Creative Mothers is back in action this week! I have a bunch of new mamas to share and can't wait for you to read all the awesome interviews. I have changed things up a bit. I wanted to focus less on the nitty gritty of parenting and focus more on what makes these mamas tick creatively. This week is writer Michelle Vandepol. Enjoy!
Where can we find your work and connect with you?
My novel (Mother Mexico) and short story collection (Stories Your Mother Never Told You) are available at online retailers.
I am currently at work on my second novel Honey Bee which is due to be released later this year. I blog sporadically at http://nothisplace.blogspot.ca/
I’ve been co-hosting a wonderful all-inclusive writer’s weekend through our local university every year for the last three years in the beautiful mountain setting of Hope, British Columbia http://hopebc.ca/ at a lakeside camp. This year’s is Oct 21-23, 2016. It draws a diverse crowd – in the last couple of years we’ve had pretty much every genre represented you can imagine. Everyone from horror, romance, dystopian fiction writers to novelists, textbook authors, memoir writers, farm nostalgia writers, and technical manual writers. It is accessible to a wide crowd in that it includes everything -- workshops, meals, accommodations, writing contests, and manuscript feedback for a few hundred dollars Canadian, which is pretty unusual in terms of events of its kind. Contact for the writer’s weekend is firstname.lastname@example.org
I write a free newsletter for writers called Everyday Writing Coach. Back issues can be found here at:
I am also the editor of the Adult Basic Education Association of British Columbia’s trade publication, Groundwork.
Describe your art and your creative process.
I write both short stories and novels. Short stories are usually generated by a character. Novels are usually the product of a larger concept. An idea will often come to me out of the blue and if it is a particularly compelling one to me; I will start discussing it with a few friends (writers and not) and will start outlining by whatever process seems to fit the story. (time of year, character development, plot line) I have more ideas than time to write so they fight each other to the top and the most interesting to me wins. My creative process has been honed by years of business writing so I typically don’t angst over releasing my work to others to look at even early on in the writing process like I used to when I first started out. I started business writing to pay for the “luxury” of fiction writing, but it landed up being more than a financial support in terms of process and creative confidence.
What's a positive way that your art has changed since becoming a parent?
It has more depth & I am a more focused producer. I used to be able to just take advantage of inspiration striking and write late into the night. I worried that if I didn’t write right then, it would be lost. Now I know to write down my inspiration and that it will stay just as hot if I return to it at a different time.
If it hadn’t been for the pressures of being a parent, hustling to contribute to covering some of our bills, (my husband and I were high school sweethearts who got married and both pursued the bulk of our post secondary education after starting a family) and not give up on my craft, I would not have stumbled upon the production secret I learned while freelance writing for magazines and newspapers. Freelance writing in prescribed time blocks means I did not have the luxury of staring at the blinking cursor on a blank page until inspiration struck, which was my previous go to strategy.
I discovered that if I had a word count & a concept, I could rattle that off by typing whatever came to mind & research I had, even though I worried that it was all dry material and filler. Once it was at word count, I went back and polished it like I was doing a favor for a friend. Getting over myself to get that first draft out, time and again, made me confident in the process and that knowledge that no matter how tired, or drained of creative juice I thought I was; I could still produce, and the results would surprise me.
In terms of prose, mothering sharpened my gaze on the world. I noticed things I did not previously when I saw my children marvelling at them (eggs our chickens had laid, the perfect tree limb to climb on, the thrill of going down a small hill in our yard with a sled for the first time) and was constantly blown away at what was going through their minds. (I still remember a map my son made – I blogged about it at the time – you can find the picture of it here. I think he was in grade one and his teacher told his class to think of any kind of map for homework. He thought up this “Map of My Hart” which featured God, icecream, and his family among other loves. Then he realized the other kids were doing geographical places and did a map of the backyard instead. At times like this, when blown away by something parenting shows me, it impacts my writing and I think, as well, my writing helps me reflect and savor the parenting. I often am writing the scene in my head as I think on each amazing experience, eager to share this part of parenting with others and connect in the way I do when I read a book that resonates with me and find myself nodding along. Because I spent a lot of time with a bunch of little ones in those years home daycare was part of our life, I wrote stories in my head and got into the habit of jotting ideas on an envelope, grocery list, or whatever was lying around.
When are you most productive and what helps keep you going?
I am most productive in the early morning. I sit down with my laptop and start to work where I left off the day before. In this season, I am writing next to my middle teenager who works next to me on his laptop, getting the homework done that he is loath to do while his friends are awake and available for socializing. To keep me going I drink tea, make plans with other writers, and book author events I need to have material for. I set up deadlines for myself. My theory is, if we can reach them for work or school, we can reach them for artistic pursuits as well. It’s never wasted time sitting down to write even if it’s for a few minutes at the kitchen counter. I know now to just get to paper or keyboard whatever I have time for and collect my ideas. It’s like a savings account I can draw on later.
Where do you get the most inspiration for your work?
Daily life. My dad told me once that often when people have schedules full of only their craft, they lose inspiration so I have embraced the nooks and crannies in my schedule in which I can write, never fearing I will run out of inspiration.
I commute to my day job an hour a day. I often mentally work on stories during this time. It’s a great way to start and end the day and the next morning the story is still fresh in my mind. The characters become more familiar to me and are easier to describe, give movement and dialogue to, and it becomes easier to spot when I assign them something that doesn’t fit. I can’t imagine just writing. Inspiration is drawn from every aspect of my day, from my commute to my family and my volunteering and my work. I also recharge creatively during the writer’s weekend I mentioned above as well as weekly meetings at a coffee shop with my co-facilitator Allison where we are often exchanging manuscripts for feedback and bonding over the shared experience of parenting teenage boys, working at the same university, and fitting our writing projects into the mix as well.
She is a wonderful reader and manuscript marker. Sometimes when I am producing scenes, I am already anticipating her feedback. It is not uncommon for her to make notations with exclamation marks. She can give me a hard time and I love it.
Parenting does have its challenges and other schedules to think about. How do you give yourself and your art the space it needs?
I make the space in my calendar. It is not the same pressure as I used to have when my children were small. In that season, I worked out of my home, piecing together freelance work -- I did daycare and the kids started arriving at 6am, which meant I had to fit my gig writing for the local newspaper between 5-6am, and would need to get up even earlier to write on my fiction projects. The bulk of my novel Mother Mexico was written between 3-5am. Thankfully, my husband supported me in working on my craft even in the schedule tight years and agreed to be responsible for waking me at those crazy dawn hours when I could easily talk myself into going back to sleep. So he’d set his alarm, wake me, and then go back to sleep. Writing around the rest of life is a decidedly unglamorous thing. I did a lot of going to bed at 8 or 9pm mid-week so I could get in seven hours of sleep to fit writing before the rest of my workday and getting everyone out the door to work and school.
Now, my boys are 11, 15, and 18. They have things they need me for, but they are also now part of what makes my writing happen. My youngest likes to help me put together the Writer’s Weekend folders and the whole family values my writing time as they do their interests and work. While I am thankful they do, I think it is also in part because I’ve never apologized for it or felt it was indulgent to put writing ahead of household chores or other activities. Therefore it is valued just as much as my workdays or dinners I make or fun I dream up. And everyone else contributes to make the pieces of our household puzzle happen as well. Now that they are teenagers, everyone pitches in with laundry, housework, and dinner. My husband is great at modeling this for them as well. If I could have envisioned that when they were younger, I would have been so excited!
Name a creative parent who inspires you and why.
Shelley Penner of WoodlandPurl inspires me. She makes the most beautiful custom nursery mobiles and wooden buttons from natural supplies sourced in Canada. She is raising three small boys and combines an active outdoor lifestyle with her art, going out and handpicking each branch used on her hikes. I met her while volunteering for the same organization. She is a wonderful example of fitting all the things important to you into a life that includes art and is well lived.
I'm no longer doing Creative Mothers interview, but this will remain as an archive. Thank you for all of the love!
About the Series
Let's face it, being a mother can be the most challenging, and the most rewarding thing. Being a mother who needs to be creative can be even more challenging, it can even feel lonely at times.
So let's dig deeper into the lives of creative mothers, share their amazing work, and get some insight into creating while parenting. Hopefully, inspiring other artistic, creative mothers, and women who may one day be mothers themselves, along the way.
Explore Past Interviews
Suzi Banks Baum
Shelli Bond Pabis
Elizabeth B. Borowsky
Kellee Wynne Conrad
Kisco Print Shop
Art by Megan