Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Conflict of Interest: You Can Handle The Truth… And so can you!

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Pamela Des Barres

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.” Or so the Bueller end of film scripture goes.

Articles and books firmly fettered in the genre of truth are accruing more honour and love these days, it seems, than ever before–especially towards holiday season. In Canada for example, don’t you notice that all the hockey-themed books seem to come out around Halloween? If people are book-gifting, it’s my former retail experience that the casual patron is more likely to be persuaded to buy (or let’s say, talked into purchasing comfortably) if in fact the book is non-fiction.

Though the fiction gold medal (a.k.a. the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize) has been handed out, and the blitz of great short story collections being released each season continues to impress, (the incredulous, manic, yet well-manicured passions of Cosmo by Spencer Gordon, the chameleonic urban and human intersectional appeal of My Life Among The Apes by Carey Fagan and the deadly Parkdale gangster beats found in the toxic pathos of Life is About Losing Everything by Lynn Crosbie), for the purposes of this month’s column, I will focus on non-fiction.

We are inundated with constant chatter about a book’s source, its inspiration, and how much was truly fictionalized, even when genre-specified codes on the back, such as “memoir” or “biography,” are clear as day on the top left corner. Did you know, for example, that a few years after the whole James Frey, A Million Little Pieces, debacle, an edition of Dave Eggers' blockbuster book with “genius” in the title was released, in which Eggers explained, in a lengthy introduction, that several characters and scenes were entirely fictionalized? Later printings of the book also include an addendum called “Mistakes We Knew We Were Making,” which details some of the deliberate omissions and composite events that made the book flow more easily.

Now before I go into uncharted waters here in this column and tell you about Pamela Des Barres (who is coming to town in a couple of days), I thought I’d just mention some non-fiction titles that have been on my mind lately. First, as I prepare some PR notes for Tightrope’s Best Canadian Essays 2012, edited by Christopher Doda and Ray Robertson, I happened upon a copy of Ray’s first book of essays from 2003, Mental Hygiene, published by Insomniac Press. Only nine years old, it is an artifact of book industry buzz and trends from oh-so-long ago. Articles such as, “So You Want To Be A Canadian Novelist?” and other entertaining pieces on writers and the writing process were read by me with the same sort of addictive ‘look what I found’ feeling that I get when I stumble on an old issue of This Magazine from 2002 with a discussion about literary magazines (most of which are now completely defunct).

In my last column, I discussed how the internet is accruing documentation of all things Canadian publishing. It’s nice to go back nine or ten years and see how we approached things with a seemingly more complex, calm appraisal. We live in a hyper-age, yes it’s true, but books and magazines are objects to enjoy over time, to sink into. I look forward to the day when I have actual time to steep into the imaginative landscapes so many writers have created, and sit back, quiet and thoughtful. Books I have my eyes on in the non-fiction category that I truly aspire to read include Dave Bidini’s book on the 1972 Canada Games, A Wild Stab For It (I was two when this summit series occurred but watched the games on VHS as a teen), which I think could be the best designed hockey book of all time. I am also desperate to start Andrew Westoll’s book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, because I love animals and also because I had the pleasure of meeting Andrew last year at a talk for Daniel Scott Tysdal’s creative writing class at the University of Toronto and he seemed so enthralled in his subject that, well gosh, the book must be as impassioned.

Later this month, iconic LA writer Pamela Des Barres will arrive in Toronto. Her influences include art, “any art, mostly musical art, that opens my heart, stretching my solar plexus wide,” and male artists and writers such as Whitman, Dylan, Blake, Henry Miller, Kerouac, Jack White!” She has some interesting ideas about art and inspiration; “I think all great art draws souls together. I have had cosmic experiences with William Blake, Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan! The artist can be dead or alive, and their intention to stir and shake the listener/reader/watcher transcends space and of course, time.”

For those not familiar with Pamela’s legacy, she is known for her legendary associations with rock 'n’ roll’s giants in the '60s and '70s. She has endured some criticism for her role as a 'groupie,' but became a pioneer in the rock lit genre’s discourse, documenting her connections with these men in her journals. “I am a woman and love all women, but I also feel the same way about men. As a groupie I have been maligned and misunderstood, but I feel I was an early feminist; and what does that word mean? A woman who does what she wants, what she believes in, goes after her desires against tough odds. A groupie is just a person who loves a music group–or groups!–and wants to be near that incredible inspiration.”

The vibrant author is in town for a workshop and in-store reading appearance. Over the years Pamela has written four books: I’m With the Band, Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon, and most recently, Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies. In addition to writing new material, Pamela has been teaching women’s writing workshops for close to 13 years now.

Taking up residence in a generous friend’s house in cities across North America (including Toronto), she holds day-long writing workshops which are part therapy, part writing clinic and part party. “My workshops are more like a freewheeling writing party! Most of my students have read my books, or at least know that I'm a music-loving soul sister, so they open up and reveal all kinds of incredible life-tales. It's a cathartic experience for everyone. Best friends are made and revelations are common. I sometimes call my classes, 'Groupie Therapy.’ We write, read aloud, share yummy snacks and have a blast!”

Pamela encourages honesty, grueling self-reflection and acceptance as part of the experience in her workshops. “You can also write it in the third person until you’re ready to confront yourself head, or heart-on!”

She is working on a few things right now, including “Book three of my memoirs, Sex, God and Rock & Roll.” In addition to this, she is adapting I’m With The Band into a screenplay.

Her philosophy is encouraging, especially for those taking her course or hoping to pick up a tip or two. “I believe everyone has a story to tell. All our lives are fascinating and spectacular. To write, all you have to do is write. The hardest part is making the decision, and then sitting down with a pen or at your keyboard and writing the first sentence. We are here to experience the highest, kindest, sweetest version of ourselves and take care of each other because we are all ONE.”

For information on Pamela’s workshop and Toronto appearances (The workshops are November 15th and 16th from 7-10 p.m. — Ladies Only!), visit PamelaDesBarres.com.

Nathaniel G Moore is the author of the poetry collection Let’s Pretend We Never Met and the novel Wrong Bar. Work from two new books has appeared this year in subTerrain, Prism International, The Puritan, The Bakery, Steel Bananas, Eunioa Review, Filling Station, The Barnstormer and Vallum.

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