Fair Isn’t Life by Kaje Harper
Cover Artist: Brooke Albrecht
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to hose Kaje Harper today on tour for her new release Fair Isn’t Life, a Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Highly Recommended story. Welcome, Kaje.
So you think you know Minnesota… by Kaje Harper
When I decided to submit a Minnesota story for Dreamspinner Press’s series on The States of Love, I didn’t know what I wanted to include. The series includes one romance from each of the fifty US states, intended to give readers a flavor of the region, something unique to where it’s set. There’d been some excellent ones – check out Sarah Black’s War Paint (Georgia) for a recent favorite.
I decided I wasn’t going to start my story in the ice and chill of a Minnesota winter. That’s what a lot of people think about when they hear “Minnesota” and there’s no denying we have stellar winters. Or awful ones, depending on your point of view. We’ve had three feet of snow on Halloween, and frigid lows every winter hit -20 °F at some point. The record low temp in 1996 was -60 °F in the little town of Tower, MN.
I love the beauty of Minnesota winters, other than having to shovel that snow. But part of the goal here was to show people things they didn’t already know about the state, or to present things they did know in new ways. So I decided I’d start in the warmth— or lately, more often hot-th— of a Minnesota summer. And with that decided, it was only natural to start at the Minnesota State Fair.
We have one of the largest fairs in the country. In fact, in 2018 Minnesota came in second only to Texas for the number of visitors to the Fair, with 2 million people passing through our gates. Set in the heart of the Twin Cities, on a permanent fairgrounds, it’s an interesting mix of the urban and the rural.
Old traditions like crowning a Dairy Princess— Princess Kay of the Milky Way— and then having an artist sculpt a large bust of her out of butter, linger from the 1960s, 1950s, and earlier. The cattle judging and baked goods and biggest pumpkin contest hark back to the days when Minnesota was a largely rural state, heavy in corn and dairy, hogs and beans, turkeys and sugar beets.
These days, the Fair also has displays of multicultural foods and music, educational booths, plastic souvenirs of all kinds, and huge concerts in the bandstand. The University of Minnesota’s Miracle of Birth center shows the facts of barnyard babies to a million people who’ve never touched a cow. The hulking agricultural tractors and balers that lined Machinery Hill have mostly given way to lawn tractors and snow blowers, with the occasional reaper still standing over them.
The Fair seemed like the ideal place to showcase the dichotomy between old Minnesota and new. Like many other states, we have a progressive urban population and a more conservative outstate one. My two main characters also came to represent some aspects of that, even though they both grew up in the same town an hour out of the Cities.
Luke is a dairy farmer through and through, still in love with a way of life that’s becoming hard to maintain. Mason is flamboyant and loves make-up and folk-metal concerts. And yet they cross those lines— Mason still loving his home town, Luke as a gay man not always comfortable in the church and rural-traditions world where he grew up.
Minnesota has a mixed legacy on LGBTQ rights, too. We were the first state to vote “NO” rather than yes on a one-man-one-woman constitutional amendment, but the vote was very close. We legalized equal marriage before the historic SCOTUS decision, but there are many fundamentalists who were deeply unhappy about that. I have a friend who runs a Gay-Straight Alliance in an outstate school, and those kids have had to fight for their rights. The school board changed rules on them, specifically to make things harder. They get backlash on every Spirit Day and Day of Silence effort.
While Fair Isn’t Life isn’t specifically about homophobia, it definitely affects the story. One of the things I like to write about is the varied shades of homophobia— the fact that there is a lot of space between the cruel name-calling bully or Bible-waving hater, and complete support. A substantial portion of Minnesotans live in that in-between, not rainbow rights advocates, but not haters. They are part of the landscape.
At Pride last year, I had a guy tell me that things are changing slowly for him. When he married his husband (unofficially) fifteen years ago, his dad didn’t come to the wedding and wouldn’t let his spouse into the house, although he kept in touch. Years of partial estrangement led to softening, and they were asked to visit, but to not kiss under his dad’s roof. Now his dad is fine with them together at home, but very uncomfortable with PDAs if they are out to a meal together.
Partial acceptance is better than none, and it gives hope for change. But it can really hurt. In this story, Luke’s dad did his best, for the way he was raised, but that didn’t keep Luke’s heart from aching. We have a wonderful, gay-friendly Twin Cities, but we still have a distance to go.
(3) Minnesota also has a fun side. I didn’t put in some of the great MN stuff I considered. For example, in the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden, the iconic “Spoon Bridge With Cherry” sculpture (yes, a giant cherry) is now joined by a huge blue cock (not that kind, folks. A giant blue rooster.)
Sadly, I couldn’t find a good spot in my story for a giant cock and cherry…
Hopefully, people will enjoy what I did get into my story, both about the state I’ve come to call home, and about two young men with challenges who find happiness in each other.
Fair Isn’t Life – blurb:
Luke Lafontaine survived the past year by not thinking about the father he lost, the dairy farm he couldn’t save from bankruptcy, or his way of life that vanished with the rap of an auctioneer’s hammer. Cleaning up city folks’ trash at the Minnesota State Fair is just another dead-end job. But at the Fair, surrounded by a celebration of farm life, ambitions he’d given up on and buried deep start to revive. And seeing Mason Bell in the parade—gorgeous, gay, out-of-his-league Mason—stirs other buried dreams.
Mason left his hometown for college in Minneapolis without looking back. Student life is fun, classes are great, gay guys are easy to find, but it’s all a bit superficial. He’s at the State Fair parade route with his band when he realizes a scruffy maintenance worker is Luke, his secret high school crush. Luke should be safely home working on his dad’s farm, not picking up litter. Mason wishes he hadn’t fallen out of touch. He’s an optimist, though, and it’s never too late for second chances. Now he just has to convince Luke.
About Author Kaje Harper
I get asked about my name a lot. It’s not something exotic, though. “Kaje” is pronounced just like “cage” – it’s an old nickname. I’ve been writing far longer than I care to admit (*whispers – forty years*), mostly for my own entertainment, usually M/M romance (with added mystery, fantasy, historical, SciFi…) I also have Young Adult short stories (some released under the pen name Kira Harp.)
It was my husband who finally convinced me that after all the years of writing just for fun, I really should submit something, somewhere. My first professionally published book, Life Lessons, came out from MLR Press in May 2011. I now have a good-sized backlist in ebooks and print, both free and professionally published, including Amazon bestseller The Rebuilding Year and Rainbow Award Best Mystery-Thriller Tracefinder: Contact. A complete list with links can be found on my website “Books” page at https://kajeharper.wordpress.com/books/.
I’m always pleased to have readers find me online at:
Goodreads Author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4769304.Kaje_Harper
#1 – depositphotos – https://depositphotos.com/ – standard license
#2 – depositphotos – https://depositphotos.com/ – standard license
#3 and #4 – personal photos, Kaje Harper, 11/01/2018 (content is artwork – not for commercial use.)