Annette Althouse remembers the first piece of fiction she ever wrote. She was five.
Left with some crafts to occupy her as her parents mingled at a cocktail party, she instead passed the time by creating the story of Fon, a lonely telephone who phones another telephone. She recalls her mother being so impressed she interrupted conversations at the party to show the story off.
Today the president of Yellowknife-based Tundra Transfer, Althouse says even then, she knew she had an aptitude for writing.
Now the rest of the country knows, too. Althouse learned earlier this month that she took second place in the annual short fiction (10,000 words, maximum) contest staged by Winnipeg-based Prairie Fire Press, which publishes an award-winning quarterly journal focused on Canada’s “most celebrated writers and the hottest new voices of our emerging writers.”
Althouse took second place for Death of Boredom, inspired by the eight years she spent in Pelly Bay, Nunavut.
During her time there, Althouse worked as the hamlet clerk, a First Air agent and an adult educator. In Death of Boredom, she captures both the tragedy and the joy of “living in that environment and among people so resilient in such a hostile environment.
“The Inuit, they’re so gracious,” she said, “so loving.”
“You tell a joke and when they laugh – and they will laugh – you tell it again and they laugh just as hard.”
She tells too of the hardship she witnessed, such as suicide, violence and injustice.
“That piece could only come from a deep place in my heart,” she says.
Having initially moved to Yellowknife from Winnipeg to work for NNSL Media, writing has always been a passion for Althouse.
Though she kept mostly to non-fiction, when Althouse participated in a Northwords Festival workshop last May, she was inspired to push her boundaries.
The workshop’s instructor, Richard Van Camp, became Althouse’s mentor. Like many who know the Fort Smith author, she affectionately refers to him as RVC. She credits the accomplished novelist and screenwriter with much of her success.
She said during the workshop, RVC assigned a project where his instructions were left purposely vague, except for one thing – writers had to be very, very brave.
The Death of Boredom was born of that assignment.
With Van Camp’s guidance, Althouse edited and grew the piece, changing plot points to “build hope” for the characters, and subsequently for readers as well.
One of the most powerful tools Althouse has learned from Van Camp is to get to know her characters intimately before she writes their stories. That is one of the key strategies that she says has helped her continue writing when she gets stuck.
Looking forward, Althouse is working on a sister piece to ‘The Death of Boredom’ where the same story will be told through the lens of a different character. She is also working on a novel that she characterizes as having “joy and troubling psychotic episodes.”
The novel follows a love affair between a character and her therapist as the protagonist sees the unraveling of her once healthy marriage. A story based on Althouse’s own painful experience.
Althouse hopes to retire from Tundra Transfer in the next couple of years to focus on her writing full time.