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Team of Nobodies

Emil | Wes | Doris

How to Fail an Interview with Flying Colours


I had written the first chapter of my book “And where are you from?” in 2007 while hibernating in Cyprus. Nothing further was done until 2012, when the death of my father spurred me on to finish what I had started.

What was needed? Someone I could report to once a week with my work for them to review and edit. That I would be obliged to sit and write every day.

The task was so simple.

Why did it take a year to find someone?

Starting at the Alexandria Writers’ Centre in Calgary where I had taken umpteen creative writing courses twenty years ago, I asked if there was someone to coach me one on one.

No, I didn’t want to enrol in the 101 courses offered up, just one person’s time.

A month went by.
No luck.
Six months.
No luck.

“Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you a $100 if you can find me a coach.”

“Call the Alberta guild of Writers in Edmonton. They email out a newsletter with ads for services wanted.”

I called and their computer had broken down. Could I call them next week?

Three candidates replied.

One was based in Edmonton and wanted me to email my story and she would edit it. I refused as my ideal was someone I could see face to face once a week.

The next was a 30 year-old lissom beauty, an ex-Calgary Herald editor who would take my work and, if need be rewrite it. She lived in the neighbourhood and we could meet in my building. This was going to be perfect.

“What are your rates?”

“$62.50 per hour + GST.”

“What a weird rate. How did you come up with it?” My accountant’s mind asked curiously.

“I attended a day course with Canada Manpower and they help compute the rates.”

There was one other candidate.

Instead of describing her service or her enthusiasm, her response to my ad was short and sweet.

“I charge $45 an hour.”

With that kind of an opener (and an ender) I had to see her.

Doris had no car and lived in the boonies. Could I come to her? We set an appointment at the Good Earth at 2:30 pm the next day. I was going to England two days later and had promised my first interviewee an answer before I left.

At 2:00 pm the next day, I called Doris to say I’m on my way—and she’s forgotten me already. Why did I agree to reschedule? I don’t know.

She turned up, an overweight, sour, dowdy dowager of a woman.

“My rates are $45 an hour. What software do you use?”

“None. Just a handwritten notebook. I don’t know how to use a computer.” She gave me a grim, menacing look.

If I could, I would have banged my head on the table. I never realized until then how masochistic I was.

“Well, as you’re here, we might as well examine your notebook.” Looking at me like a schoolmarm catching a truant. The trouble was, with a page full of crow’s feet squiggles and half the words crossed out, even I couldn’t read my writing.

She studied the first page. I held my breath. She studied the next page… and the one after. I had only written this one story 7 years ago and never revisited it.

She flung the first page at me.

“Read this!”

“…they seated me at a table like some parcel expected to be picked up the next day.”

“Do you know what that is?” She asked me sternly. “It’s an iconic phrase.”

From monosyllabic sentences, she now cascaded into a torrent of words and ideas.

“This is what we are going to do.”

It felt like the beginning of a plane ride, when, as a child, on lift off, he had felt his stomach left behind as his body hurtled into space.

The thirty-year-old lissom and accommodating beauty was left in the dust.