Teresa Toten

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Among the Other Mermaids…

Teresa’s earliest and most fervent ambition was to grow up and take her rightful place among the other mermaids. When cruel and insensitive adults crushed that dream by insisting that mermaids did not exist, Teresa settled on the more mature aspiration of becoming an intergalactic astronaut. Then she realized that math would likely be involved. So, in the end, Teresa went to Trinity College at the University of Toronto where she got a BA and then an MA in Political Economy taking great care not to take a single English or Creative Writing class. The only thing Teresa knew for sure was that she was never ever going to be a writer. That would be silly, fanciful and well, unrealistic.

In the very beginning and in first of many moves, Teresa arrived in Canada from Zagreb, Croatia when she was 13 days old. She liked what she saw and decided to stay. Although she mainly grew up in Toronto, Teresa moved at least 17 different times. She has lived in Delhi Ontario, Montreal, Ottawa and New York. Throughout all of these moves the only constants in her life were Mama, books and an increasingly well-developed sense of how to make friends – fast.

Author photo Matthew Wiley

As soon as Teresa graduated from U of T she married Ken and hightailed it to Montreal. There she wrote and broadcast a few on air pieces for Radio Canada International, which gave her an appetite for world domination so she moved to Ottawa to begin by taking over the Canadian Federal Government. Unsuspecting semi-powerful people gave Teresa fascinating jobs that she had no business doing including working on a Royal Commission on Conditions of Foreign Service, helping to build the new National Gallery and the Museum of Civilization, and toiling at the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security. Once Teresa sorted out Canadian culture and world peace, the Totens moved back to Toronto in order to make two brilliant and beautiful daughters, Sasha and Nikki.

It was exactly at this time that Teresa got serious…

It was exactly at this time that Teresa got serious and wrote a funny book about growing up as an immigrant in a very white Anglo-Saxon neighbourhood. The book was work-shopped endlessly, term after term, year after year, in Peter Carver’s Writing for Children class, until the Universe cried “Enough!” and The Onlyhouse was published in 1995 by Red Deer Press. Buoyed by the shocking success of her first book, Teresa whipped off her next one, a scant six years later. The Game was set in a New York psychiatric clinic and follows the mystery and treatment of a suicidal young alcoholic who doesn’t even remember why she was sent there. The Game was followed by her first and only picture book Bright Red Kisses, which was inspired by Teresa’s little girls helping her get ready for a big night out.. Then came the Blonde Books Trilogy, Me and the Blondes, Better Than Blondeand Beyond Blonde. Set in the seventies, they are a not so thinly veiled homage to all the people that Teresa has loved fiercely. The books are a romp through culture clashes, secrets and misfired longings.

Teresa was lucky enough to be included in three anthologies, Girl’s Own, edited by Sarah Ellis in Secrets, edited by Marthe Jocelyn and in Modern Morsels McGraw-Hill Ryerson’s Selection of Canadian Poetry and Short Fiction. These experiences led her to release her inner bossy pants, which she did by editing an anthology called Piece By Piece: Stories about Fitting Into Canada. Teresa asked 14 talented, award-winning Canadian authors who were not born in Canada to write a piece about trying to fit into this country. Very happily, Teresa got a chance to work with the amazing Eric Walters on a dark and intense romance called The Taming.

Finally, Teresa returns to mystery, romance and mental anguish with her latest book The Unlikely Hero of Room 13b, which despite it’s dark and difficult subject matter, was a joy to research and write from the first word to the last.

Being a writer is almost as good as being a mermaid…

Although Teresa tends to fall deeply in love with her stories and her characters she is not so deeply in love with the actual writing part per se. Like so many writers, Teresa battles with self-consciousness, perfectionism, and a loud-mouthed, bossy internal critic who tends to obliterate the “gosh this is fun” aspect of writing. Added to this, is Teresa’s life-long difficulty of sitting still for longer than two minutes, which can be a bit of a problem for a writer. Yet, she is obsessed with writing, and is grateful for the privilege. And, little by little, she honestly believes that she is getting the hang of the whole thing.

The best part of belonging to this extraordinary world is meeting young people from one end of the country to another. Meeting her readers in person, on the page, on the net, and even through their parents and teachers is a never-ending highlight for Teresa. She is inspired by the faces and stories of the teens she meets, and is deeply touched when they tell her about how her books affect them. Teresa’s readers make her want to be a better writer. And sometimes, when there is a purple sky and the writing is going really well . . . she believes that being a writer is almost as good as being a mermaid.

Years Participated: 2015

Author Website: http://www.teresatoten.com/home.html

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