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Westward migration has been going on for years.
Americans relocate from all over the country to seek fortune, fame or a higher calling.
But in her new novel, The Lost Queen of Crocker County, Iowa native, Lake Tahoe resident and University of Nevada, Reno alumnus Elizabeth Leiknes explores how a woman from Iowa made her way west but may have never really lost her sense of home.
Leiknes told KNPR's State of Nevada that she got the idea for the book while driving home one night. She ran over something in the road and immediately thought it might be an animal.
She turned around to make sure whatever she hit was okay. It turned out to be nothing more than some gravel, but it got Leiknes thinking about why she felt so guilty to begin with and whether that guilt was her or a product of her upbringing in the Midwest.
"Guilt is a religion in the Midwest," she said.
For the rest of the drive home, Leiknes sketched out the book in her head with the basic theme: Home.
“What does our home mean to us and what does it mean when you transplant yourself someplace else and does that always stay with you or not?” she said.
To explore that theme, Leiknes centers the story on "Jane," a film critic living in Los Angeles, but hailing from a small town in Iowa. Jane returns to her small town to right some wrongs.
“So, really for me, it is a story about second chances and I’m kind of a fan of stories that highlight our ability to start over,” Leiknes said.
Leiknes has explored the idea of second chances in other work but she said this one felt more real because of where it was set.
“In this case, I think a little bit more genuine and authentic given the fact that it is about where I come from,” she said.
And as she started to write the book, experiences she hadn't thought about years came back to her and some made their way into the book.
“I don’t think I made a conscious effort to make that happen. When you write about something that close to you – it really just came out,” she said.
But it wasn't just memories that influenced the book but the people that populate the Midwest.
“For me, I’m really fascinated by the notion of ‘Midwestern Nice,’” Leiknes said.
People who are not from the Midwest or haven't spent a lot of time around midwesterners might view that idea of 'nice' as a stereotype from movies, but Leiknes says that is just how people are.
“I really value where I was able to grow up," she said, "The people that I grew up with. They're really quite spectacular in terms of just thinking outside themselves.”
However, Leiknes didn't want her nostalgia or the niceness of people to turn into sentimentality in the book. She believes her main character and the arc she takes keeps the book from swerving too much into melodrama.
“She’s a bit of an acquired taste," she said, "As much as there are some feel-good moments, and I hope there are certainly, I think not too sentimental, not too saccharine and I’m proud of that.”
The book is available July 10.
Elizabeth Leiknes, author/University of Nevada Reno alumnus
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