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Minnesota author Elliott Foster makes Pepin, Wis., the stage for his latest thriller

Pepin, Wis., sets the stage for a protagonist's reckoning with his past.

Elliott Foster
Elliott Foster.
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota author Elliott Foster tells stories that are rooted in the Midwest.

But for Foster, the region is always more than simply a place to set or stage a story. Place always comes wrapped in larger themes. Places generate memories. Memories can enliven a place with mystery and enchantment or they can represent symbols of a shameful and haunting past.

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Sometimes those memories are magical, as in his novel, “Whispering Pines: Tales from a Northwood Cabin,” a story about the Travis family and its 50-year connection to their cabin.

In 2019, Elliot co-wrote a memoir with his dad, Plainview native Ken Flies, called “Retrieving Issac & Jason,” a story about the adoption of Foster’s two children, as told by Kai, a Minnesota-born yellow Labrador retriever.

In his latest book, “Reckoning Waves,” Elliott makes the Midwest and particularly Pepin, Wisconsin, a place of darker, stalking memories.

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Corey Flanagan, the novel’s main protagonist, is living a fulfilled life as a painter of landscapes, inspired by the beauty of California beaches and ocean. Corey has found romance with a younger man, Miguel. It’s a delicate, fragile existence, protected by an alias and a lie that shields Corey from his past, but endangers his present and future.

The Midwest, for Corey, is a place of dark secrets and memories – of dysfunctional relationships, of rejection, of murder and possibly of judgment and punishment. And those memories and relationships catch up to Corey when he returns to the scene of his crimes and the darker chapters of his life. The decision proves fateful.

"Reckoning Waves" is Foster’s sequel to his 2019 thriller, “Panic River,” which started out as a short-story and ended up a full-length novel. The series is envisioned as a trilogy. Elliott said the impetus for the second book and third, which he is currently working on, stemmed from readers wanting “some kind of justice, some kind of consequence for Corey’s sins.”

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The book came out in March. Last spring, The San Francisco Book Festival chose “Reckoning Waves” as winner in the Gay Fiction LBGTQ Fiction category.

“When you have what you want most – love, a passion for art, a home in paradise – you think you’ve outrun your past. But without honesty, life is fragile,” said Sandra Scofield, American Book Award winning author of “Swim: Stories of the Sixties” and “The Last Draft.”

Foster said it was natural for him to set his latest book in Minnesota and Wisconsin, which he knows well. Both his parents are from Wabasha County, the Kellogg and Plainview areas, where he spent a lot of time as a kid.

Reckoning Waves
"Reckoning Waves" by Elliott Foster.
Contributed

“Then mostly in my adulthood, I went down a lot of Pepin to recreate in the Chippewa River Valley and, certainly, to eat at the Harbor View Cafe. So, it’s just very familiar,” Foster said.

Foster belongs to a family tree of writers, many of whom live in Rochester or Minnesota. As mentioned before, his dad, Ken Flies, grew up in Plainview and now resides in Eagan. Peter Flies and Vicky Giordano, both first cousins, are writers who live in Rochester. Mary Vukadinovich, also a cousin, writes in Los Angeles.

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Foster is busily working on the third book of his trilogy. He said “Reckoning Waves” was released in March at the Saints + Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, the largest LGBTQ literary festival in North America. It received such a favorable reception that his editor wants to debut the third book at the festival again.

“That went really well last March, so my editor wants me to finish this one to have it debut again at the festival,” Foster said.

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Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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