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Landvik sees life from male perspective in 'Mount Joy'

MINNEAPOLIS — For Lorna Landvik, author of such women-oriented novels as "Patty Jane's House of Curl" and "Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons," writing for the first time in a man's voice was not a problem.

"I just sat around in my underwear and bossed my spouse around, and it all just came right to me," she says jokingly.

Landvik is out with her seventh book, "The View From Mount Joy," which has 75,000 copies in print since hitting the shelves in September. The hardcover and paperback editions of 2003's "Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons," which follows the lives of women in the book group of the title, total 1 million copies.

Told from the viewpoint of Joe Andreson, a teenager who moves from northern Minnesota to Minneapolis with his mother after his father dies in plane crash, "Mount Joy" captures the hair styles, fashions and music of the early 1970s — the time when Landvik went to high school.

"It was a fun period," recalls the author, who still wears her blond hair in a modified '70s shag. She weaves Chicago's "Colour My World" and Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With" ("our song" for Landvik and her husband) into the novel's background music.

Landvik also retains the activism of that period in her life. In 1986, shortly after the birth of their first daughter, Landvik and her husband took the baby on the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament, a nine-month, 3,700-mile walk from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.

"I've always been a believer in activism," says Landvik, who turns 53 on Dec. 12 and still attends anti-war rallies. "I believe in exercising my free right to speak out, and there's a lot to speak out (about) these days."

In "Mount Joy," Andreson transfers to fictional Ole Bull High (named after the Norwegian virtuoso violinist of the 1800s), where the school mascot is a mangy bull that plays the fiddle.

He is a "very tenderhearted man," Landvik says, much like her husband and her late father. Andreson has dreams of becoming a pro hockey player or a foreign correspondent, only to see them derailed by a college hockey injury. Instead, he ends up in the grocery business, where he creates a haven in his grocery store.

Complicating Andreson's life is Kristi Casey, a "diabolical" cheerleader who eventually becomes a drum-beating evangelist with her own radio program, "On the Air With God."

"People have said to me, 'You don't really even need to use the word "diabolical," it's just implied when you say "cheerleader,"'" says Landvik over a cup of coffee in her sunny home in south Minneapolis, where she grew up. She lives there with her husband, Charles Gabrielson, their 16-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old Lab/Brittany spaniel mix named Julio (the daughter who was taken on the cross-country peace march is now 22 and attends college out of state.)

While Landvik says her novels are not aimed at women, she figures she has more female readers than male, though she's heard from men who like her books.

"But I have heard them say, sometimes, 'Well, I kind of felt funny buying a book called, "Patty Jane's House of Curl," but I did it anyway,'" Landvik says. "And I think sometimes my titles will make a man a little hesitant."

Landvik's editor at Ballantine Books, Linda Marrow, says Landvik's talent is taking readers beyond "the wallpaper of our day-to-day lives," such as in a supermarket or beauty parlor.

"It's almost like she shows us this secret door in the wall that would open up and show us, 'Oh my gosh, there's this whole world of warm and compelling stories' and people behind that door of this place that you pay maybe very little attention to," Marrow says.

Known for her darkly comic writing, Landvik says she got her sense of humor from growing up the little sister of three older brothers.

"To stave off brutality, I had to make them laugh. So I think I learned if you can make people laugh, you're in good stead," she says.

Landvik knew that she wanted to be a writer in first grade, when she learned to read the Dick and Jane books. She honed her ear for dialogue doing stand-up comedy and improv in California, where she lived for about 11 years before returning to Minneapolis.

After trying short fiction, she decided she needed the expanse of a novel. She got a temp job, which allowed her to write her first book, "Patty Jane's House of Curl," published in 1995 after about 30 rejections.

Landvik, who is Norwegian, makes sure all her books have at least one Norwegian character. In "Mount Joy," it's implied that Joe Andreson is of Norwegian descent, while "Patty Jane's," about two sisters who start a hair salon, has a Norwegian mother-in-law.

Minnesota is the setting for most of her stories. Her second book, "Your Oasis on Flame Lake" (1997), about a man who has a nightclub in his basement, takes place in a fictitious town in central Minnesota. Her only book not set in Minnesota is 2005's "Oh My Stars," in which a teenage girl ends up in North Dakota during the Depression when her bus crashes there.

"Mount Joy" is the second book of Landvik's latest two-book deal with Ballantine. She recently wrote a Christmas book due to come out next year and already is at work on her next novel.

And while a couple of her books have been optioned for movies, nothing has yet been mounted on screen. Landvik says her dream is that "a little homemade movie" of "Your Oasis on Flame Lake" eventually might be made in the Twin Cities.

"It would be really fun. The cake is the book, but the frosting would be the movie."

On the Net Lorna Landvik: http:www.lornalandvik.com Random House: http:www.randomhouse.com

Author Lorna Landvik, shown at her Minneapolis home, talks about her seventh book, “The View From Mount Joy.” Landvik says writing for the first time in a man’s voice was not a problem. - AP