Advertisement. Click on the ad for more information.
Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Mary Casanova

Tiny House, Cozy Cabin

A few months ago, my husband and I sold our home of 30 years and decided to live full-time in our cozy cabin in the woods. We left behind greater square footage, a quaint and sometimes bustling village on the waterfront, and a home with lots of family memories.

But it was time for a change.

Time for more simplicity.

Ever since our kids left home, we’d been juggling life between our house and cabin, leaving us feeling fragmented and burdened. Something had to go. The decision wasn’t easy. A comfortable, well-appointed and spacious home? Or a tiny house / cozy cabin with a spacious outdoors? We opted for less house, more nature.

Mary Casanova cabin

On these 60 acres, the aspen and maple have nearly shed all their leaves. Winter is coming, and we heat our cabin with hand-split fire wood in our woodstove. Mornings start with coffee by the crackling fire, then we head out to feed three horses, clean stalls and paddock, gather eggs, and hike with our dogs to the river.

After breakfast, I like to tidy up my home before getting to my writing desk, which is in the loft. In a tiny space, cleaning takes minutes. Of course, moving into this smaller home first meant downsizing our possessions. We went on a crusade to rid our lives of clutter. We donated, trashed, recycled, and gifted away everything we could.

With less to manage and maintain, we lower our stress and free up more space for things that matter to us.

The cabin’s cooling a bit as I write this.

Time to stoke the fire and grab a good book.


Babies and Puppies

Mary Casanova's granddaughterWhat, really, can be more life-affirming than a beautiful baby or cuddly puppies? On June 26th, both arrived in our lives. One baby—our first grandchild, Olivia—born to our son and Korean daughter-in-law. We received the news via FaceTime from Seoul, South Korea. Though they had Broadway related jobs in NYC, they opted to move to Korea for awhile where they would have more time to work at becoming a family.

Hours after we received the news about our rosebud grandbaby, two 8 month old puppies arrived on our doorstep. Literally. The owners drove them to us, just to see if they might interest us and possibly work out. But how can you say “no” to pleading puppy eyes? Though their owners loved these pups, their two sons with autism were not treating them well. They urgently needed to be re-homed. Could we refuse? We couldn’t. And didn’t.

Not long ago, we had three dogs, but lost two of them to old age at 14 and 16. We were down to one dog, Mattie, who is 10½. I had been keeping my eyes open for one puppy. I wasn’t planning on two.

Mary Casanova's new puppies

So here we are, our lives enriched with photos, updates, and knowledge of our precious grandbaby. At some point we will board a plane, go visit, and hold her in our arms. In the meantime, two new puppies keep asking for attention—and I’m more than willing to cuddle and snuggle. After all, what’s life about, if not babies and puppies?


Unexpected Visitors

Mary Casanova horses

The Casanova horses (l to r): Midnight, Sable, and Ginger

As writers, we learn to expect the unexpected and be ready to capture experiences in words. One such moment stands out from this past winter for me.

My husband and I were sleeping in our cabin loft, on 60 acres where we keep our horses. I woke at 3 am to crunching snow below our window. I sat upright, wondering what sort of late night intruder it could be. An escaped convict heading north to Canada? Our three horses? Had they escaped from their pasture? No. We had tucked them in the barn in warm stalls due to 30 below temps outside that night. That left a moose. Or two. The crunching of snow continued. I crept to my window and gazed down at the entry steps.

Three dark rumps of … horses! But they couldn’t be ours. I woke my husband. We threw on boots, jackets, hats and gloves. The moment we stepped outside, we caught the sight of not three, but seven horses as they trotted off through the woods under a star-sprinkled sky. The air, deep cold, turned the sound of hoofbeats into drumbeats as the herd trotted off down the county road.

Now what? We couldn’t let horses disappear into the night without trying to rescue them. We’d woken more than once to the blood-chilling howls of a wolf pack. Other times the shrieking cries of coyotes. Riskier still was for the horses to continue down the county road, which joined up eventually with a busier highway. The horses, we started piecing together, must have escaped from our friends’ ranch in the other direction.

From our barn we hastily gathered halters, lead ropes, and a bucket of sweet-feed: a mixture of oats, corn, and molasses. In our Ram pickup, we set off. A mile and a half later, our headlights caught the startled eyes of horses to either side of the road. Charlie slowed to a stop.

I hopped out, sat on the metal tailgate, and shook the bucket of oats. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. The horses ears pivoted toward the sound and they nickered. Though skittish in the truck’s white beam, the horses zeroed in on the bucket. “Go!” I called, knowing that one bucket and seven horses could turn dangerous.

Charlie turned the truck back toward our barn and paddock, all seven horses trotting along, jostling to get closer to the bucket. A tailgate in 30 below zero is dangerously cold without long underwear or snow pants. I’d dressed in a hurry. Now I worried my skin would freeze through my jeans to the metal. Orion and the Milky Way looked down as we turned into our driveway toward our barn.

I hopped off the tailgate, hurrying with the bucket toward the red metal gate and unlocked it. Gate wide, I scattered oats on the snow-covered ground and dashed out of the way. The horses squealed and whinnied, circled and kicked in competition for the grain. When the last horse entered, I shut the gate, then I threw them extra hay bales from the hay shed.

Horses with heavy winter coats do survive cold, as long as they have plenty of feed. Without a wind, the horses would be safe until morning. We left a message on the answering machine of our neighbors, who would wake up to an empty pasture and come retrieve their horses. Satisfied with our good deed, we returned to the warmth of our bed, feeling like true wranglers.

That night’s rescue still feels like an unexpected dream. Fortunately, when we awoke to runaway horses we were prepared with oats, equipment, and a place to contain them. To our relief, in this harsh northern landscape, it all ended well.

As writers, we need to be equally prepared to capture unexpected ideas. We need to lasso them with pen and notebook paper, napkin, or grocery bag—whatever’s on hand. Lure them in with a quick note on an iPhone. Sit down at a laptop or computer and start typing. We need to take swift action and capture unexpected ideas when they pass our way. Or risk losing them forever..


Mary Casanova: Cultivating Quiet

by Mary Casanova

bk_WeltyEudora Welty wrote in One-Writer’s Beginnings: “Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories.”

The more I write, the more I find that writing is about listening to stories that need to be told. Listening at a deeply intuitive level, however, demands shutting out a frenetic world in favor of a quieter life—one that supports and nurtures creativity—and writing.

Several decades ago, my husband and I left St. Paul for life on the Northern Minnesota border. We were both drawn—then and now—to a quiet, contemplative life. These days, we spend plenty of time at our cabin reading by the woodstove or hiking through the woods. Living “Up North” has meant less time in traffic, less city noise, and more time to gaze up at stars and listen . . . sometimes to a chorus of spring peepers, other times to a distant pack of howling wolves.

It would seem my environment is perfect for writing. It mostly is—when I’m home.

bk_FrozenThe reality of being a full time author means leading a dual life: one is an intuitive, introverted life of writing and the other is a performance-based, extroverted world of speaking and meeting the public. Speaking, touring, and social media are all important means of staying connected with readers, but none of those activities translate into writing time.

Some authors write on the road. Some don’t. I’m one of the latter. After presenting all day at a school or conference, I’m spent. I can return to my hotel room and tinker with revisions. I can jot down bits and pieces of ideas. But I do my real writing when I return home and sink into four-hour blocks of uninterrupted quiet.

That’s one kind of quiet necessary to the actual work of writing. The other kind of quiet comes by listening to the subconscious. When I’m not at my computer, for instance, I’m carrying stories in my head as I bake in the kitchen, gather eggs from our chickens, or clean out horse stalls.

bk_graceThere’s also something magical about that quiet time in the early hours of morning, just between first stirring and becoming fully awake. I’ve learned to cultivate an extra 10 minutes in bed to “listen” to where my story needs to go next. I often get the answers to questions I have about a current work-in-progress.

Of course, whether in the city or the country, life doesn’t always offer easy stretches of quiet. You often have to seek it. When our two children were little, quiet was hard to come by. I carved out time. I wrote during their naps and started going on writing retreats. When our kids  became teenagers and our home was filled with their garage-band friends and electric guitars, I found a small studio to escape to. I learned early on that if I didn’t value my writing needs, no one else would either. And the past few years, I’ve needed to forgo days of writing time to help care for my 86-year old mother who has Alzheimer’s. What matters is not waiting “for the kids to go to college,” as I’ve heard more than once, or “when I retire” but to claim uninterrupted blocks of writing time wherever life finds you.

More than ever, in a hyper-paced world, writers need to cultivate quiet to hear the whispers of story within.


Skinny Dip with Mary Casanova

Grace coverWhat keeps you up at night?

I have two kinds of sleepers in me: 1) the one who sleeps soundly from the moment my head hits the pillow until morning and 2) the restless non-sleeper (usually hormone induced) who keeps an ear open for the cat, Apollo, meowing at the door; who hears one of our three dogs—Kito, Sam, or Mattie—every time they get up to lap at the water bowl, which I imagine must be getting low and so I climb from under my covers to go check; the sleeper whose mind starts whipping through a “rolodex of worries” or possible story ideas (I have a one-word mantra I use to stop the whirring and it’s SLEEP); and the sleeper with restless legs syndrome, which feels exactly like worms crawling in my legs until I move them around, or as I’ve discovered, get up and do ten minutes of stretching. Sleeper #2 needs three cups of strong coffee to get going in the morning.

What is your proudest career moment?

One Dog coverOh, there have been many moving, humbling, amazing experiences with fans. But just recently, at an elementary school in Duluth, Minnesota I had another. I’d picked kids to come up and help act out One-Dog Canoe in front of the audience with a laminated red paper canoe and puppets. As we neared the end of the skit, one boy who hadn’t been selected, barreled up unexpectedly, seized the microphone from my hand, and shouted into it “Can I come, too?!!!” I was surprised, but before I knew it he ran off as an adult made a dash for him. Turned out, he was a boy with autism who rarely tuned in to what was going on around him. But from the back of the auditorium, he’d become fully engaged in the story and skit and wanted to be part of it. As the teacher said, “You connected with him and he was right there with you!”

Describe your most favorite pair of pajamas ever.

Two years ago I ordered pajamas for myself for Christmas from BedHead. Pricey. More than the cheap pj’s I had always settled for. The red, gray, and light blue paisley pattern has faded (they were pretty wild at first), but from the start, they’ve been soft and comfy and welcoming. Pajamas should say “Ahhh.” These do.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Because I love horses (we own three: Sable, Ginger, and Midnight,) I’d definitely do an equine event. And if I knew I’d win gold and not break my neck, I’d go for three-day eventing, which involves cross-country jumping, dressage, and stadium jumping. Short of that, I’ll have to settle for occasional 3-day horse-camping trips, trail-riding, and riding at a friend’s indoor arena, just a few miles down the road.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

bk_Dick_JaneThe bravest thing? I wrote a first novel and finished the draft. And second, once published, I braved my deep and profound fear of speaking. Only by speaking countless times, over and over and over, did I gradually overcome the clenched stomach, visible shaking, and sense of impending death. I told myself, “Do this for your books. It won’t kill you, even if it feels like it will.” And now, to my utter amazement, the fear is 99% gone and I enjoy sharing with audiences. I never thought that would be possible.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

I remember Dick and Jane books in 1st grade and thought they were incredibly dull and boring stories. If this was “reading,” I wasn’t impressed. It took Charlotte’s Web, perhaps in 3rd or 4th grade, to change my attitude toward books.




Skinny Dip with Maryann Weidt

book coverWhat’s your favorite holiday tradition?

I love getting together with my children—all grown-ups now—at Christmas. My daughter-in-law majored in ‘entertaining’ and she always has ‘Poppers’ and we always play games. One year she taped a question on the bottom of each plate. Questions like these: What is the best Christmas present you ever received—and we each had a chance to answer the question. It was a great way to get to know each other a little better—and to enjoy a laugh together too.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

I think the first book report I ever wrote was on Clara Barton. It was one of those very old orange biographies. Do they still exist? I kind of hope not. That might have been in 4th grade. Then in 9th grade, I wrote my first research paper and chose Eleanor Roosevelt as my subject. When I was asked to write the Carolrhoda biography of Eleanor, I kind of wished I had saved that paper.

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

Who wraps presents anymore? Don’t we all just tuck them into a gift bag and stuff in lots of tissue paper? In fact, I loved wrapping presents when I was in my teens. I worked a few hours a week at Esther’s Gift Shop in my home town of Hutchinson, MN. People came in to buy wedding gifts, Mother’s Day gifts, gifts for every occasion. There was a machine we used to make bows. I became a wrapping whiz.

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

I’ve been very fortunate to in fact have dinner with several authors—Judy Blume, Madeline L’Engle, Jane Resh Thomas, Mary Casanova, and Margi Preus, among others. But if I could sit down and have a chat with Eleanor Roosevelt, that would be a mighty thrill. O.k., I guess she wasn’t a children’s author—but she was an author.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

Nowadays I read in bed every night before going to sleep. I really have to limit the amount of time I read and sometimes I fall asleep with the book in my hands and the light on. When I was growing up, my favorite place to read was lying on my belly on a plaid wool blanket under the giant oak tree in the front yard of the farm. I could hold that position for hours, reading Betsy, Tacy and Tib and all the rest. I’d read the entire series and then start over.


Mary Casanova: Three Questions

bk_GraceA year of school visits has just concluded, but I can’t unpack quite yet. I’ll soon head out on a book tour to support the release of my latest titles. The questions I get when I meet readers depend on the book—whether it’s a new release I’m promoting or an older book a class has read and discussed.

Because I will be on tour supporting the release of my Grace books for American Girl, I can safely predict the three most commonly asked questions:

How did you get started writing for American Girl?
I’d never planned on writing for American Girl. They first approached me years ago via a phone call. They were looking for someone to write a book for a series called “Girls of Many Lands” and needed someone to write a story set in the l700s in France. (I’d written a gritty novel set in 1500s Provence called Curse of a Winter Moon.) I wrote Cecile: Gates of Gold, followed by eight more books and four “Girl of the Year” characters: Jess, Chrissa, McKenna and now Grace.

Does American Girl tell you what to write?
I’ve never been interested in writing from someone else’s outline. As the author, I want to discover a story! But the initial concepts come from within American Girl. When that phone call comes, I’m given a few, small bits of information for my writing journey. For example, for Grace’s three books, they might include: a girl who loves baking / a trip to Paris / a return home with the desire to start a French baking business.

Paris photo

Research destination

That’s it. From there, I start finding ways to make the developing story my own. Research is my first step. In this case, I went to Paris for a week with my adult daughter, Kate, and we made it our work to explore Paris by bike, sample its delicious pastries and treats, and take a baking class at the home of a French chef. While there, I imagined experiencing Paris through the eyes of a 9 year old girl whose aunt is having a baby, whose uncle owns a patisserie, who comes across a stray dog at the Luxembourg Garden.

Which comes first, the story or the doll?
The story comes first. As I research and write, my character begins to live and breathe. Her story—her family, her dreams, her struggles—become mine. I must live and breathe this character. I must care deeply about her if I hope readers to care.

I don’t choose the doll’s hair or eye or skin color. Though I have input on her name, I don’t have the final say. That’s fine with me. I’m most concerned with who she is on the inside and how she navigates in the world.

As my character’s stories develop, I recognize that products will be created hand-in-hand with the story. When I wrote the black and white stray dog into Grace, the first book, I knew product development would have fun turning it into a small plush toy dog. When, on the other hand, product development asked if I might weave a charm bracelet into the story, I found their request easy. Grace’s mom gives her a charm bracelet eon their plane flight to Paris, and Grace fills the bracelet up while she visits the Eiffel Tower, and receives goodbye gifts, etc. If the request is one that feel natural to the story, I’m happy to work it into the books. But as an author the story always comes first.





Peace is elusive. It is a goal of some people at some time in some parts of the world. As John Lennon wrote: “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people sharing all the world …” Is […]