Family history

In July I queried WestWord Magazine about doing an article on R. Ross Annett, an influential Canadian short story writer in the early 20th century, author of The Babe Stories serial in the Saturday Evening Post, and also my great-grandfather.

Especially Babe cover

They sent me an enthusiastic email of interest and I set to work learning about my great-grandfather, a man whom I’d met before but who died when I was young. Look for it in Westword, put out by the Writers Guild of Alberta. I don’t know when it comes out, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

It’s been an interesting journey so far that has brought me back into contact with my mom’s side of the family, which I lost contact with once she moved to the States. I’m sad to have missed so much time getting to know them, and especially the opportunity to get to know my grandfather’s brother Jack, one of Ross Annett’s five children. Anyways, Jack died not long after I got his mailing address and started periodic correspondence by letter. He was a recluse and didn’t use the phone, so letters were the only way I could get in touch with him. But he died before I could tell him much about my life and the writing path I was choosing to take. But Uncle Jack is another story.

The search for information on the life of Ross Annett, and some accompanying photos, has led me to my mom’s aunt Peg, who I met with last weekend. She was a wealth of information about both Ross and his wife Lennye, my great-grandmother. There was also a bin full of gold…many photo albums, plus an awesome scrap book kept by Lennye that is an extremely thorough record of newspaper clippings written about Ross’s work, as well as his very first acceptance letter from the Post, which was the beginning of his stories’ rise into North American popularity. And lots more. Like I said, it was a treasure chest and just what I’ve been looking and hoping for. There was way more material there than  had time to sift through for the story, but I’m thinking of a follow-up story as well on Ross’s writing process, since I found some notes about where and how he first thought of the idea for this story, or anecdotes about the day he sold that story. It’s really great stuff for me and will possibly answer a lot of the questions I have had about who he was as a writer, how he built his stories, how he got ideas, etc. It’s a wonderful opportunity to look into the life of a writer in a way most people won’t get, for which I’m grateful. I’ll do my best to share what I can because to many people Ross Annett’s stories were a childhood staple. I think he’s been lost from Canada’s collective memory simply because he was a very unassuming man who hated to be in the spotlight and did little self-promotion. He wrote because he loved to and because it made him money. He didn’t write for fame or accolades, though those came too. Perhaps I can find insight from him on one of my biggest fears as a writer: what if I write and no one reads what I have to say?

I read a witty but depressing article on the topic of author self-promotion today, and the state of the publishing industry. The point the fellow was making was that the onus of getting your work out there now rests solely on the writer. So my question is: can I afford to be humble? Can I afford to skirt the limelight if it ever tries to shine on me? Unsure. But maybe I can follow Ross’s example and do it anyway, whether I can afford to or not, and write simply for the love of writing.

I’m thankful for this chance to dig into my family history and I hope to learn much more from my great-grandfather, even if he’s been dead for decades.

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