I would like to introduce, to you all, an award-winning writer I was fortunate to meet while volunteering for the Thin Air International Writer’s Festival back in September. He is a very prolific writer, excelling in many forms of the art. He has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from UBC and teaches a night class at U of A for writers. I mentioned him briefly in a previous post about the festival and included the trailer to the movie, coming soon, based on his Young Adult novel, ‘The Lesser Blessed’. Please give a warm welcome to Richard Van Camp! 🙂
Hi, Richard! Welcome to my blog! Please tell my readers a little about yourself.
I live in Edmonton now and am taking a break before heading up north to launch my new collection, Godless but Loyal to Heaven, in Yellowknife.
While you were here in Winnipeg, I found you to be a prolific and animated storyteller. What is it about telling stories, either written or spoken that you absolutely love?
I think storytellers carry the secrets of the world, so it’s a joy to astonish an audience with secrets I’ve picked up along the way from listening and celebrating the storytellers I turn to for renewal.
You’ve written numerous poems and short story collections (‘Angel Wing Splash Pattern’, ‘The Moon of Letting Go’ and, most recently, your collection ‘Godless but Loyal to Heaven’), comics with health-related themes (‘Path of the Warrior’, ‘Kiss Me Deadly’), children’s books (‘What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses’, ‘A Man Called Raven’, the baby book ‘Nighty Night’ and ‘Welcome Song for Baby’) and a novel, (‘The Lesser Blessed’), which I mentioned was recently turned into a movie. Of all the writing you’ve done, which body or bodies of work are you most proud to call yours and why?
I love them all, Susan. Truly. Each genre has its own rewards. To work with artists I deeply admire like Chris Auchter, Steve Sanderson and George Littlechild on our comic books and kids books is a dream come true. The editors I’ve worked with have been tough and it’s safe to say we’ve earned every word in all of my publications.
When creating the written story, children’s book, baby book, comic, short story or novel, what is your process from beginning to end? For example, do you let your muse guide you or do you plot out how the story will progress, step-by-step?
Each story is different: sometimes I see the ending first and write the story backwards; other times I’ll latch on to a line of dialogue and build; other times I ask, “What if?” and see where that takes a character or characters. Sometimes I want to build on a mood or capture something that happened to me or a friend. Other times, I write about what breaks my heart in the world and I “fix” it in a story.
I like ‘fixing’ things in my stories, too, and always ask the ‘What if’ question. 🙂
Are there differences in your process depending on the type of writing you do? If so, what are some of those differences?
I’d like to answer this with the issue of time: the comics took two years each because we were writing about issues that involved research and consulting; The Lesser Blessed took 5 years because it was about blurred memory and longing; the community of Aggasiz haunted me so deeply with how it felt to be there one night for a reading that I woke up the next morning and began writing I Count Myself Among Them in ‘The Moon of Letting Go’. I was given 5 days to write ‘What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses?’ because another creative team pulled out of the publishing schedule, and I wasn’t going to let an opportunity to work with George Littlechild slip away. I could go on and on but if you look at my short story collections, I have a section that I always put at the end. It’s the liner notes and I break down how or why I wrote each story.
But the bottom line is, “The story is the boss.” I’m a humble student to the craft and I honestly don’t know what I’ll write next. There’s a few plot outlines I’d like to follow up on but there’s always a character or a place that T bones me(!)
Some writers I’ve talked to say that they listen to music while they write. Is music important to your creative process or do you prefer to create in silence with only your own thoughts to push you forward?
Big time. I always write to music. I listened to “Spiders” by System of a Down a thousand times (no lie) to create the mood of “Wolf Medicine: A Ceremony of You” in The Moon of Letting Go. The second I heard “Winter Bones” by Stars I sat up and began writing “born a girl”, which will be in my new collection. You’ll see I credit the bands I write to in my collections.
What role does humour play in your storytelling? Do you inject it into scenes that might be uncomfortably tense, do you create entire scenes that are humourous, or do you dispense your humour in the dialogue – or a little bit of each?
It’s always about the audience. I want to leave people chuckling days after and inspired so I’ll do whatever it takes to bring everyone where they can let go and enjoy.
I know you drew a few chuckles during your school visits! 🙂
A lot of your stories seem to have an inner meaning that the reader can take away with them. Do you write specifically to make a particular point or moral, or do you find that the story itself evolves to show the reader something important?
Great question: I do write about what breaks my heart in my fiction, and I hope that I capture what’s breaking a lot of people’s hearts. I hope I’m writing about what’s resonating in people’s spirits so there’s that connection and ability to haunt a reader with a feeling.
It is important to be passionate about what you’re writing because it does come through to the reader. 🙂
Often the underlying theme of your stories relates back to your home and where you grew up. How important to you is it to write about those people and places?
Deeply important. Home inspires me and I’m so in love with any author that can bring us to their home. DW Wilson’s “Once You Break a Knuckle” was the last great book for me that did that. Pat Conroy always brought me to the south. I’m still on that deer hunt in James Welch’s “Winter in the Blood” and Craig Lesley took me rodeoing in his “Winterkill” series. I adore authors who can take me with them anywhere.
Me, too! 🙂
I know you’re excited about the upcoming movie based on your novel, ‘The Lesser Blessed’. Please tell my readers how the whole process began and how it felt to be at the premier showing in your hometown.
Filmmaker Anita Doron wrote to me seven years ago introducing herself and asking if she could turn my novel into a movie. We worked so hard together (along with our producer, Christina Piovesan, and co-producer, Alex Lalonde, to get the movie made. Bringing it home to Fort Smith and Yellowknife was deeply personal because I have always wanted northerners to see themselves in my writing and on the big screen. It was a dream come true!
Here’s the movie trailer.
It looks totally awesome!
Are there any social media links you’d like to share with us?
If there is anything else you’d like to add before we say goodbye, please feel free to tell us.
Sure! You can read and listen to several of my stories online for free at a former site of mine: http://www.nativewiki.org/Richard_Van_Camp
And you can read my comic book on sexual health in its entirety here:
I want to thank you, Richard, for taking the time to answer my questions.
Mahsi cho for asking great questions, Susan!
You are very welcome! Mahsi! It was my pleasure. Good luck with the book tour! 🙂