I am happy to announce the publication of Copy Desk Murders (Calumet Editions), a novel set in a fictional county of southeastern Minnesota. A newsman in search of a killer discovers himself and a life’s purpose while digging into the deceptions underlying his Minnesota hometown. It is an homage to my rural origins.
Writing what you know is well-worn advice to aspiring writers. And the longer you live, the more material you have to work with. I grew up on a farm and had a vocational education before college. I have seen great changes in rural life and landscapes over the course of fifty years. I set the story amid the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, a chaotic period I lived through while working for Cargill, Inc. and, later as the deputy head of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
I chose the ‘eighties as the time period because some of the worrisome trends of this moment emerged then. Farmers were increasingly disaffected with government, small town Main Street businesses died as big box discounters moved in; and armed anti-government, anti-tax movements like the Posse Comitatus plotted violence. This is the context for three individuals struggling to find a place in their hometown amid alcoholism, fear, racial prejudice, greed and social climbing. But there is also room for compassion, reconciliation and courage.
Rural life is too often given short shrift in literature—too often ignored or, worse, patronized or sentimentalized. In fact, rural life is both complex and personal because actors have fewer degrees of separation. Smalltown life often prescribes a community role to individuals in ways urban life does not. That level of intimacy is both attractive and repellant depending on circumstances. In fact, rural society is as complicated and as gritty as any inner-city neighborhood and worthy of serious literature.