04 January 2009

Guest Blogger: Ryshia Kennie

This week we welcome Ryshia Kennie as she discusses her novel FROM THE DUST, which is set in 1935 Saskatchewan.

He died with liquor on his breath and poison in his soul. On that day Eva Edwards' life changed forever. It's 1935. Eva is young, desperate and newly widowed with a prairie farm, a child and little else.

Tate Prescott Brown comes from Toronto from a life of wealth and privilege, and because he's trained as a veterinarian, he believes that farming is something he understands. So when he inherits a Saskatchewan farm he gets in his coupe and heads for the prairies.

Set against a prairie backdrop and supported by an eclectic and meddling group of local community folk, FROM THE DUST is the touching story of story of a man and woman each struggling between love and independence and misguided feelings of what might be right for the other. Sometimes love can be so...unexpected.

Why did you choose the 1930s?

When I was a child I heard stories about an uncle who was working under the hot prairie sun and accidentally grabbed a jug of gopher poison instead of water and drank it down. It was during the depression and he died horribly leaving a young wife and a daughter alone. While it all happened before I was born, the story was so heart wrenching that I knew one day it would weave itself into a story. So while the story opens with a true scoundrel dying, the inspiration was indeed a tragic love story. A contradictory beginning, I know.

Even without that story I think I would have been drawn to the era. You can't help but think of the depression when you see old abandoned farmhouses and buildings forgotten--rotting under the prairie sun. The only reminder of a family that gave up and fled leaving everything behind.

What else inspired you?

FROM THE DUST was inspired by both a person and a location. The location I chose for was the Qu'Appelle Valley in Saskatchewan, Canada, a beautiful and historic setting that I became very familiar with as a child visiting my Grandmother. The person who inspired the heroine's character was Georgina Binnie-Clark, a pioneer woman who emigrated from England. With no previous experience Georgina took over her brother's land and farmed it, turning it from failure to success.

Did you enjoy the research?

A little too much! There were days I forgot to write and got lost in the pages of what are called "the lost years." The librarians in the Prairie History room were thrilled that someone was taking an interest in volumes of books that were in some instances falling apart from age and disuse. And with a never-ending supply of elderly relatives with more than just a story or two about the depression--let's just say the research could have become the never-ending project.

Wasn't the Great Depression...depressing?

I thought it would be. I assumed that there could have been nothing uplifting about those years and it was a miracle that they survived with their sanity intact. Was I surprised when I set out to interview the people who were children and young adults during those years. The tales of doom and gloom weren't there. Instead most people met my questions with a smile and launched into unexpected stories of fun times, of dances and skating parties, and of star-crossed lovers attempting to elope on a boxcar.

Eloping on a Boxcar?

Yes--it was a true Saskatchewan story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent but a little delving and I soon discovered the young lady's identity. It's hard to keep a secret in a small prairie town. But in the days when young men road the rails across the country looking for work, a young woman fell in love with one of those men and at the age of sixteen she slipped on pants, tucked her hair under a cap and got on that train heading east. The town constable was unsuccessful in retrieving her so her father got in his Model T and used precious gas to find her. He did and brought her home I imagine with a few words of reprimand. So in the end it wasn't a very satisfying love story but one of many good tales of the times if you just take the time to ask.

Is FROM THE DUST typical of your books?

Each book is unique. Like children, they have their own personalities. This was my first. So like all firsts, it will always be special--to me anyway. I like the concept of women overcoming the odds, taking charge of their life, forging ahead in unusual situations. Eva Edwards does just that in FROM THE DUST when she takes charge of a Depression-era farm and faces off against the man who threatens her livelihood. In another story, Claire Linton ends up flying half way across the world to Cambodia to face her demons and meet the man of her dreams. And in yet another, Garrett Cole fights convention to lead an expedition into the Borneo rain forest where things go horribly wrong and the man of her dreams is nothing like she ever imagined. While FROM THE DUST is the only one published right now, the others are pending in the wings.

Will you write another story in an Unusual Historical period?

I would love to write another historical. The less visited periods of history are what I love best. I have a few ideas, beginnings of stories really but right now the tarmac is stacked with a lineup of other projects. But another historical is always at the back of my mind--in the "warming pan" so to speak!

How can readers learn more?

There are a number of ways readers can contact me. Aside from my website, I'm on Myspace and I have a blog entitled Passport to Romance. If you're interested in finding out when new books are available, drop me an e-mail at ryshia@ryshiakennie.com.



Late May 1935
Qu'Appelle District, Saskatchewan

He died with liquor on his breath and poison in his soul. Doc MacPherson claimed that between the alcohol and the arsenic there were enough chemicals in his body to keep him pickled to the second coming.

It was a terrible way to die. Eva wouldn't wish that on anyone, even him. She shivered. The last twelve hours had been awful. She pulled a bobby pin from her hair, rearranged a stray piece and secured it again. She hadn't reacted well. She knew that. She regretted snapping at the child. She regretted a lot of things. None of them could be undone. Like Mr. Edwards, the time was gone, over. The damage had been done.

"He went sudden. That's a blessing," Hans said abruptly like he could read her thoughts.

Her sigh was short as the wagon took that moment to bounce in a rut. The coffin slammed against the wagon rails. Her hand tightened on the rough wooden seat while the other gripped the child's thin arm. The coffin slid across the wagon box and banged against the other side. The wagon rocked. She jarred against Hans.

"Gee up!" Hans flipped the reins and nudged her over on the wooden seat with his elbow.

She glanced over at her old friend and closest neighbor.

"Hans, I can't thank you--"

"Don't be thanking me, girl. This is the least I can do. Should have been me who hammered that coffin together. You shouldn't have--"

She laid gentle fingers over his large knuckled hand. "You've got enough to do without worrying about me, too."

Hans looked skyward. Tension etched his worn face. "You shouldn't have hammered his coffin together." He clucked at the team. "Unseemly."

She swayed as the wagon rocked. The future looked grim. Fear knotted and twisted in her gut. She'd forgotten to look at the sore on the cow's leg. The thought rose unbidden and battled a litany of other chore-related thoughts building in her sleep-deprived mind. She had spent the early morning hours hammering scrap wood into a coffin for Mr. Edwards. Married for four years--in all that time, she had never called him by his first name.



"Ryshia Kennie did an exceptional job describing in detail the climate, economic and social situation of Saskatchewan's rural Qu'Appelle District. The details added depth and a great sense of realism to this story. However, the real magic of From the Dust was the hard won intimacy between Eva and Tate." Simply Romance Reviews

"Ms. Kennie has given her supporting characters very in-depth attributes which is not only lovable but delightfully frank. The plot was so well written, and the people so endearing that it was impossible to not love this book." The Romance Studio

"Kennie writes beautiful descriptions of the prairie. She paints a pretty picture of the wheat fields and surrounding scenery. Within the first pages, a dust storm overtakes our heroes and I could feel the sand stuck in my teeth!" The Long and the Short of It

"A work of depth and genuine sentiment from a Canadian author. Rich in period detail and full of nicely-drawn characters, FROM THE DUST is a solid romance that also has a good deal to offer to those who don't normally read romances." Dan Hays, Statesman Journal


Would you like a copy of FROM THE DUST? If so, try out this little quiz. Be good--try not to google! Answer one of the questions correctly and be entered in a drawing for a free copy.

1. This stick was famous for finding water...
2. These storms were the hallmarks of the dirty thirties...
3. A child of the 30s might do tricks with this wooden toy on a string...
4. This implement was pulled by a horse and prepared the soil for planting...
5. Before Kleenex was available, men might carry one of these...
6. Many clothes were washed on one of these...

I'll draw a winner in one week. Best of luck!