A Conversation with Lorna Landvik
Random House Reader’s Circle: Why did you decide to write this book entirely from a man’s perspective?
Lorna Landvik: It wasn’t much my decision; when Joe Andreson came into my head, he asserted himself as the narrator. I just followed him around, pen in hand, or computer on lap.
RHRC: This novel spans Joe Andreson’s life from his teenage years until his fifties. Did you always plan on taking your readers through so much of Joe’s life?
LL: Honestly, there’s not a lot of planning when I start a book. We meet Joe at the beginning of the book in his senior year of high school and while I knew we weren’t going to stay in high school, I didn’t know how far I’d take him through life.
RHRC: The message that this book evokes is that life takes people on unexpected roads leading to happiness. Did you develop the story with this in mind or did the book just evolve to what it is?
LL: When you write about people’s lives, the unexpected always pops up, just as it does in real life. I’m not an outliner; it’s the appearance of the main characters in my head that first propels me to write and the story is revealed bit by bit, as I write.
RHRC: Sweet, thoughtful, and sensitive Joe Andreson is almost too good to be true. Did you base his character on someone in your life?
LL: I always say I don’t base any characters on real people and as much as that seems true, I’m sure the people who’ve influenced me in my life color my fiction. My dad, for instance, was a tenderhearted man, unafraid of showing his feelings. He was also very playful and always had time for his kids. I was the youngest–and the only girl–and he was a big believer in me and the idea that I could do anything my brothers could do. And he loved to laugh–and loved when I made him laugh (I sorta liked that too). My husband is the same kind of man–kind, compassionate, funny, and a big fan of our own daughters. So I guess when I knew I was going to spend a whole book with this guy Joe, I was going to have to like him a lot.
RHRC: Some people may think–incorrectly, of course–that The View from Mount Joy is sexually explicit. What’s your response to that?
LL: Whew–I’m blushing! Granted, some scenes with Kristy are kind of “frisky” but they were written–I hope–comically. I wanted to reverse the power quotient of the sex; Kristi was the one in charge–it was all about power for her–and I made Joe her happy, willing foil. One of my friends asked her mother if she was offended at these scenes and her reaction was to laugh and assure her daughter that she could handle it. My own mom–my biggest fan–died several years ago and I did wonder what she would have thought about some of these scenes, but then I tended to want to protect my mother from everything when she really didn’t need my protection.
RHRC: The View from Mount Joy has such a wonderful and appealing cast of characters–yes, even the diabolical Kristi brings something to the table. Who would you say is your favorite character?
LL: I’m very diplomatic when it comes to my characters and would never choose a favorite. I like all of them for different reasons; Kristi was indeed diabolical in many aspects but I also appreciated those qualities that Joe liked and made him stay loyal to her–her sense of fun, her wildness, that spark–“Here I am!”–that a lot of people, out of shyness or self-consciousness, snuff out. I also liked her family; her brother, Kirk, who becomes Joe’s best friend, had a different kind of self-confidence, one that wasn’t tainted by meanness. And their mother’s evolution was fun to write about also. Joe’s mom and Aunt Beth, Darva, Jenny, Flora, the boys, Ed Haugland, the customers . . . they all become part of the little flawed family you’ve created in your head.
RHRC: I love the idea and symbolism of a “Mount Joy.” How did you come up with that?
LL: Several years ago we took a road trip, looking at colleges for my older daughter. We were driving through Kentucky and I saw a road sign that announced “Mount Joy,” and I thought, “Wow! Imagine living in a place called Mount Joy!” I filed the name away and it turns out it wanted to come out for this book. I considered entitling it “Mount Joy” but then I thought it sounded too much like a candy bar or a book that would be shelved in the erotica section.
RHRC: Do you have a “Mount Joy” in your life? How’s the view from there?
LL: If a Mount Joy is a place where you see possibility, or goodness, or love, I have a lot of them. Sometimes it’s the view I get on the living room couch–my daughters on the phone, the dog snoozing at my feet, my husband reading the paper can offer these kind of views. Sometimes it’s the way I feel seeing something majestic, like a deep night sky or a sunset. The northern lights that inspire Kristi and Joe are actually ones that we saw up in Grand Marais, Minnesota. We were staying at a cabin with one of our daughters and another couple and had just had a bonfire by the lake when the sky started pulsing with all sorts of lights. It was almost unbelievable, it was so eerie and beautiful and magnificent.
RHRC: What gave you the idea to make Kristi a televangelist? Do you ever listen to Christian radio?
LL: That wily Kristi …I had no idea her life was going to go in that direction–but then when it did, it made perfect sense. Attention is her drug of choice and when she couldn’t get it in Hollywood, she transferred her focus to the Christian stage. I say “stage” because there’s a lot of show biz in evangelical preaching. Kristi claims her motives are pure but that’s up to the reader to decide. No, I really don’t listen to Christian radio or watch Christian TV; it’s too flashy and fakey and seems more driven by the collection plate than deep spirituality.
RHRC: Darva and Kristi exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, but both are connected through their special relationships with Joe. Which of Joe’s leading ladies was more fun to write about?
LL: I enjoyed writing both of them. They both had dramatic stories, and while Kristi’s was a more public, flamboyant one, it was equally fun to delve into Darva’s domestic-centered life (which was probably more dramatic). They both were strong women but Kristi felt her weaknesses had to be hidden away or denied, and Darva was more confident in being her full self, warts and all.
RHRC: Although Darva’s sit-in was botched by Joe, there were some references to ’70s activism through the beginning of the book. Did you ever experience or participate in any protests or marches?
LL: Oh, yes. My first “action” was in junior high, when I participated in a march to raise money for a worldwide food collective. Through the years I’ve participated in marches and protests for various causes. The most committed one was a nine-month march my husband and our then-baby daughter went on called “The Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament.” We walked from California to Washington, DC, with five hundred other people. We had a day care bus, school bus, mail truck, food trucks, etc.–it was a movable city (we even had a mayor!). It was a wonderful, wearying experience; to see this country on foot was spectacular (except when I got chiggers in Nebraska) but the charms of living in a tent sometimes waned. Recently, I’ve marched against the Iraq war.
RHRC: Was your high school experience anything like Joe’s?
LL: Yes, Joe went to high school the same time I did, so I got to relive the wonderful, wild culture of the early ’70s. Growing up in Minnesota, hockey was certainly part of our life–although Title Nine didn’t come to pass until my senior year so I couldn’t be on the ice the way my daughters have been; I was up in the stands checking out all the cute guys on the hockey team.
RHRC: Kristi’s story was left somewhat up in the air. Will Kristi ever find happiness? Will she and Tuck remain married?
LL: I don’t like to sew up all hems–that’s up to the reader to decide!
RHRC: Where did you get the idea for the innovative and original Haugland Foods?
LL: I don’t know where I got the idea for Haugland Foods, but I sure know I’d like to shop there! I guess it just grew out of Joe’s basic goodness; he starts the first contest–a supermarket sweep–to amuse himself, but then sees how he can help customers in need. Soon prizes are being donated by local businesses (Patty Jane’s House of Curl, being in the neighborhood, had to offer up free hair care!) and people shopping might be called upon to recite a Walt Whitman poem or name the provinces of Canada, all for a worthy prize.
RHRC: Did you always plan to have Darva die? Did you introduce Jenny into Joe and Flora’s life to compensate for Darva’s death?
LL: Again, I don’t plan a lot of the story; it unfolds as I write it. Flora had already been introduced and was entrenched in Joe’s life. When Darva died (an event that saddened and surprised me), I obviously had to give more attention to Joe and Flora’s relationship. Jenny had been introduced earlier as a flute player in a school band concert–sometimes these people assert themselves and you think they’re only going to be minor, one-scene characters and then boom, they come back in big, major ways. That was Jenny. She came into the story not to compensate for Darva’s death, but for the pure and simple reason that she and Joe were supposed to be together.