Writers festivals are as much about the writers as they are about the audiences. The vitality of these events is both in the opportunity they present to spread the word about great Canadian (and other) writing, and in the opportunity they allow for writers and artists to mingle and hang out — a brief time-out from a life of scribbling in solitude.
The first time I was ever invited to a festival outside of Toronto I felt like nothing less than a celebrity of Brangelina status. It was the Vancouver Writers Festival, and not only did they fly me out there (holy cow), they even got me a hotel room that was big enough for a party of eight. For the first day I was convinced they’d accidentally given me Douglas Coupland’s room and so refused to unpack my bags for fear there would be a scene when they came up to kick me out and re-place me in a suitable single in the basement. I think the room even had a phone in the bathroom and I might have even called my other writer friends from that phone to gloat and scream with glee. I’m not sure.
In addition to the crowds and the ability to meet my readers face to face (and sign their book with what I hope are truisms that won’t seem stupid or trite), I’ve also had the opportunity to meet many amazing and career changing writers and editors while on the road. The genius of the fest is that it frames you as not only a writer but a fellow-writer, a perfect reason to introduce yourself to someone you might never have the guts to talk to otherwise. This is how I got to meet super famous guys like Will Ferguson and the aforementioned Douglas Coupland (who probably doesn’t remember me but for moi it was a big thrill). The best part of my Douglas-Coupland-meeting story is the part where I almost gave myself a yeast infection because I was so excited to be sitting at the same table as Coupland that I refused to get up and go to the bathroom for fear he would leave while I was gone. I did the same thing on the one and only night I got to meet Keanu Reeves but on that night I was also afraid this girl would steal my seat if I got up to pee.
This last month I was invited to the Ottawa Writers Festival, which was not surprisingly no exception on the celebrity scale. Not only did I get to meet and perform at Capital Xtra’s Transgress evening event with amazing artists like Michael V Smith and the incredible Derek McCormack (I also did a lecture with comic artist and writer David Small, whose book I swallowed whole the next week), I also had the privilege, the next day, of riding to the airport with the one and only David Bryne. Byrne, whose face you’ve seen all over and everywhere because he’s on a book tour with his new work Bicycle Diaries, was of course incredibly charming and nice and chatted us all up in the car. Unfortunately my humour during said ride was usurped by the funny of fellow Torontonian McCormack, who was riding home with me, but I think I made a least a minor impression (should have given him a book too but I didn’t think of it).
Clearly the gods of the weird and the strange were at work that day because not only were the three of us on the same plane, we were joined by a somewhat dishrag looking Pamela Anderson, who may or may not have been stalking Derek McCormack, David Byrne or me. It’s impossible to tell.