I was born Joseph Arnoldus Maria Aarntzen on July 30, 1953 at home in Gendt, Holland where my aunt acted as a midwife. I was the oldest of three sons born to my father Joseph Johanes Aarntzen and my mother Anna Jacoba Josephina Driessen. I was named after my two grandfathers. The name Maria was added, as it was apparently a Dutch Roman Catholic custom during that era to name the children (both males and females) after the Virgin Mary.
In 1956 my parents decided to move to Canada. We arrived in Montreal on November 1st and from there moved to Sudbury, Ontario where my Dad quickly found work as a baker and soon there after as a nickel miner.
By the time I started school my father who was given to a wanderlust temperament with regards to living arrangements and livelihood had explored several career avenues and we now found ourselves in the Oshawa area about 30 miles east of Toronto. It was here in Oshawa that I spent my formative years growing up, attending both grammar and high schools in this industrial community. I had the good fortune of always being near the top of the class with marks. I excelled at Mathematics as well as Creative Writing. My classmates always eagerly waited for my turn to read the latest tale that I concocted. Even back then I realized that I enjoyed weaving fictions.
The year 1964 presented two significant events that would have large bearings on the course of my life. The first came on a Sunday night in February when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Suddenly music became very important to me and has stayed important to me to this very day even though I never developed any musical skills. 1964's second offering was a visit to a cottage on Lake Kashawakamak in Eastern Ontario. It was the first time that I visited the bush and I instantaneously was overwhelmingly charmed with the pristine natural setting and the pioneering lifestyle of living upon
By 1968 my parents bought a boat and a parcel of land on Stoney Lake and shortly thereafter we were building a cottage of our own. There was a thrill in constructing this building in this idyllic setting that was akin to building a dream. This cottage to this day remains in the family although its ownership has passed on from my parents to my two brothers, Rob and Ed, and myself.
In my final year at Oshawa Central Collegiate Institute a bunch of friends and I formed a 15-piece rock band that was called the Joe Aarntzen All Star Review. This band specialized in the music of the 1950's and we were a huge hit in Oshawa to the extent that we even received some air play on one of Toronto's more popular radio stations. My involvement in the band was that of a non-musical nature since I never learned any instrument and my singing voice held a lot to be desired. I, however, was the stage show dancing and prancing about (often with a guitar that I faked playing and that I would smash to pieces by the end of the show). After the concert ended I would have people line up with pieces of the guitar asking for my autograph. We became the house band at a coffee house that was ironically called The Hobbit's Tea House even though at this point I had no idea what a hobbit was. The summer of the Joe Aarntzen All Star Review gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to be a rock star. It was a tempting glimpse especially when a record label was interested in cutting an album but the reality was that I did not possess any musical skills and I would be embarking on a career of appearing where soon my lack of talent would be exposed and I would be cast into the role of a buffoon.
That fall I moved to London, Ontario to commence my post-secondary school education at the University of Western Ontario. In many ways these were the halcyon days of my life. I majored in Psychology but took many Philosophy and Anthropology courses as well. It was in university that I discovered that I possessed a love of learning and that there was hardly a topic that I was not interested in (save for business and economics). I gained exposure to alternate explanations of the cosmos that widely differed from the dogmatic Catholic explanations that I grew up with. I learned the fine discipline of skepticism. This discipline has followed me through life and I am not given to supernatural explanations when practical mundane explanations are readily present.
It was during university that I started to dabble in creative writing in the form of poetry. I composed several hundred of these verses. My poems were free-formed and often delved into existential themes and the 'poor me' mindset of late adolescence. I gathered these poems into two separate collections. The first one was called Scopic Delights while the second more mature one was entitled Pseudopoet. These poems impressed my friends. Unfortunately in the quarter century that has passed since their genesis I have lost my copy of Pseudopoet. I have however managed to put Scopic Delights onto the computer. As I typed them up I had to wonder what my friends were impressed with.
After graduating with an Honors B.A. in Psychology from Western I was briefly enrolled in a Masters of Arts program in Journalism but discovered that I was too lazy a character to put up with the grueling workload that that program entailed.
I returned to Oshawa shortly before my mother's death in 1982. Prior to this I had lived in London and struggled to find employment. Apparently in that era the only position that my degree qualified me for at the local psychiatric hospital was in housekeeping.
It was during this stretch of unemployment that my hands first fell upon a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. I ate up the words with wild enthusiasm. Never had I read anything like this before. Besides becoming a lifelong fan of the work (including the fabulous films made by Peter Jackson) this classic fantasy epic awoke in me a desire to write fantasy stories of my own.
I took a piece of paper and drew an amorphous shape upon it. I named it Taraharmonia. I divided this shape into segments and attached a name to each segment. These would be the countries that comprise the landmass of Taraharmonia. I began to develop geopolitical relationships between these separate countries. In my mind one had to be an evil empire while the rest had to be subjugated to its inimical tyranny.
I started writing short stories that dealt with Taraharmonia and its people. These stories were Tolkienesque in style but were light years away from his lyrical mastery of verse and description. Some of these tales now survive on my computer. Taraharmonia was the setting of my first two novels Bladespeaker and Grenfell's Legacy. Both these extensive works remain in their original handwritten format and have never been committed to any electronic or even typed versions. I'm afraid to look at them and imagine that they would involve some major overhauling before they could even be considered worthy to be shown to my friends let alone to be submitted to a publisher.
While writing these Taraharmonia books I also took the time to write some short stories that were more science fiction in orientation. A popular publication of this era was the science and science fiction magazine Omni. In my youth and my brazen pride I believed that this magazine would grab up my tales. I found the magazine's address and promptly mailed them my short story entitled The Assignment Desk that was what I thought at the time to be a very original idea about some sort of office where everybody goes to after they die to get their next life assignment in the universe. Omni thanked me for my interest in publishing a story with their magazine but unfortunately the piece just did not fit in with their current plans.
In the following year I sent several stories to other magazines with the same result. I had the ignominious honor of being rejected from coast to coast in Canada as publishers both in British Columbia and Newfoundland turned down my stories. This however did not spurn me. I continued to write but I no longer sought to get the material published. By this time I had found permanent full time work in Oshawa at a place where I am still employed to this day as a technical writer and trainer.
In the spring of 1983 shortly after my mother's death when my brothers, their wives and I went to the Stoney Lake cottage for the first time as the owners of the property we found a pail of water sitting in the kitchen. Inside of this pail were layer upon layer of dead mice. The deeper that you went inside the pail the more was the state of decay of the poor trapped mouse. This gruesome pail inspired me to write my first novel that did not deal with Taraharmonia and my first novel that used Stoney Lake as the setting. This was A Winter In A Summer Home. It was a story using mice as the main characters. It described the plight of a single mouse to overcome an evil rodent tyranny that had taken over the abandoned cottages on the lake over the course of a winter.
The 1980's saw the births of my two nephews and my niece. Having children around at the cottage gave me a new avenue for my storytelling. I decided to answer the question that everybody asks of what did Santa's elves do before there was a Santa Claus. I wrote the chronicles of Ho, Hum, Kiddo and Diddo, the four elves that found the infant Santa Claus deep in the Black Forest of Germany in late Eighteenth Century Europe. These tales gave birth to a deeper more serious fantasy adventure novel that I called The Elves of Woodhaven. It was my intention to write a series of these novels so I subtitled this first one The Legacy of Hickory Robinbreast. It was a return to my fantasy roots but was set in a real world place and time during the Napoleonic Era of Europe. The book traces the plight of Merek Robinbreast (the father of the four elves Ho, Hum et al.) and his companion Talla Bobbs to save the fate of the elves on Earth.
After finishing The Elves of Woodhaven my next projects were not as grandiose in length. It was a period where my productivity had waned. I only produced one short novel (The Fathers of Color), three novellas (James and Julies' Jams and Jellies; One of the Flock; and No Safe Haven) and a handful of short stories over a period of ten years.
It wasn't until 1994 when my enthusiasm for writing was reborn. This was when I purchased my first computer. It wasn't too long after that that my fingers were tapping the keyboard and my brain was cooking up stories once more. I found using the computer a better medium for my creativity process than the more labor-intensive handwriting used to be. My tales were now better crafted. Perhaps it was the professional look that the computer gives to a document when compared to the curling scrawl of handwritten manuscripts that caused me to take more pride in my work. Stories like Moon Counting and Donald Doesn't Drive showed that I had gained a new confidence in my work and that I may have finally discovered my voice. Visit www.nicestories.com to read ten of my stories including all the Ho, Hum, Kiddo and Diddo tales as well as others.
One short story that I started soon became a 1,200-page fantasy epic that took me several years to write. I called this saga The Redeemer. It is set on an imaginary continental-sized island in the North Pacific just prior to the last Ice Age. It has a vision-quest feel to it with Tolkienesque overtones. The sequel to The Redeemer is Iron Horse Country. It is set thousands of years later after Europeans settled this island.
In the late 1990's when my brother Ed started the Trentsevern.com website he approached me regarding providing him with some material for a short story page on the website. This was the birth of Corman the Carp. I provided Ed with a series of stories that starred this bumbling fish that was traveling the Trent Severn Waterway System in search of his missing bevy of females. Corman proved to be relatively popular on Trentsevern.com and was regularly downloaded. PublishAmerica released Corman the Carp in 2006. It is my second published work..
My first published work The Little Boy of the Forest scheduled for release on June 20, 2005 was inspired from the combination of two divergent sources. In 2003 I came across in Gordon Berry and Lesley Wootton's Upper Stoney Lake Gem of the Kawarthas (published by Woodberry Publications) a story regarding a cottage that was not too far away from our place. It was a sad tale that took place in the early 20th century regarding a family that used to come to the lake faithfully every summer. One day near suppertime they had the tragic misfortune of having their little son drown. When they discovered the accident the family immediately fled from the lake and they never returned. Years later when some people entered the abandoned building they found that the table was still set and that the pots and pans were still waiting to serve up a meal that would never be eaten.
The second source of The Little Boy of the Forest does not have such a morbid background. Ed's stepson Seth used to sit with me on the deck at the cottage and talk to me about this and that. Quite often while we did so the neighbor's boy would cut across the back of our property on his way to visit a friend that lived further down the island. Seth asked me one day who the boy was and I spontaneously answered, "The Little Boy of the Forest". "And who is he?" Seth responded. "A magical little boy," I answered and knew that there might be something here worthwhile writing about.
Due to the popularity and excellent reviews received for the Little Boy of the Forest I decided to write a sequel. Daughter of Thunder released in 2007 focuses on a character introduced in The Little Boy of the Forest.
Through the Little Boy I had the fortunate experience of meeting Sheila Jupe, a local publisher in the Kawartha Lakes. Sheila was impressed with the poetry on this website and expressed an interest in putting them and some of my earlier poems into print. Thus "Reflections In Time" was born. What makes this project sweet to me is that Sheila is a cousin to Ringo Starr. Being a lifelong Beatles fan this is a real magical mystery tour for me.
The Little Boy of the Forest indeed augured some magic in my life. Shortly after finishing this book in early 2004 I had the good fortune of entering a coffee shop near to the place where I work on February 29th, leap day. It was a very quiet morning for some reason. My friends who usually accompany on break were all off that day. I noticed a pretty blonde woman that I usually saw in the company of her own group of friends. She was by herself this day as well. She sat at the table behind me. We soon struck up a conversation that would ultimately end my 50 years of bachelorhood.
On July 24, 2004 I married Laura Robinson on picturesque Stoney Lake in a storybook wedding. Laura has brought magic to my life and has inspired in me a confidence that I did not possess for many years. It was through her and her mother, Norma, that I began to believe that I could get some of my work published. I found PublishAmerica on the Internet and contacted them, submitting to them both The Little Boy of the Forest and Corman the Carp manuscripts. To our delight PublishAmerica said yes to both pieces and finally my dream of becoming a published author has come true.
Today Laura and I live in a converted schoolhouse that was built in 1875 just outside of Fenelon Falls, Ontario. In the winter both of us enjoy going for long nature walks in the nearby forest along with our dogs Sarah, Anikin, Oliver and Kayla. We have found our niche in life and a deep abiding contentment. I continue to write daily focusing mainly on novels but I have once again allowed poetry to enter my life.
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