The Gift of Literacy: Reflections from the life of World War Two Survivor Eva Olsson

Yesterday I visited the school where my husband is a vice principal. I wanted to see him, true, but the main reason I popped in was to hear Eva Olsson speak. She was visiting Edmonton to present to students in the Sturgeon School Division, traveling from her home city of Toronto, Canada.

Eva is a World War Two survivor and her stories were arresting. She used her experience with the “Nazi bullies” to implore the children in the audience to stop using the word hate and instead treat each other with compassion and respect.

Eva Olsson Alexis Marie Chute Writes 02 blog

She told the story of how her family was lined up with thousands of other Jews and separated. One group went to the gas chambers. The other group was put into work camps. Eva was just a teenager. Her mom was separated from her, sent to be murdered, and that was the last time they saw each other.

Eva’s father went to a work camp and died of starvation. The photo Eva showed was of a long line of bodies so thin that their stomachs caved in and the people were literally just skin and bone. It was like a collection of arching ribcages. The image made me shudder.

Eva Olsson Alexis Marie Chute Writes 01 blog

Eva and other girls her age were sent to another work camp. They slept outside on the grass – even when it was raining – and spent winter nights in a mud hole like pigs. They were all given wooden clogs, not in their size, and had no socks. Their feet were covered in blisters.

 

“May a new love for humanity be born out of the horrors we have known.” From the Scroll of Remembrance at Bergen-Belsen

Eva spoke of the power of hate to do such horrible things to other people. She also critiqued the bystanders of Europe who let this horrible tragedy of genocide take place. Her message was that bystanders – even those of today – that watch evil happen and do nothing are just as guilty.

I felt incredibly proud to hear such morality praised and advocated for – and also a little uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels our culture is very grey. We don’t want to upset others with our values so we water them down. Tolerance is at the forefront. Eva’s message actually felt wonderfully refreshing! There is right! There is wrong! We must be resolute in our convictions.

At one point she asked all the junior high kids: “Who does NOT like going to school?”

A large number of hands went up.

(Being a bookworm and an education-addict, I cringed when I saw the hands.)

What was Eva’s response?

SHAME ON YOU!” she said sternly.

Eva did not go to school as a child or youth. She could not read or write. This embarrassed her greatly. She so badly wished to get an education! (She now holds a PhD so I believe her wish did come true.)

This is one of Eva’s messages that will linger on with me forever.

I don’t want my children to take their education for granted. It is a gift.

 

“I cannot live in the past, but I must life with it. Perhaps writing my story will weaken the hold the past has had on me.” – Dr. Eva Olsson LLD (Hon.), FRCPSC

 

When I was younger and in grade school, I was bullied relentlessly. It wounded my spirit deeply and I too would have put up my hand saying I would rather be anywhere else than in the classroom. At the time, I didn’t appreciate school. Who does as a youth in North America where we don’t have to fight for it?

I hope to cultivate a love of education in my kids. The ability to read and write opens many doors, cultivates the imagination, allows for understanding and compassion for others, and creates a means for self-expression.

As both an avid reader and an author, I cannot imagine my life without the gifts of education and literacy. These are things I fight for in my life – not in grand ways, but they are priorities that I protect none the less. It can be as simple as turning off the TV to read a book. Choosing to use proper English even when texting. Reading to my children before I tuck them into bed even when I myself am oh so very tired.

I celebrate the stories my daughter writes on every piece of paper in the house. Her spelling is a mystery most days, but she is learning. She is hungry for it. What a gift! What a precious ability that we have which I hope we never, ever lose sight of. What a blessing!

I am so very thankful that Eva Olsson reminded me of this lesson – of the critical importance of literacy.

Eva’s life is inspiring. To read more about her, please click here.

Christmas Article on Socks Generates Hate Mail

It’s funny what will make some people mad. It differs from person to person. While I’d like to believe that I’m always a patient person, but there are definitely some things that fare up in anger inside of me. Typically, though, I do not lash out at others with these feelings.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a piece of hate mail in my whole life.

I was brought up with the belief, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

 

Edmonton Woman Magazine, November/December Issue

Edmonton Woman Magazine, November/December Issue

While there are absolutely times when people need to speak up – against terrorism, injustice, abuse… the list goes on – I never thought SOCKS would be a point of contention with one of my readers. Who would have thought a light-hearted article on socks at Christmas would push a person over the edge and make them send a nasty email to the writer?

Here is my Christmas article in the current issue of Edmonton Woman Magazine (November/December). Click the image to enlarge. You can also read it on the magazine’s site by clicking here.

Alexis Marie Uncensored Socks for Christmas Edmonton WOman Magazine blog

After re-reading the article again after receiving the hate mail, I had to pause. My first thought was: “did this person and I read the same thing?”

Socks? Seriously? Don’t we have bigger problems in the world to speak-up about other than socks?

If you read the article just now, what do you think? Am I a bad, ungrateful, spoiled person who doesn’t care about others? You know what, don’t answer that. I know who I am. I love and celebrate the person I have become over the years. At the end of the day, what others think about me doesn’t matter – not one tiny bit.

In the spirit of Christmas, in a season of love, generosity and kindness, I forgive that angry person for sending hate out into the world. Life is too short to let that negativity fester. AND – I hope s/he receives a lovely pair of socks for Christmas.

Thanks for reading!

Merry Christmas!

 

– Alexis Marie Chute

 

Click here to read my other articles for Edmonton Woman magazine. 

Edmonton Woman Magazine Column

I want to share with you my July/August column:

Alexis Marie Uncensored: Riding High

Edmonton Woman Magazine

The article is about my summer training for the Grizzly Ultra Marathon. I sprained my ankle and worried I wouldn’t be able to race. Advised by my amazing physiotherapist, I took up cycling . What I discovered was a wonderful way to stay fit while also having fun.

The article shares one – slightly embarrassing – incident where I ventured out on a long bike ride to a dinner party and forgot a water bottle!

If you love a funny story, cycling – and wine – I bet you will enjoy this read. 

Disclaimer: I do not advice performing any sport or physical activity while under the influence of alcohol – although a wine buzz is preferable to dying of dehydration… but I will leave that decision up to you.

Happy summer & happy reading!

– Alexis Marie Chute

Edmonton Woman Magazine Cover Alexis Marie Chute July Aug 2015

Edmonton Woman Magazine Alexis Marie Chute Column July Aug 2015

A little bit about Edmonton Woman Magazine:

Edmonton Woman Magazine exists to redefine what it means to be an “exceptional” woman. We consider our publication to be more than just a women’s magazine; it is a source of inspiration, knowledge, and connectivity for the every day woman. Our goal is to share the stories of women in the capital region of Alberta who are changing their lives, families, communities, and cities by pushing the boundaries of what is ordinary. At Edmonton Woman Magazine, we believe that exceptional is far more than wearing the perfect shade of lipstick or sticking to the latest trending diet. To us, it isn’t a word reserved for Fortune 500 CEOs or Hollywood superstars. It is the title of every woman who contributes in her own way to making the world around her a better place. Whether it’s the craft connoisseur mom who keeps her kids engaged in fun, creative pastimes, or the small business owner who keeps customers coming back with smiling service – we believe her story is worth telling. Because as women, nothing motivates us more than the single thought: “If she can do it, maybe I can too!”.

(From EWM website)


 

Check out other articles written by Alexis Marie Chute by clicking here.

If you want to read other Edmonton Woman Alexis Marie Chute column articles, click here.


 

For more pages by Alexis Marie, visit:

Alexis Marie Art

Wanted Chosen Planned

Alexis Marie Chute


A Day in the Life of the Writer

I think people envision writers sitting around in over sized leather armchairs, writing in pen by a dim incandescent light, cigar smoke wafting around in lazy curls. Or maybe the idealized vision includes a reserved seat in a coffee shop where the writer gorges on lattes and people watching, clicking their laptop ferociously as inspiration strikes. Or maybe the writer is traveling in the Sahara. Or scratching notes on a pocket pad of paper as bullets whiz by and the thunder of tanks surround them.

Or the vision of the writer includes the best-seller status. I recently heard an aspiring writer say he wants to write the next Harry Potter series. I chuckled to myself, while wishing the writer all the luck in the world. I did wonder though, what is that person chasing? Is it the long hours of writing, the even longer hours editing and the painstaking process of bringing the book(s) to publication? Or is the writer hungry for the title, the gold stamped cover, the royalty cheques, and the fame?

ALEXIS MARIE CHUTE EDITING WRITING WRITER RED PEN PHOTOGRAPH

 

What does the life of a writer really entail?

There are perks for sure, but the writing life is actually bursting with hard work, rejection and administrative chores that none of those daydreaming about the idealistic writer actually take into account.

I wake up by an alarm and get my kids to school. I make lists of things I need to accomplish – and typically writing is only the half of it. I answer emails and phone calls, and handle the business, legal and insurance needs for all my projects. In my daily life, I do an exorbitant amount of research, planning, strategizing, and networking – all so I can be a writer and do what I love. I work in the evenings. I am always collecting ideas. I dream about my characters or a speech I am to give – until my alarm wakes me up again.

It’s a fabulous life!

The life of the writer is not glamorous… at least not yet from my experience. I’ll let you know if that changes. Like any passion; there are good days and bad days, perks and pitfalls, and sacrifices that need to be made to get to the next level.

If you aspire to be the next J. K. Rowling, good luck to you! (I am not being sarcastic.) Roll up your sleeves and get to work! I look forward to reading your book one day – and sharing mine with you.

Happy writing!

Encouraging Quotes for Writers

Here are ten quotes by great contemporary writers on topics regarding rejection, writers block, and not just the want, but the need to be writer. These words encourage me and I hope they do the same for you. These quotes will enlighten you to the fact that all of the most successful writers have dealt with and still deal with their fair share of rejection and writers block. However their love of writing never faltered and they never gave up.  All successful writers learned the hard way that getting rejected doesn’t mean you aren’t talented.

Nobody chooses to be a writer because it’s easy! As long as you love the process and take every chance you can to improve, you have the ability to be a great writer.

  quotation-marks

“I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I still had a daughter who I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

-J.K. Rowling

 

“With a book I am the writer and I am also the director and I’m all of the actors and I’m the special effects guy and the lighting technician: I’m all of that. So if it’s good or bad, it’s all up to me.”

-George R. R. Martin

 

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

-Stephen King

 

“Creativity itself doesn’t care at all about results – the only thing it craves is the process. Learn to love the process and let whatever happens next happen, without fussing too much about it. Work like a monk, or a mule, or some other representative metaphor for diligence. Love the work. Destiny will do what it wants with you, regardless.”

-Elizabeth Gilbert

 

“Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.”

-Nicholas Sparks

 

“I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90 percent of my first drafts … so it doesn’t really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there’s a 90 percent chance I’m just gonna delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating. I also like to remind myself of something my dad said in [response] to writers’ block: ‘Coal miners don’t get coal miners’ block.’”

-John Green

 

“If I waited for perfection… I would never write a word.”

-Margaret Atwood

 

“As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says ‘you are nothing’, I will be a writer.”

-Hunter S Thomson

 

“When you’re a writer, you hear your internal critic, and that’s really hard to get over. And then sometimes you hear critiques from classmates and stuff. But when a book comes out, it’s just hundreds of opinions and you have to learn to separate out the ones you want to listen to or figure out many you want to listen to.”

-Veronica Roth

 

“Don’t ever let the other stuff get in the way of your inherent skills as a kick-butt storyteller. Move the reader, make them happy and sad and excited and scared. Make them stare into space after they’ve put the book down, thinking about the tale that’s become a part of them.”

-James Dashner

 

“It’s not easy. I got lots of rejections when I first started out. If you want to write, you have to believe in yourself and not give up. You have to do your best to practice and get better.”

-Rick Riordan

Tips for writing your book proposal – from someone who has done it

Writing a book proposal is a marathon, not a sprint. While many writers dream of penning the next Harry Potter, creating a great book is only one part of the process. The writer must then transfer all their skills to crafting an outstanding proposal that will wow many audiences, from editors to the finance department to marketing.

Book proposal BLOG 2

Here are three lessons I learned about writing an awesome book proposal:

  1. Do your research and really know your audience. This is twofold. Know the audience for your book, who is going to read it, but also know the audience who will be reading your proposal. Tailor each section to simultaneously present the facts AND sell your book. Of course don’t sell in a pushy, cheesy, or desperate sort of way, but make your case why your book needs to be published – and back up that opinion.
  2. Get help from others. This was such a wonderful boost for me when I got sick of my proposal, having worked on it for weeks straight, to gain a new set of eyes. Ask friends or family to help research statistics or surf Amazon to compile a book list of comparable titles. These are people who have watched you write your masterpiece and now they are invested as well in seeing you succeed. All in all, I had four other people outside myself help with my proposal – and I am incredibly grateful. My mom, an avid memoir reader, read my book proposal multiple times, her first go around noticing a giant gap. I likely would have missed that hole entirely without her.
  3. Spend a good chunk of time on your marketing plan. I read countless guides, studied how other books were marketed and daydreamed about the right marketing trajectory for my story. Now, I feel tremendously excited about that stage of the process – which is a good thing if publishers are passing the bulk of marketing responsibilities on to authors. With a very specific and clear plan, writers are able to jump right into marketing activities that will ensure their book is a success.

What stage of the proposal writing process are you at?

What have you learned from writing your book proposal?

Later this summer I will be sharing a book proposal outline, including all the elements you need for success.

Happy writing!

 

I’m Already Preparing for National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo 2015. This November. Are you planning ahead?

nanowrimo calendar Alexis Marie Chute author writer 1 nanowrimo calendar Alexis Marie Chute author writer 2 nanowrimo calendar Alexis Marie Chute author writer 3 nanowrimo calendar Alexis Marie Chute author writer 4 nanowrimo calendar Alexis Marie Chute author writer 5 nanowrimo calendar Alexis Marie Chute author writer 6

Happy New Year Fellow Writers!

 

Wishing you a 2015 full of creative inspiration and much writing success! 

May it be a year to look back on and say, “That’s when it all began!”

Much love, joy and a very happy New Years to you and yours!

Finishing Strong NaNoWriMo 2014

 

When I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year, I underestimated how busy my life can get. I am a full time writer, artist and mother – and I always strive to give 100% to everything I do. I know, I know, my math does not add up. Who has 300% to give? Logically, it does not make sense, but on a more abstract level it does.

What I have discovered is that when I work at my passions, the joy I derive from them (and especially from my children) simultaneously deposits energy and happiness in my life while I withdraw from my reserve of time and effort. It’s a helpful equation.

This is how I am going to finish strong this NaNoWriMo. Unfortunately I am terribly behind, but I don’t mind working hard and late into the evening to jack up my word count to make the 50k goal. As I write my story, I turn off the editing and critical side of my brain and click away at my computer. Its rhythm is peaceful for me and I find the very act of writing deposits much back into me as a writer.

By letting go of perfectionism and focusing on the joy of writing and the love of the story, any writer may finish strong on November 30th or on any other day with whatever project that needs completion.

As the NaNoWriMo deadline approaches, write what fuels you and deposits back into your creative reserve. Let this balance roll forward and energize your each and every word.

Good luck!

 

Save the Date for a NaNoWriMo Write-In with the Canadian Authors’ Association in Edmonton

First of all, Happy Halloween! This spooky season is sure to ignite your creativity with haunting characters and unforeseen plot twists.

If you didn’t already know, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starts tomorrow – November 1st. I want to invite local writers for a fun event coming up on November 15th. Save the date! This year I am helping coordinate a half day NaNoWriMo write-in with the Canadian Authors’ Association Alberta Branch in Edmonton – and the event is open to both members and the general public.

 

Here are the details:

 

NaNoWriMo

Goal: Write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Track your progress on the NaNoWriMo software and connect with other writers. You’ve had a novel idea in your head and now is the time to bring your story to life.

Check out the NaNoWriMo website for more information.

 

Canadian Author’s Association Write-In

Date: November 15, 2014

Location: Idylwylde Library, 8310 88 Ave NW, Edmonton, Alberta, (780) 496-1808

Time: Doors open at 12:20pm with event starting at 12:30pm. The event will conclude at 5:30pm.

Cost: FREE

Things to bring: a snack to share, friends (the event is open to everyone), and your pen and paper or laptop and charger.

Check out the Canadian Authors Association Alberta Branch website for more information.

 

Myself, along with the CAA Writing-Coach-in-Residence, Suzanne Harris, will encourage you as you find inspiration to get over the halfway hump of NaNoWriMo. Write alongside others also penning their novel (or just looking to get words out on the page) and find inspiration in the presence of shared struggles and successes.

It will be a day of breakthroughs in a focused community environment. Who said writing has to be a lonely endeavor? Short, facilitated breaks will give you motivation and energy to pound out the words.

Even if you are not participating in NaNoWriMo, come out and join in the fun and creative atmosphere.

I look forward to writing with you!