Six questions for eight Høstfest authors

These authors will be reading and signing at the nation’s largest Scandinavian festival, but you don’t have to attend to meet them—they were kind enough to answer a few questions for NAW

The questions:
1) What’s your favorite book (by someone other than you) and why? [favorite book]

2) What are you reading now? [current read]

3) What are you working on now? [current WIP]

4) To you, what’s the hardest thing about writing? [challenge]

5) Other than writing, what topic can you geek out about for hours? Tell us in one sentence why it’s so fascinating to you. [geekout]

6) If you’ve been to Høstfest before, what is your favorite thing about it? If not, what are you most looking forward to? [at the fest]

Dean Urdahl


[favorite book] Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. I enjoyed the suspense and his style in writing. But my favorite genre is historical fiction.

[current read] I’m reading Victory at Yorktown by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen.

[current WIP] I’m working on developing a screenplay of one of my books. My next book will be a sequel to my recent book, Three Paths to Glory.

[challenge] Finding the time to do it.

[geekout] I am a Minnesota State Representative. There are many geeky things about the process of governing, but the satisfaction of successfully accomplishing something is great.

[at the fest] I look forward to meeting people and sharing my Norwegian heritage.

Dr. Mary Ellen Erickson


[favorite book] My favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

[current read] I am reading novels by William Kent Krueger at the present time.

[current WIP] I just finished writing an adult novel that will be published in 2016. It’s a mystery called Dontcha Know?

[challenge] The hardest thing about writing for me is marketing my books.

[geekout] I play a lot of Bridge and Texas Hold’em Poker. I like card games because they have thousands of different combinations you need to deal with.

[at the fest] I’ve been at Høstfest many times. My favorite things about Høstfest are the food, the entertainment, and the people.

Ellen Marie Jensen


[favorite book] If I were to choose a novel, then I would likely choose Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, (although “favorites” are always subject to change). I love the narrative power of the shifting between characters’ points of view in each chapter and Morrison’s refusal to paint any character as either inherently good or evil. She does not let anyone off the hook. To do so would be to deny them agency and could even come off as condescending to characters that come from historically oppressed populations. The final passage of A Mercy is absolutely stunning. The words clung to me for days.

[current read] I am reading many texts for my research in Indigenous studies. One that I return to often is Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. The other texts I am reading a lot of are on Indigenous research methodology, philosophy, and theory. I also read a lot about photography and especially the relationship between photography and narrative.

[current WIP] I am working on promoting the book I most recently edited, What We Believe In, as well as reworking my first book-length publication, We Stopped Forgetting, into a new edition. My most important work, however, is my PhD research on narratives of Sámi immigrant women. The narratives or stories in my dissertation will be published in popular, documentary-style book form at some point.

[challenge] The hardest part is just getting started, staying focused, keeping myself sane. I have been known to walk the streets and talk to myself to keep the momentum up and to work through my ideas. That’s when I am in the bubble.

[geekout] I can geek out on painting rooms and remodeling houses. I guess when one is an academic from a blue-collar background, it’s important to get back in touch with the “real world,” to work with one’s body and hands and see some tangible outcome of one’s work. (It’s probably not a cool geeky thing, like being mesmerized by Euclidian geometry or something, but it’s my thing.)

[at the fest] I am looking forward to talking to people, sharing knowledge about the Sámi and Sámi culture with an audience. I love the energy of a festival!

Deb Nelson Gourley


[favorite book] Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie, by O. E. Rolvaag. In 1976, I was the first of my family to return to Norway after 27 of my ancestors immigrated to America during the 1840s and 1850s. I hitchhiked and/or backpacked over 7,000 miles in Norway doing genealogy research along the way. My most heartwarming find was learning that the “Astri Herbrandsdatter 1812” immigrant trunk I rescued at age eight from the burn pile actually belonged to my g-g-g-grandmother. Upon returning to the University of Minnesota I enrolled in a Scandinavian Immigrant Culture class where we read Giants in the Earth and did a term paper. The book cemented my life-long interest in Norwegian Heritage and Culture.

[current read] Norsk Landskap og Norske Menn by Anders Beer Wilse (Wilse Vol 2). Wilse left behind over 200,000 documented photographs of his life’s work: to study and know Norway and its beauty from behind a camera. Earlier this year the Norwegian Post Office released four new postal stamps with images all photographed by Wilse.

[current WIP] A new bilingual English Norwegian book (Wilse Vol 2) Anders Beer Wilse Photography: Norwegian Men and their Country. This follows (Wilse Vol 1) Anders Beer Wilse Photography: Life of a Young Norwegian Pioneer, En Emigrants Ungdomserindringer, which will be available for the first time at Norsk Høstfest.

[challenge] I’m a very technical writer, having worked in research most of my life. Thus I find it almost impossible for myself to write anything other than non-fiction.

[geekout] Genealogy … it helps define not only where you came from and who you are, but where you are going.

[at the fest] This will be my 12th year in the Norsk Høstfest Bookstore. We hardly venture out of the bookstore during the 44 hours (11 hours/day for four days), so I’m looking forward to visiting with lots of old and new friends. Be sure to stop by and say “hello.”

Candace Simar


[favorite book] O. E. Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth. Rolvaag’s work inspired me to investigate the stories of my ancestors and planted seeds for writing their story.

[current read] The Day of the Bonanza by Hiram Drache. My grandparents met on a North Dakota Bonanza Farm—he was the foreman and she was a cook. Someday I plan on writing a historical novel set on a Bonanza farm. I’m squirreling away little tidbits to use in my future project. I’m also reading his books about logging in Northern Minnesota.

[current WIP] I’m finishing a YA novel set in Fort Abercrombie during the 1862 Sioux Uprising, working title Escape to Fort Abercrombie. My Abercrombie Trail Series tells the story of Scandinavian immigrants during the Civil War and Sioux Uprising. Escape to Fort Abercrombie is about three children who must flee across the prairie to find safety during the Indian war.

[challenge] Life intrudes upon my writing time. My best writing happens when I am alone and without distractions. Finding that writing space is my biggest challenge. I frequent Annunciation Monastery in Bismarck as often as I can for private writing retreats.

[geekout] I love history. I like to imagine how history affected the lives of ordinary people. We cannot understand current events until we understand the circumstances that brought us to this place and time.

[at the fest] A friend commented on earlier photos of Høstfest, saying she was jealous of Scandinavians who celebrate their culture. She said that she knows nothing about her Heinz 57 heritage, and wishes she did. We are lucky to celebrate our heritage. I look forward to coming back to do it again.

Lauraine Snelling


[favorite book] This is a hard question because I have many favorites. Today I’ll go with To Kill a Mockingbird. When I first read this I didn’t know much about what was going on in the south, so I learned a lot. Atticus Finch and Scout have stuck in my head all these years. Altogether a great book and I am looking forward to reading the new one.

[current read] I am reading The Harbingers, book 1, by a group of my favorite and much admired writers: Angie Hunt, Frank Perretti, Bill Meyers, and Alton Gansky. I just finished Susan Meisner’s The Girl in the Glass, and the latest book by Louise Penny, one of my two favorite mystery writers, is waiting on my Kindle.

[current WIP] I am working on The Second Half, about grandparents having to raise their grandchildren. And From this Day Forward, book four in the Song of Blessing series, along with all the other promo interviews, and getting ready for Høstfest. Busy? Yes. But all works together for good.

[challenge] It is called the BiC principle: Butt in Chair. I need a ball and chain.

[geekout] My first love is reading; I started that earlier than writing. There is a never-ending supply of new books, old books, and much-loved books to talk about.

[at the fest] This is our 16th year at Høstfest. My greatest delight is always the people I meet. I get to chat with and hug more of my readers there than anywhere else and make lots of new friends too.

Vidar Sundstøl


[favorite book] The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Hard to say in a few words what makes a novel perhaps the best that was ever written. But it has a scope so large that it encompasses the entire concept of being human. And the coolest black cat in the history of literature.

[current read] Mostly Norwegian folklore.

[current WIP] A new series of crime fiction. The first book has just been published, and luckily to some very good reviews. This series will consist of stories taking place today, but against a backdrop of old Norwegian lore and superstition. It’s situated in my home area of Telemark, where this heritage has always been very strong. The first book is called Djevelens gifting (The Devil’s Wedding Ring). It’s about ancient rituals connected with the celebration of midsummer.

[challenge] That it takes up so much of my time. I don’t get enough time with my family or time for reading, traveling, etc. Except for that I love everything about writing.

[geekout] Birds! I’ve been an avid hobby ornithologist since the age of 12. Birds are beautiful and the sheer number of species makes sure the excitement never ends. There is always a chance you might see something very rare.

[at the fest] Meeting interesting people and seeing a part of the U.S. that I’ve not seen before.

Eric Dregni

Dregni Credit-Tate Carlson, Tiger Oak Media

[favorite book] A Confederacy of Dunces has to be my favorite since it is so irreverent and the main character, Ignatius, is so pompous and believable. Very funny.

[current read] I’ve been trying to finish Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Everything, but my brother stole my book.

[current WIP] I’m wrapping up a project that is a cultural history of fishing tentatively called Let’s Go Fishing. I’m also writing a memoir about camp, since I’m the director of one of the Concordia Language Villages.

[challenge] Finding the time! With three little ones at home, a university teaching job, and running a summer camp, I often can’t put two hours together to sit down and write.

[geekout] I’m a bit obsessed with history and politics, so I can read late into the night articles about everything from renaissance Italy to the immigration crisis affecting Europe. I also love to learn new languages and constantly try to improve my Norwegian.

[at the fest] This will be my first time. I like the culture clash of American and Scandinavian habits and the pride that Americans have in their Nordic heritage that Scandinavians often take for granted. What are the cultural touchstones and iconic food that are so important?

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 25, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.