Wednesday, April 24, 2013

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Richard Van Camp

Richard Van Camp is a proud member of the Tlicho Dene Nation from Fort Smith, NWT. He writes and published in every genre. You can visit him on Facebook, Twitter and at His latest collection of short stories is Godless but Loyal to Heaven (Enfield&Wizenty), and his new baby book is Little You (Orca Book Publishers). If you want to read his comic book on sexual health, it’s right here: If you want to read a lovely and erotic short story he wrote, you can here: If you want to read a literary story he wrote, you can do so here: If you want to see the trailer for The Lesser Blessed, you can do so here: Mahsi cho!

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Having The Lesser Blessed come out in 1996 was terrifying. Ask any of my friends. I seem to recall calling Billeh Nickerson and demanding that he not buy the book. I think it was like this: “If you love me, Billeh Nickerson, you will not buy this book.” Try and figure that out. Was it fear of success? I think it was fear of the unknown. I had fired my first arrow of light into the sky for the world to see, and I was so scared someone would call it an ugly baby. But, looking back, how can anyone call anything you put heart, soul, blood, tears, heartbreak, heartache, lust, love, hope and all you have left and even more you didn’t know you even had on bloodied knees forward in supplication?

You can train for years with the craft of writing and take workshop after workshop or class after class, but no one can prepare you for your first book to come out. It’s like talking about giving birth. Talk is cheap until you feel those first undulations. (Look at me: talking about childbirth. What the hell?) Where was I? Oh yes! You worry you may have done something “wrong.” I kept waiting to get grounded by someone. The Lesser Blessed is now a movie with First Generation Films (thank God!). It only took seven years for this to happen and the movie will be reaching film festivals, movie theatres, Movie Central (and other TV channels, I am sure) this year.

Now, 10 books later, and I’m always interested in how my books are being received. Facebook and e-mails are generous from fans, friends and family, but I’m noticing so many less reviews from recognized national newspapers and literary magazines. I don’t take this personally. I think it’s safe to say all of these publications are swarmed by larger publishing houses. It’s amazing how GoodReads is the RottenTomatoes for books now.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I write in all genres and, if I’m lucky, I’ll write one good poem a year. I think poetry is the most natural voice in the world.  We speak poetry; we dream poetry; music is poetry and music is my everything: I’m listening to “Grandloves” by Purity Ring right now as I write this, and it’s like a blur of butterflies passing through and behind my eyes in figure eight loops. I get dizzy with music and that’s soulpoetry, isn’t it? You also don’t have to know any “rules” when it comes to poetry. It just is. Take it or leave it. The short story is so complicated and easy at the same time. Do I write this story backwards? Hmmmm. Where can we implode someone? Has everyone had their say? Can anyone surprise us? What’s on the wall behind the body?

3 - How long does it take to start any particular project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
A great question: some things come in a rush: some stories are drafts that I start and will finish years or months later. The key is the story is the boss. I can’t force anything. The best that I can do to cultivate a story is listen to a lot of music, visit as much as I can, recognize the moment where a story may come from a stranger, read work that challenges me, watch a lot of movies. Basically, I inhale with my soul for as much as I can and pray that when I exhale there are stories for sharing. There are stories in my head I’ve been thinking of for years, and I know they’ll come when the time is right. I’m a patient man and a grateful one. 

4 - Where does a poem or story usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Ask my agents and publishers: I’m probably a bit of a nightmare to work with because I’m impulsive and driven and ache for dialogue with ideas, but I’ve learned that everyone on my team is my first line of defense against impulse, and what I may think as clever or something that we can work on…well, they’ve all found a way to inspire me to work on my finest manuscripts and to focus on what’s working. I find that novels or novellas I’ve started years ago are now gorgeous short stories. The spirit of them survives. I can’t explain it, but it seems I like to write novels or novellas and then realize that the true gem was a chapter that deserves to be cut and blanketed around and nurtured back in a new way, the true way.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love readings because none are the same. As a storyteller, the crowd is the boss. I may hit the stage thinking I know what I want to read, but if the performer before me has bored them to tears, I’ll not read and I’ll share a hilarious story to get everybody back for the next performer. If I’m the sole presenter, I’ll open with stories of hilarity and inspiration and end with a reading of a short story that I know will devastate them. I’d rather people know who I am before I demolish them with something literary. (And I mean demolish as in pulverize emotionally in a sensual way, of course. :))

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I had a student say to me in a classroom years ago that I write about “Devotion”, and I think she nailed it. In fact, “Godless but Loyal to Heaven” was originally called “Devotion” to honour this. I still write about what’s breaking my heart in the world. “The Moon of Letting Go” was such a feminine work. I’m told it’s my best. “Godless but Loyal to Heaven” is so ferocious and it’s so masculine and now that we’re back in print with the softcover, I’m so looking forward to hearing and reading how it’s received. I notice that my new collection that I’m working on right now, tentatively called “Night Moves”, is more of a celebration of life. It’s not so hard-core. Not everyone deserves to be punished in the way I tore so many characters in half in Angel Wing Splash Pattern, The Moon of Letting Go, or “Godless…”. I’m thrilled that the voices and characters are going easier on me and each other this time around.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I can only speak for myself. I’m so happy that I don’t see anyone doing what I’m doing right now in literature: I’m working in all genres and enjoying growing older with my characters. I do have readers who have all of my work who care deeply about what me and my characters are up to, and it’s actually them that I think of when I get to work every morning when I’m writing. The role of the writer will always be to publish their absolute best and hope it finds an audience. I’ve been so lucky with my production team that they’ve only allowed me to Red Rover only my best Over! (Sorry: was that lame? Ha ha.)

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I’ve been so lucky to work with some very tough editors who I respect immensely: Barbara Pulling, Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Maurice Mierau, Andris Taskans and Heidi Harms of Prairie Fire. If anyone gets a chance to work with them, do it. They are bouncers to a brawl you’ll be grateful you were in.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Robert Creeley’sForm should echo content.” I think about this every day.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
Very easy because I respect what each force is. I trust what I feel when it comes to packaging what I’m working on.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Get up, put coffee on, get the house quiet before putting the tunes on, get to writing (2 hours max), the rest of the day is for inhaling, business, and getting the house ready for our family. Simple!

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Music, movies, photography, friends, family, community, toy collecting, libraries, Whyte Ave. here in Edmonton, walks, listening, helping, feeling and sifting my way through the world every day.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Wherever my sweety is. If I can Kunik or “sniff” her, then I am home.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Music, photography, movies and great artwork. Also, sitting through presentations pretending to listen.  I get such great thinking done!

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I’m a huge graphic novel collector and just about everything that IDW Publishing is putting out these days speaks to me. I love magazines and zines. I can sit for an hour in any magazine shop and just turn the pages, and they literally inspire me so completely. I just can’t wait to get to work on my own stuff after sitting with so many art forms. Just looking at a stack of magazines gets my blood roaring.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I love specialized projects like Continuum’s 33 1/3 series. I keep wanting to write one of these for The Cure’s Disintegration album and have tried twice but no dice (so far). Robert Smith and Continuum, I could write you something so beautiful if you’d let me! I’m a huge fan of photography and I’d like to have more opportunities to share my own without getting into trouble. For example, my toy photography. I love it but have been told not to publish it because of copyright infringement. Remember how Gollum suffered without his “Precious”? Well, I’m like that with my toy photography. I want to share it with everyone but worry that lawyers will sue me if I do. “Preciousssssssssssssssssssssshhhhhhhhh!”

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I don’t even want to imagine a life without me being a writer. How boring would I be? But you’ve asked a great question and I would have been known as a great storyteller.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
No one was telling my story about growing up in the north. I wrote something that I wanted to read. I always take that approach: Richard, write something you would like to read.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book I read was IDW Publishing’s Cobra: The Last Laugh. It’s a prestige hardcover now for around $50.00 or $18.00 on the Comixology App. It’s about a GI Joe operative named Chuckles who infiltrates Cobra only to realize the full fucking horror of who they are and what they’re capable of. I think about that story every single day. I’m doing an interview for the Danforth Review with the writing team and artist just so I can get a little closer to the source. I need to touch the source, rob!! Last great movie: Punch Drunk Love (off the top of my head.) Drive was great. Biutiful was just so devastating and ugly and gorgeous. I also thought Clooney’s The American was great for the tone it set and followed right until the end. On the Ice blew me away, too. I need to watch all of these again!

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a new short story collection and a small comic book (that I’d like to include in the collection but worry most publishers won’t want to spend the time or moolah inserting it called “Sword of Antlers.”) I want my next book to be a bit of photography, poetry, short stories, a novella or two and this mysterious illustrated story. That feels most like me and that would feel so right: to have a celebration of the voices and characters that have chosen me. I’d be so proud of that. Now who wants to dance?

[Richard Van Camp reads in Ottawa as part of the ottawa international writers festival on Sunday, April 28, 2013]

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

No comments: