Danet’e! Hello! 

Welcome to the Twentieth Anniversary Omnibus and Extenda-Mix Edition of The Lesser Blessed

Twenty years! Twenty years. Twen-tee years!! I know where the time has gone but twenty years, baby!! 

I remember the day I held my author’s copy of The Lesser Blessed in my hands. 1996. Victoria student housing. Rain. 

There were 117 pages of Larry Sole’s confession. There were the last five years of my focus, sweet love, embarrassment and excitement. There it was and I couldn’t take it back: I had fired an arrow of flaming light into the world and I had no idea who it would find. I was terrified.

I was in my third year at the University of Victoria where I was studying Creative Writing with some of Canada’s greatest writers, and I was a long way from home: Fort Smith, NWT. I had no idea that I’d be the first member of the Tlicho Dene to ever write a novel; I had no idea that I’d be the first person from Fort Smith to ever write a novel. All I knew is, growing up in Fort Smith, I’d always loved to read: S.E. Hinton, Pat Conroy, Stephen King, Richard Brautigan, The Warlord (Mike Grell’s comic), Heavy Metal magazine, Epic magazine. And I had always loved music: Platinum Blonde, Iron Maiden, My Bloody Valentine, The Cure, The Smiths, The Mission UK, The Sisters of Mercy and Fields of the Nephilim. I could get lost in music and, thankfully, I’ve never lost this gift. You’ll see in the Acknowledgements in all of my books that I thank every artist or musician who helps me hone my writing.

Re-reading the novel for the first time in over 18 years, and going through old journals, I was reminded that, originally, The Lesser Blessed was going to be called Me and Johnny. But after diving into the lyrics of the Fields of the Nephilim song “Celebrate,” I could feel the mood and tone of the novel. I could sniff it. So I changed it to capture a title that was perfect for one of the first novels honouring second-generation residential school survivors. There’s a reason Larry’s dad speaks French when he molests him. Larry’s story is so dark, so brutal, so raw, so real, but ultimately a story of hope and resilience and how love can save lives. Would I change a word after all this time? No. It’s done. It’s out. It’s free. And that’s why I was able to write baby books and books for children and use satire and self-deprecation to get everyone laughing. I had healed so many deep wounds and let so much pain go through Larry.

Growing up in Fort Smith and through all my reading, I had a sense that no one was sharing my story: no one was writing about having grandparents who were medicine people; no one was writing about driving your Ski-Doo to high school and then racing out past the highway to watch your brother check his snares before heading home to watch Degrassi Junior High on CBC; no one was talking about having spaghetti and meatballs with the meat being either caribou or buffalo.

The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard is, “Write something you’d like to read.” So I started The Lesser Blessed when I was 19. I don’t think it hit me that I was working on a novel. I just knew that Larry Sole was after me in whispers and belly laughs, secrets and sighs. And he was with me for five years.

Carolyn Swayze, bless you for reading it and thank you for showing it to Douglas & McIntyre, who bought it soon after reading it. Bless you, Barbara Pulling, for being the best editor for Larry’s story. To the late Tim Atherton, mahsi cho for giving us the perfect cover for our first edition.

The smartest thing I ever did with my writing was invent a community called Fort Simmer: it’s an amalgamation of Fort Smith, Hay River and Behchoko, NWT. Since it’s a fictional community, readers, family and friends were able to let their guards down and enjoy a story about the North.

In all the years I wrote the novel, it never occurred to me that I was writing a life story of a cousin of mine who ended his own young life, far too young and far too soon. I won’t get into it but this novel is how I wish my cousin’s life could have been.

Writing and publishing the novel also gave me the confidence to keep going: my Fort Simmer stories can be read in my short story collections, Angel Wing Splash Pattern, The Moon of Letting Go, Godless but Loyal to Heaven and Night Moves. You can also see Fort Simmer in my graphic novel The Blue Raven and my comic book Kiss Me Deadly. And you can read more from Darcy after the novel and the movie in a novel of his own in the short story “Whistle.”

This new edition of the book includes two more stories with the same characters from The Lesser Blessed. You can read part two of The Lesser Blessed in “How I Saved Christmas,” featured here for the first time outside of Angel Wing Splash Pattern. Mahsi cho to the late Duncan MacPherson and his family, who inspired this story. You can also follow Larry, Juliet, Darcy and Kevin through another evening in Fort Simmer in “Where Are You Tonight?”, a story originally published in Night Moves. I wrote this story for the cast of The Lesser Blessed film so they could have more time with the characters. I’m in awe of everyone who brought the characters to life on the big screen.

I would like to acknowledge Anita Doron, who wrote to me years ago asking if I’d let her turn Larry’s story into a feature film with First Generation Films. Thank God I said yes. Anita, I wouldn’t change a thing about your adaptation of the novel. It’s perfect. Christina Piovesan and Alex Lalonde, thank you for never giving up during the seven years it took to make our movie. Joel Nathan Evans, mahsi cho for being the best Larry Sole for the adaptation, and mahsi cho to Tamara Podemski, Benjamin Bratt, Kiowa Gordon, Chloe Rose and Adam Butcher for being the perfect Verna, Jed, Johnny Beck, Juliet Hope and Darcy McMannus.

One of my prized possessions from the first twenty years of touring The Lesser Blessed is a CD a young student gave me years ago in Kelowna. I wish I could remember her name. She’d burned me a CD of The Lesser Blessed’s soundtrack. Here it is: the intro to Van Halen’s “1984;” AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and “Back in Black;” Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony;” Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark;” Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover;” Heart’s “Crazy on You;” Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills,” “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” and “Powerslave;” Judas Priest’s “Turbo Lover;” Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian;” The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary;” The Outfield’s “Talk to Me” and Journey’s “Midnight Train.”

I have a framed poster of the movie, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival at 4 pm on September 9, 2012 (my whole family was there!), and I have the official embroidered Lesser Blessed gloves, which were given out to everyone on set while shooting in Sudbury and Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, ON. I have the official and final screenplay, the visual reference book (which I treasure), and I took portraits of all of the actors in character. I’m proud that I was able to work with the revered German author Ulrich Plenzdorf on the German translation of the novel for Ravensburger, and I am grateful that I was able to work on a French translation with Gaia Editions’ Nathalie Mège as my translator.

I would like to dedicate the twentieth edition of The Lesser Blessed to my mom, Rosa Wah-shee; to my dad, Roger Brunt; and to my father, Jack Van Camp. My brothers, Roger, James and Johnny, I want to dedicate this twentieth edition to you, too. As well, I’d like to honour my wife, Keavy Martin, and our son, Edzazii. My wife, my son, I am so proud to share this 20th anniversary with you. As well, I could not have written the novel without the charm and gorgeous spirit of Fort Smith: her land, her people, her magic.

Mahsi cho to everyone who ever came out to a reading or invited me on a tour. I’ve been able to travel to so many parts of the world sharing stories from the North. I’m proud of this. I am grateful to every professor and teacher who taught the novel. Mahsi cho.

Twenty books in twenty years on the twentieth anniversary of The Lesser Blessed. Now how cool is that?

I’m just so grateful to Larry Sole for calling my name all those years ago. Larry, bless you. I am so grateful to have known and to honour you.

Here’s to more writing and more stories.

Mahsi cho, everyone!

Richard Van Camp
Tlicho Dene from Fort Smith, NWT
November 2015