5Q :: Exploring the metaphorical layers of 'Whiteout'

If you're looking for the perfect book to cuddle up with during the next winter storm, Brian Duren's "Whiteout" just might do the trick. With the exception of the first chapter, Duren's book is set in the Boundary Waters, in and around a small re...

Brian Duren
"Whiteout" author Brian Duren. Submitted photo

If you're looking for the perfect book to cuddle up with during the next winter storm, Brian Duren's "Whiteout" just might do the trick. With the exception of the first chapter, Duren's book is set in the Boundary Waters, in and around a small resort 25 miles from Mirer. Its protagonist, Paul, grew up on that resort with his mother, brother and sister as well as the loons and the waterways, the trees, the wolves and the deep winter snows.

We talk with the St. Paul author -- who will be in Duluth Tuesday for a book signing -- about the process of writing his first novel.

Budgeteer: "Whiteout" is your debut novel. What made you write it?

Duren: I have a great love for the Boundary Waters and for winter. I find snowscapes particularly beautiful. One day in the winter of 1991, after a blizzard, I was gazing out the window of my study at the backyard and felt moved by the beauty of the thick drifts of snow to write a description. I returned to that description from time to time and slowly teased a story out of it. As I developed the story, I realized that it needed to be set in northern Minnesota.

In addition to my love of snowscapes, "Whiteout" reveals my fascination with the psychodynamics and politics of family relationships. That interest drew me to certain writers when I was young -- Dostoyevsky and Proust -- as well as to the study of psychoanalysis. I started reading Freud when I was a senior in high school, continued studying psychoanalysis throughout my undergraduate and graduate years at the Universities of Minnesota and Paris, and taught courses on psychoanalysis and literature for many years, when I was a professor of French and comparative literature. "Whiteout" would be a very different book without that experience.


You set your book in a family-owned resort in the Boundary Waters area of Minnesota. What kind of research did you have to do for that?

I didn't need to do any research for the setting of the story, because I know the Boundary Waters very well. I used to take my sons, when they were younger, to resorts in the Ely area. I took one of my sons on camping trips in the BWCA. We canoed and portaged from one lake to the next, so I know firsthand what it is to enter into this labyrinthine wilderness. I feel a strong attachment to the wilderness country and tremendously enjoyed writing about it. One of the great attractions of writing is that the writer gets to experience life at a deeper level all over again.

Although you self-published your book (with Beaver's Pond Press), it doesn't have the grammatical/spelling issues that plague some self-published books. Is your initial copy pretty clean or did you get some editing help?

The initial copy was very clean. My editor, Jennifer Manion, who edits books for several local publishers, told me "Whiteout" was the best book she had ever edited, and Michele Bassett, the editor who proofread the book, wrote: "... I found this manuscript to be riveting, extremely well written and completely enjoyable. I can't remember the last time I have proofread a manuscript with so few errors."

Years ago, I worked for a short time as an editor and I know the Chicago Manual of Style quite well. I have routinely received compliments for my writing from the time I was in ninth grade until today.

Did you ponder metaphors as you wrote? What does the "whiteout" snowstorm mean to you?

I would say that I frequently chose words because of their connotations and the metaphorical possibilities they offered. For example, I changed the initial title of the book, "Snow," to "Whiteout" to take advantage of the connotations of a violent force that blinds and conceals, and leaves behind deep layers of silence. By developing these connotations as themes, the title takes on metaphorical layers that permeate the book.

Do you have plans for any future novels? If so, can you give us the scoop?


I have completed approximately 80 percent of my next novel, "Every Tom, Dick and Harry," which takes place during the current Age of Greed -- roughly contemporaneous with the Iraq War. (Indeed, the war plays a major role in the novel.)

Dr. Tom Faust, a history professor at a nice little liberal arts college in St. Paul, has been mourning his dead wife for 19 years. For many of those years, he has talked to his colleagues about a book he has been working on. His colleagues arrange a sabbatical so he can finish his great work, and he panics: all he has written is 47 pages of text, an outline that is nearly 100 pages long, and hundreds of pages of notes. Will he allow his colleagues to discover that he's a fake? And, more importantly, what is he living for?

The characters ricochet off one another and lead the reader across the United States, France and the Middle East as they flee the nightmares that haunt them and pursue the dreams that obsess them. An explosive novel!

Author Brian Duren will sign "Whiteout," a murder mystery set in the Boundary Waters, from 3 to 4 p.m. Tuesday at Northern Lights Books & Gifts, 307 Canal Park Drive.

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