Love Lessons: Small School, Big Personality

old main

Old Main, the oldest building on the Wartburg Campus

(This is post #2 in my every-Friday blog series about behind-the-scenes information on my upcoming novel, Love Lessons. Find the rest by clicking this tag.)

One of the most fun things for me about writing Love Lessons was reliving my own college experience. Once I got over the fact that I started college twenty-three years ago, holy crap, I set about seeing what had changed about college and what hadn’t. First-day jitters are universal, but GSAs are a brand-new invention, at least comparative to my time at school. Technology has undergone about six different metamorphoses since I attended college as well: only rich people had cell phones, and only in cities, and I very much remember the moment the Internet showed up on campus. I also know that there’s a huge difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web. (ISCAbbs, anyone?)

The first thing I had to do when creating the world of Love Lessons was build the school. There’s no Hope University and no Danby, Illinois, but they’re both liberally designed around my memories of Waverly, Iowa and Wartburg College. I saved the quirkiness that is a Lutheran college for book two, but many, many of the oddities listed in the book are right out of my alma matter. No sororities or fraternities on campus, no living off campus except in extraordinary circumstances? Check and check. Quirky old buildings, manors for upperclassmen: everything is there.

The Centennial Complex (Porter is based partly on these dorms)

The Centennial Complex (Porter is based partly on these dorms)

Kelly and Walter’s dorm, Porter, is entirely a fiction of my imagination, though when I see it it’s an amalgam of the dorms that make up the Centennial Complex at Wartburg. 1950s-built blocks of residence hall with singles on the end and clunky combination locks that 600+ people knew the password for. Their shared single rooms were on the end by the stairs, barely five feet wide and maybe twelve feet long. I actually never knew anyone who had to double in them, but a few years Wartburg was so overcrowded I want to say they did double up singles, at least initially.

Another aspect of using Wartburg as my model for a college known for being gay-friendly stems from the fact it was at Wartburg, even back in 1991, that my eyes were first opened to the importance of LGBTQ rights. I met openly gay and lesbian students and saw how incredibly hard it was for them to be out. I attended the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus’s performance, but first I helped lobby to get them permission to come at all. In the early 1990s gay rights were not something easily championed, but despite a religious background, Wartburg set some early standards which would allow them to become the college which today advertises proudly on its diversity page that it has a 4.5 out of 5 starts on the National LGBT Campus Climate Index.

Heidi and her friend Brent, whom she is still in contact with today.

Heidi and her friend Brent, whom she is still in contact with today, and might even be reading this post.

My husband, who started at Iowa State University and graduated from the University of Iowa, visits Wartburg and shakes his head, saying it feels like a high school, it’s so small. While I wouldn’t go quite that far, I will admit the culture at a small school is very different than a large one. I couldn’t ever skip once class without skipping several, because most of mine were on the same hallway floor. I had to work in the computer lab after midnight, because I worked in the writing center all four years and everyone slammed me for after-hours consults on their papers. I had to go to the student union to eat at the cafeteria, because there was only one communal dining hall for all of the campus dorms.

What I wasn’t ever at Wartburg, though, was a number. I went through some pretty grisly moments in college, and my community never let me fall. I had many hordes of friends and countless faculty guardian angels who found my scholarships, talked me off ledges, and sat with me at church. When I went to Wartburg as a freshman, I was a hella hot mess. When I left, I was still pretty wobbly, but I knew where my feet were and definitely how to keep hold of my sense of self.

Wartburg broke my heart too a few times, and I included one of its worst infractions in the story. By and large, however, I look back at my undergraduate years with nothing but fondness and gratitude. I hope I was able to mine them for story in a way that allows you to enjoy them too.

*****

Love Lessons: Love doesn’t come with a syllabus.LoveLessons72lg

Kelly Davidson has waited what seems like forever to graduate high school and get out of his small-minded, small town. But when he arrives at Hope University, he quickly realizes finding his Prince Charming isn’t so easy. Everyone here is already out. In fact, Kelly could be the only virgin on campus. Worst of all, he’s landed the charming, handsome, gay campus Casanova as a roommate, whose bed might as well be equipped with a revolving door.

Walter Lucas doesn’t believe in storybook love. Everyone is better off having as much fun as possible with as many people as possible…except his shy, sad little sack of a roommate is seriously screwing up his world view. As Walter sets out to lure Kelly out of his shell, staying just friends is harder than he anticipated. He discovers love is a crash course in determination. To make the grade, he’ll have to finally show up for class…and overcome his own private fear that love was never meant to last.

Warning: This story contains lingering glances, milder than usual sexual content for this author, and a steamy dance-floor kiss. Story has no dairy or egg content, but may contain almonds.

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