Why My Novel Is Set in Minneapolis

I lived in Minneapolis
for a few years, some years ago, and during that time I came to love
the town and the quaint Midwestern customs of its citizens. People
smiled at you on the street—without asking for money. If you were lost,
they gave you directions—without asking for money. They even assisted
the elderly across the street; in DC, we use them as decoys for the
onrushing traffic.

Minneapolis was
especially inspiring for me as a writer. You could write about the
Human Drama of Snow. Or use Snow as a Metaphor for the Universal
Condition. Or hurt your back shoveling Snow so that you had more Time
to Write.

As Shakespeare wrote:

Snow is the Winter of our Discontent.

But during my residence
there, the aspect of Minneapolis that I loved most was the chain of
lakes inside the city limits. The prevailing theory is that a glacier
created the lakes, though this story is less than credible to me since
never once during my stay did a mile-high wall of ice come down from
Canada.

Two separate paths
circumnavigate the lakes of Minneapolis. The Outer Path is for
Speeders: bikers, inline skaters, and other mobility enthusiasts. While
I admired their balance, dexterity, and tight clothing, I always
thought it was odd to be in such a hurry when you are traveling in a
circle.

The Inner Path around
the lakes is for Footers: joggers, walkers, and plodders like me. The
Inner Path often floods during the spring thaw, forcing both Speeders
and Footers onto the same ground. This is a recipe for disaster.
There’s just no getting around me.

I lived in the top two
floors of a Victorian house only two blocks from my favorite of the
lakes: Lake of the Isles, known for its urban wildlife. In the winter,
around the south side of Lake of the Isles, you could sometimes sight
the rare Snow Serpent, a Norse American cousin of the Loch Ness Monster
who hibernates in summer and prowls the icy lake in winter. Many a
snowman has been devoured by this sly leviathan. In the spring, an
armada of Canadian geese invades the lake. Each evening, the royal navy
embarks from the lakeshore to their island harbor, a squadron of
goslings in regal tow.

Lake of the Isles is
also known for, well, isles-two of them near the northwest lakeshore.
The island closest to land is very close; I always felt that I could
jump across the narrow channel, or in January, slide across. But
I never did, because there was a small sign standing akilter near the
shore and nearly covered by the tall grasses. The sign read ‘Game
Preserve’, in wavering letters that might have been painted by webbed
feet.

Of course, in my imagination, Game Preserve
referred to some place magical and forbidden, to a Velveteen Rabbit,
Puff the Magic Dragon, Chutes and Ladders sanctuary in a clearing
hidden deep in the interior of the tiny island. How I wanted to ignore
the sign and explore! But I never did.

After I left
Minneapolis, the magical island continued to feed my imagination. I
could never forget the lake, and the sign, and my urge to break the
rules, step onto the island, and discover that forbidden sanctuary just
beyond the tree line. So finally I created a character who could.

I wish there had been a
bench, there where the path curves and the shore and the island almost
touch. I think I might be there still.

Stephen Evans is the author of The Marriage of True Minds, a novel set in Minneapolis, to be published in May by Unbridled Books. He will be reading from his new novel on Saturday, June 7, 2008, 7 p.m., at Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis.