SAM WIEBE: I basically dropped out of school after my second year and worked a bunch of blue collar jobs, driving a forklift, stocking shelves at a liquor store, etc. I was without purpose. I enrolled at the local university-college because I remembered enjoying literature. I took a third-year Shakespeare course with a teacher named Neil Kennedy, and I was back in 100%. I went through and then into the MA program at Simon Fraser University, and finished in four semesters. I’ve been teaching ever since.
SAM:College in Canada is neither cheap nor guaranteed–it’s cheaper than the States, for sure, but still very expensive. I worked two jobs through most of my education, and I graduated with quite a bit of student debt.
On one hand I wish finances hadn’t played as much of a part in my education–I think schools are geared toward professional students, students who come straight out of high school, with families who have been to university, and who are supported financially. It’s a very grades-obsessed, career-obsessed view of education, and I struggled with that at times.
On the other hand, I’m happy with the circuitous path I took. A certain amount of struggle is good. Because of that, I don’t take my teaching responsibilities lightly.
I don’t know that having an MA gives you a benefit to being a writer. But it doesn’t hurt. If you like working with books, and with students, then there are worse ways to go through this vale of tears.
My experience with writing courses has been pretty mixed. I took an excellent undergraduate screenwriting course, where they actually produced, acted and shot our scripts. That was very helpful. It never really occurred to me to take an MFA, because I didn’t have the money, and I didn’t see anyone writing the kind of stuff I wanted to.
Simon Fraser University now has a program called The Writer’s Studio, which is very hands-on and publishing-oriented. It’s run by some great Vancouver writers. E.R. Brown (Almost Criminal) and Janie Chang (Three Souls) have both come through that program, and they’re terrific writers. If I was starting out now, I’d definitely try to get into a program like that.
My MA was in English literature, so I did a lot of American, English Renaissance and Restoration lit, and critical theory. My MA paper was on Orson Welles’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays, Chimes at Midnight.
I started out with the idea of doing technical writing. Once I started TAing–working as a teaching assistant–I found that I really enjoyed it and was pretty good at it.
Yeah, I teach for a living.
Making the time to write is tough regardless of the job. I fit writing around work, but I did that during grad school, too. It’s a priority.
Elaine Ash said in a review that if you keep writing at the quality of your first book that you could become known as one of the best crime writers ever to come out of Canada. Are you making a career as a novelist your ultimate goal? Is it novel writing or bust?
That’s a great compliment. I try to think more in terms of telling the right stories than financial success–trying to “predict the market” and all that bullshit, or defining your artistic worth by your income, seem like sure ways to madness.
My goal is really to tell the stories I want, and get them out to people without compromising what makes them the stories I want to tell.
Career-wise, I don’t want to be owned–by a student loan, a giant mortgage, a boss, etc. If I can accomplish that as a writer, terrific. In the meantime I teach, and I enjoy that. Making kids aware of Dorothy B Hughes or Dashiell Hammett, helping them to express themselves–what’s not to like about that?
FIND SAM at www.samwiebe.com
LISA CIARFELLA blogs HERE.