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True Winter Tales: Meet the winner

We talk to the winner of the True Winter Tales challenge, Katrina Johnston from Victoria, B.C., about her winning story,   
1. Tell us about yourself.
I am 58 and I live in the historical neighbourhood of James Bay in Victoria, B.C. I grew up in Calgary. Most of my adult life has been on the west coast.

2. What do you usually write?
In 2010, I  returned from two plus years in St. John's. The Newfoundland climate is conducive to many indoor writing days and I decided to compose short stories with more serious intent than a person who dabbles. The goal of my fiction is to shine a light into dim places and enjoy the complex web of human connections. My personal goal is to get published - something that eludes me so far, except in very minor ways.

I usually write short stories, fiction less than 3,000 words - no particular genre, but I find I often produce some rather romantic or happy-ending pieces. However, I'd never consider myself a romance writer and almost never write a torrid love scene! I like to put a little finishing twist at the end of my stories - sort of channeling O. Henry, maybe in a minor fashion.

3. How did you decide upon recounting the "Girls versus Janitor" story for your True Winter Tale? Did it come to you right away?
When the challenge of a winter tale was presented - I immediately remembered building the ice-slides in the schoolyard and I couldn't figure out why (we girls) were not smart enough to carry the water we needed in paper cups or a bottle? But I suppose a teacher or the principal would have halted our activities then, so we had to gobble the water and spit. The story evolved as a sort of homage to the janitor. 

4. What were your challenges in writing the piece?
The challenge was to "show" instead of tell. I start with far too many words and have to resist the urge to explain. I always have to edit myself down to fit a word allotment, read it crazily aloud until it "sounds" right and my neighbours think I'm loony. I strive for a balance between description and plain language.

5. Out of the 15 finalists and besides yourself, who would you have chosen as the winner and why? 
It's difficult  to choose amongst the 15 because I find many of the True Winter Tales are fine depictions of memorable and unique Canadian experiences - heartfelt honest tales of childhood adventure and/or mishaps.

But, my favourite is Best Served Cold by Ziyaad Mia with a perfect balance between specific detail and image-rich description, all painted on a poignant and meaningful story - about something that honestly matters. The story makes me think. E.g. of fine language:

Puffy snowflakes, the snow globe kind, meander down from heaven ....
Although I didn't know what a "Paki" was, I felt it in my gut.
... and skate-walk over to the huddled mélange of adults.

6. What does it mean to you to have won the True Winter Tales Challenge?
Being chosen as a winner means everything - everything! I'm gobsmacked, truly thrilled. For three years or more, I've tried so hard to garner some kind of recognition. I don't know exactly why recognition is important, but it is. And, sometimes it's been a struggle or sadly disappointing when I'd find that I'd come close but ultimately failed. I mean, occasionally I have been short-listed for published works - only to be declined. So, this is wonderful. Thank you Adam Gopnik. It's going to be a happy Christmas for me and my family. Really, I'm over the snowbank with joy.

7. What are your plans for the $1,000 prize?
One grand is grand indeed! Better than a kick in the pants! Wonderful. I'd like to make a contribution to my community and somehow spread my good fortune to someone who needs it more. I'm still deciding where... part of the win will enable me to have a happy Christmas with my newish grandson, Arthur - he's a nifty fellow!



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