Writer-in-residence Shaena Lambert gives a free talk, offers one-on-one critique, and presents her novel Petra as part of Elephant Mountain Literary Festival’s All-Star event. The festival runs June 23 to 26. Photo: Submitted

Writer-in-residence Shaena Lambert gives a free talk, offers one-on-one critique, and presents her novel Petra as part of Elephant Mountain Literary Festival’s All-Star event. The festival runs June 23 to 26. Photo: Submitted

FESTIVAL TALES: What colour is your pencil? Where beguiling books begin

Anne DeGrace writes about the Blue Pencil Sessions at Elephant Mountain Literary Festival

by Anne DeGrace

It’s important to remember that the novel that kept you reading ’til 3 a.m., that memoir you rooted for on Canada Reads, that poem on your fridge that inspires you each time you reach for the peanut butter — those all began somewhere.

So how did they get from that forehead-puckering blank page through all those embarrassingly messy drafts to the prize-winning bestseller you now clutch to your reader’s heart?

The answer may be as close as the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival (EMLF), coming up June 23 to 26 in Nelson.

The Kootenay Literary Society (KLS), of which EMLF is a project, works to promote writing, editing and publishing in the Kootenays​. To that end, the Festival — which prides itself on being for draft-scribblers and book-huggers alike — offers learning opportunities for writers, the better to smooth foreheads and stimulate the flow of words. Consider buying $1 KLS membership when you buy your EMLF tickets to show you care about word flow in the Koots, as we do.

One opportunity for word-flow stimulation is The Holley Rubinsky Memorial Blue Pencil Sessions, named for the late Kaslo author who mentored so many. Before she left us, Holley envisioned the sessions as part of an EMLF and offered some funds to kickstart it. And so we did, with our first writer-in-residence Caroline Adderson in 2016. Fred Stenson, Susan Musgrave, Marilyn Bowering, and Jenna Butler followed in subsequent years.

For writers with work-in-progress, a critique from a skilled writer can be priceless. EMLF writers-in-residence offer one-on-one critiques to registrants who have pre-submitted writing — that’s the Blue Pencil Sessions, which run June 23 and 24.

Our 2022 writer-in-residence and four-time fiction author Shaena Lambert offers critique on fiction, creative nonfiction, and memoir. Shaena has taught at The Writers’ Studio at Simon Fraser University, Humber School for Writers, Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts, Hollyhock Lifelong Learning Centre, and the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive.

Says Janie Chang, author of Dragon Springs Road, “Shaena possesses that rare combination of empathy, intuition, and craft that lets her zero in on the strengths and weaknesses in a manuscript. I can’t say enough wonderful things about her influence, which stays with me even now.”

Additionally this year, critiques of poetry and memoir are available with the Carver Award-winning poet and author Rayya Liebich, who brings 20 years of teaching experience and a passion for writing as a tool for transformation to the role, and a truly beautiful touch to the art of critique. That’s twice the opportunity for fortunate writers.

The deadline for Blue Pencil submissions is Friday, June 10.

Shaena will also give the annual Craft Talk at the Nelson Public Library. “Bringing Characters to Life” includes a hands-on writing opportunity for audience members. So bring paper and pen and leave your furrowed brow at home: expect fun, with a dash of confidence-building. This free talk happens on Thursday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m.

You can hear Shaena’s own words at the All-Star Reading on Saturday, June 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Prestige Lakeside Resort. She’ll be reading from Petra her 2021 novel based on the passionate, charismatic, and flawed founder of Germany’s Green Party in the 1980s — that won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.

Shaena is joined by authors Angie Abdou, Dr. Suzanne Simard, and Tom Wayman for an unforgettable evening in which we’ll be far too spellbound to imagine that there was ever a furrowed brow in the writing of their books.

The Elephant Mountain Literary Festival features author readings, workshops, panel discussions and more. Go to emlfestival.com for all the information.