Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.
I’m from Hastings, Minnesota, and my family struggled financially for most of my early childhood. My mom, already a big reader, returned to college when I was a kid to complete her English degree (which, despite the opinions of some journalists, would help our family finances substantially). She’d encouraged me to love books since I was a baby, but when she’d read her homework assignments as bedtime stories, her love of reading and writing seeped into me. I started writing stories shortly afterward, just to impress her.
What are some things you enjoy when not writing?
Books, sports, wine, beer, traveling with my family.
Do you have a particular writing routine?
Write whenever my toddler is sleeping or at preschool, that’s my routine.
Is there anything major that changed in this novel from when you first plotted it out?
Wow, quite a bit. The order of the chapters changed dramatically, but settled into its current form early in the revision process. There also used to be a lot more time spent with Ned while he was in college. All of that’s gone. There were more recipes and menus. Most were stripped out.
Finish this: “I can’t write without…”
What career did you think you’d have as an adult?
I hoped I’d have this one, but as I kid, I think I believed I’d end up in advertising, which I’ve never done.
What is something about you that would surprise people?
My first paid job was as a professional baseball statician for STATS, Inc. I applied for the job via mail and aced their application process. They had no idea how old I was until they called me to tell me I had the job.
Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?
Not since 2014, and I feel extremely fortunate to say so. Every day I wake up and I still can’t believe it. There’s been some lean years along the way, but I feel incredibly humbled and grateful. I’ll say this – the work never stops.
What was the original title of this book?
Luckily, this book never had another title. That was also the case with Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Both titles came to me early and stuck. I love it when that happens, because titles are so difficult. When I was a young writer, if I’d think of a good title, I’d come up with a story to go with it – just to not waste it.
Where do you get your ideas, or what inspired this book plot?
This one was inspired by a lot of things – becoming a father for the first time, my mother’s experiences as a waitress at Perkins, my own summer job at a supper club on high school, and unpacking the causes of inherited trauma while searching for paths to its cessation.
Do you have a manuscript(s) in your drawer? If so, will it ever see the light of day?
Yes and no! Never!
If I wasn’t an author, I might be…?
Wow, probably back working in television in some capacity, which is what I did before I sold my first book.
If you have written more than one book, which story would you choose to live?
Whoa, that’s tough. Maybe Lager Queen?
Do you have a go-to first reader after you feel your manuscript is ready?
Yes, my partner of ten years, Brooke Delaney. I could not do any of this without her.
Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?
Early on, I was influenced by Ben Katchor and Denis Johnson, and I was fortunate to have met them both. Later, the short stories of Alice Munro – and her rural Canadian settings – unlocked what I could do with my Midwest settings.
What is a bestselling book you’ve been itching to read?
Quite a few. I’m finally reading The Overstory by Richard Powers. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver may be next, along with the newest Jennifer Egan.
Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences?
Yes, I put some of the memories I had of my supper club work experience in this book, and interviewed my old boss, Mike Rowan, for some of his stories.
Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?
I like the scene where Ned orders popcorn at Metropolitan Stadium.
Do you have a favorite character?
All of them. But Julia stands out. Her chapters are my favorites of the book.
What was some unique research you had to do for a book?
I got to interview Sean Sherman (of Owamni in Minneapolis) to get the details right for the Native restaurant in my own novel. Owamni hadn’t opened yet, so there was no template for the success of such a restaurant in Minnesota, but I was optimistic.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
There is no single path to follow, and some of my favorite debut novels have come from authors over 50.
What are the downfalls of your writing career? The best parts?
Sometimes it requires me to spend a lot of time away from my family, which is tough – and my son is too young to tolerate, let alone enjoy, the strenuous book tours I commit to. Also, some years are better than other financially – any year I haven’t sold a book or had a book published can be pretty lean; I had to develop a financial acumen and budget accordingly.
The best parts? Waking up in the morning and writing, again and again. Hearing from readers and meeting them. Communicating with my mom through my work and keeping her alive in my characters.
Favorite band or music?
My favorite bands are Radiohead and R.E.M. – and I’m afraid that’s been true for about 25 years. I listen to ambient or downtempo minimalist music when I write, though – stuff like Stars of the Lid, Aphex Twin, Rachel’s, Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Lucinda Chua, Max Richter, Ai Yamamoto, and Morton Feldman.
Place you’d like to travel?
Wow, so many. Top of the list might be Honshu. I’ve been to Japan, but only Okinawa.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you so much – especially to those of who are teachers and librarians. I’m able to do what I do today because of you.
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