Writers, sisters share stories of their childhood
Memories of life on the farm were churned up one evening in March as Candace Simar and Angela Foster shared their book, Farm Girls, with over 80 senior citizens at the Brainerd Senior Center.
Candace and Angela are not only writers, they are sisters. Farm Girls, a book of poetry and prose, was released in January by Riverplace Press in Brainerd and is the first book they have written together. They were inspired to do so as they were raised on a farm near Dalton in Otter Tail County in western Minnesota.
“While putting the book together, all things from our childhood came back to us,” Candace shared. “Our parents and grandparents would roll over in their graves if they knew we wrote poems about them.” The book was dedicated to the women’s siblings, Linda, Claudia, and Frank.
Like many other small Scandinavian communities in Minnesota, everyone knew everyone in the Dalton area. “And we are related to half the people in the cemetery, too,” Angela added.
The sisters are proud of their Scandinavian heritage that is reflected in their book, plus photos of their parents, grandparents and themselves on the farm where they were raised, and at times, still long for.
Candace, who lives near Pequot Lakes, has four other published historical novels – Abercrombie Trail, Pomme de Terre, Birdie, and Blooming Prairie. She loves to read historical fiction but never dreamed she would be writing about it.
“In 2000 I discovered that my great-grandfather (Evan Jacobson) had driven a stagecoach to Fort Abercrombie in the years directly after the 1862 Sioux Uprising. My son challenged me to write a book about it. I couldn’t back down,” she said.
Growing up on a dairy farm, she enjoyed listening to her grandparents who emigrated from Norway and lived upstairs of the large farm house. They told many stories including dust storms, passenger pigeons and the hardships of starting a new life in a new land.
“The names of my characters are mostly family names and lots of family stories are tucked into my characters’ lives,” Candace added.
Once her first book, Abercrombie Trail, was completed, she rewrote it twelve times and it was rejected by publishers 48 times during a nine-year period. While she waited for acceptance, she continued to write the two other novels as a continuing story with the same characters.
While working on Pomme de Terre, she took it to a Master Novel Class in New Mexico where she was told to write the book from the point of view of the Dakota Indians in addition to the immigrants. With a few other changes, Candace’s goal was reached.
“The publisher accepted all three books. Perseverance paid off,” she said proudly. Shortly after, Candace had a dream which inspired her to write Blooming Prairie, the fourth novel in the series.
She also writes poetry and has attended many workshops to improve her writing technique thanks to grants from the Five Wings Art Council. “I always wanted to write, but I knew farmers, not writers,” Candace shared. “I never knew the process and all the work it takes to write so the workshops have been a great help to me.”
She added that her father wanted her to be a nurse. “I was a very compliant child and so I became a nurse.” She worked as a RN for 30 years including at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Brainerd, Good Samaritan and Good Neighbor Home Care.
Candace noted that nursing is a great source to help her in her writings as she writes graphically about illness and injury in her books.
She also journals every day on her computer and estimates she journals half a million words a year, which includes all her prayers.
“I journal the first thing every day, and then I can do my other writing,” she said. “I believe my best writing is yet to come.”
Candace also enjoys inspirational writing. She sends out a free weekly devotional, Sweet Honey from the Rock. Her writings can be found in the Christian Online Magazine, The Spirit-Led Writer, The Seed Sower, Living Each Day, and other sites online.
She is currently working on a book of short stories about the dairy farms in 1946 that will be fiction but actual history of dairy farms during that time. For a future book, she is researching information about logging camps in northern Minnesota and the bonanza farms that were started in the Red River Valley during the 1870s.
Candace has received various writing awards but says “her claim to fame” is having received first, second and third place in the Hackensack Art Fair poetry contest in which she was the only entrant.
She and her husband, Keith, have three grown children and five grandchildren. She speaks at many libraries, historical museums, civic organizations, schools, churches, and also many book clubs where her books have been read. She admits it’s been a lot of work but she said she has to do it to get her name out there. Keith usually accompanies his wife on her travels and helps to pack and carry the books.
“It’s been a real adventure!” Candace laughed.
Angela and her sister agree that they both have a good work ethic from being raised on a farm, having to milk cows every day and other chores. Today, Angela and her husband, Tom, live on a farm north of Pine City where they once raised beef cattle. Speaking from experience, she said, “I refused to have dairy cows as I knew how tied down we would be.”
Farm Girls is the first book that Angela, the youngest child in the family, has authored. As a poet, she has had many of her poems printed in various literary magazines. She prefers narrative poetry, one of over 50 types of poetry.
She is also a memoirist, a person who writes short stories of moments in their life but not their entire life, and she teaches classes on writing memoirs at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, the largest literary center in the U.S. In September, she will teach a memoir class at the Madeline Island School of the Arts in Wisconsin.
Angela and Tom owned a sporting goods store for 20 years while they raised their four sons. They now enjoy three grandchildren “I liked writing but I didn’t have the time while we owned the store where I did everything from cleaning the toilet to selling guns,” she remembered. After the store was sold, she finally had time to pursue her passion with encouragement from Candace.
At the age of 52 she earned her master’s degree in creative nonfiction from Pine Manor College in Boston, Mass. Over a two-year period, she went to Boston twice a year for 10 days to take classes and completed the remainder of her studies via email with a professor.
She has received many awards for her writings including the Carol Bly Award in Creative Nonfiction from Bemidji State University in 2004 and 2006. A memoir, Brat, was performed by the Petaluma Readers Theatre in California.
She wrote a haiku that was chosen for “Poetry on the Sidewalk” at the new library in Pine City. Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that has three lines and does not rhyme. The first and last lines have five syllables and the middle line has seven.
In 2010, Angela brought home the grand prize hand-carved oak chair and the title “Bard” from the annual Cambria Eisteddfod Poetry Festival in New Ulm. And yet another honor bestowed on her was the “Pie Poet Laureate” for Braham Pie Days and she has an “apron to prove it.”
Her current works are memoirs on her years as a teenager and also life with her mother and father. She would like to start writing fiction. Angela’s success has been achieved in part with grants from the Eastern Central Arts Council.
The two writers do not talk with each other about the current projects they are working on, but rather wait until their creations are completed. Once the writing is finished, they will read and critique each other’s work, but believe their writing style is very similar. Each writer has a website: Angela’s is www.angelaffoster.com and Candace’s is www.candacesimar.com.
While working on new books, memoirs and poetry, Angela and Candace are also out promoting and selling their new book.
“I never thought that we would be doing this,” concluded Candace, “writing a book together and speaking in public.” The farm girls will continue on their mission and share stories from their book . . . “Uncle Louie almost always hit the coffee can spittoon with a perfectly aimed stream” “We don’t pop the clutch on the tractor”. “We know the thrill of Olly Olly Oxen Free and the click of fireflies in canning jars.”
They also included in their book that maybe someday they will be sitting on Oprah’s couch, and the TV mogul will ask, “Where did you farm girls find such talent?”