Each year, Athabasca University invites a Canadian writer to be its Writer in Residence, an invited artist who serves as a resource for students, faculty, and the university and writing communities. This year, AU has chosen Richard Van Camp. He is a proud member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation from Fort Smith, NWT. 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 has written screenplays, novels, graphic novels, and even books for babies.
Richard Van Camp’s inaugural writer-in-residence event will take place on Friday, February 16 at 3pm at AU Edmonton, in meeting room 1222. He will deliver an hour-long lecture, including an audience Q & A and an opportunity to visit with him after the discussion. Anyone who loves writing and the creative process is welcome to come. If you can’t be there in person, you can also attend AU’s writer-in-residence talk online.
In the meantime, The Voice Magazine thought you should get to know Richard a little better. Voice writer Carla Knipe asked him some questions by email.
Let’s start with a question that hopefully you aren’t tired of answering! What made you decide that writing was the career for you?
I’ve always been a reader growing up (Stephen King, The Warlord, Savage Tales of Conan, EPIC Magazine, etc.) and I just realized that no one was telling my story of growing up in Fort Smith, NWT, in the 70’s and 80’s so I decided that I was going to tell a story that I would like to read, and that’s been my approach for twenty-one books so far.
How did growing up in a small town in northern Canada shape you, especially with regard to your writing?
The slang, the romance, the gossip, the espionage, the laughter, the slyness, the pride!
You have said that you see yourself as a storyteller. Do you enjoy telling stories orally as well as putting them down on paper?
Both have their own rewards when you rock out properly and with everything you’ve got!
Your catchphrase, if you will, is that you’ve “published 20 books in 20 years with 11 different publishers.” Once you got that first book published, was it easier getting others published? How did getting published change how you feel about creativity and writing?
It is the most rewarding anything when you line up your book with the right publisher and editor. After that, it’s a thrill to get to work when you know you have a deadline and a word count and you focus and do your best.
At what moment in your career did you feel that you’d finally “made it” as a writer?
I’ll always be a student of the craft of writing, so there is no graduating: just earning every word is enough for the stories that keep choosing me.
Do you have a particular writing routine that you like to follow? Is there a “typical” day in the life of Richard Van Camp, the writer?
I get up at 4:15 am and get to work until our son gets up and then it’s Enjoy The Day.
What books do you like to read? Do you have any favourite authors?
I read everything: I just finished Fire Girl by Tony Abbott and loved it and I read Indiscretion by Charles Dubow over and over when I’m on planes. I’ve been reading The Walking Dead comic for over a decade now. It never lets up!
You’ve been published in so many different genres: graphic novels, short stories, novels and books for children and babies. Do you think that writing across platforms and genres is more difficult than focusing on one particular thing (say, writing novels), which is something that many writers choose to do?
Each genre has its own rules so when you can work in several genres it just feels so great that, as a fan first, you are finally contributing to something you love so much.
What type of book do you find easiest to write, and what is the most difficult for you?
Each is the boss. It’s all instinct and hard work.
Your graphic novels have been written on topics that young people face, such as sexual health, restorative justice and peacemaking. How have those graphic novels been used, and have you had any readers respond to those books in a way that you never thought of when you were writing them?
We gave 10,000 copies of our comic on sexual health, Kiss Me Deadly (artist: Chris Auchter) away for free across the NWT. We gave 20,000 copies of our comic, Path of the Warrior, away for free across BC with my friend Steve Sanderson as the artist. I am so proud of that. I receive great feedback all the time from readers.
You’ve make your books available—for free—in Braille, and your books have been translated into several First Nations languages. How did all of that come about?
It’s always been my wish to see our books in Braille and in our Indigenous languages and I’ve been lucky enough to work with publishers and editors who share this vision with me. Mahsi cho, SetBC, for making our Braille editions possible. Mahsi cho, Orca Book Publishers and Highwater Press for working so hard on the Bush Cree, Dene and South Slavey Editions of our graphic novel Three Feathers. I’m so grateful to the South Slave Education Council in Fort Smith for funding the translations.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are your trying to build an interconnected body of work?
So many of my books are interconnected through characters. One day I’ll sit down and write out how it all connects but, right now, it’s still unfolding.
AU’s Writer-in-Residence program is a bit contradictory because of its distance learning format where students are spread across the globe. How do you see your role at AU, and what would you like to achieve through your term? How can you unite students who love creative writing but do not have the physical “hub” at AU like typical universities have?
I read everything anyone sends me so keep it coming please!
Have any students responded yet to the invitation to contact you about their writing?
I’m working with five writers full on. I’m reading everything they’re sending me. I love it.
Your talk on February 16th is about the creative process. Can you give us a teaser about what will be covered in it?
I’m going to do a literary reading of my new work with my book, Moccasin Square Gardens, due out this Fall with Douglas&McIntyre. It’s such a fun book and I look forward to finally sharing what I’ve been working on for the past two years. I’m also going to praise so many of the writers in the room for inspiring me to do my very best. It’s going to be fun. I’ve been working with a few writers for the past two months and they are fantastic. I hope they are in the room so I can honour them. I love this job!
To find out more about Richard Van Camp and his work, go to his website http://www.richardvancamp.com
More information about AU’s Writer in Residence Program can be found at http://writer-in-residence.athabascau.ca/index.php