An extended conversation with author Richard Van Vamp.
“Richard Van Camp here in good ‘ol Edmonton Treaty 6 Territory, but I was born and raised in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. I was just there, probably three weeks ago, and somebody said, ‘when you’re a Northerner, and you’re not living in Denendeh, you’re kind of just homesick and homely for the rest of your life’.”
News/North: Richard, I’m so excited to be speaking with you here today for the Yellowknifer and North North. We’re here to talk about the re-release of A Blanket of Butterflies, Spirit of Denendeh, Book One, full colour edition. I’ve got some questions here that I’ve gathered about ‘process’ — which you’ve touched on a little bit already, and I’ll speak more about a bit later on — about working with Book Three and how that is a challenge, I mean.
Van Camp: We’re gonna face it, and erase it together, Cassandra.
News/North: You know, maybe we can start there, right? Because the way that you described it really, I think speaks to the vulnerability of writing, on overcoming fear, or facing it, even embracing it? How would you put that? This is Book Three, to say you’ve done this before is an understatement, and yet — and yet — you say you’re still facing yourself in this?
Van Camp: Oh, I will always be a student to the craft of writing. I will always be a student. I will always be a disciple to the craft of writing. And I actually was just writing to Cherie Dimaline and Waubgeshig Rice this morning saying ‘I don’t know if you’ve been here, my brother and sister, but I feel like I break stories all the time’ — and I’ve always said, I even shared with you, Cass, that this is like combing, you know? For me writing is like combing tangled hair. But with this series, because it is a trilogy, and Book Two is done — it’ll be out in April. It’s called As I Enfold You In Petals — it is so beautiful.
News/North: The way you honour story, and Elders, Dene spirituality and law, is all what drew me to your work originally. This world needs stories that are medicine stories, right? That share — that exemplify — good ways of living. So, how is it that you keep going when you feel you’ve ‘broken’ a story? Because you’ve always shared with me to embrace the good writing days and the “bad” — to really sink in, completely, and really just enjoy the journey the story takes me on, right?
Van Camp: I think that the beauty of writing and the beauty of craft and the beauty of what we do as writers, is, you know, we get down on our hands and knees and beg every single day and hope the good work continues — and when you have filled your life with, like, really good and sweet medicine and good home cooking dinner, I mean, and you show up first thing in the morning, with a really good heart, you know? I pay my taxes, I’m still paying my taxes, you know, I just want to be a good person, you know what I mean?
So, when I show up — there are days where I actually feel I have broken it — I have broken the story because I either pushed it way too far, or I wanted to test something. And it’s okay, because the next day, like as we’re talking now, I trust that my mind, heart and spirit, and those chest muscles we use… You know, when you’re playing chess against somebody you’re quietly terrified of? They are usually younger than you, maybe about five, and they’re little maestros with chess — those chest muscles, those spirit muscles, that craft inside of you, that beautiful wish inside of you — to really honour the story. It’s OK if you feel like you broke it on a Tuesday, because you’re probably going to figure it out on a Thursday.
Just keep reaching and risking.
And again, watching great shows, listening to great, you know, whatever — it’s podcasts or music, and really becoming, you know, I would say, we become more spirit than human when we’re writing. And I think it’s not only ‘we become more spirit than human when we’re writing,’ I think it’s where we become more spirit than human when we’re wandering, and we’re reaching and we’re wishing and we’re thinking and dwelling, you know?
So all I want to say is that there is a time to inhale and to listen and ask and reach and risk and do the research and read those books, etc. Listen to those podcasts, crank those tunes. You know what I mean? Soak it all up.