Tag Archives: Diana Koch

Standing Ovation for Diana Koch’s “Prime Time Stories”

He couldn’t remember growing old. It hit him like a freak thunderstorm on a sunny afternoon– Diana Koch*

 Local author Diana Koch’s work appears flawless. The only wrinkles in Prime Time Stories, her debut short story collection, are found on the faces and hands of her characters. Almost all of her protagonists are older, coping with various challenges in the later stages of their lives. The suspense (what they ‘do or don’t do’) propels the reader to turn the page in rapid succession.

Prime Time Stories Cover

“Prime Time Stories” (Greenstone Press, 2016) by Diana Koch is “a collection of 24 stories about men and women whose lives have been influenced by secrets, betrayals, regrets, illness, and even death”.  Cover image by the author.

Meet Mary, the woman who was now as withered as a forgotten summer apple that had rolled unnoticed under a storage bin. Sneak into Ivan Leeson’s barn as this widower/farmer touches the sinewy roughness of a rope as he contemplates suicide.

Will Mrs. M., a retirement home resident, lonely and confined to a wheelchair, be scammed by one of her visitors? What will become of Taylor Montgomery, a rich woman who steals trivial items to cope with her husband’s affairs? As Koch writes, Youth, in a slow trickle, is seeping out of her.

This focus on ageing (in its various forms) is like the yolk and egg whites that hold the nourishing bread of her book together. Consider it a loaf of 24 stories sliced and packaged with crusted secrets, yeast-bubbled humour, heart-warming sugar, flour-coated hauntings, unexpected crumbs, and cinnamon-twisted endings.

Like a baker or pastry chef, Koch slips in special ingredients to enhance the flavour of her work. Most notable is her use of the five senses such as scent: the captivating fragrance of “Promise Me” wafting around her like an exotic butterfly, the sweet smell of wood shavings and sound: the slamming of screen doors…his heavy steps on the stairs…water running in the bathroom…the ring of a telephone… the clanging of cutlery….

With a dinner-knife-sharpened imagination, she spreads her thoughts out like butter. The rhythm and flow of her words are silky-smooth and her sunny-yellow disposition slips between the sandwiched narrative and dialogue of her short stories.

Diana Koch Author Photo by Klaus Koch

Local author Diana Koch says writing fiction became a serious past-time after she retired. Photo by Klaus Koch.

There’s a caring motherly-maturity in her literary voice and yet, her intelligence fueled by her long career in the educational field adds a layer of depth to her writing. Don’t let her mild demeanor fool you. Some of her fictional material is more sinister than her settings let on.

Her characters are easily recognizable with just enough quirkiness to make them interesting. One of my favourite descriptions is from the story “Albino” where she writes, He stomped through the mire of daily living with bricks in his shoes, and a neon sign on his head that challenged people to gawk at him as if he were an invasive species.

Another strong description appears in “Assassin of Dream” where it was her unusual eyes that made people turn and stare at her. One was the brilliant blue of a summer sky, the other as brown as a chestnut.

Koch insists her stories are just average tales not worthy of notoriety. Those who are familiar with her work would disagree. Her fictional narratives are too strong to sit in a drawer.

The first time she shared her work aloud at a local writers’ workshop, I was mesmerized. The first time she submitted a story to a contest, it won first prize in the Ten Stories High Annual Short Story Competition organized by the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association.

When she officially released Prime Time Stories last November 27, 2016 at The Book Keeper in Sarnia, her family and friends applauded loudly.

Diana Koch Author Prime Time Stories Book Launch at The Book Keeper November 27, 2016 Photo by Klaus Koch

“Prime Time Stories” by Diana Koch was officially launched last November at The Book Keeper in Sarnia. Photo by Klaus Koch.

This summer, I asked Diana to share her thoughts about her writing process. Below are her responses:

Congratulations Diana on your debut collection of short stories! In a sentence or two, describe the theme or thread that binds your stories together. What inspired you to focus on characters in the ‘prime time’ of their lives?

 Prime Time Stories introduces the reader to people who are faced with an emotional crisis that must be dealt with in order for them to move on with their lives. The characters in these stories are from diverse walks of life, but all have dilemmas that cause them distress. Prime Time provides the reader an intimate view of people who have already travelled through the spring and summer of their lives and must somehow find their way toward a satisfying future. (Spoiler alert – some are successful, others not.)

People are fascinating at all stages of life, but they become more interesting as they grow older. Over the years, we have many experiences and interactions with our fellow humans, some positive, others that bring discontent or even heart-break. We make choices that determine our destiny. On some occasions, Fate plays a role. Lives become more complex when there are secrets, betrayals, regrets. (Provocative recipe ingredients for stories!) In the end, we all search for happiness, or at the very least, a degree of contentment or peace of mind.

Which of your stories in this book is your most favourite and why is it important to you?

Although all the people in Prime Time are fictitious, I have come to know them well. Ivan Leeson in the story “When the Dog Barksis a favourite. I grew up on a farm and understand the pride and attachment that farm people have to their land. As people age, they are often forced to give up a way of life that sustained them economically and emotionally. Ivan Leeson finds himself in this unfortunate situation. Although he had hoped for a different ending to his life, ultimately, he faces his future with the courage of his pioneer ancestors. Ivan Leeson reminds me of my Dad.

Your story “Rats is the Cellar” won first place in the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Author Association’s Ten Stories High Annual Short Story Competition. I recall it was the first story you ever submitted to a contest and it won the top prize. How did it feel to receive this honour? Is it important for writers to enter their work into contests or to submit their work to literary journals or consumer magazines? Why or why not?

To say I was surprised to learn that “Rats in the Cellar” had been selected as top prize is an understatement. If you recall, I submitted the story at your suggestion. I had no ambition at that point to have any of my writing published. It was thrilling to see my work in print in the anthology Ten Stories High. The experience encouraged me to keep writing and helped me overcome the shyness of sharing my work with others. I believe that my writing has improved and matured because I gained confidence to have my work critiqued and considered for publication.

Many of your stories have a twist at the end. Where do you find the ideas for your stories?

People intrigue me. I like to watch them and have conversations.

Sometimes, a few words strike me as significant. That was the case when a friend, who volunteers at a retirement home told me about a resident who “sits and waits for visitors who never show up.” It inspired the story “Waiting for Rhonda”.

A few years ago while in Toronto, I observed an attractive, exquisitely dressed and groomed woman in a coffee shop. She was sitting alone, clutching her handbag and staring into space. Her sombre expression suggested that all was not well in her life. She became the protagonist in “Taylor Montgomery Plays Chicken”.

Newspaper articles can also be an inspiration for stories. I once read about a man who had spent considerable time and money building his own coffin. Why would someone do that? My musing resulted in “Magnum Opus”. 

Other times, I imagine what it would be like to lead a totally different life from my own. How would I feel? What would I do? How resilient would I be? “The Sewing Circle” is such a story.

The twist at the end of my stories? Isn’t life like that? We think we have a plan, a certain path we wish to follow, a goal in sight – then something unexpected happens and everything changes.

Diana Koch Author Walking the Beach Photo by Klaus Koch

Walking down the beach is one of Diana Koch’s go-to places to get her creative juices flowing. Photo by Klaus Koch.

You had a long and successful career in the educational field. When did you decide that you wanted to write on a more regular basis?

I have always enjoyed putting thoughts on paper. I took pleasure in letter writing when that was in vogue. From the time I was a child, I fabricated stories – not always with the blessing of my Mom! Writing fiction became a serious past-time after I retired. I find the process of creative thinking satisfying and relaxing.

Describe your writing process.

Almost always, the process begins with a main character. It’s important that the character has a name. From that point, physical attributes and personality develop. It often takes weeks, months, sometimes years before I truly know that character. Only then can I build a story. It happens in my head before I can write it.

I am a methodical writer. I need time to let a story develop and grow. However, once it is written, I seldom change either the character or the plot. I do many revisions to mechanics such as sentence structure and vocabulary, but the story remains the same because it is character driven.

What are you currently working on?

I’m still writing short stories. I like the variety and the neatness of completing a project in just a few pages and then moving on to something new. My writing style tends to be succinct and lends itself to the short story format.

I have one completed novel. It is a coming of age story that takes place in Germany during WWII. For years, the characters and story rattled around in my head until I finally succumbed to the irritating mental prod to write it.

Currently, I am also working on a second novel about a modern-day woman who is the reincarnation of a historical figure from the 19th century – basically a story within a story. At the moment, it’s causing me some grief. One of the characters is not cooperating. I will have to give her some one on one attention.

Diana Koch Author with her favourite book Photo by Klaus Koch

“Wuthering Heights” has been on Koch’s book shelf for over half a century. She purchased it for $1.05 while she was a student at the University of Western Ontario. She says, “it’s timeless. A book for all seasons.” Photo by Klaus Koch.

What are your future plans? 

I’m happy to continue writing at my own pace, with abundant time to think things through. Aside from completing the novel, I hope to revisit a collection of short stories called Loss of Innocence that I wrote several years ago.

Your work is so strong and yet you decided to self-publish your collection versus submit your work to a trade publisher. Would you follow this path for your next book? Why or what not?

My decision to self-publish Prime Time was an easy one for a number of reasons.

After doing some research, I discovered that books of short stories are not popular with publishers. I also wanted to experience the publishing process myself. I enjoyed the creative aspects of designing the actual book – format, font, and cover.  My writer friend Bob McCarthy was a great mentor in the process.

By self-publishing, I was able to get a sense of how readers respond to my writing. It has been a positive experience beyond my expectations.

Seeking a suitable agent and publisher is a time consuming task. So much more than writing is expected of authors. I’m still not certain that I have the talent or the resilience to deal with agents and publishers.

It gives me pleasure to write. My reward comes from readers who enjoy reading my work. With that in mind, I will have to make a decision regarding my completed novel, The Button Girl.

Thanks Diana. Over the years, you’ve shared several draft chapters of your books with various local and out-of-town writers’ groups. I can’t wait to see more of your work in print. I wish you continued success with your writing. Please keep in touch.

Diana Koch was born in the Netherlands. She arrived in Canada as a young child with her parents and younger sister. Raised on a farm, she developed a love for the outdoors and spent many hours reading in the apple orchard or daydreaming in the meadow. Her collection of stories Loss of Innocence (as yet unpublished) relates the experiences of an immigrant child growing up in rural Ontario.    

After graduating from the University of Western Ontario, she taught French and German at the secondary level, and a variety of subjects in elementary schools. She obtained a Masters degree in education and enjoyed the years in her leadership role as Principal.

Since retirement, she has spent many enjoyable hours reading and writing. Some of her work has been published in chapbooks and anthologies. Prime Time is her first published book.

A review of Koch’s debut book appears on Sharon Berg’s blog and on the Lambton Shield website.

Additional information about Prime Time can be found on The Book Keeper website.

*from the short story “When the Dog Barks” published in the book Prime Time Stories (Greenstone Press, 2016) page 50. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Diana Koch, 2016 
PLEASE NOTE: Several other quotes from Prime Time have been reprinted with the author’s permission. They appear in italics within the body of the blog post.

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.                        

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Bluewater Reading Series Moves Forward With Events in April and May

Sarnia’s Bluewater Reading Series is gearing up for another great year.  As temperatures dip and nip fingertips, howling winds play havoc on icy and snow covered roads. Venturing outdoors can be a challenge; travelling great distances to participate in an out-of-town reading seems like such a gamble.

Speaking in front of a full audience: emcee Lynn Tait (Sarnia), fiction writer Diana Koch (Sarnia), Poet Laureate of Brantford John B. Lee (Port Dover), author of Laughing Through a Second Pregnancy Vanessa Shields (Windsor) and poet Grace Vermeer (Sarnia

Last November, speaking in front of a full audience: emcee Lynn Tait (Sarnia), fiction writer Diana Koch (Sarnia), Poet Laureate of Brantford John B. Lee (Port Dover), author of Laughing Through a Second Pregnancy Vanessa Shields (Windsor) and poet Grace Vermeer (Sarnia

However, despite the temptation to escape to a warmer climate or to hibernate in a snowbank, plans are indeed moving forward for the committee’s next two offerings: a special April is National Poetry Month event scheduled for Saturday, April 11, 2015 and a fiction/poetry reading set for Saturday, May 9, 2015. Both literary events will be held during the afternoon at John’s Restaurant on the outskirts of Sarnia, Ontario.

According to committee member and prolific Canadian poet James Deahl, “seven out of town guests have already agreed to participate in this spring’s program; five of whom have never visited or read in this area of Ontario before. We are working on posters and media releases. A formal announcement will be made soon.”

To date, the Bluewater Reading Series committee has already organized three successful readings. Previous out-town guest readers (in alphabetical order) included: Allan Briesmaster, Clara Blackwood, Andreas Gripp, John B. Lee, Carol Malyon, Vanessa Shields, and John Wing Jr.

Selected work by Port Dover poet/editor John B. Lee

Selected work by Port Dover poet/editor John B. Lee

If you missed the November 2014 event, below are some of the highlights. Photos courtesy: Lorraine Kraayenbrink Photography. Additional details about the autumn event can be found here.

Prolific award-winning poet John B. Lee reads his poem “Jimi Hendrix in the Company of Cows”.

Prolific award-winning poet John B. Lee reads his poem “Jimi Hendrix in the Company of Cows”.

Award-winning fiction writer Diana Koch reads from her new manuscript

Award-winning fiction writer Diana Koch reads from her new manuscript

Vanessa Shields shares a story from her book Laughing Through a Second Pregnancy (Black Moss Press)

Vanessa Shields shares a story from her book Laughing Through a Second Pregnancy (Black Moss Press)

Sarnia poet Grace Vermeer shares some of her award-winning poems.

Sarnia poet Grace Vermeer shares some of her award-winning poems.

Selected work by Windsor writer/editor Vanessa Shields

Selected work by Windsor writer/editor Vanessa Shields

Follow this blog for future updates on the Bluewater Reading Series and other literary events, reviews and profiles.

For upcoming January, February, and March activities in southwestern Ontario, Canada, check out the events  page on this blog.

 

JOHN B. LEE AND VANESSA SHIELDS! COMING TO SARNIA THIS WEEKEND!

Window Fishing…Burning my Father….Laughing Through a Second Pregnancy…I Am That Woman. The poster says it all…If you’re in the Sarnia area this Saturday, November 8, check out the next offering in the Bluewater Reading Series. Admission is free. Open to the Public! More info here.

Saturday, November 8 in Sarnia

Saturday, November 8 in Sarnia

What Do The Words ‘Beatlemania’ and ‘Second Pregnancy’ Have In Common?

 If you guessed that ‘Beatlemania’ and ‘Second Pregnancy’ will be spotlighted in an upcoming literary event in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, then you are absolutely right!!!  Check out the media release that just crossed  my desk….

AWARD-WINNING POET JOHN B. LEE TO PRESENT NEW BOOK ON BEATLEMANIA

Window Fishing: the night we caught Beatlemania (Hidden Brook Press) selected and compiled by John B. Lee.

Window Fishing: the night we caught Beatlemania (Hidden Brook Press) selected and edited by John B. Lee.

John B. Lee, the Poet Laureate of Brantford and one of Canada’s most prolific poets will travel to Sarnia to join three other award-winning writers for this fall’s Bluewater Reading Series event Saturday, November 8 from 3 to 5 p.m. at John’s Restaurant “Famous Room”, 1643 London Line. His reading will focus on two new books Window Fishing: the night we caught Beatlemania (Hidden Brook Press), a commemorative anthology on this British rock band’s invasion into North America and Burning My Father (Black Moss Press), a poetic reflection on Lee’s life as a farmer’s son.

Burning My Father (Black Moss Press, 2014) by John B. Lee

Burning My Father (Black Moss Press, 2014), a poetic reflection on John B. Lee’s life as a farmer’s son.

Lee will be joined by three other readers: League of Canadian Poets member and former Black Moss Press editor Vanessa Shields (Windsor, Ontario), and local award-winning writers Diana Koch and Grace Vermeer. Shields and Vermeer will be reading in Sarnia for the first time.

“We are excited about the calibre of authors reading for this free public event,” said Venera Fazio, committee spokesperson for the Series. “Not only will we be featuring professional out-of-town writers with emerging local talent but the afternoon will offer a varied program of fiction, poetry, memoir and humour.”

Lee, who is also the Poet Laureate of Norfolk County, is the author of seventy plus published books.  His work has appeared internationally in over 500 magazines, literary journals and anthologies.  A two-time recipient of the CBC Literary Award for poetry, he has won over eighty prestigious literary awards for his work.

Laughing Through a Second Pregnancy: a memoir (Black Moss Press, 2011) by Vanessa Shields

Laughing Through a Second Pregnancy: a memoir (Black Moss Press, 2011) by Vanessa Shields

Shields is a member of The Writers’ Union of Canada and will be reading from her humourous memoir Laughing Through a Second Pregnancy as well as her new poetry collection I Am That Woman. Both books were published by Black Moss Press. She is also the anthology editor of Whisky Sour City, a Windsor-themed anthology. She has received two Judge’s Choice Awards for her poetry from The Ontario Poetry Society (of which she is also a member). Her most recent interviews with writer/astronaut Chris Hadfield have her feeling out-of-this-world in her writing life!

“Local writers Koch and Vermeer may be fresh new voices,” said Fazio, “but they are already being recognized by various literary organizations.”

Koch won first place in the Ten Stories High Short Story Contest (Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association). She will be reading from her recently completed manuscript The Button Girl: a historical fiction/coming of age story that is set in World War II, Germany.

I Am That Woman (Black Moss Press, 2013) a collection of poems by Vanessa Shields

I Am That Woman (Black Moss Press, 2013) a collection of poems by Vanessa Shields

Vermeer is the winner of numerous Ontario Poetry Society awards plus the Monica Ladell & Juror’s Choice Awards from the Scarborough Arts Big Art Book 2014. She will read a selection of new and previously published work.

The Bluewater Reading Series is a new literary offering organized by Sarnia writers: James Deahl, Venero Fazio, Debbie Okun Hill, Norma West Linder, and Lynn Tait. The organizers acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and The League of Canadian Poets. The emcee for the November 8 event will be Sarnia’s award-winning poet/photographer Lynn Tait.

CCFA_RGB_colour_fThe League of Canadian Poets new_logo_2

SPOTLIGHT READERS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER

Diana Koch

Diana Koch

Diana Koch is a retired educator who lives on the beautiful shore of Lake Huron. She graduated from the University of Western Ontario and also holds a Master of Education degree from the University of Windsor. Since childhood she has dreamed of becoming a writer and now spends many pleasurable hours writing short stories, essays and poetry. Her efforts have been rewarded with the winning of a first prize for one of her stories and by the publication of some of her work. She has recently completed her first novel, a historical fiction/coming of age story set in WWII, Germany.

 

John B. Lee

John B. Lee

John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of the city of Brantford and Poet Laureate of Norfolk County is the author of seventy plus published books. His work has appeared internationally in over 500 magazines, literary journals and anthologies.  Two time recipient of the CBC Literary Award for poetry, he has won over eighty prestigious literary awards for his work. The most recent of his titles include Burning My Father, (Black Moss Press, 2014); In This We Hear the Light (poems by John B. Lee with photographs of Cuba by Tai Grove) (Hidden Brook Press, 2014); the anthology Window Fishing: the night we caught Beatlemania, (Hidden Brook Press, 2014), and forthcoming in 2015/2016 Alice Munro a Souwesto Celebration (a special issue of Windsor Review dedicated to Nobel Laureate Alice Munro co-edited by J.R. (Tim) Struthers and John B. Lee); The Beauty of Being Elsewhere (the travel poems of John B. Lee) (Hidden Brook Press, 2015); and The Full Measure (Black Moss Press, 2016).  He lives in a lake house in Port Dover overlooking Longpoint Bay on the south coast of Lake Erie where he works full time as an author.

 

Vanessa Shields (Photo Credit: Katie Hawkins)

Vanessa Shields (Photo Credit: Katie Hawkins)

Vanessa Shields has made her home, her family and her work life flourish in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. She discovered her passion for writing at a very young age by keeping a journal. Her first book, Laughing Through A Second Pregnancy – A Memoir, was published by Black Moss Press in 2011 to rave reviews. In April 2013, Shields edited a poetry anthology entitled, Whisky Sour City (Black Moss Press). I Am That Woman, her first book of poetry, was published in January 2014, also by Black Moss Press. Her poetry, short stories and photography have been published in various literary magazines. She mentors other writers, guest speaks and teaches creative writing. She also does Poetry On Demand, on-the-spot poetry that helps make poetry fun and accessible for all.

 

Grace Vermeer

Grace Vermeer

Eleven years ago, Grace Vermeer crossed the Bluewater Bridge to take a Creative Writing class at St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron, Michigan.  She hadn’t planned on writing poetry and credits Professor Cliff Johnson for fostering her love of poetry and encouraging her early efforts which won the Eleanor B. Mathews Award.  She attended Western where her poetry won the Lillian Kroll Prize in Creative Writing.  Recently her poems appeared in Scarborough Arts Big Art Book 2014 where she was awarded the Monica Ladell Prize.  She lives in Sarnia with her husband Peter and feels lucky to be part of Sarnia’s After Hours Poets.