Friday, September 29, 2017

The Artistry of Outhouses with Author Suzanne de Montigny
My pal, author Suzanne de Montigny, has delivered a novel in BWL Publishing Inc’s Canadian Historical Bride series, Fields of Gold Beneath Prairie Skies. It’s an extremely entertaining book, lovingly recreated, and well-written. Let’s chat Suzanne up, shan’t we? (Everyone pretend like you’re sophisticated, hoist a pinky finger, and lift a glass of tea).

SRW: Suzanne! Welcome again, my friend. Tell everyone what Fields of Gold… is about.

SDM: Well, here’s the blurb:

French-Canadian soldier, Napoleon, proposes to Lea during WWI, promising golden fields of wheat as far as the eye can see. After the armistice, he sends money for her passage, and she journeys far from her family and the conveniences of a modern country to join him on a homestead in Saskatchewan. There, she works hard to build their dream of a prospering farm, clearing fields alongside her husband through several pregnancies and even after suffering a terrible loss. When the stock market crashes in ’29, the prairies are stricken by a long and abysmal drought. Thrown into poverty, she struggles to survive in a world where work is scarce, death is abundant, and hope dwindles. Will she and her family survive the Great Depression?

And here’s the book trailer in case you’re too lazy to read the blurb.

Fields of Gold Beneath Prairie Skies trailer!

SRW: Am I right in assuming this is based on your family lore?

SDM: It is indeed. It’s a story that’s been calling my name for quite some time. My dad spent the last ten years of his life writing his memoirs, and much of this novel is taken from those memoirs, though I do get fanciful at times and throw in things that never happened.

SRW: “Napoleon” is the lead guy’s name. Seeing as how he doesn’t really give heroine, Lea, much leeway in his marriage proposal, and how his namesake brings to mind a famous dictator, is Napoleon a short man? Does he suffer from “Little Big Angry Man Syndrome?”

SDM: Hahaha! Actually, he was a tiny man, but the sweetest guy you could ever meet. In general, most French-Canadians are a little on the short side. And Napoleon was a very popular name in Quebec around the turn of the 20th century.

SRW: Napoleon’s hardly a character in the first half of the book, almost a non-existent “Charlie Brown Adult.” Was this intentional? I mean, it's Lea's tale, after all.

SDM: Well….believe it or not, he really was like that. It was hard to find anything wrong with him. He was just a nice, even-tempered guy, though he succumbs to pressure later on and gets a little grumpy. Why, he even raises his voice a few times.

SRW: Suzanne, I think you have a writerly masochistic bent. Not since Alice went down the rabbit hole has a heroine suffered so much. Your protagonist, Lea, loses a number of babies. Yet her determination carries her through the day. Was this much more commonplace back in the ‘30’s when the book took place?

SDM: She lost three babies within a couple of months after their birth. Two of them were identical twin girls. But yes, it was really normal to lose babies back in the day. Take Mozart, for example, his wife had 6 kids, and only 2 survived. And Bach had 20 kids with only 10 surviving into adulthood. And both my grandmothers had 10 kids, losing three each. I think losing a baby was a lot easier back in those days as it was rather commonplace.

SRW: And the agony continues! Poor Lea trawls on through locusts, dirt storms, poverty, and lots and lots of potatoes. LOTS of potatoes. Potato soup, potato casserole, potato bugs. Even dresses made from potato bags. And that scene of plucking feathers from a chicken is nightmare-inducing. Worse, Napoleon builds his wife an outhouse made out of iffy material. Explain, please. (I’d like a drawing, too, as I want the readers to relive the outhouse agony).

SDM: Ah, the potatoes. Yes. And regarding the bathroom, not to gross anyone out, but they used to go out to the barn to do their business. After all, if the animals could, why not them? But in the winter time when it was 40 degrees below, they had this bucket with a cover in the house. Apparently, it stunk to high heavens. So Nap decided to build an outhouse using clay and straw after several years of this torment. First he had to mix it up, and then he had to slowly build the walls, waiting for the mud to dry before he added another layer. When all was ready, he made the roof from barn lumber, filling the hole he left in the barn with the same mud mixture.

SRW: Clearly the drought affected everyone worldwide back in the ‘30’s. It’s amazing this family persevered. I can’t imagine trying to hold down the fort while tons of dust is blowing inside your house. Wait… Let’s go back to that outhouse. That was based on reality, right?

SDM: Yes, it was. And if you really must know, it toppled down pretty quickly. And yes, apparently the dust storms were awful. They’d cough for days afterward not to mention the prairie had turned into a grey moonscape.

SRW: Okay, cool, just wanted to clarify. Anyway… I love the very odd way Lea decides to handle her kids’ out-of-control behavior near the end of the book. Extremely contemporary in feminist psychology, yet disturbing. I have to say it’s a very fascinating final dramatic scene. Defend yourself (without spoilers, natch).

SDM: Hate to say it, but that’s how people disciplined their kids back then. Lots of fire and brimstone, the strap, and threats. They weren’t alone. And you’ll be glad to know that Pol grew up to be a really kind, compassionate doctor. As for that last dramatic scene, well I exaggerated just a little.. well, okay, a lot.

SRW: Lea was a true trailblazer, a fiery sort who just wouldn’t take no for an answer, a heroine to be admired for…

Hold on, hold on. Wait. Let’s back-up a sec…

So…that outhouse was sanitary?

SDM: Umm, nothing’s sanitary on a farm.

SRW: And people actually used it? And didn’t die?

SDM: They thought they were living in the lap of luxury every time they used it. They were really disappointed when it fell.

SRW: What’d they use for toilet paper?

SDM: Pages of the Eaton’s catalogue. (Kind of like the Sears catalogue.)

SRW: Sorry, sorry, I’m getting sidetracked. I know Africa and China were particularly plagued with locusts throughout history. So was Canada, as in your book. Is this a fear factor for Canada’s future?

SDM: It’s certainly possible. Whenever there’s a heat wave in May/June.

SRW: Uh-huh, mm-hmm, that’s fascinating… 

Suzanne, did the outhouse toilet seat form-fit to anyone's bottom in particular since it was made of pliable material?

SDM: I think maybe that part was made of barn wood.

SRW: Splinters! Did the seat reshape after usage from different family members?

SDM: I hope not.

SRW: The picture you paint in your book isn't pretty. In the '30's, women didn’t appear to have many choices in life. Was it war-bride or starve?

SDM: Well, put it this way: People were stuck on the farm where they could at least grow a garden, so being married to a farmer was a good thing.

SRW: Did wealthier women in '30's Canada have indoor plumbing? Sorry, sorry! I keep getting derailed. Let’s get back to…

No! Forget it! I want to know about the outhouse! Was there ventilation?

SDM: Of course, silly. All outhouses have a little moon in the door.

SRW: That's what that moon's for! Have you ever used an outhouse?

SDM: Of course!

SRW: Maybe I'll get to use one some day. Keeping hope alive. Sigh… 

I liked your book lots, Suzanne. A fascinating, well-written tale recommended to history fiction buffs. Tell us where readers can find it.

SDM: Click here to purchase Fields of Gold Beneath Prairie Skies!

SRW: Now tell folks where they can find outhouses.

SDM: There are plenty of them up here in Canada.

SRW: I hear you’re giving one of your earlier novels for free?

SDM: Yup. Here it is.

Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy  FREE!

SRW: Thanks, Suzanne, for dropping by. Anyone else have any interesting outhouse anecdotes?


  1. Loved the outhouse scenario. My great aunt and uncle had one on their farm in Arkansas when I was little.

    1. I laughed so hard reading this this morning. I'd forgotten how funny it was.

  2. Oh, those outhouses! One reason I hated visiting an aunt's house was her outhouse, especially after an older cousin told me about the nasty things that lived down that hole!

  3. Hahaha! I don't mind them at all. I just breath through my mouth.

  4. Great (and funny) interview. And the outhouse bits cracked me I would imagine the case of most who've ever used one. Also want to add what a terrific book this is. Wishing Suzanne all the best.

  5. ROTFL! I have many memories of outhouses. In fact, back in the day when Mom would surely be calling me for dishes or chores, I can still remember, Judith come out of that outhouse and get your nose out of that book -- I always had my nose in one, and yep, we had an Eaton's catalogue sitting there right beside the hole in the seat. And, for those not from Canada, it doesn't stink in the winter time -- they just nip a bit around the edges of the frozen hole, but if you have a fancy one like we did, with a board for a lid, you could hide in there and read until your mom figured out where you were.