Still spinning yarns, two decades on

I’m currently on a brief leave from my job at CBC to work on my next fiction project, thanks to a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. I’m thankful to both great organizations for allowing me to take the time to pursue this opportunity. To mark this next step in my literary career, my mom recently dug up something I wrote as a teenager and scanned it for me. Feel free to read, while I cringe:

Budding Writer

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Midnight Sweatlodge: The Audiobook

There’s a resurgence of Indigenous storytelling happening across Turtle Island. Through a variety of media, voices are getting stronger and stories are reaching farther. More Indigenous people are bolstering culture through stories and connecting with their roots, and more non-Indigenous people are learning about those crucial experiences.

Literature has been an important way to document those stories and teach others about Indigenous life. Many prominent and emerging authors are producing stellar work year after year. Books have been a substantially viable medium in accomplishing that. But in the world of Indigenous fiction, there’s been a largely untapped resource: the audiobook.

My good friend Rick Harp pointed this out to me earlier this year. While a handful of prolific authors has successfully adapted their books into audio, most stories remain in physical print. So he wants to start a new trend in Indigenous storytelling to change that.

Rick has chosen my first book, Midnight Sweatlodge, as his first project in this movement. He’s started a Kickstarter campaign to raise needed the money to turn it into an audiobook. It’s an ambitious, enterprising proposal, and I’m honoured and humbled he wants to use my fiction as his initial source material. For those of you unfamiliar with the original book, Midnight Sweatlodge is a collection of short stories that was published by Theytus Books in 2011. You can read more about it here.

Rick is a veteran journalist and a media visionary. With a wealth of experience at APTN, CBC, and other media outlets, he knows the importance of stories in keeping Indigenous culture at the forefront of our collective psyche. He’s the founder of mediaINDIGENA, the online multimedia magazine, and with all his experience and expertise, I’m confident he will do the stories I’ve written justice with his own voice.

So please check out the video he produced below, and visit the Kickstarter link. I hope you’ll consider supporting this exciting project!

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For A While, I Couldn’t Write Like I Used To

For a while, I couldn’t write like I used to. I sat in front of this laptop and tapped my fingers lightly on the keys, not fully committing to forming letters into words on the screen. Sometimes I tried really hard, but only managed to strike a couple of paragraphs at most that encapsulated feeble thoughts at best.

Truthfully, I’ve barely done any creative writing at all in many months. At a time when I should be enjoying the greatest creative accomplishment of my life, I’ve been struggling through one of the toughest slumps. I only just had the epiphany that it’s because I’ve never experienced life like this before, and I need to truly understand it before I can try to be creative again.

Last winter I was wrapping up the finishing touches on my debut novel, Legacy, with editor Adeena Karasick. Writing the book really was a labour of love, and to work with such a talented storyteller to tighten up the manuscript was one of the greatest creative experiences I’ve had.

I was flying high. We were done by the end of the season, and left it in the hands of the publisher, Theytus Books, to complete the layout, design, and everything else on the business end. It would be months before the book would actually be published, but I was very pleased with where it was going, and had another huge task at hand.

With spring came planning the most important personal event of my life: the wedding to my beloved partner, Sarah. We were organizing a fairly big function in northern Ontario from far away in Ottawa. It was a big, tough job, and it required most of our free time, outside of our daily work routines. As such, I didn’t do any writing at all during the home stretch of the wedding planning.

Obviously, that was an insignificant sacrifice, given how momentous our marriage was. One day I will put into words the eminence of that whole experience. As I said in my wedding speech, I want to do it justice without relying on cliches. I’m still unable to do that, which proves to me that the power of the love I share with my wife has rendered me genuinely at a loss for words.

The honeymoon phase carried into the summer. I was still on an extended hiatus from writing anything substantial. I eagerly anticipated the impending release of Legacy in late summer/early fall, and was generally enjoying the seasonal leisure of weekend trips and concerts.

Then tragedy struck. In mid-July, one of my cousins died of a drug overdose. Five days later, the night after his funeral, another cousin killed himself. My family and community were devastated. It was unimaginable loss that I don’t think we’ll ever really get over. I do my best to remember and honour them as the good young men they were, but it’s still very difficult to cope with their deaths. I tried to write about them for my own personal healing, but didn’t get far.

Shortly after, another close family member ended up in a serious personal ordeal. So my focus for the rest of the summer was helping him get back on track. We come from a place that values a strong sense of family, so those bonds always take precedence over everything else.

As life slowly returned to normal into the fall, my book was finally released. I happily revisited that story as I began to travel to share it with others. Inspired by the journey that was opening in front of me, I tried to start writing again. All I could muster was half-finished blog posts about pretty inconsequential matters.

Given the gravity of the previous months’ events, I just didn’t know how to proceed. I wasn’t emotionally prepared to reflect on those experiences with written words. And I felt like I was spurning them by trying to write about other things. I questioned myself as a writer and a self-proclaimed “storyteller”.

But during my travels this fall, I was able to spend time with two of my mentors on two separate occasions in Toronto. They are revered Indigenous authors whom I admire and respect deeply. I explained to them some of my recent troubles with writing. They both told me in different ways not to worry about the words themselves. They said I was in the process of living the stories. Every challenge, triumph, and loss becomes an important element of a forthcoming narrative. It’s unfair to force them into writing before they’re resolved internally.

They each had a lot more to say that I won’t get into. But it was much-needed advice and support at a crucial time. On the way home from one of those trips, I began writing my next project. I am confident again, and I hope this new work will eventually emerge in a book.

I normally don’t like to self-indulge to this degree. These days, I stay away from the first-person perspective when I can. But I’m still learning how to be a writer. I’m still learning how to tell stories. And taking the time to look within is a big part of that. This has been the most eventful time of my life. Hopefully understanding and eventually writing about it will make me a better person. And I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned with you.

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