Janice Landry is a regionally and nationally award-winning writer and journalist whose non-fiction work primarily focuses on mental health and wellness. Her latest book, Silver Linings, focuses on gratitude and resiliency, two key cornerstones in the field of mental health and wellness. Dedicated to her late mother, Theresa Landry, and friend, Audrey J. Parker, who both died while Landry was working on the project, the book includes a rare interview with Dr. Robert Emmons, considered to be the world’s preeminent scientific expert and researcher in the field of gratitude. Dr. Emmons is based out of the University of California – Davis.
Pictou Antigonish Regional Library has arranged for Janice to do a reading from Silver Linings online on Tuesday, May 26. (Check out the details here.) Through the Read Atlantic program, her book is also available for a free download.
First, where does the name Groundhog Productions come from?
I immediately knew the name of my freelance business would be “Groundhog Productions.” I was born on Groundhog Day; February 2. It’s the kind of name that you don’t easily forget, and it usually brings a smile to a person’s face when I explain the connection. I am Groundhog Productions. It reflects who I am; I also love humour. I grew up watching British comedies. For me, silly is always in style. My company name is a tad silly, and that’s okay by me.
You were a long-time employee at ATV (now CTV Atlantic) — a reporter, editor, producer, anchor. Why did you make a career change to author?
I left television news in 1999 after the birth of our daughter, Laura. I wanted more control over my time as a mother, and over the work that I produced and created. I have always loved documentaries, series, and in-depth stories. I actually stayed with CTV Atlantic for about seven years, after 1999, as the producer and writer of all the patient stories for the IWK Telethon. Both jobs allowed me to work with some of the best people in broadcasting. I also started freelancing, in 2001, and, as part of that, began magazine writing, which I have always loved. The magazine writing acted as a bridge between writing for broadcast and starting to write in different formats. I took a lot of work for me to branch away from a script style, which I had solely done for 19 years. I eventually started writing long form non-fiction as a way to honour my late father, who died in 2006. Dad was a veteran Halifax firefighter. My book, The Sixty Second Story, (Pottersfield Press, 2013), honours Capt. Baz Landry, M.B., his Halifax Fire peers, as well as the nine firefighters who died as a result of the Halifax Explosion. The latter are solemnly and collectively referred to, in Canadian firefighting history, as “The Fallen Nine.” I started writing books to honour my dad. It started out of love and respect.
What do you miss about daily journalism?
Hands down, the people I worked with; the people are the best part of any job. There are a handful of people from that era that I regularly socialize with, and a great number of them that I connect with via social media, and also at events around the city and province. I am deeply grateful for my time with each of them. They were like a second family to me. They also continue to teach me a lot. There are a few of them who are still like family now.
Did you have stories that needed to get out?
Yes, and I still do. There are always ideas floating around in my head. I purposely place some of them on the backburner to stew and allow others to come to the forefront. It is important for me, as a writer, to give an idea time to percolate before I start any research or writing. This can take months, or years.
Who are some of your mentors, who perhaps took a similar path?
My first mentor was/is my late father. Everything I know about work ethic, and strive for, came from him. Baz’s work ethic was off-the-charts. In his opinion and approach, you only did something to the best of your ability. Later in life, two of my other biggest mentors are the late Ian Wiseman and the late Bill Jessome. Ian was one of my professors in the journalism department at the University of King’s College, Halifax. Ian was a respected former broadcaster, who worked at the CBC. From Newfoundland, he was an empathetic and funny person, who truly cared about his students. A great poet, Ian was incredibly multi-talented. I credit him as the person who helped me choose broadcasting as my initial career path. I met my third main mentor, Bill Jessome, while working in broadcasting at CTV Atlantic. Bill remains one of the best storytellers I have had the great pleasure of knowing. He was a master in video production and also using the pen. I, and a circle of other fortunate people, became very close friends with Bill. He was family. Bill was funny, dapper, and immensely generous with his time. Bill is the reason I faced my fear and started writing books. A conversation with Bill in his Halifax home was the tipping point for me to branch out into longform non-fiction.
I feel your writing is unique in that you’ve focused on themes including gratitude and resilience. Why do you keep returning to those themes in your writing?
Most of my work comes to me, I don’t go looking for it. The story ideas percolate until they are ready to be told. This may sound odd to readers, but I feel like I am a kind of vehicle for them, to be honest. Many of the interviews I do are somehow placed in front of me on my creative journey, either through people I know, events I attend, or other happenstances. It’s actually quite uplifting. I don’t believe in coincidences. I think things happen for a reason. I allow time in my process for a work to evolve naturally. A lot of my writing includes first responders as a main theme and focus. Because I grew up as the proud child of a firefighter, I have the utmost respect for emergency personnel and their families. This is a primary theme that will always be close to my heart. Gratitude and resilience have also become important topics since I am now living with the loss of both of my parents. Their deaths have been traumatic and difficult. Grief is a journey. I write to help people work through trauma. Researching and writing is also a cathartic and healing experience for me.
You are also seen as an advocate for first responders – how did that arise?
It wasn’t a strategic decision but evolved over time. I have written five books, as of 2020, and have attended and spoken at many conferences and events, across Canada, over the past seven to 10 years. The whole process has allowed me to meet, and get to know, dozens of responders, fellow advocates, and medical professionals, from the United States and Canada. I try to do what I can to get the word out that – we fundamentally owe our first responders our ultimate respect, support, and funding, across all levels of government, for training and support services, right now.
What kind of research do you do in writing your books?
The research is one of my favourite parts of writing. It takes a long time, many months, or years. It will involve attending multiple conferences on the latest mental health and wellness information, article and book reading, online research, and many interviews with people, to name a few research tools. Most of my books contain 15 to 20 interviews. Some people are interviewed multiple times. I learned how to do in depth research at King’s. But that learning never stops. I am also an advocate of lifelong learning. Research is a major part of writing, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. You need a good base layer before you can ice your cake.
Where do you write?
I write at home, on a desktop. I also have a laptop, but I am faster at my desk. I always sit facing a window for inspiration. I love to watch the birds and people go by. On my desk, there is a vase from Barcelona that our daughter bought for me, a pen holder from a friend that says, “Be as bold as your lipstick,” a small picture of my late parents on their wedding day, and a handmade paper maché dish made by the late Canadian artist, Bernard Bowles. It was a gift from one of my dearest friends, who is like a sister. Inside the small dish is a tiny, printed quote that says, “Always believe something wonderful is about to happen.” I don’t like a lot of clutter around me when I work. I usually write for three to six hours in one sitting, and begin about 9am. I am not a coffee shop writer. I find it distracting. I also don’t focus well after dinner time, so late-night writing sessions do not work for me. I am focused when I start a project. A day can go by quickly. I will often stand at the kitchen counter to eat a snack and go right back to the work. I will also re-heat my tea multiple times, as the mug will sit in front of me and go cold. I forget it’s there. Tea is a must.
What project are you working on now?
I am working on a video script for a client. It’s about a 15-minute video, so it’s an in-depth script that is very technical and requires a lot of research. I am also editing a magazine-style brochure for another client. The second client is a former student of mine. I taught part-time in the Department of Communication Studies, at Mount Saint Vincent University, (MSVU), for nearly 17 years. I am humbled to be working for a former student. All of the people I taught are a major gift in my life. I miss them. I left campus life in 2017, but they will always be ‘my students.’
What do you see as the “silver lining” of the pandemic? What aspects do you hope to carry through into the future?
I am inspired by the stories of empathy and support I am reading across social media platforms. People have really stepped up to help one another, in small and large ways. I find this soothing. I also love seeing families spending more time together. People are doing hobbies, creating art, baking, or just leaving time ‘to simply be.’ We were all rushing around so much that I am not sure we knew exactly what we were rushing about for; our people must come first. And now, we realize that lost connections with people are taking a toll. As we move forward, I hope we appreciate people, and even the smallest experiences, more deeply. Going for a coffee or having a sandwich on a patio downtown will have new meaning. I also hope employers will allow people to continue to work from home if this suits and supports their lifestyle. Working from home is challenging for some people, but I love it.
Have you been putting on lipstick during this time?
I laughed out loud when I read this question. I don’t always wear lipstick at home, but as my friends and family know, it is my favourite go-to accessory. Pink lipstick is kind of a signature item for me. My students in my final 2017 MSVU class bought me a tube of Mac lipstick as one of my parting gifts. I continue to buy the bright pink colour they chose for me. This fascination with lipstick likely started because my late mother, Theresa, always applied it before she went out. She never wore it at home. Working from home today, I am wearing a sweatshirt, pink pyjama bottoms, slippers, my hair is in a bun, and I am wearing zero makeup/no lipstick. I rarely wear much makeup outside of socializing. Since you have asked, I feel compelled to now leave you, spruce myself up, and put on a coat, of lipstick. Great final question.
– Questions by Marilyn Smulders