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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Swan Bonnet Herstory

*Goodreads giveaway for 2 copies of The Swan Bonnet ends June 2*  
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We tend to absorb the history of our environment   As it was for many, Alaska was romantic to me as a frontier, romantic while living in the city.  Of a sudden someone would leave Minneapolis for Alaska.  My brother went there to do legal work after he had worked with Indian Legal Aid in Duluth.   While he was on the south coast, I  thought of moving.  I read up on the state and became caught up in its history.   The issues about swans in Alaska and their near extinction in the United States sidetracked me into reading more about that subject.  Soon I was thinking about settings and planning a story.

Image courtesy of Matt Banks

Image courtesy of  worradmu

Learning about Alaska was like learning grammar through a foreign language.  I've never read a history book about Minnesota though I have Midwestern ancestry going back to the mid-1800s.   Mining hopes in Alaska were very similar to those on Minnesota's Iron Range in the early 20th century.  The influx of people in Northern Minnesota had similarities to Alaska’s new population.  Sometimes they were the same people.  Like Alaska, the fur trade began Minnesota history.  I'd heard much about the 1920s on the Iron Range from my mother.  Boomtowns and sudden wealth mapped the region. 

After being fascinated with two books of Alaskan history, I researched swans.  I read how warehouses with thousands of swan pelts were discovered, more than 10,000 at a time.   Eventually hunting laws were enforced and a positive environmental chronicle was documented.  I began my Alaska story as a shorter fiction about an Irish immigrant couple who bought shore property where swans migrated.  But soon the story led to a coastal town and characters emerged.

When I thought of the swans being killed in masses, I knew that few women were part of such a money-making venture.  How much did women help such an environmental campaign in a lone setting when a particular species were illegal to hunt?  It is known how women responded to Prohibition then.

I posted the book at in 2009 while I began to re-work the historical detail.  (The link will take you to the book's page where you can read its HarperCollins Editor's Desk review and the Authonomy reader comments.)  I was afraid the swan hat would seem far-fetched.   But it wasn't, historically.  The West established its own dress.  I actually hadn't seen Chaplin's The Gold Rush and later, when I watched the VHS, the women's fur hats were part of the entertainment.

Not until I was rewriting the book as Young Adult did I realize the inspiration for the swan hat.  Of course, it was meant to be the white hat of the western.  But I remembered from my grade school years the pheasant pelts one of my brothers brought home after hunting.  He hung the pheasant pelts on the wall of his room and then in the basement.  These pelts fit neatly on the head so that, with my friends, I wore a pheasant hat - until my mother found out and scared us about lice.  There is method to storytelling, after all.  

The Swan Bonnet tab at this blog provides links to sites where the book can be sampled and purchased.

Image courtesy of  Nixxphotography