David Elias – My Manitoba Book Awards experience

David Elias was shortlisted for the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction so we asked him about his experience:

  1. How did you hear about the Manitoba Book Awards?

Answer: I received an email from my publisher, ECW Press, informing me that my book, Elizabeth of Bohemia:  A Novel about Elizabeth Stuart, The Winter Queen, had been nominated for the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction.

  1. How was the process for submitting your book? If you submitted to previous Book Awards, how did the process differ, for better or worse?

Answer: ECW Press took care of everything.  They submitted the book for a number of other awards, as well.  As it turned out, the novel was also selected as a finalist for the Foreword Reviews Indie Awards, which is American.

  1. Have you attended Book Awards Galas, in the past? If so, what were your impressions of the evenings. With the COVID-19 situation putting a damper on our ceremony this year, is there something you think we should have done instead of simply announcing the winners in an online forum?

Answer: I’ve attended a number of Book Awards in various cities.  In 2005 I attended the Amazon First Novel Award ceremonies in Toronto when my novel, Sunday Afternoon, was one of the finalists.  It was an elaborate affair, with special guests and plenty of food and refreshments.  That year I also attended the Manitoba Book Awards because the same novel was nominated for both the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction and the McNally Robinson Book of the Year.  It was held at the Hotel Fort Garry in one of the ballrooms, with all the accoutrements of a gala event.  I’ve attended the Manitoba Book Awards on other occasions, as well, including the year Brenda Sciberras, to whom I am married, won the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book for her collection of poetry, Magpie Days.

This year’s nomination for the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction was great, but to say that Covid-19 put a damper on things is putting it mildly!  Nothing compares to a live in-person event.  Other than a couple of congratulatory emails, it was basically “crickets”.  There was some mention of interviews with the nominees that would be posted online, and I thought the local media might step in and do a bit more to promote the awards, but none of that materialized.

  1. How did you feel when you received the email announcing that you’d made the shortlist?

Answer: I was certainly happy to receive the nomination, but I didn’t anticipate it.  I’ve written other books that I thought might be nominated that got passed over, so I’ve learned not to get my hopes up.

  1. What more can we do to help you receive the accolades you deserve?

Answer: I think what you are doing now – interviewing me you about my experience, featuring me in your newsletter, and your plans to have me as the Featured Author at an upcoming virtual Book Chat are all terrific.  I really couldn’t ask for more.

  1. What else would you like to say about the experience?

Answer: When you’re nominated for an award, it’s certainly an affirmation, which can really be a boost.  But what about all those accomplished writers who never get to have that experience?  When I was writing Elizabeth of Bohemia, I reached a point where found myself in something of an existential crisis, and had to stop and think about what I was up to.  It was taking years of research and effort to write the book – with no contract, and no prospects that it would ever be published.  What if nothing came of it?!  After not writing for a while, I realized how much I missed Elizabeth.  And she missed me!  But what I missed most was the work, the process.  I decided let go of my expectation, my striving for “success”, and soon I was back at work.  It changed me as a writer.  I felt calmer after that, quieter.

Thanks, David, for the insight into your experience. I hope what we are doing will help you as a writer.

Also, congratulations on your upcoming virtual launch on October 20 through McNally Robinson Booksellers (https://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/event-18012/David-Elias-Online-Book-Launch#.X4dzu9BKjIU). Hope your new book, The Truth About The Barn does well.

Northern Writers

Over the last few years, Goldrock Press (https://goldrockpress.com/ ) has published some wonderful books by Northern Manitoba writers, with an emphasis on Indigenous writers. The publishing house is owned by Dorene Meyer,  who was featured in a previous MWG newsletter.

This year, one of their more recent titles made it to the shortlist at the Manitoba Book Awards: Entawi Kiskinomakawiyan by Pauline Apetagon. I want to introduce you to Pauline and some of her fellow writers from northern communities.

Pauline Apetagon is a Cree and Nursery teacher at Jack River School in Norway House Cree Nation, Manitoba. Pauline has two children and two beautiful grandchildren. She was married to the late Byron Apetagon, a renowned artist and storyteller.

Pauline believes that the Cree language needs to be preserved. She is the author of Niwanawin, a Cree language book also designed for young children.

Nikiwan – “I go home” – introduces children, ages 5-7, to basic Cree words associated with their home. These include words such as mother, father, pets, bed, plate, and spoon. Vivid photos depict real objects for easy identification. Nikiwan is a valuable instructional tool for Cree language teachers and parents who would like to help their children learn the Cree language.

Entawi Kiskinomakawiyan – “I Go to School” – introduces children, ages 5-7, to basic Cree words associated with school. These include words such as classroom and library, teacher and principal, book and pencil, and also eight primary colors. Vivid photos depict real objects for easy identification. Entawi Kiskinomakawiyan is a valuable instructional tool for Cree language teachers and parents who would like to help their children learn the Cree language. It was shortlisted for the McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award – Younger Category in 2020.

Another prolific author from the north is Brenda Fontaine, who has written articles and poems published in North Roots magazine, First Nations Voice, Urban NDN, Maranatha News, First Nations Christian Writers and all six of the Northern Writers anthology series.

Brenda has also written a contemporary novel entitled Tyranny in Our Times, three children’s books in her Babs’ Adventures series (Stranger at the Creek, Storm on the Lake, and Christmas on the Trapline) books which tell the story of a young girl growing up in a Cree community in the 1950’s, and most recently, a Cree book about winter titled Pipon.

Pipon – “It is winter” – introduces children, ages 5-7, to basic Cree phrases about winter including the weather, winter sports and activities, and other delights of the season. Vivid photos depict real objects for easy identification. Pipon is a valuable instructional tool for Cree language teachers, and parents who would like to help their children learn the Cree language.

 

ANN-MARGARET DAY-OSBORNE is a Cree language teacher. She was born and raised in Norway House, MB. Her mother, Mary Margaret Osborne, is a resident elder at the University of Winnipeg, and her father, the late Riley Osborne, was an Aboriginal artist. While growing up in Norway House, Ann-Margaret learned about traditions, music, storytelling, and influences that would help her become who she is today. Altogether, she would use her knowledge and memories to help teach children, and those who would listen, the lessons that she was taught. Ann-Margaret has previously published Akihtásowina (a children’s picture book), and Pisiskowak (Cree Language Resource Cards in Instructor/Student sets).

Tânisi êspitaman ininîmowin ᑖᓂᓯ   ᐁᓰᐢᐱᑕᒪᐣ   ᐃᓂᓃᒧᐏᐣ “How you pronounce Cree” introduces children, ages 3-5, to the Cree alphabet written in Cree (Roman orthography), Cree Syllabics, and English. Vivid photos depict real objects for easy identification. Tânisi êspitaman ininîmowin is a valuable instructional tool for Cree language teachers and parents who would like to help their children learn the Cree language.

About the publisher, Goldrock Press

They are a small company located in northern Manitoba, that publishes and promotes northern writers, with an emphasis on Indigenous writers. Their books are all of the best quality, printed in Canada by Art Bookbindery, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Most of their books are in English but some are in Cree or Ojibwa, and some also contain syllabics.

They Love Schools and Libraries!

For more information, contact info@goldrockpress.com.

Insider view of the Sheldon Oberman Mentorship Program – part 1

In September, we will begin taking applications for the Sheldon Oberman Mentorship Program, with the deadline being November 30, 2020. We will need applications for both Mentors and Apprentices. If you are interested in being considered for either position, please refer to the Guidelines under the Mentorship Program tab of the website.

Normally in June, we have a SOMP wind-up at McNally Robinson Booksellers, where the apprentice reads from the work with which the Mentor helped during their mentorship and answered audience questions. This year, with COVID-19 restrictions in place, we were unable to provide an in-person experience to meet our most recent graduate of the program. Instead, here is an interview so you will get to know our most recent graduate of the program, Joy MacLean.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspires you to write.

My background includes careers as a lawyer, mediator, and environmental policy advisor. Related to my love of the outdoors and interest in the environment, I have written on topics such as sacred land, stewardship and local knowledge. As one of the founding directors of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, I also enjoyed my role as editor of and contributor to the foundation’s newsletter, The Watershed Observer.

One of the greatest sources of inspiration for me is the work of other writers. Among my favourites are the modernists—I just can’t seem to read Dubliners and To The Lighthouse enough times! But there are also many other writers, both past and present, whose work also inspires me, stirring my imagination and boosting my creative energy.

A common thread throughout my writing is my interest in getting beyond superficial appearances and learned responses in order to discover the true essence of things. This quest inspires me to understand how people experience personal change and growth in a way that can lead them to have an epiphany.

I also find inspiration in everyday things and small details as simple as an image, a gesture, or a statement. In fact, it was someone’s passing mention of a detail about harvest time in the Dirty Thirties that became the jumping-off point for the novel I am writing.

Born and raised in Neepawa, Manitoba, I am a prairie person through and through and have a deep connection to the prairie landscape. My home is in Sans Souci on the shore of Lake Winnipeg where I live with my partner, Cam. Surrounded by the area’s wonderful natural amenities, I enjoy kayaking, sailing, cycling, and cross-country skiing.

Why did you decide to apply for the Sheldon Oberman Mentorship Program?

At the time that I applied to the mentorship program, I had completed a number of short stories, but my main focus was on a story that I had developed to novella length. At some point, as the novella continued to grow, I realized there was much more to it and that I wanted to expand it into a novel. While I really enjoy the writing process and find it to be inherently engaging and rewarding, it also tends to be a very solitary pursuit. I felt that my writing would really benefit from the fresh perspective, expertise, and objective criticism of a knowledgeable mentor.

How was the submission process for you?

I had a clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish through the mentorship program, and the submission process was very straightforward. In the process of deciding what to include as a writing sample for the submission, I enjoyed the challenge of going through the fourteen or so chapters of my novella and selecting a handful of excerpts that, taken together, would give a representative slice of my work and also convey something of the story as a whole.

How did you feel to meet your Mentor for the first time?

I felt happy and relieved to have an experienced mentor to help to me with my project. And I was keen to make the most of the opportunity.

What were the main focus points of your mentorship?

The main focus, and a big learning curve for me, involved character development. Over the months I worked with the mentor, I learned about how to flesh out and create more depth in my characters. I am also more mindful now of where and how various scenes and passages can reveal the characters, as well as how these choices will affect the overall shape and emotional impact of the finished piece.

Another focus was to take sections of exposition and develop them into detailed scenes. This was very productive work. Not only I did I enjoy it, but it also generated a lot of new material—detailed scenes with dialogue—that gave me further insights into the characters and created points from which the story could spread out in new directions.

How did the pandemic change the way you and your mentor communicated?

Although we had a few meetings before the pandemic’s onset, we decided it would be advisable to meet by phone for the remainder of the mentorship. Personally, I think face-to-face meetings are the best way to communicate, but it simply wasn’t a good option in the circumstances.

How has the program helped you approach your writing now?

There are two answers to this question. At the micro level, I have gained greater knowledge of and facility with a number of writing tools. At the macro level, I learned firsthand that writing a novel is a bit of a marathon, and I have a whole new appreciation for the amount of time and effort it requires. Because a novel can take a long time to complete, it can become an organizational feat to keep track of all the connecting details, logistical considerations, research, and other aspects. For this reason, it is essential to keep tabs on everything and to stay well-acquainted with it on a regular basis. At my mentor’s suggestion, I put together a visual aid to help me with that goal; I now have my story’s settings, timelines, and various other information and intersections all mapped out on a poster-size sheet of paper.

What do you consider the most significant impact on your writing from participation in this program?

While I gained knowledge and skills in a number of key areas such as character development and creating conflict, I think the most significant impact is that I am more aware of how to go about building a story’s theme. I now appreciate how every aspect of the novel needs to work together to generate resonant and cohesive themes.

What advice do you have for others who want to apply for mentorship?

I like to be organized as much as possible and had a clear idea about what I wanted to accomplish so that I would stay focused and on track with my goals. Having said that, I think it’s also very important to maintain flexibility, to keep an open mind and adjust plans and ideas based on feedback from the mentor. It is a balancing act.

Would you recommend this program to other aspiring writers?

Yes, in a heartbeat!

Thank you, Joy, for your participation and comments on the program as you see it. We wish you every success with your future writing endeavours.

Please stay tuned, in the next few days, for some insights from Joy’s Mentor, Keith Cadieux.

Book Chat #5 with Lauren Carter

Our next virtual Book Chat will take place on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 7 pm. It will feature one of the 2020 Manitoba Book Awards winners, Lauren Carter. Please join us by emailing the Manitoba Writers’ Guild to receive instructions.

Lauren is the author of four books. Her poetry collections are Following Sea and Lichen Bright and her novels are Swarm and This Has Nothing to Do With You, which won the 2020 Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction at the this year’s Manitoba Book Awards, where she also received the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer. 

Her work has also appeared in literary journals across the country including Grain and The Fiddlehead and anthologies such as Best Canadian Stories and the forthcoming Voicing Suicide. A transplanted Ontarian, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and has lived in Manitoba since 2013.

She is currently working on completing a third poetry collection called Furrow and the first draft of her next novel. Visit her online at www.laurencarter.ca

Report on Angeline Schellenberg’s Book Chat

The August Book Chat featured award-winning poet, Angeline Schellenberg. She read from her book Fields of Light and Stone. The first poem she read with her son because she’d written it in the ‘voices’ of her grandparents. Angeline spoke the words attributed to her grandmother and her son read the part of her grandfather. All her touching poems from Fields of Light and Stone were based on her grandparents’ emigration experience and farming life in Canada.

During the Q&A, audience members asked Angeline about her creative process; working on the book layout, the editing for publication, etc. Afterwards, four audience members shared their own poems during the Open Mic part of the evening. Danie Botha shared a poem from his book 2 Bowls of Joy. Phyllis Cherritt read about a remembrance of her mother. Penny Haywood, inspired by one of Angeline’s poems about a garden, read her own poem about a garden. Emmanuel Okoh read I Kooti, published by the Canadian League of Poets.

I find it fascinating, during these Book Chats, how the Featured Author’s readings often inspire the audience to share their work with similar themes. I highly recommend you join us for Book Chat #5 on September 9, 2020 at 7 pm with Lauren Carter, who will be featured in the next post.

Launch of new program for kids

With the success of our evening online Book Chats and, with social distancing still an issue with kids as well as adults, we have come up with a way to reach out to the children and grandchildren of members, providing some free afternoon literary programs. During the month of August, we are lining up writers for a series of Kids Book Chats, beginning with those who were a part of this year’s Manitoba Book Awards, in particular, those who wrote books that were submitted to the McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award – Younger Category.

Each of these online meetings will begin with a reading from the author, followed by a Q&A where participants can ask questions of the author and, in some cases, with the illustrator as well. This reading series will take place every afternoon for a couple of weeks, depending on how many writers we can get on-board. We’d like to continue the series with other local writers for children and teens, too. Anyone who would like to sign up their kids or grandkids to watch, please email the Manitoba Writers’ Guild (manitobawritersguild3@gmail.com) to receive the Zoom links and instructions.

Our first Kids Book Chat will take place on Tuesday, August 4th at 1 pm with Bill Richardson, who was the 2020 winner of the McNally Robinson Booksellers Book for Young People Award – Younger Category with his book, The Promise Basket, a lyrical story which celebrates the love between a mother and her daughter. He will be joined by his illustrator, Slavka Kolesar.

As well as winning this year’s Young People Award, former radio host, Bill Richardson, was also the winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. He has written several other highly acclaimed books for children, including The Ants Come Marching, illustrated by Cynthia Nugent and winner of the Time to Read Award; the children’s novel After Hamelin, which won the Ontario Library Association’s Silver Birch Award; The Alphabet Thief and The Bunny Band, both illustrated by Roxanna Bikadoroff.

Illustrator, Slavka Kolesar, has a BFA in visual studies and art history from the University of Toronto and trained as an early childhood educator. Other books she has illustrated include Ulysse by Suzanne de Serres, Le Nom de l’arbre by Stéphanie Bénéteau and Le Légende de Carcajou by Renée Robitaille, which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. She was chosen as the TD Summer Reading Club illustrator in 2017.

About The Promise Basket:

A stone when it’s thrown can cause damage, can break
but nothing can shatter the promise I make.

So begins the poem a mother writes on a scrap of paper. She wraps the paper around a stone and places it in a basket to give to her daughter on her first birthday. They are poor, but the mother is determined that gifts will be given when gifts need giving. She keeps her promise, and the Promise Basket, too.

Every time there is a need for gifts, the mother finds a pretty stone to tie up with paper and ribbon and gives it to her daughter in the basket. She continues the tradition over the years until her daughter has a baby of her own…