By contributor Zoe Lauckner
November 3, 2015 is a big day for VIU student Gisèle Merlet. After completing a BA in Liberal Studies and returning to enter the Creative Writing department, Merlet is beaming at the opportunity to present a token of her dedication to the arts: her debut collection of 15 stories in her first self-published book, As I Rise.
The main characters in these 15 linked stories are Carmen and Alain, who are based loosely off of Merlet and her husband Jean. Inspired by the many life challenges and growth opportunities the main characters face, Merlet chose the title As I Rise because, “they rise from events that could have destroyed them if they didn’t have strong temperaments.”
When asked about her favourite quote from the book, Merlet stated, “Carmen, who has been through some difficult times says, ‘It is time to put away dreams and live. I want to live my dreams, not dream my life. I rise.’”
Merlet has no shortage of incredible life experiences herself, being raised in Montreal under what she calls a “utopic” education system and later traveling to many different parts of the world before settling in Parksville. She draws upon those experiences for inspiration in these rich and diverse stories.
She is living her dreams through the Creative Writing department, where her love of writing was born and has blossomed into a passion . “Under the influence of great professors, the help of workshops, and the critiques of strong student editors working on my short stories, I was encouraged to write more.”
In 12 years on campus, Merlet has accomplished a great deal. Three of the stories in the book have been previously published in VIU’s literary magazine, Portal, and “Leather Pouch” received third prize in the Nanaimo Arts Council Short Fiction Contest.
“The Creative Writing program offers me a space where I can express myself, meet people of the same mind, and get knowledge on how to improve my writing.”
During her writing studies, Merlet received the Bill Juby award for excellence in writing, and this year she, along with classmates and instructors in the Creative Writing department, have worked tirelessly to edit, design, and self-publish this collection of stories. Joy Gugeler, a professor in the program, had this to say about working with Merlet: “It’s been a privilege to work with Gisèle—she has been so gracious, so determined, and so open to learning the ropes. I’m extremely proud of her and think she is living proof that talent pays no heed to age or presumption. Her work will inspire others a quarter of her age to achieve even half as much. I’m thrilled with her success and know many others will join me in celebrating this landmark achievement.”
In closing, Merlet says that if she were to give one piece of advice to new writers in the field, it would be to “work hard, surround yourself with people who believe in you and your goal, and enjoy.” Merlet lives and breathes this advice, as she has chosen to give back to the department by donating all funds received from the sale of As I Rise to set up an award for a student in the Creative Writing department.
The book launch will be held on November 3, 2015 at the VIU Nanaimo Campus, bldg. 355, rm. 211 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. There will be refreshments served in the lounge and all are welcome. Donations will be gratefully accepted and will go towards the Gisèle Merlet Award in Creative Writing.