If You're Any Good, Why are You Still in Saskatchewan?

On July 23rd I launched the 12th Joanne Kilbourn novel, The Nesting Dolls, at an event called LOVE, Saskatchewan 2010 at Harbourfront in Toronto. To celebrate, The National Post invited me to submit a guest column.  Here it is.

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The title ‘LOVE, Saskatchewan 2010’ has the bounce and fizz appropriate to a summer celebration of Canada’s easiest-to-draw province.  That said, a phrase that juxtaposes the words “LOVE” and “Saskatchewan” sets the teeth of our province’s writers on edge.  We know that at some point in any interview we give, we’ll be asked “If you’re any good, why are you still in Saskatchewan?”

Saying that you live in this province because you love it will brand you as a hopelessly hay-chewing stubble jumper whose interview should be truncated immediately if not sooner. Here are some answers that should buy you enough interview time to at least mention the title of your book.

1.  Saskatchewan’s  landscape is a powerful motivator.  A scholarly book a few years back suggested that in a world where the landscape is horizontal (read ‘flat’) and human beings are vertical, we are driven to write (a) because we’re terrified at being the tallest thing around and hence a target for the gods or (b) because we’re thrilled at being the tallest thing around and hence clearly the gods’ darlings.

2.  Saskatchewan editors are famous for being both excellent and kind.  Like all writers, our province’s writers embrace the cliché that editors are generals who comes down from the hills after the battle is over to shoot the survivors.  But we know that, beginning with Caroline Heath, editor-in-chief of Grain and founder of Fifth House, Saskatchewan has been blessed with editors who shoot only when it is absolutely necessary and then with hearts full of sorrow for the pain they are about to inflict.  Saskatchewan writers appreciate that.

3.  The logistics of life are simpler here.  When I get ‘the works’ at Holt Renfrew in Toronto – a luxury I am able to afford only because my daughter’s friend, Michael, a cutting-edge stylist at Holts (hair pun #1) never forgets that his roots are in Stockholm, Saskatchewan (hair pun#2)–I dedicate the entire morning to choosing an outfit that’s Holts-worthy, figuring out the subway route to Holts from wherever I’m staying and afterwards finding a place to have lunch that’s worthy of my hair.   Here in Regina, it takes 10 minutes for me to brush my teeth, pull on my jeans and walk to Chantal, the stylist at Head to Toe.  With an early appointment, I can leave looking as good as I’m going to ever going to look in time to hear my oldest grand-daughter play her clarinet solo at the spring recital, pick up some groceries and still have time to walk the dogs and work on a chapter before lunch.

4. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.  Whatever you’ve heard about Saskatchewan winters is true, but multiply the horror factor of 10.   When you’re heading into the second month of minus 40 temperatures and the wheels on your car are square and the streets are either (a) impassable because of snow or (b) impassable because of sheer ice, it’s wise to retreat to the basement and curl up with a warm computer.  You’re not missing anything. Your friends haven’t been good company since Halloween and it’s too cold to have an affair.  Stick with your manuscript.

5.   In a province whose population is slightly over 1,000,000 the concept of 6 degrees of separation is ludicrous. In Saskatchewan 2 degrees of separation is the norm. Everybody knows everything about everyone, and ours is a story-telling culture.  Research in Saskatchewan means buying a guy a beer and listening.

6.  Any province that can nurture writers as diverse and brilliant as Lorna Crozier, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Maggie Siggins, Sandra Birdsell , Louise Halfe, Yann Martel, W.O. Mitchell, Sharon Butala, Robert Calder, Anthony Bidulka, Gary Hyland, Randy Lundy, Trevor Herriott, David Carpenter, Maria Campbell, Sinclair Ross, Robert Currie, Dianne Warren, Suzanne North, Jo Bannantyne-Cugnet, Connie Gault, Alison Lohans and Lois Simmie has magic in its ecosystem, and even bad writers are smart enough to know that it’s just plain dumb to mess with magic.

Originally published in The National Post – “Afterword, Guest Editors” 2010/07/21

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