I shot this shaky video very quickly on my phone on a Saturday morning recently in Banff, Alberta. I was there for a reading/performance at the Banff Centre as part of Wordfest. As I mention in the vid, it was a fun, enlightening and rewarding experience, but it sadly marked the end of a tremendous journey for me. Wordfest was the last scheduled event on what ended up being a national “tour” in support of my book Midnight Sweatlodge. To wrap it up, I wanted to send out a brief message of thanks before returning home (and show off that beautiful natural backdrop) so I recorded that clip and put it on YouTube. I’d like to extend that thanks and elaborate a bit more here on what this amazing experience has meant to me.
Midnight Sweatlodge was published in June 2011 by Theytus Books. It’s a collection of short stories about some of the unique experiences of First Nations youth in this country, all tied together by a common theme. I wrote most of the stories when I was a teenager growing up on Wasauksing First Nation (“Aasinabe” was for a Grade 12 English assignment and “Dust” came around the same time, shortly after the killing of Dudley George). Creative writing was a fun and challenging artistic outlet for me, and I wrote stories not only to pass the time but to also record some of the compelling, tragic, and funny experiences going on around me. It was a hobby, but I dreamed that one day I would be able to publish some of them in a book. However, I put the stories aside for a long time once I started university, and they stayed in the periphery as my journalism career kicked into gear.
Then in 2004 I decided to revisit some of the stories in hopes of eventually finding avenues for publication. I applied for a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to revise them and tie them together with the theme of healing in the sweatlodge. I got the funding and spent two months finding ways to bring six stories with six very different voices together. I ended up dropping two of them altogether (you can find one of those stories here). The four that ended up in Midnight Sweatlodge were bound by an overarching narrative that attempted to bring the four main voices together. It was a challenge to do, but overall I was pretty satisfied with how it worked. Then I put the whole thing on the shelf again.
Throughout this whole process, I had been sharing some of these stories with friends via email. They were very helpful with feedback and encouragement. After revisiting some of those discussions, I finally decided in 2009 to shop it around. I mailed manuscripts to a few different Canadian publishers. After a couple of rejection letters, I got one later that summer that began this unexpected journey. To my absolute delight, Theytus offered me a publishing contract. The dream I had as a kid on the rez was coming true.
Theytus paired me with editor Jordan Wheeler, which was another unexpected thrill. I read his book Brothers in Arms when I was 16 and it was one of the books that really inspired me to pursue written storytelling. I couldn’t believe I would be working with one of my idols to make my own book a reality. We spent about a year sending it back and forth with recommendations and revisions. Jordan helped me tighten up the stories and overall, he made me a better writer. Finally, the book came out in June of 2011.
I thought I would have one book launch/reading, and that would be it. Everything that’s happened since has far exceeded any expectations I had of what life as an author would be like for me. I’ve had readings and workshops at events across the country over the last year and a half. It’s been a hugely rewarding thrill and I’m extremely thankful, first and foremost to Theytus Books for taking a chance on me and helping make my dream a reality. The entire staff has been a delight to work with, and I have to thank them and Jordan Wheeler for all their invaluable help.
I’d also like to say chi-miigwetch to my family and friends, and the people of Wasauksing who inspired these stories. CBC (my day job) deserves huge credit for letting me take the time off to take these trips, and also for helping promote my book. Thanks to sodiumpump for all the web help and support with the online presence. Thanks to independent and mainstream media across the country for helping spread the word, and thanks to the festivals who have invited me to share my book in places I never thought I’d get to. Another big chi-miigwetch goes to the veteran authors who have guided me on my way since my book saw the light of day. And last but not least, the biggest thanks goes to you, the reader. I humbly appreciate you checking out my book! I’m writing a novel right now that explores one of the themes only slightly explored in Midnight Sweatlodge. Hopefully it will be out someday soon. Chi-miigwetch!