Secrets, silences, challenges and cookies

June 2019

Fiction. Nonfiction. Literary Fiction. Creative Nonfiction. Fantasy. Historical Fiction. Science Fiction. Short Stories. Songs. Essays. Poetry. Plays. The list for literary genres goes on forever, and most writers tend to find themselves drawn to one or two of them, where their imagination soars and their talent shines.

Not so, Roy Blomstrom, Award-winning writer of Literarily Everything.

“I began writing ‘seriously’ in grade three,” says Blomstrom with the faintest hint of a grin. “It was the story of Peter the Parrot who flew through a window of the Empire State building. (To the reader, it did not end well for Peter, foreshadowing a persistent dark, wry, and rather comedic bent.) In grades five and six, I was the kid who read novels to the class for half an hour each Friday. The teacher got her grading done and I got out of doing classwork. She was smart. So was I.”

Blomstrom’s early years impressed on him the power of story, and not surprisingly, he became an English teacher at Lakeview High School, and when Lakeview closed, Sir Winston Churchill CVI. He taught all levels including creative writing, science fiction, Canadian Literature and mass media. He was still interested in everything, however, and worked with drama clubs, debate teams, mathematics and gifted students, all of which ended up spilling over and influencing his writing. But don’t call it inspiration.

“I don’t believe in inspiration as a writer,” he says. “I believe in observation. External stimuli. A challenge. And maybe cookies.”

While teaching, he and a fellow teacher responded to a 30-day challenge to write a 500-word short story every day for 30 days. At the end of that time, Blomstrom admits he was pretty good at it, and he realized then that he responds very well to a challenge.

“Ideas don’t ‘come’ to me,” he says. “I go get them. And I never think, ‘what can I do with this?’ I think ‘I can do this.’” He pauses, grins. “I suppose I am, by nature, competitive.”

He began writing articles and columns for education journals in 2001 and followed up by dabbling more seriously in short fiction. In 2005, his first ever entry to the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop’s Literary Contest took first place, in effect creating a local word-smithing powerhouse.

“Since then, I’ve published one book (SILENCES: a Novel of the 1918 Finnish Civil War), and have three others ‘complete’ but in the editing process – two science fiction novels and a flip-perspective novel. I’ve written six 10-minute plays for 10x10 (the Thunder Bay theatre project), with two going on for performances in Brighton UK and Helsinki, FI. I’ve written over 60 poems, plus a batch of short stories and essays that have appeared in various anthologies.”

And while his work is prolific, it’s also acclaimed. He’s won 3 Ontario Arts Council grants, the 2016 Bill Macdonald Prize for Prose, and his memoir, Pearl Street Hill, was shortlisted for the 2005 CBC Literary Awards. His recent novel, SILENCES: a Novel of the 1918 Finnish Civil War, was short-listed for the 2018 Northern Lit Award. It is a project close to his heart, beginning as a question in his youth and growing from the fact that it was never answered.

“My parents were Finland-Swedes,” he says, “And I remember asking my dad if he had ever been in a war. He said yes. I asked if it was the German war. He said no and little else. ‘It was a tumultuous time’ was all he would say. Eventually, I realized that he was talking about the Finnish Civil war in 1918. Later, when I went to university, I took a history class and the professor briefly touched on the subject. ‘This is a hard thing,’ the prof concluded, because even after 50 years, he could only find one book on this subject. It reminded me of my dad. He died when I was 11, so I didn’t have the chance to ask him about it as an adult. There was so much information on World War I. I grew up playing World War II games. Why the silence on this part of history?”

Again, a challenge was presented and Blomstrom ran with it.

“Everyone has secrets,” he says. “Things the grown-ups talk about but the kids don’t know. Mysteries, ancestries, things you hide for a time—but times change, generations change, and older folks now want us to know about these things. It’s more than reminiscing about Merla Mae, or putting the wire baskets in the window for the milkman, or playing baseball on Mrs. Ranta’s potato field. It’s about history and responsibility and legacy. Weighty stuff.”

A recipient of a 2011 Ontario Arts Council Creator grant for SILENCES, Blomstrom was invited to speak at 2016 Finn-Fest in Toronto on the topic. Similarly, he’s also been invited to be part of the program at the 2019 Thunder Bay Finn-Fest June 21-23. He will be speaking about his experience writing a novel about the Finnish Civil War. He’s truly a Northern Ontario literary powerhouse.

“I’m a left-handed person made to write right,” he says with a shrug. “I’ve been a delivery boy, a prospector’s helper, a grain shoveller, a railroad gang worker. I play banjo, recorder and violin, all of them badly. For my companion novel to SILENCES, I’ve researched symptoms of lung disease, medical terminology from 1955, the differences between psychopaths and sociopaths, and the phases of the moon. I don’t do one thing at a time. I’m constantly googling and doing research on things that interest me. Oh look! Something shiny!”

Teacher, musician, playwright, author. It seems there is really nothing Roy Blomstrom can’t do.

And he smiles, wryly, because he knows it’s true. Even the part about the cookie.

SILENCES: a Novel of the 1918 Finnish Civil War is available at Chapters, Coles, and Amazon. For more information on Finn-Fest Thunder Bay, go to and for more information about Roy, go to his website at

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

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