I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.
— Harper Lee
I promised myself that when I clicked on the ‘add new post’ icon, I would eventually be clicking ‘publish’ once I was finished typing what I had to say.
You see, I have about 20 or so drafts sitting in my posts folder. They are all posts I at one point or another felt I needed to share, but I didn’t. It upsets me more than you know.
When I first started this blog over three years ago, it was because I enjoyed writing. Even if nobody was actually reading my words — besides my family and other random bloggers — I didn’t care. It was just nice to say what I had to say in my own little corner of the Internet.
I used words like RAD (maybe a bit too often) and I poured my heart out about women I loved. I didn’t care what people thought — okay, maybe a little — but I didn’t let it censor me.
For some reason though, lately I’ve been questioning everything I write down. Even that sentence right there I wonder, should I be admitting this?
Sure it’s made me a better editor, but at what cost? Scrutinizing everything I put to paper has become tiresome. Questioning what everyone else will think is just silly. Yeah, maybe my older blog posts weren’t going to get me my next big gig, but they were my words. They were thoughts I felt I needed to share, and that should be enough.
I don’t know when or why this all started, but I do know a few things: being critiqued on my creativity for the past year has been challenging. Being surrounded my such talented people has made me analyze my own skills through a magnifying glass. Being so totally objective has left me a little lost.
I need to stop censoring myself and believe in me again. When I go back and read old blog posts, they make me smile because I was carefree. I can specifically remember sitting at my old Toshiba laptop in my shitty old apartment and the satisfaction I got from clicking ‘publish.’ I hate to say it, but when it comes to this blog, I haven’t felt that way in a while.
People always say, to become a better writer you need to write. So here’s to writing for the fun of it. Here’s to writing stories I can look back at and smile. And here’s to being honest and saying whatever the hell I want, because these are my words and this is my blog.
To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.
Sara Groleau is a 23 year-old author of short fiction, born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is currently working on her first novel about a troubled young woman who thinks she has found the perfect escape when she meets the future King of the Underworld. She graduated from the University of Winnipeg in 2012, with a degree in Psychology and a certificate in Conflict Resolution. She lives in Winnipeg with her family and is currently studying towards a degree in Psychiatric Nursing.
How did you get into writing?
When I was six, a friend gave me a little pink diary with a gold lock, and I started writing down random stuff, like what I was eating at the moment – kind of like a pre-internet Twitter. I was always asking, “What if?” Writing down my thoughts was a way to get them out of my head. I’ve always had an overactive imagination; it’s how I used to escape feelings of boredom or distress. I was shy as a child and often lonely, so writing in journals was how I would ask questions, explore ideas, and develop opinions about things. I also read a lot of fiction and I identified with certain characters or situations. I always felt like the authors of my favourite books understood me more than my peers did. Eventually I started practicing writing my own stories and sharing them with other people; stories were how authors had connected with me, so I wanted to connect with others in the same way. When I write a story and someone reads it and relates to it, then I feel like that person and I have something in common, and the world doesn’t seem so strange anymore.
What is your favourite thing about writing?
My favourite thing about writing is creating the opportunity to share a piece of myself with another person without feeling totally vulnerable. I’ve never experienced most of the exact situations I write about – but it is stuff I have wondered about. Storytelling is a way for both the writer and reader to be honest and open without feeling totally exposed.
Sara’s work has won her some awards (Check out Sara’s award-winning short stories on Amazon Kindle):
“An Apparent Tragedy” – won First Place in the Senior Student Division of the Winnipeg Free Press/Writers’ Collective Short Fiction Contest (2006); published in The Collective Consciousness (bimonthly journal of The Writers’ Collective).
“Nobody Wins” – won an Honourable Mention in the Senior Student Division of the Winnipeg Free Press/Writers’ Collective Short Fiction Contest (2007); published in The Collective Consciousness (bimonthly journal of The Writers’ Collective).
1. What is art?
I feel that art is a form of communication and connection with other people. Art is taking something and challenging yourself to look at it with a different perspective. It is inviting people to look at something in a different way.
2. If you were stranded on an island, which three things would you wish to have?
Coke, vodka, and a glass.
3. What creation are you most proud of?
I am proud of the time I create in my day that I set aside for writing, even if it’s just a minute. I spend a lot of time at work, school, etc. A lot of my time belongs to other people. The time I spend writing is time that belongs only to me.
4. What is your favourite movie?
Some Like It Hot. It came out in 1959 but even today it’s hilarious. It really captures my sense of humour, which is witty, wordy, and raunchy.
5. What inspires you?
I feel motivated to act when I perceive injustice. When I was in grade 5, we had an ice cream day at school but no one in our class received any ice cream despite all of us giving our money to the teacher week ago. I started a protest in my class by writing, “We want ice cream or our money back!” on a piece of paper and taped it to my desk. It caught on with other kids and eventually the boys were running up and down the hall with pieces of paper, screaming the chant. (Don’t worry, we eventually got our money back). When I write, sometimes it’s my way of asking, “Hey, do you secretly feel this way too?”
I also feel inspired by bizarre situations, such as ones with a high degree of contrast between the gravity of a situation and the amplitude of people’s responses. I used to work at McDonald’s, and one time our supervisor found too many blueberries in a yoghurt parfait. He reacted like someone had committed a felony, screaming that he’d found “NINETEEN BLUEBERRIES!” I thought the contrast between the seriousness of his reaction and the triviality of the stimulus was funny. My experiences with real people allow me to create characters with unique perspectives, and then place the characters in challenging situations.
6. What is your “life motto”?
Be kind to people.
7. Have you had formal training or does it come naturally?
I did take one creative writing class in university but I didn’t really find it useful. I have found much better advice by reading books on my own time, most recently “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass, and “Writing Fiction for Dummies” by Peter Economy and Randy Ingermanson.
I would say my ability to write comes from informal training. I have been heavily influenced by other authors of fiction, for example, Betty Smith, author of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” I admire her ability to tell an honest story in a straightforward voice. My philosophy about creating stories is that the focus should be on your audience; you should write something entertaining and emotionally engaging.
8. What’s one thing on your bucket list?
I want to write a novel that I am 100% proud of. Even if I end up not being able to find any publishers who want it, it will still be a personal symbol of my perseverance. I mean, hopefully it’ll get published, but it needs to be good in my eyes first.
9. Who is your favourite artist?
Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) is my favourite musician. I admire his work because he focuses on emotions that we aren’t always free to talk about in public, such as loneliness or feeling powerless or disappointed. Plus he’s awesome.
10. Why this art medium?
I gravitate towards writing as opposed to other art mediums because it is easily accessible – all you need is a pen and paper. You can write at any time of the day and virtually any place. Writing is also very easy to share with other people. I enjoy storytelling because it can be a way of engaging people. I like written stories best because then I can tell a story even if no one is around.
And now, here is Sara’s latest work, enjoy!
They were taking longer than usual to wake up.
Needing a catalyst to consciousness, Joseph poured himself a mug of yesterday’s coffee. “You didn’t come to bed last night.” He opened the door of their yellow-tinged microwave, squinting through his morning haze at the buttons, searching for the only ones he ever used.
“Make yourself a fresh pot.” Wendy bit into a slice of dry toast, crumbs falling onto the newspaper open on the table. Joseph thought she was reading, until he noticed her eyes were fixed upon the center of the page. A part of Wendy had disappeared and the part of her that remained was pretending to read.
“This is fine.” Joseph pressed three buttons on the microwave.
The staccato beeps brought Wendy’s head up. “Ninety seconds, that’s too long, you’re going to burn your mouth.”
“I’ll add some milk later.”
“We don’t have any.”
“There’s no butter either but you haven’t died yet.”
Wendy’s toast fell to the newspaper.
Joseph cursed under his breath. “Wendy.”
She stood up from the table and abandoned the toast, newspaper, and Joseph. She walked to their second bedroom.
Joseph’s hands began to twitch. He grasped the handle of the microwave door again, before the final beep had sounded. Joseph didn’t bother to reach for the mug’s handle, instead clenching his fingers around the cylinder of the mug itself. The heat of the liquid had transferred to the outside of the mug. Joseph winced as he took a sip, then placed the mug on the counter. A bead of coffee began to weep down the side of the mug where his lower lip had been. A watery black ring formed on the counter, encircling the mug’s circumference.
The carpet in the hallway cushioned Wendy’s stomping footsteps until she entered the kitchen. “Out.”
She had the little pink blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Flat brown owls were scattered all over the blanket, silent witnesses with large eyes and no testimony.
She’ll love this, Wendy had said, months ago, when she and Joseph had found the little blanket at a flea market.
Wendy’s pupils fixated on the mug that sat upon the counter.
Joseph walked towards the door to the outside, grabbed the keys to his truck from the hook above the light switch, and twisted the door handle. He cast a glance back at Wendy’s stiff figure, tilting his head sideways. From that angle, it almost looked like Wendy’s coarse, unwashed hair and the chipped black polish on her toenails were bookends for the owl blanket.
Wendy waited until she heard the door snap shut. She looked at Joseph’s mug of reheated coffee. With her left hand, she clasped both ends of the blanket in front of her while she maneuvered her right hand out from behind the soft fleece. Her fingers grasped the handle of the mug. She brought it over to the metal sink, which was emanating a slight scent of rotten eggs. She tipped the mug to the left, allowing the coffee to pour down the sink. The fluorescent light reflected off the small cascade of coffee and she saw shades of brown for a moment before the mug emptied in its entirety.
The mug clunked into the sink, rolling briefly on its side before its handle put an end to the motion.
She opened the wooden drawer beside the sink, the drawer opening in pulses along its unseen splintered track. She selected a green washcloth with a white snowman and a dime-sized hole. She turned on the gray metal tap of the sink and dampened the washcloth under the flow of water, which refused to spew out a constant temperature even if the tap remained untouched.
She extracted the washcloth from the stream and brought her left hand forward. Both hands gripping either end of the rag, she began to wring out the hot water. Her lips pressed together more firmly with every twist, until her hands reached a standstill.
Wendy heard keys jingling outside the door.
“How long have you been doing that?” Joseph closed the door behind him and hung his keys up on the hook with his free hand. He examined her red, raw hands from afar.
She stopped scrubbing and stared at the large beige crate that he had brought back with him. “What the fuck is that?”
He laid the crate down on the floor and opened the metal barred door, smiling and reaching his hand inside.
“You did not get a dog.”
He looked up at Wendy from where he was crouched on the floor. His eyes went to the counter. “Where’d you put my coffee?”
“You’re taking it back to the store or humane society or wherever –”
“I wasn’t finished, where’d you put it?”
“You’re seriously pissed that I dumped out your reheated coffee from yesterday. What were you going to do, put it in the microwave again?”
“Don’t touch my stuff.”
“It was my university mug.”
“You didn’t even graduate.”
“It’s a mug, not a degree. Why the fuck did you bring a dog home?”
“Relax.” Joseph coaxed the dog out of the crate.
Wendy shook her head. She walked out of the kitchen and into their living room, which was barely big enough to fit their couch. Wendy scanned the couch, contemplating where to sit. A laptop was resting upon the middle couch cushion. A pillow with a rip in it, stuffing spilling out, sat beside the laptop. On the end table beside the couch lay a picture frame with two miniscule plastic sea turtles glued to it. Two weeks ago, Wendy had brought a camera to the hospital, hoping to capture a photograph for the picture frame. Now, she kept her gaze determinedly fixed on the ripped pillow.
The dog began to whine.
“Tell your dog to shut up.”
“Our dog. And you can’t tell a dog what to do, not till he’s trained.”
Wendy snapped her head to look at him. “You could have told the doctor what to do.”
“Me? I didn’t know what I was doing. He was the professional. What about you?”
“I was in so much pain I couldn’t think straight.”
Joseph reached into his pocket and pulled out his vibrating cell phone, pressing it against his ear and answering.
Wendy clenched her teeth together.
After a few moments, Joseph brought the phone away from his ear and tapped the screen. He buried the phone back in his pocket. “That was Andrew. Julia won’t be there today.”
He looked at the dog, sucking in his breath. “Their babysitter cancelled.”
Wendy heard a sharp laugh shoot out from her throat. “I’ll be sure to send my condolences.”
“It’s just bad timing.”
Wendy was still for a moment. She lifted the owl blanket from her shoulders, folded it carefully, and placed it on the couch. “I’m taking a shower.” She walked towards the hallway again. “And then I’m taking the bus to my parents’.”
The dog wandered away from its crate and into the living room. Joseph stepped over the dog and followed Wendy into the hallway. “But we’re supposed to arrive at the cemetery together.”
Wendy shot a final look at Joseph. Her eyes swallowed the light and her mouth was granite. She stepped inside the bathroom and shut the door.
Joseph was about to open the door, until he heard a single sob come from inside.
He turned around, head bent downward, and walked back into the living room.
When he looked up, he saw the dog chewing on the blanket.
“Shit.” He ran over to the dog. He stroked its head and gently extracted the blanket from the dog’s mouth.
Joseph examined the blanket, dark with saliva. Two of the little owls had been ripped apart.
He ran a hand through his hair a few times, blinking rapidly. He collapsed onto the couch and buried his face in the blanket.
For a minute, there was only the sound of the shower running. And then the dog began to whine again.
This year marks the seventeenth annual THIN AIR Winnipeg International Writers Festival. This bilingual festival features Canadian and international writers sharing their work through book readings, poetry slams, lectures, and more.
This festival features events that appeal to different audiences, as they vary widely in content and are featured in different locations around the city including: the Millennium Library, Manitoba Theatre for Young People, and the Park Theatre. “If you don’t like one, you’re probably going to like the next one.” said Charlene Diehl, the festival Director.
This year, the festival is expecting an attendance of 5,000-6,000 people—a number that’s been growing every year. “I think our real expansion effort is in expanding our audience, not necessarily expanding the festival. I think as an event, it’s a really, really great size,” said Diehl.
If you don’t know where to start, Diehl has some suggestions. “As a point of entry, I would recommend the Forewords show.” This show features Genni Gunn and The Winnipeg Poetry Slam Team on Saturday September 21 at the Free Press News Café. “That evening wraps up with a haiku death match; it’s crazy-fun.”
Another must-see according to Diehl is Columpa Bobb and her Urban Indigenous Theatre Company at the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain on opening night. They will be performing excerpts from The Moving Gallery: Beyond Survival. “It’s about the lives of Aboriginal youth in our city, and the challenges but also the resilience of those kids and their efforts to find ways around the roadblocks of drugs and gangs and poverty,” said Diehl. “I think that’s going to be one of those nights where we all just take a big breath at the end of it and say: Wow, that was memorable.”
Jim Nason, a returning writer to the festival, said that he “can’t wait” to get back. “What I know about Winnipeg and THIN AIR is that the entire city is somehow involved—everywhere you go during this wonderful festival (the mall or the street or the library) Winnipeg is about celebrating great literature and having fun. There’s no pretention and there’s a spirit of generosity unlike anywhere in the world.” Nason will be at Red River College’s Roblin Centre on Sept. 26 at 3:00pm reading from his new novel “I Thought I Would Be Happy.”It’s free and open to the public, so be sure to come on down.
THIN AIR runs from Sept. 20-28. To find your way around, an event guide can be found at McNally Robinson or at any Winnipeg Public Library. Inside you will find writer biographies, times, locations and ticket prices.
For more information on this event, check out their website.