Interview with Fireside author Gary Eldon Peter

Gary is one of our featured authors in this year’s Fireside Reading Series. You can meet Gary on Wednesday, February 6 at Hamline Midway Library. More info here. We asked Gary a few questions prior to the event.

What inspires your writing?

More than anything, I think it’s my need to tell stories, and the challenge of trying to figure out what’s the best way to tell a story. Though it’s utterly terrifying, I truly love the challenge of taking something – an image, a line of dialogue, a look exchanged or, of course, a place – and seeing if there’s a story in there somewhere. There’s nothing in the world like the feeling that just maybe you’ve cracked the code and through trial and error, hard work, or usually a combination of both, you’ve managed to create something that does everything you’d hoped it would do as a story. And even if it doesn’t work, I always learn something from the effort…lessons to be applied the next time around. Even the failures can be successes. 

What do you like about connecting with audiences through readings?

As someone who attends readings frequently and have been doing so for years, I love learning something new about a writer from hearing them read and talk about their work. Writers who are good readers and who can also articulate their own ideas about what they do almost always help me see something in the text that I might have missed the first time around…whether it’s in how they present the text in their “performance” of it or in responding to questions about it.

As a writer, it is incredibly satisfying – and not to mention a huge privilege – to be able to connect with readers (both current and potential) through readings. It teaches me so much about how to talk about my work – something that is a skill that takes time to develop – as does fielding questions about it that can help me look at my work in ways that may have never occurred to me. And reading and writing are such solitary undertakings, so to have the “three dimensional” experience of author, the work, and the audience all in one place is such a gratifying way to bring everything together.

What do you love about libraries?

I was a quiet child, neither athletic nor outgoing and anxious about pretty much everything, as well as often teased and bullied, and it’s no exaggeration for me to say that libraries and books were a refuge for me. I was fortunate to have a mother who was a reader and who encouraged me to read, and who worked for many years in my same elementary school library and who loved it as much as I did. I was also a frequent patron at our local Carnegie library, where I discovered you could not only check out books but also records! So I would lug home LP vinyl recordings of Bach and Beethoven, which helped me learn to love classical music as much as I loved books. I also remember checking out recordings of some Shakespeare plays and giving those a whirl on our console stereo. While I can’t pretend I understood very much, it was another way for me to think about language and the power that it has. And in my adult life, as a writer, I’ve found libraries to be great places for me to work and think, with lots of space, light, and quiet (and surrounded by books to inspire me, of course!). 

What does ‘home’ mean for you?

With the exception of two years on the East Coast for graduate school, the Midwest and Minnesota have always been home for me, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It took leaving for a while for me to really understand how connected I was to where I was raised and made my way into adulthood, and to experience “homesickness” as a real, physical thing, because there were times during those years away when the pull to “home” was so intense and urgent it would sometimes take my breath away. And that sense of home only grows stronger as I get older. That is particularly true for St. Paul, where my partner and I live and feel very grateful that we do. We feel deeply connected to the community in so many ways…to our neighborhood, the river just a couple of blocks away, the great restaurants, the libraries, the cultural opportunities. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

As a writer, home and place are such natural components of my work that I almost take them for granted, and yet it’s hard to overstate how key they are in storytelling. One of the great challenges for me (among many) is to recreate home and place in ways that feel lived and vibrant, to go beyond what’s in my head and bring it to the page. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a farm that I’ve imagined, my childhood back yard, or a room where two people are talking…home and place aren’t just backdrops for the story, they are often the story in really key ways, and essential to a fully realized piece of fiction.