Midwestern Author Visits Bookshop
BY DIANE WILTJER
Special to The Pilot
If good fortune is found at the intersection of talent and tenacity, Ellen Baker is well on her way to reaping rewards for penning two award-winning novels.
Aspiring writers will take heart to learn how she turned years of preparation - reading and researching, writing and rewriting - into a two-book deal with Random House: "Keeping the House" (2007) and "I Gave My Heart to Know This" (2011).
Baker will be at The Country Bookshop at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12.
"Before I was published, I had written three novels and submitted them here and there, but it became clear to me that they weren't good enough," Baker says. "I was determined to do better."
Baker says she wrote her first book just to see if she could do it.
"Finally, after three years and six rewrites, I started to send out agent queries in the fall of 2005," she says. "On Memorial Day 2006 (I was making potato salad), an agent called to say she'd represent me."
Even before Baker's debut novel was written, she had begun to pave her way to publishing success by writing and reading voraciously.
"Since I was about 7, I wrote something every day: journal entries, poetry, stories," she says. "I started my first novel when I was 13. For a long time, I didn't consider writing a viable career option. But over time, I discovered that nothing fulfilled me the way that writing did."
Baker earned a master's degree in American studies from the University of Minnesota with an undergraduate degree in psychology. She has worked as a costumed living history interpreter and as a curator at a Wisconsin World War II museum. In order to include authentic details about the themes which interest her most - war, memory, identity, community, love, family secrets - she spends countless hours in archives and libraries, reading newspapers, magazines, and city directories, and even, for her newest book, ship plans and technical welding manuals.
"Finally, though, all that research simply becomes a backdrop for what readers look for in a novel: a good story," she says.
Baker's debut novel, "Keeping the House," won the 2008 Great Lakes Book Award and was named one of The Chicago Tribune's best books of the year. "I Gave My Heart to Know This" has garnered praise from authors as wide-ranging as Elizabeth Berg and Richard Ford. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune calls it "richly satisfying," and The Ann Arbor Observer describes it as "deeply moving."
What praise is most meaningful to Baker, who is already at work on her third novel?
"What I love most," she says, "is when readers tell me they were up until 3 a.m. reading my novel, that they just couldn't sleep until they found out what happened."
Diane Wiltjer is a local freelance writer.
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