Shawna Troke-Leukert figures she’s been writing since she was only nine years old, when her elementary school teacher first introduced her class to creative writing.
“At that age I didn’t know what I was going to write about because I didn’t think I was smart enough to write a story that somebody would want to read,” recalls the soft spoken author.
To her surprise, the teacher picked her story to read in front of the class and continued to encourage her creativity.
“I guess her words stuck with me over the years,” says Troke-Leukert.
Like pretty much every other writer or artist, Troke-Leukert admits she’s had her ups and downs over the years. There were times she struggled with her self-confidence and faith in her own talents, but she was thoroughly hooked on the craft of writing, so she persisted.
“I just kept doing it because of the way it made me feel. I love journalling, and I love thinking up characters and things like that as well, so I just kept doing it. And I was 40 before I received my first acceptance letter and then it just snowballed after that.”
That first acceptance letter came in 2013, when her tale about a winter storm in Newfoundland was selected for an O Canada: The Wonders of Winter edition of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
Troke-Leukert’s work has also been featured in two editions of the Cape Breton’s Christmas books, which donates all royalties to Feed Nova Scotia as part of the annual CBC Radio’s “Light Up a Life” project. She’s also been published in seasonal anthologies published by Polar Expressions Publishing.
Although she was born and raised in Sydney, N.S., Troke-Leukert and her husband, a former member of the Coast Guard, chose to settle in the Codroy Valley area in 2000.
“We always wanted to live in a small, rural community. That was always my dream, and so Codroy Valley is perfect because the boat’s just here. I can jump on the ferry and go visit some family and at the same time we still have the quiet life that we always wanted.”
Four years ago, Troke-Leukert awoke one particularly cold night to the sound of a stressed cat meowing near her home. The sound bothered her so much she felt compelled to investigate.
“I had on my polka-dot pajama pants, slipped on my boots and went out the door with the flashlight. I couldn’t see anything,” she laughs. “It wasn’t until the next morning – I went over the basement stairs to get some bread from the deep freezer – and there were these two beautiful sparkling eyes looking back at me, and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness! There’s a cat in our basement!’”
Troke-Leukert fictionalized that story, changing some of the characters to make it more relatable, particularly for children, although she says animal lovers and adults who enjoy a cute, heartwarming story will enjoy it.
“Right now it’s only e-book, but the good thing about Kobo is they don’t mind if you also publish elsewhere, so I may also consider putting it in a softcover children’s book at a later date.”
This is the first time Troke-Leukert has self-published an e-book, and she says she has enjoyed the experience. She did self-publish a softcover edition of stories that she gave out to family and friends years ago as well. Usually she submits her work to traditional publishers, and says networking has helped in that regard.
“I had met a lot of publishers, especially when I took part at the Corner Brook Library – they had a “Love the Authors” event,” she says. “There was a lot of indie-authors, people who had self-published and I thought well it’s another way of doing it. It’d be good experience, to try it out.”
After some research and checking into her options, she selected Kobo as her e-platform and says they helped her get her e-book published. She says overall it’s been a positive experience, and while she does enjoy traditional publishing, she’s become a fan of e-publishing too.
“I’m not a very technical person so if I can upload my picture and my story and get the book out there I think anybody can,” she offers.
Troke-Leukert says that after so many years of writing, she has many novels and stories that she intends to self-publish in the future. Meanwhile, she will continue to submit selected works to traditional publishers.
Currently, writing is her sole focus. A few years ago, some health issues prompted her to re-evaluate her priorities, so she decided to fold her small business.
“I realized that if I didn’t try to do this full-time and learn more about the craft of creative writing I’d regret it one day,” she admits. “It made me realize this is what I want to do.”
When it comes to offering advice to fellow writers, Troke-Leukert is a believer in peer support.
“Joining writing groups helps. Libraries have writing groups. There’s the Writers Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
She notes there are even competitions for writers that might help get their work noticed, and that some publishers will even have call outs from time to time. Some correspondence courses and online learning groups can help too.
The best advice is just to keep at it.
“I think everybody has an experience that they can share with somebody and help somebody in some small way.”