National Aboriginal Day 2014

Today is National Aboriginal Day in Canada. I hope that my readers will take a moment or two to think about the many contributions the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples have made to Canadian culture.

Some time ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Van Camp, who is an amazing storyteller as well as a kind and generous man. I hope you’ll check out some of his work.

(This interview originally appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Prairie books NOW)

Storytelling From Lullabies to Zombies

“We’re encouraged to tell stories every day.” Richard Van Camp says of his Dogrib Dene heritage. “Storytelling is part of our medicine power, it’s part of our spirituality.”

Raised in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories by taxidermists and medicine people, he also credits his love of stories to growing up in a time before television “when families still visited families”. At the age of nineteen, Van Camp realized that no one was telling his story, nor was he reading it. The ghost stories and love stories of Fort Smith and “how we can two-step to anything under the Northern Lights” were not represented in Stephen King, Judy Blume or comic books.

This was something Van Camp sought to rectify, thinking it is crucial for indigenous people to see themselves in the literature they read and the stories they tell to their children. Now he tells stories for all ages. There is something magical in his work for everyone, from innocent newborn to jaded adult.

Little You, the author’s latest book for babies, was birthed in a lucky moment. He was attending a Pearl Jam concert when singer Eddie Vedder stopped the show, asking the audience to sing for his daughter’s birthday. “The file is still on my phone,” Van Camp says, “I was half way through Happy Birthday and it came in a flash and I wrote it out on my phone.” What came from that lucky moment is a heartfelt lullaby illustrated by Julie Flett which captures innocence with “dignified elegance.”

In contrast, Van Camp’s collection Godless but Loyal to Heaven is full of stories where myth, fantasy, and the harsh realities of Canada’s north intersect.

The book opens with zombie story “On the Wings of This Prayer”, set in the not-so-distant future where the “shark throats” have overrun humanity. Van Camp credits an elder’s tale of a wheetago buried in the oil sands, as its inspiration.

“The Fleshing”, another wheetago tale, though one set in our time, follows. “We’re all inhabited by the wheetago,” Van Camp says of why zombie tales are so prevalent. He also feels we see zombies in suffering and in the never ending hunger that comes with addiction. “If you’ve ever spoken to a loved one on crystal meth or crack cocaine, that’s not them anymore. That’s just a body moaning across the table from you.”

Beyond the supernatural, Van Camp also offers a subtle human horror.

We’ve all gone to that party,” he says of the sleepover in “Children of the Sundance” “where somebody says ‘let’s play a new game.’ In “Feeding the Fire”, Van Camp cautions care with one’s intentions and the danger of giving a wish to somebody that can do something about it.

“The wish for revenge is a bullet you can’t take back.”

Godless but Loyal to Heaven is not filled entirely with darkness, there are equal parts hope and love and aspiration for better times—especially in the title story, the longest in the collection.

“I want to be remembered as somebody who wrote literature that was hopeful. I think life is about second chances.”

Richard Van Camp

 

Richard Van Camp is a proud member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation from Fort Smith, NWT, Canada. He is a graduate of the En’owkin International School of Writing, the University of Victoria’s Creative Writing BFA Program, and the Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.

He is an internationally renowned storyteller and best-selling author. His novel, The Lesser Blessed, is now a movie with First Generation Films and premiered in September of 2012 at the Toronto International Film Festival. He is the author of three collections of short stories, Angel Wing Splash Pattern, The Moon of Letting Go and Godless but Loyal to Heaven, as well as two children’s books with Cree artist, George Littlechild: A Man Called Raven and What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses?

His first baby book, Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns, was the official selection of the Books for BC Babies program and was given to every newborn baby in British Columbia in 2008. Richard followed this up with another board book: Nighty-Night: A Bedtime Song for Babies. His third book for babies, Little You, is now out with Orca Book Publishers. The amazing Julie Flett is the artist. Little You is published in Bush Cree, Dene and South Slavey, courtesy of the South Slave Divisional Board of Education.

All of Richard Van Camp’s children’s books are available in Braille for free, anywhere in the world, courtesy of the Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired (PRCVI)and Accessible Resource Centre-British Columbia (ARC-BC).

Richard’s first comic book on deterring youth away from gangs, Path of the Warrior, is published with Cree artist, Steve Sanderson, through the Healthy Aboriginal Network. His second comic book on sexual health is Kiss Me Deadly, with Haida artist Chris Auchter is now out and can be read in its entirety at www.thehealthyaboriginal.net.

Richard wrote for CBC’s North of 60 television show for two months under their Writer Internship Program and was a script and cultural consultant with them for four seasons. He taught creative writing at the University of British Columbia, worked as a Creative Writing and Storytelling instructor with the Emily Carr Institute and was the Writer in Residence at the University of Alberta for 2011 and 2012 and at MacEwan University in 2013 and 2014.

Richard has three new books coming out: Three Feathers, a graphic novel on restorative justice with artist Krystal Mateus (Portage and Main); Whistle a mini-novel exploring mental health (out soon with Pearson  Canada) and his new short story collection, Night Moves, will be out with Enfield & Wizenty in the Fall of 2015.

 

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June Goals

It’s that time again! Here are my writing goals for the month of June:

  • Work on Thunder Road Book 3.

Yes that is all.

I’ve come across some things that I need to read up on for research and am rearranging some chapters and scenes, but progress is being made on the word count. And more progress must be made on the word count if I’m to be ready for what should be my final Alberta research trip in August. If anything else shiny happens in the meantime, I’ll let you know in my June report, I promise.

How’d I do in May?

Well, I was running around so much I forgot to actually post any goals for the month, but here’s how I did with my April goals as they never received an accounting:

  • Reread Tombstone Blues and make notes relevant to Book 3. Start writing.
  • Transcribe my notebook (which has gotten well out of hand)
  • Edit and submit one of my recently drafted short stories.
  • Edit and submit one of my previously drafted short stories.

And while I also forgot to track my daily word counts for the month, it was a pretty decent month in terms of new words, scattered as usual between various projects. May also saw some progress on the yearly goals. Normally I do my yearly check in in July, but I managed to cross this bad boy off the list.

  • Turn in Book 3 of the Thunder Road trilogy to Ravenstone.
  • Attend at least one SF&F convention in a city that I’ve never been to.
  • Revise at least one of the three four (after NaNoWriMo 2013) drafted novel manuscripts I’ve been letting lie fallow until it is in submission shape and then send it out.
  • Participate in NaNoWriMo again (I’ve already started outlining the new project!).
  • Be more diligent about keeping my short fiction on submission.
  • I have at least eight short stories in various stages of readiness to submit, I’d like all of those to be out the door in 2014, and say write and submit at least two more for a total of ten new stories in the mix.
  • Turn in two comic scripts (Sekkrit projects, yo.).

Progress has been made on a few other fronts, but I’ll get to them later. In May I visited Portland, Oregon for the World Horror Convention and visited with members of the Illuminaughty (wanna join a secret society?). It was a great time, and I’ll be blogging about that trip and my time at Keycon soon.

Write on!

A Few Questions About Writing

My northern Manitoba colleague, Lauren Carter, author of Swarm, tagged me recently and asked me to take part in a blog tour happening in the literary community across Canada. The gist of it is that I’m assigned four questions and then invite two other writers to join in. Here goes:

What am I working on?

I have a number of projects on the go right now, most notably the third book in the Thunder Road Trilogy, which you should see in Fall 2015. I’m also polishing up some short stories set in the world of the trilogy to keep you all occupied until next year.

In addition to my Norse Myth-influenced work, I’m editing the first book in an entirely new urban fantasy series, trying my hand at comic book scripting, and co-hosting and organizing the Winnipeg arm of the Chiaroscuro Reading Series with fellow author Samantha Beiko.

How does my work differ from other works in its genre?

Since my series is influenced by Norse myth, I’m not retelling the big ending of that myth cycle–Ragnarök, the Fate of the Gods–in the Thunder Road universe, that fate has already been dealt. In the Marvel Comics take on Thor, Ragnarök has happened at least three times, but what struck me as a myth fan was how interesting the stories that came after were to me. When Ragnarök is on the table, that is the only place the story can go. It’s inevitable. Having that great battle in the past also allowed me to avoid “ruining” any stories people might have loved from the sagas. They are there. They happened. My only caveat to this is that in my books, Loki survived his prophesied death (because if anyone could weasel his way out of his fate, it would be him).

Another notable difference is probably my use of Manitoba as a setting–not a place most people think of when they think of magic. I’ve read very little fantasy that uses Western Canada (and Manitoba in particular) as a setting, and I think there’s a lot to left to be said in this part of Canada.

Why do I write what I do?

I love juxtaposing the magical and the mundane and the Urban Fantasy genre is great at that. I grew up with old Tarzan and Lone Ranger stories, so adventure was set in my bones from an early age. When I went to listening to stories to reading them, comic books were my gateway (and I still read them) and I went from those to Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasies. I can’t imagine wanting to write anything else. Fantasy allows me to write anything, and unlike my more realistically inclined writing colleagues, I get to have dragons and robots too.

How does my writing process work?

Barely. Ba dum bump.

But seriously…

I am what is usually referred to as a “pantser” (as in I write by the seat of my pants). No plotting, no outlining. For me, writing is a lot like driving at night: the headlights allow me to see just enough to keep going, even when I can’t see my destination.

I’m a huge music fan (all of the chapter titles in Thunder Road and Tombstone Blues are taken from songs) and I also write to music, so it has seeped deeper into my process. One of the first things I do when I’m starting a new story is make a large playlist of songs that feel like how I want the story to feel. As I write and listen, I winnow them down to about twenty or so that form my book’s playlist. That soundtrack also happens to be an emotional outline of how I want the book to feel.

There are exceptions to this. The third book in the trilogy turned out to be something I couldn’t “pants”. I had built up the architecture of the series, and wrote certain scenes as they came to me while drafting the first two books. Because I wasn’t entering the world fresh, by necessity it required a bit more of a structured approach to writing than I am accustomed to. Not a bad thing, just not usually my thing.

Next up, author and illustrator, GMB Chomichuk and author and Valkyrie Books proprietor, Samantha Beiko!

Thunder Road Trip

My pal, Kevin Madison is starting a “Live Blogging” of Thunder Road as a part of his “Year of Drawing” challenge. You might remember Kevin from this awesome congratulations artwork he drew for me after the release of Thunder Road. 

Thunder Road Congrats 2012 JPEG

Check out his Tumblr to follow along (#thunderroadtrip) but in the meantime, here’s some of his preliminary sketches!

ThunderRoadTrip Sketches1

I’m very excited to see more! Thanks, Kevin!

Write on.