I grew up in the upper Midwest thinking I had no cultural influences as a kid because nearly everyone around me had the same experiences. As I grew up, I realized that my German/Scandinavian background was, in fact, my culture and that it was unique. When I was turned on to Garrison Keillor, I discovered how people in other parts of the world, even the Midwest, didn’t know what lefse was or even what the word uffda meant. That’s when I started embracing my unique culture. After all, Garrison Keillor has built his career on pointing out the eccentricities of Minnesotans, and there are a lot, I eventually learned.
I’d always been very leery writing about places near where I live. It felt too close, somehow. I was fine writing about my heritage if the characters lived in other places though. So when I really considered where I was going to set the story that had been brewing in my head for months, I made the tough choice to let readers get a glimpse of my world.
Spark, the first book in my North Star Trilogy, is a story about getting a second chance at love. It’s set in various towns across Minnesota. Hugo Thorson and Kevin Magnus live in Austin in high school. It’s a small rural city where they make SPAM. As adults when they have their second chance, both men live in the Twin Cities area: Hugo in the trendy Minneapolis neighborhood of Uptown and Kevin in the very wealthy suburb of Edina.
And then there’s the lakes. We have a lot of lakes in Minnesota, and on any weekend in the summer, there is a mass exodus from cities around the state of people escaping to the lake to relax. You don’t have to be rich to have a cabin, although that’s starting to be less and less the case as property values go up. There’s even an entire “lake culture” inside Minnesota, so I just had to write about that too.
What I’ve discovered while writing about places close to home is that I like it. A lot, in fact. I needed information about several sites in Austin so I hopped in my car and explored the city with my daughter for the day. I was able to drive to Uptown and saunter around the neighborhood and talk to the people there. In Edina, I drove around and actually found a house that works as Kevin’s, with only a few modifications.
It was truly fun to write about the type of people I grew up with too, like Ruby, Hugo’s mom and Summer, Hugo’s best friend. I got to write about local cuisine and use silly (to the rest of the world but normal to me) expressions. And I got to share the lake and a lot of the other natural beauty that being out in the middle of nowhere affords us time to notice.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2 where Hugo and Summer are at a party enjoying the lake at twilight. They both need the healing power of water badly, and Hugo needs an opportunity for a second chance. You can read Chapter 1 here.
“Come with me,” Summer said, leading him down to the end of the long dock where they then sat. It was quiet and private there, the noises of the party muffled to nothing by the sound of waves crashing against the shore and the added distance.
“I’m sorry, Summer. This is your weekend. Please. Don’t let me take this and turn it into something about me.”
“Shut up, Hugo,” she chided with a playful push to his shoulder. “Geez! It’s okay to feel these things, and who said I had the monopoly on feeling melancholy? Huh?” She lowered her chin and raised her brows showing that she expected an answer.
“No one,” Hugo droned as if well rehearsed. He took a few seconds to work out his thoughts before sharing. “Okay. So I feel lonely when I see people who’ve known you forever telling stories you don’t even remember. I don’t have anyone to do that with except my sister. It just makes me wonder what I missed out on by leaving my childhood friends behind. That’s all,” he said with a shrug.
“Makes sense. But for the record, it’s not like I’m good friends with any of these people anymore. They know me like I was at seventeen, not at thirty-five. A few funny stories are all they really have of me.”
Summer lay back, pulling Hugo along with her so they both rested against each other. Hugo looked at the darkening sky just starting to be pinpricked with the first stars. The low wail of a loon calling for its mate echoed eerily across the water and was answered. Hugo stilled, waiting to see what would happen. After a few more calls, Summer sighed and snuggled into Hugo’s side.
“This is just what I needed,” she whispered as Hugo made a comfortable pillow for her in the crook of his armpit. “I didn’t come home because of the people. I wanted to come home because of the water. It seems to know what I need better than anything.”
“Do you know loons mate for life?”
“Yeah. I remember learning that in my Minnesota history unit in whatever grade I was in when we studied that. Miss Moen’s class. That’s all I remember.”
Summer smiled up at Hugo and brushed a strand of hair away from his eyes. “Jason wasn’t the one I was supposed to be with. I just need to keep looking, calling, if you will. I’ll find the right man for me.
They were quiet for a long stretch, listening to the water lapping, the murmured conversations in the distance, and the calls of the insects coming out at night.
“Just in time,” Myles’s mom said when Summer and Hugo rejoined the group now circled around a large fire roaring in an outdoor fire pit. “Lemon bar?” she offered, passing a large platter with bars cut at least three inches square. “And soon we’ll take out the boats to go watch the fireworks on the lake.”
“Thank you,” Summer exclaimed, handing Hugo one of the yellow, powdered-sugar-dusted treats. He took a bite and moaned at how good they tasted.
All around the yard, people continued to ask pointed questions about Hugo and Summer’s relationship, which pushed Summer to finally admit her engagement to Jason had just been broken. Sounds of sympathy reverberated all around, but Summer brushed them off, saying it was all for the best but admitting the wounds were still quite fresh.
“That’s why I’m here with Hugo. I needed to get away but didn’t think I should be alone.” Silence blanketed the backyard but was suddenly broken, and not only by the random pops of fireworks going off in the distance.
“Kev!” Myles yelled to someone walking across the yard, startling Hugo and causing him to take a deep breath just as he moved in for another bite of his lemon bar. Powdered sugar flew into his airway, choking him and causing tears to quickly form.
Summer slapped Hugo on the back as he tried to clear his throat to reestablish a decent way to breathe. “Keep coughing,” Summer encouraged, apparently recalling her first aid training and repeating the choking script perfectly while rubbing Hugo’s back. The rest of the crowd seemed to be greeting this newcomer, but Hugo couldn’t see through the tears in his eyes; everyone seemed to be glad to see him.
Myles’s mom pressed a cool glass of water into Hugo’s hand, and after taking a quick and much too shallow breath, he took cautious sips, finally feeling some relief. He felt people looking at him.
“Oh man. That was rough,” Hugo squeaked out, voice rough and raw. He coughed and coughed some more, taking a longer drink this time.
“You okay?” Summer asked.
Hugo wiped the tears from his eyes and took some long but unsteady breaths, finally nodding that he could breathe again.
“Who knew powdered sugar could be deadly?” He laughed, hoping any remaining attention paid to his choking would be withdrawn. “I’m good though.”
Hugo turned so he faced Summer, still feeling people’s stares. He just wanted to blend in with the darkness until the redness on his face was gone. No matter what, he continued to feel one person’s eyes boring into the side of his head.
When he turned to see who it was, it was the newcomer, Kev.
At least, that’s who Hugo thought he saw through his tear-filled eyes.
In their small-town high school, Hugo and Kevin became closeted lovers who kept their secret even from parents. Hugo didn’t want to disappoint his terminally ill father, and Kevin’s controlling father would never tolerate a bisexual son. When college took them in different directions, they promised to reunite, but that didn’t happen for seventeen years.
By the time they meet again, Hugo has become an out-and-proud actor and director who occasionally performs in drag—a secret that has cost him in past relationships. Kevin, still closeted, has followed his father’s path and now, in the shadow of divorce, is striving to be a better father to his own children.
When Hugo and Kevin meet by chance at a party, the spark of attraction reignites, as does their genuine friendship. Rekindling a romance may mean Hugo must compromise the openness he values, but Kevin will need a patient partner as he adapts to living outside the closet. With such different lifestyles, the odds seem stacked against them, and Hugo fears that if his secret comes to light, it may drive Kevin away completely.
Posy Roberts lives in the land of 10,000 lakes (plus a few thousand more). But even with more shoreline than California, Florida, and Hawaii combined, Minnesota has snow—lots of it—and the six months of winter makes us “hearty folk,” or so the locals say. The rest of the year is heat and humidity with a little bit of cool weather we call spring and autumn, which lasts about a week.
She loves a clean house, even if she can’t keep up with her daughter’s messes, and prefers foods that are enriched with meat, noodles, and cheese, or as we call it in Minnesota, hotdish. She also loves people, even though she has to spend considerable amounts of time away from them after helping to solve their interpersonal problems at her day job.
Posy is married to a wonderful man who makes sure she eats while she documents the lives of her characters. She also has a remarkable daughter who helps her come up with character names. When she’s not writing, she enjoys karaoke, hiking, and singing spontaneously about the mundane, just to make normal seem more interesting.
Read more at http://posyroberts.com