Oleanna takes readers high into the fjords of Norway at the dawning of a new era, 1905. There we meet Oleanna, a spirited girl fighting to forget a tragedy that has left her feeling very much a lone. Not only is she trying to come to grips with a tragic loss, she is trying to support her only remaining sister by running the family farm. Luckily a cotter living on their land is there to help Oleanna tend to the farm and hopefully help to heal her heart.
If you haven’t done so already be sure to enter the giveaway (details at the end of this post) for a chance to win a copy of Oleanna (open to US ONLY). Be sure to Tweet about the giveaway using the Twitter hashtag #OleannaVirtualTour and check out the other stops on the tour!
Giveaway runs from 4/3/13 to 4/10/13.
Winner will be announced 4/11/13.
Julie also agreed to do an interview with me, so without further ado please welcome Julie K Rose to The Lit Bitch!
I saw that Oleanna is partially based on some of your family history, how much of the novel is about your great great aunts lives and how much is fiction?
The majority is fiction; it is a re-imagining of their lives, rather than biographical fiction. What is true is this: their names, where they lived, and the fact that John left Norway to come to America to start a new life. The separation of Norway from Sweden is fact, of course, as is the role of women and the women’s movement. What is also true is the emotion, and the core of the story.
The rest is a figment of my imagination. I fudged ages, shifted dates, changed names, and invented characters out of whole cloth. In fact, all of the characters are my creation, because all I had to go on was the fact that John moved away, and Elisabeth and Oleanna owned the farm and lived there together, alone, up until the 1960s.
So, my family was the starting point for the book, but they really became their own characters, and it became “my” Oleanna’s story.
An interesting (well, to me at least!) side note: I’ve always been a bit of a genealogy geek (part of my process is creating family trees for the characters in all of my books) but I’d never wanted to write about my family. Recently, a reader (who lives in Sunnfjord) found an interesting tidbit in the local parish book, with some history about my family that I never knew. It turns out that the “real” Oleanna was very interested in family history and genealogy as well. There’s a kind of thread there between us which I had never known, but gives me a lot of comfort.
What first inspired you to write Oleanna? Was it purely based on family history or was there something in particular that made you stand up and say “hey I want to write this story”?
I had been poking at another novel in November 2006, but it was going nowhere. Then an image came to me: a young woman standing on the top of a mountain, the wind whipping her long blond hair. Somehow, I knew right away it was Oleanna. The characters and their personalities came to me quickly, and the tone and feel of the book was there from the start. The story itself grew and changed in the telling, and was strongly informed by the loss of my own mother earlier that year.
Norway isn’t the first location that comes to mind for a historic novel setting, but in this book it worked beautifully–in fact it was one of the reasons I wanted to review it! What made you pick Norway for the setting of Oleanna?
Thank you! Norway is amazing. It’s so beautiful, but in a forbidding kind of way. It’s not gentle, and especially 100 years ago, not an especially easy place to live. Since Norway is where my family is from, the book was always going to be set there. But as you rightly pointed out, it’s a place that doesn’t get much attention in historical fiction—the exception being, of course, Sigrid Undset’s Nobel-prize winning trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter. There’s more to Norway than Vikings (though they’re pretty fascinating) and I’m glad Oleanna is introducing readers to another view of the country.
You obviously did a lot of research about Norway and the political climate of the country in 1905, what was the most difficult or surprising thing you discovered in your research? Did you travel to Norway as part of your research, if so please discuss what that experience was like for you.
I was lucky enough to visit Norway in 2004, though it was for a vacation and not research; the idea for Oleanna came along two years later. It was a fantastic trip, as we were there in May, and in Oslo for the Constitution Day celebration. The thing that struck me the most about the trip, which I later used in the book, was just how isolated it is, even today. The geography of the country, especially western Norway, is very dramatic and very rough, with tall mountains and deep fjords, and many towns and villages are still only reachable by boat. If the country is this wild and relatively isolated today, what must it have been like 100 years ago?
In terms of the other research I did, I was most surprised by how active women became in the national discussion about the separation from Sweden. The question of dissolution was put to a national referendum in August 1905 and though they did not yet have the right to vote, women organized and made their voice heard. A delegation of women delivered a petition with 279,878 signatures supporting the separation to the Storting (Parliament). In the actual (male) vote, there were 368,208 votes (99.95%) in favor of dissolution, and 184 (0.05%) against. Thanks to their role in the events of 1905, women eventually got the vote in 1913.
Graphic encouraging Norwegians to vote yes in the referendum. The phrase comes from the national anthem, “Yes, we love our country!”
I loved the dynamic relationship between Oleanna and her sister Elisabeth. They were both alike and different in their own ways, can you discuss your vision of their relationship? Which of the sisters was your favorite to write and which one do you identify with the most?
First, thank you so much!
I love this question. Even though Elisabeth is the older of the two, Oleanna takes on the mantle of responsibility and (self-imposed) guilt, while Elisabeth (at least on the surface) tries to take life lightly. Elisabeth is impulsive, but also intellectual and analytical. Oleanna is cautious but also deeply passionate. They’re both quite similar in their love for their farm (though they took a while to understand it), and in their sense of humor.
I loved writing Elisabeth; she made me laugh and she made me crazy (especially when she did and said things I had not at all anticipated). Oleanna, because she is most like me, was much harder to write, particularly given the journey she was on.
What made you decide to make Anders older than Oleanna? Can you discuss the age difference and how it influenced the story–what benefits and what limitations did his age have for you as a writer?
You know, it wasn’t really a conscious choice. I just knew, when she sat down on the rock next to him at the lakeside, that he would be older (though not much: he’s seven years older). Being older did give him the advantage of some history and experience. He’s left his own village, he’s experienced heartache just like Oleanna. But being older was a disadvantage for him, too, in a way—he didn’t have someone like Oleanna to restore his faith, so they came together as two people who badly needed to rebuild trust in themselves, and in the world.
If you had it to do over again is there anything you would change in the book?
There’s plenty of things I’d change, in anything I’ve written. A turn of phrase here, a word there, an emotional beat elsewhere, and Oleanna is no different. But overall, I’m happy with the book and the journey it takes readers on, and the journey it took me on.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of your family members and why.
Oh gosh, just one? My circle of friends have been incredibly supportive, ever since I dipped my toes into the fiction world in 2002 and started annoying them with works-in-progress. In terms of professional support and growth, the Historical Novel Society (HNS) has been very supportive, not just to me, but to writers of historical fiction worldwide. HNS does so much to raise the profile of historical fiction, and provides fantastic venues to learn about new historical fiction, meet readers and writers, and hone our craft.
Who is your all time literary crush?
Ah, this is an awesome question! But are we talking fictional characters, or authors? And I can only pick one? There’s so many! I have a big-time crush on Iocundis in Heather Domin’s The Soldier of Raetia and I’ve been in love with Aragorn and Faramir in the Lord of the Rings trilogy for years. But honestly, I kind of fall in love with characters all the time (my own included).
What are you working on next?
I’m in the midst of revisions for a book called DIDO’S CROWN, set in Tunisia, France, and England in 1935. I’m also working on a novel set in California in the early 20th century, but since it’s such early days on that one, I won’t say much more! I’m also poking at revisions to a screenplay adaptation of my first novel, The Pilgrim Glass.
Thank you so much for the opportunity, and the fantastic questions!
Publication Date: September 5, 2012
ISBN-10: 1105361411Set during the separation of Norway from Sweden in 1905, this richly detailed novel of love and loss was inspired by the life of the author’s great-great-aunts.Oleanna and her sister Elisabeth are the last of their family working their farm deep in the western fjordland. A new century has begun, and the world outside is changing, but in the Sunnfjord their world is as small and secluded as the verdant banks of a high mountain lake.The arrival of Anders, a cotter living just across the farm’s border, unsettles Oleanna’s peaceful but isolated existence. Sharing a common bond of loneliness and grief, Anders stirs within her the wildness and wanderlust she has worked so hard to tame.When she is confronted with another crippling loss, Oleanna must decide once and for all how to face her past, claim her future, and find her place in a wide new world.About the AuthorI’m an author of historic and contemporary fiction, and I’m particularly interested in the intersection of the spiritual and secular, the supernatural and the everyday, the past and the present, and the deep, instinctual draw of the land.
I am a proud member of the Historical Novel Society, current co-chair of the HNS Northern California chapter, and former reviewer for the Historical Novels Review. I earned a B.A. in Humanities (SJSU) and an M.A. in English (University of Virginia), and live in the Bay Area with my husband and our cat Pandora. I love reading, following the San Francisco Giants, and enjoying the amazing natural beauty of Northern California.
Oleanna, short-listed for finalists in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom literary competition, is my second novel. The Pilgrim Glass, a finalist in the 2005 Faulkner-Wisdom and semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, was published in 2010.
For more information on Julie K. Rose, please visit her website.
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