It’s lovely to have Posy Roberts here today. She’s giving us an insight into the houses her characters dwell in and what it says about them. Does your house speak for you too? I know mine does (chaotic and messy)
Hugo walked into the cabin he’d heard about for years. It smelled of grandparents—a bit musty but not in a bad way, just a comforting way that bespoke of good memories. After all, it had been Summer’s grandparents’ cabin. They’d bought it in the late 1950s, and it appeared as if it hadn’t been redecorated since. A refreshing blue-and-yellow theme traveled around the main room with little sailboats and anchors dotting walls and furniture. A lamp with a sailboat wheel as its base sat on an end table, and shells and driftwood rested on book-filled shelves and atop picture frames. It made Hugo smile. No wonder Summer loved coming here.
The first house I mention in my book Spark is this lake cabin with questionable plumbing. More than telling about the characters, this cabin sets up some of the culture in Minnesota. Hugo Thorson appreciates the place, which almost feels as if it’s been lost in time.
I always get excited to read about where a character lives because I find out a lot about who they are without authors having to outright tell me. It’s like a little treasure hunt. Many of my favorite authors create these wonderful settings that I enjoy spending time in, and as a writer, I find it fun to make homes for characters as well.
Last month I was reading a story about a man who was putting on a shiny happy façade, but then I saw his apartment. It was rundown and filthy. Little bells went off in my head, and suddenly I saw how miserable he was. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve read stories about apartment dwellers with lives so messed up you wonder how they can manage anything. Their immaculate house is the one place they feel they have control, so they keep it picture perfect.
I start looking at characters with different eyes when I read things like this. Sometimes the state of a house tells us about the mental state of a character or how busy they are. At other times, it simply tells us about their financial solvency or how far in debt they’ve buried themselves. Perhaps a character lives in a tiny house totally off the grid because of their environmentalism.
Sometimes a house is just a house too.
I was lucky to be able to create several different houses in Spark, the first book in my North Star trilogy. Just a few properties away from the cabin Hugo admires above, is Kevin Magnus’s lake home, which is less cabin and much more house. I also introduce Hugo and Kevin’s homes in their small town where these men met at teens. Then I was able to spy on them again in their mid-thirties after they’d become independent adults and were able to create the spaces they wanted rather than being limited to the one room they called their own as kids. Who they became in their adulthood crept into their homes and it was fun to record, even if a lot of Kevin’s home reflected his ex, Erin’s taste too.
Hugo Thorson is an actor and director with his fingers in many pies. He lives in a section of Minneapolis called Uptown, where hippies, hipsters, artists, and actors feel very at home. Kevin Magnus feels much more at home with the country club set. That’s reflected in the location of his sprawling house in Edina, one of the wealthiest suburbs in the Twin Cities. His house is spacious, neat, mostly beige, and also very private because of all the trees at the back of his property.
Hugo enjoys browsing in second hand shops for household goods while Kevin would more likely call an interior decorator if he were considering something as simple as a new wall color or changing a wall hanging. Hugo feels out of his element when he visit’s Kevin’s home, and he wonders how his crazy, out-there life could possibly fit with Kevin’s. Hugo is obviously insecure and unsure about what Kevin will think of his place, because it’s nothing like the sleek, modern lake house Hugo’s spent time in as he and Kevin got reacquainted.
Spark is about having a second chance at the love, but sometimes there are issues to work though. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 24 of Spark. You can read also Chapter 1 here
“Hmm. Well, take a look around, if you’d like,” Hugo invited as he moved to pull plates down from his cupboard. He opted for the plates with the turquoise-and-yellow atomic starburst pattern rather than the easier to retrieve pink-and-black dishes he often used. Kevin probably wouldn’t appreciate vintage pink dishes, even if they’d been an excellent find at Hugo’s favorite thrift store. “I’ll just unpack the food and set the table.”
Kevin took him up on the offer and went to Hugo’s bookshelf near the television and started scanning the titles of films and literature, picking up various knickknacks to inspect closer as he walked around the room. He neared Hugo’s smaller bedroom where all his drag was—his drag closet—and Kevin rested his hand on the doorknob. The door was locked, but Hugo’s heart still pitter-pattered.
“You have a two-bedroom?” Kevin asked.
Hugo nodded and smiled, hoping his nervousness wouldn’t show through. That room was the last place he wanted Kevin, and he was more than thankful he’d put the wigs away before he’d settled down for his nap. “Storage, mostly. It used to be a home office when Michael lived here.”
Kevin released a meaningful noise and then removed his hand from the door, moving on. He glanced out Hugo’s windows and opened the door to the tiny balcony where Hugo had two chairs and a low table with a pot of herbs growing.
“You’re really close to Lake Calhoun, aren’t you?” Kevin asked when he peeked his head back in.
“Yep.” You could see a sliver of blue water from the balcony beyond the alleyway, and the fact that Kevin had noticed it made Hugo smile.
“Do you want any help?”
“No. I’m good. Actually, why don’t you have a seat?”
Kevin sat at the robin’s-egg-blue Formica table Hugo had found on the side of the road years ago. It had been free, but it was one of Hugo’s favorite finds.
“I like your place,” Kevin said as he took another glance around the apartment. “It feels warm and friendly. Really colorful. I never would’ve thought painting each wall a different color would work so well, but it really does.”
“Thanks. It’s not much, but it’s my own.”
In Chapter 26 Hugo is still nervous as he visits Kevin’s home in Edina for the first time.
He merged onto a smaller highway that took him to the suburb of Edina and then finally turned onto a side street that gave way to curvy roads with idealistic monikers that hinted at secret hiding places nestled in the woods. Sure enough, thick areas of trees sprung up alongside the road, interrupted by expansive green yards and sprawling houses here and there that were pushed far back on the properties with semicircular drives. He was very glad to have GPS in his car because he would have definitely gotten lost without it.
At the end of a long, curving road was a fancy mailbox with the name Magnus cast in what looked like bronze above the shiny house number. Beside it was a low stairway made of rough-hewn timbers lazily making its way to the front door of the two-story brick house. It was a warm color with a mixture of tans and browns, and there were several limestone retaining walls built up along the gently sloping yard, flowers and small trees filling the space. The grass was beautifully manicured and looked perfect for walking barefoot.
Hugo pulled into the drive and parked in front of one of the three garage doors attached to, but placed at an angle from, the house. Not sure exactly where guests should park, he momentarily considered backing up and parking on the street but decided against it in case there was some sort of neighborhood association rule against doing so.
Before he got out of the car, Hugo took a few deep breaths. He was nervous—probably because he felt so out of place in this neighborhood with the huge houses and perfect façades, but also because he knew he’d be seeing Brooke and Finn again. There was a slight possibility he’d be meeting Erin as well.
One more deep breath, and he was opening the car door and braving his way to Kevin’s entrance. A turquoise-painted door with a heavy bronze knocker shaped like a pinecone stood before him. Hugo rang the doorbell instead. It was a few minutes, but soon he could hear Kevin’s footsteps.
In their small-town high school, Hugo and Kevin became closeted lovers who kept their secret even from parents. Hugo didn’t want to disappoint his terminally ill father, and Kevin’s controlling father would never tolerate a bisexual son. When college took them in different directions, they promised to reunite, but that didn’t happen for seventeen years.
By the time they meet again, Hugo has become an out-and-proud actor and director who occasionally performs in drag—a secret that has cost him in past relationships. Kevin, still closeted, has followed his father’s path and now, in the shadow of divorce, is striving to be a better father to his own children.
When Hugo and Kevin meet by chance at a party, the spark of attraction reignites, as does their genuine friendship. Rekindling a romance may mean Hugo must compromise the openness he values, but Kevin will need a patient partner as he adapts to living outside the closet. With such different lifestyles, the odds seem stacked against them, and Hugo fears that if his secret comes to light, it may drive Kevin away completely.
Posy Roberts lives in the land of 10,000 lakes (plus a few thousand more). But even with more shoreline than California, Florida, and Hawaii combined, Minnesota has snow—lots of it—and the six months of winter makes us “hearty folk,” or so the locals say. The rest of the year is heat and humidity with a little bit of cool weather we call spring and autumn, which lasts about a week.
She loves a clean house, even if she can’t keep up with her daughter’s messes, and prefers foods that are enriched with meat, noodles, and cheese, or as we call it in Minnesota, hotdish. She also loves people, even though she has to spend considerable amounts of time away from them after helping to solve their interpersonal problems at her day job.
Posy is married to a wonderful man who makes sure she eats while she documents the lives of her characters. She also has a remarkable daughter who helps her come up with character names. When she’s not writing, she enjoys karaoke, hiking, and singing spontaneously about the mundane, just to make normal seem more interesting.