October brings crisp words and stories



Colourful leaves cover the ground and the air is crisp; autumn is here, and with it comes the annual Vancouver Writers Festival. For six days at the end of October, Granville Island buzzes with writers and readers of all sorts, sharing their stories and the written word.

Now in its 26th year, the festival is host to authors from around the world, gathering to discuss their work with enlightening moderators and rapt audiences. More than 80 events from October 22 to 27 will attract approximately 15,000 attendees ranging from school children to senior citizens.

A handful of the authors have connections to SFU, such as critically-acclaimed author Shaena Lambert, who was a mentor at SFU back in 2011. Lambert has just published her third book, Oh, My Darling, a collection of ten short stories that, according to Lambert, explore the “secret streams that run through families — love and loss, aches and desires — that we only acknowledge to ourselves.”

This theme emerged slowly: she worked on the stories intermittently for six years, finding inspiration from different places and experiences. Lambert explains that her process involves writing down seeds of ideas and bits of inspiration in a little book and then looking at it later. “Sometimes it’s nothing, other times it grows into a story.”

Published as both a short story author and novelist, Lambert likes each genre for different reasons. “A novel is like a marathon; you have to train and can’t just expect results. A short story is like a bit of DNA: it illuminates a piece of life, and then it is over.”

These little life illuminations are the focus of EVENT #77: Celebrating 25 Years of Journey. Lambert is one of four authors on the panel including local writer Théodora Armstrong and moderator Timothy Taylor. “[The Journey Prize anthology] launched a lot of careers including mine,” admits Lambert, who is also a writing mentor.

quotes1I’ve always been sitting in the audience, so it’s amazing to be on stage, but it’s a little intimidating.”

Janie Chang, author

As a mentor back in 2011, Lambert participated in SFU’s Writers’ Studio, providing feedback for budding writers, one of whom was Janie Chang. Chang published her first novel, Three Souls, this fall and will also be participating in the Vancouver Writers Festival.

Chang initially graduated from SFU with a Computing Science degree, and gradually found her way into marketing communications. After a while, she realized that part of her was being neglected, and that it couldn’t be ignored any more.

She enrolled in The Writers’ Studio, a move that has paid off. “It was the best decision of my life in terms of getting started writing,” Chang admits. “The Writers’ Studio accelerated the learning curve at least ten years.” During the year, she produced the manuscript for Three Souls, which Lambert called “a brilliant novel.”

Prior to enrolling in TWS, Chang had taken only one continuing education course in writing, but had been recording her family’s oral histories, passed down through the generations, for years. Her grandmother’s story inspired the core of Three Souls, which is narrated by a woman’s spirit. “[My grandmother’s story] haunted me all my life — I knew her story would be the first told.”

Chang says her grandmother was from a wealthy family and was highly educated, but she was rebellious and was married off as punishment. “Chinese women had very little choice and destiny, but they could influence things in an indirect way,” — thus the idea for a ghost narrator.

Chang will be participating in EVENT #59: As the Past Comes to Life, exploring historical fiction and how the real world shapes a story. “I’ve always been sitting in the audience, so it’s amazing to be on stage, but it’s a little intimidating,” admits Chang.

What sounds even more intimidating is Chang’s personal attempt to “read all the books by the other authors on the panels.” For her event at the Vancouver Writers Festival that’s four novels, but she is also participating in the Surrey International Writer’s Conference the same weekend and will then be heading to Toronto for the International Festival of Authors. “It’s slightly delusional,” admits Chang.

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