For local author Mary Casanova, finding a balance between a full-time national writing career and living a rural life can be a challenge. The award-winning author of 33 books – young adult novels, historical fiction, picture books and books for American Girl – she writes at her home on Rainy Lake in Ranier and her cabin retreat south of International Falls. The locales provide both inspiration and the opportunity to disconnect and take a break from the demands of writing and traveling in support of her research and her six publisher’s demands.
“Even though I’m living my dream-come-true it’s extremely important to be able to take a break from the full-time demands of this. I enjoy being able to go to my cabin and spend time with our three horses, “she said. “I have a quiet existence up north – it’s perfect.”
And, having an airport that provides daily commercial service allows her to stay connected while allowing for a rural lifestyle. “Having an airport here is critical – without it we would have to move.”
Casanova grew up in a large family in St. Paul where appreciation for the outdoors and recreation was a big part of her life. She started writing in high school, and then went on to the University of Minnesota, before moving on to the University of Minnesota – Duluth where she earned a degree in English. While briefly pursuing an MFA, she stumbled upon a course on writing for children and read the Gary Paulsen novel, Hatchet. That set the stage for her to seriously pursue writing. Her love of the Northland became a big component to her writing and grew into her first published novel for young readers, Moose Tracks, and (This is the first one published, right? What year??) a book set in the Northwoods involving moose poachers and a young protagonist caught in the middle.
Her writing was well received and set in motion a number of follow-up books across a variety of genres. She’s been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards including the George Morrison Artist Award, the American Library Association’s “Notable” Award, the Parent’s Choice “Gold” Award, Booklist Editor’s Choice, and two Minnesota Book Awards.
Another opportunity came when Casanova began a relationship with the American Girl franchise and began writing nine books for various American Girl characters. One of the books was set in the south of France, which required her to conduct research there. Research is important to her as she wanted to create believable characters as part of the time and place – as she put it, “you do the research, step on a stage and play the character – they have to be believable”. Her research has taken her to Europe, Norway, and Belize. Several of her books have been turned into movies: HBO produced “Chrissa Stands Strong”; and Universal produced “McKenna Shoots for the Stars” and “Grace Stirs Up Success”, due out on DVD June 23rd and based on Casanova’s three books about Grace.
A highlight of her career was when the “McKenna” film was shot in Winnipeg, only 4 ½ hours north. I drove there, sat beside the director as they filmed the scenes and met the actors. “It was magic!”
What inspires her?
“Starting out with a blank page, not knowing where the story might go is both terrifying and satisfying in the end”, she said.
And while Casanova has drawn from a rich variety of experiences and history, she has also drawn from a very difficult episode from her own community. In her novel “Riot”, she recounts through the eyes of a young boy the violent labor strife between a non-union construction company building a large project in a largely union community that is based on the real events in International Falls in the early 1990’s. It was a difficult period for the community and Casanova had some reservations about publishing it, especially because it could affect her husband’s business as an insurance agent. But he urged her to tell the story. The events also inspired a play written by Jeannette Coloumbe, called “The Mill” which played in International Falls.
She feels appreciated by the local community and frequently has local book signings. She also travels around the country visiting schools, conferences, and bookstores sharing her love of writing.
Her advice to young writers – “Try to write one page a day. Get started and write the story that’s in you.”
Mary is currently working on an historical novel set in 1920’s Koochiching County, a sequel to her book, Frozen. For more information visit Mary’s website, www.marycasanova.com or join her at Facebook.com/mary.casanova.fan.page