I'm delighted to welcome Mary Casanova to the blog today.
Can you talk a bit about where your inspiration for this story came from? What drew you to this time in Minnesota history?
The inspiration for FROZEN came to me over 20 years ago while reading about my region’s history in KOOCHICHING by Hiram Drache. In it, I read just a few sentences about how one morning at the turn of the century, a prostitute was found frozen in the snow in a small northern Minnesota town. As a joke, someone took her frozen corpse into the meeting hall and stood it up as a joke at the start of a meeting. Drache wrote that it caused a great stir. I couldn’t let the image or this woman’s life go. Or perhaps, she reached out to me across the centuries and wouldn’t let me forget her. I had to somehow make sense of the times she lived in and vindicate her life and death.
You have written quite a few middle-grade and children’s books. What was different or surprising about writing for young adults?
As this story took shape, I really didn’t know who my audience was going to be. Was it for young adults, or was the material geared more for adult readers? Many times, I had to put aside that concern and simply write the story that demanded to be written. Once I had a publisher for the novel, there was debate within the publishers’ offices, too, about if it was a YA or adult novel. My hope is that if it’s a good story it will find a wide range of readers as a cross-over novel.
What kind of research did you conduct while writing this novel? Was there anything interesting that you weren’t able to work into the book?
In writing historical fiction, there are worlds of interesting material that I must sift through. I may find a wealth of interesting details, but I must use only those that serve this story. It’s a bit like panning for gold. Along with visits to the archives of the Koochiching Historical Museum, I delved into other books, finding gold in Joe Paddock’s book, Keeper of the Wild, which chronicles the life of Ernest Oberholtzer and his environmental battle with industrialist E.W. Backus.
My hands-on research is living where I live, across from the historic lift bridge in a hundred-plus year old house, and incorporating the oral history and details of living on Rainy Lake. I have spent many summers returning to “Ober’s” Mallard Island, which is historically preserved. I made a point to return to Kettle Falls Hotel, which is also on the Historic Register, and spend a night in one of the upstairs hotel rooms. (I didn’t stay in the allegedly haunted room. Maybe another time for another story!) And I gleaned history from Jim Hanson and his family who own Atisokan Island, and the restored yacht, “Virginia,” which I fashion Trinity’s namesake after in the novel.
I love Minnesota authors and books that take place in Minnesota. I actually grew up reading your books because I related so well to your Minnesotan characters. What is your favorite thing about living in, or writing about, Minnesota?
My writing career now takes me all over the country--sometimes out of the country. But the more I’m away, the more I appreciate the last leg of my trip from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to International Falls. The bright lights and buildings thin the farther north I head and are replaced by vast stretches of dark green dotted by winding rivers and lakes. As the plane touches down at the tiny runway, I’m glad to return home to a much slower, unhurried pace. A place where I can hear myself think again and be restored by the abundance of nature around me.
Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the most challenging?
I loved getting to know my main character, Sadie Rose. She has so much to confront about her past and so many decisions to make about her present, yet the story starts with her being unable to speak--and hasn’t said a word in 11 years. My challenge was to make the reader care about her each step of the way on her journey to wholeness.
And as the author, that means getting out of the way and allowing this character be who she needs to be. It’s a balancing act between being in-control (somebody has to write the story) and being out-of-control (really not knowing what your character is going to do next). Somewhere in the middle is where inspiration comes and art happens!
I love the character of Aasta, partly because I can hear her Minnesotan/Norwegian accent so well. Was it difficult to work dialect into the story?
Dialect is always tricky. When I first wrote Aasta’s dialogue, I tried to make each sentence and phrase sound exactly as she might have said it. The problem is, it becomes cumbersome on the page to read this kind of dialogue. So I pulled back a bit, reminding myself that the reader needs a hint of the accent--but too exactly depicted and it’s almost like too much salt in a dish.
Since you are writing books for teens, what were you like as a teenager?
As a teenager, I was always looking for the “road less traveled.” I wasn’t great at being in team sports or school activities, but I loved anything that took me outdoors. I had an appaloosa named Keema, and he and I put on many miles together on the outskirts of the Twin Cities. I loved water-skiing, down-hill skiing, sailing, and camping. I especially enjoyed heading north to a family cabin near Ely and absorbing the haunting cries of the loons, the crisp pine-scented air, and the quiet of the northern forests.
I discovered the power of words when I was in high-school. I loved the medium of words, sentences, and paragraphs as an art form. That’s when my dream of becoming a full-time writer began. But before getting that degree in English, I found a way to graduate a half-year early and go to Florida with a few girlfriends (I talked them into the loop-hole I’d found, too). I went to Aspen with another girlfriend to become ski-bums for another year. And eventually, I made my way through college and immediately upon graduation, moved together with my husband, Charlie, to northern Minnesota.
I was--and still am--a strong believer in listening to your heart and following your dreams. The trick is to be still enough to listen. . .
What are you working on now? Can you talk a little bit about any projects you have coming up?
I’m really excited about a novel I have in progress. It’s something different for me. It’s a bit of time-travel, and explores the scars left by war, whether present or past. I would love to tell more about it, but for now, readers will have to wait and wonder!
University of Minnesota Press has been kind enough to offer a copy of Frozen to one lucky winner. This giveaway will run until September 16. You must be 13 or older to enter. Giveaway is international. Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter!