An award-winning author writes a break-out novel, and then another, and then…
It has been 10 years since Minnesota novelist Leif Enger‘s last book, “So Brave, Young and Handsome,” was published. That followed soon after his best-selling debut novel, “Peace Like A River.” The story behind the writing of his newest book, “Virgil Wander,” due out next week by Grove Atlantic, is the story of that stuck place many writers find themselves in, and the simple but hard way he got out of it.
Laurie Hertzel writes of Enger’s journey in an extended book review for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, where she is book editor. One of the reasons to read her story is her own smart analysis of Enger’s writing: Consider it a bonus “Why’s This So Good” post. Another is how she describes the world Enger finally moved to, and the one that both inspires his book and becomes a character in it. That world is the North Shore of Lake Superior, a place many people have never ventured because it feels too remote and fierce, but that has a spiritual draw to those of us who know it. Hertzel knows it as well as anyone – she grew up in Duluth – and writes about it as well as anyone I know. If you’re looking for examples of how someone sets a story in place and creates atmosphere, this is a worthy study. And that all happens in an author interview, which demonstrates that any assignment opens the door to creative work.
The important “turn” in her story, where she anchors her theme, comes in two echo-like sentences that are echoes of the turns in Enger’s own journey:
There would be no book without Lake Superior.
And even with the lake, there was almost no book.
The other reason to read Hertzel’s story comes from the One Great Sentence we feature above, and where it fits in the tale of how Enger’s new book finally came to be. I’ll dare a spoiler alert to tell you that Enger wrote for five years, then deleted everything he had written. An entire manuscript, erased. That’s when his wife Robin stepped in. Enger loved to fly kites – with his sons when they were young or on his own when he just wanted to be with the sky and the wind and his thoughts.
When he told his wife he had ditched five years of work, this, he told Hertzel, was her response: “‘Whatever you have to do. But this time, just swing for the fences. Just set yourself free. Just be the kite.’”
Every writer gets stalled. Every writer writes things they don’t believe in. Not every writer has the courage to hit DELETE and start over. All need encouragement to “be the kite.”