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Glen Huser (1943-) - Sidelights

clown writing review barbara

Glen Huser told SATA: "I believe that, almost from the time I was able to hold a pencil, I was drawing pictures, and, once the school in the hamlet where I began my education revealed the treasures unlocked through literacy, I was reading and writing stories. My dad was an artist and skilled craftsman (woodwork, metal engraving, scrimshaw on bone); my mother wrote poetry and stories and has maintained a diary since she was a teenager; an aunt (more, in age, like an older sister), lived in a nest of paper, crayons, and watercolors, to which all children were invited. Although I never realized it at the time, how blessed I was to grow up in such an environment!

"When my family moved to Edmonton in 1959, I finished high school and began the studies that would secure me a job as a teacher. But my loves remained drawing, painting, and writing. Other loves were plays and films, to which I now had access. Every spare moment I had, when I wasn't reading or drawing, I was lost in the cheap seats of local theaters or the dark balconies of second-run movie palaces, discovering all the films I'd missed growing up in Ashmont where, for most of my life, movies were shown once a week, on Saturday night, by a traveling projectionist at the Legion Hall. Often I'd rush home from a double feature to watch the midnight movie on television—another addition to my cultural life since moving to the city. Once I began teaching, I wangled myself a second job with a local magazine as their film critic.

"Watching films, I secretly longed to be Anthony Perkins or Robert Redford. The photograph at the top of my movie column was a recurring reminder that mine was not a face to launch a film, though, and I found myself thinking of that other dream: the dream of becoming a writer. It was a dream that settled over me whenever I was stirred by something I read, books such as Steinbeck's East of Eden or Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. As I returned to university to complete my education degree, I sought out creative writing options, and, in the early 1970s, I enrolled in a course taught by the great Canadian novelist W. O. Mitchell. It was a course that changed my life. Through what he termed a 'free fall' method, Mitchell taught us to plumb our own life experiences for material that we could eventually transform into fiction. It was a system that worked for me. Before long, my writing was winning competitions and my short stories were appearing in Canadian literary magazines.

"My first novel, Grace Lake, drew on my own experiences attending summer church camps as a teenager. When I crafted Touch of the Clown, a novel for young adults, I drew on my knowledge, gleaned over years of teaching, in which, sadly, I had encountered a few children growing up in situations of neglect and abuse. At the same time, Touch of the Clown paid homage to a caring artist modeled somewhat on a personal friend, Nion, who had starred as a clown in Stratford, Halifax's Neptune Theater, and Edmonton's Citadel. The father in the book is an old movie fanatic. Guess where that came from!"

Touch of the Clown is the story of two sisters named after old movie stars, twelve-year-old Barbara Stanwyck Kobleimer and six-year-old Olivia de Havilland. Their two caretakers, their father and grandmother, spend their days drinking and watching movies on the VCR, leaving Barbara to care for Livvy and the house. Barbara's life improves when the girls meet Cosmo Farber, an actor who is teaching a clowning workshop for teenagers. Cosmo gives the girls books to read, talks Barbara into taking his clown class, and provides a sympathetic ear for her to talk about her problems. The constant stream of old movies in her home provides Barbara with much material to work with, and with Cosmo's help, she shines in the workshop. However, Cosmo is dying of AIDS, and when Barbara's father finds out that she is taking the workshop, he beats her because of it; but with her newfound strength, Barbara reports her father, and she and Livvy are taken into foster care. "Young teens will find it easy to sympathize with Barbara, to admire her loyalty and acceptance of responsibility, and to root for her as she tries to find a space for herself," Betty McDougal commented in Resource Links. Other reviewers praised Huser's writing style. Paula E. Kirman wrote in the Edmonton Journal that Huser "has created a novel that is realistically moving in simple, elegant prose," while Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Julie Roberts termed it "a beautifully-written story with a heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy its readers."

Huser continued: "My love for drama and film is also evident in my next book, Jeremy's Christmas Wish, a holiday novel for younger readers. In this story, a wealthy eight-year-old's Yuletide boredom is allayed by watching horror movies and, eventually, playing the part of the scary Christmas-Yet-to-Come in a version of Dickens's A Christmas Carol put on by newfound friends in a harum-scarum family from the other side of the tracks.

"In Stitches, my next young adult novel, teenaged Travis pursues a passion for puppetry and sewing that sets him at odds with a group of school bullies who have dogged his heels since fifth grade. Once again, I brought my own love of literature and drama to the story—this time by interweaving elements from Peter Pan and a Midsummer Night's Dream into the plot. Other, darker elements Gentle middle-schooler Travis loves to sew and aspires to a career as a puppeteer which makes him the target of a group of bullies in Huser's story of the trials of being different. (Cover art by Betsy Everitt.) came from current newspaper headlines and accounts of the tragic dimensions of bullying that still exist in our society."

Stitches "might … be called an 'issues' novel, but it's one in which character, feeling, and social ill are fully realized," wrote Dierdre Baker in the Toronto Star. Travis endures endless harassment from other children in his school and small rural town because of his typically feminine hobbies. However, he and his motley band of supporters do not fall into stereotypical roles, and while the increasing brutality of the attacks on Travis supply "the book with tension and a conscience, the real story is the friendship between the two outsiders and their marshaling of forces within themselves, each other, and their families to keep going," wrote Roger Sutton in Horn Book. The other outsider, Travis's best friend, is Chantelle, who suffers from medical conditions that have warped her face and body. Other supporters include Chantelle's older brothers, who, despite generally being cut from the same macho mold as Travis's tormenters, have no problem with the effeminate boy; Travis's aunt Kitaleen, with whom he lives; and two caring teachers. Writing in Resource Links, critic Elaine Rospad thought that Huser "has captured the thoughts, feelings, and actions of young people as they move through the teen years."

"What advice might I give to aspiring writers?" Huser asked SATA. "I would urge you to practice writing, as W. O. Mitchell had us doing, from our own experience and from the heart. Write often and with full sensory detail. What do you remember? What do you recall seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling? Bring your own passions and preoccupations to your writing (as I do with film, drama, and our heritage of literature in my own writing). No one knows these passions better than you. And, lastly—read. Read widely from books on a shelf where you can envision your own books being placed one day. By reading widely, you will learn style and pacing and ways of developing character and setting, ways of allowing plot to unfold. The books you love will prove to be the best of all creative-writing schools."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), April, 1999, Paula E. Kirman, review of Touch of the Clown.

Horn Book, November-December, 2003, Roger Sutton, review of Stitches, p. 748.

Junior Library Guild, April-September, 1999, review of Touch of the Clown, p. 43.

Quill & Quire, March, 1999, Annette Goldsmith, review of Touch of the Clown.

Resource Links, June, 1999, review of Touch of the Clown, p. 23; February, 2004, Elaine Rospad, review of Stitches, p. 34.

School Library Journal, December, 2003, Lisa Prolman, review of Stitches, p. 152.

Toronto Star (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 26, 2003, Dierdre Baker, review of Stitches.

Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1999, Julie Roberts, review of Touch of the Clown.

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