Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Woodward On The Road

Today I sing the praises of the West Kootenays, that region in the southeast of British Columbia of narrow green valleys flanked by the Monashees, the Purcells, and the Selkirks,  and nestled within are the long deep lakes, Arrow, Slocan, and Kootenay. But even more than the comfort of its plentiful hotsprings and the charm of its turn of the last century architecture and bucolic farms and orchards are its people, the lively, loyal, creative, amazing people.

They do things with a different sort of camaraderie and celebration here in the Koots. A publisher friend responds to my praise of her garden by saying that she and three friends are spending three hours in each other's gardens: weeding, visiting, composting, whatever is required. What a gift at the end of each garden season, to have experienced gardeners arrive for a mini-work bee, in this case, a publisher, bookstore owner, glass sculptor and professional nursery owner with a past life as an academic administrator and professor.

I used to tell other writers on tour when I was a volunteer with the Kootenay School of Writing that practically everyone in the Kootenays is an artist, was an artist or will be one someday. I introduced Carol Shields to a shoe repair person and owner of a delightful new and second-hand shoe store who was a retired dancer from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and they had a wonderful conversation. I explained to my sister, a bank manager, that my friend in a Nelson bank had just returned from a tour to Japan with the Nelson Bagpipe Band, of which she was a longtime member. That, of course, was some time ago but today, the villages of Nakusp, New Denver, Silverton, the rural centres of the Slocan and Kootenay valleys and the city of Nelson are buzzing with back alley galleries, live concerts, public lectures on the Art of Storytelling, to name just one topic, delight-filled independent bookstores and hundreds of other creative ventures.

I drove and walked around my beloved Kootenays, smitten with the orange and blue and green of it all, treated with love and kindness and wonderful hospitality by friends on my Fall 2010 book tour. People came out to listen to me read from my new novel, people I hadn't seen for many decades in some cases, and I marvel again at how the people in small towns and cities get out and show up at live arts events in such numbers.

In New Denver, where my husband and I founded and ran The Motherlode Bookstore from 1993-2001, 90 citizens showed up in the venerable Bosun Hall to cheer me on and even better, to respond to Mayor Gary Wright's brilliant auctioneering tactics by bidding for their names to be used in character roles (professional dog walker, Antique Junque Store owner, bird newspaper columnist, hero and villain, with Oolichan Books in The Village of Many Hats, in 2011 or 2012) and we raised over $850 for the New Denver Reading Centre! The bidding for the villain started at $50 and was a hotly contested role, eventually won by the Valhalla Community Choir director, Francie Oldham, and yours truly had foolishly offered to match funds, fearing the good citizens would be reluctant to see their good names besmirched in a 3-D book for all to read. Quite the opposite occured with a bidding war so this is what I mean, people do things differently in the Kootenays. They gang up and organize and work hard and support each other. Everyone applauds and 'gets it' when people do creative work. There's very little of that snooty Canadian attitude in these joyful valleys, no 'Who Do You Think You Are?' looking down the long nose at dancers and painters and bagpipers and writers.

One last anecdote for now: my dear friend and writer, Rita Moir (Windshift (D&M)most recently) organized the Vallican Whole reading and her partner, Dan Armstrong is a blacksmith (appropriately monikered for such an occupation). Gentle Dan made cookies for my reading at the Whole inbetween pounding out a massive set of railings on the forge. They were sugar cookies, bedecked with pink icing and little sprinkles, with hearts on them and the initials P for Penny and W for Wade, to salute my characters in Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny (Oolichan Books). Does it get much sweeter than this on a book tour? Nope!

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