Three days out, folks! Three more sleeps before Calgary’s 18th annual literary festival kicks-off with Margaret Atwood on Monday evening at CPL’s John Dutton Theater, WordFest’s new event hub.
This is my inaugural ‘teaser’ post where I have the opportunity to introduce myself and say a few words about the exhilarating week of literary fulfillment ahead. With October comes brisk air, infinity scarves and yellow leaves—a frenetic season for authors releasing new titles—a blur of interviews, readings, shortlist announcements, festivals and book reviews. There is so much happening all at once, a stark contrast to the long, crazy-making stretch essential to completing a book in the first place.
A book takes a significant amount of time, discipline and perseverance to finish, and writers spend years tapping away at a keyboard in solitude until the project is ready for an editor. The editorial process is usually the first of many ‘letting go’ points a writer will encounter, when the work must be shared. The production process is also a team effort that can sometimes present uncomfortable moments to the writer. But nothing, in my opinion, compares to the unexpected emotional pang that follows a book’s initial release. The book is officially and forever cast out of the author’s psyche and into the tangible world where (ideally) thousands of people will read and interpret the work through their own unique perspectives. A book is never read exactly the same way by any two people. We all filter the image of a house or character through our own imaginations, and therefore a book lives innumerable lives. This is how reading ignites the brain in a way that even the best films can’t. Readers decide if the protagonist has freckles or not. Or if there are geraniums on the neighbour’s front porch. Whether the author has put them there or not, our imaginations fill out these details subconsciously.
Yes, it is absolutely thrilling and cathartic to have a new book finished and out in the world. But the accomplishment, like making the Olympics but not quite medalling, can present a few inevitable lows that lure writers out to the bar. Maybe it’s a lukewarm review or a festival that the author was hoping to be invited to and wasn’t. There are only so many author spots at festivals, and I have yet to meet a creative director who hasn’t struggled with the selection process. For the authors chosen to read from and discuss their books, festivals offer not only a place to showcase their work, but an opportunity to debrief about their writing habits or challenges with fellow authors, both Canadian and international. Some writers even talk about grieving their characters once the creative process has truly come to a close. I remember when my novel came out and I was cleaning the house, making the bed. I heard the sound of glass clanging outside where our recyclables were being collected. I associated the sound with Loot, one of my characters that lived on an island and collected bottles—and out of nowhere—as I tucked-in the sheets, I welled up. All at once I realized this character was not mine any more. He was now out in the world to make his friends and enemies. Shortly after this startling pang, it was festival season, where I lurked beside the hospitality-suite bar with my author-buddy, Charlotte Gill, discussing the [fiction] writing process. “Oh look at us,” Charlotte raised her glass, “all stressed-out about people who don’t even exist!”
Part of WordFest takes place at the Banff Centre, a sanctuary for artists, surrounded by mountains, where authors can extend their stay after the Festival for a few days to write, socialize or rest. The Banff Centre has a glowing reputation among artists and it can be difficult to leave. A friend once dubbed a syndrome that afflicts writers after they have returned home from Banff: “PBD,” he calls it. “Post-Banff Depression.”
The fall is not only scarf and festival season but award season as well. On Tuesday, the Toronto press and publishing industry gathered to hear the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury announce its shortlist. Let’s take a moment and remember that almost 150 books were submitted to the Giller Jury this year. To be a juror for this award (or any award) would be a daunting process. First, the jurors must narrow the field down to thirteen titles, then to five—and ultimately to one. As I was saying earlier, we all read books through our own personal lens. We bring our own histories, experiences, visions and interests to our reading. I heartily congratulate all the Giller, GG and Rogers Trust nominees alongside every Canadian author who was able to sit in chair, day after day, developing carpel-tunnel syndrome and a bad neck, to re-write their manuscripts a hundred times over in order to produce the strongest possible manuscript. I (and everyone at WordFest) would like to commend each Canadian novelist, short-story writer, poet and nonfiction author for doing the work that enriches our cultural community and beyond. You never know who your work will touch.
You will hear more about the many literary award nominees appearing at WordFest this year. In the meantime, for anyone looking for a quick taste of Giller-nominated Craig Davidson’s work, but without enough time to read one of his books over the weekend, go rent the French-Belgian 2013 (subtitled) movie Rust & Bone—a poignant, original, moving and cinematic production based on Davidson’s 2005 short story collection of the same name. The film captures his remarkable ability to write kinetically about bodies in motion. This particular trait of Davidson’s writing style was highlighted in a recent Globe & Mail review of Cataract City.
There are many more authors to tell you about—from their new work to their process and habits to how they perceive the world. Follow me on this blog for a colourful tour of this year’s WordFest. Get ready for mind-sizzling dialogue, plate smashing, video-essays, wine, the odd snow flurry, political debate, stand-up comedy, serious philosophy, spoken word, more wine, a discussion on sex-writing, and revealing conversations about the writing life—both on stage and off.
STORY has the power to CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
PS – Hours after this post was written, Alice Munro received a Nobel Prize for literature. Throw your hands up, Canada! Enormous congratulations to one of our country’s most accomplished and loved authors. Let’s all raise our glass to Alice and the short story, a subject we will discuss in a forthcoming post.
Samantha Warwick is the author of the novel Sage Island (WordFest artist 2008 + 2009). Her nonfiction and poetry have been broadcast on CBC Radio and appeared in various literary and commercial publications including Geist, Event, Room, filling Station, The Globe & Mail and FASHION. She has been the Southern Alberta Program Coordinator for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta since 2005, where she has planned and hosted over 100 literary programs. Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013, and moderator of “Afternoon Delight,” featuring L. Marie Adeline and Ophira Eisenberg on Saturday, October 19. Samantha lives and works in Calgary.