The Author Spotlight Series shines a light on writers creating heartfelt and original work across genres, giving them an opportunity to talk about their books and why they do what they do.
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“Anne Lazurko’s first novel, Dollybird, won the WILLA Award for Historical Fiction. She has short fiction and poetry published in literary magazines and anthologies and is an active teacher, editor, and mentor in the prairie writing community. An award-winning journalist and no-awards farmer, she lives near Weyburn, Saskatchewan.”
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
It was actually a long slow realization—maybe more of a revelation—as in, hey I guess I’m actually a writer. I suppose that’s because I grew up the daughter of Dutch immigrants who came to Canada after the war. Though both my parents were educated and my mom an avid reader, writing would never have been considered a ‘legitimate’ occupation, mostly because of its financial frailties. I always wrote as a sort of sideline and, though I took courses and joined guilds and attended workshops, I was barely able to whisper the word writer in reference to myself. I was well into my thirties before I was published and allowed myself to acknowledge that yes, what I wanted most was to be a writer. And here I am.
Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?
If you mean the first decent thing I ever wrote, yes I actually do! And that’s because my grade one teacher had it framed and sent to me as a wedding gift; a small story about a boy’s toy boat getting away on him and it being rescued by a dog. I have to say my grammar was very good and my spelling in between those wide blue foolscap lines impeccable. As for serious writing, I was in my twenties and wrote some angsty poems about menstruation and how easy it is to con a man; not necessarily in that order. I was encouraged by Steven Ross Smith and, given those were unlikely topics for the time, was ecstatic to have those poems published in a small literary magazine.
How did you develop your skills?
I honed my grammar and basic skills writing essays and theses for my political science degree. From there I moved on to journalism and discovered that one can’t be too precious about their work, especially when your byline is on a piece that has the last three paragraphs hacked off to make way for ads. Later I found a home within local writers groups, attended workshops and took advantage of mentoring opportunities offered by our provincial guild. While writing my first novel I took the eight month Humber Creative Writing correspondence course.
I’ve come to believe good editors have the most impact on my skills. With both novels, it was their guidance that helped identify bad habits, over-worked passages, repeated tendencies etc. I am a much better writer because of them.
Mostly writing skills are built by reading well and writing—a lot.
Who are some of your biggest literary influences? Do you have a favourite book/author?
I don’t have that list of classic influences that many authors do except perhaps Doris Lessing and Sinclair Ross. My influences are more contemporary; Barbara Kingsolver, Anthony Doerr, Madeleine Thien. Their ability to meld the historical with the political while keeping the character and story at the center are just so remarkable.
Favourite book is almost impossible. I will say that I hardly ever read a book more than once and I’ve read A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving three times and found something new to admire about it each time and dependent on the stage of life at which I’ve read it. More recently I read Cloud Cuckoo Land and dove right back in to read it again because I was so blown away. In our current state of conspiracy theories and ideology driven politics I recommend Do Not Say We Have Nothing to anyone who will listen.
How would you describe your work?
With the exception of a few poems and contemporary short stories, I write character driven historical fiction, books about how real people deal with the fallout of events around them that are largely out of their control. But I don’t want that to be my forever tagline as I’m currently, and happily, working on something completely different.
What’s your writing process like?
I’m fortunate to be at an age and stage when I can say to hell with it and take the time I need to write. But that is a very recent and happy development. I make sure to be at my desk for three hours in the morning to do the creative work, whether it’s first draft work, editing or entire re-writes. If I have more time, I’ll use it to do research or take care of administrative details or work on articles.
Tell us about your most recent book.
What Is Written on the Tongue follows the life of Sam, a young man drafted and sent with Dutch forces after World War II to re-claim the East Indies colony, what is now Indonesia. But the local independence movement is way ahead of the Dutch and Sam finds himself in a guerrilla war and committing acts of violence similar to those perpetrated by the Nazis on occupied Holland. It’s very loosely based on the arc of my dad’s young life and, though he was not part of what were called the Police Actions in Indonesia, it was difficult to think of what he might have witnessed at twenty years old. I wanted to consider what it might do to the psyche of a young man to be thrown into such an ethical abyss, examine where empathy is found and what happens when it is lost. It’s a story of the indecencies of war, but also of love and family and the natural world.
What are you working on now/next?
Something completely different. It’s a novel about contemporary women of all ages walking the Way of St. Francis in Italy. Apparently I like to set my stories in far off places so as to have to travel to them! (I spent five weeks journeying across Java for my recent novel). While it started out as a contemporary work, it has become some sort of hybrid, with the art of early 20th century German print-maker and activist Kathe Kollwitz back-dropping the women’s stories. It’s a look at feminism across time and age groups and, at its heart, is a story about the truths women don’t tell, while considering what might happen if they did.