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JoyZ
Posts: 47
Registered: ‎12-19-2007
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

Another question I have for you Ms Mitchell is how did Anna come to own the land.  Did Teodor write it over to her since he could no longer own the property while in jail?  Was it family property for the 2 of them?  Thank you again for a beautiful story.

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ClaudiaLuce
Posts: 133
Registered: ‎01-31-2008
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

Ms. Mitchell,

 

You have written a wonderful novel, which I am thoroughly enjoying reading! I think that you are destined for a great deal of success.  Congratulations!

 

My question for you is did you have a personal basis for basing the description of the families during the Great Depression?  My mama and daddy often told me of their experiences during that time (they were both in their childhood to teen years during that time) and I have relived many of their memories by reading this story - the hand me downs, counting pennies to get a small treat of penny candy, showing off new boots by the youngest son while the oldest is SOOOOO jealous.  Did you use family memories to help you in some of the descriptions or did you base these descriptions on historical facts?

 

Thank you in advance for answering my question.

 

Claudia

"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." -
-- Sir Richard Steele
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Susan5847
Posts: 9
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

I just completed reading UNDER THS UNBROKEN SKY and I am in awe of your talent.  You have created characters that will stay with me for a long long time.    The more I got into the book, the more I felt connected to the main characters and I find myself wondering what happens next (after the book ended). 

 

Shandi - I am wondering how long it took you to write this novel.  How much time did your research take?  I can tell that the book is well researched as everything in it rings true for the time period that it is set in.

 

Thank you again for sharing your story and your talent.

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Sunltcloud
Posts: 933
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

A lot of questions have arisen about the property, ownership, and the use of numbers in connection with the cultivation of the land. I would like to speculate a bit about the connections. In looking at Teodor I am using page 53 and for Anna's background I am using pages 17 to 21.

 

First of all, I base most of my speculating on the use of numbers on two principles. The importance of land ownership in those days in general. And the regulations that are connected with homesteading. There are certain rules that must be obeyed when land is granted. Numbers are a very important part of these rules.

 

Page 53. "He (Teodor) would be responsible for making all the necessary improvements to earn patent as prescribed in the Homesteaders Agreement, including the breaking and planting of twenty-five acres over three years, building a house and outbuildings including granaries and a barn, digging a cribbed will, cutting timber, and erecting fences."

 

And so numbers became extremely important. Numbers are what Teodor uses to measure attainment of his family's goal. Numbers make Teodor suffer when he thinks of his incarceration.Paying the entry fee of ten dollars to Anna on the first harvest is a personal goal. It means his redemption as a man and head of his household.

 

That previous disasters and Teodor's imprisonment were setbacks for him is a fact. That the land is difficult to conquer is also a fact. The reasons for the latter are based on governmental (institutional) racism.


Page 53 again.

"Land up in these parts was untamed, choked by bush, rocks, and bogs. The flat rich land farther south went to the British and the gentrified. This part of the country was allocated for Ukrainians, Germans, Russians, Hungarians, and shared with the decimated Blackfoot, who had been pushed farther and farther north by train tracks, towns, and fences. This was land set aside for laborers, non-whites, peasants with deep guttural languages and mysterious customs. It was a place of poor people, but the soil was rich."

 

Anna, who had taken out the homesteading papers for Teodor (page 53) because as criminal he would be ineligible to own land, has developed into who she is now, over the last ten years. I imagine that, even though she was disappointed in Stefan from the very beginning, she could not have become so desperate overnight.

 

Anna was once a normal young girl with aspirations. That a young officer showered her and her father with gifts added to the attraction in a time of unrest and hunger. That he was drunk on their wedding night was probably nothing uncommon, considering male domination and prerogative of the time. That he left her alone on the homestead again and again over the years, shows that he was involved in shady deals in the town, but bringing home "stuff" must have given her hope and at times joy.

 

Living with an alcoholic can be fun for very short periods of time, because of the gaiety, the gifts, the carefree demeanor he enters with the first glass of the day. Even the deeply haunting begging for forgiveness, the tears, the regrets after the last glass in the evening can be signs of hope. This is what sustained Anna for so long. But I imagine Stefan's absences became longer and his home stays more violent as time passed. Being raped by her husband, the guilt over bearing a deformed child, the hopelessness of being responsible for two children, the forceful latest pregnancy,arrested her growth, deepened her sorrow, rendered her immobile.

 

Living alone for many years, before Maria moves next to her with her children, has made Anna suspicious, uncommunicative, and fearful. It takes all of Maria's patience and consideration to, at least, bring some kind of relief into Lesya's and Petro's lives. I assume that Anna gardened off and on, with her children's help, to put food on the table when Stefan was away, but when Maria arrives, even the last survival skills seem to leave Anna. 

 

When Teodor comes to the homestead, all the attained balances have to be recalculated. Maria is pulled into all directions. Anna begins to fall apart. The gains Teodor makes by building a home, working the land, tending to the children, are almost negated by fire and dust storm, and with Stefan's return total break-down of the balance of power results in the final deterioration of the family structure.

 

It must have been interesting for the author to live with the two women for the period of writing the novel. And....I imagine..... it was easier to write Maria. I think it is always easier to write what would surely become a readers' favorite. Anna's biography, as it unfolded in front of Ms. Mitchell, must have been much harder to bear. It must have taken a great deal of internalizing of pain and hardship to separate character traits and resulting actions. 

 

Ms. Mitchell, again, I am fascinated by the portrayal of Anna! Anna, a young girl who might have become an ordinary woman under normal circumstances. A bit on the shallow side, maybe, but functional. Anna, the woman who is victimized by an era of hunger, male dominance, ritual and customary superstitions, betrayal of romantic feelings, an alien landscape, and her own genetic predispositions.

 

thank you

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bookowlie
Posts: 177
Registered: ‎04-15-2008
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

Shandi,

     Thank you for sharing your "baby" with us.  I was wondering if you have considered writing a sequel.  The characters in the story are so richly drawn that I would look forward to reading more about their lives.

 

 

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blkeyesuzi
Posts: 730
Registered: ‎01-26-2008

Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

Shandi,

 

There are so many questions I have and they've already been asked. I can't wait to read your answers.

 

One thing I really want to know, however is whether or not you remember the first moments when this story came to you.  A previous FirstLook author describes long walks in the woods where she would tell herself a story, thus her novel was born.  Was there a moment in time in which your story began to flutter around in your head and start to come to life?  What were you doing that created the right environment for this novel to be born?  Going through family photos, perhaps?  Did the story start out to be a novel or did you think it would be a screenplay at any time?

Suzi

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. " --John Burroughs
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AliceLee428
Posts: 19
Registered: ‎07-09-2009
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

Hi Shandi---thank you for sharing your wonderful work with us.  I agree that it will be a bestseller and I'm positive it would make a great movie.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could also direct the film?  I'm sure you've already thought of that....
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booksJT
Posts: 108
Registered: ‎11-24-2008
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

Hi Shandi

 

Welcome to the first look book club. What I have read so far is quite interesting. How did you select the title for this book? Who inspired you to become a writer?

Author
Shandi-Mitchell
Posts: 83
Registered: ‎07-08-2009

Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

I would like to thank everyone for your responses in Welcome and Introductions. It was wonderful to glimpse the whereabouts of the story through your lovely descriptions of your worlds: a violin stand, a dog herding robins, traffic jams, cold bath water, late for work, a white rocking chair, an old fan blowing, baseball games and wayward balls, a little dog whose fur feels like chenille, cheese and tomato sandwiches, a sunburn, park bench, those who bend the corners, write in the margins, flatten the covers, mothers and daughters, daughters and fathers… you created a beautiful story and it made me smile every time.

 

Your thoughtful, thought-provoking, careful analysis of the book has been extraordinary to witness thus far and we are only in Spring and Summer! I am so impressed with your insights and sharing of stories. Poor Paul trying to rein you all in on schedule.  I would have been one ofthe readers racing ahead, I could never have mastered such personal restraint. Kudos to those who did. I look forward to our discussions and will do my best to answer your questions. I will try to follow the discussion schedule and be careful not to post any spoilers.

 

(Hmmm...the font looks rather larger. I'm not shouting. I will work on correcting it.) 

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Zeal
Posts: 258
Registered: ‎03-18-2009
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?


Shandi-Mitchell wrote:

 

(Hmmm...the font looks rather larger. I'm not shouting. I will work on correcting it.) 


Shandi,

 

Don't worry about the font.  It only looks large when you are writing.  Once your post goes through, it is the "regular" size.  This puzzled me at first too, but I always check my posts after I submit them and discovered that they looked like all of the others...don't know why.

 

Aimee

"I learned to dream through reading, learned to create dreams through writing, and learned to develop dreamers through teaching. I shall always be a dreamer."
Sharon Draper
Author
Shandi-Mitchell
Posts: 83
Registered: ‎07-08-2009

Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?


marciliogq wrote:

Shandi,

 

In the first part Teodor's children are playing with some mice and cats. Was the use of these animals a kind of metaphor related to the immigrants? Were they the mice persecuted by soldiers and a dictatorial regime?

 

Hi marciliogq,

 

Great question! By juxtaposing the fairly “ordinary and innocent” play of the young boys with an act of death raises the question of the value of life. The boys don’t comprehend that they are torturing the mouse and are responsible for its suffering. The mouse’s life has no value. Perhaps Teodor’s intervention is their first lesson in mercy? Or respect?

 

Sadly, history is swollen with stories of what happens when life has no value. It is interesting to me that when a cat eats a mouse there is no hatred; no alternative motive but to hunt and to feed. Prey and predator. So unlike the capacity of the human species.

 

This scene was inspired by an event from my own childhood. I was the one feeding a mouse to a cat. I was very young, I didn’t have any idea that I was doing anything other than playing. My older cousin stomped the mouse and gave me hell.  It might have been the first moment in my childhood that I was ashamed of my actions. I was guilty of a crime. Not necessarily that I had taken a life, but that I had reveled in its pain.

 

Do any of you have a moment like that?  A moment when you could never go back to the moment before?

 

An interesting side note:When my father read the cat and mouse section, he said, “Yep, that’s what happened to me. I remember that.”

 

 

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Zeal
Posts: 258
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?


Shandi-Mitchell wrote:

Sadly, history is swollen with stories of what happens when life has no value. It is interesting to me that when a cat eats a mouse there is no hatred; no alternative motive but to hunt and to feed. Prey and predator. So unlike the capacity of the human species.

 

This scene was inspired by an event from my own childhood. I was the one feeding a mouse to a cat. I was very young, I didn’t have any idea that I was doing anything other than playing. My older cousin stomped the mouse and gave me hell.  It might have been the first moment in my childhood that I was ashamed of my actions. I was guilty of a crime. Not necessarily that I had taken a life, but that I had reveled in its pain.

 

Do any of you have a moment like that?  A moment when you could never go back to the moment before?

 

An interesting side note:When my father read the cat and mouse section, he said, “Yep, that’s what happened to me. I remember that.”

 

 


Shandi,

 

I had a moment such as this with my children.  My daughter was very interested and enthralled by an earthworm on the pavement.  She was crouched down studying it and its movements when my son, then two, came along and stomped on it, saying "Dead!"  My daughter was horrified and cried.

"I learned to dream through reading, learned to create dreams through writing, and learned to develop dreamers through teaching. I shall always be a dreamer."
Sharon Draper
Author
Shandi-Mitchell
Posts: 83
Registered: ‎07-08-2009
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?


thewanderingjew wrote:

Hi,

First, let me say that I am really enjoying your book. It was hard to put down.

Second, let me ask if your family came from the Ukraine and/or Canada and if so, when would they have lived in either place? Was it during the time period in which the book is set?

 

twj


Hi twj
I'm so pleased the story has drawn you in.  Yes my familycame from Ukraine and settled in Western Canada. Relatives were left behind whosurvived the famine.  My familycame in the late 1920s, when Lenin was still in power. Their farm and land inUkraine was later confiscated by the government for a collectivization program.It is estimated that 6-10 million died in the three year period that spannedthe Holodomor(famine).  Mygrandparent’s last homestead was in Alberta during the time frame of the book.

 

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Shandi-Mitchell
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?


literature wrote:

 

 

 

Because I hung on every word you wrote, a noticed a repetition of words, phrases and/or expressions that you used that would set the stage for something later on.  You mentioned "in the crook of the two twisted trees" a number of times and I was sorry that I hadn't noted under which circumstances you used them each time.  Then, at the end, it becomes an important place for Teodor. I wonder if you put clues there each time for us leading up to Teodor's final act.

 

 

Message Edited by rkubie on 08-05-2009 02:10 PM


Dear Literature,
Thank you Literature. Wonderful questions! I will answer one now and return to the others later. 

My screenwriting background influences my prose writing. In film, you have so little time to tell the story (90-120 minutes) that whatever you include you want it to inform and/or advance the story either through plot, emotion, theme, or character. I think I bring this style to fiction writing. The two trees do appear several times and/or are referenced by various characters: Anna, Katya, Myron, Teodor, even the coyotes. I am intrigued by the lives that played out around these trees.

 

I remember once listening to someone argue that only contemporary society romanticizes nature and the woods. They argued that in the past, the woods were feared. Settlers didn’t wander off into the woods for calming, meditative walks. The woods represented the wild. The unknown. Interesting idea. 

 

 

 

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BarneyNoble
Posts: 9
Registered: ‎06-16-2008
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

Hello Ms. Mitchell, 

 

I really enjoyed your book.  I think a big part of the reason is the way that you used the natural world to tell your story.   

 

As I read this contemporary work I was able to feel the relationship between humans and the natural world; reminding us that even today we are not on the outside but are very much a part of it.   

 

How did you acquire your wonderful understanding of all this, do I see a bit of a Frost influence?   

 

Best regards,

Janine

 

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m3girl
Posts: 194
Registered: ‎03-02-2007
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

Shandi,

 

Congratulations on writing a wonderful novel!  I've been doing the First Look since the beginning and believe that your book is on the top or at the least tie for the top as best selection so far.  You pulled me in right from the beginning - and not necessarily with the picture but with the characters and the story telling in the first chapter.

 

I am curious on your choice to write in first person - something not that common.  How did you choose first person and did that create any challenges when you went to sell the book?

 

And another thing I noticed - you change the point of view/perspective throughout the chapters and scene - but you do it so very well that even I - the one in search of head hopping - felt at ease with the transitions.  That's a difficult thing to do and a big rule to break - well done!

 

Do you have any new projects going?  I plan to purchase the 'real' book when it is published to send to my mother who is turning 83 this week and grew up on a farm near Green Bay Wisconsin - not quite Alberta but the winters are rather nasty in the mid west too.

 

Thanks,

Susan 

Author
Shandi-Mitchell
Posts: 83
Registered: ‎07-08-2009

Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?


dhaupt wrote: 

 

It astonishes me how cruel the past governments were to the very people responsible for creating those countries of today and it's always astonished me to find out that everything I read in school in text books and history books were often either false or didn't include enough of a "real history" for the students to really know the truth. That's how it was in the US growing up and I wondered if growing up in Canada was any different or did you know your family history from a young age. 


RESEARCH
There have been a number of questions regarding research and how I moved from historical research into the fictional world and where my personal family history fits in. If I was technologically savvy, I would string all your posts together. But alas, I am not. Instead, I will try to answer by chatting about my research process and hope I touch upon a number of your questions.
 

When I turned eighteen, I learned a couple facts about my grandfather’s life. (I will share them at the end of this book club session) Those facts would frame the story and become my starting point and end point. I never met my grandfather. My grandmother didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Ukrainian. I knew nothing of her life. She died when I was sixteen. There were no family stories passed along.

 

Initially, I began my research for personal reasons to learn about my family’s past. But along the way, I became intrigued with other forgotten stories.  The history lessons I had been taught in school did not resemble the stories I was discovering. Research led me to a time and place I did not know. I began to wonder if I could have survived those times or would I have broken in a land of freedom? I suppose this was the first seed of the story. 

 

During the course of my research I discovered newspaper clippings and medical examiner reports. It is a haunting experience to reach back in time.  I also read first person accounts of the 1930s in Canada and America.  I looked at many, many photographs. They were a great inspiration.  I read about Ukraine and the famine. I went into virtual archives containing thousands of photographs of the famine. I read personal accounts by survivors. I watched films documenting the times. I drew from every part of my own life experience and offered it to my characters.

 

My research process is rather odd.  Initially it is very general.  I try to understand the atmosphere of the setting and time frame. I work more from photographs than documents, probably because of my filmmaking background. I don't want mycharacters to be overwhelmed by historical facts.  I just need to place them in a world. Then I start to write. I follow the characters. If the characters bring something into the story, then I veer off and research the details: how to birth a calf, plow a field, plant a garden, how does a man pee, what is the cost of a girl's velvet dress in 1938, how do you make wheat wine…? Though I try and get the details right, I am more interested in knowing the human heart.

 

I have very few items from my grandparents’ lives. I have an Austrian coin (dating from WW1) that my grandfather had drilled a hole through and worn strung around his neck.He had been a German POW when he was probably seventeen or eighteen years old.  From my grandmother I have a glass-domed cup, used to draw out sickness. I have a hand-written, partial recipe for Wheat Wine.  And I have a photograph. It is the photograph that is described in the opening of the book. Funny how so many of the items managed to find their way into the story.

 

Do any of you have such token representations of your ancestors' lives?  No context. No story. Just an item? Do you ever conjure a story around that item?

 
 
 

 

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Stewies_Mom
Posts: 140
Registered: ‎05-28-2008
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

Shandi,

 

Thanks for such a vivid story.  It has had me on the edge of my seat in parts and forgetful of my own location throughout.  I had meant to ask you if your grandfather was your inspiration for Ivan, but, after reading an earlier response, I believe I am to understand your father was the inspiration of Ivan.  As I don't really have a question for you now, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank you for Ivan.  His character touched my heart most deeply and I appreciate his inclusion in your wonderful story. 

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JeniferKAllison
Posts: 15
Registered: ‎07-06-2009
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

Hello Ms. Mitchell - brilliant book, I loved it from start to finish!!!  Thank you for sharing it with the First Look club and thank you for taking the time to be on here with us and to answer our questions! 

 

I have just one question and it relates this quoted question below - it answers this question anyway - Pg 228 Katya is awake in the night and is 'feeding the fire' from her Christ ball.  The fire is 'angry' and she looks around for other things to feed it.  She throws in newspaper bits and still it is hungry.  "Katya looks around the room to see what else it wants.  The shelf of preserves glows in its light.  She sees another piece of paper.  Katya stretches on her tiptoes and grabs it with her fingertips.  Brown paper for wrapping meat.  She gives it to the fire.  The edges curl and the fire licks at the penciled words on the other side." (You see literature, it's vague and nearly hidden (which I love) but we do see what happened to that piece of paper and why he never produced it for the land office!)

 

My question Shandi, or maybe it's more of comment, is this; I shared this part with my grandmother who lived through a fire and had a strong fear of it as a child.  I asked her if it described how she felt, if she could envision herself doing something like this.  Her answer was, "Yes, except the fear of my parents would have kept me from finding or using that last piece of paper."  I didn't understand why and she explained, "Paper, in those times, was not so easy to come by.  First you had to have the money, get to town, get the paper -- and there wasn't much of it.  It was reused over and over for so many things.  To just throw it in the fire like that would have been cause for very strong retribution." 

 

Do you truly envision Katya's fear of the fire to be that much stronger than her knowledge of her families economics (to which I don't believe she is blind) and stronger than the fear of punishment and disappointment from her parents?  

 

 

Quoting literature:

 

Unless I missed something in the reading, when the letters are being written back and forth to the Land Office and Teodor is trying to prove that the land is his, why wasn't the note brought forward that Anna signed when Teodore paid up his $10 to her?  I don't remember anything being mentioned up to that point that the signed note was nowhere to be found.  If the note was mentioned during the correspondence to and from the Land Office, then the story would have had to have taken a different turn. Did you purposely not mentioned the signed note or, as I said, maybe I just missed it.

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JeniferKAllison
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Registered: ‎07-06-2009
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Re: Questions for Shandi Mitchell?

Yes, and I think it illustrates just how very very angry Myron that his father had sent him away.  That he was not seen, still, as enough of a man to stay and fight.  I would still like to hear from Shandi why she chose to introduce such strong language right there.  I believe it fits perfectly, so I guess I'm curious as to whether the word just flowed out or if there was a process that she took to get that particular phrase just right, because it is perfect, I believe.

 

PaulH wrote:

I'm sure Shandi willl chime in on this next week, but the f-word does date back to the early 1500's.

 


michaelsjlrc wrote:

Hi Shandi,

 

For the most part I am enjoying your book. I'm sticking to the reading schedule, so I've only finished Spring and Summer, but there was one thing that bothered me and I was wondering if you could explain it.  On page 121, when you are describing the fire scene, you have Myron use the f-word.  This seemed totally out of context for me (was that really a word used in 1930's prairies of Canada?).  It jolted me out of the scene and really ruined the imagery for me. Up until that spate of cursing I was very much engrossed in what was happening, but that ruined it for me.  Why was this use of language necessary?

 

Thanks

 

Jenny