Tor Forsberg writes from Watson Lake. Her publishing credits include “Me Yukon”, which won the 2009 LUSH short story competition sponsored by subTerrain magazine, a story anthologized in Polar Express and numerous profiles and features for the Yukon News.
In March 2010 her first book, North of Iskut, was published by Caitlin Press. Below is her tongue-in-cheek look at writing from the Yukon’s gateway community.
Jessica Simon (JS): What are some of the advantages of writing in a small community?
Tor Forsberg (TF): Being a writer in Watson Lake is like being involved with something shameful and a bit embarrassing, like fortune telling or communism. I find this atmosphere works for me as a writer.
Living in a place with no arts community has its advantages, the biggest one being lots of time to wrestle with one’s muse. I have no fears of being hounded by an adoring public and I am grateful for this peculiar reticence on the part of my fellow residents.
JS: How did you get started?
TF: About four years ago, I decided to enter “Me Yukon” in a writing contest advertised in the Yukon News. I didn’t get my story published, though I was told some of the judges thought it worthy.
On the strength of that professed liking, I entered the story in subTerrain‘s annual writers’ competition.
Damned if I didn’t win, and got a cheque to prove it. It really was lucky because “Me Yukon” was the only thing I had written.
There is something so sweet about getting paid for spending time in a state of total and happy engagement, for getting paid without having to clean up and get dressed and be somewhere at a specified time.
JS: Describe for us how you developed your craft and where the ideas come from.
TF: After “Me Yukon” I spent nearly a hundred bucks buying books; the Writer’s Market and Writing the Natural Way. I read just enough to learn that few of the many manuscripts submitted to publishers actually make it into a book.
The thing I read and remembered was that one ought to write what one knows. This is where my journaling habit came into its own.
I had scads of journals, kept since I was 12, to consult as I tried to reconstruct the five years I spent living in the bush of northern B.C. Considering this time was over 30 years ago, these records were invaluable. What made me believe this might make a good book was that many of [those] experiences, with those people, cannot now be duplicated.
The idea of self-publishing had occurred to me until I read up about it and found there are 16,000 self-published books every year and maybe a few of them break even. I really didn’t like those odds.
It’s said that getting a manuscript read was almost impossible without first finding an agent. One Canadian agency looked as though it might suit my purposes and I emailed them.
I got a very prompt and helpful reply [with] a list of three publishers. I chose Caitlin Press, and got a quick reply; they were interested.
From there things seemed to happen fast. I now had an editor, Meg Taylor, and copy editor, Ruth Gaskill. My book was available everywhere, it seemed, and it was a pleasant surprise to have it for sale in Watson Lake, as tourists stop by in the summer and they like to buy books about the North.
Northern Lights College arranged the first public reading in Dease Lake and Iskut. It was a marvellous experience to take my book to the place where it was born and read it to people who were in the stories. It was my first encounter with my readers and I found it very moving and hugely encouraging.
Before the book came out, I did an April Fool’s Day story for the News that was not only great fun to write, but the response was hilarious.
Many people thought it was a real story. It was in doing that story that I discovered I most enjoy writing humour, the more ridiculous the better.
JS: What’s next?
TF: Currently, I have two manuscripts on the go. One is about another five-year time in my life, on Vancouver Island, and the other is a compilation of four years of a column I have been writing.
It’s up to the publisher [to decide] which will be the next to appear, but the date is spring 2012.