Readers, I am proud to introduce to you a new author from Minnesota. Peter is a graduate of South High School, where I currently teach and I am so happy to feature him today on my blog. Read on!
- Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a Minneapolis boy through and through. My family lived on the northside. I’m second oldest in a brood of five kids and we were (and remain) a tight bunch. My brother and I were ski jumpers. We learned at Theodore Wirth Park under the watchful eye of Selmer Swanson. I started when I was six or seven, my younger brother when he was five. I mention ski jumping because for most of my life it’s the thing I’ve most associated myself as, a ski jumper, that is. This is true even though I took my last jump in March of 1989, in Ely, Minnesota. My oldest son is five years old, and we’re trying to talk him into giving it a try. I’ve three kids, ages five, three and one. If it sounds like a handful, there’s a good reason for that. I stay at home with the kids. My wife of thirteen years works for a bank in downtown Minneapolis. We still live here, though we’re southsiders now.
- What is the inspiration behind the story “Safe from the Sea”
I wanted to write a book that was cerebral even as it was action packed. I wanted to write about a place that I love, with characters that would be as interesting to create as they’d someday be to read. I started with a very blank slate, without any idea of what the story would be about or who the characters were. Both the story and characters came into focus pretty quickly once I started sketching them out.
- Your book is set along the North shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. Why did you choose this location as the setting for your novel?
The only thing I was certain of the day I first put pen to paper was where the book would take place. I have a sort of prevailing image I carry around of the North Shore. It’s the birch forest just west of Lutsen, in winter, seen from the road, as I’m driving along. I started there. Just put a man in a car and began describing what I see in my mind. It wasn’t long before everything started taking shape from that simple place, from that very vague beginning.
- One of the main characters, Olaf, is in a shipwreck on Lake Superior. Is this based on an actual shipwreck or is it truly fictional?
This is the question I’m asked more than any other, and I think that’s because for so many people the true maritime history of the Great Lakes holds such great sway over their imaginations. I’d be the biggest fake in the world if I didn’t admit to being influenced by the true history, but the wreck of the ore boat in Safe from the Sea is completely fictional. I made the whole story up, from the boat to the men to the storm that dooms them, it’s all fiction.
- When I was younger I had a huge fascination with the ships coming and going out of the Duluth harbor. I wanted to sail away on one as soon as I could. What about you? Did you visit Duluth Harbor as a child?
I’m very much the same way. One of my earliest memories of awe is seeing my first freighter entering Duluth harbor. I can’t say how old I was, but I was young enough to be spellbound by the size of it, by the very notion of such a big hunk of steel floating around on a lake that I could likewise not understand. It’s an idea that sneaks into my book, from the point of view of the protagonist. He’s back in Duluth for the first time in years and he watches a salty heading through the canal and he’s still awestruck, even though he’s a man well into middle age. I’m the same way; they get me every time. Every boat I see makes me feel like a kid again.
- Are you interested in shipwrecks and do you think shipwrecks on Lake Superior are a thing of the past? What shipwreck are you the most interested in?
I became a junkie as I researched Safe from the Sea, to the point that my wife would tease me about being a boat nerd. Part of that was because I needed an education, but another part of it, perhaps the larger part, was because the maritime history of the Great Lakes is so fascinating. The tragedies are Shakespearian, the tales of survival epic. I’d be hard pressed to think of another topic that lends itself so well to the art of the novel. War, maybe. The family drama. But aside from that, what?
The wreck that stands out most in my mind is the 1905 foundering of the Mataafa. It’s not one of the more famous wrecks, probably because of how time obscures the distant past, but to me it’s endlessly interesting. What sets this story apart from so many of the other Lake Superior shipping tragedies is that the whole drama unfolded in plain sight of the city of Duluth. What happened is, this boat set out against terrific seas. They no sooner got into the open water outside Duluth harbor than they tried to come about and reenter the harbor. The problem was that the lake was so punishing, they couldn’t return, and were hung up on the rocks only a couple hundred yards offshore. These colossal seas spent all night busting the boat in half, while ten thousand people stood onshore burning bonfires and watching the helpless boat. The seas were so bad the coast guard couldn’t even launch a rescue. By the time morning comes and they’re finally able to make a rescue attempt, they find half of the crew frozen to death. Just like that.
I believe the lake is still capable of having its way. No doubt that since the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald the safety standards have improved, but I’ve stood on the shore of Lake Superior in Duluth harbor and watched waves crash over the breakwater lighthouses. I imagine as long as there’s a shipping industry there’s a chance for large-scale tragedy.
- Usually an author puts some of his own life experiences in the book. Did you do that? Do you have anything in common with your characters?
In a sense the whole book is culled from my life experiences. That is to say, my fears and emotional sensibilities, my sense of duty and the love I have for my wife and my father. But that’s abstract, I suppose.
But there are parts of the plotlines that come from my own experience. I was a ski jumper, as I mentioned, and ski jumping plays a part in the book. There’s also a storyline that involves the foibles of Noah’s and his wife Natalie’s infertility. My wife and I struggled for many years to have kids before it finally worked out, and many of the moments between Noah and Natalie were inspired by our tribulations. But that’s more or less it.
- This is your first book. Can you tell us why you decided to become a writer?
This is a one-word answer: Hemingway. I was in my junior year of high school and we read A Farewell to Arms. It was the first book I had ever read with the sort of concentration and imagination that allowed the story to come alive in me. It was a transformative experience, one that demonstrated the power of stories. I finished the novel and literally said to myself, I want to do that, to write stories that have that sort of power. So that’s how I decided to become a writer. I’m still working on the part where I write as powerfully as Hemingway.
- What books influenced your writing of Safe from the Sea?
I try not to be directly influenced by what I’m reading, but a couple of books that I read early on while writing Safe from the Sea were Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing and William Gay’s The Long Home. They’re about as different as books can be, but they both made me want to write better.
- Are you working on a second book? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?
I’m revisiting the same geography in the book I’m working on now, but it’s wholly different, both in subject and in temperament. It’s the story of a young woman who arrives in Northern Minnesota from a small farm in the Norwegian Lapland, expecting to be greeted by her mother’s sister. It turns out there’s no one to greet her, and so begins the story of her life. It begins in the late 1890s and spans about thirty years and two generations. I’m excited about it. I like it.
- Safe from the Sea imparts many lessons. What is the main lesson you hope your readers will take away from the book?
Don’t underestimate the bonds of love and family, and have a place in your heart for forgiveness.
- Tell us in one sentence why we should read Safe from the Sea?
You should read Safe from the Sea because a more heartfelt book was never written; I love those characters like my own family.
Thank you Peter for answering these questions. If you want to read my review of Safe from the Sea click here: Safe From the Sea Review