Local authors strut their stuff at Vancouver International Writers Festival

Zsuzsi Gartner, Kevin Chong, Dennis E. Bolen and Jen Sookfong Lee helped to kick off this year’s Writers Festival Tuesday night with an event called Vancouver Seen.

And I’ve got to tell you, I haven’t laughed so hard since I was at similar festivals back in Maine, listening to great satirists like Liz Peavey and Cathie Pelletier

It was like coming home--to Vancouver.

Some of what Chong and Gartner read was downright hilarious, but more important was the rapport the four writers had with each other and with moderator and Vancouver Magazine editor John Burns.

That’s the part that felt like home—friendly, cordial, even affectionate, without a bit of pretense, which is a relief in a city that more often than not takes itself way too seriously.

The antidote?

Nina, in one of Zsuzsi Gartner’s stories, who, while wearing her Olympic mascot marmot costume on Granville Island (community service in lieu of a week-long jail sentence), kidnaps a kindergartener in his private-school blazer (who knows a thing or two about marmots) almost by accident.

Poor impulse control, let’s call it.

None of the panelists grew up on roller blades. Only one has done the Grouse Grind. Whether or not they were actually born here, the panelists see Vancouver as “a demographic reality,” a character. And it’s a character they know and love so well, they are free to satirize.

When moderator John Burns asks if the panelists see Vancouver’s economic divide as a theme, they all nod their heads. Bolen points out that people who used to be able to live here easily (writers, for instance), no longer can. Gartner mentions that she’d heard recently that Vancouver is now the most expensive Canadian city for young families. Sookfong Lee says that one of the things that drives her to write about Vancouver is the fact that you could be poor at any second, and the effect that has on people. Chong notes that a century ago Asian families came to Vancouver to seek their fortune. Now they often come here to spend the money they’ve made in Asia.

On the question of Vancouver’s literary community?

“I don’t join anything,” says Gartner. “You meet writers the way you meet anyone.” She doesn’t like the word community. She prefers to think of it as having friends.

Bolen says that the poetry scene in Vancouver is large and cohesive because there’s no money in poetry. There’s nothing to lose.

“With fiction writers,” he says, “there’s always a five dollar bill on the table—and we’re fighting for it.”

Sookfong Lee disagrees. She’s been in a writing group for years and says that UBC has made a big difference in creating community among writers.

Is setting a story in Vancouver ever a liability for editors overseas or in the States?

Sometimes yes and sometimes no, but the consensus is that it’s not “too Canadian” for foreign fiction markets.

Gartner pretty much sums it up by quoting one editor in New York, who says: “Neurosis knows no borders.”

 

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