About the Book: The Northeast Quarter
Winfield, Iowa. 1918. Colonel Wallace Carson, the ruler of a vast agricultural empire, asks Ann Hardy, his ten year old granddaughter and eventual heir, to promise she will safeguard The Northeast Quarter, the choice piece of land from which the empire was founded. Ann readily accepts – little knowing what awaits her. When The Colonel is killed unexpectedly the same afternoon, the world around Ann and her family begins to fall apart.
Against the background of America sliding from a post-war boom into The Great Depression, The Northeast Quarter tells the story of Ann’s struggle to keep a promise no matter what. She witnesses the remarriage of her grandmother to Royce Chamberlin, the seemingly humble banker who institutes a reign of terror over the household and proceeds to corrupt the entire town.
Over the next ten years she matches wits with Chamberlin, enduring betrayal, banishment and even physical violence. She grows from a precocious child into a tough-minded young woman – watching, observing her enemy and waiting for the moment to make her move.
And when the moment comes in July 1929, life in Winfield will never be the same.
INTERVIEW WITH S.M. HARRIS
The Northeast Quarter is loosely based on events from my mother’s childhood. Often I would hear my mother and cousins talking about past events as they were growing up in Iowa between WW1 and The Great Depression. I thought it would make a good story.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your book?
The story is loosely based on gossip overheard by the author as a child between his mother and her cousin about family property in rural Iowa. My novel began as a three-act play in a workshop. During readings and feedback, it became apparent that the stage was too limiting for the sweep of the story, so it became a first novel by default. It’s called The Northeast Quarter. I had always loved novels by Edna Ferber and James Michener. Ferber perhaps a little more. I like her multi-generational family sagas like Giant and Ice Palace. Finally I decided I would write a Ferber-type narrative and set it in Iowa. To make it different, I turned the traditional Ferber narrative upside down. I begin with the empire and end with the few survivors recovering and starting to build again.
Q: Tell us about your main character(s).
Ann is the central character. Her story starts when she is ten years old and ends when she is twenty-two. She began as a child of privilege and I finished up knowing how to take care of herself. She grew up in Carson Manor in Winfield, Iowa. The Carson agricultural empire is one of the largest in the state. It was founded by Colonel Wallace Carson, her grandfather. When he died and her grandma remarried, the empire begins to collapse. Just before her grandfather dies he asks her to keep a promise. Her problem being that every crook and conniver in the country converges on the Carson empire, looking to carve out a portion for themselves. Ann must fight all of them in order to keep the promise to her grandfather.
Q: Why is The Northeast Quarter the title of the book?
It’s a colloquial farm expression. It refers to a portion of land on a larger piece of property. Since The Northeast Quarter is set on a large agricultural empire, the title seemed right.
Q: What role does the 4th of July play in the book? Why is this significant?
The 4th of July was my mother’s birthday. The Northeast Quarter is very pro-Iowa and pro-USA, so I thought it would work. The book opens on a July 4th and closes on a July 4th and there are a few July 4th chapters along the way. It was one way to chart the growth of Ann, the protagonist.
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