Those of you who know me on a personal level know about my cynicism to most items in the realm of non-fiction and media these days. But on occasion there are non-fiction writers who still inspire me to “get back into the media game.” Candace Savage is one such writer. Her soulful and well-crafted book A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape won the 2012 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. But more importantly, her writing has told many people that the prairies are much more than a flat piece of land.
1) Your website lists over 20 books that you have published. Is there a favourite that you written? How have your books been received overall?
A: Today’s favourite: BORN TO BE A COWGIRL, a book for children. The reception my books has received has varied from hostility to adulation. Sometimes, there’s been little or no reaction, which is worst of all.
2) “A Geography of Blood” won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Did winning the prize bring your writing any new exposure for your writing? Did you gain any new fans or new enemies by winning the prize?
A: Yes, winning a “big” prize definitely raises your profile for a while. The Weston Prize brought new opportunities and a wider readership for sure. But a book is just one side of a conversation. Some people become fans; others don’t. “Enemy” is probably too strong a word, but you only have to look at the online reviews to know that not everyone is impressed. No surprise there: that’s what free speech is all about.
3) Are you working on anything new right now?
A: Yes, but it is still too vaporous to talk about.
4) Who are some of your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
A: Saskatoon, SK, where I live, is rich ground for writers. Within ten minutes of my house, there are novelists (Carpenter, Martel, Kuipers, Vanderhaeghe, Simmie), playwrights (Williams), and poets (Kerr, Philips, Rowley, Legris), just to name a few. Two of my friends — Suzanne North and Brenda Baker — are launching new novels this month, and there’s a reading series held just around the corner from my house. It’s inspiring to sing in the same choir as all these eloquent voices. I’ve just finished reading the last book by another great Saskatchewan writer, Trevor Herriot, a meditation called The Way is How. As part of my current research, I been studying James Pitsula’s new book on the KKK in Saskatchewan, Keeping Canada British, and Diane Payment’s The Free People, Li Gens Libres, a history of Batoche. Next on my list, re-reading Garrett Wilson’s Frontier Farewell. Seem to be keeping my reading close to home at the moment.
5) You have written some children’s books in the past. Did any of those readers grow up to become your fans as they became adults? Did your children’s books have any noticeable influences on young minds?
A: Hard to say. I do know of one family that kept one of my books in their bathroom, for quick reads, and credited it with influencing one son to become a biologist. A young child once wrote to say that I was his second favourite writer, after Stephen King. Pretty high praise, I’d say. Speaking for myself, I know that books I read and loved as a child had a profound influence on my life.
6) You seem to have a presence on some of the social media platforms like Facebook. Does being on those platforms help you with your writing?
A: You’re right: I’m there. But my presence there is haphazard. Mostly I repost brilliant or relevant items that other people have drawn my attention to. I treat Facebook as a public space for promoting information and opinions I think are important.
7) Environmentalism is an important theme for you. Is there anything else beside you do besides writing to promote that cause?
I belong to a lot of environmental organizations, including Nature Saskatchewan, the Saskatoon Nature Society, the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, Public Pastures Public Interest, and the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. I also support the Nature Conservancy of Canada. In addition, I volunteer as the coordinator of Wild about Saskatoon’s NatureCity Festival.
8) Do you participate in any public readings of your works? If yes, what is that experience like for you?
A: Yes, I enjoy reading my work in public. It’s always fun to be in the company of people who love books.
9) Is there anything in particular that inspired you to start writing books?
There was no earth-shattering moment of revelation. I’ve always loved books — family legend has it that booook was my first word — and eventually figured out that I was reasonably good at writing. It all seemed to happen through some kind of natural gravitational pull.
10) Is there any advice you would give to someone who is thinking about writing their own book? Anything that you did when you started out writing that you would do differently if you could?
To write a book, you need both the Big Picture and an infinite number of tiny daubs. First, you need some kind of structure: beginning, middle and end. Inside that framework, you build one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. Every little detail matters. It takes a lot of sitting and a lot of love, but it can be very rewarding if you have time and patience and luck.