Minnesota novelist Brian Duren's new 'Gravity'

A man poses with two books displayed on a table
Twin Cities author Brian Duren with his two novels published in 2023, “Ivory Black” and “The Gravity of Love.”
Euan Kerr | MPR News

Twin Cities novelist Brian Duren has a problem.

“I don’t want to stop writing until I’ve written all the books that I’ve got in my head. But I don’t know when I’m going to stop getting books [in] my head. So this might just go on, and on, and on,” he laughed.

Writing often tends to be a learning experience, and Duren admits he’s learned some unexpected lessons about the craft in recent years.

Duren’s just published a novel called “The Gravity of Love,” the second book he has released in the last six months.

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“I always say that I write introspective fiction about characters who wander through time and space and always return to what haunts them.” he said.

In “The Gravity of Love” we meet David, a college professor from the Twin Cities who has spent years in France as a student and teacher. Now back in Minnesota, Duren said David is tormented by memories of his dead father, and questions about this man everyone loved — but who openly despised him.

“Why was I not worthy of this love? Of the love that I have seen him, for instance, I have seen him give my mother. Or the love I have seen him for instance give my other siblings. Why is it that he couldn’t love me?”

But Duren also tells the story from the perspective of David’s mother, Virginia. The memory of her love for her late husband still burns bright years after his passing. Virginia recognizes David’s pain and confusion, but Duren says she won’t let that tarnish the past.

As the flood of memories gushes from them both. Duren dips readers into each flow.

“And there are no chapter breaks because I wanted to do something that was very close to stream of consciousness,” he said. “So we could get into the minds and the emotions of these two different characters, and see everything from two different points of view.”

Lessons learned

“The Gravity of Love” straddles these Minnesota family memories of joy and turmoil during decades of the twentieth century.

It’s a great tale.

But there's another story here, about Brian Duren’s journey to becoming an author.

He is himself a former professor who wanted to write in retirement. He finished a number of manuscripts and went looking for a book deal. Dishearteningly, he got no response. Then a teacher at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis gave him some tough advice.

“And he said ‘Don’t do anything that might reveal your age.’ And I had done everything to reveal my age in the letters I had written to the agents and the editors and the publishers.”

As he continued writing, he sought feedback from classmates and other readers. That was a learning experience too. He ran “The Gravity of Love” through that gauntlet.

“The responses have been all over the map. There are people who absolutely adore this book and people who really dislike it.”

Celebrated writers Junot Diaz and Minnesotan Peter Geye are in the fan column. And eventually, he got two book deals. First for “Ivory Black,” a novel set against the backdrop of the Iraq War published earlier this year. And then for “Gravity of Love” published in August.

But that’s when he learned another reality of the new literary life. He called his “Ivory Black” publicist after hearing nothing from her following the book’s publication. Turned out she had left her job some weeks before and no one had taken her place.

“And apparently, there is this trend in the publishing world whereby to an ever increasing extent writers are expected to become their own publicists.”

So that’s what he is doing, sending out elegantly polite emails to people who might be able to put in a good word about his work.

He’s still writing fiction. He says the novel on which he’s currently working on, “Day Brings Back the Night,” is the best he’s ever written. The book ideas keep coming.

“We are all mortal. I’m 79, so you know I might end up dying before I get them all written. Who knows? I’d like to get as many of them written as I can in the time I have left.”