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'The story is the boss'

Indigenous writer Richard Van Camp has pulled out of the Whistler Writers Festival

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UPDATE: Richard Van Camp has pulled out of the 2016 Whistler Writers Festival, owing to a family emergency.

Richard Van Camp is a whirlwind of energy.

With 20 books published in 20 years as an author — and a new comic book and children's book published in the past two weeks — it is no surprise to reach him on the road, running a creative writing workshop in Brandon, Man.

"I'm up here for Thin Air (Winnipeg's International Writers Festival) teaching at Brandon University. Rocked out on campus today, got everybody laughing, told a few really funny stories," Van Camp says.

"It was pretty intensive, about 40 people came from the community and campus. We had people in their 20s, in their 70s."

Van Camp can be accurately described as a prolific writer in many genres — short stories, children's stories, young adult and graphic novels, a.k.a comic books. What draws him to so many ways of telling a story?

"It's the million-dollar question," he says.

"The story is the boss, so when a story visits me I always have to think — I don't worry about the publishers because I will find the publisher sooner or later. I get an idea and have to decide if it will work best as a poem, a short story or a graphic novel. Then I take it from there."

He credits his creative writing training and his passion for reading.

"I've been reading comic books for 35 years, and I believe that it is because of that sequential art narrative that I can work with screenplays, comic books, kids books and baby books," Van Camp says.

"So if you give me a deadline and a word count — or a page count if you work with comic books — then that's all I need to know. There is no arguing with a page count or word count. Give me a deadline and turn me loose.

"I've been lucky to work with some of the greatest editors of our time... it is really great editors who create superb writers."

A member of the Tlicho Dene Nation, born in Fort Smith, N.W.T., the 45-year-old now calls Edmonton home, where he lives with his family.

His first book, the novel The Lesser Blessed, was made into a film in 2012.

As an indigenous writer, Van Camp says that when he began writing 25 years ago there were only around seven established writers in the N.W.T.

"But they were mostly getting published in the local newspapers as columnists," he says.

"I've been on the board of the Northridge Writers and Readers Festival in Yellowknife for 11 years now, and I am here to tell you there are too many northern writers to name now. There aren't enough fingers and toes to count established writers on. Most are indigenous.

"Amplify that across Canada, because we have eight indigenous publishing houses across Canada that empower, advocate and publish indigenous writers. People may say that it's all been said before, and that may be, but not in our way.

"Think of all the healing, how strong and resilient the human spirit is. I really believe this. I don't drink, smoke or do drugs and all of my indigenous friends are the same way because we've had it with the pain. We're ready to start celebrating and claiming indigenous literature. It used to be a literature of pain... but what I see coming out right now, mostly by indigenous women, I see the sensual, I see the fun and the play.

"It excites me the most. Now we're a literature of celebration."

Van Camp's two most recent books are a comic book called Spirit, which explores suicide and was published in English and several indigenous languages, and We Sang You Home, a children's book.

Van Camp is part of four events at the Whistler Writers Festival (WWF), which takes place from Oct. 13 to 16.

Two are free and open to the public: How to Write a Picture Book takes place at 9 a.m. at the Whistler Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 15; The Places YA (Young Adult) Fiction Dares to Go takes place at 11 a.m. at the Whistler Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 15.

He will be part of The Literary Cabaret at the Maury Young Arts Centre on Friday, Oct. 14, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22.

Van Camp is also taking part in the reading session Fiction vs. Non-Fiction. Really? at 9:30 a.m. at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on Sunday, Oct. 16. Tickets are $15.

For more information, visit www.whistlerwritersfest.com.

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