Private Display of Affection – Winter Sandberg

PrivateDisplayAffectionCoverWriting a story set close to home and be wonderfully scary. When I set out to write about Hugo Thorson and Kevin Magnus in Private Display of Affection, I knew I wanted to have them live in a place I was semi-familiar with. Since I’ve lived in the upper Midwest my entire life, I decided to write a story set in Austin, MN, and I even had Kevin moving there from Fargo, ND, a town I spent seven years in during college and graduate school.

So why is writing close to home wonderful? I was able to get in my car and drive an hour or two to do up close and personal research. I could sit in the local pizza joint at suppertime and listen to conversations. I was able to visit the school Hugo and Kevin attended, and I found a beautiful location for their very first kiss.

Why is it scary? It’s scary because I almost feel as if I’m allowing readers to get too close to me. I’m letting them see too much of me. It’s also scary because I don’t want people knocking on my door. Haha. Like that will happen.

But to write about a place where I already know the weather patterns and the cultural climate is refreshing. I didn’t have to research every minute detail about speech patterns. I recall when setting a story in Seattle, I had to find out what people call fizzy beverages: pop, soda, or coke. It turns out they call it a pop out there like they do here in MN, probably because both places were settled my Scandinavians. But cross the Mississippi River and go in to WI, and pop becomes soda. That might seem like a minor things, but I really like to get the local flavor in a story if I can. Setting a story closer to home made that easy.

I also got to teach the world what hotdish is. It is what most Americans call a casserole and every time I try to type hotdish into a computer, it tries to get me to change it to hot dish, which is entirely wrong. A hot dish is a plate that is hot, not a casserole. 🙂 I’m such a dork.

The other thing that was fun about setting Private Display of Affection in Austin, MN was that I get to poke a little bit of fun at SPAM. Who doesn’t like to make fun of canned spiced ham?


Hugo Thorson knows he’s gay, but coming out during high school is not part of his plan. His parents are open-minded, but Hugo doesn’t want to add more stress for anybody, especially his dad, who is fighting terminal cancer.

At a summer job he meets and befriends Kevin Magnus, and before long, their friendship becomes something more. Kevin knows this will anger his overbearing father, so he decides to protect his secret by dating a girl at school.

Hugo plays along, but it’s still hard to watch the two of them together just to make Kevin’s homophobic father happy. And when Hugo’s father dies, he realizes he can’t go on living the lie. He comes clean to Kevin, who decides Hugo’s true feelings are more important than his father’s expectations.

One fact remains: Kevin and Hugo’s relationship must always be hidden behind friendship, lies, girlfriends, or secret kisses. Will they find a sanctuary big enough to hold their feelings?

Adapted as a Young Adult edition of the novel Spark by Posy Roberts, published by Dreamspinner Press, 2013


Winter Sandberg grew up in a place nicknamed The Magic City, and the view from her house on the hill had her convinced the name fit perfectly for years. Spending time backstage or in music practice rooms took up a lot of Winter’s time, but hanging out with friends was truly preferred. Days after her eighteenth birthday, she headed to college not knowing how to cook.

Nowadays Winter gets paid to help people solve their family problems and then comes home and writes. She happily leaves the cooking to her husband, who is also teaching their daughter that skill so she won’t have to survive on ramen noodles when she moves away from home like Winter did.

Winter writes about transformative moments, exploring how characters manage to work through difficult times. How they respond may not be easy to see and is often not pretty, but they are genuine reactions to having life tipped on its edge. Coming out on the other side is where the good stuff is seen, and Winter likes to write about those moments of true growth rather than simply fading to black.

Twitter: @wintersandberg