It is my honor to introduce to you one of the most talented and dedicated members of the FaithWriters family: Ann Grover. Her decade at this site has blessed everyone who has read her writings, and her willingness to help others has also been a blessing. Arguably one of the strongest writers here (in my opinion, and that of the Challenge judges), she has been rewarded not once, but TWICE, for her body of work for the FaithWriters Writing Challenge this year. Not only was Ann’s piece B’rikh Hu chosen as the Best of the Best for 2015, her In The Secret Place came in third place. In fact, if Cori Smelker hadn’t entered with her second place BoB piece, Ann would have had a “clean sweep” of Best of the Best, taking all three spots.
But enough from me. Let’s hear from Ann herself.
JOANNE: First of all, congratulation on your ﬁrst AND third place wins! What was your reaction when you found out you took TWO places in this year’s Best of the Best?
ANN: I was the only one awake, visiting my son, when I checked the Writing Challenge page. My reaction was a little subdued, I think, as I reﬂected on the story B’rikh Hu, its meaning and phrases. I thought I should check to see who was sharing the honour with me. Ah, Cori, awesome! I was so intent on seeing someone else’s name in 3rd place that I honestly didn’t recognize my own name as my name. (I wonder if 57 year-old brains aren’t prone to momentary lapses in logic.)
JOANNE: Unless I miscounted, you entered the Challenge every week but one this challenge year, and placed in the editor’s choice almost every week. In fact, a whopping FOURTEEN of the forty Best of the Best contenders were your pieces. Why are you so dedicated to entering the Writing Challenge?
ANN: I had surgery in July 2014, so I timed my re-entry into Faithwriters to be part of my recovery time, (along with watching the entire Doc Martin series). I had a goal as part of my re-entry: to place 10 times in one quarter, which I managed in the fourth quarter. Once I started, missing a week was out of the question; that would defy my sense of order, a little OCD maybe. I’d tell myself, “Leave it for a week or two. You’re busy and no ideas are forming.” But I just couldn’t leave it alone.
It’s also a matter of self-discipline, that I do something every day that is creative and productive, whether it’s writing, painting, or quilting.
JOANNE: We can all use that kind of self-discipline! Can you share a bit about your writing process for a typical challenge entry (if there is such a thing)? Where do your ideas come from? How long does it take for you to put a piece together? What steps do you go through? How do you choose your titles (which are ALWAYS as brilliant as your pieces, in my opinion)? Do you generally have to cut your ﬁrst draft to ﬁt the word count?
ANN: Most of my ideas come from my love of history. I try to imagine, “Where in history would the topic ﬁt?” Often, I would describe my process as the “Bunny Trail Method.” I look up a historical event, which may mention another event that sounds interesting, and in perusing that, I clamp down on a “story” in unexplored territory, far removed from my original idea. I enjoy the research as much as I do the actual writing process.
I brain-storm with Dan often, and he gives me insight, fodder, if you will, especially for the cowboy poetry. If I don’t have a plan by Sunday night, I panic a bit. I usually start writing no later than Monday, getting it all down, then let it “simmer” until Wednesday, when I do a ﬁnal edit. I usually don’t have to cut very much from the ﬁrst draft, word-count-wise; streamlining ﬂow and clarity consumes most of my editing process.
As far as the title goes, I ask myself, “What is the story really about? In one word, what is the essence?” I make a “short list” of possibilities and choose from those.
JOANNE: You have more than two hundred writing challenge entries since you started entering ten years ago (yup! Your ﬁrst was in August of 2005!). I’m not going to ask you to pick your favorite entry of all time – unless you want to share it – but what would you say is your favorite challenge piece from this past year? Why?
ANN: You are asking me which of my children I love the most! Actually, I am partial to the poetry I attempted this past year, written partly as a tribute to our dear Kenn Allen, who was an inspiration and friend to me, but also as a tribute to the cowboys I know and love, and the life I live.
(My favourite of all time is And God Breathes, which still gives me the sense of its having been written by another Hand.)
JOANNE: Both of your winning pieces this year are just beautiful and poignant and moving. Can you tell us about them: both B’rikh Hu and In The Secret Place? How did the ideas come to you? How did the pieces come together? Any particular struggles?
ANN: B’rikh Hu is a tale of being Jewish in a terrible time. I asked myself, “What would be a difﬁcult thing to surrender to God?” Obviously, our children, whether to the circumstances of life or poor choices, theirs or ours. From there, “In what way would a Jewish parent surrender a child?” I researched “Jewish children,” “World War II,” and on to news stories of the era. By the story’s completion, I had researched “Jewish blessing for children,” and ﬁnally the Kaddish, the prayer of mourning.
In the Secret Place is a product of the “Bunny Trail Method.” I started by researching castles and fortresses in Scotland, another of my favourite themes. Since a fortress or castle was deﬁnitely too “in the box,” I considered landforms that might provide a refuge. I found a reference to a cleft in a gorge near Lesmahagow, where slots had been hewn for crossbeams, which may have formed a roof, creating a refuge for cattle or even “Covenanters,” though the article said there was no historical proof Covenanters had hidden there. What are Covenanters, I asked myself, and the story was born.
JOANNE: What is the hardest part of writing (for the challenge or anything else) for you? How do you overcome it?
ANN: Truly? Clicking the “Submit” button. I second guess myself and am still fearful every time. I question whether the story is on-topic, fresh, and well-executed. To overcome the hesitation, I “just do it,” and click, but alway with trepidation.
JOANNE: What advice do you have for writers? What is the best writing advice anyone has given YOU?
ANN: Several bits of advice.
READ a variety of genres, styles, and voices. I have several favourite authors, and the list evolves with almost every book I read. I liken reading their works to wallowing in a meadow of sweet clover and eating ripe peaches. I covet their word-smithing abilities, the ﬂuidity of their prose.
Advice to me? Don’t wait for inspiration. Sit down and write. Carve out a slice, however slim, of every day and commit to it. Cut and edit later, but right now, WRITE. Another thing I’ve taught myself is that no idea is too far “out there.” Chances are, even, it’s already been told or happened in real life somewhere, but it’s the spin you put on it, the magic you weave around an old theme, that makes a story. I’m not speaking of stealing someone else’s story, but taking ordinary events and making them sparkle, or taking something you think “couldn’t really happen” and fearlessly make it real.
JOANNE: What other writing do you do? I know you were a Page Turner Runner Up a few years ago. Any progress on that project or any other?
ANN: I have written about 30,000 words on my 2011 Page Turner story, Prairie. However, I ﬁnd my MCs speak to me most loudly when I am at our retirement home, near the actual setting of the story, so I may need to wait until we have retired to ﬁnish the story. I should tell you that I’ve changed the title, as I discovered several other novels called Prairie. The title is now The Waking Land, from a poem by Bliss Carman, a Canadian poet from the era of my novel. I hope to use other snippets of his poetry, as well as from other Canadian prairie poets, sprinkled throughout the ﬁnished novel.
I also write for a Canadian beef cattle magazine, which is about as exciting as painting rocks, but it’s all experience, right? The only thing is, I can’t make anything up when writing for Beef in BC. I have a few more ideas for novels and am considering entering the Page Turner again.
JOANNE: Tell us a bit about your family and your life outside FaithWriters.
ANN: I live and work on a 26,000 acre cattle ranch in northeastern British Columbia, Canada. I help with working cattle — there are 3000 cows, 2400 calves, 130 bulls — so there’s always plenty to do all year round. I also do the lawn mowing, an activity that gives me hours and hours (acres of lawn!) of mindless, repetitive back-and-forth-ing, giving me time to develop story lines or pray. I have three grown children (34, 31, and 25), three granddaughters (7, 6, and 2) and a grandchild on the way. In my spare time, I quilt, bake, garden, paint, and I am hopelessly addicted to rodeos, or maybe just hopelessly in love with my cowboy, who also loves rodeo. We met at a rodeo, after all.
JOANNE: Where can folks connect with you?
ANN: Here at Faithwriters, of course. I also have a (much neglected) blog at http://a-thousandhills.blogspot.ca/ I hope to get that updated soon and be a little more consistent with it.
Right now, we live at Mile 26 of the Alaska Highway (Highway 97 in British Columbia) if any one is travelling to Alaska. The coffee is always on.
JOANNE: Anything else you would like to add?
ANN: Thank you to Mike Edwards and especially to Deb Porter, Jan Ackerson, yourself, and the many, many other Faithwriters who have inspired and encouraged me for the last ten years.
JOANNE: Ann, YOU have been an inspiration and encouragement to each of those people as well, I guarantee you – and this interview, I am certain, will do the same. Thanks for sharing your passion with us, and once again, congratulations on your wins!
Watch for an interview with Cori Smelker, who took second place in Best of the Best, on the blog soon.