Thursday, 22 December 2011 11:54

Prairie Post columnist named one of the best young writers in Canada

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By Ryan Dahlman — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Darcie Friesen-Hossack has had quite a year.

Friesen-Hossack’s first book of short fiction stories, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was published by Thistledown Press in September 2010. The book was critically acclaimed and earlier nominated for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize in the First Books Category/Canada and Caribbean.

A few weeks ago, The Globe and Mail’s book critic Jim Bartley named Mennonites Don’t Dance one of the five Best First Fiction for Canadian writers in 2011, effectively naming her one of Canada’s best new authors. ( books/the-best-first-fiction-2011/article2265724/)

Friesen-Hossack was thrilled although she’s slightly embarrassed on how she found out.

“It was a phone call from my husband. The link to the online story had popped into his inbox via Google Search at the same moment I was busy cleaning exploded instant oatmeal out of the microwave. A terrible confession for a food writer,” explained Friesen-Hossack tongue-in-cheek. She added just being reviewed in February was a thrill in itself.

“Jim Bartley is the Globe’s First Fiction reviewer and responsible for the list. He reviewed Mennonites Don’t Dance back in February and I don’t know that anything will ever reach that moment. There’ve been award shortlists since then, and invitations to speak on the other side of the continent, but that review was the first time, after 10 years of writing and rewriting, that I knew I wasn’t kidding myself.”

Friesen-Hossack is excited about the recognition. It’s been a long road for her writing career. Now she’s achieved the milestone, she’s enjoying it, but fears it’s some sort of fairytale dream and she will be wake up.

“I keep trying it on, like a coat that feels so good, but is too fine to wear any of the places I go. I put it on and look in the mirror. Then take it off and hang it up. Knowing that such a garment fits, though, and is upstairs in the closet, has glass slipper overtones.”

Friesen has been a food columnist since 2003 and this year her column has graced the Prairie Post Opinion page (A10) twice a month. Having grown up on a farm near Swift Current and having spent a lot of time with her Mennonite grandparents, Friesen-Hossack based her book of short stories on some of her experiences.

Nice Fat Gurdie, the name for her column, comes from her Grandpa Friesen, who used to call her his “nice fat gurdie”, disturbed as he was by the sight of skinny children and women, who clearly didn’t have what it would take to make it through a tough winter.

It’s from there she drew a lot of ideas for not only the book, but for her columns.

“My Grandma and Grandpa Friesen (my mother’s parents), both gone now, lived in Schoenfeld, south of Swift Current. I visited them nearly every weekend when I was growing up. My deepest roots are in those memories of family and farm and food, so when I write stories and recipes that tap those roots, there’s a mixed feeling of connection and distance. I left a long time ago, and it’s true, you can never go home again.”

The young writer is trying hard to not have thoughts of trying to top the success Mennonites Don’t Dance has enjoyed. She said her book is available as an e-book, also one of her publisher’s first e-books as well.

“When I’m working on what will be my next book, I try to not let anything speak over my shoulder,” explained Friesen-Hossack, a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. “Before and after, though, my head can fill up with voices, including one that a long time ago suggested I’d be better off as a dry cleaner. Mostly, though, I’m hopeful my next book will be as well received and live up to expectations. I began writing it when Mennonites Don’t Dance was still on its rejection circuit (a rite of passage), which means this amazing year hasn’t left me wondering, ‘Now what?’”

She is busy — not only writing her column for Prairie Post and newspapers in Kelowna and Kamloops — she is currently working on the sophomore effort.

“(It’s) a story for the 12th International Conference on the Short Story in English. And, more consumingly, a novel that draws on the other side of my heritage, bringing together Mennonites and Seventh Day Adventists,” she explained of the ambitious effort.

“My agent is expecting the first 150 pages on February 1st. After that, I hope another year or so will find me circling the last chapters. Publishing can be as glacial a process as writing, however, so it’s likely to take a few years before the book is on shelves.”

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