Livelong author Lisa Guenther and singer-songwriter Best Kept Secret Girlfriend will be at Crandleberry's in North Battleford Friday to present an evening of prose and music.
Guenther will be reading from her first novel, Friendly Fire, the second place winner in the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild 2013 John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Awards.
Guenther is a writer and agricultural journalist based in northwest Saskatchewan. She’s a staff writer with Grainews and Country Guide and has also contributed to the News-Optimist/Regional Optimist. She is currently the president of the Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation as well its regional association for Saskatchewan.
She and Best Kept Secret Girlfriend, otherwise known as Saskatoon-based singer-songwriter Carmen Loncar, have teamed up to tour western Canada to launch a debut novel and a debut CD, respectively.
Friendly Fire opens at the beginning of summer, as a woman’s body is discovered floating in a lake. Guenther will be reading from the novel Friday evening.
“The idea for this book actually started in a strange way,” says Guenther. “I used to work at Brightsand Regional Park and one of my bosses there mentioned this story about a near drowning ... everyone was OK, but it was just that idea that something really tragic could happen at that lake.”
She says she ended up turning that into a woman being murdered and her body being dumped in that lake.
“So it’s quite different, but that’s how writing works sometimes.”
Once the story got in her head, she had to write it or it would have driven her crazy, she laughs. So her first novel came to be.
Christine Pountney, author of Sweet Jesus and one of the judges for the John V. Hicks Awards says this about Friendly Fire:
“The novel deals with its difficult emotional subject matter with a real straight-forward courage. You feel, in this book, that you are in the hands of someone who intimately knows the world they are describing, and has done so fearlessly and with passion.”
Guenther does indeed know the setting of the book – it’s her home territory.
“I didn’t change any of the place names,” she says, although all the characters are fictional.
“I did put some real horses in there, though,” she laughs.
Despite the inside joke about the horse, the book deals with serious issues.
“I’m kind of a light person most of the time when people talk to me, but [the novel] is really serious,” she says. “It’s about violence against women. That’s something I’ve been concerned with since I was a teenager.”
When you get to that age you become more aware of things happening around you in the world, she says.
“I volunteered at a safe house in Medicine Hat when I was in college,” Guenther adds. “I’ve been following these issues for a long time. But I didn’t set out specifically to write a book about violence against women.”
It evolved as she wrote, she says.
“It makes sense when you think of the issues you’re concerned with.”
About winning an award for her manuscript, she says, “It was really great, because there’s a lot of really great Saskatchewan writers. So for me that was a big honour.”
When it came to getting her novel published, Guenther did her homework, resulting in her novel being accepted by NeWest Press of Edmonton, one of Canada’s first independent literary publishing houses.
“They were actually the first publisher I submitted to, but I did a lot of research beforehand,” says the author. “I read a lot from the independent western Canadian presses so I knew I had a good shot with them, that the book was a good fit for them.”
Founded in 1977, NeWest publishes literary fiction, literary nonfiction, poetry and drama, as well as a line of mystery novels, with a particular interest in books by Western Canadian authors.
NeWest publishes 10 to 12 books each year.
Guenther says the Secret Fire Tour is going well.
“So far it’s been really good. We’ve done one week and the energy and the feedback from the shows has been really good,” she says. “People who have then gone on to read the book have had positive feedback as well, so that’s really nice.”
She admits planning the tour has been stressful, but worth the effort.
“It’s a lot of work and a lot of planning and I kind of find it stressful before, but once we’re on the road you’re just travelling and it’s either going to work or not.”
Her tour partner, alternative country-folk performer Carmen Loncar, actually grew up in the same area, says Guenther.
“She grew up in Turtleford, so I’ve known her for quite a few years. I’d kind of wanted to do something collaboratively but I wasn’t sure what it would be,” she says. “But my main character is a musician and there’s a lot of art in it as well, so I always had that in the back of my mind ... I knew she had a CD that would be coming out this year and we have a lot of themes in common in our work so it worked out really well.”
Guenther and Best Kept Secret Girlfriend will be at Crandleberry’s, 1821 - 100th St., from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday evening.
“We're also doing a raffle for the Battlefords Interval House at our show, as violence against women is an issue we both care deeply about.”
It may be Guenther’s first novel, but it won’t be her last.
“I’ve started on a second one and I certainly hope to keep doing this,” she says.