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Unravelling the riddle of Ryeberg

Andrew Pyper, onstage at the Club for Ryeberg Live at Wordfest. Photo: Don Lee.

What is Ryeberg? Its website provides a helpful formula: written text + video clip/s = a Ryeberg, but there’s much more to it. Ryeberg invites writers and artists to tell stories through curated online video. According to their site, “Ryeberg curators select from the vast, disordered warehouses of video-sharing sites, then interpret and present their videos in a way that best serves their perspectives and purposes.”

So what, then, was I expecting to hear from authors Craig Davidson, Andrew Pyper, Joanna Kavenna, and D.W. Wilson when they came to Banff Wordfest for a Ryeberg Live event in the Club? Well, anything, really. I wanted to see what happens when writers descend into the wormhole that is online video. But what I wasn’t expecting was the starkly diverse interpretations, perspectives, and insights all four authors brought to their Ryebergs — a range that was simultaneously intellectual, creative, comical, and terrifying.

Andrew Pyper kicked things off by telling us that “fear is like sex.” Then he told us that the first 12 years of his life paralleled a crucial era of American horror cinema. Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Shining all influenced Pyper’s understanding of what storytelling was and could be. He showed us the trailer for The Shining, and spoke about restraint, and how horror could undersell as much as it could oversell.

After this, Pyper took us inside the elevator in the trailer for Dawn of the Dead, a two-second flash that reveals how “at its heart, horror is about opening doors.”

If Pyper talked about what helped open his creative doors, Craig Davidson plunged us into the brutally honest wormhole of his own psyche, an Internet vortex time suck where, as he put it, “the hole has no bottom.” Davidson navigated us through an online voyage that began with nostalgically researched types of candy, and clips discussing the virtues of Mexican Coke. Then it got horrifying.

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Joseph Boyden: “What are the risks?”

Author Joseph Boyden was at The Banff Centre in the spring, working in the Leighton Artists’ Colony on the final proofs for his new novel, The Orenda. He’ll be back this Saturday as part of WordFest, to read from the new book and do a live interview with Canmore-based teacher Jeff Horvath. To get warmed up, we asked him to answer a few questions off our Banff Questionnaire.

When was the last time you took a break from technology? Was it by choice?

I always get a much needed break from technology when I head to the James Bay lowlands to decompress with some dear friends from the area. No cell phones. No computers. Just the bush and hundreds of kilometres of natural beauty between me and the electrical world. We fish, we hunt, we talk around the fire. Perfect. Oh, and by the way, I haven’t been up in a couple of months, but December is pencilled in.

Joseph Boyden reads from The Orenda at a Banff Centre appearance in early 2013.

Joseph Boyden reads from The Orenda at a Banff Centre appearance in early 2013.

When was the last time you improvised?

I’m doing it now, I think. Every time I sit down to write, I’m improvising to some very large degree. This is the great secret of a lot of writers. Most of the ones I know don’t sit down with too stringent a game plan. Or if they do, it quickly changes as soon as their characters begin to act and speak.

Are you comfortable with vulnerability?

Only with someone I implicitly trust. But then again, I write books and stories and then ask strangers if they’d like to read them, strangers who will judge me, or laugh at me, or maybe like me, or maybe hate me, but who are strangers none the less. So I guess I am comfortable with vulnerability.

What are the risks involved in what you do? How do you deal with them?

Now that my days of naked shark diving off the coast of South Africa with raw meat tied around my waist are over, I think my greatest risk is the one related to the vulnerability question. As a writer, I put myself out there, with the understanding that maybe I will write something that doesn’t please enough, that I’m somehow failing in the job I feel I’m supposed to be doing. But to love and desire what you do, you must put yourself out there; you must expose your breast to the slings and arrows.

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The second-happiest people in the world

Martin Amis, this year’s WordFest Banff Distinguished Author. Photo: Isabel Fonseca.

About 20 years ago I read a novel from the Man Booker Prize shortlist that rocked my world - Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis. Over the years, I’ve circled back to his essays and fiction many times. Amis writes sentences you never forget, like his description of 9/11 when he turns shark into a verb and captures the primal menace of that morning. “It was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over the Statue of Liberty: that was the defining moment.”

So I was very glad to hear Amis was this year’s WordFest Banff Distinguished Author. Amis read to a sold out audience from his latest novel, Lionel Asbo. It’s a  story about a homicidal thug turned Lotto lout, winning £140 million pounds in the UK National Lottery. He took the podium and said how pleased he was to be in the company “of the second-happiest people on earth.” His wry wit was in full display during an on-stage interview with Pakistani writer and journalist Mohammed Hanif. The Banff audience asked several topical questions of Amis including, “Who are the happiest people on earth?” (It’s the Danes, according to Amis, if you’re wondering.)

Later, in the hospitality suite, Amis mingled with WordFest authors and volunteers. A tall Canadian writer brought Amis a glass of white wine and asked, “Does it bother you that you are consistently overlooked by the Booker Prize jury?” With a sideways glance Amis replied, “It glows in the dark.”

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Marjorie Celona answers questions on “Y”

Giller Prize nominee Marjorie Celona was recently here at the Centre as a featured WordFest writer and presenter. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

Over the past weekend, writers, and other persons of literary repute, descended upon The Banff Centre for WordFest, a major conference and literary event. We got the chance to speak to Marjorie Celona, whose first novel was recently nominated for a Giller Prize.

Hailing from Victoria, B.C. and now residing in Cincinnati, the novel,Y, tells the story of Shannon, who was left on the doorsteps of the Victoria YMCA as a newborn. She passes through foster family after foster family before eventually, at the age of 16, going in search of her mother. The book is richly imagined, with descriptions of a temperate rainforest that you can almost smell and characters that seem to have a life independent of the printed word.

We spoke to Celona about her writing process, growing up in Victoria, and what she would look like if she were a building.

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Pen, notebook, laptop, and… microphone?

Award-winning novelist Terry Fallis was recently here at The Banff Centre participating in Summit Salon, a professional development opportunity for WordFest artists. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

The essential, and obvious, equipment for any writer includes a pen, a notebook, and of course a computer. But for all three of my novels, I’ve also always had a radio-style condenser microphone and a digital recorder nearby. You see, podcasting has been an important part of my writing journey, and I suspect always will be.

In 2005, “podcasting” was the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Year. What is a podcast? In general terms, it’s just audio or video content found on the Internet, often available episodically via subscription. As I strolled around the extraordinary landscape at The Banff Centre last weekend in between sharp gasps at the majestic beauty of it all, I listened to the New York Times Book Review podcast, the Guardian Books podcast, and the NPR Books podcasts. I’ve been hooked on podcasts since early 2006. It’s how I stay abreast of book news in the world.

In early 2007 I decided I would podcast my first novel, The Best Laid Plans, chapter by chapter and make it available for free on iTunes and my blog, www.terryfallis.com. (Think of it as the serialized audio version of my novel, recorded and produced in my third floor library at home.) I know what you’re thinking. On the milder side: “Why would you do that? Why would you give away your entire novel for free?” In the extreme: “You are a complete *nutbar.” (*Feel free to insert the epithet of your choice.) Continue Reading →

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