One of the teachings that writer Odette Auger has taken to heart over the years is that if a story is important enough, “it needs to be told.”
“Whether that’s journalism or fiction … It is going to find its way out,” she said. “There’s something there to be shared. Despite my busy work life or work-life balance, or even just plain old procrastination, I think the story is finding its way out there.”
That might be why Auger has finally decided to apply for the Audible Indigenous Writers Circle program. Auger, who is Sagamok Anishnawbek through her mother living on Klahoose, Homalco, and Tla’amin territories (Cortes Island), she only applied for the program after hearing about it over and over again.
“I was in an Ojibway language class, and one of the other participants had gone through the Audible Writers Circle, so I knew it was around and you know, it’s sort of floated past my feed and a few different ways before,” she said. “I thought, you know, I keep seeing this and I keep being drawn to apply, so maybe I should just submit my excerpt and let them decide if I should attend or not. And so that’s what I did. I sent my first chapter of a fiction piece that I’d been brainstorming in bits and pieces for many years.”
Whether it was her story trying to get out, or just a successful social media campaign, Auger ended up applying for the program and was chosen as one of 19 Indigenous writers from all over Canada.
Each writer gets paired with a mentor who guides them through the writing process and gives feedback on their projects.
Auger’s mentor is CBC journalist and author Angela Sterritt.
“We meet regularly and she gives me feedback as I’m writing,” Auger said, noting they’re not actually “doing line editing or copy editing, but more just with an eye for structure at this early stage in my writing.
“Another thing we do is we meet for workshops, have guest speakers, and it’s just a chance for us all to chat about where we’re at in our in our writing processes,” Auger added.
“For me personally, it’s more of a chance to maybe redirect my path and some writing that I’m doing, too.”
Auger is an accomplished journalist. While working as Managing Editor of Indiginews, her writing has appeared in Watershed Sentinel, The Resolve, La Converse, Windspeaker, The Tyee, Asparagus Magazine and APTN National News. However, her goal with the project is to set aside time for fiction.
“I’m also a journalist so I know the power of storytelling, about how a narrative lead can really draw a reader into the story more deeply,” she said. “I think just having time to just focus on fiction has been really like a gift, and I think I had that in mind when I applied, and that’s been the gift of the workshop, that I have spent more time on that type of writing.”
Though the two styles of writing are quite different, Auger says she’s taken skills from journalism and used them to help create a powerful, fictional story.
“We talk a lot about … knowing how you can use a compelling narrative and the human voice to bring a reader closer to the facts,” she says.
“Sometimes those are facts that we’re not always comfortable with or they might stretch ourselves a little bit, but journalistic ethics have taught me to always include the other side, that the other perspective [is needed] to create a powerful story. It’s not just for balance … it’s a powerful writing tool.
“In my story, that becomes other characters,” she added.
“It’s either family members or friends of the protagonists bringing those other facets of the truth to the reality that I’m creatively developing there with that main character.”
While she is not ready to divulge all of the secrets about her novel, Auger said it does shift from the perspective of a young Indigenous girl to her as an adult.
“That’s been challenging writing on two different timelines and switching from sort of a young adult perspective to an adult perspective,” she said, adding that she’s been “entering that process of letting the story develop its own energy and its own momentum. It has surprised me in different ways. Different parts of the story’s theme sort of fell away, and fresher themes sort of emerged.”
While Auger is currently a learner in the program, she’s also taking on a mentor role in the upcoming Canadian Association of Journalists mentorship program.
“If we have something, whether it’s a talent or a skill, that’s a gift,” she said.
“If you have a gift you should be using it, and so for some of us that’s writing, for [others] it might be using your voice in a different way.”
And for Auger, it might just be that the story she’s trying to tell really needed to be told.