Words are on the minds of many as preparations are underway for the Word on the Lake Festival of Writers, which will be held May 16 to 18 at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort.
That such an event is being held in Salmon Arm is “a big deal,” to best-selling author Gail Anderson-Dargatz, who will present a novel master class at the festival.
One of the most important aspects of the festival in Anderson-Dargatz’s view is that it gives emerging writers access to a high level of education, along with invaluable networking opportunities.
“Growing up in the Shuswap, I knew I was a writer very early on,” she says. “I would have given my right arm to have that kind of education and access to other writers and other published authors.”
The author believes that every writer needs a mentor to help them thread their way through the writing-publishing process – support that speeds up the learning process enormously.
Anderson-Dargatz’s festival master class is designed to take some of the mystery and intimidation out of writing fiction.
“It really isn’t scary, it’s just big,” she laughs. “It’s about how to organize, how to bring in characters – the whole elephant.”
The author, who teaches a yearlong master class through UBC, says writing a novel is a long-term process.
But, she maintains, writing a novel is easier than a short story because there is more room to play with characters and settings.
A big part of writing and something a lot of fiction writers neglect is research and interviews, she says.
“Fiction doesn’t come from nowhere, but interviewing for fiction is different from non-fiction,” she adds, pointing out that non-fiction requires getting the facts right while fiction writers are looking for what could happen.
“Whatever reality inspires your story, you need to push it way beyond reality,” she says, noting fiction writers often have difficulty letting go of reality. “Fiction, unlike realism (real life) has structure.”
Anderson-Dargatz writes magic realism, a technique bred into her by her parents and the Shuswap landscape.
“I grew up in a household where we spent a lot of time out in the bush exploring…” she says. “Wherever we were, my parents would tell stories.”
Her father’s stories were picked up from the Shuswap people he worked with, while her mother related stories of houses where someone might have died, of spirits and ghosts.
“I don’t believe it personally, but this landscape is quite magical and, as a storyteller, those stories inspire me,” she laughs. “I am now telling my kids really what are tall tales.”
An accomplished author, Anderson-Dargatz calls novel writing fun – in her case, best-selling fun.
And, in a giant step from her usual literary works, she has discovered another way to have fun.
Inspired by her mother. who taught adults how to read, Anderson-Dargatz embarked on a series of newer projects that include writing for literacy.
“I remember being struck by the changes she made in their lives, but also in her life,” says the author. “She largely gave them the ability to tell their own stories, which is hugely empowering. Suddenly they had control of their lives.”
Excited to get started, Anderson-Dargatz says that at the time, she didn’t know the learning curve would be so steep.
The stories are designed to pull people of all ages into the world of reading and require a tremendous amount of care in getting the words just right, she says, noting new readers often include people who speak languages other than English.
“The editing process is actually more involved by far than doing a literary novel. I found myself going to commercial novels that are plot-driven and my literary snobbery fell away,” she says. “They are meant for engagement and enjoyment while literary writing is meant to challenge on a reading level and thematic level.”
The change ignited Anderson-Dargatz’s sense of play and joy of writing again, she says of her books in the ABC Literacy Good Read program.
“The experience with Good Reads made me look at my writing differently, reignited fun in writing and jump-started my writing again,” says the author who is now doing a series for Orca Books.
Registration for the 11th Word on the Lake Festival of Writers is now open at www.saow.ca. This year’s event features a stellar lineup including Diana Gabaldon, along with other talented authors and publishing industry professionals.
There will be blue-pencil sessions, a coffee house, awards ceremony and, new this year, a Saturday evening gala with entertainment.