Coming Back to America

American author Vestal McIntyre found a husband and a home in the U.K., but his first novel, Lake Overturn, brings him back to the Idaho countryside of his childhood.




McIntyre’s favorite character in the book though is Connie, a dour middle-aged mother who questions God’s will at every turn. “There is a lot of me in Connie,” he says. “I was intensely Christian and concerned with how to live God’s law perfectly.” Then he pauses and adds, “But when you’re writing a big book like this, you’re not really thinking about yourself. I was just trying to write.”

McIntyre’s approach to writing is slightly unusual -- he’s more of a binge writer than a daily one. Having living the past 13 years in New York, he says, “I’d spend all my time at my regular job so I could save up enough money to be able to take time off and go to [artists’ residencies] like Yaddo, where I’d write huge sections of the book.”

The key moment came in 2006, when he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. “It was just enough money to take the summer off,” he says. A family friend lent him a cabin in Maine. “It was just me, with no phone, no Internet, and just acres of land between me and the next person,” he says wistfully. By the end of the summer he’d written a third of the novel. Certain scenes, especially the most powerful sections in the last 60 pages, he kept as treats until the end, when he was visiting Le Masson Bangard in London. “They were more bitter treats,” he says today.

McIntyre’s upbringing is far more interesting than most of the memoirs crowding the shelves of Waterstone’s, the chain bookshop where he now works.

He grew up in Nampa, Idaho, a town not unlike the fictional Eula of Lake Overturn, and is the youngest of seven brothers and sisters. “We have kind of an interesting family,” he says with an air of understatement. “There are four gay kids -- my brother and I are gay, and then two of my sisters are gay.” Another brother is a Southern Baptist missionary based in Bangladesh.

“My parents wanted to live out in the country with sheep and horses, and they were very religious [Baptist] but weren’t very rigid.” His father, a pediatrician, cared for many patients who couldn’t pay for his services and also took in boarders who couldn’t afford to pay for a home of their own. “So we had these people in our house all the time, staying with us. There were wounded Afghan soldiers who had been invited to the U.S. by conservative groups but then didn’t have a place to stay once they got there, foster brothers, exchange students, and people getting out of jail. It was kind of a zoo.”

And what was it like for four siblings to come out to their religious parents? Did they all come out en masse?

Tags: Books