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School for Writers Grad Wins 2014 WILLA Literary Award for Historical Fiction

Anne Lazurko

Anne Lazurko, a graduate of Humber’s Correspondence Program in Creative Writing, will be in Colorado this weekend to accept the 2014 WILLA Literary Award for historical fiction for her first novel Dollybird

We caught up with Anne shortly before she headed south of the border to hear more about her process in writing this book.

Humber College: Tell us about the WILLA Award.

Anne Lazurko: The WILLA Awards are named after Willa Cather, an early Pulitzer prize winning American author who wrote largely about women in the American west. The awards are for the best stories, in various categories, about girls and women in the North American west and are open to anyone from anywhere as long as the work fits the guidelines.  They are underwritten by an organization called Women Writing the West and presented at their conference in Golden, Colorado in October.

HC: Tell us about the path you took to get to this success.

AL: It was a long one! I had four children at home when I started writing Dollybird, and by the time it was published I was down to one! Although I wasn’t writing full time, the story was always on my mind and I had enough positive feedback about early iterations of it that I just kept plowing along.

One of the best things I did was work with Sarah Sheard in the Humber program. (No, I’m not sucking up, it’s just true.) I worked through a full draft of my novel with Sarah and though it looks very much different after subsequent drafts, her coaching helped me to make it a better story and me a better writer.  As important was that the program ensured I was committed to working on the manuscript every day and to meeting deadlines for new or revised work. All of this plus simply conversing in a deep and meaningful way about writing, convinced me that I was, indeed, a writer. That I could do this thing.

Eventually Dollybird was accepted by Coteau. I was privileged to have Sandra Birdsell as my editor and I learned as much from her in those months of editing as I had throughout my writing career.

HC: Tell us about your best moment(s) at Humber.

AL: “At” is a little misleading because I was a Humber student residing in Saskatchewan. But my best and worst moment was the realization that I would have to rewrite the entire manuscript from a 3rd person present to a 1st person past point of view. It was the worst for obvious reasons, but it was the best because the change made the whole novel work and was a real breakthrough in my understanding of the process and my work.

HC: What did you not expect going into the Humber program?

AL: I did not expect to make friends in a correspondence course! But I became part of a web community of other students in the program from across the country and beyond. I still keep up with some of these people and celebrate their successes and commiserate about the rejections, virtually of course, but still…

HC: What did you not expect after you graduated?

AL: I didn’t expect that this would be only the beginning. Of course I should have known that. I have a political science degree and you don’t come out of any program knowing everything. But the sense that the more you know, the more you realize you have yet to learn, was very acute with regards to writing. But it’s an exhilarating thought too, that I can and will be continually learning this craft.

HC: What do you love most about writing?

AL: Words and language; imagination and creativity; themes and plot lines; and playing with all the parts to make something whole, coherent and engaging. It’s like a huge puzzle and you get to play with it until it’s as right as you can make it.

HC: What is the most challenging about writing?

AL: First drafts. They are the most painful part of the process for me and take me a long time to write. And they are invariably shitty – as Anne Lamott would say they should be. Perhaps that’s why I love the revision end of things so much more, because that’s when the play happens and you move through to a second draft and then a third and they become less shitty!

HC: I understand you’re not a full-time writer; what else do you do?

AL: I write and I farm and it’s a wonderful combination. The bulk of farming happens from spring through fall, leaving the entire Saskatchewan winter for writing. I do some freelance work but have been backing away from that a little to focus more exclusively on fiction and the next novel. 

HC: So… what’s your next book??

AL: I’m trying to write a novel loosely based on my father’s time as a Dutch soldier in Indonesia when Holland was trying to reclaim the colony after WWII. It’s a story of how a young man copes with the emotional fallout of the transition from being occupied in one war, to holding a gun in the next, exploring the idea of defining ‘the enemy’ and the role of empathy in all of it. 

HC: We’re looking forward to it – thanks for speaking with us Anne, and congratulations on the WILLA Award.

Anne is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her first novel Dollybird won the 2014 WILLA Literary Award for historical fiction and was nominated for the 2014 Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction. Her work has been included in the anthology Fast Forward: New Saskatchewan Poets. Saskatchewan born and raised, Anne Lazurko has a political science degree from the University of Saskatchewan, and is an award-winning freelance writer and a farmer. She lives with her family near Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

Read more about Anne on her website

Photo credit: Kari Fortune Photography

Dollybird book cover