Winning the Darren Zenko Prize

I just won my first writing award.

Hooray for me!

One sentence makes for a vague and crappy blog entry, so here's the full story:

When I transferred from the faculty of science to the faculty of arts this year, I realized that I was missing the six fine arts credits that every arts student must complete before being unleashed on Canada's Starbucks franchises. I was given a choice of four different disciplines - music, drama, visual art or creative writing - and since I'm pretty certain that writing is my thing, I whipped up a writing sample and sent off an application to the class. A few weeks later, I got the good news - I was one of twenty-five applicants chosen to take the class under award-winning Canadian author Thomas Wharton

Seen here in this twenty-year-old headshot that comes up when you Google him.

The class was based around short stories. Now, I've read The Lottery and The Telltale Heart, and all the other corpse-tastic horror stories they make you read in high school, for some reason, but I'd never actually written a short story. Novels, I can do. Condensing all of my devastating wit and charming characters into 10-page stories was new to me. In true Janel fashion, I waited until the night before my first deadline to crank out a short story; desperate for an interesting plot, I settled on writing a story about a middle aged man who wants to impress his classmates at a high school reunion, and decides that the only way to do so is to steal the Mona Lisa. 

Because that's a sane, reasonable choice. 

In workshop the next week, I fully expected to be berated for my silly, haphazard plot; instead, I got my first A+ of the semester. The feedback I got on that story, and on the other pieces of writing I produced for the class, was incredibly helpful, complimentary and encouraging. For the first time since I started writing novels in my senior year of high school, I felt like I really was working towards a writing career, and not just chasing shadows. 

Just because it worked for Peter Pan, doesn't mean it's a good idea.

The class came to an end in early December, and I figured that was it. I was surprised, then, to see an email from my professor three weeks ago. Had he finally come to his senses and realized how silly my stories were after all? 

My creative process. 

Not at all. As it turned out, the creative writing department has professors nominate one student from their writing classes each year for the Darren Zenko Memorial Prize in Creative Writing, and my professor had chosen to nominate me. The award goes to one creative writing student each year who produces high-quality work and shows the most potential to succeed; the winner is given a chance to attend the Banff Centre Writing with Style Workshop, a fancy writing retreat that I had often heard of but had exactly no chance of affording. I knew my odds of actually winning the prize weren't great - for one, I was being nominated from the most basic of all the writing classes, and most importantly, I was required to submit a cover letter. 

I do not like cover letters. 

How I write cover letters.

The letter was supposed to explain how I would benefit from attending the workshop, so I wrote an earnest and probably-too-honest explanation of how writing outside of a school environment would let me unleash the complete literary lunacy that I kept bottled up for the sake of my GPA. They also needed a writing sample, so I attached my Mona Lisa story. And that was that - I sent off the application and tried not to get my hopes up. 

On Friday, my professor emailed me to say that I'd been selected as the winner.

Victory means double-punching the sky.

So I'm off to the Fall 2014 Writing with Style workshop - incidentally, I'll be celebrating my 22nd birthday at the centre. Participants have the option of workshopping a short story, poem or the first chapter of a novel, and since novels will forever be my first, wordy loves, I'll probably choose the latter. I have plenty of time to start another book while I wait for September to hurry up and get here. 

202 days to go. Not that I'm counting.

So that's the story of how a mandatory arts credit requirement led to a magical mountain writing adventure. Those of you who are still desperately hanging on my every word come September (Which should be all of you. Please. I have cookies.) will doubtlessly be treated to one or more blog posts filled with helpful things I've learned and indistinguishable photographs of mountains I've taken. Because seriously, people, great blog topics don't grow on trees. 

But sometimes great stories grow out of tight deadlines and half-remembered fun facts about Renaissance art. 


  1. So happy for you, wishing a long and great career as a writer!

  2. Heh, that's awesome XD and (as probably is the case with any writer congratulating another writer) I'm both incredibly envious of your success, and incredibly happy for you at the same time - nice going! Hope you have fun and get to crank out that first chapter of your literary opus!!

    1. I know that feeling well! Thanks so much - I hope I can come up with something good!

  3. Awesome, awesome, awesome! I'm so jealous! a good way, of course. Congratulations, Janel! Now, I'm a loyal fan!

  4. I am so happy for you! I am Darren's wife. And I am so glad this honour exists! I am attaching a picture of Darren in the bar at the Banff Centre. (We spent the beginning of our relationship there, as I was there as a participant with the Calgary WordFest)


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