Get to Know Alberta Writer Fred Stenson

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Alberta writer Fred Stenson

Prolific writer, columnist, and editor Fred Stenson headed to the Banff Centre’s Wired Writing Studio. His best-seller, Things Feigned or Imagined, published by the Banff Centre Press, is a guide to the craft of fiction. 

Here are a few tidbits about the Cochrane, AB native. 

  1. Fred worked as a chambermaid at an inn in Greece. While backpacking through Europe in 1972, he followed the trail of Leonard Cohen to the island of Hydra where he found a job cooking breakfasts, pulling weeds, and changing sheets. 
  2. Fred’s first book was a true community effort. He wrote his break-through first novel, Lonesome Hero (1974), by hand during that same European journey, mailing scribbled pages home to his family in southern Alberta. His sisters and a neighbour who had experience with typewriters would type them out, while he continued to “lolly” his way around. “I was washing dishes in a bakery in Germany when they called to tell me I was going to be published,” he says. 
  3. Fred has been mistaken for a convict. Guards at the Alberta prison where Stenson volunteered teaching writing courses in the 1970s thought he was a convict escaping when he’d depart after his visits. “I had very long hair. I looked like a hippie,” he says. 
  4. The idea for Fred’s fur trade book was born 15 years before it was published. The historic trilogy that began with The Trade (2000) was born while writing a guidebook to the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site in 1985. Stenson spent days roaming the landscape of the site, and had access to first-hand documents about the fur trade post which dated to 1899. “I realized right away that this was material for a kind of novel I’d never written.” The trilogy later led to novels Lightning (2003) about cattle ranching and The Great Karoo (2008) about Alberta cowboys fighting in the Boer War.
  5. Stenson ran for political office. In 2012, he was the Liberal candidate for a provincial election in a riding in southern Calgary. “It’s a big problem that people just don’t run for office,” he says. “So I ran to put my money where my mouth is.” He had supporters from across Canada on his side, but there weren’t enough local supporters to get him elected. That may have been a good thing, Fred says. “I was troubled with the idea of actually winning.”