After 20 years as a nurse, Pequot Lakes resident Candace Simar went back to school to get a four-year nursing degree. There were a few required English classes, and Simar found herself loving those classes, taking as many as she could. Soon she decided that instead of pursuing the next nursing degree, she’d take up writing, something she’d always loved to do. Today she’s an award-winning author with six books published, including the popular Abercrombie Trail series. Many combine what Simar has learned from her passion for history with her own fictional tales.
Simar went into nursing because of her father, she said. She and her family moved to Pequot Lakes when Simar was 17. She graduated from Pequot Lakes High School, where her guidance counsellor suggested that she pursue English. Simar’s father was ill, though, and died a short time after the move. He had always wanted Simar to be a nurse, because of all the help that nurses had given him. He knew it was a stable career and that Simar would be able to find work anywhere she went. Simar agreed, and nursing became her primary career.
It was as her kids were leaving home that she decided to pursue writing. Once the decision was made, Simar attended every writing conference and workshop that she could. She read books and magazines, and she began to write. Six books later, Simar continues to attend workshops and seminars to continue learning and improving.
Simar’s books are mostly historical fiction, in which she blends historical facts and elements into the stories of fictional characters. Her most popular books, the Abercrombie Trail series, tell of pioneer Scandinavians in Minnesota during the Sioux Uprising, the Civil War, and the grasshopper plagues around the 1870s.
“I’ve always loved history,” Simar said. “I love the stories of my family, who were all Scandinavian immigrants.”
The Sioux Uprising was the largest American Indian war in history, and took place in 1862. It was caused by the Civil War, as the money the government needed to pay the treaties went to the war instead.
“The Sioux rose up, and who wouldn’t? They were starving,” Simar said. She said that the Sioux Uprising was overshadowed in historical records by what was the bloodiest summer of the Civil War. Nonetheless, Simar said the state is still feeling the effects of the war today.
“Only 20 percent of the Sioux participated, but all were exiled,” Simar said. “It started here and ended with the Battle at Wounded Knee.”
In the Abercrombie Trail series, Simar chronicles immigrant life throughout the Sioux Uprising, plagues of grasshoppers that destroyed crops, and bank failings. The people of the time showed both tenacity and resilience.
“They (immigrants) had no recourse, no way to go back, nothing,” Simar said. “They just had to survive, and I wanted to celebrate that.”
Simar’s most recently published book is Shelterbelts. As a nurse, Simar cared for many World War II veterans who told her their stories. Some of the elements of those stories were used in Shelterbelts.
The book follows a war veteran who comes back to Minnesota to operate the farm that his sister has been managing throughout the war. While the family feels he should take over the farm, his sister is the only one who wants to and is capable of doing so. The story is of the farming community, and how when the chips are down, they stick up for their own. Shelterbelts, for which the book is named, are the rows of trees that shelter farms from the elements.
“Shelterbelts become a metaphor,” Simar said. Just as the shelterbelts protect the farms, the farmers protect the vulnerable members of their communities. Just as the shelterbelts sometimes need repair, so do farmers, neighbors and family.
Both Shelterbelts and the Abercrombie Trail series have won several awards and accolades. Simar believes one of the reasons the books are so popular, especially in Minnesota, is because of the connection readers are able to forge with their own history.
“There’s something very validating about reading about our history, our people,” Simar said. She’s heard feedback from some readers who travel the area, visiting the locations detailed in the books. “That makes me so happy, because we need to hang onto our history. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with it, but we need to understand what happened…. The Scandinavian culture is very unique.”
Simar wished to thank the Five Wings Arts Council, which provided her with grants that helped make her books possible. Her books are available at Turtle Town Books in Nisswa and Book World in Baxter, as well as on her website, candacesimar.com and on Amazon.