At the height of the Great Depression, Faunce Ridge, a tiny village on the Minnesota-Canadian border, is declared a rural slum by Roosevelt’s New Deal government. Hometown boy Emil Rousseau is sent to photograph the poverty of his childhood neighbors to sell Congress on resettlement. Told from the perspective of Emil, his childhood sweetheart Rose, madam Sadie and bootlegger Magnus, Hand Me Down My Walking Cane speaks to the mystical pull of this harsh and beautiful place while bringing to vivid life the history of the borderland.
Absolutely thrilled to spotlight fellow Baudette girl, Carla Hagen. Here award winning, historical fiction novel, ( a novel I have read and enjoyed), is rich with Minnesota history and the hearts of early settlers of the area. I am honored to host Carla on my site, and looked forward to her interview! Read on to find out more about this midwestern treasure of an author!
1. What can we expect from you this year?
A finished draft of a second book, a sequel to Hand Me Down My Walking Cane. It begins in the fall of 1936, when most of the residents of Faunce Ridge have moved. The ones who remain are very dug in; they will resist the relocation. In the meantime, the characters not living there take up the threads of their life. Everyone had to face significant changes in the first book, and those changes play out in a variety of ways in the sequel.
2. What genre do you like to write? What genre is your favorite to read?
I usually write prose, although the occasional poem arises, usually in times of strong emotion. Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, and many other great novels, says, “Poetry happens.” In terms of prose, I write both fiction and memoir/essay. I think of fiction as a long timeline and memoir/essay as points along the way. Much of the latter feeds my monthly blog and often nurtures my fiction. I read mainly prose, both fiction and nonfiction, with some poetry, which always inspires me.
3. Where do you get your ideas?
From the world! Which of course, is way too general. I am inspired by other writers, by the fresh way they see things. Nature inspires me a great deal. I live in the city but grew up in Lake of the Woods County, one of the most remote parts of Minnesota. I notice small things, especially now in spring: rhubarb pushing up like a small red fist out of the ground; the smell of moss; the way the air feels like silk some days. I also get ideas from things I observe and hear on the bus, in court–in my day job, I am a DA for Hennepin County in Minneapolis–and on the streets. I always carry a small notebook and a pen. I feel naked without them.
4. What was the best thing ever said to you about your work?
Many people have told me that place in my work is so strong that it is a character in its own right. I am in love with place, and that feels very true to me. Michael Collier, a fine poet and the director of Breadloaf, a longtime writer retreat, told me I was writing a quirky novel. He meant it as a compliment. He recommended similar, slightly-off writers. I felt I’d been given the green light to keep writing eccentric and weird characters.
5. Do you have a system to writing? Favorite place? Time? Music playing? Quiet? Food/Drink?
I arise very early in the morning, fix myself a big espresso and sit down at a big desk in the foyer which serves as my office. It has built-in bookcases and windows that face our street. No music. Bird, wind, natural sounds are fine, but aside from them, I need quiet to hear my thoughts.
Do you have people read your book before submitting it? Or do you keep it a secret?
I have been part of a writing group for nearly 20 years. There’s no way I would ever submit a book until they had seen the first draft and the revisions. They are amazing women who work in prose, poetry and memoir, and their feedback is priceless. Also, my husband–a poet himself and an avid reader–sees all or most of my drafts. He often has valuable insights on masculine point of view.
Who is your favorite character and why?
You’ve heard all the old cliches about how it’s like choosing a favorite child. That’s true up to a point. But I have to say that Sadie is my favorite. She’s been with me the longest, and I can relate to her hiding her deepest emotions behind a tough exterior.
What is the hardest thing to write? Setting/Character Development/ Climax or Intense Scenes…
I think character development is the toughest and maybe the most important. I view my work as character-driven, so if the characters aren’t right, everything else suffers. I know I’m on the right track if my characters are guiding me, if I’m no longer trying to force them into some plot idea that really doesn’t work for them.
Name some of your favorite authors or people who influence your writing.
I spent many years living in Mexico and studying Latin American and Spanish writers, so I am very steeped in the work of novelists Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude), Roberto Bolaño, Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate), Angeles Mastretta (Lovesick) who really gets female characters, and Paco Ignacio Taibo II whose sense of place is so strong it becomes another character. All of these writers are translated into English. From the United States: Louise Erdrich, Hemingway, Michael Crummey (Galore), Steve Thayer and George Orwell (Homage to Catalonia).
What other hobbies do you have besides writing?
Movement is my main therapy/ hobby. I swim, bike, walk, do yoga and Pilates and a little ballet. I love to travel, especially in Spanish-speaking countries. I read a lot and do Sudokus to relax my mind.
Who is your favorite author? Favorite book?
I think it’s still García Márquez and One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read it whenever I go through a major life transition.
Is there anything else you want readers to know about you or your books?
I have a lot of stories in me, and my goal is to live long enough to tell all of them.
Carla Hagen received her MFA in writing in 2002 from Hamline University, where she was an editor of Water-Stone. Her final work was nominated for Outstanding Fiction Thesis. She was a fiction winner in the Loft Mentor Series in 1999-2000 and placed second in the 2000 Minnesota Voices for the Land essay contest. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, anthologies and online. Her debut novel, Hand Me Down My Walking Cane, won two 2012 Midwest Independent Publishers Association awards for Best Historical Fiction and Best Literary Fiction. Northern Minnesota, where she grew up, and Latin America, where she came of age, inform most of her writing. She is a Senior Attorney with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and lives with her husband in St. Paul, where she is working on her second novel.