How much research did The Anniversary Waltz take?
I did the research on a need-to-know basis. I began writing the novel based on what I knew of life back in my parents’ day, since I’d heard stories all my life about the era, and then I supplemented the novel with facts as I needed them. For example, if I wanted to make reference to a song of the day, I researched it to make sure it actually existed then. I talked to my mother about working in a dry cleaners, since she worked in one as a young woman, and I incorporated some of my family history throughout the novel to add authenticity.
How did you choose the setting?
I am a product of the Canadian prairies, which is part of the Great Plains of North America. I wanted the novel to be set in a location that I could relate to—with mountains in the west and the plains flowing to the east “like a planted ocean.” I know the climate and the feel of the prairies, and I wanted to stay in familiar territory. Southern Alberta, where I live, is very similar to northern Montana, where the novel is set, and gave the setting a familiar “feel.”
Which character surprised you in The Anniversary Waltz?
The character of Nathan was a big surprise because he kept changing. Originally, he was a rough and tumble town maintenance worker, a brute as well as a bully. He even had a fistfight with Adam. Then he morphed into an assistant to Wil, Elizabeth’s uncle. Finally he became a somewhat cultured banker who had control of the Carlson’s mortgage and got back at Adam financially rather than with his fists. Even though he is a minor character in the novel, he went through the biggest changes. The principal characters (Adam and Elizabeth and their families) remained surprisingly consistent to my vision throughout.
What are the most interesting facts that you learned while researching and writing The Anniversary Waltz?
The idea of the penny auction. During the Great Depression, two hundred thousand farms underwent foreclosure. There was a group of farmers in Nebraska who decided to take matters into their own hands. About one hundred fifty of them showed up at a foreclosure auction being held at the farm of a family by the name of Von Bonn. The family couldn’t repay their loan, so the bank was holding an auction to recover what money they could. As the auctioneer began with a piece of equipment, one of the local farmers opened up with a bid of five cents. When an outsider tried to raise the bid, he was encouraged in a rather physical manner to withdraw his bid. No one else bid on the piece of equipment and so it went for five cents. Item after item went for ridiculously low bids. When the auction was finally over, the bank had made a grand total of five dollars and thirty-five cents. The idea of the penny auction, as they called it, spread like wildfire. Farmers began attending public auctions as a group and crowding around the auctioneer, intimidating rival bidders. In some cases, they set up roadblocks or changed signposts so the public couldn’t attend. They would place outlandishly low bids on everything. If someone tried to raise the bid, they were met with ridicule and sometimes even outright violence from the crowd. By using this strategy, many farmers managed to block foreclosure sales. The bank often ended up making mere pennies on foreclosure sales when they expected to make hundreds if not thousands of dollars.