Many of us have a touching, funny, heartwarming or cute story about Christmas. Local writers Robyn Gerland and Liz Maxwell Forbes do, and they’ve had their stories published in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul book, Christmas in Canada.
Gerland, who lives in Chemainus, submitted a story called “On Guard” for the all-Canadian anthology, while Forbes, who lives in Crofton, wrote a story called “Baking on Christmas Eve.”
Gerland’s story is about a Christmas when her two nephews came to stay with them.
Chicken Soup has a theme or title, and there are criteria that writers have to meet when they submit stories, she explained. The stories are supposed to be true, and they have to be personal stories.
“When they give you a title or a theme, it’s pretty hard to know why you choose what you choose,” she said. “It’s just whatever speaks to you about that. And sometimes there’s nothing.”
She thinks she chose the Christmas story she wrote about because it was “just fun.”
“It was just a good story; it was fun,” she said. “We still hold most of the rituals that the kids had when they were kids and the rituals I had when I was a kid. It was just really a part of our Christmas, and it was one Christmas when things were a little bit topsy-turvy, but we held on to our Christmas traditions. It was us trying to hold onto traditions because things were a little mixed up.”
Gerland has two stories in two different Chicken Soup books that came out around the same time this fall — Chicken Soup for the Soul Touched By An Angel and Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas in Canada.
“I write, and I was simply told by somebody who is a friend that she got published and that I should try, so I did,” she said. “They picked up the Touched By An Angel story first and then the Christmas one second.”
Gerland is a retired teacher who has taught every grade from preschool to college. She taught English, art and physical education, has a Masters in English and physical education and has taught on three different continents.
She illustrated and wrote for Hysteria, a glossy magazine that came out of Kitchener in the 1980s, and was the editor for a number of years and wrote columns for the paper.
Gerland recently published a book of short stories called All These Long Years Later, which came out in March. The book, which is in the Vancouver Library and Vancouver Island Regional Library systems, features short stories about growing up in the Dunbar area of Vancouver in the 1950s. She is currently working on a novel and maybe another book of short stories.
For Gerland, stories flow and can head in a new direction once she has started writing.
“For a lot of writers, myself included, stories just kind of write themselves,” she said. “You just get going. Sometimes, where I started and where I ended up is quite surprising; the theme is still there, but I started out as one theme but now I have about five; they’re all intertwined.”
With this latest story, which is about a Christmas Eve when she volunteered for the Crisis Line, Forbes has her writing in three Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies — Christmas in Canada, Reboot Your Life, and O Canada, The Wonders of Winter.
She has also had her stories included in the anthologies Somebody’s Child, Out of the Warmland 2, Out of the Warmland 3, and The Oyster Speaks.
Forbes is currently working on River Tales, a memoir of life on the Cowichan River, and she co-writes a column for the Chemainus Valley Courier.
Forbes says she always wanted to be a writer, but she didn’t start until she retired at the age of 60.
Her son had published a book about the history of the Chemainus Valley, and when Forbes joined the Chemainus Valley Museum, Ray Mallard asked her to go through old Chronicles and dig out old stories about the history of the Chemainus Valley. So she started writing for the museum and for Take 5 magazine.
Forbes belongs to the Federation of B.C. Writers, and last year, members received an e-mail saying they needed more stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul O Canada, The Wonders of Winter.
“Of course, always living on the coast, we don’t really have winter, but I remembered a story of my pig giving birth on Boxing Day and sitting with her with the snow coming down, so I wrote it and sent it in,” she said. “And they accepted it. It was really quite amazing. Somebody else, Jean Ballard in my writers group, sent a story in and hers was accepted as well. It’s very smooth and very easy. I got encouraged and altogether, I’ve submitted six stories and been published in three books in one year.”
Forbes says it feels wonderful to have a story accepted.
“It’s amazing, it really is,” she said. “Years ago, I was walking by a bookstore, it was Volume One Bookstore in Duncan, and it was before I was writing, and I looked at those books and I just thought ‘I want my book in that window one day.’ It was just a burning desire.”
When Forbes was five, she wrote a book and sewed it together with wool. She started to write a novel when she was seven, but she got stuck after three chapters and left it. She didn’t try to write again or even think about it until after she retired, but she says she always wanted to write. A pivotal point came in 2000-01.
“In 2000, we went down to Arizona for the winter, and my husband was painting, and I was bored and there was a writers’ group there, so I joined it,” she said. “I went out and bought a laptop, sat outside in the sun and wrote and wrote. When I came back home, I couldn’t find a writers’ group, so I put an ad in the paper saying I wanted to start one.”
Forbes founded the Chemainus Writers Group in 2001 and is one of three original members, along with Tom Masters and Bernice Ramsden-Firth.