Profile by Dave Jenkinson.
A question for a future version of the "Book Lover's Edition" of Trivial Pursuit might be: "Which Canadian author for children stole a book from the official residence of Governor General Adrienne Clarkson?"
The answer: Glen Huser, but, as Glen quickly points out, he didn't really "steal" the book.
"As part of the Governor General's Literary Awards procedures, they had us doing workshops, and I was working with a great class of grade nines. In my presentation, I had all my books laid out on this little coffee table in one of the lovely sitting rooms at Rideau Hall. After the workshop was over, I repacked everything, but a couple of days later after I got home I realized I had also picked up a slender volume of French poetry that had been under my books. I did return the ‘pilfered' book with a Christmas card to Adrienne Clarkson."
Although biographical sources may claim that Glen Huser was born in Ashmont, AB, on February 1, 1943, he was, in fact, born in Elk Point, AB, as Ashmont did not have a hospital. Says Glen, "To start with, we lived on my dad's farm, and then we moved to Ashmont when I was about two or three years old. My mom taught at a little country school, and so sometimes we would be living out of Ashmont. If you counted the dogs, Ashmont had about 78 people and critters, but it had a fairly large consolidated school, and so the school population was about 300. In 1959,
the family moved to Edmonton, and I did my grade 12 there."
Reflecting on growing up in Ashmont, Glen comments, "I always wanted to be in a place where I could have books. It was very hit and miss in Ashmont. We had classroom libraries, and there would be an old storeroom in the school that had been turned into a ‘library.' Remember, we're
looking at the early 1950's. There had been a public library in Ashmont that had been a community endeavor, but it was in mothballs. To be more accurate, the books were in boxes in the municipal building. When I was about 15, I talked some of my friends into going to our local councillor and asking, ‘Can we have these books? We'll set the library up again and run it by ourselves?' We talked the local general store into giving us some paint, and we painted these old shelves in this room that had been the library. The books were mainly donated ‘Book of the Month Club' types of things. We were so anxious to get the books on the shelves that we didn't wait until the paint dried properly. If you're ever having book retrieval problems in your library, I suggest sticky paint because then you'll always have an identifying mark - a little crust of green paint on the book."
"That experience with the local library is, I think, what started my library career. When we moved to the city, just having access to the Edmonton libraries, was incredible. As well, we never had television in Ashmont, and I lived in the ‘Dark Ages' as far as media was concerned. The movies would come to the Legion Hall on Saturday night, and we went to whatever was showing. The year before we moved to Edmonton, the local pool hall in Ashmont was converted into a little movie theater, and again I would rush off to the movies because they changed every three days."
"For as long as I can remember, even from when I was fairly young, I wanted to get away from the little town and to get into the city because the city seemed like an exotic and wonderful world. That desire is kind of ironic because so much of my writing has been about the little town experience." According to Glen, his family's motivation for moving to Edmonton was his parents' recognition that "I was ready to go university in a year's time, and it looked like my sisters, both younger, would probably go for post secondary training too. However, I think my mom and
dad really loved the little town, and they missed it. We spent a lot of time driving back there on weekends. Mom did get a teaching job in Edmonton, and Dad worked as a carpenter."
After grade 12, Glen took teacher training, and he candidly acknowledges that his motivation at the time was "just mainly because I knew I could get a job. I wanted to make some money so that I could go to the theater, movies, concerts, and maybe have my own place. My first take-home check was about $250 clear. I realized, ‘Oh, I can't move out for a little while.' I think I spent all of my salary on movies and theater and so on but lived at home."
Glen's teacher education program, which was of the two-year, post-grade 12 variety, allowed him to teach at the secondary level. He recalls that "I taught for a couple of years before I was even allowed to go into the beer parlor. That was when the legal drinking age was 21. Periodically, I used to try to sneak in with the staff, but I was 19-20, and I looked like I was 14, and so I used to get turfed out of the bars."
"Actually, teaching junior high was a tough road for me. After sticking with it for about four years, I decided that I might look at high school or elementary. The school board was very accommodating, and they let me go and sit in on an elementary class for a couple of weeks with a very good teacher. After that, I worked pretty well in elementary schools although my last eight years with the Edmonton Public School Board were as a library consultant and also doing some language arts with the little Magpie magazine, a divisional in-house publication I'd initiated in
1978. It's still being published, but I'm not involved any longer. In 1996, I took a buy-out from teaching but still worked as a volunteer on Magpie for a couple a years before thinking, ‘No, I need to sever some ties here and really focus on the writing.'"
"I think I always wrote. I wrote stories when I was in elementary school and through my secondary schooling. Any chance that I had to do creative writing as an assignment was something I certainly took advantage of, and then I just wrote on my own too. I would often be inspired by something like a Frank Yerby book and think, ‘Oh, I'm going to write a story of the Old South,' or some other totally silly idea. I still have scraps of this writing, and sometimes I find bits and pieces of it when I'm cleaning house. It wasn't until I had taught for a few years that I
really thought about trying to steer my career a little bit more towards the writing end of things."
Even in childhood, Glen displayed a strong interest in art. "I've always had this kind of dichotomy between pursuing art and pursuing writing. I saved a few bucks and went off to the Vancouver School of Art around 1964. I was incredibly homesick and came back the following year and continued teaching. I finished my B.A. and B.Ed. on a part-time basis via going to summer school and night school for years. In1969-70, I went back to the University of Alberta and got my Education degree, and I believe it was at this point that I changed my major to English. As I was taking more English courses, I was starting to think more about developing
my own writing. That year I was able to take creative writing seminars - a half year of poetry with Margaret Atwood and a half a year of fiction with Rudy Wiebe."
"Those two seminars got things started, but I think the one thing that really moved my writing career forward occurred two or three years later when I was able to take a course from W.O. Mitchell. He was the writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and he had a method that
really worked for me - the famous W.O. Mitchell free fall approach. It was good for me because I think in my writing I had tried to ‘tighten up' too soon and I was trying to write fully fleshed, sort of O. Henry type stories. Mitchell really encouraged us to explore our own feelings, memories and sensory perceptions of things. And that's why I ended up going ‘back' to that little town that I had been so anxious to get away from."
All the time Glen was teaching, he was also writing. "I was writing for competitions, and anything that would spur me. Of course, when you're teaching full-time, you don't have a whole lot of time, and so often it would be a competition that would light the fire in the burner. I can remember staying up all night once or twice typing. At this point, the world didn't have computers, and so I was typing everything up and using my correcting ribbon a lot in trying to meet a deadline."
"Some of the first stories I had published were in little literary magazines, but they were that small town experience. Whatever W.O. Mitchell did, it worked for me, and I really saw things happening after that. The Edmonton Journal had an annual literary competition, and over a period of years, I actually won first prize in three of the categories, short drama, poetry and short story. That kind of feedback was very encouraging, and it really got me started."
"After I got my Education degree in 1970, that was when I went into school librarianship. I was never a full-time teacher-librarian unless I went between two schools, which I did periodically. Consequently, I was often teaching language arts or art or teaching in programs for gifted
students. I loved school librarianship and eventually ended up opening a couple of new school libraries. I think that it was opening these libraries and working on so many start-up collections that eventually got me the job as a library consultant. As well, I was reviewing books for the
Edmonton Journal, something I did for about 20 years."
"Around 1986, I was awarded a sabbatical and did my Master's degree in English. My thesis was a creative thesis, the novella that eventually became Grace Lake, but it was called Flowers of Alberta at that point. I drew on experiences of going to summer church camp, again an experience out of my small town background. An Edmonton publisher, NeWest, was interested in publishing my thesis, but they said they didn't like the name because it sounded too much like a botany book. I said, ‘But Mary McCarthy wrote Birds of America,' and they kindly responded, ‘You're not Mary McCarthy. Change the name.' Actually, I've grown to prefer the name Grace Lake. I think it's more resonant."
Asked if it was always his long term goal to write for juveniles, Glen replies, "I'm often so influenced by books I read, books that are powerful and moving, that I find moving I find myself thinking, ‘Oh, wouldn't it be great to write something like that.' Because I was so immersed in
children's and young adult literature, I had always played with the idea, and then, when I took a buyout from Edmonton Public Schools in 1996, I actually had some time. I wanted to work on something that I thought I could accomplish relatively quickly, and so I wrote Touch of the Clown which required very little research. It was drawn from personal experience, people I knew, and what I knew about kids in general. It seemed like a very manageable project to start. I have a whole file drawer of bits and pieces of things, stories, novels that I've started, and so it's always a matter of choosing what I want to work on. Because Touch of the Clown was so well received and was nominated for things like the Mr. Christie Award, that then encouraged me to work on Stitches."
"I've always known people who had weird names for kids, but the names for the children in Touch of the Clown, the two sisters, Barbara Stanwyck Kobleimer and Olivia de Havilland, evolved from the dad character's being an old movie buff. I had all of that information about the old movie buff because that's me. There are banks of videos of old movies in my basement.
Because the book deals with some pretty serious themes, I looked for ways to try to lighten it in places. In addition to the oddball names, there's Barbara's voice and the way she looks at the world. And, of course, Olivia aka Livvy is a little bit of a scatterbrained character."
"Cosmo Farber, the book's clown figure, is based a little on my friend Ian Wallace, not the children's writer/illustrator, but Ian Wallace, a clown actor whose clown professional name is Nion. I had known him from years ago when he'd taught for a while in Edmonton, and then he'd gone into acting and had done clown training in Toronto. He came back to Edmonton in 1991 and worked at the Citadel Theater for a season and chose to live a little bit north of the city core in a kind of rough section of town. The whole scenario in Touch of the Clown of the actor riding his bike back and forth to work is pretty well based on Ian, and then I just did the ‘what if?' thing. What if someone like him encountered a couple of neglected kids? Heaven knows we've got enough of those around, and so I kind of assembled it from there. As I said, I didn't have to do much research on the dad with the old movie mania. As to the dad's love of sherry, well, you wouldn't have to look too hard to find a bottle of sherry in my house too."
In looking for a publisher for Touch of Clown, Glen admits, "I didn't do it according to Hoyle. When I finished the manuscript and got feedback from my writing group and my family and when I felt I had done as much with it as I could, I ran off seven manuscripts and got a Canadian
marketing guide to see, number one, who would look at a manuscript, and number two, which ones would look at any that were multiple submissions. I fired it out and didn't hear anything for months and thought, ‘OK.' Then Stoddart actually sent a reply saying that they liked a lot of things about the book, but they thought it needed work and wanted some substantive revisions, including deleting the native character, Nathan. I was pleased that they were that interested. Essentially they were saying, ‘OK, you can work with our editor, and if you make these changes, there's a good chance that we'll be giving you a contract for this.'"
"I then did what I usually do in situations like that. I procrastinated and went on a holiday. I think in my heart I felt that that, in the character of the native boy, there were parallel situations in his life to those of Barbara, and I couldn't see just scrapping them. I suppose I could have made him a Caucasian boy or whatever, but somehow the fact that Nathan was Métis seemed right at the time that I was writing it and I wasn't convinced otherwise. Anyway, when I got back from my holidays, there was a message from Patsy Aldana at Groundwood saying that they would definitely give me a contract. They, too, felt that the novel needed some work, but they weren't saying, ‘Take this or take that out.' Groundwood writer Shelley Tanaka was assigned as my editor."
"I work well with editors. I had Aretha Van Herk as my editor on Grace Lake. She would say things like, ‘I think we need to explore the relationship between the central character and his friend Malcolm more.' I like that kind of challenge, and I would go and write. Some of it would
end up in the book, and some of it maybe doesn't. I know some writers find that difficult because their work's very solidified at the point where they are submitting it. I don't see that. For instance, in Touch of the Clown the whole chapter about the trip to the park was written after the
manuscript had been accepted. Again, it was Shelley saying, ‘I think you could explore the relationship between the dad and Barbara a little bit more.' I had to think, ‘Well, what could be they be doing.'Actually I think it's one of the book's funny scenes, and I've had people say that
they felt an incredible pathos with that scene when they are in the park and the other people there are watching them."
"I was really pleased when Shelley was attached to Stitches because again we did a lot of work on it. In my original manuscript, it was set up as an older voice, someone probably in grade 12 or an early university youth who was writing for a creative writing class. Consequently, there was a creative writing prompt at the beginning of each chapter. I think Groundwood actually has a few readers who read the manuscript with a marketer's eye, and they said, ‘We see it appealing more to the younger level of young adult reader. These writing prompts distance the text from them. Would you consider taking those out?' I said, ‘Sure, I'll try it and see what it sounds like.' In doing that, I essentially had rewrite the entry points to all of the chapter beginnings, but that worked pretty well."
"I then sent a draft back to Shelley who said, ‘It's a little light as far as length, and so, if you want to explore more....' She went on to say that in her view the most interesting parts of the book were the biker boys and the trailer court stuff. ‘You've got the other stuff, like the plays and so on, kind of nailed down, but you could play around with those other things a bit more.' As a result, I actually wrote 25 more pages. The new manuscript document came back with a fine edit, and, by the time I responded to the edit, I had dropped 25 pages -- a line here, a paragraph
there, the occasional half-page. No increase in length, I realized, but I was pleased with how honed and polished the text was."
"Shelley's a very good editor and will go through the manuscript and say things like, ‘This sentence sounds like an older boy speaking,' or ‘We've already covered this territory. You're just doing it again here, and so maybe take this half of the page out.' Probably 90% of the time I do what she says, but I'll argue the odd point. She's very willing to acknowledge that they are just suggestions. Scenes like the birthday party scene in Stitches, for example, weren't in the original manuscript. I never did see a house trailer stacked on another house trailer, but I do have a warped mind. When I shared that section with my sister, who has taught in communities where there are lots of trailer courts, she said, ‘You can't put a trailer on top of a trailer. The bottom one wouldn't support it.' Then she came back and said, ‘But they could be on a kind of platform.'"
"With Stitches, I'm often asked, ‘Is this based on your experiences?' and, to an extent, it is. My older brother, by three years, was a hockey player and loved sports. I think I was born with a paint brush in my hands, and I would be drawing pictures and coloring and painting while he was off playing sports. I had an aunt, Aunt Orene, who was about five or years older than me, and she was more like an older sister. Because she loved doing artwork, we always had paint, pencils and paper spread out. She loved to do cutout dolls, and very early on I was doing fashions for the cutouts. This was not the typical sort of thing that you would expect a boy to be doing in a small community, but I liked doing it, and so I did what I wanted to do. I've always had a streak of Norwegian stubbornness in me, and I didn't hide these talents the way I think some kids do when
they're not part of the mainstream. That part of Stitches is kind of written from life. I was fortunate in that I wasn't bullied that I remember particularly. Kids called me ‘sissy' or something like that once in a while, but I was pretty good at dishing it back too, at least verbally. And I could run pretty fast to get away from them."
"I am bringing other things from own experience to Stitches. Kitaleen and her husband are based fairly closely on my actual aunt, Aunt Orene, the one that Stitches is dedicated to, and her husband. Orene would literally be like Kitaleen making doll dresses, and her husband would be coming in and there would be these great fights. I've talked to people who have said, ‘These characters seem over-the-top,' and yet those were actually drawn from my experience. The biker family was just assembled from bits and pieces here and there. There was an old dormitory in Ashmont when we were growing up, and it was a kind of an interesting old building. My grandmother had worked there as a cook. I certainly knew characters like Chantelle's mother. I didn't know them well, but I was aware of them in the community, people who didn't spend a lot of time parenting but liked to party."
The character of Chantelle, Glen explains, "comes a little from when I was going to school. There was a girl who had polio, and she walked with a very odd gait. She was small and had a misshaped face, and so I was kind of thinking of that type of character. Obviously, with Chantelle and Travis, I'm taking two misfits and the fact that sometimes misfits will find one another and bond. I knew that we don't see victims of polio these days, and so I actually went to my family doctor and said, ‘I have seen kids that are like Chantelle on the bus or on the street.' He did some
research and told me, ‘I think what you're talking about is a disease called osteogenesis imperfecta or OI.' I checked it out on the web, and it's one of those diseases where there aren't totally typical symptoms. It varies from case to case, and so the fragile bones can get stronger, for
instance. I don't actually name the disease in the book."
"The other thing that was at the basis of the friendship between Travis and Chantelle was the fact that, when I was going to school in upper elementary and junior high, my best friend was a girl, Marilyn. She was my best buddy. Looking back, I realize I was more effeminate than most people. But remember that streak of stubbornness -- I chose to have a girl as a best friend and just went my way with it. So, when I was writing the book, I thought, ‘Why not have these two be best friends?' Again, I was blending things. Actually Chantelle is a character that grew as I did revisions. One of the first feedbacks that I got when I presented the book to my writing workshop was that they wanted to see more of her. Then, when Shelley invited me to expand pieces, it seemed to be the parts with Chantelle in them that I was expanding."
In reading Touch of the Clown or Stitches, readers will encounter references to other books such as Kit Pearson's Looking at the Moon, A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre "That's actually one of the things I talk about when I go out to schools.
Literature is life's blood to me, and I'd be hard pressed to write a book without putting some of it in there. So, when Cosmo gives that box of books to Barbara and Livvy and there's the letter, it's talking about some of my favorite books. Peter Pan and Midsummer Night's Dream, which
have been favorites of mine, have obviously been deliberately chosen to be included in Stitches because of the fairies in them, but somehow the literature mix, I think, works really well."
Although both Touch of the Clown and Stitches involve characters who are gay, a potentially controversial topic, Glen states, "I haven't had much feedback, but that's not to say that it's not being discussed. It's just that people haven't talked to me about it much in a negative way. With Stitches, I've certainly had gay friends talk about how the book spoke to them and how moving it was to them, and so I have been getting positive feedback. I suspect that there are people who, for their own personal reasons, choose not to use it with children. That's just fine. We all do that. I went into one of the secondary education language arts classes for junior high where one of the teachers is using Stitches as the prototype novel study and I think maybe deliberately chose it because of the content. It brought up some very good questions, like ‘How would you use a book like this? Would you use it in a class where there might be a boy who's very effeminate?'"
To that hypothetical question, Glen responds, "Maybe not. Maybe this would be putting him on the spot, with everybody saying, ‘Joe is just like Travis.' Maybe you use it in a class that doesn't have kids like that. If there is a message in Stitches ( I hate saying ‘message'), it's really to the mass of people, and it's not really to the boys. It's to the mass of people who are standing by and watching because I don't think the book's going to change kids who are bullies except in an oblique way by others putting pressures on them and not accepting what they are doing. You still see kids being called faggot on the playground a lot, and nobody steps in or says anything. Oftentimes, it's not the kid who really could be called faggot that's being called faggot; it's just that pejorative term being used."
"I know it's a complex issue because, as a library consultant, I would have to sit in on reviews of challenged materials, and so I know what's involved. So far, I haven't had feedback on the ‘silent censorship' of those people who choose not to purchase the books, but then again I think it's because people wouldn't come and talk to me about it. I know that Touch of the Clown has been taught in several classes, and I've gone into a few and donated an hour and a half of my time just to answer questions. The questions have always been interesting at the grade 5/6 level. They don't really bring up the topic of the likelihood of the clown figure being gay. They seem to be more concerned that I killed him off. This is what they're upset about."
"With Stitches, I have read some of the negative reviews, including those in Quill & Quire and the Edmonton Journal. Each talked about how the book was a gay novel where it didn't really address gay issues to a particular audience level. For example, they thought it was too young for the older level reader. It was like they were looking at it in marketing terms and were saying that I hadn't figured out my marketing as I was writing this book."
"I thought it was kind of a strange take on the book because it's not really a gay novel in that sense. It's a novel about bullies, and the central character is probably gay. I didn't see that his possibly being gay was what this book was about, and so it interesting to see the different takes on it. As well, the Q&Q reviewer was upset about the ending and thought the bullies should have been reformed or at least their lives should be explored in more depth. It's kind of an odd comment, particularly when I was writing from the first person. If I had been writing in third person, then I could have gotten into the lives of the bullies a little bit more. They seem stereotypic because readers were seeing them through Travis' eyes, and he's definitely seeing them as stereotypical bullies."
"However, most of the takes on Stitches have been pretty positive. After being a book reviewer and critic for as many years, it's funny how sensitive you are when somebody does ‘attack' your book. I looked at the review in Q&Q and thought, ‘Oh my god. Is Groundwood going to ask for their advance on royalties back? Have I really missed the boat on this one?' Fortunately, I got the news about being nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award shortly after that, but it kind of made me think, ‘Well, I'm not going to seek out reviews.' My publisher's very good at
sending me the positive ones. They don't send me the negative ones. I know I focus on negative things to the exclusion of positive ones. You can have 40 positive things and one negative, but that's the one that takes over your mind for a week."
"During the four year period between Touch of the Clown and Stitches, I did publish one little book called Jeremy's Christmas Wish. The book's really a kind of a Christmas Carol-Scrooge story, and the kids in the book are putting on a little play version of the Dickens story. Hodgepog, the publisher, was a small local company, and I actually worked for them as an editor for two or three years. When they moved to Vancouver, I said, ‘I have a manuscript which, as editor, I didn't want to bring forward, but since other people will be working on it, you can see
if you want it.' For a while, following the demise of General distributing, the book was unavailable but is now distributed by Fitzhenry & Whiteside."
"Jeremy's Christmas Wish was a Christmas story that I had written for a competition about 15 years ago, and it became kind of a tradition to read it in our family. I also used to read it in manuscript form to my kids at school, and they all seemed to enjoy it. It was great to get it out. Simon Rose, a designer at the Emily Carr Institute, did the illustrations for it. I had actually started doing some illustrations, but I knew I wouldn't have time to illustrate it in the time frame in which they were trying to get it out."
While Glen was working as a library consultant, he wrote a number of language arts curriculum materials for the school division. "After I retired, I was then hired back by the school board to do novel study packages. It was a pretty big project, and I did 27 novel studies for grades three through seven. They're still available for anyone to purchase from the Province of Alberta Learning Resources Distribution Center."
In addition to writing, Glen also does some sessional teaching for the University of Alberta. "I've taught two courses, Introductory Language Arts and the 400 level writing option course. I've done those two courses off and on when they need someone to fill in, but I find that I don't
write when I'm teaching. I get very focused on the course even though I've taught it before. I'm always trying to do things in a different way, developing new materials, marking essays, the whole bit. I've also done an on-line reference course for the Library School. I wrote it and taught it
one summer, and I spent my whole summer emailing. When it was over, I thought, ‘Maybe I need to think twice about doing this again.' Whenever it's possible to survive for a few months financially, I take a break from teaching and work on my writing. The financial rewards from your published work are always kind of ‘iffy.' You don't know how much money you're going to make from it, and you tend to make pay the mortgage and buy the dog food by doing residencies at schools, writing workshops, sessional work at universities -- that sort of thing."
Glen has also assisted aspiring writers by teaching creative writing classes to adults via the University of Alberta's Department of Extension. "The last one I taught was for seniors, a group called ELLA, Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association. They were interested in writing memoirs and family stories, and so I actually kind of used the W.O. Mitchell technique - using life's lumber. I do use it in my own writing, but I used it more right at the start of my career. I think when I've got an idea for a book, especially these young adult books, that I certainly use it to get that richness of detail and the sensory perception, but I'm not using it so much for the starting points of books as I did for Grace Lake and the short stories that grew out of the actual material that I wrote in those courses."
"However, I think Mitchell's approach is a good starting point if you're going to write your family stories: how do you recollect and achieve richness of language, figurative writing, sensory perception and so on? That was the focus of that course for the seniors. Typical activities would be: recall an object that was really, really important as you were growing up. Can you describe it? What did it feel like, etc? And then sometimes when you've the object, there's a whole set of memories that come with it. It worked very well. Most of the class ended up the course by saying, ‘I hope you're teaching this again next year because we're coming.' Their statement horrified me because I'd put a lot of work into developing handouts and other things for them. I thought, ‘Oh no. I'm not going be able to use any of this. The Extension Division did want me to teach a course again this year, but I talked them into attaching me to the program as a writer-in-residence. I've started these people to a certain point, and I'd be happy to look at what they're writing in their manuscripts."
In describing his approach to writing, Glen says, "Some people talk about writers-in-residence. I call myself a ‘writer-in-restaurants.' I'm not somebody who likes to go and sit in a little cabin in the forest and listen to the squirrels scampering about. I'm there for about an hour when I want to go down town and have a cup of coffee somewhere. Actually, there's something about being in a coffee shop or a restaurant. There's a kind of hum of life going on around you, but you don't really have to interact with people. It's just where I like to be when I'm writing. Part of the time I lie on the sofa and write too."
"I do write in longhand first on foolscap paper. My first draft is always done that way. I stop when I've got a chunk handwritten, maybe a chapter or two chapters, and I get it on the computer, but I'll continue on. I'll have chapters one and two on the computer, and I'll be writing
three and four on foolscap. If the revisions are substantive, I'll write them in longhand. It's just the way that seems to work best for me. I pack my writing around with me, and whenever I have a half an hour, if I feel like it, I'll get at it. When I'm working on a deadline, like when Shelley
says she'd like something within two weeks, then I'll make more ‘office hours' and kind of chain myself to a desk and do it, but I'm not very disciplined that way."
"Theme," explains Glen, ‘is the initial impetus for a book. With Touch of the Clown I thought, ‘I think I want to deal with neglected children, and I want to deal with someone who has AIDs and is a very caring person.' The character of Cosmo Farber was based a little bit too on my friend David Twigge who was a manager of children's libraries in Burnaby. He had been such a caring person, and he had died from AIDS just shortly before I wrote that book, and so that whole experience was still very vivid in my mind. You kind of think, ‘OK, I want to present a very positive picture of someone like David.' I also wanted to explore the plight of kids who are kind of left on their own. I had taught at schools where this had happened quite a bit, and so that was probably the impetus."
"Stitches also grew out of a couple of ideas, one being the idea of just being different but maybe trying to celebrate your difference rather than caving in and trying to hide it. Also, I'd been very disturbed by what I had been reading about bullying in the news. I don't know if bullying's gotten worse or we're just more aware of it, but there has been the actual murder of children, including one in Edmonton that was just horrific and involved a teen who was beaten by a gang behind a junior high school. One of the things with Stitches that Groundwood did ask me to do
was to tone down the beating scene in the gravel pit and to see if I could make it a little less violent because the intended audience was younger young adult. In the initial manuscript, I did have the bullies taking their boots to Travis. I tried toning it back, and I think it worked OK. There's still a sense of fear and danger in there, but the bullies aren't taking their boots to him but are having their own problems with being totally drunk and one thing and another."
Stitches was the recipient of the 2003 Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Literature. Glen says that, to this point, "I haven't felt that pressure of winning yet, and I guess that's maybe because I'm thinking of another project that I want to work on. Certainly winning and going down to Ottawa and meeting the Governor General was almost like a surreal experience. When I can think back to it, it was like somebody else was there and was doing all the things. It has already impacted my life in the sense that I'm getting many more requests to go out and do readings. The award, itself, is a fairly substantial monetary amount, and so I was actually able to pay off my VISA and still have some left over to pay the car payments and the mortgage and even buy me a bit of time for a few months to work on this next book."
While the increased invitations to visit schools do have their good side, they also have a down component. "Going to schools does interfere with writing time. I had actually made commitments to be involved in some residencies over the past few months, and I find I just don't write because I'm so busy getting things ready. If you're doing a writing residency from kindergarten through to grade six, you have to hone your storytelling skills for kindergarten and grade one. As well, I'm always modeling writing and designing projects to meet objectives that teachers have come up with. It all seems to tap my energy and I don't do much of my own writing."
As noted earlier, Glen has had a continuing interest in art, and "I actually think I started university as an art major and an English minor, but I switched that somewhere along the line. I haven't sold any art in years, but the kinds of things that I used to sell were small inkwashed landscapes. Figure drawing is also something that interests me a great deal. Whenever I have time, I try to keep my skills up just by going to a drawing studio and doing figure drawing. My artwork has kind of been on hold, but I do draw my own illustrations for teacher resource manuals, like the novel studies, as I'm assembling them."
To the question of whether he might some day illustrate his own picture books, Glen reponds, "It's something I would like to do, but I know how much time is involved in doing a picturebook. As long as I have writing projects that I'm interested in, they'll be at the top of the pile, and the picturebooks will be a little farther underneath there. As I mentioned earlier, with Jeremy's Christmas Wish, I had done some illustrations for it, but I just knew from having done two or three the amount of time that was involved. Consequently, I didn't even put those forward as a
possibility for illustrating that one. I've always been torn between the art work and the writing, but I think that, when you get an ultimate reward like the Governor General's Award, you're really steered in the direction of continuing to work in a particular medium."
"I have written another adult novel that's an historical novel, but I'm still playing around with revising it. I've been working on it for about eight years. I have fired it out a couple of times, but I'm just as glad that nothing happened with it because now I'm looking at it and seeing some of
the things that I want to work on. During this six months that's coming up, I think I'll be working on it as well. I meet with a couple of writing groups, and we give feedback on each other's manuscripts. I workshopped my young adult books with them as well."
Looking ahead, Glen says, "I have been working on pieces of writing, short stories and so on, and lots of these are just in manuscript form, and I haven't sent them out. I am going to work on another young adult novel, and I'm sort of playing around with the ideas for that at this point. I haven't really figured out the characters yet. I know in a general way that I want to deal with a teenage boy during the time of World War I in Alberta who is trying to find his brother who's been put in a concentration camp. I think that whole business of the incarceration of the Ukrainians is a story that's not that well known. I think the Japanese internments in World War II are better known than the fact that people were just arbitrarily taken and put into concentration camps because they came from a spot in Europe that somebody identified as being part of the
"I'm just at that rehearsal stage of writing where you're thinking, ‘Maybe I could do this. Maybe I could do that and maybe start here.' I don't know what age level it would hit. I see the character being about 12 or 13. If we think of kids reading, they generally don't want to read about younger kids, so it's probably more in the territory of Stitches and Touch of the Clown."
Books by Glen Huser.
This article is based on an interview conducted in Edmonton, AB, on February 14, 2004.
- Jeremy's Christmas Wish. Hodgepog, 2000. Illustrated by Martin Rose.
- Stitches. Groundwood, 2003. Grades 5-9.
- Touch of the Clown. Groundwood, 1999. Grades 6-9.
Photo credit: Ken Chow