Friday, March 4, 2016

SHELTERBELTS, by author Candace Simar

A moving, disturbing, and hilarious story of postwar rural America.

A Scandinavian community experiences trials and small triumphs in this novel set in post–World War II Minnesota. Capable Tia Fiskum, unlike many other young people in Tolga Township, longs to one day take over her family’s farm.
Her dreams are shattered, though, when the man she loves, Clyde Hanson, marries a town girl, Vera, who’s repulsed by farm life and dreams of running away to California. Meanwhile, Frieda Carlson, the young German wife of a war veteran, struggles with her English and the provincialism of her Norwegian neighbors. When Tia’s brother Norman returns from the army, everyone assumes that he’ll take over the farm that Tia covets. But his alcoholism and wanderlust instead drive Tia to shield Norman from scandal—particularly from Tillie, the eavesdropping town gossip.
It was Norman who planted the shelterbelts, rows of trees that form a windbreak, around the town. Just as some of those trees have fallen while others have remained upright, some of the residents of Tolga Township fall to tragedy while others draw upon reserves of strength from unlikely sources—even the supernatural: when Nels Carlson claims a miraculous recovery from arthritis, the town’s good Lutherans fear that he’s become a fanatic.
This latest novel by Simar (Blooming Prairie, 2012, etc.) is an engrossing portrayal of Norwegian farmers whose passive aggression tamps down their real passions. Each chapter is written from a different point of view, some in first person and some in third, and through them, Simar weaves a tale of longing, jealousy, rage, lies, and joy. Although the characters often back-stab one another, they also come together with genuine warmth when one of them is in trouble.
Characters that could have been clich├ęd are instead made fresh by Simar’s revelations of their fears and hopes. The humor is appropriately subtle and sarcastic, and the descriptions (“Gunda Olson unfolded from the kitchen chair like a rusty pocket knife”) are delightful!

Some Q & A with Candace:

Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you started writing.
I am the descendent of Scandinavian immigrants and was raised on a dairy farm in western MN in an area populated mostly by Scandinavians.  Because of these roots, I am most interested in Scandinavian history and culture, especially with early immigrants to Minnesota.

What are some things you enjoy when not writing?
I love a good book and I watch way too much TV, especially old movies set during World War II. 

Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?
I’ve been a nurse all my life.  For the past eleven years I have had my own business of being a professional guardian/conservator for vulnerable adults.

Where do you get your ideas?
The ideas come easily.  It’s the getting-them-on-paper that is the challenge.

Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?
I grew up reading the historical novels of Janice Holt Giles.  I still love them.  I also was inspired by Lauraine Snelling’s Red River of the North Series and Wilhelm Moberg’s trilogy about Swedish immigrants.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
To begin with, I began pitching Abercrombie Trail to publishers and agents before it was ready.  Big mistake.  Eight years and twelve rewrites (yes 12!) I found a publisher. 

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?
I would work with a professional editor to make it as good as it could have been before I started pitching it.  I wrote a grant to work with Patricia Weaver Francisco to edit SHELTERBELTS.  She is an author and professor of writing at Hamline University.  Patricia taught me many things during our time together, and SHELTERBELTS is a better book because of her insights.  SHELTERBELTS is my best writing.  I owe this to Patricia.

How do you market your work?
My marketing plan includes doing a lot of public speaking where I share my research and writing with civic and Scandinavian groups.  It’s a lot of work, but also a great adventure.  My husband is retired and so we travel together. It’s been a real joy at this stage of our lives.

What are you working on now?
Currently I am finishing a YA novel set during the 1862 Dakota Conflict in the area of Fort Abercrombie, Dakota Territory.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences?
When my first novel, ABERCROMBIE TRAIL, was released in 2009, a reader sent me a letter telling me about his great grandfather who came home from school in Milford, MN, to discover his entire family massacred by the Sioux.  As the oldest of three school aged children, this ancestor guided his younger brother and sister to refuge at Fort Ridgely.  The story stuck with me, and I have used the idea of children forced to travel across open prairie to find refuge at Fort Abercrombie.  It also includes a few of my family’s early immigration experiences.
My latest book, SHELTERBELTS, is set in the small Scandinavian farm community where I grew up.  Family members and neighbors show up, though hidden in fictional characters.  My parents married in 1944, at the close of World War 2, and I loved delving into that time period and discovering what their life might have been like.

Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?
Rural relationships can be sticky.  In SHELTERBELTS, I loved the part where Tia must learn to get along with Clyde Hanson’s new wife, even though Tia had hoped Clyde would marry her someday.  In a rural area, people have to get along.  Farmers don’t move away from their land and so neighbors are forever. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
It’s more than just grinding words on the page.  My advice is to study the craft of writing by attending every workshop possible, joining a writing group, reading books and magazines about writing, and being open to a life-long journey learning how to write.  Too many writers settle for what they already know how to do, without stretching to fine tune their skills.  The market is flooded with mediocre books.  It’s worth the effort to create something worth reading.

What are the downfalls of your writing career? The best parts?
Life intrudes on my writing time.  It’s hard to find that balance that allows family time, hobbies, marketing and writing.  The best part of my writing career has been connecting with readers across the country.  I never dared to dream this might happen!

Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you for reading my work.  Often as the words fall onto the page, I wonder if anyone else will “get” what I’m writing about, smile at my humor or relate to my characters.  Nothing makes me happier than discovering someone who does.  

Thanks so much, Candace, for sharing some of your writing life with us!



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  2. Shelterbelts is a well-crafted story filled with characters who stayed with me long after I read the book. Simar's writing deftly conveys the culture, the locale, and the essence of the characters at the same time that it weaves a strong, interesting plot. I recommend this book without reservation.

    1. Thanks for your input, Teddy. It sounds like a very interesting book!