SFU student's novel explores elements of classic Canadian love story
PhD student Estella Kuchta’s new historical fiction and romance novel Finding the Daydreamer, published in September 2020, tells the story of a young ranch wife’s life being turned upside down. Fleeing a dangerous husband, she and her young daughter endure a wild and unexpected adventure through Depression-era cowboy country in central British Columbia. All the while, she longs to reunite with the cowboy who compels her heart.
The inspiration for the novel began in Kuchta’s graduate literature program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) where she researched and engaged in an ecocritical examination of Canadian literacy love stories, exploring the question: “What are the characteristics of a classic Canadian love story?”
That initial question formed her MA thesis, and it was where Finding the Daydreamer emerged as a further creative exploration of that question. “Essentially, the novel began as an attempt to explore impediments to national love stories, such as vast geography and the cultures of politeness and economic prosperity,” says Kuchta. “In fact, the initial 50-page excerpt for the novel formed the bulk of my MA thesis.”
For Kuchta, the process of writing the book in between her graduate program at UBC and starting the Philosophy of Education, PhD program at Simon Fraser University is a story of its own spanning a decade across multiple jobs, countries, and circumstances. “If anyone is wondering whether it’s challenging to write a book while being a low-income single-parent of two children – YES, it is!” says Kuchta in an interview with Elm Books. “I started this book in Canada, wrote a significant portion of it while working in Japan, revised it in California, and did a second revision while working in China. During the writing of this book, I moved seven times, worked at ten jobs, finished a graduate degree, had knee surgery, a car accident, and a miscarriage.”
Despite the obstacles and hardships that came her way, Kuchta was determined to continue telling her story and eventually completed her book, helped by the funding she received from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council Research Grant (SSHRC). “As a single mother of two children, receiving a SSHRC grant was an enormous financial relief”, says Kuchta. “The easing of that burden allowed me to focus more on the business of being creative rather than the burden of scrounging up rent money.”
Kuchta’s perseverance over the decade eventually payed off with an unexpected fateful meeting. “I received a travel grant to attend an academic conference for love researchers. While presenting about my UBC research, I mentioned my novel. A publisher approached me after the presentation and asked me to send her the manuscript, and happily, she decided to publish it! So, I was very lucky because I never had to find an agent or send out dozens of submissions or anything.”
For other students looking to write or publish a book of their own, Kuchta’s advice is simple yet fundamental. “Just keep going!”. “It took me 10 years to complete the novel. During that time, I worked in four countries, had surgery, a car accident, and numerous other crises, all while single parenting. If I can do it—so can you!”