Interview with Canadian Writer, Kelly S. Thompson

Photo: Kelly S. Thompson

Photo: Kelly S. Thompson

Brief Biography:

Kelly S. Thompson spent most of the last decade serving as a human resources specialist Logistics Officer in the Canadian Forces but was medically released due to an injury. At this time, she began to pursue writing again, starting with a blog for Chatelaine magazine, detailing her experiences as a woman in the military. Kelly has a degree in Professional Writing from York University, a certificate in Publishing from Ryerson University and a masters in fine arts in Creative Writing from UBC. Kelly has published in a variety of publications including Chatelaine,Georgia Straight, the Tyee, Enterprise, WestCoast Families and Pie magazine as well as her essay “We Are A (Military) Family” in Embedded on the Home Front: Where Military and Civilian Lives Converge, published by Heritage House Press, which won her the Barbara Novak Award for Personal Essay in 2013. She was also shortlisted for the Room Magazine 2013 and 2014 Non Fiction contest. She runs her own freelance writing and editing business, Kelly S. Thompson Writing and Editing Services. She can be reached at kelly@kellysthompson.com.

Geosi Gyasi: You are an award-winning writer and editor based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Could you tell us a bit about the place you live and write?

Kelly S. Thompson: Vancouver is a great place to live and work, known for being somewhere that you can golf and ski all in the same day. So far this year, I think I’ve only worn mittens twice and I don’t even own an winter jacket, which while living in Canada is saying a lot! I’m from Ontario, but when I was in the military I was posted to Vancouver in 2010 for several months as part of the security force for the Olympics, and I truly fell in love with the art, glamour and beauty that this city offers. That said, my husband is still in the military, so every place we live is temporary, as we move every three years or so. But it makes us appreciate each place we live for the intricacies that make a particular region special.

Geosi Gyasi: How are you able to combine editing and writing?

Kelly S. Thompson: My Professional Writing degree from York was very editing focused, so I gained knowledge of all aspects of editing, from substantive to copy editing. My masters degree, however, was much more creative based, so I always enjoy blended those two aspects of my education into content that is entertaining and yet grammatically correct!

Geosi Gyasi: Do you edit your own works?

Kelly S. Thompson: I try not to, as when you’re too close to something, you’re guaranteed to miss small details. I do have a great friend from my masters program who I routinely share my work with, so every two weeks or so, we send stories back and forth to one another with notes and tips. It’s always nice to have someone who you trust and value to comb through your work not only for grammar and punctuation, but also for the flow of a story, themes, and character details that you might not consider as the writer.

Geosi Gyasi: You served as a Logistics Officer in the Canadian Forces for nearly a decade. Could you tell us some of your experiences working in the Canadian Forces?

Kelly S. Thompson: If you asked anyone I grew up with, NO ONE would have guessed I’d ever join the military, even though I had grown up in the lifestyle. From the moment I was in grade one, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but then 9/11 happened during my last year of high school and it seemed like the right thing to do, to help people.

I had an interesting experience in the military, namely because I was injured at the very beginning of my career. When you’re injured in the Forces, it really limits you because you cannot deploy, which is obviously required of any soldier. That said, I gained so much from my military experiences. I learned I was tougher and stronger than I ever thought capable, I travelled all over, and I saw the Olympics hosted in my own country.

During my final year in the Forces, I worked at a unit that was dedicated for caring for all the injured and ill soldiers, and it was an experience that truly changed me and made me value all that we do as a country and all that our soldiers give up in order to protect those who deserve the same freedoms we have here. Emotionally, that job was extremely difficult but I left there knowing I had made positive impact on people.

By far the best part of the military was the friends who became family. In fact, when I broke my leg in basic training, Joe, my now husband, carried me for three kilometres back to our main camp site and we married seven years later. Those kinds of people, the ones you learn you could literally trust your life with, are the reason the military left a positive impact on my life.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write mostly from your experiences?

Kelly S. Thompson: Yes and no. I like to use personal experience when it comes to fiction, as I tend to feel it lends a realistic vibe to the writing itself. That said, I think there are a lot of people who assume everything has been experienced personally, which simply isn’t the case. I might take a feeling I had once and expand that into an entire story and sometimes even the minutia of life is what makes the best story.

Of course, all of my creative non fiction is personal experiences, and it is my favourite genre. There’s something powerful about a story that is real and told well.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about your writings in the Chatelaine magazine?

Kelly S. Thompson: Chatelaine is the largest women’s magazine in Canada, and I was honoured to have started my writing career with them. I started the blog, Under Fire, during my final year in the Canadian Forces. Although I already had a degree in Professional Writing, I didn’t write much while I was in the Forces, perhaps because it isn’t a job where my creativity was exactly encouraged, and so I really jumped at the opportunity to express myself in writing and also share with Canada what life is like in the Forces. There’s this idea that we all spend the day shooting weapons and climbing in bunkers, but there is much more to military life than just the stuff you see in movies. I wrote the blog for more than a year, following my transition out of the military, and it continues to open so many professional doors for me when Chatelaine is on my resume.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you decide to do an internship with D&M Publishers Inc.?

Kelly S. Thompson: The military runs a great program called Vocational Rehab, designed to help injured soldiers get back to work by paying them their full salary for six months while they train for a new job. I was leaving the military and wanted to get into writing and publishing, and although I had a degree, I didn’t have any professional experience. So the military paid me while I interned at D&M to learn the inner workings of publishing. I have absolutely no qualms about “starting at the bottom,” and it was a terrific way to learn and network.

Geosi Gyasi: You were the 2013 winner of the Barbara Novak Writing Award for Excellence for your essay, “We Are a (Military Family)”. What inspired this essay?

Kelly S. Thompson: This essay is really close to my heart and I was so proud to have it published. I was approached through my Chatelaine blog by the editors of “Embedded on the Home Front” (the book that the essay was published in), as they were busy putting together a collection of essays about military life from the home front perspective. It was a project I was super passionate and excited about, so the essay really stemmed from a desire to showcase what life is like in a military family.

Both my writing and military careers have been significantly impacted by my military family history, as I am the fourth generation Thompson (on both sides of my family) to have served in the Forces. And while my entire family has total allegiance to the military, it is undeniable an emotionally trying job, and I watched as a child and later, as an adult, how war impacted my father and grandfather as they struggled with the ramifications of what they had to do on the war lines. I wanted to explore what it was like to grow up in that kind of military shadow while also acknowledging all that makes the military great. I was in the process of releasing from the Forces so I was also emotional about my own military experience ending. It was a great cap to my career and made for an excellent start into my new chosen profession of writing.

Geosi Gyasi: When do you often write?

Kelly S. Thompson: I write all day, every day. I wake up and usually the first three hours of the day are my most productive. So I take that time to work on any professional deadlines, contracts, and articles, and then usually reserve afternoons for writing new freelance pitches or bookkeeping stuff that goes along with owning your own small business! But I always take weekends to spend a few hours hammering out a creative piece of work, be it a short story or an essay. I can’t help myself once I get an idea going though, so sometimes I work late into the night simply because I have an idea that won’t allow me to sleep until it’s on the page.

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you often write?

Kelly S. Thompson: When I was in the process of leaving the military, I began to collect all these things I dreamed of using in my “new creative life.” I now have an office that really speaks to my character, with a mix of bright lime green and antiques, and my dog Pot Roast usually planted on the couch.

I’ve also been known to work on the couch for long hours, usually with Pot Roast (who is 75 pounds) laying across me like a big lump. It isn’t ergonomical, but it works!

Geosi Gyasi: Are there times you feel like not writing?

Kelly S. Thompson: Absolutely never. It feeds me, gets me up in the morning, inspires me and excites me. I may not feel like working on a particular article, but if that’s the case, I work on some other writing project or read a book and that usually gets the creative juices flowing.

Geosi Gyasi: You won the Regional Volunteer of the Year award for 2014 for your work as President of the Professional Writers Association of Canada. What does it take to be a volunteer?

Kelly S. Thompson: I do a lot of volunteering and it’s always rewarding and enriching. I think being a volunteer takes persistence and dedication, even when you feel you might not necessarily be getting anything back. I think you have to give your time for yourself because it is something you want to do, and not to impress others or because it will look good on your resume. You have to be passionate about the cause and you can’t be deterred when you feel you might not be making a difference, because even the smallest effort counts.

Geosi Gyasi: You hold a Masters degree in Creative writing from the University of British Columbia. Is there any special reason why you decided to study writing?

Kelly S. Thompson: It really is the only program I ever wanted to take in my entire life because this is all I have ever wanted to do. Seriously, I dreamed about it since I was a kid when I made a book about spring time in grade one. The program at UBC is very prestigious and I applied not really expecting to get in. Thankfully, I did, and I learned so much it often astounds me how much my writing improved after I studied at UBC. But the professors are top notch, the experience was amazing and it was the perfect program to take as I left the military and started into a new life. The writing community is very accepting and welcoming and it was nice to be surrounded by other writers, so I instantly found a new family outside of my military one.

Geosi Gyasi: Which books have had the greatest influence on your life as a writer?

Kelly S. Thompson: Oh goodness, we could be here a while! I love anything by Lisa Moore, because she can describe anything and make you feel like you’re living and breathing that moment. I also really like Chinua Achebe for his beautiful prose, and as a kid, anything by O.R. Melling for all the magic she created. I have always read books with the hope of escaping into another world, and that’s what I hope to give to others when I write.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you belong to any group or association of writers?

Kelly S. Thompson: I do! I’m President of the Vancouver Chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, the Creative Non Fiction Collective Society, the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs, and the Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. So I belong to a few! It’s a great mix of creative and professional writers and lets me keep a pulse on what is going on in the literary community.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any special activity you do to relax?

Kelly S. Thompson: I meditate every single day, which I find helps me live in the moment while also being aware of what’s going on around me. Writers have to be continuously aware of the world in order to present it properly to others. I also read a lot, usually a novel or two a week, and of course, dog walks with Pot Roast!

Geosi Gyasi: What do you specifically gain from writing?

Kelly S. Thompson: I gain absolute peace and joy from writing. That’s why I have to do it every single day. And knowledge. To me, knowledge is the greatest tool to making the life you want to lead.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring aspect of writing?

Kelly S. Thompson: I admittedly hate research, which isn’t exactly a great thing for a writer to hate! Research is what makes stories and articles seem real, by not breaking the fictional dream. But I definitely prefer getting down to the business of writing. If only I could train Pot Roast to do Internet research!

My parents often wonder how I don’t get bored writing about mundane things, for trade magazines for example. But every article or story I write, I learn something new and appreciate a new part of the world. What else could someone want from a job?

Geosi Gyasi: Money, for some writers?

Kelly S. Thompson: Ha. Yes, I suppose monetary richness would make life significantly easier, and yet, it’s never been my main concern. I took a pay cut when I left the military for sure, however, I’m significantly happier now that I do what I love each day. As a woman, my goal has always been to make enough money to be able to support myself financially so that I never had to rely on anyone else to pay my bills for me. I’ve stuck true to that promise.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any writing plans for the future?

Kelly S. Thompson: Always! Like any writer, my goal is to have my own book published. I’m working on something right now that I think is pretty promising…but only time will tell.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write on the computer or in a notepad?

Kelly S. Thompson: I do both. I have notebooks stashed all over the house, my purse, in drawers, and in the car, which drives my husband crazy. The iPhone has changed my life in that it makes it easy to make quick notes that easily transfer to my computer. But sometimes, only a pen and paper will do.

For Christmas one year, my husband took me to the Vancouver Pen Shop, and allowed me to pick out any fountain pen I wanted. I picked out a rust brown ink too, which makes it feel special and unique to me. Whenever I need to boost my mind and get into the writing mode, I jot a few sentences with that pen to remind me that every word starts somewhere. I tend to feel more connected to the writing when it stems directly from my hand and not through a keyboard.

That said, my mom says my handwriting is worse than a doctor’s, so hopefully no one needs to read my notes once I’m gone!

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever miss the military?

Kelly S. Thompson: I miss is often, and yet, having Joe in my life while he is still serving allows me to connect with the Forces without still being a part of it. I don’t miss the stifling of my creativity or the need to conform and look like everyone else, but I do miss the comradeship, teamwork and excitement. I always wanted to be a writer, so I assumed that when I left the Forces, it would be a sigh of relief to finally get down to business and do what I love for a living, but it definitely wasn’t that easy and proved far more difficult than I imagined.

When I really get down about losing that part of my career, I try to remember that as a writer, my career is what I make it, and the military gave me endless experiences to write about, but it isn’t all that I am. I’m a veteran, yes, but I’m also so much more. The military was just the beginning.

END.

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