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Book tour road trip

Reporter's Notebook: Lisa Guenther has been promoting her book Friendly Fire with a Prairie road trip

Some people in my family suffer from itchy feet. We tend to blame it on one ancestor, Everett Parsonage. In the 19th century, Everett settled near Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan, where he ranched with his wife, Bethea. He would set out to check cows, and then disappear for weeks. I often wonder what Bethea said to him when he resurfaced.

These days Bethea and Everett’s descendants travel via plane, train or automobile. Regions that were once far, far away can be reached in hours instead of weeks. We might never know any land as intimately as Everett, who moved through it slowly.

Lisa Guenther’s new novel, Friendly Fire.

Lisa Guenther’s new novel, Friendly Fire.
photo: Lisa Guenther

But driving is a pretty good way to see Western Canada, especially when the weather is good. And a book tour is a good excuse for a road trip. Road trips are more fun with someone else, though, so I invited my friend Carmen Lončar to come. Carmen, a music therapist based in Saskatoon, launched a new CD this fall. She performed her songs, and I read passages from my novel, Friendly Fire. It went together like apple pie and ice cream (or cheddar cheese, if you prefer).

We took a week to travel from Calgary to Turtle Lake, Sask. Then, after a break, we traveled from North Battleford to Maple Creek. We then drove all the way to Winnipeg before looping back to Saskatoon. In total, we performed at 13 different cities and towns.

Some of the stops on the tour were familiar favourites, such as Drumheller. I always love how the badlands seem to sneak up on you around Drum. One minute you’re driving through the Prairies, gazing at rolling farmland that seems to stretch forever. Then you drop into the Red Deer River Valley and the landscape shifts to hoodoos and eroded coulees.

Other places were new to me. I’d never driven to Winnipeg before this trip. I was struck by the windmills around Moosomin, the horsehead pumps near Weyburn, the salt piles at Chaplin, and the crop residue burning in southern Manitoba. And the landscape was always morphing from prairie to parkland and back again.

Carmen and I concluded that people who find the Prairie provinces boring aren’t paying attention.

Cattle crossing the road that leads to Fort Walsh.

Cattle crossing the road that leads to Fort Walsh.
photo: Lisa Guenther

I don’t know much about Everett Parsonage’s treks through the Prairies, but I imagine he must have stayed with people he knew, at least some of the time. That was my strategy, too. For the most part, Carmen and I only performed in towns where we knew a few people. They promoted the show ahead of time for us, came to the show, and even brought friends. And they’d let us crash at their homes and even feed us.

Some of the people I stayed with were friends in the farm media. Others were family, other writers, former colleagues, childhood friends. I didn’t realize how many friends I had in Western Canada until I set out on this tour.

Taking a few risks

Of course, these types of ventures carry a little risk. Everett Parsonage likely got into a few scrapes while he was traveling, but that didn’t deter him.

When Carmen and I set out on this tour, there were so many things I was worried about:

  1. No one showing up at our shows.
  2. People disliking the book.
  3. People disliking our show.
  4. Messing up while I was reading.
  5. Having some sort of technical failure 
with our sound equipment.
  6. Someone getting really upset because my book deals with violence against women.
  7. Blizzards, freezing rain, or losing a wheel 
on the highway.

A strange thing happened once we got a couple of shows under our belts — I stopped worrying about most of these things. Not everyone was going to like my book, or what we were doing, but that was fine. We did have a technical failure at our first show, but the show went on. I would surely make mistakes, but that was okay too.

As for upsetting someone in the crowd who may have lived through, or watched people they loved live through, violent situations, I did my best to let them know I was on their side. I tried to prepare the audience before the heavier scenes without screaming “TRIGGER WARNING!” There were a few teary moments and hugs after a couple of the shows, but I think it was okay.

Being brave isn’t the same thing as being fearless. It’s about having the guts to do what scares us, and to step outside our own comfort zones sometimes.

Sure, there’s risk in doing this. But if we don’t push ourselves a little, our world shrinks instead of growing.

If you’re curious about Carmen’s music, check out at bestkeptsecretgirlfriend.bandcamp.com.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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