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Dutchyshen realizes dream of publishing novel

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Gaylene Dutchyshen crossed another item off her bucket list, as her book Strange Kind of Comfort is about to be launched, Jan. 25.
“I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve done short stories in the past and then I guess what happened is, in 2007 I went back to university to finish my Arts degree, to get my English major,” Dutchyshen explained.
In an advanced creative writing course, Dutchyshen found her professor quite supportive, encouraging her to keep writing.
The class contributed stories to publish in a chapbook and she was surprised her classmates chose a story that became the kernel of the story for Strange Kind of Comfort.
“Because my classmates were somewhat younger than me, I often wondered what they thought of my writing. But they really, really liked that story and I was surprised they actually chose that one, because the character that I had written about lived in the 1950s,” she explained.
“They were commenting that it was prairie fiction and they were interested in it. What they asked was, they thought there was more to it and how did it just end right there. And I realized it was basically just a little snippet of a bigger story.”
Strange Kind of Comfort is about two rural women in their late 50s and early 80s, Dutchyshen said, with the story going into their past.
“It’s the story of small town living, community connections. It’s the story of friendship, motherhood. There is a betrayal in the story. I did add an element of mystery, because that’s the kind of books I like to read. So basically, I wrote a book that I thought I would like to read,” she explained.
The novel took a few years to complete, as Dutchyshen did not work on it in earnest, until she took a creative writing course through Humber College.
“I worked with Sandra Birdsell, who is quite a well-known writer. She started out in Manitoba, now she lives in Saskatchewan, but she’s quite well-known and has had many books published,” Dutchyshen said, adding Birdsell was her mentor for 10 months and during that time, 50 pages became 300 pages of a first draft.
A couple of years ago, Dutchyshen joined the Parkland Writers Group, which meets monthly, to read each other’s work and offer support and critiques.
The group assisted Dutchyshen with some editing, she said, and the novel was ready to send to a publisher in the summer of 2018.
Dutchyshen decided to avoid the self publishing route and began researching different publishers online.
“In August of 2018, I sent the first 40 pages or so to Dundurn Press,” she said, pointing out Dundurn is the largest independent Canadian publisher, which fit with the kind of work she did.
“And lo and behold, they emailed me back and wanted to see the rest of the novel. And by October of that year, they told me they would publish it.”
Dutchyshen feels her timing was right, as the team at Dundurn noted they were looking for new prairie writers.
“They felt that prairie fiction had kind of dropped off for a while and they wanted to publish some new prairie voices,” she said.
“We don’t often find rural women’s stories told in Canadian literature, not in the recent past, I don’t feel. We had Margaret Lawrence writing in the ‘70s and certainly Sandra Birdsell was considered prairie fiction. But I guess I just wanted to write something about the old saying, ‘write what you know’ and that’s what I wrote.”
With Strange Kind of Comfort coming out in January 2020, Dutchyshen received her first 10 books just before Christmas.
“It was like opening a Christmas present. It was quite exciting. Just to hold it in your hands and see your name on the cover and although I’d seen the cover, just actually to see it in a printed book, it was quite remarkable. And, you know, my husband had it on video, so we watched it a few times,” she laughed.
Born in Dauphin, Dutchyshen was raised in Gilbert Plains, as her father was a teacher in the community.
She left for university in Winnipeg for a couple of years and returned home to get married and start a family.
“I basically was a full-time stay at home mom and a farm partner. We grew our farm together and raised the kids,” Dutchyshen said, noting through those years she was also a school trustee for 16 years, worked at the Grandview newspaper and wrote articles for the Dauphin Herald, the Manitoba Cooperator and The Producer.
Strange Kind of Comfort is available in McNally Robinson, on Amazon, Indigo, Chapters and Barnes and Noble.
Though Dutchyshen chose a hometown launch, she will also do a book launch at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg in early March.
The local launch is at 2 p.m., at the Gilbert Plains Legion Hall, Jan. 25.
A member of the Parkland Writers Group will emcee the event and Dutchyshen will do a reading, answer questions and sign her books.
Locally, Strange Kind of Comfort will be available at Dauphin Super Thrifty Pharmacy.

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M. A. Nyquist
REPORTER
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