Author Marie Powell spends her days dreaming up new characters and worlds to share with her readers, but her visit to Prince Albert on Friday focused on something more practical.
Powell, who’s latest duology just hit bookstore shelves, was in Prince Albert at the tail end of a four-day trip through four different communities teaching high school students about the art of submitting.
“It’s an aspect we don’t normally get into,” Powell explained during a phone interview prior to the Prince Albert workshop. “We usually just talk about the creative side of things like writing the poems or writing the short stories to submit in the first place, but a lot of schools are doing that quite well.”
As a former fiction magazine editor herself, Powell is in an unique position to offer advice. She recalls the many submissions she received that would have been accepted had the writer followed simple submission guidelines.
Things like not including a bio, or failing to provide a cover letter sometimes sunk an author’s submission before it was even read. In cases where editors did read it, the missing submission pieces made the editor’s jobs more difficult. That’s something Powell said new writers need to avoid just like cardboard characters, predictable plots, and clichés.
“These business aspects aren’t the reason they choose you or don’t choose you, but they are the reason they reject you, if that makes sense,” Powell explained. “If it’s not there, they just don’t look. They go, ‘well, this person can’t follow the guidelines, so their submission must not be what we need.
“They have to have reasons to reject you, and the main ones are these little business things. You don’t have a bio? Okay, you’re out. They don’t even spend any time thinking about the creative side of things.”
In addition to her editor’s duties, Powell has more than 40 books out, including her latest: a duology made up of two young adult novels published last year.
‘Last of the Gifted’ follows two siblings in 13th Century Wales who use their magical abilities to protect their people from the invading English.
Spirit Sight, which came out in August 2020, received the Moonbeam Young Adult Fiction Bronze Medal. The story focuses on Welsh warrior-in-training Hyw, who can control the minds of birds and animals. Water Sight, published in November 2020, focuses on his sister, Catrin, who can see the future in a drop of water. Both were published by Wood Dragon Books, and independent Saskatchewan publisher based out of Mossbank.
“This young adult series, you could kind of say it’s my heart project,” Powell said. “It started out with a family trip. I wanted to write about this particular aspect of 13th Century Wales, but doing it took a lot of time and a lot of effort.”
Powell said she never considered combining the two stories into one book, but now that she has the hardcover copies in her hand, she’s glad she did.
“They go together quite well,” she said. “We just decided we would put this together. It was kind of an afterthought, really, to put it together into an omnibus like this, but I’m really happy we did it because it looks beautiful.
“It feels kind of like this is finished now,” she added with a chuckle. “It’s like I have this, and it’s done. You’ve got me in the moment of thrill.”
Powell makes her home in Regina these days, but she’s no stranger to Prince Albert. She lived here for one year in the late-80s when she worked as a crime and corrections reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald.
In fact, she credits that time here with helping kickstart here career in the world of fiction.
“There are awful things you cover in trials, but nevertheless, it’s a really good experience as a writer, to try and deal with that and try and communicate those real-life stories,” she explained. “It was really good experience, and really good training.”
At the time, the Prince Albert Daily Herald was part of the Thompson newspaper chain, where reporters often spent a year or two in Saskatchewan before moving on to the Brandon Sun, and eventually the Winnipeg Free Press.
Powell never took that path, electing instead to return to Regina, start a family, and focus on fiction instead of non-fiction.
Her previous life as a newspaper reporter in Prince Albert still figures prominently in her work, however. It’s even served as the inspiration for her current work in progress—a novel about a 17-year-old girl who’s hired to build up a dying community newspaper’s website.
“In my heart, I’ve always loved newspapers,” Powell said. “I’ve worked for newspaper for years—for the community weeklies and then the dailies in Moose Jaw and Prince Albert, so the community newspaper has a special place in my heart.”