Monday, April 16, 2012

Michigander Monday: Brenda K. Marshall

I'm pleased to welcome Brenda K. Marshall to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Brenda, please tell us a little about yourself.

Brenda:  I’m a native North Dakotan who has lived in ten different states.  I moved to Michigan in 1995.  I teach part-time in the Department of English at the University of Michigan, which leaves time for writing.  Growing up on the northern plains I came to enjoy (if not need) a good deal of space around me to be happy, so I am lucky to have made a home outside of Ann Arbor where I can garden, ride my horses, practice my (not great) woodworking skills, and enjoy the natural beauty that Michigan has to offer.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your books.

Brenda:  My most recent novel, Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For, is literary historical fiction set in late-nineteenth-century Dakota Territory.  It is a tale of desire and ambition in which the lives and schemes of frontier politicians, railroad executives, “bonanza” famers and homesteaders weave a background tapestry to the central story of an emotionally complex young woman, Frances Bingham.  Frances is seduced by the myths of opportunity driving the settlement of Dakota Territory, and dares to dream of a new world in which to realize her unconventional desires.  Providing a counterpoint to the dramatic risks taken by Frances is the generous voice of Kirsten Knudson, the daughter of Norwegian homesteaders.  As Kirsten grows from a voluble girl to a formidable woman, her observations (equal parts absurdity and insight) reveal the heart of the novel.

Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For is the result of several years of research and writing.  There are some wonderful historical photographs, along with videos and maps, and reviews and interviews on my website:
Dakota received a 2011 Silver Medal for Best Regional Fiction: Mid-West from Independent Publisher Awards, and was a 2011 High Plains Book Awards finalist.  The cover art for Dakota, by award-winning scratchboard artist, Scott McKowen, was recently chosen for display at the Society of Illustrators (juried) annual exhibition in New York.  Scott McKowen also produced (with photographer David Cooper) the book “trailer” for Dakota:

My first novel, Mavis (Fawcett-Columbine/Ballantine, 1996), is about five adult sisters who come together in response to a family trauma.  Buried secrets and dangerous emotions are exposed, revealing truths that are both harrowing and redemptive.

I also have a book of scholarship, Teaching the Postmodern: Fiction and Theory (Routledge, 1992).

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Brenda:  I am at work on another novel, but I am never very comfortable talking about a work-in-progress.  I suppose that’s my North Dakotan reticence in evidence.  But I love talking about the books that are finished and have enjoyed meeting with several book clubs, either in person, or via Skype.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?

Brenda:  I like Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor.  I am lucky to be at the University of Michigan, and to have access to the amazing libraries there.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Brenda:  After only seventeen years in Michigan, I feel like I still have so much to discover.  I always enjoy a good hike in the Waterloo State Recreation Area and the Pinckney Reservation Area.  A camping trip throughout the UP was a highlight, and I have loved my visits (thanks to generous friends) on Lake Michigan.  Canoeing on the local River Raisin is always fun. But honestly, my favorite place in the state to admire the natural beauty and the wildlife is my patio.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Brenda:  Before I moved here I had no idea of the geographical diversity of Michigan, and of the recreational opportunities that diversity makes possible.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of this state each year.

Debbie:  Last question:  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Brenda:  I suppose that since this post is showing up on “Michigander Monday” I’m getting a prompt here, but I think I’ll follow the wise lead of some of your other guests and bow out of this question.  I love living here, but the truth is, if I live to be a hundred years old, I’ll still think of myself as a North Dakotan.

Debbie:  I'm adding a new column to the tally!  Brenda, thank you so much for being here today.

To learn more about Brenda and her books, stop by her website and her blog.  And be sure to check out the book trailer for Dakota, over on YouTube.

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