As director of communications for Our Place Society, Grant McKenzie is a familiar face to those who visit the downtown street shelter.
“Grant is somebody who’s extremely compassionate and caring,” says Our Place Executive Director Don Evans.
“He gets to know the individuals, and gets to know their stories, capturing their life and putting it on paper, so that people can really connect with what’s happening to the individuals that we serve here.”
“The great thing about working at Our Place is that I get to tell the stories of the people who come here,” says McKenzie. “I get to humanize faces. You know, a lot of times we look at homelessness, or poverty, or addiction, as being this blanket issue. But really you have to break it down into individuals. By being a storyteller, I’m able to find those individuals and share their stories, and hopefully that makes people more empathetic.”
Evans agrees, SAYING that McKenzie is “actually sharing their lives in a way that inspires people in the community to support the organization.”
Writing is something that comes naturally to McKenzie.
“It really started when I was small, in Scotland. I’d always been fascinated by storytelling. I think storytelling begins with playing with toys as a kid,” said McKenzie.
He studied journalism and worked at various newspapers, but he always had stories percolating in his mind.
“As a journalist, you’re there to report the news, but not get involved in the news,” says McKenzie. “But as a fiction writer, I could take something that I felt was unjust, or something I felt needed an answer, and roll with it.”
And “roll with it” he has. McKenzie has just published his tenth novel, Devil with a Gun.
“Very amazing, and prolific,” says Rina Hadziev, collections and technical services co-ordinator at the Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL). “I often find when talking to authors that they are really passionate. It’s almost like they can’t not write. And Grant definitely writes with great passion and enthusiasm.”
The GVPL is pleased to feature McKenzie’s books, along with many other local authors. “I think with the whole sort of ‘eat local and buy local’ movement, people are really enjoying reading local,” says Hadziev. “And the library is happy to feature that, and help people connect with the people in their community that are writing.”
It was years of slogging before McKenzie was published.
“At [age] 26, I wrote a book, I think it was called ‘He Climbed a Crooked Ladder’ and I sent that out, and it got hundreds and hundreds of rejections. And I wrote a second book, and it got hundreds and hundreds of rejections, then I wrote a third book, and it got hundreds and hundreds of rejections…”
So what kept him writing?
“You have to have that stubborn streak,” says McKenzie. “The easiest thing to do is stop yourself, because you have a lack of faith, or you have fear of rejection. But really you just have to write that book, make it the best you can do, and then send it out into the world. Really, it’s about believing in yourself. And be stubborn. Be your own champion.”
“They say the definition of madness is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, but that’s also the definition of a writer” McKenzie adds with a broad smile and a laugh. “You’ve just got to keep plugging away.”
So, any movie deals yet?
“Unfortunately, Hollywood is not yet knocking,” says McKenzie. “But one day. One day, I’m sure, they’ll figure out I’m here!”
But whether or not McKenzie’s novels ever reach the big screen, he knows he’ll never stop telling stories.