Interview: Peter Geye

It’s interesting how differently writers create sometimes, isn’t it? Some writers get a character in their mind while others think of a location and the story comes from that. There is no right or wrong way to write, there’s only what works for you. In Peter Geye‘s case, he had a location that was near and dear to him and built his wonderful novel around that. Enjoy this interview.

You’ve received some terrific reviews for Safe from the Sea. What do you hope readers take away from it?

This is such a difficult and delicate question. Reading is so solitary and so individual an experience that to make declarations about what I’ve intended is risky. Even still, there are a few things I hope they gleam. I hope they’ll be moved emotionally, made sad and happy, often at the same time. I hope it makes them want to come visit the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, the Minnesota North Shore. I hope it’ll cause them to slow down and consider their love for their parents or children. I hope it gives them some joy.

As a Midwesterner myself, I can appreciate that snowy picture you have on your website on the shoreline of Lake Superior. What inspired you to write about the Great Lakes as part of Safe From the Sea?

Before I knew who any of the characters were, or what the story was, I knew the Lake Superior shore would be my setting. My fascination and fondness for it go back to my childhood and the short summer vacations we would take up there. It’s a magical place that is as wild as it is beautiful. It’s a place, in fact, that seems somewhat at odds with itself, a place perfectly suited as the backdrop for a book about people who are likewise at odds with themselves.

It says on your website you’ve been a “bartender, bookseller, banker, copywriter, and cook.” I’d say that’s just about the perfect resume for a novelist! Were you always “writing in your head” when you worked at other jobs?

I’ve known since I finished high school that I wanted to be a writer, and though I wasn’t a particularly devoted fledgling, I have, in a sense, been writing in my head for many years. In fact, when I started writing Safe from the Sea I worked in a bank, and I’d keep my notebook with me at all times, jotting notes or sentences during my work day. I’d take breaks and sit outside scribbling away. People thought I was antisocial and strange, but I was simply consumed with my story. I wanted to live in it every single minute.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

If by most interesting you mean favorite, then the answer is Moby-Dick. So many people cringe at the mere mention of Melville’s classic, but to my way of thinking it does all the great things a novel is supposed to do: takes us to a strange and different place, forces us to confront our mortality, makes seemingly moral absolutes inexplicably more difficult to parse, tells a rip-roaring story, and uses language that makes our world better for it having been written. I’ve read the book half a dozen times, maybe more, and I’m surprised every time.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I like to ski and fly-fish, though I don’t have nearly as much time for either as I’d like. I have three kids, ages five, two and one, and it’s hard to make time for much of anything that doesn’t involve naps and peanut butter sandwiches and playing Star Wars.

But I do make time for reading, which I do as voraciously as possible considering the kids. I try to read forty or fifty books each year.

Where can we learn more about you?

My brother built a great website for me, and my publisher has a good website, too. But if you really want to get to know me, read my book. I think my characters say more about me than I ever could.

Anything else you’d like to add?

My wife is from Milwaukee, and I consider it my second city. Her folks still live here, as do her two sisters. We visit often, and I always have a good time. Some of your readers might be curious to know that my father-in-law is Dale Hofmann, who was a longtime sports columnist for the Journal-Sentinel. He’s one of my best advocates, and I’ve talked more writing with him than just about anyone on the planet. [Editor’s note: Small world!]

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