Getting Creative About Nonfiction

I wrote a whole post about going to the Creative Nonfiction Collective Conference in Banff, Alberta, but a glitch killed it and somehow all that came through were the photos!

I don’t have the spirit to re-write the post, but have included some links to great sites, authors and works I learned about this weekend.

Don Sedgwick of Transatlantic Literary Agency suggested the following:

Aviation, Writing and the Best Bud Light Ever: Conference Season 2010

While many were working on their yards and tans the past few weeks, I’ve been making the rounds of conferences. Which, in weather-changeable Alberta, is probably a safer bet.

The Creative Nonfiction Collective conference back in April started off the 2010 season. Held at the gorgeous Banff Centre, I let myself be inspired by the immensely talented writers around me and delighted in the deer grazing in the courtyards.

A couple of weeks later the Writers Guild of Alberta’s mini-conference and Literary Awards gala was just up the street at the Delta hotel. I sat at the back of the room both days – you know, where the troublemakers end up – and talked chicken fried steak with author David Poulsen, globalization with Gordon Laird, and diamonds with my new geologist friend, Michelle Tappert (who just wrote a book with her husband, brave girl!).

Other than the chance to hang out with other writers, the main thrill for me was hearing Will Ferguson’s keynote address. Not many people can have me crying with laughter at 9 a.m. But he’s also the only person who’s made Canada’s political history palatable to me (Bastards & Boneheads). Amazing!

By June 1st I was all the way over in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec for the 16th Annual Air Force Historical Workshop. When I first heard about this event, I thanked my lucky stars. After all, the theme was “De-Icing Required: The Canadian Air Force in the Arctic” and my next nonfiction project just happens to be a history of aviation north of 60. Kind of eerie, actually…

The ‘cool’ topic sure helped keep my mind off the fact it was humid, 30 degrees celsius, and I was staying in a ‘vintage’ dorm room at John Abbott College. Even so, I was the envy of the other non-military attendees (who had swanky lodgings at the Chateau Vaudreuil) because I had brought my own personal rotating fan. Thanks, mum!


By the second day of intent listening and notetaking, I was antsy and decided to skip on the dinner out. After a jog I ate cold leftover pizza (which my friend and RCAF historian Carl Christie protected in gallant style as you can see above) and drank an icy Bud Light. Normally I’m a bit of a beer snob, but at that moment I was in heaven. This Bud’s for ME!

By morningI was recharged and ready for the next conference, also held at the John Abbott campus. The Canadian Aviation Historical Society’s Montreal chapter hosted this year’s event and scheduled it to coincide with the Air Force one. Lovely! I got to reconnect with members from across Canada and meet some new folks.

And it’s a good thing I paid such close attention at all these conferences because it looks like I’ll be co-organizing the CAHS one in Edmonton next year! I certainly picked up some valuable tips:
  • make sure people can get coffee first thing in the morning
  • make sure there are plenty of cookies at the coffee breaks (I could never seem to get to them in time!)
  • and make sure there’s plenty of time for people to shoot the breeze while sipping an adult beverage (or two)
You know, the important stuff!

Six Degrees of Dawson City

Dawson may be a small town (1,200 permanent residents) and the Yukon Territory may be one of the most sparsely populated places in the world (30,000 people in 2006), but it seems everywhere I go I find connections to the place I will call home from October to December of this year.

The first ‘coincidence’ was a couple weeks back when my colleague and friend, John Chalmers, invited me to take my pick of books at his mother’s house, which he is clearing out for sale. I had an armful of books – mostly CanLit and history, of course – when I spotted one that had fallen between the counter and some boxes. It turned out to be Starting Out, Pierre Berton’s memoir of years 0-27! John was nice enough to let me have it and I’ve since read the whole first chunk about Pierre’s childhood in Dawson…

Recently my mom also discovered we have a long-lost cousin living in Whitehorse, the capital of YT. Bruce Barrett is a historic sites project officer for the Department of Tourism & Culture and worked on researching and compiling an air crash registry a few years back. Can’t wait to meet him and all the aviation history contacts he’s been putting me in touch with!

“Queen of the Yukon” on display at the Yukon Transportation Museum

You never know who you’ll meet at breakfast! While chowing down two Mondays ago at the Wedgewood B&B; in Kamloops, I started chatting with the two other guests: Doug and Marie Mervyn. Not only were they lovely people, but it turned out Doug’s been flying since the 1950s and his son operates Mervyn’s Yukon Outfitting based in Whitehorse (and owns a couple of small planes for the business). They gave me his contact info and I’ll probably interview him for the book on aviation in the north!

The Mervyn Family up in YT

A few days later I was in B.C.’s Lower Mainland giving talks to the Quarter Century in Aviation Club and the Langley Aeroclub. Well, you’d better believe at least 1/2 those folks had some connection to flying in the north and many had been to Dawson. I now have a good-sized stack of business cards from flying Bishops and bush pilots ready to go! And it turns out that John Lovelace’s 2010 flying trip will be to the Yukon: it is Klondike Fever all over again!

Of course, when I’m in Dawson it will be the opposite of the ‘Midnight Sun’ – it will be the time of twilight at midday. But after meeting Claire Festel at the Creative Nonfiction Collective conference at the Banff Centre last weekend, I am even more excited about going. Claire grew up in the Laurentians, went to university in Alberta, and then went to the Yukon to work for one summer. And she fell in love with the place. Last October she returned south, settling in the Okanagan Valley, but was happy to share her tips for a winter in Dawson: there are yoga classes, bring your woolies (no need for ‘fall’ clothes in October), and there should be plenty of ‘community dogs’ for me to take for walks when I’m missing Riker. (Doug says I’m not allowed to adopt any ‘community husbands’, though!)

Claire out for a stroll

And while the weather will be cold and chilly, at least Edmonton is helping to acclimatize me in advance:

View out my front window this morning
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.