Friday, March 26, 2010

Guest Post: Dianne Warren, author of "Cool Water"

I am so pleased to welcome Dianne Warren, author of the recently released Cool Water to The Book Chick! If you missed my review yesterday, here it is. I was so pleasantly surprised how Warren managed to make a book about a small town in Saskatchewan so darned interesting! I couldn't stop reading, and am busy recommending it to everyone. Today Dianne Warren guest posts about her inspirations for Cool Water:

"In the original manuscript of my story collection Bad Luck Dog was a story called Desert Dwellers. Before Bad Luck Dog was even accepted for publication, I pulled it out of the collection because the story didn’t do the subject matter justice. It was about a young man who mends a broken heart by moving into a tent in the sand hills. It was kind of funny, but slight. I’d felt as though I had put him on a huge stage without giving him anything important to say.

About the same time I was working on another story about a woman who couldn’t make herself do right by the many tubs of green beans waiting to be processed and put in the freezer for winter. She became a symbol for me of a modern woman still feeling the domestic responsibilities of wives of the past. These two characters became Lee and Vicki in Cool Water.

Another important starting point was the stereotype of “hardy, desert people” that I found in a series of old books much like the books Lee reads in the novel. The articles that caught my interest in particular were ones written about desert nomads such as the Bedouin. It struck me that the descriptions were similar to a stereotype applied to the homesteaders that came west in the early 20th century. The difference is that the homesteaders’ ideal lifestyle was the opposite of nomadic, and that land more suitable to a nomadic people (as were the Cree) was being ploughed up for permanent residency.

In the earlier drafts of the novel, I struggled with the element of time. I had the subplot about the Arab horse in mind, and I knew how I wanted to story to end, but where should it start? How much time should pass between the horse wandering into Lee’s yard and the end of the novel? It was such a relief to me when I realized that not much time had to pass at all and I could put the novel into hours rather than years. This is life a hundred years on from the open range era, a look at the promise of the Dominion Land Act.

When I was fairly close to completing a draft of the novel, I was still not satisfied with the exact starting point. I had the story beginning with Lee hearing the sound of spirit horses, but I felt as though there was no context for the “spirits”. There were the two old horses of Lee’s childhood but they didn’t go back far enough. I think the idea of the 100 mile horse race came to me because I have a friend who is an endurance rider and had been to the famous Tevis Cup race. Once the story of the old cowboy race came to me, the parallel story surfaced with Lee riding the same hundred miles a hundred years later. It offered me a way to include the time frame and the historic context for the present.

There’s also the song “Cool Water” that features in the title and provided some inspiration. I still have my dad’s green vinyl 45 record of the Sons of the Pioneers singing Cool Water. It’s such an evocative song about the desperation of a man searching for water and to me reflected the struggles of people transforming an arid environment into an agrarian one. Grass into wheat. That song was in my head from the time Lee first rode out into the hills.

And of course horses were an inspiration. Horses are so much a part of the settlement history of the west, both the draft horses that pulled ploughs and the ranch horses used to work cattle. The Arab horse in Cool Water is neither of these but Arab horses are distance horses built, as the endurance riders say, like radiators. I wanted this mystery horse to be suited to the desert-like landscape into which Lee takes him.

The land in southwestern Saskatchewan is arid and there are sandhills that look desert-like. They’re very beautiful and very fragile. Their fragility and the impermanence of a sandy landscape offered me a metaphor for the impermanence of any way of life, and the false notion that any piece of land can be “owned” and used by people the same way forever, and passed on within the same family forever. The novel came to be about change. It’s not intended to be a eulogy to my ancestors or a lament for a way of life. I hope it’s a realistic examination of a place that I know and love."


  1. Great post -- and I love that the novel is set in a place that's so wholly unfamiliar to me. Definitely want to get my hands on Ms. Warren's novel sometime soon!

  2. I've got this posted over at Win a Book for you :)