Michelle Barker knew she was going to be a writer when she was de-constructing an Ibsen play while working on her masters in comparative literature at UBC years ago.
She laughed when the moment was brought up.
“That was years ago, it was sort of a life-changing moment,” Barker said.
Barker is one of 11 authors poets and more coming to the Okanagan Valley Writers’ Festival.
It’s a scary decision to make, especially with her parents financing her education.
“They weren’t very happy with me just deciding to quit school to be a writer. They didn’t seem to think that was a very good idea,” Barker laughed.
She admits she got lucky getting a job as a research assistant for an author of a non-fiction book on Canadian women in power.
She has since published short fiction, worked for newspapers and magazines, wrote a book review column in the Sherbrooke Record, creative non-fiction leading to a national magazine award and published The Beggar King in 2013.
Her eclectic career is a reflection of Barker’s writing process, she said.
“Some people, they’re poets, that’s what they do. I actually envy them because I think life would be a lot simpler if I was just like that. That’s not the way I do things. If I get an idea for something I have to figure out what’s going to be the best form to convey it. Sometimes it’s a poem and sometimes it isn’t sometimes it’s a novel,” Barker said.
Barker took a turn into poetry later in her career, noting she was scared of it for a long time.
“I actually managed to do an entire English literature degree without going anywhere near it,” she said.
A writer friend in Quebec introduced her to poets and opened a new door in literature for her. One of the workshops Barker will be hosting focuses on imagery, an intersection between poetry and prose.
She is also hosting a workshop on “info-dumps” in fantasy writing.
“You know when you get to a section of the book where an author just sort of dumps all the information on you in a way that’s extremely boring and hard to read? That’s what we’re going to be talking about in this workshop. What not to do,” Barker said. “It’s a great way to talk about showing versus telling, which is one of those rules you always hear about in writing.”
She said as a fantasy writer, just like any other writer, she has made a lot of mistakes. Which she hopes to draw from to educate current and future writers.
Barker is hosting a third workshop on dialogue as well, drawing on her experience as a playwright. She was writing plays before anything else. It’s an important aspect of writing, she said, and exercises include getting participants to read out different parts.
“Dialogue is one of those things that if it’s done well it’s so exciting and if it’s done poorly it makes you want to throw the book against the wall,” Barker said.
Lorna Schultz Nicholson
Starting off her career in sports, with a Bachelor of Science in Human Performance, Lorna Schultz Nicholson transitioned to novel writing when she moved to Calgary.
The author of the new book Bent Not Broken is aiming to help aspiring writers with publishing.
She got into writing children’s hockey novels and laughed when asked if it was daunting to pursue a life as an author.
“Oh, it’s so hard,” Nicholson said. “It’s not only hard to finish the novel, that’s a difficult process in and of itself, but it’s hard to get published. Getting published isn’t an easy deal. It’s a difficult thing to do.”
Putting up with rejection is part of the perserverance of making a living in the arts world, she said.
It’s a topic she will be delving into at the Okanagan Valley Writers’ Festival, hoping to make the path a bit easier to tread for upcoming writers who are looking to get published traditionally.
Nicholson is hosting a workshop on query letters, sending a letter to a publishing house.
“There’s a way to do it and there’s a way to sort of not do it,” Nicholson said, adding there are certain things publishers look for that can help you get your foot in the door.
Her biggest piece of advice for writers is get your work edited.
“The main thing people do is they write it and they think it’s finished. They send it off. I did it too. I also learned from that. That no, that’s not the way to go,” Nicholson said.
Getting multiple reads and being able to step back from their work are key, she said.
She’s also sitting in on a question and answer session on getting published.
The Okanagan Valley Writers’ Festival Conference 2017 takes place at the Shatford Centre April 7 to 9.
Barker and Nicholson are two of 11 authors coming to the festival. For tickets and more information visit www.okanaganvalleywritersfestival.com.