Q: Why did you decide to write this book?
A: I must go back to my first novel. I chose to write a story set in the decade in which I was born, as well as the people and the area of southern Minnesota where I grew up. I wanted to leave behind some understanding and a feel for the decade of the 1930s and rural American farm life. From that came The Spiral Bridge and the title for the mystery series this has become.
As I researched that period in American history I learned things about German Americans in Minnesota and the upper Midwest during the Great Depression era that I did not know before. Some of them admired what Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist party had accomplished in Germany in but a few years. I also became acquainted with the German-American Bund, an organization of which tens of thousands of Germans were members, stretching from California to New York. This led to the second novel, The Twins.
When I finished and published that novel I was very aware that the story was not ended. What next would happen to my characters? People who read the first two asked me again and again when the next book was coming out. But what was that third book to be about?
Then I discovered the mysterious connection between Nazism and the occult. Further I realized that the Vikings who played a significant role in Minnesota history were Aryans in the Nazi view. So I began to play with those ideas.
I long before had heard about Viking runes and a controversial runestone discovered by a farmer in northwestern Minnesota at the beginning of the twentieth century. I knew a little about Nordic gods and how the days of our week are each named for one of them. And then it struck me. My main character’s last name is Freitag and that’s the Nordic/Germanic name for Friday. Freitag is the day named for the goddess Freya. Freya, Freitag! Aha, the seeds of the story were planted and it grew from there.
A couple years later I completed Freya’s Child. Along the way I learned many more fascinating bits of history, both about Minnesota and about the Nazis. The more I learned, the more excited I became with the project. I hope my readers will share in the same excitement.
Q: Do you have any secret writing tips you’d like to share?
A: I don’t think my tips are secret, but they are significant to me. You see, when I started I did not know how I would ever be able to write one novel, let alone three. Where would I get the stories?
My ‘secret’, if you can call it that, comes from my love for history. I have a masters degree in the history, focusing particularly upon the Reformation of the church in the sixteenth century. I love good history writing. I am drawn to novelists who take me back into history. Recently I have become a fan of Diana Gabaldon, for instance. Not only is she a superb novelist and story teller, she is also a fine historian. Her Outlander series have opened my eyes to some fascinating insights about the days when my own nation was being birthed.
I really believe it is critical for an author to probe the period in which his story is written. He needs to know and understand how people lived and thought. He needs to understand their science and technology, the kind of dreams and hopes they shared, the fears and anxieties that tormented them, the politics and philosophies that influenced them.
Then he puts real people into the mix, with their aspirations and limitations, their own dreams and doubts, their fantasies and foibles, their victories and failures. From that mix comes my stories and the stories of many fiction writers I admire.
Q: Tell us a quirky or funny story about you!
A: My father was a very interesting man with many talents, but little education. He was a farmer who went no farther than the eighth grade. Before his death he held patents to two inventions. Nevertheless he was totally disorganized.
When cultivating corn with his tractor he would often have to stop to make repairs before continuing. I distinctly recall cultivating in that same field with a similar tractor a year later and suddenly having to pause because I heard a loud clunk. Upon climbing down to investigate I found that my cultivator’s blade had struck a large wrench. It was undoubtedly the wrench my father had used the year before and absent mindedly left lying behind him in the field.
A couple times each summer as a young teenager Dad would assign me the job of straightening out his work table in the large garage next to our barn. This task usually took the larger part of two days, because every tool on the farm was piled somewhere on it among pieces of rusty iron, nuts, bolts, screws, blades, tire rims, dirty rags and every other piece of this or that you could think about. Dad had worked there, finished what he was doing and walked away leaving his usual pile of discarded metal, bottles, paper boxes and tools.
My organizing complete, I would walk away knowing that within a week or two the whole bench would return to the chaos from which I had rescued it. Not only was this the law of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, it was the law of the Franzmeier farm.
As I moved from the farm to high school and college and finally into my career I determined somehow to break this miserable rule. I would find order amidst the ever threatening chaos. So to this very day I am a cleanup freak, constantly at work, straightening up my desk, organizing my files, cleaning my house and being still conquered by the second law of thermodynamics.
Q: Have you ever battled writer’s block? How do you deal with it?
A: Who hasn’t? I deal with it in two ways. First I do my best to analyze what is the reason. It’s usually because I lack some vital information, like how big a lake is and where it is located or what type of weapon was used by lawmen or criminals in my story’s time period. In other words, it’s time for some research and reading.
My second reason is probably fear. Whenever I start to be afraid I won’t know how to write this or that scene my best approach is to do it anyway. As Admiral Farragut said, “Damn the torpedoes! Four bells! Captain Crayton, go ahead! Joucett, full speed!”
Suddenly I find that the torpedoes do not explode and I am in the harbor ready to attack.
Q: What’s your favorite quote?
A: I have a couple from C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), an author of the generation before my own and who deeply influenced me:
Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without having noticed it.
Q: Who inspires you the most?
A: Here I move into the realm of modern fantasy and science fiction writers. Among that multitude Ursula Le Guin stands out as my inspiration. I love her ability to transport readers into her several worlds with their dragons, dreams and wizards both good and evil and make them seem so real, so possible. Further I love the way she explores many aspects of the human drama. I do not always agree with the conclusions and beliefs of her stories’ characters. However, what inspires me is the way she makes them come alive. That is, of course, what every good writer of any genre does. For me she does it better than anyone else.