Watertown native writes ‘Summer Letters’ novel

by Brad Unangst
Carver County News

CCN-PetermeierBookCoverCMYKFrom an early age, Dan Petermeier has usually had stories to tell and the former Watertown resident preferred telling his tales with a pen.
Beginning in elementary school and extending through his senior year, his interest and ability to create compelling narratives helped Petermeier develop a reputation as an author. Classmates of the 1991 Watertown-Mayer graduate even co-named Petermeier as the Best Story-Teller.
However, very few people have ever had the opportunity to read the words he has put down on paper.
“Many, if not most (of my works), were written for an audience of my wife or close friends,” the 41-year-old writer said. “Nothing was ever written for the general public or something I would get published.”
But that is no longer the story.
Petermeier recently had his first novel, Summer Letters, published and the book is currently available for everyone to read including the residents of his hometown who might find parts of the story particularly appealing.
Set in and around Carver County during the summer of 1993, Summer Letters is the story of Liam Roberts, a well-liked yet somewhat reserved man struggling to find love and how one letter impacts the 20-year-old’s life and relationships.
“During a storm and adventure-filled summer, one letter will either bring two people together or it will force them to say goodbye forever,” Petermeier said in describing the book.
Summer Letters should appeal to lovers of romance books including fans of Nicholas Sparks — another former Watertown resident and author of The Notebook, Petermeier said. A fan of Sparks, Petermeier said Summer Letters didn’t start out as romance novel but ultimately finished as a story similar to one of Sparks’ books.
“I always knew it was going to have a love theme to it just not necessarily to the extent that it became,” he said, adding that while the book is about young love it also has characters that readers can relate to in some way.
Local readers will recognize several locations in the book with 75 percent of the book taking place in Carver County, Petermeier said.
Settings in the book include Victoria, Waconia, Watertown, Chaska, Chanhassen, St. Bonaventure and Excelsior. The Carver Park Preserve, the Victoria Dairy Queen, the Hollywood Sports Complex and Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia also are in the story as well as several parks around Victoria, he said.
In addition to incorporating actual locations in the book, Petermeier used real-life events and experiences from his own life and from the lives of others he knew in drafting the story.
However, none may be more influential than how he met his wife, Beth, because the couple’s romance began with a letter Petermeier wrote.
It was the spring of 1993, and Petermeier was heartbroken following the end of a previous relationship. With the encouragement of his sister, Petermeier wrote to a woman who had a profile listed in the personal ads section of a Christian magazine. She was attending college just outside Washington, D.C. and writing her a letter was the most convenient way Petermeier could contact her as instant forms of communication such as Facebook and texting weren’t common 20 years ago, he said.
“This was (a time) before internet dating services, Match.com and email didn’t exist,” he said. “And long distance phone calls were expensive.”
Petermeier didn’t send the letter half way across the country looking for love but rather to get to know the woman with a goal of developing a friendship.
The woman he wrote, however, was in a serious relationship. To avoid being rude, she passed his letter on to a classmate and asked her to respond. That co-ed was Beth, who wrote Petermeier back and put the pair on the path to an ever-multiplying weekly correspondence during the next four months.
Petermeier estimates the couple exchanged hundreds of letters and, by the time the two met face to face in August in Beth’s home state of New York, they knew they were in love. Eventually, the couple got engaged before returning to Minnesota where they got married.
“The way we first met and, eventually got engaged, people always said it would make for a really good book,” he said.
Petermeier also incorporated elements his religious faith into Summer Letters, giving the story a Christian theme. He also credits his late mother Anna Mae and mother-in-law Lorraine Griesemer for helping him. Both died prior to the book’s publishing.
“I don’t believe I could have written the story and come up with some of the inspiring words and elements of the story if they weren’t with me in spirit,” he said.
More than two decades in the making, Summer Letters is a story Petermeier knew he had to write but was unsure he would ever see it published. The day-to-day distractions of life, his career and a series of moves to Arizona and back to Minnesota left him little time to focus on writing and developing the story.
While drawing inspiration from his wife and from his faith helped him with the story, a change in location proved pivotal in Petermeier accomplishing his dream.
“I knew for years and years what the general idea of the story was,” he said. “My wife told me that someday it would be in print. I just had to devote time to it. Ultimately, it was a goal and when I was able to concentrate on writing, the story really came to life.”
Out of high school, Petermeier pursued a career in banking, eventually becoming a bank officer before leaving the industry in 1999. He then went into the automotive industry, working as a sales consultant, a finance manager and internet director before moving to Florida in December 2011. He currently operates iMarket USA, Inc., a company offering website development, social media management and other online marketing services for local small business.
Petermeier began writing the book’s first draft in 2009 while living in the Twin Cities but worked on it sparingly during the next two years. After moving to Florida and before entering the online marketing industry, Petermeier committed himself to getting his manuscript published and spent the bulk of his days writing. Petermeier said he revised the book several times before submitting to a publisher in August 2012.
After he received a book deal, the manuscript was changed again. This time more than 20 percent of it was reworked during the four-month editing process. He estimates he invested no less than 2,000 hours in completing Summer Letters.
“That was basically my job,” he said. “That was my focus for three hours or 10 hours a day or something in between, five days a week.”
While the story draws from real-life events, Summer Letters is a work of fiction and nearly everything from the characters to the plot to the neighborhood Roberts lives in is made-up, Petermeier said.
Not even Beth knew what would happen to the characters in the book when she first read the story, he added.
Petermeier said he had no idea what words he would write or how the story would unfold as he developed the book.
“The one thing I knew for certain was that there was one letter and what was sealed in that envelope would ultimately change lives forever,” he added.
Currently working on his next book, Petermeier said a portion of the story will be set in the Twin Cities area although he is still developing the details. For now, he hopes readers will be motivated to pick up his first book and enjoy a story Petermeier was moved to tell.
“I was inspired to make Summer Letters into a descriptive novel with likable characters while having the right blend of romance and drama,” he said.
Summer Letters is available for purchase in paperback and e-book forms at SummerLetters.com as well as other online retailers. A limited number of hardcover books are available from Petermeier’s website and the author said he is happy to sign or inscribe the book with an inspirational or special message. Petermeier is also offering a 20 percent discount of the advertised price of the book by entering the code WATERTOWN (all caps) when buying from SummerLetters.com.
He is also available for book signings and appearances and said he would like to do one in Watertown. Although he has nothing scheduled, Petermeier said he might be back in the Twin Cities in May or June.
“I will definitely entertain any person, company or organization that would like to have me appear for a book signing or possible speaking engagement,” he added.
To contact Petermeier, people can send an email to [email protected] and visit SummerLetters.com for more information on the book or learn more about him.