Ann Grover is one of the most faithful (and one of my very favorite) contributors to the FaithWriters Writing Challenge. And this year, her entry for the Relax topic, “Relinquishment,” was the highest ranking story of the entire Writing Challenge year, making her the FaithWriters Best of the Best (for the second time) for 2017. Read along as Ann shares about her writing process, her upcoming retirement, and why she sometimes uses a scythe to cut her lawn.

JOANNE SHER: First of all, congratulation on your Best of the Best win (again)! What was your reaction when you found out you won 2017’s Best of the Best?

ANN GROVER: I checked FaithWriters on June 30, on the off chance the BoB might have already been announced. We were going to a rodeo early in the morning of July 1, and I knew I would be out of signal range all day. So it was a surprise to see the BoB already posted, but I was more surprised that “Relinquishment” was the chosen story. I had struggled with submitting it, for I feared it was off-topic and that it would stir up negative emotions in readers. It is probably the least favourite of all my submissions this year.

JOANNE: Wow – I never would have guessed. You had a total of fifteen first place challenge entries this year. That is pretty amazing. What keeps you entering? Do you have a “secret,” if you will, for placing so well so consistently?

ANN: Why do I keep entering? Good question. I think I continue to enter because FW is a safe place to practice. I can experiment with different voices and tenses, genres and styles. I take comments very seriously, maybe too much so, but after I get over any initial defensiveness, I do try to weave any suggestions into future works. I also keep entering so that I don’t “lose touch” with that side of me, to keep honed, while I keep putting off finishing my WIP, a novel.

If I have any secrets, it is this: Get inside the skin of your characters. I research constantly. What was it like to be a child in WW2? What was the political climate during the 1700’s? What was the prevailing position of the church on specific issues in the mid-1300’s? What did a house look like in 16th century England? What did people eat, wear, do, fear?

I immerse myself in historical accounts, preferably eyewitness, but also photos, videos, and music, if possible. I ask questions. Of cowboys, of people of different faiths, of outdoorsmen, of elderly people. I’m probably a very nosy person.

I mentioned that I am writing a novel. It’s about early settlers in central Alberta, so I visit abandoned homesteads and museums in the area. As much as possible, I try to “do what they did.”

A funny story about that. We happen to have a rural acreage in central Alberta. We’ll be retiring very shortly, and we spend most of our vacation time there, preparing it to be our permanent residence. One day, I was scything the long grass in the yard, so I could know what scything feels like… the proper angle of the blade, the exertion needed to swing the heavy implement. A neighbour drove past. Ten minutes later, he returned, bringing me a lawnmower. We had a good laugh when I told him I was doing “research.”

JOANNE: You definitely made ME laugh! You have more than two hundred writing challenge entries since you started entering twelve years ago – almost 30 IMAG1145just in the last year. 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: (My favourite story of all time would be “And God Breathes.” It still, after 12 years, seems as though it wrote itself.) Interviewer note: GO READ IT – amazing!

My favourite story from this year would be “Dark Enigma.” When we (my daughter, my mom, and I) went to Norway in 2002, our Norwegian family toured us around to places our family had lived over the centuries. One such place was my late Uncle Tormond’s former summer house in Numedal. An elderly British doctor was living there in 2002, and she told us a story about the little cottage that had been on that exact site in the 1350’s, during the plague. It had indeed been the only cottage in that little valley from which smoke could be seen rising when the priest was finally able to visit his parishioners.

I tucked that little fact away for 15 years.

JOANNE: And used it to AMAZING effect. Another masterpiece, in my opinion. (again – read it, folks :d) Your winning story, “Relinquishment,” is very deep and poignant and thought-provoking. Can you tell us a little about how the idea came to you, how it developed, and what your feelings were about it when you pushed that “submit” button? Any particular struggles with the process?

ANN: The story began when I brainstormed about the opposite of relax or “resting.” What could keep one from relaxing and letting go? What could make one uptight, seemingly “high-strung.” I went from there.

I was ambivalent about submitting it. It could be potentially hurtful to readers, but I also hoped it would encourage anyone similarly distressed to rise above their wounds. To use their pain as an opportunity to grow and soar.

I have long pondered the saying, (and I paraphrase),”That which keeps a kite bound to earth also allows it to fly” for many years. “Relinquishment” seemed to be the perfect opportunity to use it.

JOANNE: Agreed. What is the hardest part of writing (for the challenge or anything else) for you? How do you overcome it?

ANN: Without a doubt, finding time. I have to be intentional and proactive about carving out time to write, in the same way I make time for all the other “urgencies” in my life. Sometimes it’s not possible, for the demands of ranch life are sudden and immediate, but at the end of the day, I ask myself if my day was well-spent pursuing any of my loves and endeavours, however briefly, or did I dribble away precious time doing something unnecessary.

I also struggle with criticism. Especially from those who’ve never read my work, or worse, don’t read at all and believe themselves to be literary critics without having read a word I’ve written. I find that very difficult to deal with, almost to the point where I want to close up the keyboard. I’m more thin-skinned than I want to admit.

JOANNE: What advice do you have for writers? What is the best writing advice anyone has given YOU?

ANN: I will repeat it: READ. Read as if words are food. Read all genres and styles. Don’t be afraid of reading something not to your liking, for every style has a principle or concept to glean from, even if only to show how NOT to write. By that I don’t mean “read trash,” but explore outside your preferred genre, taste something different. Learn what speaks to you, what doesn’t speak to you, and consider the aspects of each.

I have an example of that. I hardly ever read contemporary or thriller type fiction. But following my own advice, I read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. The subject matter is SO not to my taste, yet Kostova writes exquisitely, and I was riveted to the story, the characters, the superb writing. I aspire to write like her, or at least have my work shine a tenth as brightly as hers does.

JOANNE: What other writing do you do?

ANN: I have been writing articles for “Beef in BC” magazine and “Forage First,” an agricultural newsletter. Very different style of writing. Can’t make up anything. I also take photos for each article I write.

JOANNE: Tell us a bit about your family and your life outside FaithWriters.

ANN: We are weeks away from retiring and leaving the 26,000 acre ranch in north-eastern British Columbia where we currently live and work. As I mentioned, we have a small acreage in central Alberta, closer to most of our respective family. Between us, we have five children and five grandchildren. They are the bright lights of our life, and we look forward to spending more time with them.

I quilt and garden, and I love to cook and bake, especially for big groups. We love to travel, to foreign places and more domestic road trips.

JOANNE: Where can folks connect with you?

ANN: At FaithWriters, on Facebook, and at [email protected] I also have a derelict blog, which I may or may not resurrect when we retire, though since we won’t be living at the ranch anymore, I may have to redirect my focus.

JOANNE: Is there anything else you would like to add?

ANN: I am often asked if certain stories I write are “true” or “real.” The answer is that I almost always write from historical events. The Calendar Act of 1751 was the basis for “In Which the Calendar Act Confounds the Common Man,” and though there is no evidence of the misconceptions I depicted, the intriguing fact that it happened is surely grounds for much misunderstanding (and even hilarity). The debate over the prayer book (“A Striving for Grace“) was real and ongoing for centuries.

The porcelain tea set (“Miranda, Mercy, and Me“) exists and sits in my china cabinet, and a worn copy of The Little White Horse sits upon my own bookshelf.  The “slip of the tongue” story (“New Girl in Town“) really happened to me, too, though in a slightly different setting.

There is always, always something of me in every story.

Also, the past 18 months have been very difficult. My mom, my father-in-law, the father of my children, several cousins, and two great aunts all passed away, along with several close, dear friends of mine, as well as the untimely loss of my daughter’s best friend. Having something to write each week gave me an escape as well as a measure of comfort and peace. In looking back at my entries for 2016, I see many reflections of how one lived or the observations of surviving loved ones. I had more than a little inspiration in exploring those feelings as I considered my own life. Is my life well-lived?

JOANNE: I hope you know how much you bless us when you share these things through your Challenge pieces. I have loved getting to know you better through this interview. Blessings on your retirement and relocation, and congratulations again for your win (again :D).

Watch for interview with the BoB runners up, Jan Ackerson and Amy Gaudette, on the blog in coming weeks!


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