Role models, mentors and resources for Okanagan wordsmiths …

The Okanagan is home to both established and aspiring authors producing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, humour and children’s titles.

Most authors have a day job to support their creative endeavours, but Stan Sauerwein is one of the few Okanagan writers who feed’s his family by the word. He has written thousands of magazine and newspaper articles along with an ever-growing list of non-fiction books. “Living by the word is tough,” he says.

Currently working on a volume about sacred structures in China, his research took him to Central China, Tibet, the Gobi Desert and Beijing. He had to get permission from the Chinese government to travel around with a guide and he wasn’t allowed to talk to the locals who were told phony cover stories about why he was in the area.

We think the stories of Okanagan authors are as interesting as their books. Read on to meet four more fascinating Valley wordsmiths.

Jack Whyte
best-selling author, highly popular speaker

Jack Whyte’s Scottish brogue reveals his origins as he asks permission before lighting up a thin cigar while seated outside on his second floor deck overlooking a golf course fairway. His wife doesn’t let him smoke inside their home.

Jack is the author of a massively popular series of Arthurian and Templar novels. His newest trilogy, called the Guardians of Scotland, will feature Scottish heroes William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and James “The Black” Douglas.

One of Canada’s best-selling authors, the Kelowna writer has sold more than 1.25 million copies of his books in Canada alone. The shelves in his office are filled with copies of his books including translated French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Russian and Portuguese editions. A voracious reader, his own novels sit side by side with the works of Guy Gavriel Kay, Ian Rankin, Mary Stewart, John Irving and Stephen King.

When Jack set out to write his story of the sword in the stone he never imagined it would take six fat novels. While the project was still a work in progress with four novels complete, he sent Penguin Canada a letter introducing himself, with an overall synopsis of his work, a synopsis of each of the novels and a single chapter as a sample of his writing. They asked him to send what he had, so he mailed them three manuscripts. They bought.

Jack loves to get out and meet his readers who range in age from about 10 to people older than himself. This summer he’ll be speaking to 77 youth, aged eight to 18, at the week-long summer writing camp presented by the Penticton Writers and Publishers.

“I want to send the kids away feeling enthusiastic,” he says.

When it comes to the business of writing, Jack emphasizes the importance of learning the craft and of learning the rules of English. He points to the weighty Oxford dictionary on his shelf and says everything you need to know is in 50 pages at the front of the book—and you can learn it in six weeks. “One prerequisite,” he says, “you have to want to.”

Research is critical to Jack’s storytelling. How do his characters know how to shoe a horse or make a sword? He immerses himself in research and afterwards just sits and lets his mind mash through it. Only after his brain’s had time to sift and sort does he write the story. You’ve got to trust your instincts, he says. Good storytelling is in the details.

Ralph Milton
author and publisher, co-founded of Wood Lake Books

“I fell in love with another woman,” says Ralph Milton. But his wife, Bev, didn’t mind because the other woman, Julian of Norwich, has been dead for centuries.

Ralph used his gift for storytelling to bring Julian to life, based on his research of the documented history of 14th century Norwich, England. He makes no apologies for fictionalizing the character in his book Julian’s Cell, a story of the first woman to write a book in the English language and considered one of the greatest Christian theologians of all time. In his home office he has a framed passage of Julian’s writing. If you didn’t know differently, you could easily mistake it for a piece of contemporary thought.

Writing he says is, “Five per cent inspiration and 95 per cent perspiration.” He should know; Ralph is the author of 15 books and co-founder of Wood Lake Books, the first independent, Christian publisher, in Canada.

In his teens Ralph had ambitions of becoming a writer while penning poetry. Poetry his mother kept. “They were awful,” he says, “written by a snotty nosed arrogant teen.”

He was born in Winnipeg, into a family of teachers. Straight from high school he enrolled in a six-week teaching course but found himself hopelessly unprepared to stand in front of a room full of kids and grabbed at an opportunity in broadcasting. His deep baritone voice helped him land the gig.

He worked at a couple of different radio stations before finding himself in Trail, BC, where he met his wife. The couple got involved with the church and moved to the Philippines where Ralph taught broadcasting for a church consortium.

The first book he wrote was a textbook entitled Radio Broadcasting for Developing Nations, which he was contracted to write. He never imagined it would go to 20 printings. Too bad he was paid a salary for the year it took him to write it.

His broadcasting career took him to New York, Africa and eventually Calgary. In the meantime, his wife was ordained and looking for a ministry of her own. An opening in Winfield came up and the family moved to the Okanagan. Burned out from work, Ralph became a house dad and wrote at the same time.

He was encouraged to self-publish his second book, The Gift of Story, after he was unable to find a viable publisher. The United Church was interested in buying 3,000 copies. Soon after, James Taylor came to him looking to publish his collection of Words to Live By columns and in 1980 they co-founded Wood Lake Books. In 1993, the pair sold the company to the employees.

Ralph continued to write books until he retired about 10 years ago. “I’d be surprised if I wrote more books,” says the 76-year-old. “It would have to grab me by the snoot and say ‘do this’.”

Yasmin John-Thorpe
author, literacy advocate, youth mentor

Author Yasmin John-Thorpe is one of the Okanagan’s leading literacy advocates and a youth mentor. She helped Celeste Catena who wrote a book at age eight, get published at age nine.

Always on the go, Yasmin’s most recent project was helping to restock the library collection lost to the wildfire in Slave Lake, Alberta. The public library was less than two years old when it was destroyed. When she got the call to action Yasmin immediately put the word out to her author friends for donations of new or nearly new books.

Co-founder of the Penticton Writers and Publishers, when Yasmin isn’t answering emergency calls, she’s busy organizing the annual Young Writers’ Contest, which encourages youth to bring forward and share their stories and poems. The works of winners and those that receive honourable mention are published in the anthology Gems of British Columbia, which she edits.

Yasmin is also kept busy organizing a week-long summer writing camp for youth, the cost of which is only $125 and includes lunch and a billet home. Divided into age groups, the kids take part in a different workshop each day including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, humour and screen writing. Guest speakers, public speaking, open mike and book signings make for a busy week for these future writers.

During the school year as part of the Raise a Reader program, she brings authors into the classroom. Because she remembers author visits from her school days that left her and her classmates empty handed, she gives every student one of the guest speaker’s books. Buying a book is not an option some families have, she says.

Local authors she has introduced to students include Celeste Catena, David Korinetz, Alan Longworth, Ola Zuri and Sheryl Hare; and from the coast James McCann and Lee Edward Fodi.

Yasmin continuously tells writers, “We are not living in Bedrock, and it is not written in stone.” Her advice is to sit down and pen a synopsis. Start your story with the protagonist. Think of Star Wars. You don’t meet Luke until a third of the way into the book. By the time he appears you really dislike the protagonist and are rooting for a hero.

Her own manuscript is waiting to be printed. Her publisher says the subject—nut allergies and the different reactions—is boring. But with the concern in schools about peanut allergies it would seem like a sure thing. Since her publisher isn’t interested, Yasmin plans to self-publish digitally and get 200 copies printed for local schools.

She also has to find time to write her grandson’s final two books. When he was two-and-a-half she took care of him for a time. Every day they’d play the same game. One day she realized his outer-space adventures had the beginning, middle and end of a story and decided to record it and keep it for his wedding day.

Convinced she was onto something, she read the story to some children and her mind turned to creating a book. She hired an illustrator and had 1,000 copies printed, proving that there are a lot of different roads to publication.

David Korinetz
author and founder of Red Tuque Books

Throughout the summer, you’ll find self-published fantasy author David Korinetz at the Penticton Downtown Community Market hawking his books. He’s easy to spot, just look for the 50-something guy wearing the droopy wizard’s hat.

“I doubled my sales with the hat,” he says.

He borrowed the idea of dressing up from another self-published author. The hat seems to magically draw people in for a chat. On a good day he sells 18 books and on a bad day he sells four.

David admits he learned publishing the hard way, through his mistakes, but today he is the sole owner of Red Tuque Books, a Canadian publisher and national book distributor.

In 2009, he turned misfortune into opportunity when he went from being a laid off computer programmer to a self-employed publisher and distributor. Days before his employment termination, he’d paid a printer in advance to print his second fantasy novel Sorceress. Having already cut his teeth on the ins and outs of book distribution with his first novel, he was ready to take delivery of his new book and the more titles the better.

With the help of Community Futures he opened up shop in December 2009. Today, along with his two self-published books he carries about 200 titles from other Canadian authors from across the country. He markets books to independent bookstores, libraries and schools. David checks to see that the works he lists are printed properly, have an ISBN number and are reasonably priced. He doesn’t read the works and he expects the authors to do their own marketing.

He’s learned you have to create demand for your book. He’s also learned the value of a proofreader. The first printing of his first book was riddled with typos, wrong words, tense issues…. One “old fellow” told him he liked David’s story but “your proofreader should be shot.” The errors were corrected in the second printing.

If he could do it over again David would have written the outline for all three books in the trilogy first (assuming he knew he was going to write a trilogy, which he didn’t when he started). His advice to aspiring writers is to take a writing course, read your work out loud, join a writers’ group and read up on self-publishing before you end up with a basement full of books.

Authors & Artists Faire

November 19-20, 2011

David Korinetz organizes this annual event where writers and artists collide. This is your chance to meet and chat with local authors and pick up signed copies of those hard to find books. The timing of this event makes it a perfect opportunity to add check marks to your holiday gift giving list. Open Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Penticton Lakeside Resort. Admission is free.

By Karen Slivar

Writers’ Groups

Canadian Authors Association Okanagan Branch

Last Saturday of the month, September to June, 1 p.m., Kelowna Library.

Writers helping writers.

Contact: Beth Greenwood email

Central Okanagan Writers Society

Second Monday of the month, 6:30 p.m., Dragons Lair, West Kelowna.

Group offers writing challenges, workshops, critiques and mutual support.

Contact: Darcy Nybo 250.869.5911 or email

O’s Own

Twice monthly, 10 a.m. first Wednesday and 7:30 p.m. third Thursday, Osoyoos Art Gallery.

Group offers writing challenges and critiques, and occasionally writing workshops through Okanagan College.

Contact: Sue Whittaker 250.495.7664 or email

Penticton Writers and Publishers

Monthly, September to June, Leir House Cultural Centre.

Group meets to critique each other’s manuscripts and offer encouragement.

Contact: Yasmin John-Thorpe 250.492.0629 or email

Summerland Scribes

Thursdays, 7 p.m., at the Summerland Community Arts Centre.

New writing group for people passionately engaged in works of fiction, creative non-fiction and playwriting.

Contact: John Arendt 250.494.0460 or email

Shuswap Writer’s Group

First and third Wednesday of the month at Piccadilly Mall board room.

Lively bunch of writers, readers and storytellers who gather to share their creativity and camaraderie.

Contact: Shirley DeKelver email


Kamloops Arts Council Writers Fair

November 4-5, 2011

For more info, registration and workshop announcements follow the events links at

Shuswap Writers’ Festival

A two to three day festival held annually in May for both readers and writers. Hobnob with some of BC’s best authors, discover new books and improve your writing. Hosted by the Shuswap Association of Writers. Check out for more info.

Surrey International Writers’ Conference

October 21-23, 2011

An exhaustive weekend filled with master classes, speakers, editor/agent interviews, a trade show, book fair and the blue pencil?—?bring three pages of your best work (novel, article or poem) and have it critiqued on-the-spot by the likes of Jack Whyte and other professional authors. You’ll have 15 minutes to chat about your work. For more info and to register visit

Summer Reading List

Roadside Nature Tours through the Okanagan by Richard Cannings (guidebook/nature)

Grandma Wears Hiking Boots: A personal guide to the Okanagan Valley by Laurie Carter (travel lit/guidebook)

Undefeated by Celeste Catena (youth fiction)

A Fine Day for a Drive by Rick Cogbill (humour)

Fire Drake: Chronicles of the Daemon Knights by David Korinetz (fantasy)

Hammer and Shadow: Adventure in Outer Space by Eben Thorpe-Keith (children’s book)

The Forest Laird by Jack Whyte (historical fiction)

Writing Courses

Okanagan College Continuing Studies: offers a variety of classes for writers including planning your novel, creative writing, scintillating stories, memoir writing, travel writing, basic editing and self-publishing. For more info visit

UBC Okanagan Continuing Studies: offers a variety of classes for writers including creative writing, romance writing, writing for children, travel and food writing. For more info visit

Society for Learning in Retirement: offers writing classes for persons 50 years and older. For more info visit or phone 250.448.1203.