Writing career helped family get by

Lacombe-based author and columnist Jennifer Quist thought her high school English teacher was out to lunch when he suggested that she pursue a career in writing. “I said, ‘Oh, you crazy English teacher. What do you know?”

Lacombe-based author and columnist Jennifer Quist thought her high school English teacher was out to lunch when he suggested that she pursue a career in writing.

“I said, ‘Oh, you crazy English teacher. What do you know?”

These days, she, her husband and their five boys are still eating her words — literally.

Now 36, Quist has had two of her columns published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series.

Her poems and short stories now appear in a variety of magazines and she has a strong background in writing newspaper and magazine columns, starting with the Taber Times.

Quist and her husband — whose name is withheld for security reasons — met while they were both enrolled in undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta.

Against her teacher’s advice, Quist had chosen to study Sociology.

Her husband was working on his post-graduate studies and their income amounted to little more than a trickle when Quist became pregnant with their first child.

Needing to put food on the table and look after her children at the same time, she looked to the one option that she hoped would allow her earn some income from home.

She started writing newspaper columns, focused mainly on parenting and family write, that were picked up by a local newspaper.

“The first column I wrote, they paid me $20 for 600 words. I tried to be tender and funny.”

Quist found that her Sociology degree, far from being a waste, provided her with a strong background for the writing avenues she would later explore.

“We were up in Fort McMurray for five years and it had a huge influence on me and my writing. I’ve done quite a bit about the city and raising a family there,” said Quist.

“It’s a fascinating place. It’s like a sidebar in an economics textbook. It’s just totally different than anywhere else I’d ever been.”

Most news stories and features about the area highlighted the great difficulties facing Fort McMurray’s “shadow” population; the scads of workers from out of town who were living in cars, hotels and campsites and getting into all sort of trouble.

Quist turned her sights on a different demographic. She wrote newspaper columns and magazine articles about the other 40,000 people in the population, focusing on hazards and highs facing those who had made a commitment to building a community from the boom town in which they lived.

The articles included a story about Quist and her husband’s difficult transition to do-it-yourselfers when the decided to renovate their home. Demands for labour and trades were extremely high.

Contractors were booked up solid and prices had gone through the roof.

With years of professional training but no practical experience between them, Quist and her husband found themselves on a straight-up learning curve as they tackled the project.

Their experience as first-time DIYers was fertile ground for a column that has since been reprinted in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People.

These days, she finds creative writing provides the greatest rewards, although it’s also a bit harder.

“What I used to write in columns has now been taken over by the whole Mommy Blog thing. That’s become so prolific and so boring, frankly, I’ve kind of rejected that.

“I don’t like the way they’re kind of a genre now and they marginalize women who are living in my lifestyle. I would prefer our voices were heard just in mainstream. I want people to understand how fundamental the modern motherhood experience is to all of culture and to accept (it as) a central role and not just on the margins.”

Quist and her family have lived in Lacombe for the past three years.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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