This is Minnesota. There’s Café Barbette, there’s Galactic Pizza, there’s the Armajani Bridge stretching from the Sculpture Garden to Loring Park. Except really it’s a month from now, the Republican National Convention is in town, and there’s a right-wing/neo-Nazi plot underway to kill three Jewish abortion doctors. This is the world of Bart Schneider’s new novel, The Man in the Blizzard, a highly Minneapolized – and highly entertaining – page-turner that involves violins confiscated by the Third Reich, minor brainwashing perpetrated by a therapist/hypnotist, and the aforementioned murder conspiracy. The man enlisted to solve it all is private detective Augie Boyer, who is more prone to smoke a bowl and memorize a poem than to follow any leads. The Rake contacted the author – whose previous books include Blue Bossa, Beautiful Inez, and Secret Love– by phone, and talked with him a bit about his new novel.
The Rake: You make a remarkable amount of references to local landmarks and businesses in this book; did you view this at all as a love letter to Minnesota?
Schneider: It quickly became like that. For a while I was trying to figure out how to get back out here to California, which is where I’m from, but I spent twenty-five years in Minnesota. I raised a family there, had a career or two, and wrote a few books. And so I’m really fond of the place. I loved it at first because it had such a wonderful inferiority complex compared to California. And, you know, it’s so rich with culture. I wanted just to paint the place as well as I could.
The Rake: Did you need a little distance from the state to imagine it as you have?
Schneider: Nah. The three novels I published earlier were all set in California. So I did have the distance from those. But they were also set in the sixties and the seventies, when I was much younger, and couldn’t have been really fully cognizant of the experiences that were going on that I was writing about – the Civil Rights movement. But this one is set in the present tense, so I thought I should just go for it. Be right now.
The Rake: Did any of the real personalities, like David Unowski (of Magers and Quinn), know they’d be in the book? And were they all right with it?
Schneider: With David I asked permission, because I actually put words in his mouth. And he said, "Yeah, cool, cool." I didn’t really put words in anybody else’s mouth. So I hope nobody minds. I haven’t heard from Bill Holm, I don’t know if he’s seen it yet.
The Rake: It seems like you got to have a bit of fun writing this.
Schneider: It was a fun one. I needed to write something fun after my last book, which was about suicide.
The Rake: There are some fairly explicit comparisons between right-wing republicans and Nazis…Were you (or your publisher) at all worried about alienating readership?
Schneider: They publish Anne Coulter. So this is baby stuff compared to her, right? The Nazi thing came from the violin material, and I had that thought early on — it’s kind of fascinating that that’s really true. The Sonderstab music was some agency that sent bureaucrats in after the Nazis had plundered different cities to come assess and collect the instruments. And Hitler really was going to set up a museum of cultural items from vanquished civilizations.
The Rake: Was politicizing the novel in the way you have your intent from the beginning?
Schneider: It just seemed like a nice opportunity. I was writing the book before the convention was even coming to town. I just had this Labor Day thing, where women would give birth at the Capitol as a sort of rally. Which I didn’t think was that huge a reach, because if you remember Pawlenty in his first term sanctioned a Christian revival at the State Capitol. It’s just one step beyond, you know. And then, lo and behold, the RNC did me the great favor of setting the convention in the Twin Cities, on Labor Day. It seemed dumb not to work it in. I decided at a certain point that I really wanted to write a present moment novel, and I had a hard time at first before the convention thing fell into place, but that set it in stone.
The Rake: Moving beyond the plot, you’ve dedicated this book "To the poets and all their mysteries." Just wondering if you’d riff a bit on that.
Schneider: I came up as a poet, and it’s a part of my life. I get really excited about reading poetry. And Minnesota’s got such a core of wonderful poets. I’m dumb enough to be surprised that more people don’t read poems. It’s the same with fiction, but it’s even worse with poetry. When we listen to music, we don’t necessarily think we’re going to understand it, but I think people really come to poetry with that sense that it’s a riddle to be figured out.
The Rake: And Augie — as the book progresses he becomes more and more existential. A couple times he mentions wanting to go away alone, turn off the ‘leaky faucet’ that is his world. Has poetry helped him?
Schneider: I’d be shy of attributing anything practical to it. I think you read poetry and it does you good, but it’s not a cause-and-effect kind of thing. It’s a nutrient to feed yourself. And I like Augie’s pothead approach to it. I love when he says, "Having truly cultivated the dumb part of myself, I must have a fantastic aptitude for poetry."