Richard Van Camp grew up in Fort Smith, N.W.T. as a member of the Dogrib (Tlicho Dene) Nation. As a teenager, he’d check his brother’s trap line after school and then race home to watch Degrassi Junior High. He’d chop wood for his parents’ log house and then have spaghetti with moose meat and caribou for dinner. He could see the Northern Lights dancing outside his bedroom window every night for five months out of the year.
When he got older, he realized no one was telling his story. “No one was talking about the northern romances and the crushes we have in the north. They’re so deep, they’re felt on the other side of the world,” says Van Camp.
So, he took matters into his own hands and wrote The Lesser Blessed. But the story is far more than just a light-hearted teen romance where the characters sport “Monday morning hickeys.” It’s a dark tale that looks at the effects of sexual abuse through the story of the main character who’s in love with his best friend’s girl.
Now an even wider audience will experience Van Camp’s story – it’s playing internationally on the big screen. “It took five years to write the book, seven years for the movie. This is a 12-year-old baby; I’m an old man now.” Van Camp, an executive producer for the movie, says all the hard work paid off. As with any adaptation, there were major changes to the story. The biggest change Van Camp noted was in the time period – the book takes place in the ’80s while the movie takes place in present day. And the musical elements that run throughout the book – the mentions of AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Slayer – are exchanged for younger bands. “But to be honest with you, the soundtrack is actually what helps make the movie as magnificent as it is,” says Van Camp.
Van Camp bucks the trend when it comes to writers who feel disenchanted with their work in visual form – think Stephen King’s disdain for Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining. So far, Van Camp hasn’t been disappointed by any adaptations of his work. In fact, quite the opposite. Within 30 seconds of seeing Firebear Called Them Faith Healers, a film based on a short story in his collection, The Root of Letting Go, he liked the movie so much better than his original he wanted to scrap the written version. “In the last scene he [director Kelvin Redvers] achieves something I couldn’t do with my writing,” says Van Camp.
Van Camp has a few new movies on the horizon, and for one of them, he plans to make use of CGI and a fully animatronic rotting carcass of a caribou. And while Van Camp is prolific – he also writes children’s books and comics – he also takes plenty of time to spend with his fiance, exploring the city. “I’ve given myself the permission that it’s OK if I didn’t write today. The stories are always going to be there tomorrow,” he say.