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Minneota native recalls his hometown in first novel

March 3, 2012
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

It took Jim Geiwitz nearly three decades to find a publisher for his novel, which started out as a series of stories on his hometown of Minneota.

Geiwitz, a 1956 graduate of Minneota High School, recently had his first novel "The Town of Watered-Down Whiskey," a fictionalized look at the town he grew up in during the 1950s, published.

Geiwitz, who now resides in a small town in British Columbia, Canada, graduated from St. Olaf College with a degree in chemistry and mathematics. He received his doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of Michigan. "The Town of Watered-Down Whiskey" is his 15th book, but it's his first novel. His past work was mainly textbooks in psychology and technical manuals.

Textbooks are a completely different market than fiction, Geiwitz said, something he learned very fast.

"I had a heckuva time trying to sell it," he said. He had finished the novel 20 years ago and had flown out to New York to try and get his book published. Geiwitz said that publishers couldn't be approached directly, that you have to talk to them through an agent.

He told publishers that he wrote a novel and was asked the question "What's your platform?" Not sure how to answer that, he answered, "I use a Macintosh."

The publisher then asked Geiwitz if he had his own TV talk show or gave seminars to 10,000 people.

"(Other questions were) 'are you a serial killer? Do you have any way of making your book stand out from the millions of others on the market?'" Geiwitz said. He wittily replied that he was a serial killer of mosquitoes, which didn't really impress the bigger publishers.

But Geiwitz even had a hard time getting the small presses to publish his book. He was ready to self-publish the novel when he saw an ad for a first novel writing contest by Sol Books, a small press in St. Paul.

Finally, someone would read the book, he said.

"In 20 years I couldn't even get anyone to read it," he said. He won the 2010 Sol Books Prose Series competition and the book was set to be published by Skywater Publishing Company.

"I like the idea of a small press," Geiwitz said. "They're more interested in the book and they treat you in a personal way."

The novel consisted of several short stories Geiwitz started writing 30 years ago. He figured that he had a novel in the works. The short stories would contain the same characters and would take place in his hometown of Minneota - coming of age tales.

"Then I realized I could write transitions from one story to the next," he said. The first edition of the novel was written entirely in first person, he said. Then he rewrote it in third person.

Geiwitz said the novel is about community, most of the time warm, friendly and supportive, but sometimes cold, unfriendly and critical. He even had a working title of "The Dark Side of Lake Wobegon."

"They (small towns) have these stories everybody knows and everybody tells," Geiwitz said. "(It's) the comedy and the tragedy of small-town living."

The novel has three main characters - David Sorenson, Sally Engstrom, a young woman who became the victim of the community's wrath and "The Swede," a philosophical alcoholic.

"These three characters describe three important patterns of development in small towns, as each reacts to common events," he said.

Geiwitz said some who have read the book interpreted the stories in different ways, and there are familiarities.

"Some characters are clearly recognizable in the book," Geiwitz said. Geiwitz said the character David Sorenson is basically himself. Sally Engstrom is based on a combination of 10 to 15 young women he dated or was interested in back in high school.

"The bullies in the novel are similarly mixtures of several mean boys who tormented me," he said. "Although I didn't do it to confuse the reader, the reader's recognition radar will send the wrong signals because I often used one Minneota character to play another Minneota character."



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