Joan Soggie talks about her historical fiction and non-fiction books.
Joan Soggie lives and writes in rural Saskatchewan. Her lifelong curiosity about her homeland has led her to explore the native prairie, the centuries-long relationship between the land and First Nations, and her own family’s settler history. The prairie and its creatures are her inspiration. Her family is her joy. She is the author of the non-fiction regional history Looking for Aiktow (2016) and the historical novel Prairie Grass (2020). In Rikka, history and family stories merge in a Norway-to-Canada saga based on the life of one of Saskatchewan’s female pioneers.
Website and social media links:
On Facebook: Looking for Aiktow/Joan Soggiewrites
On bookswelove.com http://bwlpublishing.ca JoanSoggie
On GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com.soggie
What genre do you write?
I write mainly eco-historical fiction and nonfiction that is rooted in my own experience of living in the prairies. This is the land and the people I know best. How prairie people interact with and are shaped by the land is, to me, an endlessly fascinating story. My first published writing was non-fiction and delved into the What, When and Where of our regional history. Prairie Grass, my first historical novel, expands on that theme by exploring the Who and Why of our history. Rikka, my latest novel, is both more personal and more specific. Rikka’s life spans not only different times (mid 1800s to 1920s) but geographically different places (islands in the Norwegian Sea to prairie homestead) and vastly different cultures.
Do your reading choices reflect your writing choices?
I try to write the kind of books I like to read - although my reading choices are much wider than my range of writing! Poetry by Saskatchewan author Carol Rose GoldenEagle, a Jane Austen novel, and an essay by Malcolm Gladwell might all share space on my reading table. Long time favourites are the Narnia Chronicles by C. S. Lewis and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but during these years of covid I have escaped into the historical novels of Ken Follett.
Which type of characters are your favorite to write?
I enjoy drawing characters who reflect qualities I recognize and appreciate in my own friends, family, and acquaintances: integrity, creativity, courage, with a generous dose of idealism often concealed beneath a stoic and impassive demeanor. My favourite characters live close to the land and derive some of their qualities from it. I like characters who do not give up easily or become soured by circumstances. Trying to understand, and to reveal, the how and why of a character’s development is to me the most challenging and most rewarding aspect of writing fiction.
Do pictures, real life or plain imagination create the character you want readers to love?
All three! In Prairie Grass, before ever conceiving of a book, I scrounged through archives and second-hand bookstore for references to an indigenous 19th century Peacemaker whose personality shone through the few dry historical sources I had found. Other characters came about the same way, partly modelled after real people but coming alive in my imagination as I tried to see them through their own or their contemporaries’ eyes. In Rikka, I had a few old photographs showing her at two or three different periods of her life and was struck by the change in her face and bearing. There was little to go on to gain an understanding of her personality, other than the bare facts of her life and a few family stories. Pictures and real life had to be fleshed out with imagination. As she grew along with the story, I became very fond of her. I hope I have portrayed her in a way my readers will love, too.
Do your characters come before or after your plot?
The characters come first. The plot grows out of their lives, their relationships with each other, and their circumstances, constrained and directed by historical facts. I suppose most writers would say the same thing – I come away from a few hours of writing feeling that I have not “made-up” a scene but have simply recorded what inevitably unfolded before my mind’s eye.
How do you choose a villain and how do you make them human?
In my writing, the role of villain is not a person. Instead, the struggle is with external circumstances or with an aspect of a person’s character. The people of my writing are neither consistently villainous nor always heroic. Relationships change; a friend might unexpectedly become a stranger, almost an enemy. I try to portray life as I see it, sometimes messy, often challenging. In Rikka, the “villain” might be a combination of dire events and personality traits rooted in that individual’s environment.
“Rikka remembered her teacher’s words. Spirit needs muscle.
Not only muscle of flesh and bone, she thought, but the muscle of a spirit inured to hardship and suffering. Surely, we have had enough of that to make us strong!”
From a close-knit community on the wave-scoured islands of northern Norway to a wind-swept prairie homestead, Rikka traverses love and loss, joy and sorrow, with passion and determination.
Rikka’s journey takes her across an ocean, a continent, and a lifetime. She plumbs the depths of her own heart and discovers the beauty of life beyond grit and endurance.
This novel is based on the true story of one of Western Canada’s female immigrant pioneers.
On Books2Read: http://books2read.com/
Gabby Mackenzie knows little and cares less about prairie people or their history. She sees her assignment to interview a hundred-year-old settler as nothing more than a bump in her hazy career path.
But as she gets to know old Mr. Tollerud and the land that has been his home, she finds herself drawn into the interwoven stories of the settlers, the Metis, and the First Nations who came before them. And her own life changes.
On Books2Read: http://books2read.com/Prairie-Grass
LOOKING FOR AIKTOW
“First came the land. Then came the people. Elbow’s history grows out of its location.” Just as the water of the Aiktow still flows unseen through the lake, a current from events long past moves through life here today.
From the earliest people who flaked their spear points and fashioned their cooking pots from the clay along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River more than 4,000 years ago, to the people who last launched their kayaks into the waters of Lake Diefenbaker in 2013, this book traces the history and the impact of the people who traveled through and sometimes settled in this increasingly popular area. The look is both personal and up-close, inviting the reader to come along and “see” what others saw before them.