Today we present an interview with Jim Guhl, author of the book Eleven Miles to Oshkosh. As the Vietnam War grinds on and the Nixon presidency collapses, Del “Minnow” Finwick’s small world in Wisconsin has blown apart. His father, a deputy sheriff, has been murdered by the unknown “Highway 41 Killer.” His mom has unraveled. And a goon named Larry Buskin has been pummeling Minnow behind Neenah High. Minnow must seek justice by partnering with unlikely allies and discovering his own courage.
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Q. Why did you choose the Fox Valley region of Wisconsin as the setting for your debut novel, Eleven Miles to Oshkosh
A. There are several reasons. For one, I grew up in Neenah-Menasha and learned to love the heartbeat and vitality of the place. Winnebago County is a very interesting region, flush with shallow lakes and wetlands, mills and foundries that never quit their churning, and a rich history that goes back to Nicolet, Chief Oshkosh, and the naming of Lake Butte des Morts (Hill of the Dead).
Q. What do you hope that people will get out of the book?
A. Pleasure mainly—but also an appreciation for the history, geography and social evolution of the Fox Valley. At its core, Eleven Miles to Oshkosh is a coming-of-age story about an unlikely hero, the scared-of-everything fifteen-year-old, Del (Minnow) Finwick, who seeks to resolve his father’s murder and find courage along the way. Young readers will enjoy the kid’s magnetism for trouble and his willingness to stick up for what’s right. Baby boomers will enjoy images of a simpler time when a single-speed bicycle and access to Grandpa’s Chevy Apache truck keys were enough to get a kid to every nook and cranny in the county. I’m confident that readers will relate to the lively characters from a collection that includes the first black girl at Neenah High, a homeless Native American, and an assortment of bad guys.
Q. How did you get interested in writing fiction?
A. Even though I worked a full career in the field of engineering, I’ve always had a leaning toward creativity. I enjoy painting, woodcarving, lapidary and guitar. About ten years ago I spotted a small ad in the community section of my local newspaper, inviting people to participate in the Pen & Think Writers Group of Hudson, Wisconsin. I joined up and have been writing short stories and memoirs ever since. About three years ago, I shifted into fourth gear and turned hard on the steering wheel in the direction of full-length novels. I absolutely love it and have no plans of stopping.
Jim Guhl grew up in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin in the 1960s and ’70s. He now lives in Hudson, Wisconsin and is a writer and visual artist.