Last fall, the Manitoba Writers’ Guild held a writing contest with the theme of Halloween. Our winner was Gaylene Dutchyshen. Her bio and winning story were featured in one of our recent newsletters. She will be our guest at next month’s Book Chat, March 10, 2021 at 7 pm, if you would like to hear her read her from her work. Email the Guild (firstname.lastname@example.org) to receive the Zoom instructions.
In addition to publishing her story and bio, we arranged for her to be interviewed by Danielle Somack. Here is an introduction to Danielle, Gaylene and their interview:
My name is Danielle Somack and I’m an emerging writer and high school student residing in rural Manitoba. As a mentee of Creative Manitoba’s 2020-21 Rural Youth Mentorship program, I started to explore writing from different angles and perspectives. My mentor, Anita Daher, has given me the opportunity to meet many amazing and talented local authors at the monthly Book Jam we cohost together on Zoom. I am very keen on expanding my skills and learning about other writer’s creative pursuits and the stories that move them, whether through a conversation or by interviewing Manitoba authors with the Manitoba Writers’ Guild.
Gaylene Dutchyshen loves a good mystery. Born in Dauphin and raised in Gilbert Plains, Manitoba, Gaylene takes inspiration from the solitude of the prairies and her fascination with the inner workings of the mind to create compelling characters with hidden pasts and family secrets.
Before publishing her first novel, A Strange Kind of Comfort, in 2020, Gaylene had written a short story for a University of Manitoba creative writing course in 2008, titled Dream Job, a haunting, gothic tale that recently won her first place in the Manitoba Writer’s Guild Halloween Short Story Contest.
Danielle Somack: What do you want readers to take away from Dream Job?
Gaylene Dutchyshen: I wanted to portray the power of the mind and show how what we think/feel/experience during the day is expressed in our dreams. The two main characters are drawn to each other by a mutual experience, night terrors, and I wanted the reader to identify and sympathize with each of them. Cate’s mother is aloof and Jamie senses that Cate is neglected. Jamie’s father is judgmental and Jamie’s night terrors recur when she is stressed. Sam Talbot is a “villain” only in Jamie’s and Cate’s imaginations, yet they are compelled to silence him. I wanted to create a sense of danger in a place where patients should feel protected and safe. In protecting Cate from a perceived danger, Jamie acts on her unconscious fears with unintended consequences for Sam. Instead of a vampire (supernatural) or serial killer, I wanted to create unease in my readers by fashioning killers that would be perceived as harmless. If a reader is left unsettled by the end of the story, then I achieved what I set out to do.
DS: What is the inspiration behind your story?
GD: I actually wrote the story in 2008 when I was taking an Advanced Creative writing course at the U of M. At the start of the first semester, we were writing our short stories anonymously so, to disguise myself, I wrote each story in a different voice/genre. Dream Job was my horror/gothic tale. A few weeks before I wrote this story, I had a sleep study at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, and it struck me as a creepy experience. I arrived after dark, parked in a nearly empty parking garage. It was quiet and nearly deserted on the floor where I was hooked up with cords. I knew I would be watched and monitored as I slept. It made me wonder about the sleep technician and her job and what she thought about all night as she watches people sleep. She’s always on a night shift, having to stay mostly silent while she works, with very little interaction with the sleep study patients or her co-workers. The patients are completely vulnerable. It seemed a good premise and setting for a spooky story.
DS: You mentioned in your bio that you’re a bit of a bookworm. What do you look for in a good book?
GD: I like books about families and secrets; which is why I write such novels myself. I like knowing what makes a character “tick”, so I tend to like stories where the main character’s childhood is revealed, and we learn what shaped them. Characters must be compelling and multi-faceted. I also prefer books where I “see” physical details. A truly beautiful description or metaphor always pulls me into the author’s world. Suspense keeps me turning the pages, even if it’s a novel about ordinary people in everyday situations.
DS: You also mentioned that you love to travel with your husband Wayne (in non-COVID times). How have these travels influenced your writing?
GD: So far, I’ve been drawn to write about the Manitoba rural community. It is the prairies and the people who populate small rural towns that I know best. Travel does broaden one’s perspective, though. Seeing other cultures and different styles of living expands the mind and creates curiosity about and empathy for others, which is important for a writer. I’d like to include a European destination in my writing one day.
DS: When you’re not writing, what do you spend your time doing?
GD: I am still actively involved in our farm operation, so I’m busier in the spring, summer and autumn. I am the farm accountant and operate a combine during the harvest season. Besides traveling, I love gardening and have designed two beautiful flower gardens with ponds and waterfalls on the properties where we’ve lived. I’m a visual person, which is reflected in my writing, and it’s my passion to create beauty in my surroundings. I like biking and we enjoyed exploring more of Manitoba this summer. Like every grandmother, I cherish time with our grandchildren. Our 8- and 10-year old grandkids and I had a blast making a movie—Covid Catastrophe starring Superkids vs the Coronavirus—this spring when school was out (they wrote the script, found the costumes, designed the credits, etc) so creative activities are also on the list of things to do at our house.
Thanks to both Danielle and Gaylene for their insight into a writer’s life. There is still time to send in submissions to our Bloody Valentine writing contest (deadline: February 19th, 2021). Check out our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/manitobawritersguild) for details.