical writing), trying to finish my manuscript, submit short stories for publication, be responsible for a mother in a care facility with severe Alzheimer’s, and try to maintain a relationship with my partner Mack. What order in which these starring roles are my in life varies from day to day.

My first class went well. The Prof was easy to understand and had some inventive styles of teaching Philosophy, relating the text to current day examples. I’m the oldest by 25 or 30 years. I could be their grandmother – albeit a hillbilly grandmother as I and my daughter (or daughter-in-law) would have had to be 15 years old when we bore a child.

With this age difference, there are many adult traits I have acquired since being 18 or 19 years old. Namely, I show up on time for class, ready to listen and work. So that’s why I spent several days beforehand studying the readings that were posted online.

Everyone else showed up with an empty binder (I printed out the notes online to read several times). One woman came in, found a seat, and slammed her head down on the desk until the Prof arrived. No one spoke to each other. Three others were late by a half an hour and about eight people didn’t even show up.

In my over-zealousness I ended up buying the wrong text book – due to being old and over-prepared – but it appears that I have until the end of the month to return it.

The Prof – he told us he is old enough to remember all three times the Canucks made it to the Stanley cup, which means he was likely eight years old in 1982 – asked us to introduce ourselves and tell the class what program we’re in, why we chose Philosophy, and one thing about ourselves.

Most kids had no trouble saying that they were in the Criminology program and were taking Philosophy because it was the last course available. But when it came to divulging something about themselves, most sat in silence. Eventually, they eked out an “I swim or “I have an older sister”. One young girl (I do say girl because I think she’s likely menstruating, but I can’t be sure) who was very slim said, “Food. I like food.” I looked around the room smiling, trying to catch someone’s eye and forgot there weren’t any other adults in the classroom.

The Prof, obviously used to young people, replied, “Oh that’s nice, what kind of food do you like?”

The young woman proudly said, “Sushi,” which, of course, is a real stretch here in Vancouver.

I, however, waxed poetic about myself, giving several tidbits such as wanting to take this course because it was as different from my job that I could think of, and that I host a reading series and if anyone wanted to read, feel free to come and see me (no takers so far).

I did chat with a few of them and they’re really, well, young and cute. One woman was brave enough to sit next to me and we have good chats about her other courses, the mid-terms she is preparing for, and that her printer broke and she couldn’t print out our assignment that was due that day. I told her to email me next time and I would print it out for her. Adult’s printers don’t break.

Another young woman, who sits in front of me, is a good conversationalist, and our latest chat was about shoes. I was happy to hear that this is a topic that transcends all ages. The only difference was that she told her mother that they were on sale for $40 instead of $70 (regularly $170), not anticipating the fact that Mum would find out when the VISA bill came. I, however, can spend anything I want and already know what will show up on my own VISA bill.

I have settled in though and last week as I rushed to the cafeteria during break time to be first in line to get my steeped tea from Tim Horton’s, I looked around at the kids shuffling behind me in their Uggs and hoodies, and thought to myself, “I am Yoda,” to these tikes. That is, if their parents told them about the movie this character is from.


When I was in Langara enrolled in the Media Writing and Communications Program in the late 1990’s, I created a fictitious newsletter called Body Bag; a collection of interviews and events for mystery writers. The feature story was about a 96 year old writer named Adele Marmalade who had been trying to get herself published for 81 years.

“Publishers don’t like me” she said. “They think my writing is too grotesque. But I will not sacrifice my creativity and sell out!”

She began writing mystery stories to entertain her 14 younger brothers and sisters while they sat around the fire on her familyís farm in Saskatchewan.

When interviewed, Adele had just finished her latest novel I can See you out there and I’m going to Kill you, a collection of short stories of various stalkers in small Canadian communities, and was waiting to hear back from Shark Cartilage Publications I never did find out what happened after that.

I, too, have never been published.

Now, I know that my writing is not in the grotesque category, so it has to be something else. Is it not polished enough? Interesting enough? Do I need more experience writing? Or perhaps I just haven’t submitted enough? All of the above I suspect, but last December, when I began to feel dejected, I realized I had only ever sent out four stories. This didn’t even warrant a spreadsheet.

So, instead of continuing to mope, I was infused with energy and submitted stories to various literary magazines, both online and print. I took advantage of sites such as A Place for Writers, kept my eye out for the various emails I received about contests and publications looking for stories. I’ve ordered The Canadian Writers’ Contest Calendar (thanks Jan Redford, for including this in your blog tip on the TWS web site!). I reread The Writer’s Studio Guide to Publishing in Literary Magazines and Entering Contests.

Like many writers, I write because I feel the need to. Is this a way of justifying my not being published? Maybe, but I’ll still be writing no matter what happens.

That and I have many more years until I’m in Adele Marmalade’s position.

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