We are pleased to introduce writer Angelina Fast-Vlaar. Angelina has published three incredible books with Word Alive Press, Valley of Cancer, Finding Shelter, and Bring Each Other Home. All of these titles are now available for purchase through the Word Alive Press Bookstore, and everywhere fine Christian books are sold. We asked Angelina to share a little bit about herself, her writing, and her books!
Along with others anxious to escape a wartorn country, Angelina’s family emigrated from Holland to Canada shortly after the Second World War. She married Peter Fast and together they raised a family of five, after which she enjoyed teaching psychology at Niagara College for a number of years.
Angelina won a story-writing contest at age ten, and at age sixteen one of her stories was published in Pioneer. Later, articles, stories, and poems were published in several magazines, as well as in all five volumes of the Hot Apple Cider book series. Family requests for tales of WWII in Holland resulted in her book Finding Shelter: A Child’s Memoir of WWII.
Angelina is very grateful to be a twenty-year cancer survivor, and The Valley of Cancer: A Journey of Comfort and Hope recounts her saga to wellness.
Widowed twice, she describes the devastating loss of Peter in the Australian Outback in her book Seven Angels for Seven Days. This book won a Word Award in 2004 for the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award, and it was listed as a bestseller in 2006.
She later walked with her second husband, Joe Vlaar, through almost ten years of dementia. In her latest published work, Bring Each Other Home: A Caregiver’s Journey, she recounts the peaks and valleys of that experience with the prayer that it will inspire, encourage, and enlighten readers.
Angelina lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, where she enjoys walks along the lake and visiting with family and friends.
Q: What motivated you to write The Valley of Cancer: A Journey of Comfort and Hope?
A: I am a survivor. Twenty-two years ago, I was diagnosed with stage-three colon cancer. I lived through a year of weekly chemo treatments which made me very ill. I kept a journal to help me cope, and many of the entries turned out to be rambling poetic accounts.
In the middle of the treatments, I was so ill that I hoped to die. I was disappointed each time I woke up after a nap next to the fire. One day, I reached for my Bible and opened it to Psalm 118:17, which reads, “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.”
I took this to mean that I should tell of my cancer journey using my journal entries. The book was published in 1999. With that, I thought I had completed what God had asked of me.
Q: How did Seven Angels for Seven Days come about?
A: After publishing my cancer journey, the still, small voice of God kept saying, “There’s another story in your journals that you need to proclaim.” So I took a year to write the story of the loss of my husband in the Australian Outback and the grief that followed.
Q: What led you to write Finding Shelter: A Child’s Memoir of WWII?
A: As I began to think of my childhood and what had happened to us in Holland during WWII
, I realized that there was much more to proclaim about what the Lord had done. My son and my grandson were very interested in this project and constantly prodded me. I was amazed to discover how much I had stored away in memory from that time. Thinking about how my parents had dealt with tragedy, and cared for us through it, left me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
The book is at present a finalist in the Word Awards in the Personal Story category. The winner will be announced on June 14.
Q: What led you to write Bring Each Other Home?
A: While I was the main caregiver for my second husband as he suffered with vascular dementia, I again kept a journal. Writing helps me to deal with difficult situations.
Fellow caregivers began to ask me for a book, so five years after he passed I finally felt strong enough to open those journals in order to tell a further story of grace. This was by far the most difficult of my journeys and also the most difficult to condense into book form.
Q: What was it like to receive your husband’s diagnosis?
A: It was like a bombshell, a shock that left me paralyzed for a time. Then a myriad questions bombarded me. When? How bad? How long? How will I cope?
Family and friends reacted differently. Some were on my page immediately. Others had difficulty believing the diagnosis and took great lengths to deny it, to refuse to see the signs, to not believe my words. Our doctor noted that as long as they could deny it, they needn’t be involved.
The most difficult thing to deal with was the constant changes in his behaviour. I couldn’t predict his behaviour, and he was sometimes abusive and hurtful. He would also sometimes disappear. I had to realize that we were on a downward spiral and there would be no improvement.
Q: What kind of help did you receive?
A: The Alzheimer’s Association provided much-appreciated help. My husband and I were able to take different eight-week courses. Personal counselling, support groups, get-togethers, and caregiver lunches were all available to us. Our physician was most understanding and helpful. The long-term-care facility where my husband eventually had to live was also amazingly supportive.
Q: How did you settle on the title for the book?
A: My husband, of all people, chose the title. We often listened to a beautiful song called “Love One Another” by Germaine Habjan. The song encourages us to love and care for each other and bring each other home.
Q: How would you describe your writing style?
A: My style is mainly storytelling. I prefer to read true stories, so that has also become my go-to style of writing.
Q: Do you have any advice for new writers?
A: I’d encourage you to just write. Put words on paper. Don’t worry at first how they sound or how correct the grammar is. It’s important to first put down your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
The standard advice to writers is to show, don’t tell. In other words, help your reader to “see” what is happening—give them visual, auditory, and other sensory information. As you write, you’ll find additional thoughts appearing. A new memory may surface. Write it down. Just write.
Finally, have a few trusted friends read what you wrote. How do they react? Does it speak to them? Does it make sense? What emotion does your writing evoke? What suggestions do they have? Then rewrite your manuscript using what these friends have suggested, if you deem it to be helpful. Eventually an editor will help to polish what you have written.
Angelina has an upcoming book-signing at Heritage Christian Books at 400 Scott Street, St. Catharines, Ontario. The date is yet to be announced.
She is planning to complete a children’s picture book depicting a child’s life on the Prairies during the Great Depression, as her first husband spent his youth in Saskatchewan during this time. She is also working on a story about two dogs who live in neighbouring yards.