Category Archives: 2013 Festival Blog

Rimby & Jangles—Into the Wild with Jowita Bydlowska

Jowita Bydlowska was born in Poland and moved to Ontario with her family as a teenager. Bydlowska presents her first book, a national bestseller, Drunk Mom. The memoir charts her relapse into alcoholism and the struggles she faced to raise her son and achieve sobriety.

Jowita’s first book, Drunk Mom, is a national bestseller. The memoir charts her relapse into alcoholism and the struggles she faced to raise her son and achieve sobriety.

I sat with Christian and Jowita at a table in McLab.  I felt compelled to re-introduce myself to Jowita because we’d only met very briefly after one of her events in Calgary (covered in an earlier post).  She invited me to eat some of the leftover sweet potato fries on her plate.  I was starving, so I did.
“I’m going horseback riding,” she said, and I stopped chewing my fry.
“You’re going horseback riding?”
She pulled a brochure from her jacket pocket.  “I’m going at four.”
I stared at the brochure, “I want to come with you.”
This wasn’t a good time: My Palahniuk story needed to go live.  I had to finish my Saturday coverage that culminated with Joseph Boyden.  And what if she wanted to go alone?  Despite all of this, the idea of joining her elbowed its way into my psyche.  The trail riding brochure, now sitting on the table between Jowita and me burned a hole in the side of my head.  Lunch came to a close and we left.
“So, listen,” I said as I walked Jowita back to her building.  “I’ll text you if I can come, but I don’t want to impose.”  She gave me her coordinates and I tapped her number into my phone.
“Let me know,” she said.  I felt like a twelve-year-old pining for the circus.  How many times had I been out to the mountains and never gone riding?
In my room I revised my Palahniuk story in lightning-bolt speed.  There was so much to say about Saturday.  I started my weekend coverage.  My husband returmed from a trail run and I told him about the possibility of riding with Jowita.
“Go,” he said.  “You should totally go.”
“So much to do!”
“You’ll figure it out.”

Hanging out at the ranch before our ride

Hanging out at the ranch before our ride

I was already wearing jeans and boots.  It was meant to be.  Fifteen minutes before it was time to go, I texted Jowita to say I could join.  Called the ranch.  We were the only two people signed up for the four o’clock trail ride.  Sweet.  The cab dropped us at the Warner Guiding and Outfitting headquarters.  As we stepped out of the car, the smell of horses and hay was nostalgic.  I used to ride and take care of other people’s horses as a teenager, and as I quickly discovered, Jowita rode too.  She show-jumped in her teens.
“Wow, jumping, really?” I said.
“I was very bad.”
“Still, jumping.  That’s pretty solid.”
We were early.  We wandered the sun-lit grounds.  No tourists.  Just one cowboy sitting in a funny little office.  There were three horses tied to a wooden bar.  One horse was chestnut, the middle one palomino with a dark mane and tail and the third was white.  One of them released a big snorty sigh.
“Yeah,” Jowita said, “sometimes I feel like that too.”
I laughed.
We agreed the palomino horse in the middle was the one we liked the best.  We entered a barn with enormous sleighs inside and decided the space was weird.  Outside, we slid our big sunglasses back on.  We are the same age, as it turns out.  We are both writers that used to ride horses and share a swimming background, even though she was still a kid when she quit the pool.
“We have so much in common,” I said.
“We should get married,” she said.
I grinned at the ground.

When Jowita show jumped as a teenager, her coach once said that the way she sat on a horse was “like a dog sitting on a fence” – (loose translation from Polish) - I dare disagree!

When Jowita show jumped as a teenager, her coach once said the way she sat on a horse was “like a dog sitting on a fence” (loose translation from Polish) – I dare disagree

We stepped onto a fence to watch a pack of horses in a pen, just standing there, saddled up and doing nothing. “It must be boring to be a horse,” she said.  The sun illuminated the yellow trees and snow-capped mountains all around us.   The cowboy in the funny little office asked us to follow him into the pen.  He chose one of the already-saddled horses and handed me the reins, “This is Jangles,” he said.
“Hi Jangles,” I said, and touched his soft muzzle.
The cowboy delivered a second horse to Jowita, “and this is Rimby.”
Our guide was a man named Lindsay.
The cowboy gave us a briefing and we set off toward Sulphur Mountain.  The trail ride began mostly in the woods.  The horses had to step through deep mud.  When we emerged from the trees we passed the Bow River, shining emerald blue.
“I feel like I’m in a movie,” Jowita said.

Bow river, emerald with glacial sediment

Bow river, emerald with glacial sediment

I thought about the palm reading Margaret Atwood gave me on Tuesday.  Something I didn’t mention in my earlier post is that when she examined my ‘career line,’ she paused to study more closely.  “You need to make up your mind,” she said.  I thought I had made up my mind, but I’ve certainly been finding phenomenal ways to sabotage my own writing for the past few years.
“Hey,” I said to Jowita—having heard this question asked a dozen times over the course of the Festival—“what’s your most and least favourite parts of being a writer?”

Jowita on Rimby, in the woods

Jowita on Rimby, in the woods

She was on Rimby in front of me and I watched her back as she answered the question.  “Least favourite part is following the business of publishing,” she said.  “I don’t like to handle that side of things—like who’s merging with who, who likes what, who doesn’t like what—how much for that puppy in the window?”  But at the same time, she knows that ‘the business’ is part of the job, and she loves meeting all the brilliant, accomplished people involved in publishing.  “The best part is just being an author.  To be able to do it without any special prep—no sacred rooms, no going into my ‘inner goddess place’.”  She treats writing like a job just like any other and tries not to be too precious about it.

Nice view

Nice view

I can be too precious about my writing.  Before I’m in the zone, I find myself circling the process, resisting the commitment.  My husband jokes that the stars have to be aligned for me to write sometimes.  The house has to be clean.  There needs to be food in the fridge.  My piles of paper and random notes need to be organized and not shoved haphazardly into the bins.  Jowita asked about my most and least favourite parts of being a writer.
“I hate sitting,” I said.  “Sitting is the worst part for me.”
I can’t remember what I said the best part was.  I suppose the best part is what Anthony De Sa described on his panel, when you are so immersed in the world you’ve created that you lose complete track of time.
We talked about whether a voice-to-text program would help with my sitting problem.  We talked more about writing.  “I write every single day,” she said, “because I’m terrified of writer’s block.”
“So smart,” I said.
She usually writes after her son Hugo goes to bed.

Clearly, her discipline is paying off, because she’s already got two fictional manuscripts completed.  TWO.

“That’s amazing,” I said.  “Two manuscripts.”
She said something to the effect of, “They’re nothing until they find a home, though.”
What I would do to have two completed manuscripts!
The grass is always greener.  Whenever I’m at the beginning of a project, I want to be at a later stage.  But when I’m at a later stage I want the clean-slate-I-can–take-this-anywhere feeling.
“What’s your sign?” I asked her.  So lame, but I was curious.
“Libra. You?”
“Capricorn.”
Her husband Russell is a Leo and my husband Dave is an Aries.
“Leos, I said, “Big personalities.”
“Yep.”  She smiled.
Fitting that she would be a Libra.  Libras, as far as I know in terms of astrology, are intelligent, courteous and diplomatic people whose charm is hard to resist.  Check.
As opposed to Capricorns: pessimistic centre of the Zodiac.
The mountains, fresh air, sound of horse hooves hitting the ground, and soothing company refreshed my brain.  Our horses climbed a steep incline where majestic vistas opened up to our right, bathed in late-day sun.  I could have asked her more questions about her book, but I haven’t read it yet, and I suspected the ride was intended as a breather, a couple of hours to chill.  Lindsay told us that Jowita’s horse, Rimby, had been previously owned by a famous nonfiction author in Denmark.  Literary horse, how apt.

Later, at the wrap-party, we discussed other books.  We talked about our mutual admiration of Jennifer Egan’s work, best known for A Visit From the Goon Squad.  She’s also very fond of Elena Ferrante, Michel Houellebecq, Barbara Gowdy, Michal Witkowski, Stanislaw Dygat and Russell Smith.  I too, admire Gowdy and Smith—so that leaves four authors I plan to explore more deeply.

IMG_1438

Jowita on Rimby

We exchanged emails and I sent her a few questions, not knowing yet exactly how this story would evolve.  I asked her what her hope is for Drunk Mom as it makes its way into the hands of more readers and more countries.  She hopes that readers will like the writing and be able to relate to the story—or if not relate, at least get a good glimpse into the experiences she’s described.  She hopes the readers will recommend the book to all of their friends—not just drunk moms.  Drunk dads too.  And drunk uncles.  And even sober uncles.
Advice for aspiring writers?  Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read.
The ride with Jowita was a highlight of my 2013 Festival experience.
Just as the trail-riding brochure had sizzled beside me at lunch, now Jowita’s book smolders on my bedside table as my next read.  Look out, Russell Smith, I may just show up at your doorstep with Rimby and Jangles and take Jowita for another ride into the sunset!

To see more photos by Official WordFest Photographer Monique de St. Croix, CLICK HERE.

For more information on Jowita and her book, Drunk Mom, visit her website.

SWarwickWFBlogPageOct. 13Samantha 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.  Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013.

2 Comments

Filed under 2013 Festival Blog

First Rule of Fight Club, Turn Off Your Cell Phones, says Panel Referee Robyn Read

IMG_1445A chaos of yellow leaves shook outside my window on Sunday morning.  Last day of the Festival, last day in Banff—boo.  I got dressed, complete with infinity scarf and buggy sunglasses, to make my way to the Kinnear building with my notebook for ‘Blokes & Brawls.’  The event featured Todd Babiak, Craig Davidson (Giller Prize finalist 2013), Anthony De Sa, Anthony Marra and D.W. Wilson.  Robyn Read, host-extraordinaire and Managing Editor of the Banff Centre Press, introduced the event by saying, “I am going to referee amateur boxing amongst five exceptionally talented authors whose books have reflected they know a thing or two about researching a fight… First rule of fight club is—turn off your cell phones.”

Craig Davidson

Craig Davidson

The authors read vivid scenes from their books, and the moderated conversation that followed drew the audience into what it means to be (or to be seen as) a “masculine” or “macho” writer.  Craig Davidson said that he recognizes this is “a box that he built” and that he’ll always have a masculine outlook, but hopes that with this book (Cataract City) and in future books, that he will expand his narrative to more closely parallel the way he sees the world.  With each book, he said, “you’re trying to do something new.”  Later, he told us one of the best parts of writing the book was going back to childhood, when you have a “nimbleness of belief” that everything will be okay.  As adults we become more calcified (disbelievers, losing hope) and re-immersing himself into a younger perspective was enjoyable.

Anthony De Sa

Anthony De Sa

As “macho” as his book might be, Anthony De Sa chose to make a young woman’s experience of pregnancy quite prominent in the coming of age of the boys in his novel.  He spoke of growing up in a Portuguese community surrounded by incredibly strong women.  Raised (in a large part) by his grandmother, he regaled the audience with a tale of being in the role of translator—at the tender age of eleven—for his grandmother during a gynecological exam.  For De Sa, the best part of writing is losing track of the time; when somehow it’s 3 a.m. and the process has felt effortless—this, he describes, is the most wonderful feeling.

D.W. Wilson

D.W. Wilson

D.W. Wilson didn’t set out to write rural masculinity, it just happened.  “My characters almost exclusively wear plaid shirts…but I didn’t set out to write what it means to wear plaid shirts.”  While he is quoted as having referred to his writing as “sad man fiction,” he articulately explained that he does not consider himself a rough and tumble, overtly male or “macho” writer.  As to process, he said, “I like revising.  I don’t like the part that comes before revising.”  Amen, Dave—I hear you.

In an earlier post I mentioned that Todd Babiak’s novel was inspired, at the outset, by a nightmare.  “The biggest fear I have is something happening to one of my daughters,” he said.  When he had the nightmare about a child being killed in a car accident, he didn’t even want to tell his wife because she’s superstitious.  But the dream haunted him and he started asking himself, how do we protect our children?  And if you lose a child, what do you do?  How does the father react, how does the mother react?  The novel became an examination ofthe human condition, fear and the complexities of grief.

Todd Babiak

Todd Babiak

Anthony Marra

Anthony Marra

Anthony Marra was a junior in high school when 9/11 happened and has spent his entire adult life in a world where terror is present in a new way.  Marra’s debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, takes place in Chechnya, a war-torn region of Russia. The story follows three character’s unlikely companionship at a deserted hospital in the devastated region.  He spoke on the process of authentically re-creating violence that he didn’t personally witness.  “The currency of fiction is emotion,” he said.  To see the world through an individual character’s point of view, to be transported—reading is an emotional connection between the author and the characters.

Following this very interesting event, I met Christian Bök and Robyn Read for lunch downstairs at McLab.  Originally I’d been planning to grab a muffin and a giant coffee and return to my room to finish a post and start the next one.  Tick, tick.  But when I sat down at a table with Christian and Jowita Bydlowska, author of the memoir Drunk Mom—what happened next warrants its own post—and I will sign this story off and invite you read my festival finale, Rimby & Jangles—Into the Wild with Jowita Bydlowska.

Eleanor Catton

Eleanor Catton

BUT FIRST!  Big shout out to Eleanor Catton, Man Booker-winning author of The Luminaries.  Set during the heady days of New Zealand’s gold rush, The Luminaries revolves around three crimes that draw together the fates and fortunes of an entire community.  Catton is also nominated for the 2013 Governor General’s Award.  She read alongside Cathy Marie Buchanan, Charlotte Grimshaw, Wayne Johnston and Anakana Schofield in the Festival’s sparkling final event, Afterwords, where sun steamed in through the big Kinnear windows framing each author as they read against a backdrop of mountains and blue sky.

 To see more photos by Official WordFest Photographer Monique de St. Croix, CLICK HERE.

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.  Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2013 Festival Blog

Skimming Erotica in the Children’s Section Before Beating it up to Banff

Ali Bryan

Ali Bryan

Back at the J-Dutton headquarters, I began Saturday morning bright and early with coffee by Caffé Beano before ‘Gals & Good Times’ featuring Ali Bryan (Roost), Cathy Marie Buchanan (The Painted Girls), Lynn Coady (Hellgoing), Leanne Shirtliffe (Don’t Lick the Minivan and Other Things I Thought I’d Never Say to My Kids) and Cassie Stocks (Dance, Gladys, Dance).

I’m not a morning person.  I enjoy sleeping late and spending the first part of my day in bed with my laptop and eleven cups of coffee.  When people ask if my workstation is ergonomical I shift my gaze just enough to avoid direct eye contact and say, “Of course.”  Lynn Coady, who’s been shortlisted for both the 2013 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and  Scotiabank Giller Prize (on the heels of being shortlisted for the Giller for The Antagonist in 2011), has been my writing mentor on two occasions, so I like to think I’ve had the opportunity to get to know her.

Lynn Coady

Lynn Coady

Over the years we have discussed many subjects—from character motivation to food sensitivities to the time I found a dead squirrel in a cabin toilet.  I was delighted to learn a number of years ago that she doesn’t consider herself a morning person either.  I’m not sure if this has changed, but I remember once, when we were in an airport lineup together in 2008 after she’d won an Alberta Literary Award for Mean Boy, and I complained blearily about having had to get up early.  “I hate being rushed in the morning,” I said.  “I need to stare at the wall and drink coffee before I talk to anyone.  This is hell.”  She nodded, “We’re like the same person,” she said calmly, and my spirits lifted at the notion that she was a morning hermit too.

Leanne Shirtliff

Leanne Shirtliffe

All of this to say, I forwent my nonverbal wall-staring and caffeine overdose on Saturday.  The event began with readings.  All of them poignant and resonant.  Author Merilyn Simonds moderated a conversation about why each author chose to narrate their most recent works through a female lens.  The idea that a female narrative is more loaded and fraught than a male’s (for both socio-cultural and personal reasons) led to very interesting remarks from all the panelists.  The power and role of humour was discussed when Leanne Shirtliffe said, “Humour is a bit of a shield, it allows us to be critical about what is going on without getting overly political.”  The panelists unanimously agreed with Coady’s point that humour adds a layer of profundity.  Cassie Stocks and Ali Bryan said they know when their writing is going well when they’re amusing themselves in the process.  Cathy Marie Buchanan said she doesn’t feel that humour comes easily in her writing, but was quite hilarious as she described the winding road that ultimately led her to creative writing.  In university she studied biochemistry, deliberately choosing a degree that did not require a single essay because she was the world’s worst speller.  Leanne made a closing remark on the subject of living a creative life that has been rolling around my consciousness like a marble, “Allowing ourselves to be creative means allowing ourselves the time.” Yes.

L. Marie Adeline a.k.a Lisa Gabrielle

L. Marie Adeline a.k.a Lisa Gabriele

Immediately following this panel, I scouted a hideaway in the children’s section of the library to (ironically) review the questions I’d prepared to moderate the next session on erotic literature (among other themes).  I re-read a few sections of Lisa Gabriele’s erotic novel S.E.C.R.E.T. surrounded by Goodnight Moon and Dr. Seuss.  The session featured Ophira Eisenberg (Screw Everyone, Sleeping my Way to Monogamy) and Lisa Gabriele, author of the S.E.C.R.E.T. trilogy.  Soon it was time to meet them in the green room where their combined energy, warmth and humour negated any trepidation I had about moderating the intimate discussion ahead: ‘Afternoon Delight.’

Ophira Eisenberg

Ophira Eisenberg

The chemical explosion of witty humour and gender-political banter that sparked between these two authors was remarkable.  They fed off each other on subjects of sex, politics, shame, humour, ex-boyfriends, writing sex/erotica, making a living as a female writer, the double-standards they’ve both encountered as women working in creative industries.  There was no shortage of fodder for discussion as these two amazing women answered questions and offered bold, refreshing and frank replies.  They made an incredible pair on stage, a comedic feminist duo that had everyone engrossed and laughing.  Someone commented after the event that they should take their show on the road.

Next, it was time to head for the mountains to hear from this year’s Banff Distinguished Author, Joseph Boyden.  The Eric Harvie Theatre at the Banff Centre brimmed to capacity.  Boyden, who won the Giller for Through Black Spruce in 2008, is currently on the shortlist for the Governor General’s award for his latest release, The Orenda.  The event kicked off with dynamic readings from local authors Paul Zits and Deborah Willis, after which a reading and interview between Joseph Boyden and Jeff Horvath ensued.  Horvath is a member of the Ojibways of Onegaming in north-western Ontario, currently the Aboriginal Liaison Teacher at Canmore Collegiate High School and coordinator of First Nations education.

Jeff Horvath and Joseph Boyden in conversation

Jeff Horvath and Joseph Boyden in conversation

Horvath opened the interview portion by commending Boyden for “giving voice” to his people.  Boyden emphasized on more than one occasion that he is “one of many voices.”  Boyden spoke to questions on how ‘the land’ influences his writing, and how this plays a thematic and metaphorical role in his novels.  When the subject of fatherhood was raised, he paused before sharing some personal (and clearly spontaneous) thoughts on what he called his “weird relationship with fathers and fatherhood.”  His own father died when he was still a child, and for a long time he had to reconcile mixed feelings of abandonment around this loss.  He shared poignant anecdotes involving his now 23-year-old son, Jacob, whom he had to leave for a while when Jacob was two in order to pursue his creative work.  The stories he told of moose hunting with his son at sixteen and asking whether or not Jacob harboured feelings of abandonment were undeniably moving.

Boyden

Boyden

When asked about writing The Orenda, he said that his female characters always seem to come out more fully realized than the men.  The men take more effort and time.  He joked about the inner conversations he’d negotiated with a particular male character in The Orenda, “Ah, Christophe, you’re such a dick…”  He also spoke to what it was like to write the violent parts of the novel.  “The violence was a necessary part of this novel…the elephant in the room that I had to address.”  Writing this violence was difficult and he didn’t look forward to it.  But something a mentor once told him helped him get through this process, “Never allow the moment that is important to be minimized.”  This advice helped him write the difficult parts that he knew needed to be written despite the brutal suffering it portrayed.  Ultimately, he had to let the violence “blossom like an ugly flower.”

Jeff held an eagle feather throughout the interview.  When the conversation came to a close, he explained that he’d found this particular feather on a canoe trip many years ago.  In the Ojibway tradition, an eagle feather is presented to an individual who has done something great.  He held the feather out to Joseph as a gesture of honour.  Joseph, very humbly, accepted the feather.  The event closed shortly after the two men hugged on stage, sending the audience into a detonation of applause.

“We had magic before the crows came. Before the rise of the great villages they so roughly carved on the shores of our inland sea and named with words plucked from our tongues—Chicago, Toronto, Milwaukee, Detroit—we had had our own great villages on these same shores. And we understood our magic. We understood what the orenda implied.”  – Joseph Boyden, The Orenda.

BLOG 7 FEATHER GIFT

Joseph Boyden accepting an eagle feather from Jeff Horvath

Author Deborah Willis opened for Joseph Boyden

Author Deborah Willis opening for Joseph Boyden

Boyden and Horvath with Festival Director Jo Steffens

Boyden and Horvath with Festival Director Jo Steffens

Author Paul Zits, also opening for Boyden

Author Paul Zits, also opening for Boyden

Two more Festival stories coming to your inbox tomorrow!   To see more photos by Official WordFest Photographer Monique de St. Croix, CLICK HERE.

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.  Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013.

1 Comment

Filed under 2013 Festival Blog

And Now for Something Completely Different…

John Dutton Theater transformed into a glow-in-the dark gum ball machine of illuminated beach balls

John Dutton Theater transformed into a glow-in-the-dark gumball machine of illuminated beach balls

“Show us your balls!” a voice ricocheted from the crowd as I entered the J-Dutton theater on Friday night for Chuck Palahniuk, best known for his award-winning novel, Fight Club.  Festival volunteers distributed copies of his latest book, Doomed, and we all received a beach ball to inflate and a glow stick.  The glow sticks, once activated, slid into the inflated ball, and a veritable rainbow of translucent orbs glowed around the room.  Volunteers then began to circulate Sharpie markers to every row.  Clearly, this was not going to be an ordinary reading.

Like a boxer entering a ring, Palahniuk strode onto the stage in a red satin robe and bare feet.  The collective roar of his fans was nothing short of breathtaking.  A man in front of me stood up and punched his fist in the air, screaming as though we were watching the Flames during the 2004 Playoffs on the Red Mile.

Chuck P launching bags of candy into the audience

Chuck P launching bags of candy into the audience

Judging by the shouts and praises that erupted so early—before Palahniuk even opened his mouth–I wondered how on earth I would do this sold-out event justice.  “Who’s never been to an author event?” he asked the audience.  Eighty percent of the crowd lifted their glow-stick illuminated beach balls in the air.  “Well!” he continued, “this is what happens at a literary event.”  He marched over to one of several large sacks on stage that were—as it turned out—full of smaller bags of Halloween candy, and proceeded to throw the candy-bags into the audience.  He stopped and peered at one of the packages, “Says 299 grams in here.  Whatever the F*** that means…like it’s cocaine or something.”  Bags sailed across the theater like frisbees, smacking into elated receivers.

The concept behind the beach balls was this: everyone gets a ball, inflates the ball, illuminates the ball with a glow stick, and writes a question on the ball with the marker.  At various points throughout the event, Palahniuk explained there would be brief intermission periods whereby the lights would be turned off, music pumped up, when everyone in the audience would “Mix up the balls!” by throwing them around the theater.  We did a practice run.  The lights were turned off, music came on and the theater turned into a giant gumball machine.

After the ball-mixing, Palahniuk read a cringe-worthy story about masturbation gone wrong.  Fans winced, groaned, grimaced and laughed at the disturbing and graphic turn of events, ultimately involving a 15-foot intestinal tract reduced to six inches.  I will never look at a carrot, mollified piece of candle wax or pool drain pipe the same way.

Here you can see a question written on a beach ball that he answered during the event

Here you can see a question written on a beach ball that he answered during the event

He introduced the first round of ‘Question Period’ and hundreds of beach balls bounced crazily around the dark theatre to pounding music.  He invited those with GOOD QUESTIONS to “raise their ball” and if the question “wasn’t lame,” he would answer it.  Good questions were rewarded by a copy of his most-recent favourite book, Dora, about Freud’s analysis of a case of hysteria.

If a question was lame he kicked the ball back into the crowd.  One beach ball asked a more formal question about his research and process, and he explained that he is often inspired by stories he hears from others.  He’ll hear a story that holds a kernel of truth.  The kernel will simmer, and an idea will gain traction and morph into something much bigger—and much different from the original tale.

BLOG 6 - CHUCK PHe performed two readings, one was older material and one was newer.  I was impressed by the way in which he incorporates disturbing material into stories that deliver poignant social commentary alongside the outlandish events that occur in his stories.  He spoke about story and storytelling.  “Stories are just flat lines on a piece of paper until somebody reads them.”

He continued to frisbee bags of candy and small stuffed cats into the audience.  He made various remarks that are too awkward to include here—out of full context—that generated a great deal of laughter and hollering from his fans.  He shared a story about how he achieved the record for most written complaints at a Barnes & Noble store.  “If you’re offended by any of this,” he said, “don’t bitch to WordFest…They had no idea.”  Everything he said all night was met with sports-fanatic enthusiasm.

As Palahniuk moved to wrap up his pyjama-glow-stick-beach-ball-Halloween-candy-stuffed-kitten-book-party—he thanked the crowd for breathing life (literally and figuratively) into the evening.   I walked home in the dark.  Many blocks away from the theater, as I made my way through the Beltline to Mission, a young woman wearing a leather jacket and jeans passed me carrying her beach ball in one hand and a cigarette in the other.  The glow-stick inside her beach ball was losing its fluorescence.  I imagined her going home to a small apartment.  I pictured her turning on the lights, slipping off her coat, and gently placing her plastic beach ball on a mantel beside all her copies of Palahniuk books.  A shrine.  Clearly, this author has generated a cult following that can only be admired.

 “Have your adventures, make your mistakes, and choose your friends poorly — all these make for great stories.” – Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck P interacting with his audience

Chuck P interacting with his audience

Stay turned for more Festival coverage including Joseph Boyden and horseback riding with Jowita BydlowskaTo see more photos by Official WordFest Photographer Monique de St. Croix, CLICK HERE.

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.  Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013.

2 Comments

Filed under 2013 Festival Blog

Just Because I Talk to Hemingway Doesn’t Make Me Crazy

I started my Festival adventures yesterday with the noon hour Bookmarks event, A Writers Book Club, featuring Jowita Bydlowska, Douglas Glover, Sue Goyette and Elizabeth Ruth. Each author spoke about their approach to the works they read and write.  I was pleasantly struck by how much I connected to each one of these panelists for varying reasons, which gave me the same thrilling satisfaction I feel after buying an album and discovering that I love every song.  Jackpot!

Elizabeth Ruth

Elizabeth Ruth

Let’s begin with Elizabeth Ruth.  As some of my friends are aware, I’ve spent the last four years working with Hemingway texts, studying The Sun Also Rises and having preposterous fights with Ernest in my head.  When Elizabeth began to speak about writing her third novel, Matadora—set in 1930′s Spain and Mexico—a book that delves into themes of politics and passion through the eyes of a young, female bullfighter, I was rapt.  She went on to discuss her own relationship with Hemingway, from his muscular writing style to how she decided to address bullfighting from a feminist point of view.  She spent six weeks in Spain, admittedly arguing and conversing with Hemingway in her head as she attended bullfights and researched the history and complexities of bullfighting.  She compared a writer’s ambition to that of a bullfighter’s: both activities lead us into new, unpredictable territory.  And how does a writer know when a book is complete?  When the manuscript most closely resembles the writer’s initial intention.  Handily, I found these two articles about the development of her novel available at the signing table.  Check them out, The Quill & Quire and The Globe & Mail.

Sue Goyette

Sue Goyette

Sue Goyette is an award-winning novelist and poet.  And how did this author draw me in?  For starters I used to be a competitive open water swimmer, so her new collection of poetry, Ocean, had already spoken to me before the event.  For Sue, the act of reading is a refreshing experience, a ‘re-set’ button that brings her back to what she calls her “essential self.”  I enjoyed her description of fiction writers, as they inevitably must go inward, somewhat self-absorbed, in order to cultivate the great “ecosystem” of a novel.  “Our art is smarter than we are,” she said, “a lot of the time what we need is to get out of our own way.”  I agree.  We need to trust ourselves.  Trust the process.  Stop getting in the way.  Funny how hard this can be.

Author Douglas Glover (Savage Love) has been reading books with a pen in his hand for years.  His family always knows what books he’s been reading because of the notes that decorate the margins.  He feels that he learned a tremendous amount about writing from reading recent Nobel Prize winner, Alice Munro.  Glover paid attention to her sentences, noticing and admiring how she could use the word ‘but’ three times in a phrase and make it work.  Glover is the author of multiple story collections and novels.  I highly recommend you visit his online magazine Numero Cinq. Follow the right hand column and click Literary Craft and Technique.

Jowita Bydlowska

Jowita Bydlowska

Jowita Bydlowska, author of the national-bestselling memoir, Drunk Mom, was born in Poland and moved to Ontario with her family when she was fifteen.  She knew only a dozen English words and most of them were swear words.  She walked us through her experiences as a teenager and learning to read and speak English, and how eventually, authors such as Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood would inspire and inform her desire to write.  After high school, before she decided to apply to journalism, she worked at a bank.  She paused here to look gravely at the audience, “Not what a writer should do.”  However, she was able to read a lot during this time.  Eleven years ago she met a “wonderful guy,” her now-husband and well-known Canadian author, Russell Smith, who was instrumental in her development as a writer.  I am both inspired and moved by Bydlowska’s courageous decision to write a memoir that charts her relapse into alcoholism and the struggles she faced to raise her son and achieve sobriety.  Jowita’s work appears occasionally in Hazlitt Magazine, where you can also read about writers and their libraries.

The evening Showcase readings gave us insight into the new works produced by authors Sahar Delijani (Children of the Jacaranda Tree), Douglas Glover and the “Waynes”—Wayne Grady (Emancipation Day) and Wayne Johnston (Son of a Certain Woman).

Sahar Delijani was born in an Iranian prison after her parents were arrested for political activism in 1983.  She spoke with host Jennifer Keene (CBC Radio 1) about her life, the path that led her to literature and answered candid questions about the revolution in Iran and the harrowing experiences of her friends and family.  Wayne Grady spoke on themes of prejudice generation after generation.

Before presenting his reading, Wayne Johnson said, “It’s nice to be back in Calgary.  I was last here two years ago.  However, please don’t get used to the notion that I am going to write a book every two years.”  (Shades of yesterday’s post in this statement for those of you who read it).  He read a scene from Son of a Certain Woman, and later—in his interview with Jennifer, mentioned that in his very distant past, he’d been on a path into the priesthood, but that ultimately he decided against this.  He consoled his mother by telling her he would go into medicine instead, but didn’t, deciding instead to become a writer.  “I went for the big bucks,” he said, quintessential deadpan humour effective as ever.

Another poignant and enlightening day on the ground at WordFest.
PS – It was a full moon yesterday, so if you are feeling a little crazy or unlike your normal self, all should be better very soon.  See you at Chuck Palahniuk!

Thursday Night Showcase

Thursday Night Showcase: Wayne Grady, Sahar Delijani, Wayne Johnston and Douglas Glover

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.  Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013, and moderator of “Afternoon Delight,” featuring L. Marie Adeline and Ophira Eisenberg on Saturday, October 19. 

Leave a comment

Filed under 2013 Festival Blog

Pyper: 2 Warwick: 0

Andrew Pyper

Andrew Pyper

Andrew Pyper was one of last night’s Showcase authors where he presented his latest novel called The Demonologist.  I admire Andrew for being such a talented and prolific author.  I also hate him just a little bit for his ridiculous ability to produce quality fiction so effing fast.  We both had books out in 2008.  How many has he published since then?  Two.  Me?  Zero.  So we’re 2:0.  But who’s counting?  Our mutual agent, that’s who.  Some authors are on the same cycle, meaning they release books at the same time every three or four years, and in turn they find themselves reunited at festivals and such.  Every time I see Andrew I feel like a turtle.  But whatever.  He’s a nice guy so I’ll let it go.  His commitment to his craft and gracious ‘niceness’ makes it difficult to hate him.  Alas.

After his reading last night at the J-Dutton, he discussed The Demonologist in a short interview, in which the subject of FEAR was kicked around.  FEAR, one of the strongest emotions we as humans will experience.  Fear is an emotion that can propel our behaviour or decisions in directions we can’t and don’t always see coming.  Pyper explained that both writing and reading about fear is unlike reading or writing other emotions such as love or grief or worry.  Fear is more revealing in a deeper, raw and honest way.  The unique tension inherent to working with this kind of emotional response continues to motivate his decision to write literary horror.  Working with fear presents opportunities in a narrative that are not otherwise possible.

When asked about his influences he mentioned both Alice Munro and Stephen King, explaining that he sees little distinction between these two types of books, “The events don’t define the writing,” he said, “the writing defines the work.”  One question I wish I had asked him but only thought of later, was how—in his opinion—can we distinguish between intuition and fear in everyday life.  For instance, say you are about to have a medical procedure, and you’re a little scared (naturally)—and your gut is insidiously whispering, I don’t think you should go through with this… How do you know if this is a nagging fear that must be overcome (courage has rewards), or an intuitive voice you should stop and listen to?  Maybe I am overly philosophizing, but I think these two emotional experiences can sometimes be difficult to distinguish.  Hmm.

Todd Babiak

Todd Babiak

The rest of the lineup was equally engaging, Todd Babiak (speaking of fear) talked about the nightmare he had several years ago, a bad dream that he couldn’t quite shake off, and how this dream informed the initial premise for Come Barbarians.  Todd is another one of these pesky prolific writers who’s released two books since 2008.  And he’s running a business!  With two kids and a family!  Maybe having kids urges you into a regimen that enforces the requisite discipline necessary to completing books.  I should mention that both Todd Babiak and Andrew Pyper have great blogs.  Click their names to check these out.

D.W. Wilson

D.W. Wilson

D.W. Wilson (author of Ballistics) shared some details about his writing experiences at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, a town he jokingly referred to as a “graveyard of ambition.”  Wilson was a judoka expert for eleven years at an earlier point in his life, and while he is no longer involved in the martial arts, he lit up on the subject of physicality; to observe and capture the machinery of the body as a writer is of great appeal to him.  This reminded me immediately of Giller-nominated Craig Davidson’s kinetic style (Cataract City) and I’m curious to watch for parallels between these two authors and their novels.  Here is a Globe & Mail interview where D.W. shares some of his thoughts on being a writer.

Michael Winter

Michael Winter

Michael Winter stepped onto the stage, and like other Newfoundland authors I’ve enjoyed hearing from, drew the audience into colourful anecdotes about how his latest novel, Minister Without Portfolio, came to fruition.  “Such a bad title,” he said, shaking his head, “so bad.  I always thought I would change it.”  Winter is a funny man.  He gave amusing advice to aspiring writers.  First of all, “Don’t use Moleskins…you know those nice expensive little notebooks that Hemingway and Chatwin used?  Why?  Because you’re thoughts aren’t good enough!”  To be clear, he made this point with animated and obvious humour.  He displayed the cheap (free, actually) little booklet he carries around in his pocket to jot down his daily observations, and I have no doubt the students in his fiction workshop this evening will leave with sore cheekbones from laughing.

After the Showcase, we fuelled up on snacks and cocktails at the Late Night Party where author and musician Geoff Berner entertained a packed room.  Local authors had the opportunity to chat, laugh and compare notes with the Festival authors and other industry insiders.  At some point after midnight, the lights were turned up.  “Ah, the F*** off lights,” announced brilliant poet and friend, Christian Bök.

Slowly the crowd thinned out and Dave and I left to catch a cab to get home.  In the car we swapped stories about the people we’d talked to and what they’d said.  “Andrew Pyper’s already half-way through his next book,” he elbowed me in the ribs.  “Seriously!” I threw up my hands and let my head butt into the car’s backseat window.  I curled my fist, “Pyper.”

Wordfest Late Night Party - authors Andrew Pyper, Deborah Willis, Naomi K. Lewis and Christian Bok

Wordfest Late Night Party – authors Andrew Pyper, Deborah Willis, Naomi K. Lewis and Christian Bok

WordFest Late Night Party with my husband Dave and local author and friend Glenn Dixon

WordFest Late Night Party with my husband Dave and local author and friend Glenn Dixon

Buddy Katherine "Kat" Main accepting the 2013 Brenda Strathern Award for her writing

Katherine “Kat” Main accepting the 2013 Brenda Strathern Award for her writing

Stay turned for more Festival coverage!  To see more photos by Official WordFest Photographer Monique de St. Croix, CLICK HERE.

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.  Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013, and moderator of “Afternoon Delight,” featuring L. Marie Adeline and Ophira Eisenberg on Saturday, October 19. 

2 Comments

Filed under 2013 Festival Blog

Don’t Be a Jerk? I Can’t Work Under These Conditions, says Literary Death Match Judge Will Ferguson

Chris Turner

Chris Turner

After safely delivering Margaret Atwood to the airport with Jo yesterday—and allowing the euphoric chemicals circulating my bloodstream to settle–I hit the ground running with a noon-hour event featuring Susan Delacourt (Shopping for Votes) and Calgary’s own Chris Turner (The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper’s Canada).

I met my political-junkie husband Dave at the event, where he leaned forward in his seat, closely absorbing the discussion on the health of Canadian democracy.  Dave grew up in a home of routine dinner-table political debate.  His father (whom I like to affectionately refer to as Danny) was a political science prof at the University of Regina, and all three of his sons share an avid interest in politics.  Throughout the event, I noticed Dave taking more notes than I was, which sent a thin line of anxiety down my spine.  I’m supposed to be the Blogger!  I caught myself peering neurotically at his notes like a cheating high school student.  Ultimately, I whispered, “Maybe I can get a quote from you after?”  He smiled indulgently.

For me, after hearing these two authors speak and answer audience questions, I was reminded how crucial it is for us to stay informed and engaged with what is going on in our municipal, provincial and national governments.  We have a social responsibility as citizens to pay attention and seek out information instead of passively waiting for facts, knowledge and insight to be fed to us.  Later, I asked Dave what he felt the most important message was from the discussion. “The ascendancy of ideology over fact,” he said, and repeated a quote that Turner had cited in his presentation.  “We’ve moved from evidence-based policy making to policy-based evidence making.  This impacts social policies and political platforms a great deal.”

Susan Delacourt

Susan Delacourt

Both Turner and Delacourt’s books are guaranteed to enlighten, educate and deepen our collective understanding of political marketing, the role and influence of the media, the reduced capability of our current government to collect vital information—from fish counts to human statistics.  On the muzzling of science—and to read some of the points covered by Chris Turner at the event—read this (very) recent article he wrote for The Star.

A few hours later, down the street at the Art Gallery of Calgary, some plates and ceramics were cathartically smashed to bits where this year’s Anne Green Award winner (Ann Shin) presented her multimedia interpretation and collection of poetry, The Family China.  The event culminated with a smashing of china, a symbolic act representative of the “messiness of human relations, migration, loss and death, and the impulse to build anew.”  In order to give this performance the justice it deserves, I encourage you to watch this short video depicting the poignant themes behind the project, including the widespread female desire to break free of “traditional women’s roles and expectations…and of the little worlds we create for ourselves.”

Anne Green with Ann Shin

Ann Shin (left) with Anne Green (right)

To present the 2013 award to Ann Shin gave WordFest Founding Creative Director Anne Green great pleasure.  Green, who attended the event, was surprised by how satisfying it was to hurl a very ugly blue and white fake Wedgwood rose bowl on to the cement floor and watch it smash to smithereens.  “I always hated that stuff,” she says.

She expressed big thanks to the donor whose gift makes it possible to promote artistic works that “explore and challenge traditional forms of story and narrative,” and to the Festival Board for choosing to manifest this with an award in her name.  Current Festival Director Jo Steffens agreed that it was fun to hit her seemingly random, ugly object just right and watch it disintegrate.  “It felt a bit like bowling somehow,” she said, “satisfying in the way that getting rid of stuff is satisfying but with a little more finality to it.”

Death Match host Adrian Todd Zuniga - Amazing

Death Match host Adrian Todd Zuniga – Amazing

Onward to the evening’s feature event, Calgary’s inaugural Literary Death Match (Episode One!) held at Festival Hall in Calgary’s historic Inglewood.  Fair to say that I’ve attended a significant number of literary events in my life thus far.  I’ve even hosted a solid number of them myself, and I’ve got to admit—Death Match host Adrian Todd Zuniga raises the bar!  I’ve never witnessed a more energizing, animated, funny and spirit-lifting MC.  “Be alcoholic and enjoy literature at the same time,” he shouted at the outset of the night.

Imagine Canadian Idol or So You Think You Can Dance, but for writers performing their work.  The show featured authors Todd Babiak, Lisa Moore (currently nominated for both Giller and Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize), Alan Silberberg and D.W. Wilson.  Each author read their work or told a story sans notes.  The four competing authors were then rated by a panel of three judges: Ophira Eisenberg, Will Ferguson and David Macfarlane.

Lit Death Match Todd Funny

Every performer and judge had the house laughing, perhaps especially Todd Babiak whose hilarious performance about his childhood writing (a story about a murderer vomiting back up the victims he’d killed, intact and alive) had me in stitches, and Will Ferguson, who explained one of the judging guidelines states, “Don’t be a jerk.”  Going on to say, “I can’t work under these conditions.”

The event concluded with D.W. Wilson narrowly out-guessing co-finalist Lisa Moore by a score of 8-7 in a rambunctious game of Canadian Lit Pictionary to win Wilson the LDM “Calgary Crown.”  I’m already looking forward to Calgary’s next Death Match, a concept that is pumping a competitive hilarity into the traditional book reading.

Ahoy Dear Skippers, we’re off to the Wednesday Night Showcase where alongside the sizzling lineup—Todd Babiak, Andrew Pyper, D. W. Wilson and Michael Winter—one of my best friends and brilliant wordsmith, Katherine “Kat” Main, will receive the Brenda Strathern Late Bloomers Prize for her writing, presented by the Calgary Foundation.  Go Kat!

See you ALL at the BALL, my Friends.

A funny moment captured at Calgary's inaugural Literary Death Match as juror of "literary merit" Will Ferguson delivered his remarks.

A funny moment captured at Calgary’s inaugural Literary Death Match as juror of “literary merit” Will Ferguson delivered his remarks.


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.  Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013, and moderator of “Afternoon Delight,” featuring L. Marie Adeline and Ophira Eisenberg on Saturday, October 19. 

3 Comments

Filed under 2013 Festival Blog