Writer in Residence

Getting Started the Long Way Around

By NShannacappo

I didn't always want to be a writer, mind you, I didn't learn to read or write until I was about 12. I have this auditory learning disability that makes learning things a challenge, most things I can do by observation and practice like everyone else. Some things I need to read and that's where the problem comes in, like learning a new language; if I can read it, I can learn it. School was always difficult, not because I didn't understand the material, rather it was because it was largely a verbal experience with lessons all auditory or written down and required reading. This has made many things a challenge, as my wife would tell you, having conversations with me can be a challenge since most of what I hear goes into long term memory and not my short term, so a few weeks down the road I'll suddenly answer a question or continue a conversation where it was left off as if it just happened. I can hold a conversation just fine, but recalling it an hour later not so much, I'll remember that we spoke but most of what we spoke about is locked away in the tomb of the long term. So all that to say, I didn't dream of being a writer growing up, until I learned to read and that was in a very large part thanks to the comic book The Savage Sword of Conan.

I would “read” the comic books for hours, and tell the stories I saw there, but it wasn't until a teacher named Mike used those comics to teach me to read. I don't recall exactly how he did it, but he figured out that I needed to create visual images to words, and that I very much saw “movies” in my head for everything. Using that information he figured out how to crack my reading code, thereafter writing. Within a year I went from being unable to read to reading everything I could get my hands on, and I gravitated to Fantasy and Sci-fi, and I liked Ursula K. Lequin, Issac Asimov, Piers Anthony, Jack L. Chalker, Mercedes Lackey, C. J. Cherryh, and Anne McCaffrey. (Any aspiring author or fan of reading under the age of 114 should go read them at least once.) Later I refined my fantasy readings to dragon-based fantasy and I gravitated to the world of Krynn, but really it was anything that had to do with a dragon, or possibly have something to do with a dragon. But I still didn't want to be a writer, not yet.

I wanted to draw my stories, it wasn't until later that I realized that if you were the author of the comic book then you were the one creating the story and not just the images and that in most comics the writer and the artist were two different people. I think when I was 15, that's when I wanted to be a writer for the first time, I wrote Silently the Petals Fall as a short story (I realized it was a poem many years later), and I was granted access to “Advanced” English class in high school. Suddenly I was exposed to a whole different style of writing. However, I ended up dropping out of high school.

Years would pass and I would return to school to get that GED, then I ended up finishing high school anyway, taking all the courses I needed to graduate. I was a bajillion years old at that point and wanted to be the first person in my family to graduate high school and then from university. (Incidentally, as a member of the 60's Scoop I had no idea if I was going to be the first and I'm fairly certain without ever having asked that I was most definitely not.) It was there as a dinosaur of a high school student, in an adult school, that I was reintroduced to poetry and that's when I decided that I wanted to be a poet and a writer. I also figured out that Silently the Petals Fall was a poem and I changed it into one, and in doing so I decided on what the style of my writing would be.

I'm having varying levels of success in creating a poetic and still sci-fi writing style, but there's time, and that's all I'm trying to say. I haven't always known or wanted to be a writer, but in the meantime, I've become a crappy carpenter, construction worker, great chainsaw operator, semi-alright forklift driver, passing salad chef, terrible line cook, wicked deadly dishwasher, pretty good peer counselor, not too shabby social service worker, graphic novelist, and poet. The road to being a writer, poet, artist, or whatever your calling is will look exactly like it needs to be to create the best version of you so you're prepared to answer that call.

Will you recognize it or yourself when the time comes, probably not, but that's alright because reality is you'll have many shots and that's the nature of a calling; it will present itself to you many, many times throughout your life and each time you'll be prepared, but perhaps just not ready. That too is a great secret, being prepared to do your life's work and being ready to do it, are two vastly different things. That's alright, it's okay, try not to stress too much about it, because one day you will be prepared and ready. 

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

NShannacappo is a Nakawe graphic novelist and poet from Rolling River First Nation in Manitoba. He's Eagle clan and currently living, working and playing in Ottawa. You can find his stories in the Indigenous anthologies called Sovereign Traces - Not (Just) (An)other, Vol 1 and Sovereign Traces – Relational Constellation, Vol 2. The graphic novel Mashkawide'e (Has a strong heart) was published by Senator Kim Pate and copies can be found by contacting her office. Neal published his own creation, The Krillian Key in November 2020, and is working on If I Go Missing which is being published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd., and Niikaniganaw (All My Relations) commissioned by a group of healthcare researchers.