Q&A with Lakeville author Loretta Ellsworth

Loretta Ellsworth
Loretta Ellsworth

Loretta Ellsworth is venturing into new literary territory with “Stars Over Clear Lake.”

Ellsworth, of Lakeville, is the author of four young-adult novels, starting with “The Shrouding Woman” in 2002. Her new novel, a love story that begins during World War II in a rural Iowa town, marks her adult-fiction debut.

“This story goes back and forth in time between the 1940s and 2005, and my character needed to age with the story,” she said of her decision to break from the young-adult genre.

“Perhaps because it was inspired by my parents, who met at the Surf Ballroom, where part of the story takes place, that I felt challenged to write it this way, or just because the story demanded to be told in alternating time periods. I’m hoping this will be a crossover book, one that will appeal to teens and older people alike.”

The novel, which is being published by St. Martin’s Press, will be released May 2. A launch party for “Stars Over Clear Lake” is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 11, at Subtext Books in St. Paul.

Ellsworth spoke with this newspaper recently about her writing habits, some of the real-life inspiration behind the new book, and her abiding fondness for Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

What is your writing strategy? Do you have any writing rituals?
I started writing seriously when my four children were young and I was working as a teacher, so I had to be flexible and write in whatever spare moments I could find throughout the day. Now that I’m no longer working and my children are grown, I find I write best in the morning, but my output tends to be the same as from my earlier years.

stars-over-clear-lake_cover-imageWhat’s on your writing desk?
My desk is rather messy right now, with lots of books and notes, and my computer. I also have a lamp, a few inspirational pictures and sayings, a multicolored glass heart, and a cross-stitched butterfly that a friend made for me. And often my cat sits on my desk, too.

“Stars Over Clear Lake” features the historic Surf Ballroom near Mason City, Iowa, where you grew up. Are there other elements of this novel drawn from your experiences in Mason City?
I mention many familiar places in the book, both in Clear Lake and Mason City, and I interviewed two aunts who regularly went to the Surf Ballroom, using some of their experiences to capture the ambiance and setting of the 1940s. I also named characters after people I knew growing up.

What are you working on now? Any book projects in the works?
I’m working on revising a young-adult novel, and I’m finishing a draft of another adult historical novel based on a true story that took place shortly after the end of World War II in Minnesota.

What was the last truly great book you read?
I loved “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, and I tell everyone I know to read it.

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?
My favorite book and novelist is “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, a book I reread often and that continues to speak to me. I even wrote a young-adult novel called “In Search of Mockingbird” about a girl who travels by bus from St. Paul to Monroeville in search of her favorite author. Although I never had the privilege of meeting Harper Lee in person, I did meet many of her friends and relatives, and I know she was personally given a copy of my book.