“I believe God made me to write…” – An Interview with Elma Schemenauer
Most Recent Book: Consider the Sunflowers
BA in English & psychology from Universities of Saskatchewan & Toronto (Canada)
Teacher's certificate from University of Saskatchewan
Three-year diploma in Christian education from Briercrest Bible College
Current Employment: Self-employed as an author, writer, and editor.
Profile: I grew up in rural Saskatchewan (Canada), in a Dutch-German Mennonite family. We Mennonites followed the teachings of 16th century reformers who emphasized personal faith in Christ, knowledge of the Bible, peace-making, and helping others. I'm grateful for my Mennonite heritage. It laid the foundation for later finding the fullness of the Christian faith in the Roman Catholic Church.
My parents, Peter and Agatha Martens, had emigrated from the Old Country as children. They and my other Mennonite relatives loved telling stories about their European roots and their life in the new land. My father was an especially good storyteller, acting out the roles of all the characters including animals, complete with sound effects.
My family's storytelling traditions helped inspire my ambition to become a writer. However, I didn't know how to do this so I became a teacher instead. After teaching for several years, I moved to Toronto, hoping to work in one of the city's many publishing companies. After almost a year, an educational publishing house hired me as a rookie editor. I liked learning to edit and was pleased to discover that the position also involved writing. One of the first stories I wrote on the job was about koala bears. Another was about John Henry and his famous steam hammer.
My boyfriend, Robert S. Schemenauer, enjoyed hearing about my writing. In turn, he shared his experiences as a graduate student in physics. He was one of several Roman Catholic friends God brought into my life over the years. Robert (Bob) and I were married in St. Monica's Roman Catholic Church in Toronto, but I didn't become a Catholic until years later.
After our marriage I continued working for the publishing house. I also wrote stories on my own and tried to get them published. The first one to see the light of day was a picture book, Newton McTootin and the Bang Bang Tree, published by a division of McClelland & Stewart. The book reflected my longing for my rural Saskatchewan home and eventual adjustment to big-city life.
I later wrote other books, mostly as a freelancer after leaving the publishing house. Among titles are Yesterstories, Salmon, Guatemala, Uganda, and Native Canadians Today and Long Ago. Among books I've edited are Pope John Paul II by Father Robert Bulbrook et al., The Unseen Hand by Robert Cretney, and To the Ends of the Earth: A History of the Canadian Bible Society by Gerald Benson and Kenneth McMillan.
Every one of those books was a delight to write or edit. However, I longed to write a novel based on my Saskatchewan Mennonite roots. The story took years to get underway and more years to finish, but Consider the Sunflowers finally became a reality in October 2014.
List of Books Published:
Consider the Sunflowers
Newton McTootin and the Bang Bang Tree
Jacob Jacobs Gets Up Early
What It Means to Be a Friend
What It Means to Be Responsible
“The Lost Lemon Mine”
“The Ghostly Trapper”
“The Lady with the Missing Finger”
“Fish and Ships”
Truth for Youth: Writing Non-fiction for Kids and Teens
Starting Points in Language C Skills Practice Book/
Starting Points in Language E Revised
The Writing Programme 1 (with David Booth)/ The Writing Programme 2 (with David Booth)
Author Website: http://elmams.wix.com/sflwrs
Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/prairiesunflowers
Author Twitter Account: https://twitter.com/ElmaSchemenauer
Favorite Quote: "Pray for me and I for you that we may merrily meet in heaven." – St. Thomas More.
Favorite Poem: The Passing of Arthur by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Favorite Novel: Children of the Day by Sandra Birdsell.
Favorite Place: My sunny office near the kitchen, with a view of the mountainside where I often walk.
Favorite Meal: Cabbage rolls and baked potatoes with sour cream and chives.
Last Trip Taken: My husband and I just returned from Saskatchewan, where we visited relatives and friends, as well as promoting my novel. On our way back, we stopped in Summerland, British Columbia, where I spoke at a Federation of BC Writers conference. My topic was Organizing and Pacing Your Story.
CatholicFiction.net: Why do you write?
Elma Schemenauer: I believe God made me to write. I feel alive and fulfilled when I write. I pray my writing will honor our Lord as well as encourage, entertain and enlighten readers.
CF: What first inspired you to become a writer?
ES: Growing up on the Canadian prairie gave my imagination space and time to roam. My Mennonite relatives' stories fired my creativity, as did events of everyday life. One of the first stories I wrote was about Grandma and an aggressive rooster. He pecked at her feet. She took off her shoe and fended him off with it.
CF: If you were a critic writing about your own books, how would you describe the defining characteristic of your writing style?
ES: It's rooted in the practicalities of everyday life, but interprets them in an imaginative sometimes humorous way.
CF: Is there a favorite place you have to write? Describe your usual workspace and writing routine.
ES: When my husband and I moved to Kamloops, British Columbia, in 2006, the house we bought had a small south-facing laundry room. I saw it as an ideal office. We transferred the laundry to another location and now I enjoy my sunny office. It's near the kitchen so I can cook and write at the same time, sort of. Sometimes I get too involved in writing and things burn. From my office I can see the pine-dotted mountainside where I often go walking.
As for writing routine, I basically grab every chance I get to write. However, I try to maintain a healthy balance between writing and prayer as well as household, social, and other activities.
CF: What is your cure for writer's block?
ES: Reading a couple of chapters of a well-written book sometimes works. It inspires me to try to write as well as that author, in my own way of course. Working with an online critiquing partner also works. I have several of these. Reading and giving feedback on their writing energizes me to return to my own.
Similarly their feedback on my work invigorates me. One online critiquing partner hated everything I wrote when she and I first started working together. "I'll show her," I thought. I almost split an intestine trying to write something she'd consider good enough on first reading. I've never succeeded but I've come close.
Now when I'm blocked about a piece of writing, I e-mail it to her. Her tough-love response gets me going again. We're both Catholics and pray for each other.
CF: What is your cure for procrastination?
ES: My husband has many ideas about people we could entertain, trips we could take, ways I could help with gardening, etc. I like to cooperate with at least some of his suggestions. However, I know I wouldn't get much writing done unless I disciplined myself not to procrastinate.
CF: What is the "best thing" about being a writer?
ES: Flashes of insight. They come seldom, but are worth waiting for.
CF: What is your latest book about?
ES: In 1940s Saskatchewan (Canada), a Vancouver Mennonite secretary pursues happiness with a half-Gypsy farmer haunted by racism and a tragedy from his past.
CF: Name one good habit you do have as a writer and would like to continue to cultivate.
ES: I notice how people converse in real life and try to apply what I learn to writing dialogue.
CF: Name one bad habit you have as a writer that you would like to break.
ES: I use too many modifiers (adjectives and adverbs), then delete most of them. If I didn't use them in the first place, I wouldn't need to spend time deleting.
CF: Name one good habit you would like to have as a writer and do not have at the moment.
ES: I'd like to get better at observing and portraying geographical and other spatial relationships.
CF: What one book by another author do you wish you had written?
ES: The Blue Fox by the Icelandic author known simply as Sjón. It has a powerful Christian message that sneaks up on the reader. No heavy-handedness there.
CF: What is the most discouraging aspect of being a writer?
ES: Rejection by prospective publishers and literary agents. Many of us face much of that before finding a publisher.
Extended List of Books Published
BOOKS FOR TEACHERS
Scholastic World Cultures (with Sarah Swartz)
Published by Creative Edge of New York: The Magnetic Way into Early Childhood: Basic Language and Math Skills/ The Magnetic Way into Early Childhood: The Circus Program Manual
Published by Nelson and The Wright Group of San Diego: Language Connections 4
Published by Globe-Modern and Prentice Hall: Yesterstories Teachers Guide/ The Writing Programme 1 Teacher's Guide (with David Booth)/ The Writing Programme 2 Teacher's Guide (with David Booth)/ The Writing Programme: Write Away: Teacher's Guide (co-author)/ The Writing Programme: Write Along: Teacher's Guide (co-author)/ The Writing Programme: Write Again: Teacher's Guide (co-author)
Published by Weigl: Special Canadian Communities Teachers Guide
Published by GLC-Silver Burdett: Hello Cities Teacher Resource Book
Published by Ginn: Starting Points in Reading D Teachers' Guide/
Starting Points in Reading D Skills Practice Book Teachers' Guide
Published by Science Research Associates and SEEDS (Society, Environment & Energy Development Studies): Professional Reference Guide, Teachers' Guide (co-author)
The Psychology of Driving (with John Sawatsky)
Breadspeed: Wonderful No-Knead Yeast Breads in Two Hours
Four books published by Grolier: Salmon/ Le Saumon/ Pronghorn Antelopes/ L'Antilope d'Amérique
Two books published by Stoddart: Free Stuff for Kids 1988 edition/ Free Stuff for Kids 1989 edition
Starting Points in Reading D Skills Practice Book
Three books published by Globe-Modern: Shopping Malls/ Fast Food Places/ Libraries
Special Canadian Communities/ Des Communautés Canadiennes Intéressantes
Native Canadians Today and Long Ago
Jacob Siemens Family Since 1685
John A. Macdonald
Published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson: Numerous biographies of scientists in the Sciencepower series and in Biology 11, Chemistry 11, Physics 11, Biology 12, Physics 12
HISTORY AND COMMUNITY LIFE
Making History: The Story of Canada in the Twentieth Century (co-author)
Thirteen books published by Child's World of Minnesota: Brazil/ Canada/ England/ Ethiopia/ Guatemala/ Haiti/ Iran/ Israel/ Japan/ The Philippines/ Russia/ Somalia/ Uganda
Exploring Canadian Issues (co-author)
Atlantic Canada in the Global Community (co-author)
Sixteen books published by GLC-Silver Burdett: Hello Calgary/ Hello Charlottetown/ Hello Edmonton/ Hello Fredericton/ Hello Halifax/ Hello Montreal/ Hello Ottawa/ Hello Quebec City/ Hello Regina/ Hello St. John's/ Hello Toronto/ Hello Vancouver/ Hello Victoria/ Hello Winnipeg/ Hello Whitehorse/ Hello Yellowknife
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