ELY- Fall colors are always a good time to head “up north,” but for Minnesota authors Lorna Landvik and Sarah Stonich it was also a perfect time to talk about books and writing with eager audiences at libraries across the North Country.
The two share many things besides being well-known authors and friends. They both came to writing as second careers, and both center many of their books and characters on the places and people they’ve known growing up and raising their families in Minnesota.
The two had stops at Ely and Cook on Sept. 15 as part of a 20-city “Road Tripping Writers” tour sponsored by the Arrowhead Library System.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be hosting Lorna Landvik and Sarah Stonich,” said ALS Regional Librarian Mollie Stanford. “It’s an amazing experience to meet authors of this caliber and we are excited that our patrons are having this opportunity at libraries in the ALS region.”
While Stonich is very familiar with northeastern Minnesota, the geography of the Arrowhead was a little challenging for Landvik. The two had spent the evening prior doing a program at the Silver Bay Library, and Landvik hadn’t realized that the trip from Silver Bay to Ely on Hwy. 1 was not your regular freeway driving experience.
“It took a lot longer than I expected,” she said as she breezed into the Ely Library about two minutes before showtime. “That 70 miles took me an hour and fifteen minutes.”
Stonich had arrived earlier and had already taken time to drive by the site of her grandparents’ old house on Chapman Street, adjacent to the J & L Hardware Building. The Stonich family was well known in Ely. Stonich said the first time she did a book tour up here, all the senior citizens in the room, average age estimated at 85, wanted to do was tell her stories about her grandparents. One time in Ely, she said, while taking a sauna at the Ely Steam Sauna and sitting with a wet towel over her head, someone walked in and said, “You must be Julia Stonich’s granddaughter.”
Stonich built a cabin off Mud Creek Rd., halfway between Ely and Tower, that became the focus of her one non-fiction book, titled “Shelter.” Her first novel, “These Granite Islands,” was based in a fictionalized version of Tower-Soudan, where her grandparents first settled.
Landvik was enjoying the quirks of the area. While in Baudette she stayed at The Walleye Inn.
“It was spooky,” she said, “I was the only person there.” She especially enjoyed the sign in the room that reminded guests that fish guts were not permitted in any of the trash cans.
Stonich had her own other-worldly experience driving at night from Baudette to International Falls.
“There were tunnels of mist,” she said, “and a huge moth hatch.” Suddenly there were unexplained thunking noises on the side of her trusty Suburu. She pulled over to realize that the moth hatch had attracted hundreds of frogs that were trying to cross the road and hopping into the side of her car.
This is the first real book tour either author has done since the pandemic hit.
“COVID did a number on both of us,” said Landvik, saying the psychology of the event made it hard for both of them to write.
Landvik said she was unable to write for the first four months of the pandemic. She said she read a lot of thrillers and a lot of James Michener’s sweeping multi-generational historical dramas.
“I needed to escape I guess,” she said.
But once she did start writing again, she hatched what may be one of her most inventive novels yet.
Her latest book, due to be published in early December, had a working title of “The ABCs of Erotica,” but is now more tamely titled “Last Circle of Love.”
Landvick teased the plot to the audience at the library, but refused to give any spoilers, even when prompted by Stonich, who hasn’t yet finished the preview copy she has been reading.
The book, Landvik explained, is about a different type of recipe book, cooked up by a group of older church women who are trying to raise funds needed to keep their small town Lutheran church from closing. Will the idea of cooking up romance, rather than recipes, be the ticket to save the church? Readers will find out when the book comes out, just in time for Christmas.
Stonich just published the second in a possible trilogy of books that started with “Fishing!”, a book about a former professional fisherperson who now hosts an all-women’s public television fishing/talk show which takes place on a fishing boat, while the host and guest both actually fish. “Reeling” brings the always adventurous RayAnne Dahl to New Zealand, where she is filming the second season of her unexpectedly popular fishing/talk show. But she is also working on the third book in her “Vacationland” and “Laurentian Divide” series, set in a small resort town in northeastern Minnesota, as well as a new crime series, which shares some characters from these previous books.
Stonich said her “Fishing!” and “Reeling,” both comedies, appeal to younger adults, noting the audiences they are attracting at their library tours are definitely mostly full of retired people.
Audience members asked both writers if they work on one book at a time or like to work on multiple manuscripts at once. Both admitted to having multiple novels started, but both said they work best if focusing on one novel at a time.
“I have seven on my computer right now,” Landvik said. “I used to only work on one at a time, but now I have too many ideas.”
Taking a break from writing to do the library tours has shown her she really needs to focus on just one book right now.
“I don’t do outlines,” Landvik said, “ever since being forced to do them in ninth-grade English class.”
Both writers agreed that the only authors they know who can work on multiple books at one time are journalists, who are schooled in meeting deadlines.
“I need to put four of my five books away and just work on one,” said Stonich, who plans to focus on the third book in her “Vacationland” series.
The two writers live in different neighborhoods in Minneapolis, though Stonich gets to spend a lot of time in northeastern Minnesota in the summer. The two are active in the Twin Cities writing community.
Both women appreciate the life and culture of small town Minnesota and hate to see the havoc that big box and dollar stores have wreaked on Main Streets through the state. The two had toured downtown Virginia a few days before, and they had a “Lucy and Ethel” type adventure when they got to make truffles at Canelakes, which featured a slow-moving conveyor belt.
Unlike Lucy and Ethel, from the famous “I Love Lucy” episode, they waited until after their candy-making time to taste the treats that Canelakes is famous for.
“I bought a box of hot air candy,” Landvik said, “because Sarah told me I had to try it. I hadn’t heard of it before. It’s gone!”
Landvik is known for her humor and depictions of small-town Minnesota life.
She honed her comedic skills working in Hollywood, and continued to do so after moving back to Minnesota as a member of the Dudley Riggs Improv Theater group.
“It took me a long time to get published,” she said.
Stonich also started her career in another field, as a visual artist and painter. She said her writing career was mostly accidental. Her first book was published in 2001, and she went on her first book tour that fall in Europe, right after the 9-11 tragedy, when audiences wanted to talk to her about current events, not necessarily her historical fiction. But the success of her first book led her into writing full-time.
The two now both are being published by the University of Minnesota Press.
Landvik had been working with a major publisher, Ballantine, but when they opted not to publish one of her recent titles, “Mayor of the Universe,” her first foray into comedic science fiction, she thought she would try self-publishing. Stonich recommended the U of M Press, and she started working with the same editor that Stonich works with.
The publishing landscape changed markedly with the introduction of e-readers, like the Kindle.
Major publishers were saying that “books would die,” said Stonich. “But university presses started picking up fiction authors.” Actual books have not died off, both noted. And both are happy to have interest in both their current and future works.
Asked what they are reading right now, Stonich said she is reading a lot of authors from Commonwealth countries, and often is hired to write book reviews.
“I like to leave the country,” she said.
Landvik has been reading a lot of Scandinavian writers.
While they have over a dozen published works between them, and Landvik has also written plays, they do not feel they work as hard as other writers they know.
“People say that I’m prolific,” Landvik said, “but I’m a slacker.”
Stonich said she feels like she’s the “laziest writer on the planet.” But she admitted that during her ramblings and wanderings she is always picking up things that end up in her novels.
“At home I will sit down, look at what I wrote the day before, do the laundry, walk the dog, and then write a little,” she said.
Landvik called her writing style “flying by the seat of my pants.”
She said her books come to her with named characters and titles.
“I trust my imagination to take me places,” she said. “I like it to motherhood. You think you are in charge, but you are not.”
Stonich said magic happens when her characters “start running the show.”
“I have to let go of my own ego,” Stonich said. “Then I am really writing. The characters take over and do the writing for you.”
This program, sponsored by Arrowhead Library System, was funded in part or in whole with money from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (ACFH). To learn more about Arrowhead Legacy Events, like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/alslibinfo.