Cynthia Ellingsen, Michigan-native and author of three books, has been drawn to the haunting beauty of Lake Michigan since she was a little girl. That, combined with her love of the quaint, lakeshore towns of her childhood, is what drove the inspiration for her newest novel, The Lighthouse Keeper.
We sat down with Cynthia to learn more about her love of Michigan and discover what makes The Lighthouse Keeper this summer’s most anticipated beachside read.
Originally from Battle Creek, Ellingsen now lives in Lexington, KY with her husband and two-year-old son. As a teenager, she attended the Interlochen Arts Academy where she pursued theater and writing, two disciplines that carved her talent for literary character development. After graduating from the academy, she left Michigan to attend school in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles with the hopes of making waves in the entertainment industry. Aware of her unique writing talents, Cynthia’s roommate convinced her to co-write a screenplay, which was later optioned by a production company in Hollywood.
It was in Los Angeles that her knack for writing came to fruition, although Cynthia always shared a connection with the craft. “I created a collection of stories in third grade, and I’d spend my summers in Interlochen writing this book or that. Writing is something I was always interested in pursuing.”
Her inspiration for The Lighthouse Keeper came from the beauty and enormity of Lake Michigan. “It has a wonderful, haunting quality, and it’s always captivated me. I wanted to write something based around that.”
The Lighthouse Keeper is set in the fictional town of Starlight Cove, a place inspired by the spirit of Northern Michigan. Protagonist Dawn Conners moves back to her hometown to help her parents weed their way out of legal drama that emerged after her late grandfather was accused of abandoning a sunken ship laced in gold. In the midst of the drama, and much to the town’s dismay, Dawn purchases a fixer-upper lighthouse cherished by the townsfolk and uncovers bundles of mysteries about her family’s past along the way.
Filled with unexpected turns, comedic romance, and small-town secrets, The Lighthouse Keeper wonderfully captures the enchantment and delight of northern Michigan. “It’s a cozy-mystery – a thriller without the blood and guts,” she explains. It’s a summertime page-turner at its finest.
When asked about her career as a writer, Cynthia admits that thick skin and practice are two necessities. “I think living out in Los Angeles taught me that this really is a business, not just an art.” Juggling a two-year-old boy and a baby on the way, she spends anywhere from 10 -15 hours a week working on her craft, a cup of coffee and snack at the ready. When she’s not writing at her home in Lexington, you can find her at Bud’s Coffee Shop in Interlochen, her go-to spot for creative inspiration (and a doughnut or two!).
To aspiring writers, she suggests figuring out what you want to write first. Then challenging yourself, with something like NaNoWriMo, can help form the habit of putting words on a page. “Expect it to be bad,” she says. “That’s what a first draft is. Then you have all the time in the world to make it a beautiful story.”
The Lighthouse Keeper is a beautiful story, indeed. And with a sequel in the works, it seems Cynthia Ellingsen plans to celebrate her love of Michigan with readers for many years to come.
Find The Lighthouse Keeper online at Books a Million, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon, or request it from your local bookstore. Book clubs from across the country can also connect with Cynthia via Skype to learn more about her stories, her craft, and her Michigan memories.
What other depictions of Michigan life do you plan on reading this summer? Let us know in the comments!