My UBC Hat Trick

 

http://oolichan.com/oolichan/hegerat-odd-one-out
Now, I am a pitiful specimen of a Canadian, because I do not love hockey; I don’t watch hockey, I know very little about the game or the lexicon therof, and my interest in the Calgary Flames involves periodically asking the true fan in the house how “our” team is doing. But there’s a hockey term that always makes me smile—“hat trick.” Although I’m sure there is no one out there who needs a definition of hat trick: the scoring of three goals in one hockey game by the same player.

So, I’m calling the publication of my newest book, Odd One Out (Oolichan Books 2016), the completion of my UBC hat trick. I’m borrowing this is as a literary term. The game has been a long one beginning with the publication of my MFA thesis, Delivery, a novel, (Oolichan Books 2009) the year after I completed the MFA Creative Writing through UBC’s low residency program. For literary purposes I’m going to say the game has three periods, and can go on for even longer than a cricket match—in my case, for seven years.

In the second period, The Boy (Oolichan Books 2010), a hybrid of investigative journalism, fiction and memoir was published.

This spring, 2016, Odd One Out, a novel for teens, will be out.

Each of these three books owe huge thanks to the exceptional mentors I had access to at UBC. The gracious and talented Catherine Bush was my thesis advisor and guided me through the final draft of Delivery.

The irascible journalist, Terry Glavin, was one of the instructors who drew me to apply to UBC when I was struggling with non-fiction, with writing the story that ultimately became The Boy. Not only did Terry teach me how to “construct literature from the found materials of the known world,” he baptised me in the belief that TRUTH MATTERS.

I had no intention of writing for young people until I took a summer session course, Writing for Children, with Glen Huser. As in all writing courses, there is that basic requirement— write! And it was in the ten days in the summer of 2007 that I began to think about a boy named Rufus, to hear his voice in my mind, and to get a sense of what was troubling that poor kid. The kind and generous Glen Huser, in my estimation one of the finest Canadian authors of children’s book as well as an outstanding teacher, read the first draft of Odd One Out and helped me find the right sized boots I needed to write for a teenaged audience.

I’ve noticed a recent surge of discussion about the value of the MFA in terms of a writer’s skill and success. I will go on record, as I have many times, in saying, “No! One does not need a university degree to be a good writer.” But what’s troubled me lately is that many of the people who are making that same declaration are doing so with a kind of reverse-snobbery that gets a tad offensive. Don’t apply to graduate programs if you feel they’ll be of no value to you, but please don’t peer down the length of your nose at those who have taken that path for their own personal reasons.

I applied to the UBC MFA Creative Writing program and was accepted on my second try (this for those of you who are inclined to toss in the towel after first attempts). My motive was simple. There were important things I didn’t know and felt sure I couldn’t accomplish without the help of some wise people who would hold my feet to the fire in my efforts to earn a degree. I didn’t need any more letters to tack onto my name, I didn’t need a new community of writers, although I’ve been ever grateful to have met so many gifted and supportive people. I was at an age when I wasn’t looking to gain extra credibility in order to teach. I wanted to be immersed in that academic world just long enough to find answers to my questions.

Am I glad I made the decision to apply to the MFA program? You bet I am. Would I have continued to write and to publish without the degree? Of course I would have. I am determined, tenacious, and thick-skinned and not particularly humble when it comes to believing I have a gift and a responsibility to use it.

Thank you UBC for helping me tighten the laces on my skates. Hat trick.

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Why Launch This Book in a Church — Part 2

In case you missed Part 1:  http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/4101547/1497/

 Saturday, April 26.  Sixty people, Owl’s Nest sold out of their copies of a family of any other name; Exploring Queer Relationships, a beautiful mix of church community, writing community, LGBT community, and a lot of conversation when the readings were done and we moved on to book signing and munching. (Only one complaint on the refreshments:  “Where are the egg salad sandwiches?  Lutheran church gatherings always serve egg salad sandwiches.”)

I was as honoured to share this celebration of the anthology with Dale Kwong, as I was to be included in the book with an essay from a parent’s experience; perspectives from both sides of “coming out” and what “family” really means.

The Q&A provoked insightful (sometimes difficult) questions to answer, but answer them we did.  This was a thoughtful, perceptive audience, wanting to know more than our brief readings disclosed.  The book will provide them “more” and so many more stories.   I wanted the dialogue to go on and on and I know that it will.

So many comments, but the two that for me truly answered the question “why launch this book in a church?” :

“Stained glass windows, butterflies, quilts destined for people in need, and just the aura that surrounded us made me finally understand why you wanted to have the launch at your church, and why you make that your home.”

“You know that I have no church connection at all, never have had, but at the readings on Saturday I felt that everyone there, and the book, were blessed.”

Check with you local bookseller.  If they don’t have a family by any other name: Exploring Queer Relationships on the shelf, tell them it needs to be there.  Same with your local library.

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Why Launch This Book in a Church?

Book Launch

a family by any other name: EXPLORING QUEER RELATIONSHIPS

 Saturday April 26th 2:00 PM

Lutheran Church of the Cross

10620 Elbow Dr. S.W.  Calgary

 

I think, in fact I know, from several comments I’ve received, that the venue for this book launch is a bit of a puzzle to many who’ve seen the promotion or received invitations. Why hold this celebration at a mainstream Protestant church when so many Lutheran congregations are still rejecting, or conflicted over the Human Sexuality Resolutions passed by the National Church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in 2011?

Why on earth include a statement of welcome on the invitation that says:  Come as you are, with an open mind and heart. God will stretch and renew us, for we already know storytelling transforms us.

Has the shunning and the pain inflicted by churches – in the name of God – on the LGBT community not been enough to render such an invitation and the venue offensive?

In fact, that welcoming statement is part of the invitation Church of the Cross has extended to all the other Lutheran Churches in the city (none of which are affirming,) other churches within our southwest community, and to affirming Anglican and United churches in Calgary.

But again, back to — why the church? The short answer (the long answer is in my essay) is that my story ends in this place.  A selfish motive, and a suggestion that was initially questioned by my friend and reading partner for this launch, Dale Lee Kwong.  But Dale, gracious and accepting woman that she is, handed this over to me and I am grateful both to her, and to Touchwood Press and Bruce Gillespie who, if they had reservations held them back.

The open arms with which Pastors Laura and Phil Holck responded to my request to hold the launch in the sanctuary at our/my church sealed my conviction that this was the place we needed to be.

I contemplated removing the mention of God’s renewal on the promotion that will go out to other communities for fear of offending potential audience members who are atheists, agnostics, non-Christians.  But then I remembered that the secular world is far ahead of the Christian church on many issues of acceptance and inclusiveness.  Respect, do not judge, accept one another as we are, are some of the basic tenets that keep my faith alive.

The readings and the Q&A moderated by Jonathan Brower will be held in the sanctuary and I am praying for a Saturday when the stained glass windows are streaming with light.  There will be refreshments – basic requirements of both launches and all Lutheran events. There will be books for sale. An anonymous donor has offered to contribute $2 for every book sold to the church’s Families in Need fund or whatever other cause our pastors can suggest that speaks to inclusiveness.

I feel so honoured to have my story, a mother’s story, included in this anthology that at times I’ve felt that I should just be grateful and quiet. Quiet does not come naturally to me. And I have been reminded by the wise and comforting Dale, that the acronym is frequently LGBTA, the A standing for allies.  I am an ally and so is my church. We will welcome you with open arms.

I suggested to Dale that maybe opening with a prayer for peace and justice would be appropriate and maybe a song that I love on that same theme could close the event. Here, she finally asserted herself and in retrospect, I know she was right on this call.

But this is my own page, we are not in a church and I do want to share a verse from that hymn, “Light Dawns on a Weary World”: “The trees shall clap their hands/the dry lands, gush with springs/the hills and mountains shall break forth with singing/ We shall go out in joy/and be led forth in peace, as all the world in wonder echoes shalom.”

Shalom,

Betty Jane

 

Oblivion

I have avoided writing all but the occasional book review  for most of my writing life, and writing a theatre review has truly never crossed my mind. But after seeing “Oblivion” workshopped at the U of C yesterday, I’m going to set aside my reluctance to do a review for which I have no credentials at all, and give you my play-goer’s reaction.  Unfortunately, today was the last performance of Oblivion, but I have no doubt at all that there will other opportunities to see this play, so I’m urging you to remember the play and the playwright — Oblivion by Jonathan Brower.  Store it in one of the accessible files in your brain even if all you can recall when you hear it mentioned again is that it was highly recommended.

I attended the play primarily because the playwright, Jonathan Brower, will be moderating the Calgary launch of A Family by Any Other Name; Exploring Queer Relationships, at which Dale Kwong and I will be reading, and which my home church will be hosting.

Oblivion: A Workshop Production, introduces Tim, a gay man raised in the evangelical church who is struggling with the inner conflict between his faith and his sexuality while contemplating a radical vaccine that would eliminate his ‘religious gene.’

For a more lengthy description of the play and playwright visit the Gauntlet’s website: http://www.thegauntlet.ca/story/reconciling-faith-and-sexual-orientation

But here’s the story from the perspective of this member of yesterday’s audience:

Tim, the young gay man portrayed in the play is torn — in fact, his church and his friends in the secular world, are pulling so hard in opposite directions that I believed so completely in the character that I could feel those arms grabbing/pulling/insisting.

There is the religious world, an evangelical pastor, Quinn, who runs a program to restore people like Tim (who is on the “Path to Perversity”) to heterosexuality, insisting that this is the only way that he will remain acceptable in God’s eyes. Quinn admits that Tim’s attraction to other males will never go away, but he will simply have to suppress it either through celibacy or in a relationship with a woman.

The secular world, embodied in Tim’s friend, Simone, insists that the only thing standing in his way to becoming the person he’s meant to be, is the hurt that his church has inflicted on him, and the faith that he continues  to cling to.  She has found the answer for him; an experimental vaccine that will rid him of his “religious gene.”

The play brings remarkable authenticity to the disparate influences in Tim’s life.  It also sensitively portrays Tim’s relationship with Morgan, the one person who understands what’s tearing Tim apart and whose love for Tim is stronger than either of the two sides working so fiercely to claim him.

The vacccine, of course, only heightens Tim’s suffering and confusion. Simone will not be pleased with Tim’s response, and Quinn, by the end of the play is on her knees weeping, pleading with God  Because I am a Christian, and I understand very well the struggles of the church in accepting and affirming, I appreciated and was touched by the anguish of Quinn’s prayers in the end, pleading with God to show her what’s she done wrong in failing to bring Tim back into the fold.

For me, this play was perfectly balanced.

As the mother of three children I love with all my heart, Tim’s struggle reminded me of our our daughter’s coming out and the deep well of courage she tapped into in doing so.

As a Christian, a member of a church that wrestled with acknowledging that sexual orientation is not a choice, with accepting the iblessing of same-sex marriages, and with affirming these beliefs by ordaining clergy without prejudice toward sexual orientation, I anguished with Quinn in her pleading with God to help her understand.

In Morgan’s steadfastness, I saw my daughter and her partner’s deep love for another and the commitment to their marriage.

I offer Jonathan congratulates and thanks for creating this important piece of theatre, and applaud the wonderful actors who brought it to life. Bravo.

Jonathan we will be blessed by your company on April 26th.

No matter more where you stand– gay or straight, believer or non-believer — I  urge you to read A Family by Any Other Name, and what better place to buy your copy than at the Calgary launch.  Don’t trust the files in your mind, write this one down:

Book Launch: A Family by Any Other Name   Saturday, April 26  2:00 PM at Lutheran Church of the Cross 10620 Elbow Dr. SW

Readings by Dale Lee Kwong and Betty Jane Hegerat.  Q&A moderated by Jonathan Brower who we hope will be an active contributor to the discussion.  Refreshments.  Book sales.  We expect the audience to include members of the LGBT community, members of the hosting church, and other affirming congregations as well those in churches who still struggle. As always, we expect members of the writing community, who support one other in inspiring ways. Imagine the opportunity for discussion. Come.

Ebooks!

I’m very pleased to report that all three of my Oolichan Books — A Crack in the Wall, Delivery, and The Boy — are now available as ebooks both for purchase, and library lending.

All three books are available on multiple formats, most importantly Overdrive (for the libraries), Kindle, iBooks and Kobo. Here are some links:
They are also available in the Apple iBook store.
Thanks, Randal and Carolyn!

High Plains Highlights

It’s been a week since I came home from the High Plains Bookfest in Billings, and I’ve been trying to shape a narrative in my mind. The trip, the people, the city, the events, the books; we talked about the weekend through the long nine hour drive home.  Robert, husband-chauffeur, Shirley, good friend and roadie through many of the travels involved in writing The Boy, were as delighted as I was with the trip.  No real shape has emerged, and I’ve been telling people that I’m on sabbatical from writing, so why not just list the highlights and let this be a collage:

—The Plains. I haven’t been to Montana in many years, and in fact my strongest memories are of a couple of TGIF trips across the border to Curly Bob’s bar in Sweetgrass when I was working for Alberta Social Services in Lethbridge, my first social work job back in … well, you really don’t need to know how long ago. The other memory is of a boyfriend who became a deadweight. I’d met him through a computer dating adventure (which I will write about some day) and when I tired of him I was glad that he returned to Ontario.  When he sought me out in Lethbridge the next summer, en route to San Francisco he said, I offered immediately to drive him to the border.  I dumped him at Coutts and you’ll have to wait for the rest of the story.The landscape!  I’d brought book tapes for the car but we didn’t need them.

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—The people. We had just checked in at the Dude Rancher Lodge, a funky historic lodging in downtown Billings, and as though he was scripted, a lean tall cowboy meandered through with his spurs a-jingle.  Cowboys everywhere, the real deal.  And in almost equal supply, academics, and of course the folks from the library.  After my reading, a lovely man named Michael came up to tell me about the nine nations of North America.  I’d started out with my thanks to the festival organizers for including Canadians and insisted that there was no north/south literary border. But what Michael was excited to tell me was that I’d engaged him as soon as I began to speak. My voice, he said, was exactly that of his mother who could do a wicked imitation of the “Canadian accent”.  Do we really say “abooot” instead of “abowt”?  Who knew, eh? Everywhere, friendly people and a warm welcome for the Canadians. My sister Canadian on the shortlists was Adele Dueck, from Lucky Lake SK who was nominated in the Writing by Women category for her YA novel.

—Billings. We’d never been there, and knowing that the entire population of Montana would fit into Calgary, we expected just another small arid prairie city. Billings is a well-treed treasure, tucked up against the rim of a deep canyon, bordered on its other side by the Yellowstone River. Many of the historic buildings of the beautifully rejuvenated downtown, like many Calgary buildings, are of sandstone. We went for coffee on Saturday morning to a roasterie two blocks from the Dude Rancher and when we came out, were puzzled by the number of people sitting on curbs, lining the street.  A parade?  No, a friendly couple told us. There was a rodeo on in Billings that weekend, and the cattlemen’s association (NILE) had organized a cattle drive through downtown.  Fifty head were coming through. We were on our way to a reading and being Calgarians, I’m afraid fifty head was not enough to entice us to stay.

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—The Events and the books. Friday afternoon was given over to the them of “Montana’s Home”, readings and presentations of which we attended two: Handraised: The Barns of Montana (the beautiful coffee table book that won the non-fiction category in which The Boy was shortlisted); Montana’s One Room Schoolhouses (another gorgeous book of photography and history traced through the tiny schoolhouses of not so long ago) that I’m predicting will be nominated for next year’s awards. Then a welcome reception and a chance to meet other authors and the festival organizers. Saturday celebrated all the nominated books with readings and discussion. I had the pleasure of reading with David Mogen, author of Honyocker Dreams: Montana Memories, a beautifully-wrought memoir, and Lael Morgan, author of  Wanton West: Madams, Money, Murder, and the Wild Women of Montana’s Frontier.  What’s not to be intrigued about with a title like that?

Saturday evening, the awards banquet and more authors and books and celebration. Tom McGuane was the keynote speaker and one of my favourite quips by this novelist, screenwriter, filmmaker was that he sometimes tells people he’s a backhoe operator, just to give himself some credibility. We also loved the food, which puzzled us in a pleasant way until we found out that it too was to celebrate “home”.  Comfort food:  meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, pork chops in mushroom gravy. Centrepieces for the tables: piles of books, all of the books that were entered but were not finalists were there for the taking. This struck me as a bit of sad irony at first, but then I decided it was a great way to celebrate all of the entries. After the awards ceremony we had the pleasure of a party at the home of Corby Skinner, one of the festival organizers. I’m blaming Corby’s cat for my declaration this week that no author is complete without a cat. So now we have Rosie, freshly adopted from the city animal shelter. Rosie thanks you, Corby!

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My only regret is that I didn’t have the opportunity to meet every writer.  What a fine celebration and what an honour to have been included.  Thank you, High Plains Book Awards and the city of Billings.  We will be back someday.

Montana Meets The Boy

I’m off to the High Plains Literary Festival http://ci.billings.mt.us/index.aspx?NID=1407 next week, and honoured and excited by the nomination of The Boy to the non-fiction shortlist in these awards.  What a pleasure it will be to mingle with American writers, encounter books I would not otherwise have known. This is the first literary festival to which I have been invited and that fact, along with some contemplation of book awards and all of the literary trappings that go far beyond the sheer pleasure of writing compel me to write a post that will be far more personal than is within my usual comfort zone. This is not meant to be a polemic about awards and the state of publishing.  This is simply about my own experience and feelings and only thrown on the page because I feel compelled to do so, to try and make sense, and isn’t that what writing is all about?

On a landmark birthday almost 20 years ago, I decided it was time to lasso a dream I’d had since I was a teenager writing angst-ridden poetry and maudlin short stories. I was going to be a writer. Note, that this  ambition went beyond simply putting my pen to the page and telling stories. I was going to be a Writer. And I dove into thr pursuit with a zeal and an energy that amazes me now when I look back at that stage of my life—part-time work for an adoption agency, three children still under my wing, a multitude of volunteer activities.  I took writing class after writing class, acquired an addiction to writing retreats, took up the challenge of breaking into every literary magazine in the land (not successfully, of course, with a number of them still on my list), and set my sites on a novel. I was determined to have a book. That’s what it was all about, right? Books? I imagined reviews, book tours, and even dared to think about awards. I told my friends, with a laugh, that I didn’t anticipate winning book prizes, but that didn’t stop me from imagining what I’d wear to the Giller Gala. I put my shoulder to the wheel and pushed that wonky stone up the hill for eighteen years.

In 2006, after two book manuscripts went to their final reward in my desk drawer, my first novel, Running Toward Home, was published. That same year, I began the UBC Optional Residency MFA Creative Writing program and against all advice, finished it off in two years; six courses, two summer residencies, and a thesis packed into that time. Meanwhile, I taught creative writing at various venues. I graduated jwith the MFA just after my 60th birthday in May 2008. In fall, 2008, my collection of short stories, A Crack in the Wall was published. In 2009, another novel and my UBC thesis, Delivery, was published, and in 2011, a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction, The Boy. Was I delighted with the succession of books? Of course. Was I satisfied? Of course not. I was gratified by the reader response to all of them, thrilled to be on shortlists for Alberta prizes for both Delivery and The Boy, but… at the same time I found myself sucked into the lure of winning, and vulnerable to envy and resentment.

The Boy was the most challenging story I had tackled, and tackle it I did, going deep into dark holes and plumbing fears I had never acknowledged. To be frank, six months after The Boy was published, I crashed. I was exhausted, emotionally and physically and creatively. People complimented me on all I had achieved in six years, and I insisted repeatedly that it was simply a case of almost two decades of work finally catching up. The truth is, I was too driven for my own good. I wanted more than the pleasure of writing and a reading audience, however small. I let myself be seduced by the writing life, or more accurately, the life of a successful writer. I let the literary culture define success for me, instead of finding the balance I needed between writing life and real life.

This post is the most serious writing I’ve done in a very long time. I keep telling people I’m on sabbatical, but in fact, I am embracing “not writing” with such relief that I can envision myself at the end of the year declaring that I am semi-retired. I am spending hours that were previously committed to the computer with my newly-retired husband, I go for coffee with friends and have stopped looking at my watch and thinking I need to get home to write, and my first concern these days is the people I care about and maximizing the time I have with them.

Perhaps my motivation to put all this on the page signals a return to writing, but at this point, I only want to humbly share what I’ve learned. It is possible to want something too much. It is possible to lose sight of what’s important in life. It is possible to find your way back.

So next week I am off to Billings, Montana for the sheer pleasure of making the acquaintance of writers in another place, and celebrating with them. The non-fiction prize?  I can honestly say that I will not feel anything but pleasure for whoever wins.  And now I have to plan what I will wear to that “gala”.