36 Books Blog: Sally Franson

Each day leading up to the 2019 Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony, we’ll be featuring an exclusive interview with one of our 36 finalists. Learn more about these incredible local writers and gear up to see the winners announced live in person April 6.

Interview with Sally Franson, author of A Lady’s Guide to Selling Out

Category: Novel & Short Story, sponsored by Alerus

How does it feel to be a Minnesota Book Award finalist?

Oh, gosh, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t on cloud nine, and equally fallacious to say that I’m not highly amenable to external validation. As Noel Coward said, “I’ll accept all criticism so long as it is unqualified praise.”

Tell us something about your finalist book that you want readers to know.

ALGTSO is, above all else, a novel about good-hearted but foolhardy people working hard to achieve their goals, however misguided they may be. It’s also a feminist novel in the sense that it treats both women’s pain and women’s desire seriously. There are a lot of jokes therein, and perhaps some tears, too. 

Let us know a little bit about your writing life. What brought you to a writing career and how did you become a published author?

Really, what brought me to a writing career is a combination of recalcitrance and failure to launch in all other ventures. Very often when I’m sitting alone at home in a locked room, laughing out loud among imaginary friends, I’ll think to myself: is this a career or is it a personality disorder? Perhaps a bit of both. I’ve been lucky to have friends, teachers, mentors, and an agent who encourage me to believe that this rather odd hobby of mine is worth sharing with the world, and to them I owe a majority of whatever success I’ve had as a published author. 

Minnesota is often ranked highly as a state that values literature and reading. In your experience, what is it about our state that makes it such a welcoming place for writers and book creators?

I do believe that the long winters are conducive to reading culture. Book event culture, too, because when you show up to an event in January when it’s ten below, chances are you’re going to make friends with the other die-hards who tramped out for the same reason. Beyond that, there’s a well-funded, multi-industry effort to keep the arts alive and well, which to me speaks to old-fashioned Scandinavian liberalism. Such liberalism serves as a bulwark against, in my mind, dubiously intentioned efforts to make society more “productive” or “efficient.” 

What is something you are good at that few people know about?

I grew up around music, and I’m constantly making up little songs. I also have a harmonium in my office that I’ll bang around on when no one else is home.  

What do you love about libraries?

What don’t I love about libraries?! I read every book in the young adult section of my library growing up. Later, in my twenties, I worked as a circulation clerk at a public library in Ohio. There I was given such an intimate glimpse into people’s lives simply by seeing what they checked out. For example, it turns out there’s a whole subculture of patrons in rural Ohio whose sole interest was horror DVDs. Another subculture was devoted to Louis L’Amour Westerns. Some people panic at a ten cent fine, others will take their fines to the limit and stay there. Interestingly enough, income was not an accurate predictor of these behaviors. 

I also love libraries because they remain a coveted “third space” in our culture, a brick-and-mortar town square for us to come together, share ideas, and relax. At my local library last winter, I saw the same elderly woman every day doing a jigsaw puzzle while I read novels. Elsewhere, a man in bifocals did the daily crossword. The intimacy of this tacit, in-person camaraderie is something I cherish these days. So, too, do I cherish happenstance discovery, as opposed to intended research. Stumbling upon a book on a curated end cap and falling in love by the second page — as Kurt Vonnegut would say, if that isn’t nice, what is? 

Sally Franson
Sally Franson was born in Minneapolis and received her MFA at the University of Minnesota. Her short stories, essays, reportage, and humor pieces have appeared in The Guardian, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Best American Travel Writing, PopSugar, The Progressive, Signature Reads, Word Riot, Witness, and many more; she is the recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship, UCross residency, an Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism award, a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant, a Glimmer Train honorable mention, and has twice appeared on NPR Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. She currently teaches creative writing at Macalester College and is working on her second novel.