Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny
ISBN 978-088982-267-2 • Oolichan Books
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I am returning to my Peace River roots with this novel, which is a retelling of The Odyssey and my own tribute to hardworking ranch and farm couples who work as a team and endure the vagaries of the climate, the markets and the romance-corroding strain of financial hardship.
My Penelope and Ulysses are Penny and Wade, she the inventive, loyal and resolute ranch wife and substitute teacher and he, a good man adrift behind the wheel of his short and long haul trucking business. Their lives have been blighted by Wade’s father, an unhappy, self-centred man who has left them to cope with unexpected debts upon his unlamented death.
Their lives become a struggle to hold onto the land and to each other as Penny fends off covetous neighbours and unsavoury suitors while Wade contends with untrustworthy and false friends while he drives a cargo of Peace River honey, Yukon Gold potatoes, smoked salmon and Creston Valley apples on his last long haul drive of the season.
The novel is also an examination of the lingering effects of World War One on 3 generations of a family and the great comfort of a community when a family is in dire straits.
“Modern day odyssey will strike a chord with rural readers”
By Bob Collins, Country Life in BC, December 2011
It is rare to find authentic farm characters in contemporary literature but that’s exactly what B.C. author Caroline Woodward delivers in her novel Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny. Woodward, currently a lighthouse keeper near Tofino, was born and raised on a homestead east of Fort St. John in the North Peace and it is the depth of her roots and experience there that bring Penny and Wade Toland and their Peace country ranch convincingly to life.
Penny and Wade have inherited the debt ridden Toland ranch. On a financial tightrope, they struggle to hang on, reliant on the money from Wade’s trucking business and Penny’s substitute teaching. The story line will strike a familiar chord with many rural readers. Woodward tells the tale as a modern day odyssey.
Wade’s odyssey takes him on a complicated long-haul journey from the Peace to the Gulf Islands, then on to the Okanagan, the Kootenays, and then a race for home with the first winter storm. Along the way he meets hippies, bikers, a female punk band called the Sireens, and is betrayed by Norman, his ne’er-do-well driving partner.
Back at the ranch, Penny is busy with choir practice, quilting, teaching, ranch chores, running a gauntlet of male attention from an envious neighbour and a surly bank manager to an interested co-worker, worrying about Wade, and juggling bills to keep everything afloat.
Woodward is a gifted storyteller who draws deeply from her country roots to give us bang-on characters and a compelling story. You can’t help liking Penny and Wade. They are people you’d want to have for neighbours. People who deserve to make a go of it. The kind of people you’d gladly lend a hand to.
In Woodward’s own words, the message in Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny is simple: “Hang on to the land, look out for one another, and believe that things will get better. They have to!”
But don’t take her word for it, read the book.
Set in the Peace River region of British Columbia, Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny by Caroline Woodward is reminiscent of the fiction of Gail Anderson-Dargatz as well as When She Was Electric by Andrea MacPherson. Woodward’s poetic style immediately captures the attention of the reader with Penny’s first impression of Wade’s laughing spray of lines curving down the cheekbones. While the author describes her novel as a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, the strength and success of the narrative is Penny’s struggles with work, poverty, and isolation on the family ranch while Wade is long-haul trucking. Penny runs the ranch seemingly on her own by selling good quality hay, raising and boarding horses, having bees . . . keeping two hundred purebred Angus cattle, a dozen chickens, a few pigs and a huge garden, in addition to working as a substitute teacher. Penny also contends with her creepy neighbour Evers and the attentions of Mort Granger while Wade is away. Wade’s trucking journey ranges from the rescue of an abused woman to an encounter with his trucking partner’s sex-club venture, and he begins to realize that his cargo may not be the potatoes, honey, and salmon he expects it to be. Despite Wade’s adventures, Penny is the hero of the novel. As she edits a volume of community history that begins with first settler William Good, Wade’s grandfather, she is simultaneously rewriting the male-dominated history of the region through her work on the ranch. The triumph of the novel is the way that Woodward dislocates the male world of ranch labour through Penny’s independence and by positioning her as the central presence and controlling force of both the ranch and the novel.
Mark Diotte, reviewer for Canadian Literature
Caroline Woodward’s wonderful novel, Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny (Oolichan Books, 2010), captured my attention from the first page when the two main characters meet at the Co-op gas pumps in a small town in the Peace district. “Everything slowed down, every noise in that noisy place faded away to a white buzz, and I stared back at the blue flannel shirt, the black mop of hair and long, lean blue-jeaned legs...” The initial attraction between Penny and Wade becomes the sustaining bedrock of their marriage.
Think of the epic poem, the Odyssey, following the adventures of a Greek hero returning from the Trojan War to his faithful wife who fends off the attentions of persistent suitors and works on a weaving project while she waits. Now think of a long-distance trucker travelling the province with his cargo of honey, smoked fish and potatoes, coping with mechanical problems and an encounter with a motorcycle gang, making his way home to his wife who is running the family farm and trying to finish a quilt while worrying about finances. The great pleasure of Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny is how that ancient story animates and suffuses Woodward’s modern version while allowing for digressions and quirky twists of plot and fate.
Caroline Woodward’s bright prose and attention to the telling details that delineate a marriage make this a novel which readers will remember and pass on to others.
— Theresa Kishkan, Harbour Spiel
"A beautifully written and marvelous story! Characters with dignity, characters you like, care for, root for."
— Paulette Jiles, author of The Color of Lightning
“Woodward’s crisp, earthy writing cuts to the chase of what it is to be human in this finely crafted novel about hard times, love, and the best of intentions. Wade and Penny will live on in my imagination for a long time.”
— Anne DeGrace, author of Sounding Line
“Penny Loves Wade; Wade Loves Penny is a love story as experienced by separate individuals. Their devotion to each other is obvious, even as the characters themselves question it. Caroline Woodward has shared with us her sense of small-town, northern life and she has transmitted it with such delicacy and good humour, the effect is disarming.” read the whole review
— Emily McIvor, blogger from Salt Spring Island
Meet Caroline Woodward
Lighthouse keeper writes engagingly about middle-aged love
By Rebecca Wigod, Vancouver Sun, October 23, 2010
The title and cover of Caroline Woodward's new book drew me right in. It's called Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny, and on the front there's a delicate multi-hued landscape painting whose patchwork fields look like a quilt. Catnip for women.
The novel inside is both delectable and gripping. It's about a long-married couple who live in B.C.'s Peace River Country: tall, rangy, handsome Wade Toland and his petite, grounded, capable wife, Penny.
Woodward, who grew up in the Peace, opens the story with a flashback to when Wayne and Penny met: instant chemistry. Boom!
Then she moves to the present. Wayne, who is under-educated and has inherited his late father's debt-encumbered ranch, is forced to do long-haul trucking to pay the bills. He's just leaving on a weeklong run to Vancouver, his 1982 International truck with 312,000 miles on the original engine loaded with Peace River honey, smoked salmon, Yukon Gold potatoes and Creston Valley apples.
Penny is going to stay home with their 200 purebred Angus cattle, mares, a stallion named Mr. Bojangles, pigs, chickens and Casey, the malamute cross. She understands their money problems better than Wade does, so she's more worried; she's hoping she'll be called in to substitute-teach. So Woodward separates the spouses -- who are in their mid-40s with twins, Gwyneth and Gordon, at out-of-town universities -- by giving Wade a series of untoward experiences while he's on the road. The trip stretches out longer than expected, and because they can't afford a cellphone and have a malfunctioning answering machine, he can't make good on his urge to phone home.
Then one of the worst things Penny can imagine happening to her absent husband comes to pass -- only she doesn't find out right away. By switching back and forth from Penny's story to Wade's, Woodward ratchets up tension. You keep turning the pages to find out what will happen and, as you read, you fall for both of them.
They're such ordinary people, too. Here's Wade at the wheel, thinking about Penny:
She wears a dress twice a year maybe, to weddings and funerals. Has her white blouse and black skirt for her choir concerts but except for those, she lives in her old jeans and flannel shirts or puts on one of her starchy teacher pantsuits. Blue, green or brown. She looks good, you know, she's always had a trim little figure, curvy in all the right spots, don't get me wrong but she will spend money on horse tack sooner than on herself.
By now you may be wondering, Who is this Caroline Woodward? The author of Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny (Oolichan Books, 245 pages) has done much to distribute, sell and publicize other people's books.
She co-owned a bookstore in New Denver from 1993 to 2001, was a publishers' sales rep with Kate Walker & Co. for seven years and reviewed books on radio for five years.
Since 2008, though, she's been a lighthouse keeper.
That gives her time to concentrate on her own writing.
"Being a lighthouse keeper -- or, in my case, a relief keeper because I don't have a permanent post -- means working a morning or afternoon shift seven days a week, doing weather observations and being at the radio every three hours to let Tofino Coast Guard Radio know what visibility, sea state, precipitation and other observable weather conditions are the case at the [Lennard Island] lighthouse," Woodward, 58, said in an e-mail.
(Connecting by phone was tricky because she's on a 22-stop B.C. tour, following Wade Toland's route in the novel. She'll appear at Blackberry Books on Granville Island from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. today and at Victoria's Bolen Books at 7 p.m. Monday.)
"I do all the usual manual-labour tasks of lightkeepers (and this year I will have done over eight months of relief work at Entrance Island, Nootka, Pachena Point, Estevan Point and Lennard Island), which means maintaining 911 buildings on each station, painting, power-washing, mowing and hedge-trimming, small-motor maintenance and gardening."
She and her husband, writer/ photographer Jeff George, "relay maydays and assist in any searches by going up the tower for observations and using the binoculars and walking around the island, whether it's for a floundering boat or one on fire, to look into our surge channels for a surfer caught in the Cox Bay undertow, or on the West Coast Trail stations or at Nootka and Estevan, dealing with hikers with hypothermia or severe allergic reactions to wasp stings, or injuries -- you name it ....
"We are part of a search-and-rescue team, extra eyes and ears on the front lines. We watch for poachers and vandals, too."
Caroline Woodward is a B.C. writer who's far from average and well worth getting to know.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
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Reading Guide Background information
Several decades ago in a writing workshop discussion about heroes in literature, I blurted out that Penelope, of Odysseus and Penelope, was, in fact, a hero. The rest of the class paused briefly (why is she bringing Homer Simpson into the discussion when she obviously doesn’t know he’s married to big-blue-haired Marge?!) and moved on to the action figures of their liking. I sighed and filed away the notion of Penelope and courage and tenacity.
A dozen years later, I began a short story with a contemporary land-owning Penny holding covetous neighbour at bay while her well-meaning but amnesia-afflicted husband went missing. The short story floundered under its own weight, picked itself up, jogged sideways and became a script treatment. With my impeccable timing, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier was published to great acclaim in the U.S. and ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?’, the hilarious movie with a great soundtrack, directed by the Coen Brothers and starring George Clooney, appeared shortly after. My efforts were saved on a disc, the notes shoved into a file. I worked on other projects. I read The Odyssey in a number of translations meanwhile, absorbing the skirmishes, marvelling at the characters.
Something about this stalwart woman holding the fort, quite literally, defending the kingdom of Ithaca in ancient Greece, this faithful, wily, determined Penelope unravelling her weaving by night and keeping the suitors at bay until she had completed her masterpiece, had its hooks in my imagination. I wrote a few drafts of a novella but the story wanted to be a novel. I sighed and kept at it. Meanwhile Margaret Atwood wrote an opera about Penelope and her maids and premiered it in London, England. I sighed deeply and wrote yet another draft. If I didn’t have staying power, how could I expect my book to endure for the ages?
That question became my motto and my mantra as I wrote and rewrote and set it aside for months at a time, working fulltime at very demanding jobs throughout, writing during precious escapes to house-sit for friends or during brief retreats, whole Saturdays or Sundays spent in a quiet corner behind the foreign language bookshelf in the Courtenay Library.
I wanted to honour the hardworking women and men who carry on, holding onto their ranches and farms despite the vagaries of the weather and the market. I had to go back to my first landscape, the one I still feel I know best, the wild and fertile and amazingly beautiful Peace River Plateau of northern BC and Alberta. I wanted to re-imagine a contemporary rural situation where both adults work on and off the land in order to keep it, a situation that is more common than not, all across rural Canada. Then there is the question of one’s doppelganger, the person we think we might have been if we’d made different choices, taken other paths, stayed home and not wandered or raced, pedal to the metal, down other highways and byways of life. Wade means ‘wanderer’ from the old Norse while Penelope, thanks to Homer, connotes ‘faithful’ and Toland is exactly what it sounds like it should be, a family name linked to land.
So, as a writer, I felt I had such scope to explore both the domestic goddess and the extroverted traveller that I am, bolstered by a grand sweep of western Canadian landscape and informed by Homer’s epic story of one man’s long journey home. My novel gives equal time to Penelope and I gave her much more interesting and modern tasks than chatting up the traitorous maids and weaving a funeral shroud for her dead father-in-law. Likewise, instead of sending Wade off to war in slavish imitation of The Odyssey, I wanted to explore the lingering, toxic aftermath of war on men’s psyches, on generations of a family and on a small community decimated by the deaths of their strongest, healthiest young men. Where I did consciously utilize characters based on Homer’s great tale, I trust they will ring true whether the reader is familiar with the Greek classic or not. Little literary gifts lurk for the careful reader who has read the original though, so think of it as a Where is Waldo? for Classics geeks.
Researching the book led me back to early aural history interviews with Peace River pioneers I’d done as a university student in the mid-seventies, the tapes of which are housed in the Royal BC Museum Archives in Victoria. I was also directed to some wonderful letters by 1920’s homesteaders in the Fort St. John Library and in the midst of all this, I was greatly honoured to be asked to write the foreword to my own Peace River community’s first history book, A Community Tells Its Story: The History of Cecil Lake. The thing about interesting research (the more tangents the better)which I truly enjoy doing as it’s so much easier than the hard, solitary work of writing, is that it’s very easy to end up with a cast of thousands. Chop, chop, nip, tuck, rewrite, rewrite….
I also had a lot of fun inventing my own versions of the ancient Greek bad guys of both genders and the B.C. locations for nefarious skulduggery because if writing isn’t any fun at least some of the time, as the great poet John Newlove once told me, why the heck do we bother doing it?
Questions From Caroline
Penny and Wade experience love, or at least intense mutual attraction, at first sight. How is this phenomenon handled in other stories or novels? Is it sustainable, how so, and if so, what do some literary couples do to endure the pitfalls and temptations that beset every marriage? How do members of the community and other family members support or undermine Penny and Wade’s marriage in this novel? What do Penny’s attitudes toward other Goodland couples, including the hypothetical situation of Sherwin Evers and a foreign bride, reveal about her?
Some readers have told me how much they enjoyed reading about middle-aged couples who have each other’s backs, who still laugh at each other’s jokes and who still make each other feel very desirable despite grey hair or no hair, love handles and bad backs. Is adultery or any form of emotional abandonment more interesting to read about than the challenges of fidelity and hanging in there for each other during the rough patches? Why or why not? Any other books you’d recommend?
How does the aftermath of World War One affect generations of Toland men? How does it affect the women in the family, as well as the children? What other books would you recommend that handle this subject primarily or well? I would recommend any book written by Timothy Findley, particularly The Wars and Famous Last Wordsand Bobbie-Ann Mason’s Up Country.
Why do Penny and her mother and Wade and his father have such troubled relationships? How has this affected Penny and Wade’s own relationship and family life?
Penny no longer has a close woman friend in the community. Does she seem to need a confidant? Who can she trust in Goodland? What does her participation in the Goodland Choir and the historical society show about her character?
What kinds of changes do you think Wade will make to his life now that he’s been given a second chance? Do you think his stay with the two healers after his accident mended more than his bones? How so? If you were to advise Penny and Wade on a new course of action, what would you offer them as possible options? It would be great to hear back from groups who have come up with answers to some of my questions so do feel free to respond to this site and I will read and respond as time permits. (if we can swing this technically? I would take the time to reply to thoughtful responses.)
Finally, my culinary recommendations to book clubs, which always have wonderful potlucks in my experience, are as follows.
For afternoon meetings and for teetotallers, serve dried cranberry scones with cream cheese and lime-zucchini marmalade (recipe at the back of the novel) and Murchie’s Orange Spice tea.
Summer meetings cry out for grown-up picnic fare: a menu of wonderful salads, an array of cheeses and cold cuts, rhubarb chutney (recipe at the back of the novel), an assortment of interesting crackers and do beg the bread baker in your group to make a batch of Parker House rolls, fresh orchard fruit and berry desserts and a glass of Little Straw Winery’s Sauvignon Blanc or a St. Hubertus Gewürztraminer. If you aren’t fortunate enough to find these sublime whites, do enjoy the cheap and cheerful, 5% alcohol of Portugese vinho verde wine, dry and slightly effervescent, just perfect for a summer’s day. For designated drivers, try the Rhubarb Punch recipe at the back of the novel, and you won’t feel deprived at all.
Chilly winter evenings are warmed by good food, good books and good company, just the thing to get us through November to February or even March. May I suggest hearty fare, a fantasy 100 Mile Peace River Feast, and smuggle in some feisty, fabulous BC Okanagan red wines? The centrepiece could be a moose roast with a green peppercorn sauce (the perfect place to hide your Uncle Ed’s homemade saskatoon port as a marinade and when you deglaze the pan, bonus!) or venison, elk or whatever you have on hand.
If your hunters come home empty-handed and all else fails, kill the cranky rooster! Flank your centrepiece with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes grown on the Class I land of Bear Flats, also a dish of roasted beets, carrots and parsnips glazed with Peace River honey, a Waldorf salad of celery, crab-apple, red and green cabbage, sunflower seeds, dried blueberries and cranberries, your Grandma’s best little plates filled with dilled garlic cukes and beet pickles and a basket of warm sourdough bread. Sip away at one of the wonderful Pinot Noirs from Nk'Mip Vineyard in Osoyoos or from Westbank’s Little Straw Winery or try to get your hands on the amazing 2006 Okanagan Vineyard edition. I’m too full for dessert but tiny wild blueberry tarts with whipped cream would be perfect. Just don’t drink any of Uncle Ed’s rotgut saskatoon port!
If you have all worked too hard and run out of time and energy, there is absolutely nothing to complain about with a menu of the best pizzas you can make or buy and an agreeable assortment of chilled beer. Phillips Slipstream Cream Ale or Nelson Brewing Company’s After Dark Ale would be my personal choices. Do feel free to offer feedback and your menu suggestions as well because we know all good book clubs come up with the best theme menus to complement the books we’re all reading. Salut! Here’s mud in your eye! Enjoy!
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Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny
The first time…well.
I saw him swinging down from his truck beside
the gas pumps. Someone yelled and he looked over his
shoulder and smiled. Smiled, turning, shading his eyes
with one hand, laughing and shrugging while our bulk
fuel man walked over. I dodged behind the candy rack
to get a better look. I couldn’t see his face when he bent
to fill the gas tanks so I looked at the truck. Northern
Gold Honey Farms. A bright yellow banner unfurled by a
gleaming swarm of bees across the green truck door.
From somewhere in the back of the Co-op, two buzzers
rang. I used the intercom to call the boys to the loading dock
and when I looked up, he was standing in the aisle with a
wallet in his left hand, staring. Everything slowed down,
every noise in that noisy place faded away to a white
buzz, and I stared back at the blue flannel shirt, the black
mop of hair and long, lean, blue-jeaned legs, and that
curvy bottom lip parting from the top as if to speak and
those green eyes, the clearest eyes ever. Whammo.
“Gas?” he got out. I managed to nod and turned to
the till but the glowy, buzzy bubble effect stayed, swirling
all around us. I zipped through the change clackety-clack,
trying to slow myself down so when I turned to count it
out to him, I could be normal and friendly and there you
go, sir, thank you very much.
But I touched his hand, warm, not cold, not sweaty
either, but warm and alive, counting out the change, and
I lost my calm, efficient self, spilling all the coins and
the bills too. He’d given me a faded red fifty. I looked
up at those eyes, at the laughing spray of lines curving
down the cheekbones, and that easy, kind smile, not the
sneer or smirk most males between fifteen and fifty wear
around here like a bad habit. I swam straight into those
clear, bright eyes. Then I pushed myself away and held
onto the counter with both hands.
“Well, fine eh? Very impressive,” I said, scooping up
the scattered money, my bitten-off fingernails scrabbling
with thin dimes.
“Very,” he said and I felt that soft voice curve right
around the back of me and hold me snug at the hips. My
knees wobbled and one bumped into the corner of something
metal and painful under the counter. I took a big
breath and leaned forward and smiled right back at him.
We just flew at each other, both of us standing stock still.
We wrapped ourselves around each other and flew right
out the door of the Goodland Co-op Bulk Service Centre
on that fine August morning, over his five ton truck, up
into the perfectly blue beyond.
I linger when I daydream over that first time, scene by
scene, my own home movie. Penny Loves Wade, Wade
Loves Penny, a golden banner toted by swarms of happy
little bees, unfurling across the endless blue screen. That’s
how I like to remember us.
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Love and adventure take a front seat
By Kristin Froneman - Vernon Morning Star
Published: October 12, 2010 7:00 PM
Caroline Woodward has been on a few Odysseys during her lifetime.
She’s been a bookseller in the Kootenays, has travelled around this province, and the world, extensively, and has had a previous book of short stories and a novel win literary awards.
The author of the recently released Penny Love Wade, Wade Loves Penny (published by Oolichan Books) is about to set off again –– on a book tour that brings her to the Vernon library Saturday.
The Morning Star caught up with Woodward, who lives and works with her husband, tending the light station on Lennard Island, off the coast of Tofino, just before she left.
1. MS: Your story is sort of an Odyssey B.C. (That’s British Columbia, not before Christ.) And I see some parallels to your own biography – from growing up in the Peace River region to ending up as a lighthouse keeper off the west coast of Vancouver Island. I gather the journey in between has given you so many stories to draw from. What similarities lie between your life and those of your main characters in Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny?
CW: I think of Penny as my doppelganger, the one who stayed in the Peace, started a family at a fairly young age, a community-minded person very tied to the third generation ranch she came to when she was a young bride.
She is a domestic goddess and like her, I love baking bread and making dill pickles and preserves and planning big feasts for friends and family. Whereas, Wade is my inner trucker. He loves the open road, as do I, and likes a variety of landscapes and the novelty of the new; he’s very open to different people and experiences.
I’ve travelled and worked in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Europe, Britain, Cuba and elsewhere in Canada so I certainly share happiness with new adventures. Also, like Penny and Wade, my husband and I have run a business together (The Motherlode Bookstore in New Denver) and now, working in isolated and challenging conditions as light-keepers, we are again working side by side. So I know a thing or two about that kind of intense teamwork experienced by most ranch, farm and business couples.
I also grew up on a homestead in the Peace region, was a 4-H member for eight years with gardening and sewing clubs, rode our horses a lot and did a lot of heavy manual labour so I can write about those kinds of subjects with lived experience behind my words.
2. MS: Anyone who has read (Homer’s) The Odyssey, Mary Renault’s books, or even D’Aulaire’s, knows how in Greek mythology, the hero must usually take a life affirming journey (usually meeting up with some three-headed beast!) And then there are the strong female characters who are either holding up the home-front, or providing some diversion along the way. Can you describe for our readers where your characters fit into these roles? (I especially love your take on the Sirens!)
CW: I had fun with these classic characters and although I hope the story is enjoyable for those who have not read The Odyssey, I think it will reward those who have in much the same way as watching the Coen brothers’ film, O Brother Where Art Thou?, which is yet another retelling of The Odyssey.
Penny, of course, is Penelope, the clever and loyal wife of the wandering Odysseus, who protects his kingdom while he is off for 18 years fighting here and there on the Greek Islands.
Wade means “wanderer” and so I decided that was the right name for my Odysseus, a wanderer who longs for home when he realizes he has gone way, way off track and is in peril.
Some of the roles I adapted for the 21st century in this novel are the Lotus Landers, the dodgy bunch on the west coast island “two ferry rides from Vancouver Island;” Cyclops, the one-eyed giant, is the dangerous leader of a biker gang in the Rock Creek area; Circe, the woman who turned men into swine, is the owner of a thriving business on the outskirts of Kamloops, which offers food, drink, lodging, garages and dubious entertainment to the knights of the road, and so on.
The Sireens are an incredibly good alt. country all-woman band hailing from Smithers, a good music town, and I made two competing garages, each one more of a rip-off than the other, to represent the notorious Clashing Rocks.
I ended up creating two women in the role of Calypso, the healer, and could not resist making one Jamaican. There are also minor characters here and there as well but those are the main ones. And, just as in the original classic by Homer (not Simpson), I made sure there was a faithful dog because I love dogs!
3. MS: Almost every part of this province, including the Okanagan, plays a role in the book –– from inside the pages to outside. Even the jacket cover has a valley connection. Can you tell us about it?
CW: One of my earlier books, Disturbing the Peace, has a wonderful landscape on the cover, which the artist Jim Brennan painted, using photos I’d taken in an airplane over the patchwork quilt fields of the Peace River country, with the river running through it. A dam was added, plus a giant rooster and scientists in lab coats descending in parachutes. So I wanted a cover for this book which reflected the wonderful Peace River landscape because I want to mythologize it, to make understood and beloved, that northern landscape in my novel.
But this is 2010, so my husband Googled “prairie” and “quilt” after hearing me muse out loud about the cover. My character, Penny, is a quilter, not a weaver, like the original Penelope of Ithaca. And what should come up but Marilyn Harris’ marvelous series of paintings called Prairie Quilts.
Fortunately, Marilyn, who now lives and has a studio in Kelowna, was amenable to Oolichan Books adapting the one I chose, Prairie Quilt #2, for my cover. I will finally get to meet Marilyn on my upcoming book tour and it is already one of the highlights for me.
4. MS: Goodland (where Wade and Penny are from) sounds like the land of milk and honey, literally. Describe to us southerners, some of whom grow grapes and apples for a living, what life is like up in the Peace.
CW: The Peace River region was the last major homesteading region in all of Canada, which meant that forested or open prairie land was still available in quarter sections (160 acres) for those hardy souls who were able to “prove” it by fencing and ploughing a certain number of acres annually in order to have a claim to the land.
It also coincided with First Nations being pushed off the good, arable land onto reservations where the land wasn’t as desirable for agriculture. Landless immigrants from war-torn Europe and prairie farmers bankrupted by the drought of the 1930s made the long and arduous trip to the “green and fertile” Peace district.
The Chinook winds through the Pine Pass of the northern Rockies made some winters bearable but generally speaking, the winters in the Peace are dark and bitterly cold. However, come spring and summer, the proximity of the Peace to the Arctic Circle means 20-plus hours of sunlight and the gardens and crops grown on the rich topsoil (class I and II land for the farmers reading this) and sandy loam of the Alberta Plateau are nothing less than astounding.
Zucchinis have “stretch” marks along their sides, scratches from little rocks in the soil due to growing so quickly in this never-ending sunlight.
In the priceless valley lands of the Peace and its tributaries, melons, pumpkins and the entire squash family, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and every other root crop and salad vegetable was and is grown in a micro-climate that is rare in this province.
The early photographs of garden produce displayed on the porches of log cabins are just wonderful and when word of this deep topsoil and productivity began to spread, the settlers began to arrive in droves. Farmers sent prize-winning exhibits of wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, etcetera to the World Fairs and the blue and red ribbons added to the lustre of the Peace as a land which grew all manner of amazing produce.
However, the vagaries of the winter climate, which can go from -32 F to 32 above in 24 hours and back again, then as now, defeated the best intentions of many of those homesteaders. The northern summers are not as searing hot or dry as the Okanagan, which makes it possible to grow vegetables and grain crops without constant irrigation but the northern winters are a test of character.
5. MS: You mentioned you have a children’s picture book on the way, entitled Singing Away the Dark. It’s also based on your roots growing up in the Peace River, but tells of story anyone who has grown up in rural Canada can relate to –– that is walking a long way to catch a bus to school. Do you have romantic notions for rural living, and if you were offered an opportunity to move your family to the city, would you take it, and if not, why?
CW: When I was a young woman in the ‘60s and‘70s, going “back to the land” was a big part of the cultural ethos for many disaffected young and not-so-young people. I had no romantic fantasies of doing anything remotely like that, never mind grinding grain to make bread, barefoot and pregnant in my peasant dress. I was off to travel the world and see the great cities of London and Rome and Delhi. But it’s odd how things come around in one’s life. I grew up on an isolated homestead and loved it but I didn’t want to raise my family like that. I wanted us all to have easy access to school and choir practice and soccer games and music camp.
My idea of perfect living as someone now approaching retirement is to have an apartment in a city for the winter so that I can go to the music concerts and lectures at the universities and galleries and to live theatre and dance, to enjoy all the arts and stimulating people that I appreciate so much. Then, I’d like to live in the wilderness or something near to it for the summer so that I can enjoy camping and kayaking and swimming and being outdoors in the short but sweet season we have of it in Canada. Oh, and resume our rituals of going to the annual summer show at the Caravan Farm Theatre and the IPE and the Hills Garlic Festival, which is actually in New Denver, all classic, quality summer celebrations.
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