Writers from around the East Kootenay and beyond gathered at St. Eugene Resort from Thursday, November 9 to Monday, November 13 for a Writer’s Conference, spearheaded by Fernie’s Keith Liggett.
Divided into three different components, participants were able to choose between distinct workshops, depending on where they were at with their own projects. There was manuscript evaulation hosted by Mark Kusnir, plot structure with Sioux Browning, poetry with Tom Wayman, and Finding Your Voice with Keith Liggett.
Browning, a screen writer, editor and teacher at the University of British Columbia’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, was formerly a guest at past writer’s events put on by Liggett in Fernie. She said she’s excited by the possibilities presented by the St. Eugene Writer’s Conference in an interview following her Friday evening class.
“We do have a great pool of untapped talent and somewhat tapped talent here in the East Kootenay and West Kootenay,” said Browning. “Lots of writers who are really starting to come on strong in terms of their game.
“And I think that people are just starting to realize there are a lot of great stories that can be told in this area … it’s an up and coming region in terms of the written word.”
She said that the goal of her class is to help people who are “wandering around in the weeds” of plot in their particular written project move their story forward.
“So what we’ll do is we’ll go through a series of lectures and exercises and discussions just talking about how to move our characters forward in order to create a comprehensive, satisfying story and do some problem solving, a little bit of therapy for our characters and ultimately by the end of it I hope people will come out with a much stronger sense of how to move their story forward.”
On Saturday, following the workshops, a panel discussion for all groups, a social mixer and dinner, there was a conference talk with Angie Abdou, Keith Liggett, and Anna (Sam) Hudson. Abdou, recently published her book “In Case I go,” a story featuring Ktunaxa characters and themes, that has been receiving great critical reception.
Abdou discussed her process of writing the novel and bringing it to her cousin, Cree-Syrian young adult author Frank Busch, for vetting. He let her know that he didn’t think her character Mary, the Ktunaxa ghost in the story, could be represented as a ghost because it suggested that she’s “airy and light and of the past and not of this world.” She made that change and he then told her to take it to the Ktunaxa.
She described nervously cold calling the cultural liaison at the Ktunxa Nation and then paying for a cultural sensitivity reading and having a back and forth with the liaison who suggested numerous more changes. She suggested including more historical characteristics such as residential schools and the Indian Act. After that she was told to bring the story before the elders to ask for their permission to publish it.
“So then I went to the elders and everybody was generous and kind and gracious,” said Abdou. “I felt in the end that even if the novel flopped I felt like I learned so much and I felt like I met so many great people that the experience in itself was rewarding.”
She then approached Anna (Sam) Hudson, member of the Ktunaxa Narion who is an educator, public administrator, legally trained researcher and advocate with four university degrees over Facebook to see if she would read it and afterwards, if she thought it was okay, if she would write an endorsement for the back cover, and she did.
“And that support has meant everything to me,” said Abdou, “because of course there has been some controversy and tumultuousness around it and to know that I have an intelligent woman from that culture onside, it gave me confidence that well not everybody’s going to like me or agree with me, but having that support meant so much to me.”
With that story as the basis, Abdou, Hudson and Liggett had a discussion and question-and-answer segment, discussing the place of culture in fiction.
The conference was extraordinarily successful. Liggett hopes to host them biannually with monthly writer’s events in order to continue to nourish and encourage the vibrant creative community of writers in the Kootenays.