Q&A

Is Bend autobiographical?

There are people who will ask if Bend is where I grew up? There is no town named Bend in Minnesota. It is a fictional place and yes there are things about Swanville and its environs, where I grew up, that I projected onto Bend. Physically, Swanville and Bend are very much the same, beautiful farm spotted countryside with lots of lakes, trees, fields and small towns. I projected the love I had/have for the land and people there onto Bend, and also the knowledge that being a queer at the time I was a teen was not the same as it is in the urban areas today.  


My main character, Lorraine wanted out and planned to return after she’d secured her education, career, and someone to love. I am not Lorraine. Lorraine was braver and lived in a different time than I did. I left my hometown and did not return except for visits because I didn’t believe I could have the employment opportunity, the freedom to live as an “out lesbian”, and provide for the needs of the children of color I brought into my life. I have great love for my hometown, the people who live there, and the institutions like the school, churches, and small businesses which anchor life. I wasn’t brave enough to wait for people to get used to me or tolerate me on a daily basis. I needed a community that included gay life as one of the many splendid ways of being in this world. I believed that I needed to be in a city for that freedom. In some ways, maybe I didn’t give my hometown community enough credit for what they could tolerate. I was scared, so I moved away.

Is Bend a spiritual statement?

There will be some talk about my treatment of the church in this novel. Bend is fictional and it is also part of what is intended to be a trilogy. Stray and the final book of the trilogy, Rise, will show more layers of Lorraine’s spirituality and the values of the local pastor and the other characters in the story. The drive to live in concert with what we believe is the will of God isn’t easily reduced to black or white in life or even in novels.  


Lorraine, the protagonist is a spiritual person. She is trying to reconcile what she knows about God and herself with what others are professing to know about God and queers like her. I was aware that I loved women in high school, but I didn’t know there was anyone else like me in the world. I heard unkind remarks and insults toward a teacher who was presumed gay, but I didn’t know what to call myself or whether it would always be like that for me. I certainly knew enough not to say I had crushes on girls. I had crushes on boys too, but not as intensely. Personally as a teen, the church saved my life. It was my faith and the kindness of people at my church that got me through depression and worries about sexuality and my family problems.


In college, my faith kept me alive even while I wrestled with the thought that I should die, because I was a lesbian and the church was saying to be gay or lesbian was against God. I knew in my heart that I wasn’t against God. I loved God. I also knew that I didn’t choose to be lesbian. It was something I’d known about myself since I was very young and long before I heard any of the names for it. It was something I prayed would go away. What kept me from killing myself was believing that God would not make me this way and also condemn me. That wasn’t the God I knew from my hometown church and the spiritual example of my maternal Grandmother. However, I felt very alone.

 

My novel isn’t an indictment of the church or small towns. It is just a story about the struggle of living life in the context of our families, our community, and the larger world. For some people the chance to experience diversity happens through fiction and other types of art.

What are Lorraine’s favorite things:

Music: Lorraine loves K.D. Lang because it is country enough that Momma doesn’t hassle her for listening to it and Momma hasn’t noticed that K.D. is singing about loving women. 


TV show: The Tylers refuse to get cable or internet so Lorraine is stuck with only network TV. She likes crime shows that take place in New York and Los Angeles because of their inclusion of GLBT characters. She’s also a fan of Nashville and Modern Family for the same reason. Nashville is a particular favorite because the writing for the Will Lexington character has sensitively portrayed the ongoing risks and stress of being out in different parts of America. 


Book: Lorraine loves all animal field guides of course. She hasn’t had access to GLBT literature at the time Bend was written, but she has a tender heart and great imagination so she easily transports herself in any well-written romance. If push comes to shove she’d admit reading Charity’s underwear is the best read in the world. 

 

Clothes: Lorraine wears a soft sweatshirt over a white tank top, no bra, jeans, and work boots or sneakers. She looks very fit and sexy as she peels off her sweatshirt because her chores on the farm and veterinary work has given her nicely defined arms and shoulders. 


Food: Although Lorraine believes her momma is the best cook in the world she would never admit it and would tell you she likes cheeseburgers and fries at the diner best. She keeps a glass jar of water in her truck because she doesn’t want to get hooked on pop. She loves doughnuts and almost has to have one if she thinks of them. Glazed raised are her favorites. 


Where would Lorraine take Charity on a romantic weekend? You must remember that Lorraine finds every moment she is with Charity romantic. That said, Lorraine loves nature and would want to take Charity to a secluded cabin on a lake. She’d tie a double hammock between two of the many trees on the lot so that she could be outside with Charity, swinging gently, holding hands, kissing and telling stories. They would swim and fish part of the afternoon and skinny dip as evening falls.

What advice would you give to new writers?

Read everything you can and read widely, especially things that by consensus of the literary world are good works. Read fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Research topics that interest you. Write fearlessly. Get the ideas on the page without worrying about spelling, the exact word needed, grammar, or whether it skips around makes sense or is complete. 


Get it down on paper. Revision and editing are down the road. First, get it written. Write whether you ever plan to submit for publication and don’t let not being published keep you from writing. You are working on practicing and improving your craft. You are keeping your writing muscles in shape.  


We are so lucky that we don’t have to type everything on a manual typewriter for every draft we create. Word processing gives us the chance to save and play with multiple drafts while we are figuring out the story we want to tell.

How would you describe your writing process?

I wish I could say I write everyday. I can’t say that. I can say that I write or noodle (think about my work) everyday and most days, I also get some writing done. I usually write longhand in cheap notebooks and fun journals. My wife and kids will tell you I have lots and lots of journals and notebooks. I love school supply sales. 


In terms of content, often, I hear a line in my head about the next story or novel I am writing. It’s usually dialog, but it may not be from the main character. It may be the narrator’s voice or a minor character. I need to write this down right away or I may not remember it again. I write fast and messy in order to get the ideas down as quickly as possible so that I don’t lose them.  


I can write anywhere—at home, work, on buses. I loved assignments in my MFA program at Hamline University and I give myself assignments when I am writing a novel. When I am stuck, I journal. Being stuck for me usually means I have an authorial decision to make and I’m not sure what to do. So, I write about it. I interview myself about what I want to say and where I want to go in the scene. If that doesn’t work immediately—it often does, I may get the direction over the next couple days, in my sleep, or while doing something other than writing.


I write lots of pages of crappy stuff trying to get to something that I want to take further now or later. I usually have several novels in process at once and am reading several books. That’s how the creative process works for me.

How long did it take to write Bend?

Bend took me over twenty years to finish and find a publisher. I started the book while I was taking a class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. The Loft provides classes to improve the writing and advance the writing careers of writers in the community. I was taking a beginning fiction class with Ellen Hawley, author of The Divorce Diet, when I first heard what ended up being the narrator’s voice for Bend. At first I thought it was going to be a collection of stories about the momma, but over time the story took a different shape. 

 

Mary Logue taught a class on plot for the Hamline University MFA program. That class helped me write a complete first draft of my novel. That was just the beginning of the revision process. I have over fifty electronic drafts of the novel before I found an agent. Then, my agent and I revised the novel. It took another couple years to sell. Next, I worked on revisions with my editors at Riptide. It was a long process. I can say that after completing my MFA at Hamline, I was able to write a first draft much more quickly.

Frequently asked questions

What literary genre is Bend?

Bend is a coming-of-age novel that straddles the line between young adult literary fiction and adult literary fiction. Booklist post states it is appropriate for a wide audience.    Is it only about queer people? The protagonist is lesbian, but this book is about much more than sexual preference. It is about family relationships, intergenerational conflicts, following our hearts, and negotiating living in community.  

Is Bend the story of your life in Swanville?

No and yes.   No it isn't my personal life story. I have things in common with Lorraine, the main character. I am a queer who grew up in a small town. I was a tomboy who loved animals and playing in the woods on our farm. 


Bend, the fictional town in my novel is like my hometown of Swanville in its beauty, family values, conservativism, and community pride, but the fictional characters are not thinly veiled people I already know.  


The dad in the story shares some similarities with my dad's best qualities. The mom in the story is a good cook like my mom was. 


I personally never had a minister like Pastor Grind, but I knew plenty of his type in my life.   I was never as bold or brave as Lorraine. I never had a crush on the minister's daughter or impulsively kissed any classmates. I stayed in the closet until I was twenty-five.  

One of the characters has a mental illness. Did you have any misgivings about that?

No. Mental illness is a biologically based brain disorder and deserves no less understanding than diabetes or any other illness. The specific disorders fall along a continuum of severity, but make no mistake, it is an equal opportunity disease. It can affect anyone. It has nothing to do with a person's intellect, character, wealth, or religion. 


Having one of the characters develop a serious mental illness came organically in terms of an authorial decision. I have worked in the mental health recovery field for the past 25 years. I strongly believe in the recovery model of treatment and I know how serious and persistent mental illness can ravage individuals and families. Suicide is still a more common cause of death in America than homicide. Untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide.

Do you have plans for a sequel?

Yes. It is already written, but not under contract yet.

Can you give us any idea what issues Lorraine may encounter in the sequel?

Without giving too much away, I'll say that Lorraine learns more about the abortion debate and hate crime.