Wednesday, 10 February 2016

An exerpt from Hutterite Diaires for I-Love-to-Read Month

Since this is I-Love-to-Read month, I thought I'd share an excerpt from Hutterite Diaries, that has to do with a book I wanted some years ago.  I'm sure most people have books they long to own, or read, and may even have interesting stories about how they found them. Once Upon a Lifetime was one of those for me, but the story that unfolded while I was looking for this particular book, gave the title a whole new meaning.

                                                            A Circle Not Unbroken
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1
On a crisp winter evening, my Night Writers group met, like we do every month, to critique and celebrate each others work. One of my writing friends brought Patricia A. Williams’ book Once Upon a Lifetime, and we passed it around. Full of ideas for recording events in one’s life, this book appeared to be an excellent writer’s tool, and I decided to try to obtain a copy. A page in my friend’s copy provided the ordering information.
When I dialed the phone number, however, it led to an answering service with an empty promise: “Please leave your name and number, and we’ll call you as soon as possible.” The web address drew a blank, and the email address was a virtual boomerang.
At $19.95, the book was reasonably priced—if only I could find someone to take my money! But somebody clearly forgot to tell online booksellers what this book is worth. They offered used copies for $181.31. As much as I wanted it, sacrificing a year’s worth of coffee and chocolate wasn’t an option. Five stores in Winnipeg informed me the book was out of print.
Now that electronic connections give us information at our fingertips, I decided to try some e-magic. I googled the book’s name until I felt cross-eyed, with no magic in sight. The information highway left me wondering why I was so driven to find this book.
Finally, I found an online review of the book by a John Melchinger. It was a long shot, but I fired off an email to him asking if he knew where I could get a copy of this book. He replied that he might have some copies, and perhaps an audio version as well, but he would have to check first. He told me that he also happened to know the author very well. Touchdown! I now knew I’d get a copy of the book.
The story continued to unfold, however, like something from Chicken Soup for the Soul. In fact, it gave the phrase “Once upon a lifetime” a whole new meaning. Upon learning that I live in Manitoba, John Melchinger informed me, “My wife Jayne is originally from Oakville, Manitoba. We make our home in Tampa, Florida now.”
Living in the  Oakville area, I was naturally curious. So I replied: “Small world! I live on a Hutterite colony just five miles from Oakville. Perhaps we know Jayne’s family.”
John wrote back:  “My wife, Jayne Alford-Melchinger, is the younger sister of Bette Holliday, who still lives in Oakville. Their mother used to teach at a nearby Hutterite colony.”
My family had known the Alfords in Oakville, but we had lost touch over the years when some of the family died and others moved away. But I wondered if my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Audrey Alford, might happen to be Jayne’s mother.
“Audrey Alford was indeed Jayne’s mother,” John wrote. “She taught at your colony from 1968 to 1970. Jayne said one of those Christmas Eves a Hutterite family’s home burned down and she donated her favorite dolly to a little girl. Small world indeed.”
John’s answer took me back to a tragic time for my family. Yes, it is a small world, and he didn’t even know how small when he sent that email. The time of the fire was not quite accurate, but that detail wasn’t so important. The multi-family house fire happened on an extremely cold January evening. Nobody ever learned how it had started. The fire affected me more deeply than John knew; it took the lives of my two little brothers and left my sister with severe burns. She had to be hospitalized for many months. I was at the children’s dining room having supper, so was not hurt.
At five years of age, I was also too young to have a real sense of this loss and what it meant for my family and the other families who lost their home. One thing I clearly remember from that tragic day is that, while the house was still in flames, my friends asked me to come to their house, as it was too cold to stay outside for long. There, one of the girls suggested we pray. So a circle of little girls knelt down on that hardwood floor, near the coal stove in the living room, and prayed. We asked God to help us and ended our petition with the Lord’s Prayer.
Dad, Mom, and I lived at my grandparents’ house until another home was built. That part was comforting. In addition to Grandma and Grandpa, there were five aunts there to dote on me, especially since my parents had to spend a lot of time with my sister at the hospital.
I was in grade one at the time. And as you may have guessed by now, I was the little girl to whom Jayne gave her favorite dolly. I remember it well; tall with dark hair, which I always fondly called ma Alford Puppela (my Alford doll).
In the end, John Melchinger generously sent me a copy of the book that had taken me on an interesting and emotional virtual ride. Then, after many years, against obvious odds and thanks to an electronic connection, I was able to thank Jayne for her noble gift. That doll meant so much to me in those sad days, for I had not only lost all my toys but also my home and, worst of all, my two brothers.
As John so eloquently put it: “All of life seems an endless array and disarray of circles that cross every which way. This circle is not broken, although the way it came around to be whole is quite amazing.”

If you still don't have a copy of Hutterite Diaries just click here. Or ask for it at any bookstore. If you live in my area, you can get an autographed copy directly from me. Just leave a comment and I'll get back to you. 
Have you ever looked for a particularly hard to find book? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Pen Pal Posts - Marlene Reimer

I met Marlene, when her sister, Verna introduced us. Verna and I have been friends for years, and a few years ago we spent part of the day in Steinbach, a town where she grew up in. We stopped for coffee at Marlene's place, and had a lovely visit. With both of us being writers, most of the conversation was about our books. Marlene showed me her delightful set of picture books. They are sweet stories about her childhood. Most amazing of all, is what she does for illustrations. She's created little dolls, buys doll house, farm animals and any other props she may need. She sets up scenes to match the stories and takes pictures of them. I saw all those amazing props. What an absolutely brilliant way to create illustrations! A few years ago I reviewed her first set of books, you can find it here.

I'm delighted that Marlene agreed to this interview! Here's a quick peek at her books:

Before we talk about your books, please tell me a little about yourself; where you grew up, your family and where you make your home now.

I was born in Steinbach and grew up "in a yellow house, on the edge of town, under the big prairie sky". I was the middle child of five children. My dad was a machinist and my mom a homemaker. I got married at the age of twenty-one. My husband, Jim, and I had four children. We first lived in a small house in Steinbach. We then lived in Alberta for two years. Then we moved back to Steinbach and raised our family in an old Heritage Home, where we have lived for thirty-two years.

I love how you start each book with the same line: "I am Molly. I live in a yellow house..." Marlene, your books are absolutely delightful! How did you decide to tell your childhood memories via children's books with unique illustrations?

I had a very happy childhood , and at about the age of fourteen I wrote down some of my memories, in order to remember them.

What a great way to preserve and share childhood memories! When I think of unique illustrations, I think of Barbara Reid, who illustrates her books with Plasticine. Yours are every bit as clever and lovely as hers. How did you come up with the idea of creating the characters and some of the props yourself? Do you make them all yourself, or does someone help you?

I thought my artistic talents were not good enough to illustrate my books in the usual way of drawing or painting the pictures. I had made a nursery rhyme book, with my children, years ago, using toys and items that we found around the house. I also made a book with costuming and posing students who I worked with as an Educational Assistant. I initially had help from my daughter in making the faces for the dolls. I made their bodies and sewed most of their clothes. I have since switched the bodies to more pose-able, purchased dolls by scouring second hand stores to get dolls other than the 11 1\2 inch ones. I have kept the heads from my original hand made dolls,  so they essentially still look like the old ones. I make props when I need to, and always keep my eyes open for miniatures in second hand shops.

It looks like you're having a lot of fun with your 'illustration'. Do you ever do presentations at schools or other places? What are some of the reactions you receive?

Yes, I have thoroughly enjoyed doing presentations at several schools and at the Jake Epp Library in Steinbach. The reactions that I have received have been very favorable. The children (and adults) usually are very interested in the dolls and props. One school class had made dioramas for me to see when I visited their school.

I can totally understand that students and yes, adults, too would love seeing your props. I know I was amazed when I saw them. I know our students would love seeing them as well. So far you have published a set of five books, and I understand you're planning to publish another set soon. Can you tell me about them and when you plan to have them printed?

I have written and photographed the pictures for five more books. They are about some pesky roosters, when our car was stolen. I won't give out all the details... something to look forward to. I am now at the stage where I fix up the photos with photo shop. Final editing will have to be done; and my computer savvy daughter does the page lay out. Then off to the print shop.

Very interesting! I'm looking forward to sharing your new books with my students once they get published. Authors usually have wonderful experiences once their books are out there; sometimes heart warming letters and or phone calls... I'm sure you do as well. Would you care to share some of those?

Yes, I have had many favorable comments.

Here is one from an e-mail to my husband from his sister (also a writer):
"Marlene is amazing the way she keeps on reinventing her stories and presentations. Such an entertaining and meaningful art form. She must be flying high with all her creativity and hard work paying off as children produce their own sets and stories. She is making a contribution to the innocent enjoyment of childhood."

Here is part of another letter from a complete stranger:
"I bought a set at Toad Hall before Christmas to send to my niece's two girls. They had just moved to Phoenix in September and thought this was a great series to remind them of Manitoba. They are 2 and 3 and apparently, they have become their nighttime books-all five, one after the other. My niece says , they are totally in love with them. They have also brought back some fond memories for my niece."

Those are very sweet messages. Thanks for sharing them. Where are your books available? How can people contact you , should they wish to?

Right now my books are available at The Mennonite Heritage Museum, in Steinbach and from me personally. If people want to contact me, they could e-mail me at:

Is there anything else you'd love to share?

I love recreating my childhood, and I think that my siblings are thankful that I am keeping those memories alive.

I'm know for sure, Verna is thankful. Marlene, thank you so much for sharing your stories and for agreeing to this interview. I hope your books find their way to the shelves of many schools, bookstores and of course homes. I highly recommend these books! They delight children and adults alike. My favourite is The Tomato Tornado.


Thursday, 4 February 2016

Recycling Old Wall Calendars

It's been too long since I've posted anything on recycling, one of the things I'm passionate about. Since this is the beginning of a year, when we all have old wall calendars around, I thought I would do something with some of ours.

At our school we collect old wall calendars - every family on the colony sends theirs over, so we get LOTS.  We use them for art projects, and always keep our eyes and ears open for new ideas. Sometimes we make make pretty windows, as seen in this blogpost. I did that with my Kindergarten class this year as well; the students loved making their four season windows, which now proudly displayed on our school bulletin board. Here's one of them.

I've also used wall calendars to make envelopes and thought for sure I had posted them some time ago. But I can't seem to find them now. I must not have labeled that post properly. 

Yesterday I found the neatest idea yet! It's about turning wall calendars into gift bags. I was so excited, I went to work right away and made the one below in mere minutes. The handle is a left over piece of macrame cord. It was thicker than I would have liked, but that was the best I could find at the moment. In any case, it serves the purpose quite well.  

  My gift bag turned out rather nicely, if I do say so myself. I used a fairly big wall calendar for this one, but am planning to make some with smaller calendars as well. They're easy and fun to make! Hey, having fun being creative, giving something old, a new life and saving a few cents when you need a gift bag. Works for me! Oh, and did I mention, I think it's pretty?

I'm not going to explain how it's done here, but direct you to the website where I found it. It has clear written directions and a video as well. Just click here: I Do Have Talent. (That's the name of the website, and not me saying I have talent:) There are also some other cool ideas for recycling old wall calendars at Tipsaholico

Do you some wonderful recycling ideas you'd like to share? Please! I'd love to hear them.  

44 minutes later:

OK, I'm a little excited here... I know, some days all it takes is a little recycling. Anyway, I just finished making that smaller gift bag I talked about earlier and couldn't resist sharing it right away as well. Too cute! I'm sure you agree. Love the farm theme on both sides. (Yes, it takes two pictures to make one bag.) Now all I need is a farmer who I'd like to present with a gift.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Pen Pal Posts - Valerie Weaver-Zercher

While I was working on Hutterite Diaries, I had the good fortune to have Valerie Weaver-Zercher as my editor. Over the course of many months of emailing and talking on the phone, we became friends, even though we've never actually met in person. But I'm looking forward to the day that will happen. Valerie is a talented, sensitive and patient editor and was so easy to work with. I first thought I'd be intimidated working with a professional editor, but that never happened. Valerie put me at ease from our very first phone call. I learned so much through this writing journey with her, for which I'll always be grateful! You can read more about Valerie, on her home page.

No wonder then, that she was one of the people that came to mind when I started planning for these Pen Pal Posts. (You can see them all, by clicking on Pen Pal Posts under Labels.)

Tell me about your book, Thrill of the Chaste.
I published Thrill of the Chaste in 2013 after having spent several years researching the genre. My book is a fairly academic look at Amish romance fiction and the reasons for its popularity among Christian readers. As I researched my book, I talked to a lot of people about Amish novels: to writers and publishers of the novels, literary agents who represent authors of Amish fiction, booksellers who sell their books, readers who love the novels, and to Amish people about their impressions of the genre. I read a lot of cultural theory and literary theory and studies of evangelical readers and studies of romance novels, and I read a lot of the novels themselves.
I won’t give too much away about what I found (so that your readers buy my book!), but the two main factors to which I attribute the popularity of the genre are hyper-modernity and hyper-sexualization. Don’t let those words scare you off, though. 
 Basically, the main attraction of the genre can be summarized in these two sentences: 1) readers love Amish fiction because it offers them a departure from a life and culture that they perceive to be increasingly sped up—an imaginative “vacation,” of sorts, away from the pace of social and technological change and within a culture that they characterize as “slow and simple.” And 2) readers love Amish fiction because it offers them chaste heroines who live in what is perceive as a chaste subculture, and because it offers them a departure from a culture that they perceive as over-sexualized. Amish novels are “clean reads,” a fact that readers mentioned to me over and over again as they described their love of the genre.   

That's how I see Amish books as well - a window into a slower and simpler world, which I find fascinating. What motivated you to devote a whole book to the allure Amish fiction? 

A series editor at Johns Hopkins University Press actually invited me to write the book. I confess that I was pretty naïve and uninformed about Amish fiction before that point. So I can’t even say it was my idea to write a whole book about Amish fiction.
I will say, however, that once I began researching and writing about it, my question was never, “How am I going to write a whole book about Amish fiction?” It was more like, “How am I going to write just one book about Amish fiction?” Since I published my book, I’ve written a host of articles and essays and op-eds with some of that extra material that I couldn’t fit in the book. (You can read a few of those pieces in the LA Review of Books and Wall Street Journal and Sojourners.)

Thanks for including these links. Amish fiction has been a popular genre for a long time now. It seems there are more new Amish fiction authors all the time, and the ones that have been around for a while just keep turning out more books. What makes these books so popular?

Some of their popularity has to do with the appeal of the Amish within a hyper-modern and hyper-sexualized culture, like I talked about above. But it’s related to a host of other factors: the speed with which publishers can get books into the hands of readers these days. The blending of Christian faith, rurality, and romance that has appealed to Christian women for years (think Christy by Catherine Marshall and Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke). The fact that evangelical Christians feel a historic kinship with the Amish because evangelicals often themselves came of age in fundamentalist households, which also emphasize separation from the world, as the Amish do but in different ways. As you can see—it’s a convergence of factors.

Did you discover anything that surprised you while working on this project?

Since I knew very little about Amish fiction when I began my research, lots of things surprised me! In fact, it’s one of the reasons that this book was so much fun for me to write. I love unearthing ideas and connections that have never occurred to me, and so this writing project was one big, extended surprise.
If I had to name one thing, however, I guess it’d be the number of Amish people themselves who are reading the Amish novels that others, outsiders, are writing about them. I don’t have quantitative data on how many young Amish women are reading Amish fiction, and I hope someone does that study someday. But through numerous conversations with Amish people, I learned that these books are indeed being read in many Amish communities. That surprised me, and still fascinates me.

I've often wondered what the Amish themselves think of these books. Sometimes when I read Amish fiction, there are parts of the story that just don’t seem to ring true, which always has me wondering about the authenticity of some of these books. I believe you touched on that in your book. Can you shed some light on that? 

Yes, I have a whole chapter about questions of authenticity and accuracy.  It’s a very complicated question, so I won’t do it justice here. But I do wonder whether certain authors have done enough research to warrant writing a book about a culture of which they are not a part. And those of us on the outside of Amish life can fairly easily, without even knowing it, make the Amish out to look a lot like us. We can make them into “good Americans” who stand for everything we think is good about America—one literary agent told me that he thinks Amish fiction is popular because the Amish believe in good American values like hard work, family, achievement, and community. But here’s the thing: the Amish have, especially at certain points in history, taken what some would consider very “un-American” stances, such as refusing to fight in the military. And certain central aspects of Amish life—the authority of the church in the lives of individuals, for example—are also very “un-American”! In other words, we sometimes make the Amish out to be whatever we need them to be—either finding meaning in parts of their lives that we feel are lacking in our own, or perhaps magnifying certain aspects of their lives (shunning, for example) in order to more positively view our own lives (as being more tolerant or grace-filled). Since the Amish generally don’t work to publicly correct the misconceptions that we as outsiders have about them, they’re kind of at our mercy in terms of what we say about them. So those of us who represent them have to do our work very, very carefully, I think.

I could say a lot more about authors’ responsibilities to their subjects. Even when authors do their research well, it’s important to think through questions of authenticity. It’s just very hard for those outside of a culture like the Amish to really “get” the internal dynamics, conversational style, worldview, etc.

Why would it be a good idea for Amish fiction readers to read Thrill of the Chaste.

We’d all do well to be more reflective about our reading habits, the types of books we read, what agendas the authors we love may hold, etc. And as I interviewed Amish fiction readers, many of them were very interested in what I was finding in my research and would almost begin interviewing me while we talked! So I think many Amish fiction readers are themselves curious about the unstoppable force that this genre has become and wonder about its origins.

Very true: We'd all do well to be more reflective of what we read. Is there anything else you’d like to say about your book or on being a writer?

Well, this isn’t about my own book but about yours, Linda. I’m proud to have been your editor for Hutterite Diaries, and I’m really glad that your book appears in our Plainspoken series. You’ve told the story of your Hutterite life so well, and with such good humor and wisdom and grace. I love writing, but I also love editing, and it’s a joy to edit great writers like you!

Thank you so much, Valerie, for your kind words and also for being part of my Pen Pal Posts series! It was great working with you! I appreciate how you helped shape Hutterite Diaries into the book it is today. 

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Silver Suitcase - Terrie Todd

About the Book:

It’s 1939, and Canada is on the cusp of entering World War II. Seventeen-year-old farm girl Cornelia is heartbroken when she learns that her beloved soldier, Henry, has been killed in a train wreck. Alone and carrying a heavy secret, she makes the desperate choice that will haunt her for years to come. Never telling a soul, Cornelia pours out the painful events of the war in her diary.

Many decades later, Cornelia’s granddaughter, Benita, is in the midst of her own crisis, experiencing several losses in the same week, including her job and the grandmother she adored. The resulting emotional and financial stress takes its toll on her and her husband, Ken, who is also unemployed. On the brink of divorce, she discovers Cornelia’s diary. Now the secrets of her grandmother’s past will lead Benita on an unexpected journey of healing, reunion, and renewed faith.

My Thoughts:

Hardly ever can I say, "I know this author." But this time I can. As you probably saw in a previous post, I've known Terrie for quite a few years. And I've known this book was in the works for a while, and was really looking forward to its release. It was definitely worth the wait! I was excited to see that it's set near Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada, as I haven't read too many books with that element to them. I love stories that use a diary to give readers a window into another era, and this one did this beautifully, although that was not the only way we got to meet the spunky Cornelia, one of the main characters. But, I just felt I learned more about her through those journal entries. One of my favourite diary entries was about a time when Cornelia was upset with her aunt for spouting off about the new clothes Cornelia got. She was however happy that Aunt Nona liked the new clothes. She poured out her frustrations in her diary, ending her rant with, "So Aunt Miriam can go and suck on lemons." 

Reading her Grandma's journal helps Benita deal with struggles in her own life. The healing, renewed faith and courage to make a fresh start, spreads to the rest of her family. Terrie has skillfully woven together the stories of three women, from three different generations, each with their own trials and triumphs, to create a captivating narrative. Although I would have loved to read Grammy's entire diary, the fact that I couldn't, added another level of intrigue to the story. I was a bit confused when I started reading the epilogue, as it mentioned people I hadn't met in prior chapters, but I was happy to see a few more diary pages, including Aunt Miriam's bombshell revelation. It's a unique way to end a book, even though it felt somewhat whimsical. 

I'm grateful to the author for providing a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review. 

For those of you in the Winnipeg area:
A book launch is planned at the Grant Park McNally Robinson, 1120 Grant Ave. in Winnipeg on Friday, Feb. 12 at 7:00 pm.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Pen Pal Posts - Bill Redekop

Bill Redekop is a Winnipeg Free Press, rural reporter and has won a number of awards since working with this newspaper:
  •  Manitoba Human Rights Commission Journalism Award (1994)
  • Canadian Mining Institute News Award (1998)
  • co-winner of the National Newspaper Award for coverage of Manitoba’s 1997 Flood of the Century
After reading many of his reports over the years, I first got in contact with Bill Redekop via email, when Lutz Beranek, was planning a trip to visit the places his father had spoken about so fondly. (Lutz' father was a WWII German prisoner of war here in Canada.) This visit took place in the summer of 2014. Since Bill was the first person in Canada who Lutz contacted after starting to research his father's time as a POW, he naturally wanted to meet him. I arranged for Bill to come to my home while Lutz, his son and sister were staying at our colony. That's when I finally met him face-to-face. Bill interviewed Lutz during this visit, and his story, Following in his Father's Footsteps was published shortly after. Just after Christmas 2015 he published another piece about Lutz: Writer's Subject Connection not Lost in Translation.

Thus, when I started planning for these Pen Pal Posts, I thought Bill would be an interesting person to interview, and he graciously agreed, when I asked him.

How long have you had your Winnipeg Free Press column? Have you ever written for other newspapers? 

I’ve been the rural reporter for 14 years. It’s technically not a column as I don’t state opinions. I first wrote for the Manitoba Co-operator for eight years, where I learned about agriculture, although I also got a taste of farming when my dad had a hobby farm in the Interlake.

I learned something already; I always referred to you as a columnist. I know you’ve been the rural reporter for a while. Has your role changed since you first started with the Free Press?

Yes, my role initially was agriculture reporter, particularly the “wheat beat.” We don’t have such a thing anymore, but my agriculture background has always helped me immensely writing rural stories.

As a rural reporter, you must have written some Hutterite pieces. If so, which ones come to mind? 

We tend to write stories about Hutterites that others would find surprising, like the use of technology, or like your blog! or something that seems progressive, although we probably have a bias about what’s progressive. I wrote about former Hutterite, Mary-Ann- Kirby, and her tremendous success as a writer, but also her positive take on colony life, even though she was an ex-member. That was different. I kind of avoided writing about the 9 dissidents in part because I didn’t think their book was so much of a book as a long magazine article, but also it’s been done before. That is obviously always an issue for colonies.  

I wrote about teacher, Mark Waldner at the Decker Colony and how every student has a computer at their desk. I also wrote about the Green Acres Colony making fire trucks. That seemed pretty impressive to me for a colony of what, 150 people? 

I found an extraordinary story about the family of Johnny Hofer at James Valley Colony, and their struggle with CPT-1 deficiency, a very rare metabolic disease that can cause repetitive comas, seizures and sudden death, and which has surfaced in Manitoba Hutterite colonies. I really appreciated the family sharing their story. 

I mentioned Hutterites when I wrote about the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church in 2013 because people often compared them, because both separate themselves from the rest of society, although PBCC don’t live in colonies.  I don’t think the comparison is fair. The PBCC are far more extreme. For example, members won’t eat in the same place as non-PBCC members, meaning they don’t eat in restaurants. Neither can their homes or place of building touch those of non-PBCC members, so they don’t stay in hotels, or apartments. When they travel, the billet with other PBCC families. And PBCC does a complete shunning that’s more severe—and cruel-- than anything I’ve ever heard of on a colony. They throw people out of their group and cause severe pain within families, splitting up families, for offenses that are more political in nature, like speaking out against something, than are sins. That threat, and creating incredible dependence among membership, is the threat is used to keep people in the group. They have about 700 rules, many of them ridiculous. 

One other thing I will say about my encounters with Hutterites is how secure in themselves they are. At least, that’s how you seem to me.  I’m always impressed by how sure of  themselves Hutterites are, and I’ve discussed this with some members. I wouldn’t call it confidence so much as just comfortable with themselves.  I don’t find Mennonite people, which is my background, as sure of themselves as Hutterite people.

I always have to chuckle when people find our use of technology surprising; it seems they think we're like the Amish, which of course is not the case. I remember reading the stories you mention, and I know both Mark and Johnny very well. Mary Ann Kirkby wrote a nice endorsement for Hutterite Diaries. I agree, most Hutterites are comfortable with themselves, but I would also venture to say, many are confident individuals as well. It must take a fair bit of research to maintain a 'column' like yours. How do you find the people/places you write about? 

I started by doing it all by word of mouth but ran out of material in winter, so I had to start following rural newspapers, too. When I visit someone, I try to find out about them and their area. You can’t just ask someone, ‘What’s new?’ because they’ll tell you there isn’t anything new. But once you start to have a normal conversation, you hear a lot of interesting things about an area. I used to think of it as if I was a forester. I would go visit someone about a story, and felt like I’d felled a tree, but if they told me of other stories that I could come back and write, that was like replanting the tree I’d taken. 

I love the simile of you seeing yourself as a forester. What do you most enjoy about your job as a writer? Do you have favourite columns or have met people who have left a lasting impression?

This is a very good question. Well, I like writing the most. I’ve always been a writer from the moment I learned how to spell words.  Yes, most people have left some impression or other. Someone said to me recently that I was lucky in that I got to meet a lot of special people, and that’s very true. It sounds cliché to say “special people” but it’s more like in  fiction writing  in that you don’t really have to have won something, or obtained worldly success somehow, to be interesting and worth knowing. That’s often the premise in journalism, but then you try to get beneath it.  That’s how I looked at it.

Your 'characters' are always real people, not figments of your imagination. That's part of what it is that makes them special, I would think, and they all have interesting stories, that most likely nobody would ever get to read if you wouldn't write them. Thank you for bringing these stories to us! As a reporter, have you ever had unexpected responses to some of the pieces you published?

Absolutely. One thing I learned is never write about family, or if you do, be prepared because someone will have a different take on what you saw. Family members have been mad at me from time to time, not seriously, but then they have reacted positively at other times. But I don’t make a habit of including family. 

I understand you’ve written some books as well. Can you tell me about them? What motivated you to write them?

Every book I’ve written was someone else’s idea first. I’ve written four books for three different publishers, and each time I was approached by them. I like that because then I don’t have to go searching for a publisher, which can be hard, as you know, and I’m busy enough with my day job.  I wrote “Crimes of the Century” in 2002, and a follow up, “Crime Stories,” in 2004. Both were historic true crime stories in Manitoba. More recently I had published a compilation of some of my Free Press stories, Made in Manitoba. I also wrote an environmental story, about the politics behind the Rafferty-Alameda Dam in Saskatchewan, that resulted in the first environmental law in Canada. It’s called Dams of Contention: The Rafferty-Alameda Story. I wanted it to be called Dam Stupid, but some people didn’t like that title. 

For both my books, I didn't have to look for a publisher either, which I'm very grateful for. I know from talking with other authors, though, that looking for a publisher can be a very discouraging time. The fact that three different publishers approached you, speaks well of you as a writer. I'm intrigued by Made in Manitoba. Will have to see if I can find it. Would you ever consider publishing a book with your own story as a rural reporter? 

Ha! Interesting question. No, it’s never crossed my mind, but it’s an interesting thought. I’m not sure what would drive a book like that. I know you wrote about your life as a Hutterite woman, but I don’t think insight into what I do is as unique or interesting. Probably Made in Manitoba is as far as I can go with that. 

Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, Bill. I wish you continued success and joy in bringing us fascinating stories.