Words of Wisdom: Atlantic Canada’s pros offer advice for fresh authors

There is no doubt that literary talent in Atlantic Canada blossoms year round. Here, some of our pros impart a little sought-after wisdom all writers should heed

The Word On The Street Festival is a celebration of reading and writing. Among the book lovers who flock to the festival, there are also lots of people with the desire to be published who attend. Writers with laboured-over manuscripts at home in their desk drawers, or great book ideas that have yet to be written.

Pitch the Publisher offers these aspiring writers the unique opportunity to present their ides to a panel of publishers. Every year writers across the region bravely submit their work to the Atlantic Writing Competition and this year’s winners are being awarded their prizes at the festival’s opening ceremonies.

There is no doubt that literary talent in Atlantic Canada blossoms year round. Here, some of our pros impart a little sought-after wisdom all writers should heed:

Valerie_Sherrard (1)Valerie Sherrard, The Glory Wind (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)

What wisdom have you learned from your trade?
More than anything, I believe I’ve learned patience. It’s tempting to nudge a story along when it isn’t moving forward the way I’d like it to, but I’ve found that waiting until it’s ready always serves the story best.

What advice can you offer to aspiring authors?
Read. Read more. Read, read, read.

Who are the ones to watch, up and coming writers from Atlantic Canada?
There are many gifted Maritime authors in the field of children’s and young adult books. I wouldn’t dare try to list them as I know I would leave out someone deserving.

Your recommended read at the moment:
A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk by Jan L. Coates

Read a review of Valerie Sherrard’s Rainshadow

Photo credit: David Parker
Photo credit: David Parker

Stephens Gerard Malone, Big Town: A Novel of Africville (Nimbus Publishing)

What wisdom have you learned from your trade?
Every time you open a book, you meet someone who writes better than you.

What advice can you offer to aspiring authors?
Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Cliché, I know, but everything else is either expensive, unnecessary or distracting.

Who are the ones to watch, up and coming writers from Atlantic Canada?
I heard Keir Lowther read at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia Mentorship Program a few years back. His novel Dirty Bird coming from Tightrope Books is one to watch. I was also privy to hear Stephanie Domet read from her followup to Homing. Can’t wait. And if you thought Sue Goyette‘s poems in Outskirts were wonderful, she has something coming from Gaspereau that is going to blow your mind!

Your recommended read at the moment:
Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul by David Adams Richards

Steve.vernon.lgSteve Vernon, Sinking Deeper (Nimbus Publishing)

What wisdom have you learned from your trade?
Never be afraid to leap. In 2004, when I pitched my first ghost story collection, Haunted Harbours, at the very first Pitch the Publisher session I was actually terrified. I was certain that I would be booed from the stage. Now while boos and terror are a natural state of being for a ghost story collector such as myself – feeling frightened at this point of time was not. Fortunately, I refused to let the fear get the better of me. I cinched my belt tight around my gutline, pasted a grin to my be-bearded visage, leaped up from my chair and made my best pitch. As a result of that pitch Haunted Harbours was one of the first books to actually be published as a result of the Pitch the Publisher program. My entire life changed as a result of the release of this collection. I became a maritime author and achieved the modest degree of success that I now enjoy.

What advice can you offer to aspiring authors?
Read and feed your imagination constantly. Write like your fingers were on fire. Listen to your editors. Don’t be afraid to change. Every word you write is not sacred. Read some more. Write some more. Keep on going. Never quit. And like I said – leap!

Who are the ones to watch, up and coming writers from Atlantic Canada?
I love the work of Jill Maclean (The Nine Lives of Travis Keating). As for up and coming writers you definitely want to watch for Jo Ann Yhard (The Fossil Hunters of Sydney Mines), Richard Rudnicki (Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged), and a writer I just recently heard at a local literary reading and who has just won first place in the Young Adult – Juvenile Novel category of the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia’s 34th Annual Atlantic Writing Competition – Kat Kruger, with her as-yet unpublished novel The Night Has Teeth.

Your recommended read at the moment:
I’ve got over a dozen books of research material for my next collection heaped and teetering upon my desk – so I’m afraid my reading time is limited. However, the last couple of books that both curled my toes and knocked my socks off were Don Aker‘s The First Stone and Gary D. Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars.

Master storyteller Steve Vernon shares his scariest stories yet

Sheree Fitch PortraitSheree Fitch, Pluto’s Ghost (Random House)

What wisdom have you learned from your trade?
A book (good or bad or mediocre—it’s pretty subjective) gets born if and when it’s meant to be born. A book can’t be a book unless it’s read. Writers need readers. We make the book together along with a whole team of people: publishers, editors, graphic artists or illustrators, typesetters, book reps, publicists, booksellers, etc. in between. In other words, it takes a scribe and a tribe to make a book. Readers co-create “the book.”

What advice can you offer to aspiring authors?
Keep on keeping on. Nevah surrendah. It takes a lot of faith in the work to keep going in the face of rejection. It’s not about you, not really. Stamina and patience required. You are the listener, the scribe in service to the story. Keep asking: what means excellence?

Who are the ones to watch, up and coming writers from Atlantic Canada?
Every writer who is writing, regardless of age, and how many books under the belt is up and coming. But to name a name right now: I love Kate Inglis‘s work –in her Dread Crew books but also her take on the world in her blog. I look forward to her book. It will be a gift. Also, I just read a manuscript by an old friend _____ (secret for now) that blew me away. A cross between Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. It’s at a publisher now. I’m hoping to hear she’ll be published. Soon. Knock your socks off writing and a story from our region that’s not been told. Exciting.

Your recommended read at the moment:
Um… Pluto’s Ghost. Seriously, adult fiction: The Atlantic Canadian book that had the most impact on me is The Quilt by Donna Smythe. My own current reading list features Great Village by Mary Rose Donnelly. Brilliant. Y/A: The Year Mrs. Montague Cried by Susan White. Heart-wrenching. Picture Book: The City Speaks in Drums by Shauntay Grant and Susan Tooke, illustrator. Non –fiction: Sailor’s Hope by Rusty Bitterman, The Gift of Loss by Paula Simon. Poetry: Is by Anne Simpson, At First, Lonely by Tanya Davis.

Read Sheree Fitch’s Proust Questionnaire

Sue-Goyette-1024x768Sue Goyette, Outskirts (Brick Books)

What wisdom have you learned from your trade?
That the actual writing is the most important and rewarding part of the process—that first collision with invention, imagination, curiosity and silence has an undeniable vitality that is like a vitamin boost and leaves me feeling way more fortified than anything else.

What advice can you offer to aspiring authors?
I think anyone starting out has a great sense of purpose and intent that can sometimes transform into impatience and frustration if their writing gets stalled or is rejected, so the best advice I can offer is to know, if you’re a writer, that you’re in it for the long haul and the pace of that takes some getting used to. And all you have to do right now is to write and read (like mad).

Who are the ones to watch, up and coming writers from Atlantic Canada?
I’m excited about a lot of up and coming writers here, especially in Halifax. I’ve been teaching in the Creative Writing Program at Dalhousie University and am continually blown away by the vitality of the young writers emerging there. I also work at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia and our Mentorship Program works with new writers on their book length manuscripts and every one of our mentored writers are writers to watch our for.

Your recommended read at the moment:
I’m not sure I should recommend it because I still haven’t read it, but I’m looking forward to reading Swamplandia by Karen Russell. The main character swims with alligators and knows how to tape their mouths shut. This, for me, is reason enough to read it.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2011 issue of Atlantic Books Today

Written By

Kim Hart Macneill is a journalist and magazine editor whose work has appeared in This Magazine, Canadian Business, and East Coast Living. She divides her time between Halifax and Moncton.

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