Trinity Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wis.
Novelist and short-story writer
I believe in being good to other people, in making art, in trying to be patient, in seeing beauty in the world, in leaving the planet better than I found it.
Having my first novel, “Shotgun Lovesongs” (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2014), become an international best-seller and receive positive reviews from the New York Times, among others was bewildering. It was a dream come true in the best and most surreal ways. It was basically like I woke up from one life and began living in another, and that second life was my dream. Imagine waking up into a dream.
To me, church is a place where I wrestle with big ideas, my own beliefs and doubts, and where I share positive time with my family.
My latest novel, “Little Faith” (Ecco, 2019), explores questions of faith and religion that I think everyone can relate to. Little Faith is populated by a cast of characters that I know readers identify with and care about. All those characters are in one way or another struggling with faith and religion in honest ways.
Being a teacher for Wednesday youth church school at my congregation has challenged my patience but also afforded me an opportunity to act as a mentor to children I ordinarily wouldn’t interact with. It’s become a gift that I’m quite thankful for.
I struggle with being judgmental rather than accepting or understanding. I’m working on this.
To me, grace means a new beginning, a new perspective, an unexpected enlightenment.
The rural Midwest has been a central part of my novels because it’s a landscape that I know. To me, authenticity is so important in art, and I know that when I’m writing about the Midwest, I don’t have to fake anything. I know who my characters are; I know their voices. I can understand their triumphs and tribulations.
It’s important to me to be involved in my congregation because I feel like I’m part of a lineage or heritage of people giving back. My wife’s grandfather and grandmother helped found Trinity back in the 1950s. The least I can do is teach a Wednesday night youth class.
My favorite part of writing is discovering some facet of a character that is surprising to even me. Writing a novel is a lot like putting together a 100,000-piece puzzle. When part of that puzzle reveals itself and slides into place, it’s super gratifying.
I share my faith by talking openly with my children about religion and belief. No question is taboo—I want to have everything out in the open. And, frankly, I share my faith in my writing. If you read Little Faith, you’ll understand that I’m an honest and forthright person. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t pretend to. For me, this life is a journey, and my faith is a component of that journey.
My time at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop was the single most important artistic period in my life. It was a time in which so many of my aspirations were crystallized. Because my wife and young son were living in Minneapolis while I attended school in Iowa, I felt a great deal of pressure to write something that would make all of our sacrifices worthwhile. And I’m happy to report that everything worked out. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
I’m a Lutheran thanks to my mom, who instilled in me a sense that the church was part of our history and an important spiritual community performing good acts in our city. Without my mom, I’d be a barbarian.
I first started writing around the fifth grade. I give a huge amount of credit to my fifth-grade teacher, Doug Smith. And also, of course, my mom.
People are surprised when they find out I really don’t have a “writing process” and that most of my time during the day is spent doing laundry, vacuuming or daydreaming.
Most people think I’m gruff or aloof. Actually, I’m incredibly shy, distracted and probably focused on the book I’m writing or what’s for dinner.
Sentence prompts are provided to each person featured. If you’d like to nominate someone for “I’m a Lutheran,” email Megan Brandsrud.