There was no magic lamp or genie involved when MaryLou Driedger made her wish, just a felt tip marker and a famous pond.
In 1991, the Manitoba writer’s family visited Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. The Driedgers’ guide invited them each to write a wish on one of the rocks where the famous author Henry David Thoreau’s cabin once stood. The guide said rain would wash their wishes into the pond and eventually they would come true.
Driedger wrote a wish that someday she would have a book published.
It’s a wish that came true 30 years later, in May 2021, when Heritage House published her first novel, Lost on the Prairie. It became a local bestseller and was shortlisted for the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book at the 2021 Manitoba Book Awards.
Now the 69-year-old author has published her second book, Sixties Girl. In the novel, an 11-year-old boy named Will discovers a suitcase full of old memories from the 1960s in his grandmother’s apartment. His grandmother begins to tell him stories from her youth—stories that bring the two closer together and help Will address the problems he is facing.
Driedger drew on her own life experience to write the book, which was written for readers between the ages of 10 and 14.
“When I was trying to get Lost on the Prairie published, I started writing these stories about growing up in the ’60s,” Driedger says during an interview in the condo she and her husband Dave share in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.
“Teachers have told me they’re looking for books that give them an opening to talk about important things with kids,” she adds. To that end, Sixties Girl explores universal themes, including body image, cancer, romantic relationships, puberty and death. “It’s not that I wrote the book to be necessarily didactic… but I think the book has important things to talk about.”
Really a writer
A snowstorm in Steinbach launched Driedger’s storytelling career. Driedger was in Grade 5 at the time, and her teacher instructed her and her classmates to write about the storm. Driedger’s teacher was so impressed with her work that he submitted it, unbeknownst to her, to the local newspaper, The Carillon, which published the piece.
“That’s when I felt like I was really a writer,” she recalls.
Driedger was a teacher for more than 35 years and a guide at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for 10. She developed her writing career along the way.
In 1985, she began writing a weekly column in The Carillon. She was a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press for three years, and she has contributed to numerous Mennonite publications, including The Mennonite Mirror and the quarterly devotional magazine Rejoice!
“The Mennonite church really gave me so many opportunities to write,” says Driedger, who is a member at Bethel Mennonite Church.
Driedger also maintains a daily blog, “What’s Next?” at maryloudriedger2.wordpress.com.
In addition to giving Driedger a chance to reflect on her world travels and everyday experiences at home, the blog serves as a way for her to work through a variety of topics connected to faith. Divine healing, the interplay between faith and politics, sexual abuse in faith communities and whether or not there’s life after death are a few of the things she’s written about.
“I try to be quite frank about religion, and maybe I’m voicing some of the questions that people in the church have no matter what their age is,” she says.
Inspired by real life
Driedger’s journey to become a published novelist began in earnest in 2012 when she joined a group of Manitoba children’s writers.
As with Lost in the Prairie, some of Driedger’s own stories inspired Sixties Girl. When the pandemic began, Driedger spent time on video calls with her two grandsons in Saskatchewan and told them stories from her youth.
“Even now they make reference to the stories I told them,” she says, adding that one of the things she told them about was what it was like growing up during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “I think telling kids stories about challenges like that is important.”
“There are a lot of stories in the book about the different challenges the grandmother faced and how she overcame them,” Driedger adds. “Maybe the book can provide an opening for parents and grandparents to talk about those things with kids.”
Now that Sixties Girl is on shelves, Driedger is looking forward to connecting with people. She regularly visits schools, book clubs and churches to discuss her work and enjoys hearing from readers.
“For me that’s the best part [of writing],” she says.
For more, see maryloudriedger.com.