Over the next few weeks, we are very excited to introduce some of our alumni who are making waves in the world of writing. Stay tuned to learn about some budding (or established!) authors who launched their writing careers with their Arts education.
Janice MacDonald’s (’81 BA, ’87 MA, English) Randy Craig Mysteries have intrigued mystery fans – especially those in Edmonton! – since she finished her MA in English and launched right into a successful mystery writing career. MacDonald, who had already been working as a professional writer since receiving her BA Honours in 1981, decided she wanted to bring her writing home with the Randy Craig stories, which centres around a postsecondary English instructor who solves mysteries in her spare time. The stories are set in Edmonton, most often right around the University of Alberta.
MacDonald has also written non-fiction, short stories, children’s literature, a composition textbook, and the music and lyrics to two musicals.
When she is not plotting the demise of fictional Edmontonians and the odd nasty politician, Janice has raised two other UAlberta grads (Madeleine Mant [’09 BA, Anthropology; ’10 MSc at Durham; ’16 PhD at McMaster]; and Jocelyn Mant, [’14 BA, Economics]); taught English, Communications and Creative Writing; and gone on to work for the Government of Alberta. While she is at work on another Randy Craig mystery, her next published work will be a travel memoir commemorating the 50th anniversary of Expo ’67 and the sesquicentennial of Canada, tentatively called Confederation Drive.
Read the opening of Another Margaret (Ravenstone, an imprint of Turnstone Books), MacDonald’s most recent novel in the Randy Craig Series, which takes place during UAlberta’s very own Alumni Weekend:
Whoever said that “when things get rough you can always fall back on teaching” probably had not considered the rigours of pedagogy. Of course, they probably had no idea what the word pedagogy meant in the first place.
What it meant for me was, after being out of the sessional world for more than a couple of years, I had to do quite a bit of catch-up on the expectations placed on first-year English students, in order to craft a syllabus that would pass muster with the 100-level overseer. There was far more focus on theory in the first year courses than there had been when I was a student, or even when I’d been teaching for the few years I had found regular work after defending my thesis.
Then, it was a combination of offering a survey of literary types, examining them with an eye to writing about them in a skilled manner, and determining what literature could tell us about a time period, a culture, or the human condition in general. Mostly, it was about teaching them how to shore up their opinions with reasoning, in order to craft a sensible and legible essay.
I hadn’t even grasped literary theory till I was well into the third year of my BA, and I had been immersed in English courses. I wasn’t totally persuaded that the youth of today were somehow more sophisticated thinkers. Half the eighteen year-olds I’d met were pretty sure a “meme” meant “internet cat picture.”
I didn’t complain too much, though. If theory, rhetoric and literature, in that order, was what they wanted, that is what they would get. And I knuckled under and tossed in a little Derrida, Foucault and Saussure with my punctuation tips. I must have done something right, because I’d been offered a full roster of courses for this, my second year at Grant MacEwan University.
I was just so happy to have courses to teach, I probably would have smiled and nodded and agreed to put in two weeks of Russian grammar. My stress nightmare around exam time had always been that I had somehow enrolled in Russian 100 and yet neglected to attend the course, but had to write the final. Once I began teaching, the nightmares had shifted to me having to teach Russian 100, with no facility for the language beyond the ability to say “thank you” and a vague grasp of the Cyrillic alphabet. In my dreams, I had not taught the class or indeed even found the classroom till the last week of term (somehow it was always situated behind the boiler room in the Biological Sciences Building) and I had to bring a very placid group of students, who had apparently continued to hopefully turn up each day, up to speed in time for the final.
Nightmares where I was beholden to people always made me more anxious than ones where I was being chased by a knife-wielding maniac, and the Russian 100 dream never failed to wake me up sweating and shaking. There hadn’t been too much to cause nightmares otherwise. My friend Valerie was two doors down the hall, the Grant MacEwan English Department held full-scale meetings every second month, and the secretaries and the Chair, Katherine West, were always very helpful.
The nightmares had shifted to me having to teach Russian 100, with no facility for the language beyond the ability to say “thank you” and a vague grasp of the Cyrillic alphabet. -Another Margaret by Janice MacDonald
I taught three classes the first term and two the second. I was pretty sure that first year that my schedule was made up of the courses no one else wanted, since I had two 8 am classes, and a 3:30 till 5 pm class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That made my break between classes those days six hours long, which was way more office hour timing than anyone required, but I was just so happy to get a foot back into the teaching door that I had agreed to the pickings. It seemed as if I had proved myself worthy, since I wound up with a nicer schedule this fall.
Denise had been annoyed on my behalf, anyway. “What horrible times for classes. But you know, those kids who do sign up for the 8 am classes will be the lucky ones.”
She could smile. She had tenure and an office in the Humanities Building at the U of A overlooking the glorious North Saskatchewan River Valley. As far as academe went, Denise was in the catbird seat. Her book on Shakespeare’s fools was being published by Routledge in the fall and she had been awarded a medal of distinction for her teaching earlier in the year. I didn’t begrudge her any of it; she was my best friend, and besides, she’d had a hell of summer the year before.
I was probably dredging up these memories from last year because we were sitting in the exact same table on the patio of the High Level Diner as Denise and I had been a short twelve months ago. I checked my watch. As nice as it was to sit in the warm August sun and discuss guaranteed paying work, it would be best to drink my iced tea and head home to get the rest of this year’s syllabi done. Denise waved away my offer to pay.
“We’re celebrating. Oh oh oh, I just about forgot! I have news for you that’s really going to make you want to celebrate!” She rummaged in her elegant green and hibiscus flowers canvas bag, and pulled out a magazine. “Look what I found in Quill and Quire this morning! The minute I read it I knew you were going to be thrilled.”
She pushed the magazine to me, already opened to the appropriate page.
Undiscovered Manuscript Found read the headline and the first line of the article sent a chill up my spine. “Seven Bird Saga marks a fifth book for Margaret Ahlers, the elusive writer who died prior to what was assumed to be her final work, Feathers of Treasure, being published.”
It was impossible for there to be a fifth book, and I knew it. What the hell was going on?
“She died when you were doing your thesis, right? How crazy is it that they’d find another posthumous manuscript?” Denise didn’t seemed to notice my shock, or was just attributing it to happiness that I would soon have another Ahlers book to read and revel in. After all, I had done my thesis on the woman.
“What’s more, I just heard that Leo is coming to town for Homecoming, to celebrate our landmark reunion from grad days. This is going to be a great year, Randy. Just like old times!”
Just like old times, right. Of course, old times to most folks held no memories of death.