Slice of Prairie life: an author's first novel

Apr 3, 2009 – Langley Advance

WHEN the first 125 copies of Fury of the Wind came off the press last week, Langley author Doris Riedweg hugged the books like she was swaddling a newborn baby. "This was my baby, this is the one I wanted to get published," she told the Langley Advance. While this is the Milner resident's first novel, Riedweg is no stranger to the written word and the world of publishing.
The 78-year-old retired nurse was the editor and principal author of The Hospital on the Hill, a history of Langley Memorial Hospital 1948-1998.

She's also had numerous short stories included in Canadian anthologies, and other works published in several major Canadian newspapers. But Fury is her first published novel, her first big piece of fiction that has made it from her desk to bookstore shelves. Fury of the Wind was actually finished seven years ago, but it wasn't picked up until she connected with a White Rock-based publishing house. Holding and still admiring a copy of the new, glossy covered book, Riedweg tried to categorize the novel.

"It's not a romance, but there's romance in it," she said, adding it's not a history book, although she made great efforts to be historically accurate. Riedweg concluded that her novel is best described as mainstream fiction. The story is set in 1948, post-war Saskatchewan, in a tiny hamlet mirroring a town the author grew up in.

Having grown up in the small farming town of Wapella, in southeastern Saskatchewan, Riedweg explained how her fictional town of Nimkus possesses strong similarities in landscape to her hometown - down to some explicit physical characteristics and detailing of farms. But she emphasized that the story is not autobiographical and that the people in her story do not reflect anyone she's encountered in her life.

While Canadian Prairies were becoming more tolerant of groups such as European immigrants and First Nations people in that era, there were still pockets of discrimination like in this small fictional town this author created. In this particular town, Nimkus, a subtle class system exists where, on the social ladder, a poor farmer occupies the lowest rung. It is in this den of bigotry that Riedweg's protagonist Sarah Roberts arrives from Ontario to marry Ben Fielding. It is here that, all his life, Fielding has had to suffer the consequences of being both a poor farmer and a half-breed Native.

Roberts is an unemployed school teacher, disinherited by her mother, who thinks she's found the security and love she longs. But Fielding's farm is not the prosperous operation he has led her to believe. Nor is Fielding anything like the man she has come to know and love through his letters. He is morose, distant, and full of hate and dark secrets. In her 203-page large-format paperback, Riedweg follows Roberts and Fielding over a four-year period, gradually reveals the dark areas of Fielding's past, and Roberts struggle to cope with her disappointment, anger and her own guilt.

"I was writing it for three years," she explained. "I started it on an electric typewriter. I was finally convinced by other writers to buy a computer, and then I had to transfer it all over."
After multiple rewrites and a couple dozen rejection letters from publishers, Riedweg had all but given up hope of getting it published until she connected with Libros Libertad Publishing last summer, and they expressed interest.

Unlike some authors who plan the entire plot of their story before writing a word, Riedweg said she just lets the story flow out at will. Such was the case with Fury. "I started off with one line and it just went on from there. It just grew," Riedweg said. "I didn't even know how it was going to end until I was past the middle of the story." Not writing a lot right now, Riedweg said she has written two other novels since Fury, both a little bigger, and is hopeful one of those will be picked up next. Those novels don't follow the same character, but Riedweg said depending on the response to Fury, she might consider a sequel - which she's started to piece together, but never delved into too deep. After she finishes up a promotional tour early this summer, she hopes to get back to the keyboard.

Riedweg has been a member of the Langley Writers Guild since 1994, and getting together three times a month, she said has been invaluable to her as an aspiring author. Reflecting back on her writing career, Riedweg said she's always dreamed of writing. Her first strong memories of writing came when she was seven years old and a school inspector picked her story to be read to the class. In the years that followed, her mother tried to push the youngster outdoors to play with her older siblings, but to no avail.

"All I wanted to do was sit at the kitchen table and write stories," she recalled. Then, when the Vancouver Sun first published a piece she wrote about her great niece back in 1992, she balked at her husband when he came to her with a shirt needing a button sewn on.

"I don't do buttons. I'm a writer," she recounted, snickering at her own naivety. She's since gotten over that, and in fact dedicated Fury to her husband and friend John. "It's always been in the back of my mind wanting to write a novel," she added. "But I'm still a little bit overwhelmed. I didn't think it would every happen... It doesn't seem real yet."

Fury of the Wind retails for $22.95 and Riedweg is holding her book launch - including readings - Saturday, April 4, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Huntsfield Green clubhouse, 19649 53rd Ave.
She will also be at Black Bond Books on Willowbrook Drive on Saturday, April 18, at 1 p.m. for a reading and signing.

By Roxanne Hooper