I felt as though I were juggling, or perhaps writing music, and trying to achieve a certain rhythm throughout

Dianne Warren is a Canadian dramatist and short story writer. Her first novel, Cool Water, was published in 2010 in Canada. It was released in the US in 2012 under the title Juliet in August. The novel won the Governor General’s Award in the bio on the site for American readers.

How did you choose the protagonists in Juliet in August?

It’s hard to explain, but I don’t remember choosing them. I started with the character Lee and the others found their way into the novel as I was writing and the story progressed. I always start with a character and that person inhabits my mind and imagination until I know him or her well enough to write and build a story. I knew early on that the novel would in some way be about a community, but the other characters really grew as the story developed. Some became more important than I thought they would be, and others less. All of the characters live in the same landscape and their relationship to that landscape ties them together. I was also thinking about the people who lived in that particular location a century ago (ranchers and cowboys) and how that cast of characters has changed in one hundred years.

This choral novel is structured by a horse ride. It contains lots of life tales dealing with important issues such as love, jealousy, adolescence, responsibility, financial difficulties. Was the balance of the novel easy to come up with?

I like your use of the word “balance”. That was the most difficult thing about writing and revising this novel, and also one of the most rewarding. I felt as though I were juggling, or perhaps writing music, and trying to achieve a certain rhythm throughout. I’ve been asked why I chose to write a novel without much plot and that question always confuses me because I think there is lots of plot, many plots. Perhaps plot has been dealt with in a different way to achieve that rhythmic balance, rather than writing with one steady growing arc throughout. The structure I chose is indeed a matter of balance. (Thank you for that question! Very interesting to think about.)

Does this town, Juliet, really exist? I can picture it in a southern state in the US more than in Canada. Isn’t the landscape the main character in this novel?

There is no one town called Juliet in southern Saskatchewan, but there are many towns that are much like Juliet. There is an area called the Great Sand Hills, which I have been to many times. When I was writing the novel I went on occasion just to walk around in the sand dunes and think about that landscape. The land in south western Saskatchewan is grassland and quite sparsely populated, much like such states in the midwestern US as the Dakotas and Montana. I agree that the landscape is the focal point of the novel and I see Lee’s hundred mile ride on the horse as the reflective layer of the novel. I was hoping that ride would be timeless in a sense, since the landscape has not changed much in a hundred years.

Finally, the tension decreases with the death of a protagonist… but not the one the reader would expect. Without revealing the end, is the choice of the defunct’s job anecdotal when there is a world financial crisis out there?

There are many stories in Canada and the US about farm bankruptcies and the change from the small family farms or ranches to larger corporate operations. I think it’s a question of viability. The banker in a small town is the person who knows all of his clients’ financial situations, and I was thinking what a burden that would be for an empathetic individual. I recently read an article in one of our national papers about how fiction writers rarely deal with issues of money or finance in their novels, and I thought about Juliet in August. I wouldn’t say finance or financial crisis is the theme of the novel, but it is connected. The novel mirrors two times of great change in Juliet: one hundred years ago, and now. The “now” is informed by external forces and influence, and world finance is certainly part of that.

I could very well picture Juliet in August being adapted for film and shown at a drive-in theater. What do you think of this proposition?

There is still a functioning drive-in theatre not far from my home town. The screen kind of rises out of the pasture hills and it would be quite fabulous to see the same landscape projected on the screen. However, I can’t really see Juliet in August as a film because of all the characters and stories. Fun to think about, though.