Looking back at it, Judy Johanson admits it should have dawned on her that she had won the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop 2010 Writing Contest for her children’s story, “Picker’s Kid.”
“I should have had a clue because I received a phone call from the NOWW to see whether I was coming to the ceremony and I told them I would be away,” recalled Johanson, who instead went on a trip to Alaska.
“So I didn’t know until I got home and read the e-mail,” she noted.
“It was just delightful,” Johanson enthused. “I was very pleased because it was a story that means a lot to me.
“What I liked especially was the final judge for the children’s story contest was Gordon Korman, and he expressed some rather nice words on the certificate,” she added.
Korman is a Canadian author known for his books “Everest,” “Island,” and the “Slapshot” series, among others.
Johanson admits regretting she missed out on a chance to meet him at the workshop, “but we had planned this holiday to Alaska for a long time and I was quite happy to be there, as well,” she reasoned.
A retired teacher, Johanson said she was quite “stunned” about the award.
“Writing is rather a challenge because it is tough to get accepted, published, and all the rest of it,” she noted.
“It’s very difficult.”
With the win, she received a certificate and $150 in cash.
Johanson said her story is a look at bullying in elementary school.
“A young child who is from a lower socio-economic group than the rest of her classmates,” she recounted. “Some of them decide she is the perfect target for bullying.
“I leave it at the end with kind of an open ending so that when the children read it, they have to decide what is going to happen next.”
Johanson noted her childhood and previous career as a teacher helped her write the book.
“Bullying is a very strong theme in the news these days, so it’s quite common,” she remarked.
“The school I attended when I was a child, there was a fair amount of bullying that went on.
“Not so much to myself personally going on, but I certainly was exposed to it.
“[When] I was a teacher, I’ve seen children experience it and I think it’s something that really needs to be addressed,” she stressed.
Johanson said it’s a story most people can get behind and hopefully elicit change.
“It’s quite a short story, but it’s one that really evokes a deep emotional response,” she explained.
“If you care about children at all, children that are experiencing the kind of pain that bullying causes, it makes you feel very strongly and makes you want to fight for their cause.
“As with all stories of bullying, you have the person who is being bullied, the people who are doing the bullying, and you the people who are around them, and it’s to show the bullying from all three perspectives.”
Johanson started penning the story about seven years ago and slowly has been perfecting it right up until she entered the contest earlier this year.
“I find with something this length, the initial writing goes very fast ’cause it’s quite short, but then there is the editing and re-working,” she said.
“There are always little changes,” she noted. “Every time you read it, you find something new that you might want to say just a little differently.
“Not a great deal [has changed], but there are little tweaks that you make with it just to improve the way someone says something, or to eliminate excessive descriptive words and things like that to make it better,” she remarked.
Although Johanson has been a writer for a long time, it wasn’t until she retired five years ago that she started writing determinedly.
In total, more than 15 of her poems have been published in a variety of magazines, including a sonnet she won in a contest from Shakespeare in the Ruins.
“Picker’s Kid” has yet to be published, but will be in the NOWW’s June newsletter.
“I would like to be able to keep sending it to publishers to see if I can get it actually published in book form or in a magazine perhaps,” she enthused.
Meanwhile, Johanson offered this piece of advice for any potential writers out there.
“I hope that people who want to write will keep trying and not give up just because they haven’t had much success,” she said.
“If it’s important to you, you have to keep trying,” she stressed.