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With month-long challenge, writers compose in community

A group of Sunshine Coast writers is turning the page on the antique view that successful authors practice their craft in reclusive solitude.
Sunshine Coast writers Stephen Smith, Mike Starr, Cathalynn (Cindy) Labonte-Smith, Rosa Reid, Jennie Tschoban and Elizabeth Rains.

A group of Sunshine Coast writers is turning the page on the antique view that successful authors practice their craft in reclusive solitude.  

In conjunction with an international literary challenge known as National Novel Writing Month, the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society last week launched a series of “write-ins.” Through November, local wordsmiths will gather each Friday afternoon at Wheatberries Bakery in Gibsons to discuss current projects, share progress on manuscripts, and offer good-natured critiques. 

“All feedback is good,” said Mike Starr, who is a book reviewer for The British Columbia Review (formerly The Ormsby Review) and a contributor to Not An Island, the literary journal published by the Writers and Editors Society. “Whether or not I apply it? That’s something that I have to think about.” 

National Novel Writing Month is promoted by a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that last year drew involvement from 427,653 writers on six continents. The tradition began as a grassroots project in 1999 with a simple challenge: to compose the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Registered participants in NaNoWriMo — as the literary tradition has become known — receive automated writing prompts and are encouraged to connect with local literary groups. 

“You might not get as much done writing in a group,” said Cathalynn (Cindy) Labonte-Smith, “but when you get stuck on something, you can ask another writer.” Labonte-Smith is an author and educator who founded the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society in 2021. Her latest book, Rescue Me: Behind the Scenes of Search and Rescue, was published by Caitlin Press this month. 

Attendees of the Sunshine Coast group are not solely focused on producing novels. For Ukraine-born Gibsons resident Jennie Tschoban, whose grandchildren inspired her latest book Tales and Lies My Baba Told Me, November is dedicated to producing a prequel titled My Father Hated Stalin. Tschoban’s 1995 book Kapusta or Cabbage: A Mother And Daughter Historical And Culinary Journey was part biography, part cookbook. 

Rosa Reid, an author, poet and editor from Langdale, is also drafting a memoir, tentatively titled Foxtail. Reid’s works have been featured in Vancouver’s Line literary journal and short-listed in the CBC Literary Competition. 

Being part of a collective carries motivational advantages, according to Stephen Smith, who has published two science fiction books and a series of nonfiction volumes on programming and artificial intelligence. “There is some accountability. People ask you, ‘What are are you working on?’ And you have to say something.” 

Journalist, author and educator Elizabeth Rains, a professor of editing at Simon Fraser University, experienced the benefits of close-knit collaboration during a career at the Vancouver Sun and other newspapers. 

“When [the Sun] was at its Granville Street building, a really crowded newsroom, you were right on top of everybody,” Rains recalled. “There was so much energy pouring out. And usually, with fiction writers especially, there’s no deadline. But with this [NaNoWriMo] project, there is a deadline.” 

Rains is editing the final draft of her science fiction novel, Strange Genes, during November. 

All writers are welcome at the informal NaNoWriMo gatherings at 1 p.m. on Fridays through November. “We’re very welcoming,” said Labonte-Smith, “no matter what level you’re at or what genre you’re writing in.”