Author wins award for humour Array of life experiences and cast of characters give author fodder for fiction
ESTON, Sask. — A pair of blue velvet stilettos with five inch heels sits boxed on a shelf like a trophy.
They belong to Saskatchewan writer Cassie Stocks, who wore them when she picked up the Stephen Leacock medal for humour for her first novel, Dance, Gladys, Dance, in Ontario last year.
To say the heels were uncomfortable is an understatement for the single mother accustomed to tromping the steets of Eston in army boots, but they were her attempt at dressing up for the special event.
The award gave Stocks a $15,000 prize and catapulted her into the “strange realm” of media interviews, readings, speaking engagements and book tours.
The humourist’s conversation is matter of fact and absent of one-liners as she reminds the visitor of a quote from actor Peter Ustinoff: “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”
“I never knew I was funny,” said Stocks.
“Maybe in some ways I look at things positively. There’s always a bit of funny in almost everything.”
Her manuscript caught the attention of NeWest Press after numerous rejections by others. By then, the former Alberta resident had moved and the publisher had to catch up to her through Facebook.
The book’s curious title comes from a classified ad that Stocks read many years earlier, listing a hi-fi stereo for sale.
“The last line was, ‘Gladys doesn’t dance anymore. She needs the room to bake.’ ”
That created a story arc for the protagonist, Frieda, Gladys, the ghost, and an entry point into her story.
She draws on her life experiences as a biker chick, aircraft cleaner, hydroponic pot factory caretaker, gardener, actress, office clerk, waitress and college student.
She currently home schools her teenaged son and works part-time at the local Co-op store.
“Having had so many jobs put me in contact with all kinds of people,” said Stocks. “That’s invaluable when writing fiction.”
Her family operated a commercial greenhouse near Edmonton, and she used to spend her summers near Kindersley, Sask., on the farm where her father grew up.
Writing and reading have been lifelong preoccupations for Stocks.
“I knew I wanted to do something different and creative, but didn’t see how to do that,” she said.
“I think I spent 30 years not becoming a nurse.”
She settles in to write most mornings and enjoys reading authors like Kurt Vonnegut and Roddy Doyle in her spare time.
“It’s easier to write everyday,” she said. “One idea leads to another idea. You just start no matter how painful it might be or how awkward sentences sound.”
She cited the pressure to become involved in social media.
“I just joined in Twitter conversation and I’m still trying to figure out what that conversation is.”
She studied communications at Grant MacEwan College and took a class at the Banff Centre with Sharon Butala, author of The Perfection of the Morning and The Girl in Saskatoon.
“She was the first one who inspired me to take writing seriously.”
Butala said Stocks appeared in her class with a short piece of writing that just blew her away.
“How could I not think that she had a future as a writer after that? I knew she did, and she had the even more important quality that is so often lacking in talented people: determination and the drive to keep writing until she had a success.”
She said Stocks was one of a few of her many students who finished her project.
“You have to love what you are trying to do, the process of it, and you have to not let yourself be deflected from your goal by trivial things or by apparent failures. Cassie had, has that un-deflectable drive,” said Butala.
Getting published is no easy task, she added.
“I think it has never been so hard to get a book published,” she said.
“Nowadays with the big publishers, sales figures, sales track records are everything, well beyond mere literary merit. That’s more than a bit discouraging, I know.”
Stocks receives much support from her boyfriend, retired schoolteacher Terry Gasior, who offers his opinion when asked.
He encourages her to pursue her dream, persevere and ignore the naysayers.
“If you’re going to be an artist, expect to be hungry for a while,” said Gasior.
Stocks, who is nearing completion of a second book, conceded that while writing is her passion, she is not entirely sold on being a full-time writer.
“I’m not sure I should be home inside my head everyday,” she said.