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 peace pos­si­ble?… more