By Nancy Dashwood
COKATO, MN Cokato’s grand event, the Cokato Corn Carnival, kicks off next week. The event always draws people from near and far.
This year, one of those returning home will also share her new book, “The Viking Priest,” with her hometown. Linda Kay Dahlén, “proud 1968 graduate of Cokato High School,” will read from her book Monday, Aug. 13 at 4 p.m. at the Cokato Library.
Dahlén grew up on a dairy farm in Stockholm Township, near Cokato. She remembers working hard and playing hard.
“I liked to explore the farm, taking note of the animals, plants, and insects,” she said. “It was a time of free-range children, free-range dogs, free-range creeks, and the occasional escaped dairy cow.”
Dahlén said she was fascinated by the migratory Monarch butterflies which fluttered and flew through nearby fields, and then returned to Mexico each fall.
Dahlén and her friends also had fun playing near Sucker Creek, which flowed through the family’s pastureland.
“I remember meeting up with the town kids at the area where Sucker Creek made a loop, which we called ‘Jungle Island.’”
Dahlén attended the University of Minnesota, Morris, and earned a bachelors degree with majors in both speech communications and Spanish.
In 1972, Dahlén volunteered with the American Friends Service Committee, and spent a summer in the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico. She enjoyed her time there immensely.
Dahlén said her Mexican friends were well aware of the Minnesota Vikings football team. Some even teasingly called her “Vikinga,” or Viking.
Dahlén said her nickname led to some deep thinking. “What if there had been Norse people or Vikings in that part of the world, before Columbus?” she said.
That question started her own quest for information. Dahlén began researching Viking explorers in North America. “That led to research about how the Vikings of that time lived,” she said. “And that led, well, you get the picture.”
A career journey of service. . . and justice
Directly after college, Dahlén worked as a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) in Dallas, TX. She also taught English as Second Language to Spanish-speaking adults.
She was eventually hired as a civil rights investigator for the US federal government.
“I investigated individual complaints of discrimination and reviewed workforce practices in federally-funded programs and construction projects in Santa Fe, El Paso, and New Orleans,” she said.
Her next step was a big one: she worked as a human rights investigator for the City of St. Paul, while taking law school classes at night.
She started work on her law degree at Hamline Law School, and then finished her studies at William Mitchell College of Law.
“I thought that, as an attorney, I could do more good in the world,” she said.
Following her graduation from law school, the remainder of her career was spent working as an interpreter, an investigator, and in various managerial positions with state agencies.
Dahlén credits her jobs with teaching her research skills and developing insights that were helpful in writing “The Viking Priest.”
An epic saga is born
Dahlén began to plot her book while working, but completed it after retirement.
She admitted that it was difficult initially to put aside the precise and emotionless writing style that attorneys must practice. She pushed through that phase, and her writing style changed.
“I was able to let my imagination free to include the details and emotion so necessary for a successful story,” she said.
Dahlén started “The Viking Priest” by creating a chart of the historical figures in the Norse world around the year 1,000, and of the legends relating to the god Quetzalcoatl in Mesoamerica.
“Then, I started to envision my characters and how they might have interacted with the people already chronicled in the Icelandic Sagas and in the legends and literature of pre-conquest Mesoamerica,” she said.
A decade and a half of imagination
Dahlén said she knew for many years how her book would end, but had to envision the characters and plot to get there.
“It took about 14 years to research and write the story,” she said, “and about one year to edit it.”
Dahlén hopes her book has successfully merged the genres of history, religion, romance, and geography.
“I think every person has a life story with elements of romance, religion, time and place and so do my characters,” she said.
Sharing the finished story
“Holding my book for the first time was emotional and surreal,” Dahlén said. “After living with the creation of the novel for so long, it still is.”
Dahlén said she does return to the Cokato area often to visit family, and watch the farmland change from season to season.
She is excited to share her novel with people during her book reading at the Cokato Library Monday. Dahlén hopes “The Viking Priest” leaves readers with the understanding that “God loves you no matter what, and you are never alone.”
One and done
Dahlén said she is often asked about her “next book.” Her reply is always the same. “I have one novel in me, and it’s been written!"