Loretta Ellsworth is the author of the new novel Stars Over Clear Lake, which focuses on a woman who returns to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, and revisits her experiences in the 1940s. She has written four novels for young adults; this is her first novel for adults. She lives in Minnesota.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Stars Over Clear Lake?
A: It was a combination of things that led to writing this book. I grew up in Mason City, Iowa, near Clear Lake and the Surf Ballroom, and had always wanted to write about this historic place. And when I was young and on road trips with my family, my father often pointed out the remains of a German POW camp in Algona.
It was serendipity that when I combined these two together, that the story seemed to sprout wings and take off.
Q: What kind of research did you need to do to write the novel, especially about German POWs in the United States?
A: I read a great deal about the POW camps in America and Iowa, visited the POW Museum in Algona, Iowa, and spoke with a descendant of a German POW who later immigrated to Iowa.
My novel required a great deal of research of the Surf Ballroom and Clear Lake, Iowa in the 1940s. When you’re writing about a real place, you want to make sure you get everything right.
I spent time in the Clear Lake Library, where they have a history room, and I also interviewed people who had attended dances at the Surf in the 1940s. And I had someone from Clear Lake read my manuscript as well.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I had a hint of the ending, but the novel changed along the way. I think it’s wise to keep an open mind and let the ending work itself out as the story evolves. My story goes back and forth in time, and I found that the present-day story changed the most during the course of writing it.
Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?
A: My favorite writers are Harper Lee, E.B. White, and more recently, Anthony Doerr. I also love the Harry Potter series.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a revision of a young adult novel set in Area 51, and an adult historical novel set shortly after the end of WWII, based on a true story of a countess who came to Minnesota to marry a soldier she met during the war, only to find out he’d married someone else three months earlier.
She sets out to find an American husband before her visa runs out in two weeks so she doesn’t have to return to the Communist country of her birth.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: My parents met at the Surf Ballroom, making this a very personal story for me.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb