By Carol Stiffler
The shore of Lake Superior is as alive as any city, and the lead character in Grand Marais resident Ellen Airgood’s latest book is a woman who wouldn’t dream of moving away from the greatest Great Lake.
Laurel Hill is a single mother in Tin Camp Road, which was published in August by Riverhead Books, part of Penguin Random House. Laurel lives in a small, fictitious town on the shore of Lake Superior with her daughter, whom she loves dearly. But working very hard and living frugally is difficult, especially in a small town, and Laurel and her daughter have to fight to stay together. She won’t allow her tiny family to be rescued, though another family member asks her to abandon her remote location for the opportunities of lower Michigan.
The resilient, independent woman is a frequent character model in Airgood’s books, which also include South of Superior, Prairie Evers, and The Education of Ivy Blake.
“I’ve known a lot of very capable women. It’s been my life’s experience,” Airgood said. “I’ve tried to be a capable woman myself.”
Airgood also owns the West Bay Diner in Grand Marais, and she and her husband, Rick, run it together. The restaurant gets very positive reviews on Google, and guests note the pizza and desserts are delicious.
How does she do it all?
“I don’t know,” she said. “People often ask me how I find the time. I don’t know.”
After South of Superior debuted in 2011, Ellen and Rick closed the diner during the winter. That also saved them a grueling 20-mile snowmobile commute to work. The couple lives in a remote spot close to Lake Superior east of Grand Marais, and to get to the diner by plowed roads would be an 85-mile trip each way.
Airgood loves both the diner and writing, and has a sincere passion for Lake Superior, much like her main character in Tin Camp Road. And while you might think Tin Camp Road is set in Grand Marais, it isn’t, really.
“South of Superior and Tin Camp Road are set in fictional but Grand Marais-like places,” Airgood said. “I always kind of plop them east of Grand Marais in a place where there is no village. I don’t want to be tied to street names.”
She’s been able to knit some of her favorite things together now–writing, the U.P., Lake Superior– with successfully published books that are earning attention. Tin Camp Road was marked as one of the “Best New Books” in the August 30 issue of People Magazine. The review called the story “moving” and “brave”, two descriptions of the book Airgood thinks are perfect.
Reaching national success as a novelist is a realized dream for Airgood.
“I wanted it so much for so long, and I worked at it for so long,” she said. “I guess I have a great sense of peace about it. Real gratefulness. I was able to achieve a huge life’s dream.”
Airgood has a scheduled appearance at Island Books & Crafts in Sault Ste. Marie on October 29 from 4-6 p.m.