Stories to Savour

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An unassuming box, filled with paper and words, tells much of the story of Darcie Friesen Hossack’s last 10 years. A manuscript of stories, dotted and lined with penciled edits, the occasional coffee stain decorating its margins, takes up the bulk of the hold. With it is stashed a certificate of achievement or two, a small collection of rejection letters – many offering encouragement along with the bad news – and, finally, a letter of intent to publish.

Mennonites Don’t Dance is the culmination of a decade’s worth of aspiration, wrestling demons, coming into one’s own and pouring the soul out of the finger tips onto a computer screen.

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“Most of the time I’m still in disbelief that the contract arrived,” Darcie, who posts a monthly food column on The Pear Tree, said. “It’s been such an awfully long time coming. I have moments of effervescent, giddy, bubbly happiness, but mostly I feel calm – instead of always tight and worried and wondering if I’ve wasted all this time. I actually prefer the feeling of peace and calm to joy and elation.”

Darcie first started making friends with her writerly side back when she was in Grade 4, growing up on the prairies of Saskatchewan. Her class was given the assignment of writing a mystery story during language arts class. When the bell rang for recess to begin, Darcie begged her teacher to let her stay in, instead, to finish the story.

The next year, she was asked to read a story she wrote about her cat in front of her class. When her fellow classmates laughed and applauded in all the right places, she started to realize that writing is something that can connect a person to other people, and knew that she wanted to do it for always.

She was the kind of girl, growing up, who read the thesaurus, “just for fun,” and who lost at Scrabble because she put more emphasis on laying down rare and vainglorious words than racking up points.

In her early twenties, Darcie started her first novel – an adventure set in India. Years of her life went into chronicling a story she now considers irredeemable – not the least because she’s never actually traveled further east than Winnipeg – but like all good inventors she let the experience become an important step towards finding what works. At the end of it, she took to heart the old adage about writing what you know.

For her, that included sweeping prairie vistas, small town dramas and food that’s been engineered to stick to your ribs. It’s the kind of fodder that at first seemed too uneventful and unexotic to someone who’s grown up in that world… until she stumbled upon Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness.

“Up until then, I never thought there was anything to say about growing up on the prairies or having a Mennonite family, about grasshoppers or fighting over chickens feet for lunch or some of the harrowing things that happen in large, farming families,” Darcie said. “Looking through my heritage through someone else’s eyes I realized how complex it is.”

While Darcie wasn’t raised strictly Mennonite, growing up with her mother and sister in Swift Current, Sask., regular visits to her maternal grandparents’ farm gave her a window into that world.

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While her collection of 11 short stories and the characters in them are all fictional, the emotions, psychology and approach to life that she glimpsed during her visits to the farm are all inspired by real Mennonite life.

Not that you have to be Mennonite – or even familiar with the conservative Christian movement – in order to connect with the stories. But the culture offers a good platform for exploring the universal experiences of generation gaps, misunderstandings within a family, mistakes and amends made, and generally navigating the rocky seas of life.

“In every story there’s a moment of grace,” Darcie says. “They don’t wrap up neatly, but there is always a chance for the characters to hold onto each other and to do better.”

The same is true in writing as well as life, as Darcie has come to learn in the process of writing it down, and landing that elusive contract with a recognized, literary publisher.

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Book jacket for Mennonites Don't Dance

After starting her collection, Darcie was “Birdselled,” as she calls it, under the tutelage of Mennonite author Sandra Birdsell, a Giller Prize finalist who was recently awarded the Order of Canada. Darcie was assigned Sandra as her mentor as a student of the Humber School for Writers in Toronto. The experience was life-altering and, Darcie believes, turned her into the writer she is today: a published one.

“I now know I can do it,” she said. “I have a certain confidence that I didn’t have before.”

She now feels ready to try a full-length novel again – this time letting what she knows lead her. But first, Darcie and her publisher, Thistledown Press, are planning a book launch for Mennonites Don’t Dance on Thursday, Sept. 30, 7 p.m. at the downtown Kelowna branch of the Okanagan Regional Library. Those who can’t be there can pick up the book in bookstores between Victoria and Toronto, or order their copy from amazon.com and here.

Giveaway!

Leave a comment below to be entered into a random draw to win a signed copy of Darcie’s new book. We’ll select a winner later this week!

– Words and photos by Lori-Anne Poirier

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16 Comments

  1. I can’t wait to explore more of those “moments of grace” in these stories. This looks like a must-read!

  2. Congratulations to Darcie on publishing her book! I’m lookig forward to reading it.

  3. Pingback: Mennonites in The Pear Tree « what looks in

  4. Congratulations to Darcie! And such a nice write-up about it, Lori-Anne!

  5. Congratulations Darcie, I look forwards to reading your book.
    It’s funny how we can perceive our own experiences as not being very interesting but when you see it from someone elses eyes it can be movie material. I’m glad you realized this so the world can enjoy your unique experiences.

  6. So exciting to personally know a published author!! And very good write up Lori-Anne! I’m anxious to get my hands (and then to give as Christmas presents!!) on this book!

  7. You know I heard some buzz about this book elsewhere, and only just now put together that they were one and the same. Congrats Darcie! I always love reading the work of yours Lori-Anne links to, and this book will be a whole sheaf of loveliness for me to work through. Anything including moments of grace has me sold.

  8. Well I just had to stop by…your site name made me remember Aunt Annie and how we picked pears off of her pear tree for her so she could make us some pear preserves and scratch biscuits. Funny how when you are little, there are some things that will stick with you that will someday matter! I am one of those people that for some reason is connected to the past. Your book looks like a fabulous read! ;o)

  9. Pingback: Publicity for Darcie Friesen Hossack « Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

  10. Daphne Sayler Hust

    Wordsmiths writing about wordsmiths. Love it.

  11. Way to go , Darcie! You have definitely earned the right to your peace and calm! I am proud of you!

  12. What a spectacular write up Lori-Anne. I can’t wait to have it in my hands. It looks like a “oh just one more page” kind of book. Congrats Darcie

  13. Pingback: And a Darcie in a Pear Tree « Victoria Bell

  14. Pingback: advance press and listings for Mennonites Don’t Dance « what looks in

  15. Looking forward to re-living the unique life of years past, via Darcie’s published book. The title hooked me in immediately. History provides a complex web of bittersweet and somehow simpler memories that culminate in who we presently are.

  16. Congratulations, Darcie…I have emailed myself the name of your book and I am planning to buy it, to share with my sisters…:)

    I just found a link to your page here as I was Googling ‘Mennonite stories Canada’… as I often email my Dad (who is 74) (who is Mennonite…and married my Mom who is from the Caribbean…) interesting things I find to show him how much I remember all the interesting things he taught me and introduced me too, including all his family (8 siblings)born in Rosenhauf, Sask. – he being the only ‘secular’ and ‘nonconforming’ in his family (he became a Canadian History and theatre Professor…teaching Shakespeare!!!) …anyhow…myself being raised in the 70’s grew to have a very open minded mindset and have worked in many fields, from teaching entry level restaurant training job skills to street-entrenched teens to taking complaints against doctors for the Province of B.C., and now I’m a legal secretary (you know, to pay the bills)…

    …I enjoy babysitting my niece and nephew (I have not children), also spending time with my parents, volunteering with child literacy programs, entertaining friends and acquaintances with my fiance (he’s an electrician from Italy, raised here in Vancouver, B.C. Canada, like me…:) …

    One of my favourite things is reading, reading, reading, and quite recently, most often, Canadian authors…and now I’ve found your book!!! I am really looking forward to it, as it looks like you will offer readers quite a fresh perspective, and such a wonderfully cultivated one too…

    Again, congratulations!

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