Reading, writing, and the power of words

Here’s where you’ll find Nelson Star columns and other writings pertaining to the 2016 Festival

Bright enough for you?

by Anne DeGrace
This column appeared July 5, 2016 in the Nelson Star.

Nancy Wise of Sandhill Book Publishing sits on the Publish or Perish? panel on Saturday.

Nancy Wise of Sandhill Book Marketing sits on the Publish or Perish? panel on Saturday.

Solar panels take sunlight, generate electricity, and light rooms. Elephant Mountain Literary Festival panels take topics, generate ideas, and illuminate audiences.

EMLF’s three panel discussions—which happen Saturday, July 9 at the Chamber of Commerce in the historic CPR building at 91 Baker Street—are lively, opinionated, and spontaneous, each one a sort of carbon-neutral external combustion engine. (Not spontaneous combustion. That’s a different festival). Pick up a coffee at the Railtown Café and settle in for a day of brilliant conversation.

“Writing the Land”, from 9 – 10:30am, lines up literary luminaries J.B. McKinnon (The 100-Mile Diet; The Once and Future World), Grant Lawrence (Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck), Briony Penn (The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan), and Eileen Pearkes (The Geography of Memory: Recovering Stories of a Landscape’s First People). Author and Douglas College Creative Writing Department Chair Calvin Wharton moderates this discussion, which shines an (eco-sustainable) light on land-based writing.

In “Once Upon a Time” (11am – 12:30pm), children’s author Caroline Adderson (the Jasper John Dooley series), musician and author Jill Barber (Baby’s Lullaby), and Governor-General’s Award-winning illustrator Murray Kimber (Josepha: A Prairie Boy’s Story) discuss children’s literature in this energy-fracturing world of distractions in a lively panel moderated by writer and editor Verna Relkoff.

“Publishing: Perish or Prosper?” from 2:00 – 3:30pm, is the final panel of the day. There are those who’ll say that the sun is setting on the book, and yet more writers than ever are finding bright new ways to be published.

Among those shining a light on the current state of publishing and its potential is Rolf Maurer, who has been with Vancouver’s New Star Books since 1981. He’s joined by Julian Ross, who published more than 100 titles with Polestar Press in Winlaw, and Nancy Wise, who literally wrote the book on self-publishing (How to Self-Publish and Make Money was one of the first on the subject, written with Marion Crook). She runs Sandhill Book Marketing in Kelowna.

Elephant Mountain Literary Festival runs July 6 – 10 here in Nelson. Expect to be sparked by Grant Lawrence, Jill Barber, and others at Thursday’s 100-Mile Opening Gala, ignited by J.B. MacKinnon, Briony Penn, and Richard Cannings at Friday’s Reading the Earth event, fueled by Caroline Adderson’s free talk “Tips for Writers: Introduction to the Craft” tonight (Wednesday) at the Nelson Public Library, and completely fired up by the time you get to the Saturday Night Live! event, where the torch is lit for Caroline Adderson and Bill Richardson. Full details, of course, are at www.emlfestival.com.

Behind the infectious energy of the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival is a host of committee members and volunteers running a good old fashioned event-generating treadmill, all ideas and elbow grease. This year’s core committee, led by Festival Coordinator Lynn Krauss, is comprised of Verna Relkoff, Tom Wayman, Michael Dailly, Leesa Dean, and me.

Supporting members and on-the-ground at the Fest are David Lawson, Rose Nielsen, and Shannon Griffin-Merth. Other pitchers-in include Anthony Sanna, Dale MacKenzie, Will Johnson, P’Nina Shames, Calvin Wharton, Wendy Kelly, and Sharmaine Gray, among others. Our government, corporate, and community sponsors are legion; their logos grace our website and print materials and you’ll hear their names all weekend, because they provide the (green) fuel we need to bring you all this literary brilliance.

This weekend’s so bright, you’d better wear shades.

Get hooked on the ones that got away

by Anne DeGrace
This column appeared June 29, 2016 in the Nelson Star.

Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson and Caroline Adderson have been many things: celebrated authors for adults and kids, multiple award winners, and, just possibly, the ones-that-got-away.

Now, they’re coming back as co-stars of Saturday Night Live!—the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival version—on July 9 at 7:30pm at the Hume Hotel.

What’s this about slipping the hook, you ask?

There’s a rumour out there that author, broadcaster, and funnyman Bill Richardson once courted the role of Nelson’s Chief Librarian. As a library staff member in my other life, that’s fun to imagine. But if that had happened, then he might not have written 18 books for adults and children. And that would have been a huge loss for us all.

Thanks to a poem in Bill’s 1990 book Queen of All the Dustballs, I can never look at a vacuum cleaner crevice tool without laughing. Thanks to the stories in the Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast, fwhich won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, I now have two new friends named Hector and Virgil. And thanks to beloved CBC radio shows such as Richardson’s Roundup, Dear Sad Goat, and Bunny Watson, Bill’s quirky take on things has lightened many a happy hour.

At SNL, Bill reads from his most recent book The First Little Bastard to Call me Gramps: Poems of the Late Middle Ages (House of Anansi Press). Says the publisher:

“Richardson’s illustrated retirement rhymes for the hoary-headed do not just playfully reveal the inevitable weakening that afflicts the mind and body as the years wear on, they also cast light on the ageless, exuberant spirit that too often remains hidden inside. From retirement homes, cruises, and grandchildren to liver spots, memory problems, and geriatric sex, Richardson’s candid reflections on the trials, tribulations, and humiliations of growing old are funny, sharp, and irreverent.”

So come and cast your line! You don’t need to be hoary-headed to laugh along with Nelson’s rumoured-possibly-almost-chief-librarian.

Bill is also MC for the Reading the Earth eco-literary triple-header with J.B. McKinnon, Briony Penn, and Richard Cannings on Friday, July 8, 7:30pm at the Capitol Theatre (so you can catch him twice).

Caroline Adderson’s connection to the Koots goes back to her Katimavik days in Kaslo and Argenta. She did a teaching practicum in Nelson in the 1980s, and came back later in the role of screenwriter when the movie Tokyo Cowboy—featuring Nelson’s cultural ambassador for dance, Hiromoto Ida—had its Nelson debut.

Caroline might have stuck around, but instead she settled on the coast to write novels, short stories, and children’s books, winning the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the Sheila Egoff Children’s Literature Prize, three CBC literary awards, and the Marian Engle Award for Mid-Career Achievement.

Caroline’s fiction raises disturbing questions as she examines what it is to be human. She is also possessed of a light touch borne of insight and a keen understanding of the ways in which we find redemption. As a kidlit author, Caroline romps with kids and dogs in a way that clearly illustrates she is at home with both—and you can’t go wrong there.

Caroline is EMLF’s 2016 writer-in-residence, advising ten writers through one-on-one critiques as part of the Holley Rubinsky Memorial Blue Pencil Sessions. She also appears on the Once Upon a Time children’s literature panel on Saturday.

At the Saturday Night Live! event, Caroline will read from Ellen in Pieces, a CBC Best Book of 2014, which she describes as “a novel-in-stories about a brassy, sometimes infuriating single mother navigating the loves and losses of middle age.” She adds, “I promise to read a funny part.”

After the readings, Selkirk College Creative Writing instructor Leesa Dean will facilitate a friendly discussion and audience Q & A.

Are Bill and Caroline the Ones that Got Away? Of course not! Because they’re back, and all you have to do to enjoy them is buy a ticket.

Warm, fuzzy, and in the know

by Anne DeGrace
This column appeared June 22, 2016 in the Nelson Star.

Once and Future World author J.B. MacKinnon

Once and Future World author J.B. MacKinnon

We feel warm and fuzzy when it comes to nature. What’s not to like about our furry friends of the forest? Who doesn’t warm up to a walk in the woods on a summer’s day? Yet when it comes to eco-sensitivity, warm can be a warning of unwelcome change, and fuzzy thinking does nobody any good.

The Elephant Mountain Literary Festival provides a sure-fire antidote to fuzzy thinking in the form of the literary triple-header “Reading the Earth”. The event, which features eco-scribes J.B. MacKinnon, Richard Cannings, and Briony Penn, takes place on Friday, July 8, 7:30pm at the Capitol Theatre.

J.B. MacKinnon packed the house some years back when he came to Nelson with co-writer Alisa Smith to promote their book The 100-Mile Diet. Their experiment in living sustainably captured imaginations and was a key player in the “eat local” movement.

MacKinnon’s most recent book, The Once and Future World, looks at nature as it once was, as it is now—and as it could be. It’s a thoughtful, eye-opening commentary in which MacKinnon asks us to reimagine nature; to reconnect, re-wild—re-fuzzy, if you will.

A Vancouver Sun review of The Once and Future World lauded MacKinnon for creating “A compelling, relevant story without preaching or darkening our minds with guilt.” The worldwide bestseller was proclaimed “Beguiling . . . vividly written and exquisitely structured” by the U.K. Sunday Times.

MacKinnon told the Vancouver Sun that “Nature has been pushed to the margins of our lives, but the wild is still out there, ready to be rediscovered and erupt back into abundance. Nature isn’t gone—it’s waiting.” Join us to learn how we can reconnect.

If you didn’t know Richard (Dick) Cannings before, you may know him now as the Member of Parliament for South Okanagan-Kootenay. For many, he’s long been a household name as a biologist and birder with 18 books on the natural world to his credit, many co-authored with his brother Sydney—including British Columbia: A Natural History, a BC classic and the focus of the evening’s talk and slide presentation.

Cannings has served on the boards of the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Committee on Endangered Wildlife, among other groups aimed at protecting natural habitats. His experience as a broadcaster and a teacher makes him a natural for the Capitol Theatre stage.

I once wrote Briony Penn fan mail after a friend gave me a copy of A Walk on the Wild Side, a compilation of her Victoria Time-Colonist nature articles. It was one particularly playful piece that compared a Red Tide to Mick Jagger’s lips that got me writing (once I’d stooped laughing). She has since written several books, and made the cut for numerous awards in journalism and television broadcasting.

Penn is at EMLF with her new book The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan. The first official biography of “the father of Canadian ecology,” just won Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize at the 2016 BC Book Prizes.

McTaggart Cowan pioneered nature TV in the 1950s with the shows Fur and Feathers, The Web of Life, and The Living Sea. His work in Canada’s national parks became the foundation for wildlife conservation and environmental education in Canada. Get ready to join Penn in her deep appreciation for a game-changer too many of us have never heard of.

The evening is hosted by Bill Richardson, no stranger to the stage, the airwaves, and the printed page. I always feel warm and fuzzy about Bill, and I’m pretty sure you will too. Bottom line: there’s a whole lot to warm up to at the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival.

Bibliobrilliance comes to Nelson

by Anne DeGrace
This column appeared June 15, 2016 in the Nelson Star.

Author and jazz chanteuse Jill Barber

Author and jazz chanteuse Jill Barber

Full disclosure: I am a bibliophile. I am also a bibliophage, and at times even a bibliotaph. Luckily, I’m not alone.

The Elephant Mountain Literary Festival—a readers’ and writers’ festival—could be called a biblio-scribliofest. The Fest, which runs July 6 – 10, is a celebration of words and books: the people who love them, the people who write them, and the people who make them happen. This column is the first of four columns leading up to EMLF 2016 that will open the book on what’s in store.

The 100-Mile-Gala is the official festival kickoff, with festivities beginning at 7:30pm at the Hume Hotel. A festival favourite, the Gala pairs local wines from Skimmerhorn and Baillie-Grohman wineries with writers, the better to appreciate the bouquet, character, and yes, the brilliance of our wordsmiths, be they ripe with allegory and apricot, or displaying undertones of simile and citrus.

Memoirist, humourist, indie-rock alumnus and CBC personality Grant Lawrence will read from The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie. A nerdy player with wonky knees, Grant learned a thing or two about himself and life from his position between the pipes, offered up unabashedly in his memoir. And we’ll raise a glass—perhaps a white (around the gills) pinot with nuance of locker room.

Grant’s wife, jazz chanteuse Jill Barber, is a musician and an author of children’s books, which makes her a kinderbiblioscriblioaudiophile. A multi-award-winner with eight albums (the most recent one for children), Jill has a huge following and we’re thrilled to have her share her musical talents at the 100-Mile Gala and her kidlit expertise in our Saturday panel “Once Upon a Time”. What smooth and sultry fermentation will be paired with Jill?

The two Kootenay Mountain Culture Magazine fiction winners call for a full-bodied wine with an edge of je ne sais quoi. Will Johnson won first place for his story Animals Don’t Have Souls, which the jury described as “an explosion of literary colour.” Fletcher FitzGibbon took second spot for his story In Silence, You Can Hear, described by the jury as “smart, insightful, and oddly charming.” They’ll read from their winning entries.

The Richard Carver Award for Emerging Writers is awarded annually to a promising author. Presented by the Nelson and District Arts Council, the award memorializes the late Richard Carver, a colourful man and a mover and shaker in the arts community; EMLF is proud to be a partner. This year, the award is split between two recipients who will both read at the Gala—and we’ll raise a glass to their bibliosuccess.

East Shore author Alanda Greene will read from Napi’s Dance, a meticulously researched historical novel set in 1800s Alberta. Co-winner Donna Macdonald, freshly retired after 18 years on Nelson City Council, reads from her memoir Surviving City Hall (she did!). My inner vintner predicts a sensitive, multi-layered bouquet with undertones of earthy humour.

The weekend continues with the eco-literary event Reading the Earth on Friday, July 8 at the Capitol Theatre featuring J.B. MacKinnon, Richard Cannings and Briony Penn, with MC Bill Richardson. Saturday Night Live! the following night at the Hume Hotel features Caroline Adderson and Bill Richardson, plus there are Saturday panel discussions and more.

Bibliotherapy is the art of prescribing just the right book as antidote (via anecdote) for what ails you. The Elephant Mountain Literary Festival offers up the whole pharmacy in a four-day bibliopalooza.

A Legacy of Words: remembering Holley Rubinsky

by Anne DeGrace
This article appeared in the fall 2015 issue of ARTiculate Magazine.

BanffPublishingWorkshop

L – R: Richard Lemm, Alistair MacLeod, Holley Rubinsky, Sandra Birdsell at the Banff Publishing Workshop c. 1982.

In Holley Rubinsky’s 2006 novel Beyond This Point, five women find their way to the Kaslo-like town of Ruth during forest fire season.

Holley passed away in Kaslo from cancer on August 1, and in the smoky weeks that followed I thought about the novel, and I thought about Holley. As word spread in the writing community, I suspect that a lot of people were thinking about the fire that was Holley: in her writing, her energy and enthusiasm, her generosity, and her legendary straightforwardness.

In her four published books of fiction Holley displayed a talent for describing complex ideas with a remarkable economy of words. Her style was sophisticated, insightful, sharply drawn and starkly rendered. Her stories could be humorous, difficult, dark, and unforgettable.

Holley moved from California to Kaslo with her daughter Robin in 1976. By then she had won the Samuel Goldwyn Creative Writing Award, acquired a Master’s degree in education and earned her pilot’s license. In Kaslo she taught elementary school and became entrenched in the community. And she wrote.

Attending the Banff Publishing Workshop (BPW) in the early 80s, Holley rubbed shoulders with literary luminaries including Alistair MacLeod, Sandra Birdsell, and W.O. Mitchell. It was there that she met and fell in love with BPW founder Yuri Rubinsky; they married in 1984. And she became friends with Douglas Gibson, who with McClelland & Stewart would publish Beyond This Point 30 years later.

BPW “changed the face of Canadian publishing” explains Doug. “Yuri lured us all out there, where the mountains had an extraordinary effect of everyone. Just as it was wonderful to see Yuri in action, it was even more wonderful to see Yuri and Holley in action. They were wonderfully well suited, and it was exciting to be around them.”

They settled in Toronto, where Holley went on to win the National Magazine Award, the Foundation Award for Fiction, and the Journey Prize for her short story “Rapid Transits,” which became the title story in a collection published by Polestar in 1991. At First I Hope for Rescue (Knopf 1997) was nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.

After Yuri’s untimely death, which Holley drew upon for Beyond This Point, she moved to Arizona. There she gathered the characters and setting that would inform South of Elfrida, published by Brindle & Glass in 2013. But the mountains called, and Holley returned to Kaslo where she found new ways to embrace the literary life.

Holley hosted The Writers’ Show on Kootenay Co-op Radio from 2006 to 2008, interviewing writers and publishing insiders. The list is a who’s who of literary notables, including George Bowering, John Vaillant, Angie Abdou, and Kathy Page. She hosted writing retreats at her Kaslo home, offering support, mentorship and critique, drawing gratitude and occasionally blood; Holley said what she thought. Linda Crosfield describes Holley’s retreats:

“A typical retreat consisted of five or six writers working manuscripts. We’d meet in the morning around her big oak table, share a little of our work and talk about what we planned to do over the next few days. Then we’d go to our various work places and have at it. At the end of the day we’d wind up in her kitchen, put together a communal meal, and unwind over a glass of something,” says Linda, adding that Holley was “an insightful editor and a tireless supporter of emerging writers.”

Holley worked with Mandy Bath on her memoir Disaster in Paradise. “Holley was an exacting and inspiring teacher. Her advice was clear, blunt and sometimes hard to take, but always worth following,” she says. “Our collaboration over more than two years marked one of the most fulfilling periods of my life.”

Author Rita Moir taught writing workshops with Holley, who, she says, “was as brutal with her own work as she was with others. Holley was also exuberant, full of piss and vinegar, generous, always inventing new ways to survive. She was curious, a sprite, a vixen, a hag. I mean that in all the fullness of those terms, for the best and the worst.”

If Holley demanded the best in others, she expected the best in herself. Unhappy with the published version of Beyond This Point, she reworked and self-published her own limited edition version, Weight of the Bear. Self-critical as she may have been, her work drew praise. The Globe and Mail called her writing “incendiary.”

“As with all her writing, Holley was fearless about her material and about showing the prickly, mean and miserable side of humanity,” says author Caroline Woodward. “It takes courage to write with such depth about darkness the way she did and with such clear-eyed compassion for each and every character.”

“I was struck by Holley’s fierceness in arguing for good writing,” says poet Jane Byers, and Holley will be remembered for championing the written word.

It was important to Holley that literary mentorship and critique continue. And so, thanks to a generous bequest, Nelson’s Elephant Mountain Literary Festival will host a Holley Rubinsky blue pencil intensive workshop with an established writer in 2016.

The legacy of a writer lies in the words she leaves behind. In Holley’s case, the legacy can be found not only in her own words, but also in the words she drew from others, sometimes gently, sometimes kicking and screaming, demanding always that the work be the very best. And that’s a legacy indeed.

Holley Rubinsky bibliography:

South of Elfrida (Brindle & Glass 2013)
Weight of the Bear (self-published limited edition, 2008; a shortened and edited version of Beyond This Point.)
Beyond This Point (McClelland & Stewart, 2006)
At First I Hope for Rescue (Knopf Canada, 1997; Picador (USA), 1998)
Rapid Transits and Other Stories (Polestar Press, 1990)