by Nick Reilly
Peter Geye is a novelist from Minneapolis, where he still lives and teaches. He is the author of three acclaimed novels concerning a fictionalized northern Minnesota town called Gunflint, the most recent being Wintering. Wintering is about a father and son surviving a winter on Minnesota’s North Shore. The novel was just awarded the 2017 Minnesota Book Award for Fiction. Mr. Geye was kind enough to answer a few questions for UntitledTown blogger Nick Reilly.
UntitledTown: What initially drew you to writing as creative expression? Why did you choose the novel, or did it ‘choose’ you?
Peter Geye: I was in high school when I decided I wanted to become a writer. It was falling in love with a book for the first time that led me to the discovery. I remember reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and being swept away—by the scope of war, the longing of love, the deep abiding friendship. I remember thinking, “This is complicated, and beautiful, and I want to use words to help me untangle it all.” I’ve never once thought of doing something else, even if I’ve done a hundred things in between.
UT: Which writers have made the biggest impression on you?
PG: This is one of those questions that would take ten sheets of paper to answer fully, but I’ll go to my shortlist. Kent Haruf, Annie Proulx, Louise Erdrich, Cormac McCarthy, Chang-rae Lee, Joseph Boyden, Amy Greene, Emily St. John Mandel, Sarah Stonich, Nicole Helget, Kao Kalia Yang, Jesmyn Ward, Donna Tartt, Richard Russo, Mary Oliver, Toni Morrison. I could list a hundred others.
UT: What part of the novel writing process do you find to be the most rewarding? What aspect do you find the most challenging?
PG: It’s all rewarding and it’s all challenging. I love the process of discovery, when you realize the direction a storyline is going to take or the shape of a character comes into view. I love making original ideas better than they were at first. I love the physical act of writing, frankly. A fine fountain pen on a piece of nice paper. I love making accidental connections. I love braiding plot. I love to describe nature.
But the happiest rewards come when I get a sentence just right.
It happens about ten times in each novel. Small rewards, eh?
UT: How has your process evolved from your first to your third novel?
PG: Process is a word I don’t associate much with myself. Life is too busy and too complicated to think that I can have a process. I work more and harder than I ever have. Which is to say that I think of the job of writing novels as something that I have to do all the time. In the car, the shower, grocery shopping, sleeping, biking, playing with my kids…I work on my stories at any given moment. Life demands this of me.