My name is Sara Dahmen, and besides writing, I like to drink scotch.
I’m from Wisconsin…what can I say?
I like to lift weights and am the mother of three children ages 6, 4 and almost 2. When I’m not writing or playing with the kids, I’m working on the pure kitchen and cookware lines (House Copper and Housekeeper Crockery) inspired by the book I’m featuring or playing in the shop where I am an apprentice to a master tin and copper smith (we use tools from the 1700 and 1800’s). I’m a TEDx speaker and present at writing conferences across the States, as well as play at 17th century rendezvous (where I work on tinware, what else?).
The book featured here is Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper. It is set in the late 1800’s in the Dakota Territories – not a western or a pioneer fiction per sae, but it takes place then and there, as well as in Massachusetts. There are Indians and difficult townfolk, suitors and star crossed loves, parties and injuries and lots of train travel…plus, of course, a lot of kitchen time!
Let’s Get To Know Sara Dahmen
Q: What are the top five books that have influenced your career?
A: Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett – because he showed the awesomeness of building a whole world from history while still making it wonderfully entertaining.
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Lady Antonia Fraser – taught me the true value of research and gave me a footing for the value of great biographies
The Egyptian by Miki Waltari – this book showed me how to create a social structure and give language to a long-gone time. It reminds me every time that we can only guess what was truly experienced and said in the past, and it’s up to us, the writers and novelists, to explore the possibilities.
Beauty by Robin McKinley – this young adult version of Beauty and the Beast still is a favorite of mine. I adore it because it takes liberties with a well-worn tale and spins it new again and it’s fresh every time I pick it up. I’m reading it to my six and four year old children now (the baby just wants to look at truck books), and they love it. There’s something tantalizing about reading a vintage classic in new clothes.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant – this is just awesome. Taking a single paragraph from the Bible and running with it?! Brilliant. I see this as something I aspire to do, something so grand and brave with a sacred text – we all need a dream, right?!
Q: What’s the funniest thing a reader has ever said/emailed to you?
A: “I loved the part where Jane confesses her heart to Widow Hawks, may have cried. This better turn out right, or I’ll fan fiction your ass!”
Q: If you could go back in time before you published your first book, what advice would you give yourself about publishing?
A: This is going to be much bigger than just publishing – the real hard work starts after the book is off the press. Be prepared.
Q: What fictional character would you punch if the face if you thought you could get away with it without going to jail?
A: The sister, Caroline, from Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson.
Q: Pick a super-power and tell us what you’d do with it.
A: Stop Time.
I’d do ALL THE PROJECTS I WANT TO DO AND STILL HAVE TIME TO PLAY WITH MY KIDS!!!!!!!
(this is a serious obsession for me…if you have a clock that does this, I will buy it from you…)
About Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper by Sara Dahmen
A pregnant widow. The last Sioux in town. A half-breed grocer. An immigrant doctor. Jane Weber must decide what kind of life she wishes to create within social constraints and her unbidden pregnancy.
Everyone in Flats Junction must carve their place and their purpose in the last years of the Wild West while navigating the conventions and suffocating expectations of the 1880’s amid the prejudice against the Native Americans. In the final months before the Dakota Territories joined the Union, settlers poured in and the Native Americas were forced out. Newly widowed newcomer Jane Weber finds herself befriending the last Blackfoot Sioux in Flats Junction and managing a mercurial friendship with the town’s grocer. Through it all, she must settle into a new life on the prairie and learn to understand her employer: Doctor Kinney himself.
“Yes,” he pauses again, then meets my eyes. “Ye are younger than I supposed, and it would not do to have you stay in my auntie’s old rooms upstairs as I’d planned.”
His words deflate me. He’s right. But I still cannot afford the inn, and I voice as much, though I say so with some apology. He waves it away with a large bunched hand.
“I’m not goin’ to have you stay at the inn, Mrs. Weber. But the only other place I can think of is boardin’ ye with old Widow Hawks.”
“That sounds fine,” I say soothingly. I am embarrassed to have caused issue already.
“Widow Hawks is Sioux.” The statement is said almost defiantly.
There is a part of me that hesitates. I am worried that she is by definition an outcast. That by staying with her, I will be shunned immediately among the townsfolk. But I look at the Doctor and realize he wishes this. I must trust someone, and why not my new employer? If he does not doubt the widow, I have no reason to do so either.
“If she is a fair landlady, I have no objections,” I manage to say evenly, and he relaxes slightly, then leans into the worn wood of his chair and stares at me. I take the time to look at his stocky shoulders, the round muscles of his arms, the holes in his shirt and the patches in his leather vest, which is shiny from wear. He has curls in his reddish hair, and he is newly shaved.
He nods slowly, as if he is still mulling what we have already decided. “Yes. She’s like family to me, and I know you’ll be treated well. It is best.” His eyes watch me. I do not know if he is just observing or if he is creating opinions already. Finally, he sighs. “I’m sorry again for your recent loss, Mrs. Weber. I know ye are in mournin’, but the work here is hard. You’ll be advised to cast off the blacks and greys soon and wear more suitable clothing.”
His pragmatic attitude soothes me. I do not like being fussed over, and mourning Henry has been chaffing enough as it is.
“My period of mourning will be over in a fortnight. I have enough saved to make what is need. I would think Kate can steer me in the right direction on cloth.”
The Doctor’s head comes up a bit at the mention of the grocer. “You’ve met Kate already?” His voice is softer.
“Yes. She was kind enough to offer me coffee when I arrived on the train. We spoke briefly.”
He smiles for the first time since we’ve met, and I like the way the lines bunch on his face and how his blue eyes squeeze to half moons. I think he will be a kind employer.
We fall into discussion about my duties: cook, clean, organize, mend, care for the garden and home, and generally do wifely duties without being his wife. This is good. I feel I have a purpose again, and thankfully it does not come with the strings attached that my marriage had. I have vowed to never tie myself to another union that is so detached, and am glad I can hide myself in this new role for decades should I wish.
As we reach the part of the discussion pertaining to the use of patient files, there is a knock on the door. It is a young cowboy, covered in dust and clapping a hat to his thigh as he pushes through and turns directly into the office. There is little privacy here, I note.
“Doc! Hank’s horse ain’t getting from the far side of the pasture this morn. We’ve tried everything short of force. He thinks something’s wrong with him.” As an afterthought the boy looks at me. “How do, ma’am.”
The Doctor sighs and stands. I notice he does not bother to clear any of his clothing. His slightly disheveled state must be a standard. He glances at me.
“I’ll be back for midday dinner, I’d think, Mrs. Weber. If ye could manage to fix up a bite, we’ll head to Widow Hawks’ place later to get you settled.”
My favorite quote from Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper is:
I wake again to the gentle brush of fingers on my thigh; it is a caress, a trail of touch. As the room swims back into focus, I feel hands lowering my knees, squeezing my ankles as if examining their strength, and I follow the sensations to where a sheet is lowered onto my legs. Doctor Kinney is covering me, his head is bowed. I see there are pale glimmers of early grey in his hair as the light hits it just so. I glance to the window and remember where I am. I am not at Widow Hawks’ home, nor back in Massachusetts. I’m at the Doctor’s place, in his aunt’s old room.