If you’re a fan of Minnesota authors, chances are Lorna Landvik is among your favorites. Landvik talked about her latest book, “Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes),” Saturday at the McLeod County Fair.
As an improvisational comic, it’s not surprising Landvik gauges her public presentations on the audience.
“I like to improvise a lot,” she said in a phone interview prior to her fair appearance. “I’m always happy to talk about writing and how the book came into being. It might be a half-and-half program about me talking about life and writing and me introducing characters they may find amusing.”
Landvik followed up her presentation Saturday with a coffee klatch.
“Minnesotans are up for coffee,” she said. “I will continue whatever chat they want to continue or start new ones.”
While many know her as an author, Landvik continues to perform an improvisational show at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis.
“Every year I do a one-woman show, ‘Party in the Rec Room,’” she said. “My characters are based on audience suggestions. It’s weekends in January, a tradition.”
Landvik said her comedy is “mostly improvisational and character driven.” She could use the same words to describe her books.
“My latest book takes place in a fictionalized town of about 20,000,” she said. “I’ll talk about that. Newspapers are such a force in smaller towns. They are what bring people together. The news of the town, local columnists get to be known. This particular book was inspired by the appearance of the main character. I knew right away she was a small-town news columnist. That’s usually how a book starts, characters come into my head and have a story to tell and it’s my job to tell it.”
Landvik said it typically takes her about 1 1/2 years to write a book. She started her latest release a couple of years ago and then set it aside to percolate a bit, and then went back to it.
“I only had 20 pages when I started, it,” she said. “I picked it back up. It’s not a spoiler at all. The main character (Haze Evans) suffers a stroke at the beginning of the book. I wasn’t sure what would happen to her. Very soon I realized the newspaper publisher would honor her by reprinting her past columns that she had written throughout the years, and the letters that accompanied the columns, until her, hopefully, recovery.”
Landvik, 64, enjoyed going back in time to the mid-1960s, mid-1970s and mid-1980s.
“She’s (Evans) a columnist that lets it all hang out,” she said. “The title comes from a particular reader (Joseph Snell) who took offense at one of her columns. To mollify him, she sent him a couple of recipes — take off the boxing gloves and put on oven mits.”
Like her character, Landvik has gotten her share of negative letters about “Chronicles of a Radical Hag.”
“I’ve heard really wonderfully positive things from librarians and booksellers,” she said. “I’ve had two sort of Joseph Snell-like letters. I respect anyone’s opinion. The two letters I got were sort of affronted this character had opinions. It was disheartening. One woman wrote, ‘I loved the book, but I’m afraid some members of my book club might think that’s not how I believe.’
“That’s a great point of discussion. Do you think she has the right to opine or not? If you wrote a column, what would you want to write about? The opportunity for discussion is wide open with this book, whether you agree or not. That’s the beauty of the human mind. We get to think what we want. The danger is when people try to stifle that freedom of expression.”
Home sweet home
Landvik works from her home office in Minneapolis. She and her husband live in an old farm house with high ceilings, small rooms and stained glass windows.
“I don’t have a daily schedule, but my goal is to write every day,” she said. “That means I might write after walking my dog, or I don’t begin until 9 at night and work into the wee hours. I love the idea of a really regular schedule, but it’s not in my nature. If I’m going to be my own boss, I’m going to be a really flexible boss.”
Landvik wrote her first book, “Patty Jane’s House of Curl,” in long hand.
“That’s how my writing brain worked,” she said. “From my head, down my shoulder down into my fingers.”
She learned typing in ninth grade and wondered if she could keep up with her thoughts and compose on a keyboard. She found out she could and never went back to pen and paper.
“I mostly use a laptop,” she said. “I like to print out the pages, every 10 pages, and get at them with my editing pen. I doodle a lot. It’s very conducive to the imagination and daydreaming. I fear with all the (electronic) devices, we’re not remembering the wonders where our imaginations can take us.”
To date, Landvik has published 12 books. The first “Patty Jane’s House of Curls” was published by Bridge Works, a small press.
“That was the publisher that said yes after almost 30 rejections,” she said. “That press was owned by a couple, the man was the former publisher of the Wall Street Journal. He had nationwide contacts, so the book got a lot more attention due to his connections. Publishers who declined me were bidding against each other for the paperback rights.”
After Bridge Works, Landvik worked with Ballantine/Random. She separated from them when they passed on publishing her book “Mayor of the Universe.” She self-published it, but called the process “brutal.”
“You really have to be a promoter,” she said.
It was a friend who suggested her current publisher, the University of Minnesota Press.
“They were starting to publish fiction,” she said. “We met and they agreed to reprint ‘Mayor of the Universe.’ The covers they have given me are some of my favorites throughout my career.”
When it comes to characters, Landvik said they are self-generated.
“When I finish a book, the characters for the next book have already shown up,” she said. “If they don’t, I’ll just goof off. As soon as I finish a book, I start into the next book. Often the title comes to me when the main characters do. It’s as if my characters want to help me. They come with their names and a glimpse of their personalities. Enough to get me interested.”
The closest Landvik has come to writing about herself is her book “Best to Laugh.”
“It’s about a young woman who goes to Hollywood to pursue a stand-up career,” she said. “That’s what I did. That’s the closest autobiography I’ve ever written. I had her do things I did in Hollywood. I was a temp at movie studios and record companies. I had a clerical job at the Playboy mansion. Typing came in handy. It was a fun book to write.”
As much as she enjoys writing, Landvik is known to curl up with a good book, too.
“I read a lot of fiction,” she said. “I read nonfiction. My favorite recent read is ‘The Library Book’ by Susan Orlean. It was so compelling. It read like the best novel and it’s all true. It said so many powerful things about books. It was so entertaining.”
Next up for the author? She’ll be doing an eight-stop library tour in late September and October.
“I’ve done several of those regional library tours,” she said. “One year I went to 24 libraries in 10 days. I put the pedal to the metal.”