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Thank You, Dorothy Shoemaker

Thank You, Dorothy Shoemaker

I returned home from running errands to an unexpected but very welcome email:

“On behalf of Kitchener Public Library & the KW Community Foundation, I am pleased to inform you that Tasneem Jamal, prose judge has selected your entry Excerpts from the novel Life By Fire as a winner in the Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards Contest. You have won 1st prize in the Adult Division and publication in The Changing Image!”

I had submitted my work to the contest last November and then promptly forgot about it. So, I felt surprised and…humbled when I read and reread the message. I didn’t dance for joy. I cried a little: Someone who had never met me had read a small piece of my work and found it worthy—in fact, more worthy than many others submitted.

How do these contests add value?
They encourage writers, who may otherwise give up, to continue to write.

I admit, I’d lost faith in this work—the novel I’ve been calling “Life By Fire”. Although I definitely hadn’t given up on it completely, I had put it aside and started other projects. Writing is lonely work. Engulfing yourself in a fictitious world with fictitious characters, completely detached from the “real” world and people around you, can feel alienating. I write based on a deep desire to connect with people through words, yet the practice of it isolates me. Combine that with repeated reminders from practical, well-meaning people that “even best-selling authors don’t make any money” and “it’s almost impossible to get a publisher” and “everybody’s writing a book”…and one begins to see writing as a guilty pleasure, a “hobby” at best and, at worst, a complete waste of time—time that should be spent making a reliable, steady income like everybody else.

But, Tasneem Jamal, an experienced editor and published novelist (who did give up making a reliable, steady income to pursue her writing and publish it successfully), had read my small excerpt (only 1,500 words) and deemed it worthy of an award—1st prize, even.

I Googled Tasneem and enjoyed reading her blog, particularly the post entitled We Packed Up the Kids and Moved to Tanzania. Then Things Fell Apart, which appeared in Chatelaine magazine’s April 2015 issue. In a way, she and I are completely opposite—she writes about having taken too many risks and I lament having taken too few. But a common thread appears to connect our writing: like so many women, we have both expressed guilt associated with “not doing ‘it’ well enough”. ‘It’ being life in general, parenting specifically…and, for me anyway, pursuing my writing goals.

So, perhaps, above all, receiving this small award has reminded me that doing it badly is better than not doing it at all. I will continue to work on Life By Fire in addition to my other writing projects, I will publish them, and I will experience success.

Thank You

I feel a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation—and for that, I wish to say a very heart-felt thank-you…

Tasneem, thank you for reading my work and recognizing my efforts. Also, thank you also for your words and your honesty.

Ms. Shoemaker, thank you for establishing this literary award, ensuring its continuance, and, through it, connecting with me across time to encourage me to continue to write.

Kitchener Public Library & the KW Community Foundation, thank you for your ongoing dedication to administering the awards on Ms. Shoemaker’s behalf.

And thank YOU if you read down this far.

About the Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards

The Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards began in 1967 as a Centennial project, created by Dorothy Shoemaker, Kitchener Public Library’s Chief Librarian from 1944 to 1971.

In 1996, government funding for the Literary Awards was eliminated. To ensure the Awards could continue, Dorothy Shoemaker made a significant personal donation. In 2000, Dorothy Shoemaker died at the age of 94. However, her legacy of support for aspiring writers continues today through her ongoing endowment.

2016 Contest Winners

Youth Poetry

1st Place: Growth by Candice Rubie
2nd Place: Where I’m From by Ellia Bishop
3rd Place: The Lady of Badakhshan by Farzam Karimi
Honourable Mention: The Colour Brown by Devshi Perera

Adult Poetry

1st Place: Bearborne by Dylan Siebert
2nd Place: An Incomplete List of Animals, Extinct: 1985-2015 by Graeme Ruck
3rd Place: Ancestors by Leslie Bamford
Honourable Mention: Her Name is Nurse by Jenna Hazzard
Honourable Mention: The Diner: A Sestina by Jenna Hazzard

Youth Prose

1st Place: Vultures by Rachel Garritsen
2nd Place: How I Wish it Went by Cynthia Wekesa
3rd Place: Wolf Boy by Mackayla Werstine

Adult Prose

1st Place: Life By Fire by Deborah Jones
2nd Place: A Gentle Flutter of Feathers by Cheryl Rosbak
3rd Place: How Do You Do? by Ryan Boggs
Honourable Mention: Between, Amongst, On Top Of by Tiffany Irwin
Honourable Mention: No Man’s Land by Jennifer Sloan Walker

About Tasneem Jamal

Tasneem’s novel: Where The Air Is Sweet
Purchase her novel on Amazon:
Tasneem’s Blog:

Work in Progress

Deadlines. Lifelines. Storylines.

The truth is this story started to form in my mind several years ago and I have been attempting to work on it in the closet. But it is dark and lonely in there. And, if I continue to progress at this rate, it will be published posthumously (maybe).

I need momentum, encouragement, accountability. And deadlines. I really need deadlines.

I commit to working on the progressive realization of this novel daily and publishing something (of the book, about the book, or about my experience with the book) on this website regularly in 2015. I hope you will hold me accountable to doing it.

My Life: The Short of It

Chapter 1: I sit in a small, cold cell, facing the door. I feel paralyzed and alone. I do not know where I am or why I am here so I am afraid. I don’t know what is on the other side of the door so I fear it too.

Chapter 2: I sit in a small, cold cell facing the door. I want to get out but I don’t know how. I ask God for help and suddenly a large metal key appears in front of me.

Chapter 3: I sit in a small, cold cell facing the door. I see the key but fear that it will not work. Instead of trying it, I search all around to my left and my right for another key but I do not find one.

Chapter 4: I sit in a small, cold cell facing the door. I finally decide to try the key in front of me in the lock. When I get up and insert the key in the keyhole, the door swings easily open before I turn it—I realize the door was never locked.

Chapter 5: I step out of the small, cold cell and turn around to close the door behind me. As I do, I see that the cell only has three sides rather than four—I realize there was never a wall behind me.

Chapter 6: As I walk away from the cell, I turn around to look at it one last time. But, it has disappeared—I realize it never actually existed in the first place.


Credit to Portia Nelson for this format. In 1993, she wrote her “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters”, which you can read here.

I needed six chapters to complete mine—I’m more verbose.


Creative Insomnia

In the chapter, Phoenix Rising, I describe paranormal inspiration. The character awakens from a dream and instantly starts writing without hesitation, like she had described herself doing in Phoenix Dreaming: “I picture myself seated comfortably, long after midnight, a cat asleep beside me, my fingers effortlessly tapping out word after beautiful word onto the glowing screen. My mind fearlessly opening to the page, revealing my deepest thoughts faster than I can type them.”

I have experienced this kind of inspirational writing, during which I felt more like I were channeling the story than creating it, once in my life. (I’ll save what I wrote during that experience for a different post.) The experience exhilarated, humbled, and perplexed me. It also eluded me: I have never succeeded in repeating it.

Frankly, my typical experience writing feels more like my two experiences giving birth than creative channeling: tediously prolonged, exhaustingly labourious, and intensely uncomfortable—hence the preface to my novel, Birth of a Story.

Occasionally, I half-awaken around 3am and toss-and-turn as my mind churns over creative solutions to my next chapter’s dilemma. Sometimes, the solutions still sound inspired in the morning and other times they fall flat.

For me, writing requires persistent patience and stoic determination. Will it become easier with practice? I bloody-well hope so. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, onward…one word at a time.


Interval Writing

Interval Writing

Aside from novel-writing, I’m obsessed with nutrition and healthy lifestyle information. I read nutrition and exercise articles almost daily. I put much of the nutritional advice I read consistently into practice; I put almost none of the exercise advice I read consistently into practice.

I binge exercise. I cycle between short periods of dedicated, intense exercise—until I burn out, get into shape, or get bored—and long periods of doing absolutely nothing—until my body starts to atrophy and I finally declare “I must do something…drastic” and I eventually embark on another round of getting back into shape.

(Note 1: After an entire winter of doing absolutely nothing, I’m currently at the “I must do something drastic…soon” phase in the cycle.
Note 2: Okay, “dedicated, intense exercise” may be an exaggeration…it’s not that intense nor that dedicated. Moving on.)

To the point, I’ve read a great deal about the value of Interval Training in exercise and highly recommend it (despite rarely doing it). For instance, if one runs (which I don’t, if I can help it), interval training would involve alternating between short, intense, full-out sprints, and slow, steady recovery jogs in one training session. I’ve realized that the same habits that I’ve applied (or haven’t but should) to exercise also apply to writing:

In school, I practiced binge-writing as a sprinter, typically only writing when assignments required it, and sitting down at the keyboard to start writing an essay twelve-to-twenty-four hours before the deadline. Full-on sprint to submission (no time for warm-up or cool-down) and then collapse and recover until the next deadline looms. It had it’s advantages. (Otherwise, why did I do it that way through eight years of university?)

In business, I prefer a marathon approach, working on a copywriting project methodically and steadily from start to finish with as few disruptions as possible. The more times interruptions take my eyes from the screen, or other projects divert my attention, the more time required to figure out where I left off and what I need to pick up again.

In novel-writing, I’m still discovering my stride but I think I would call it “interval writing”. I complete a number of days of research—slowly, steadily accumulating the facts I need. Then, with all the required details before me, and driven by the stress of not having posted an update for several days, I pick up the pace, pounding out and posting several new sections as quickly as possible. Feeling a sense of accomplishment at having posted new content, I rest and recover (aka focus on all the other work I’ve neglected) for a few days. During that time, I tend to go back to leisurely re-read and further tweak the new sections (regardless of the fact that I’ve already posted them). Then, eventually, I realize that I haven’t yet won the race, its only just begun. Adrenalin rises and I head back to the computer for another lap around the World Wide Web.

Write on.