By Marta Hepler Drahos
Traverse City Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY —
TRAVERSE CITY — Cynthia Ellingsen fell in love with the area long before she came to northern Michigan to attend Interlochen Arts Academy.
The Battle Creek native spends part of every summer at her grandparents’ cabin in Interlochen, where she likes to canoe, hike and take day trips to places like the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes and the National Cherry Festival.
So when Ellingsen wanted to write a second book of contemporary women’s fiction, she knew just how to start.
“I composed the rough draft of the novel by the fire at Bud’s Coffee Shop in Interlochen and set the opening chapter in Traverse City,” said Ellingsen, 36, who now lives in Lexington, Ky.
The book, “Marriage Matters” (Penguin Berkley, $16) is set for release on Tuesday. Its trade description calls it a novel of “first loves, second chances and unexpected twists,” in which three generations of brides-to-be discover that “love is always better as a family affair.”
Interlochen gave Ellingsen her writing start. While attending the Academy as a theater major in 1995, the then-high school senior took a writing class from instructor Michael Delp, a Michigan poet, essayist and author.
“I’d always secretly wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t brave enough,” said Ellingsen. “On the day of graduation, he said, ‘You should have been a writer.’ That meant so much to me.”
After a stint at DePaul University in Chicago, where she again studied theater, Ellingsen set out for Los Angeles and an acting career. Instead, she found herself writing a screenplay, drawing on her theater and writing classes to help create characters and dialogue.
“I found myself kind of sitting in my room, writing, because that’s always what I’d secretly wanted to do,” she said. “My roommate said, ‘I have an idea for a screenplay. Do you want to write it?’”
She said the pair’s collaboration, and another screenplay, both are “in development.” The next project came after meeting Lexington, Ky. native Ryan Ellingsen. They married and moved to her husband’s hometown, where she worked in marketing and continued to write. She published her first novel, “The Whole Package,” in 2004.
“When we first went out with it, it didn’t sell,” she recalled. “I went through all the rejection notices and a common factor was one of characters needed an overhaul.” She spent about six months making changes and then shopped it around again.
“This time we went out with it on a Tuesday and it was sold on Monday,” she said.That doesn’t surprise Michael Delp, who remembers Ellingsen’s “really high level of enthusiasm.”
“Like most theater majors, she was fairly confident, really poised and really enthusiastic,” Delp said. “It’s nice to know that she went on after Interlochen to write.” Ellingsen is already at work on a third novel, a summer read. She said the odds are “good” that it’s going to be set on Mackinac Island.
Meanwhile, she’s embarking on a book promotion tour and planning her next vacation to northern Michigan. She’ll sign copies of “Marriage Matters” at Horizon Books in Traverse City on July 6, not coincidentally the last day of the Cherry Festival.
“It’s so much fun to be part of that crowd who comes in for the Cherry Festival,” said Ellingsen, who still remembers practicing for bubble-blowing contests and winning an honorary mention for the most original entry — a toad — in a pet contest. She hopes the multi-generational story about the relationships between mother, daughter and granddaughter and the men they love — and, of course, its wedding setting on the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes — will appeal to women and their mothers.
“My hopes for it are high,” she said. “I think it’s a book people will want to share with their mother or grandmother.”