Literary love affair
Author Airgood draws inspiration from Upper Peninsula life
It’s a love affair that’s receiving national attention as Airgood’s latest book, “Tin Camp Road,” which is set in the U.P., received a rave mention in “The Best New Books” feature in the Aug. 30 issue of People magazine, which took the author by surprise.
“If you gave me a thousand years, I would never have thought of (being in People),” she said. “I love what they said and I am excited to be in it. Someone had alerted me on my Facebook page to it and I thought ‘this I’ve got to see.’ (The Facebook poster) took a picture of the page in People and posted that and I said ‘oh my goodness.’
“It was startling but it was fun and I appreciate being mentioned in People. What they wrote was everything I could hope for.”
Airgood, along with two brothers and a sister, grew up in the Thumb area of lower Michigan on a small farm operated by her school teacher father and her mother, a nurse.
“My mom was the practical one so we had beef cattle. Horses were a dream of my dad’s. Dad was a farrier and I loved to go out with him. I’d turn the crank on the forge,” Airgood said. “It was an idyllic way grow up.”
Fate brought her to the U.P. in 1991.
“My sister and I were camping at Pictured Rocks at 12 Mile Beach and the weather was rainy,” Airgood said. “So we went to Grand Marais and the cafe on the main street. I ended up marrying the guy who took my order.”
That guy, Rick Guth, is the owner of the cafe, West Bay Diner and Deli, which Airgood helps to run.
“It was a whirlwind romance. It was an impetuous decision but I love it here,” Airgood said.
Another decision Airgood made that she’s thankful for is not staying with her original major when she went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“I was going to study music,” she said. “I love music and I play the clarinet but I wasn’t crazy talented enough to be in the philharmonic and I didn’t want to be a band teacher.”
She instead earned a bachelor of science from U of M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment.
Airgood had grown up a reader, modeling after her parents who had books all over the house.
“We didn’t have a TV at home so we spent a lot of time reading and being outside,” she said.
It was her fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Keebler, who first put the notion about beng a writer in to Airgood’s head.
“Mrs. Keebler had us do creative writing. I loved it,” Airgood said. “I thought ‘this is who I am.’ That thought never really went away.”
Initially torn between her love of writing and the idea that she couldn’t really be a writer, Airgood got serious about it.
“I learned how to craft stories,” she said. “It’s a combination of working hard and good fortune, of persistence and luck that has kept me writing.”
Inspiration comes from people she meets.
“I am truly interested in people and when I find something in someone, they lodge themselves with in me,” Airgood said. “That’s especially true of people here in the U.P. where people have guts, humor and humility.”
“Tin Camp Road” is a mother-daughter love story, Airgood said.
“Laurel, the mother, struggles to make it here,” she said. “She wants everything for her daughter. She has a fierce love and faces big challenges. The beauty of the U.P. is its character, the heart of it. In my 30 years in the U.P. I have found life here is complex and simple at the same time.
“In the book, Laurel attempts to hit all the important points of life,” she said.
A previous book, “South of Superior,” was a success when published in 2010.
“That’s when we stopped doing winters at the diner,” Airgood said.
“As we’ve gotten older, Rick and I have cut the hours back at the diner. Now we’re open May through November from 3-10 p.m. every day, but we put in a lot more hours than that,” she said. “I love running the diner. It’s demanding but fulfilling. It’s not that different from the farm as there’s always something new that comes up.”
This summer/fall, Airgood will be away from the diner a bit more as she does some book talks and signings. Thursday, she visited the Mackinac Public Library on Mackinac Island. Other events coming up:
≤ 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 19 at Bookbug, Kalamazoo; Airgood will read, then be interviewed by Bonnie Jo Campbell
≤ 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28 at Bayliss Public Library, Sault Ste. Marie; Airgood will give a free workshop to people interested in writing
≤ 4-6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29 at Island Books & Crafts, Sault Ste. Marie; Airgood will read and sign.
≤ November, date and time TBA, Munising Public Library
For more information, visit www.ellenairgood.com or find Ellen Airgood on Facebook.