Miche Genest doesn’t mind being laughed at.
When it’s a room full of writers, it’s a sign that her material is working.
A reading offers an intimate audience reaction, said the writer who’s published work in national magazines and newspapers.
“The thing about an audience is that it makes you work really hard because you don’t want to be embarrassed,” she said. “So it adds a real necessity (to writing).”
Genest is getting a good laugh out of the 30 or so people who showed up for the opening night of the Yukon’s Writer Showcase at the Whitehorse Library. Genest and novelist Al Pope entertained the crowd with a variety of pieces and storytelling styles. The showcase will run throughout February and March with readings from playwrights, poets and other scribes.
Genest relishes getting instant and unmistakable feedback from her work.
“You’re supposed to (write) for yourself, and you do, but the idea of having a reader or a listener is that (it takes away that isolation),” said Genest.
She still gets nervous.
“It’s always interesting in a reading, I haven’t done one for four years,” she said.
Two of the pieces Genest read were postcard stories — a form of short story begun as contests in literary magazines.
“Geist magazine likes them so much that now they have a section in the magazine in every issue called ‘postcard stories,’” she said.
Genest moved to the Yukon from Toronto in 1994 to take a break from writing.
“I started writing in ‘86 or ‘87 for newspapers and magazines, largely,” she said. “And then I came up here and for about the first four years I was here I didn’t do any writing and I didn’t do any journalism. I worked for kitchens and I wrote plays.”
It was a time to space out her projects and give them room.
“There was no pressure to sell and I could explore something else than writing journalism, which I had done in bits and pieces,” she said. “It just kind of freed me up from making money through writing.”
Without the pressure of a strict writing regimen, Genest turned to the outlets around her, such as Nakai Theatre’s 24-hour-writing contest. The theater produced three of her plays.
“Whatever is happening, you sort of gravitate to,” she said.
The Yukon writer’s community is so tightknit that good talent doesn’t go unnoticed for long.
“I had written in a newspaper that used to be around called the Horse’s Mouth; it was an interview with a poet,” she said.
Erling Friis-Baastad, a poet and a copy editor at the News, thought the interview showed promise.
“Erling told the editor at the time that I should do some stuff, so I began writing freelance for the News.”
The on-and-off-again approach has improved her craft, she said.
“I think I began to take myself more seriously after having those experiences of writing plays and having them produced,” said Genest. “I think that suddenly it was a possible thing
to actually have a life with writing.”
“That was a real first for me.”
Currently, she’s working on a big chunk of raw material on Greece.
“I lived in Greece when I was in my early 20s, on a little island,” she said. “It’s a very wooded series of islands, so it’s not the classic white rock (image).”
Genest is constantly learning that all works need their space.
“What I did with those stories is that I would always take a chunk and write it,” she said.
But the stories were missing the right kind of timing.
“There was always too much information packed in one story. So the theory is, that, now that I’ve written a book — 55,000 words on Greece — I can give it some breathing room.”
Al Pope was impressed by what he heard.
“Listening to Ms. Genest read is always really illuminating,” said Pope.
“When she writes something, she’s just got a beautiful eye and it’s a great thing to learn. There’s always something to learn from another writer.”
Pope has published a novel, Bad Latitudes, and writes a weekly column for the News.
In his reading, Pope demonstrated his versatility with an early poem, a reading from Bad Latitudes and a new work about African-Americans working on the Alaska Highway.
When Pope reads his work, you can hear the voices he gives his characters.
“You have a character in your head and, in this case, you have a big piece of nonfiction,” said Pope. The story on African-Americans is based on some historical texts he researched over the last year.
“It’s a real story — so all I had to do was insert a character into the story,” he said. “The character determines how the piece takes shape.”
“That’s the most important thing in writing fiction — you have to create characters and know them well. If you know them well enough, you turn them loose and see what they do.
They’ll be honest to their character, they’ll do what they’re supposed to do and you’ll get a story.”
Pope moved to the Yukon in his early 20s, but not to write.
“(Moving to the Yukon) probably held me back in a way,” said Pope. “I had begun to write when I came here, not to publish or anything. I came to the Yukon and I became almost immediately obsessed with sled dogs to the point that I couldn’t really do anything else for 20 years.”
“I was 40 years old when I first decided to write,” he said.
Pope recently received some advice on performing readings from a friend.
“Never bring material that’s got a new nugget of information that you don’t want to lose and have somebody steal your work before it’s published,” he told the audience before he read an excerpt from his work in progress on African-Americans in the Yukon.
“But I’m going to be doing that anyway.”
There will be plenty of chances to hear good writing over the next two months. Patti Flather and Clea Roberts will read on February 12 at the library, and Pope will read again in
Carcross on February 18. Claire Eamer and Jerome Stueart will read on February 26 while Celia McBride and Mitch Miyagawa will read on February 5th.
The last double feature is Marcelle Dube and Michael Reynolds on March 12. Patricia Robertson reads on March 18 and Erling Friis-Baastad closes the showcase on March 25.
All readings are at 7:30 p.m. at the Whitehorse Library except for Al Pope’s second reading at 7 p.m. at the Isabelle Pringle Library in Carcross.
Contact James Munson at