Minnesota author finds inspiration in Montevideo, Watson area

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

Donna Lovitz had never visited Montevideo or Watson when she chose the area to be the location of a trilogy of novels she would write. Lovitz happened across the area while trying to find a location in Minnesota that fit the vision she had for the development of a story based around the lives of rural beet farmers going through life in the 1970s. “I wanted the river, and the sugar beet farmers, and I wanted to kind of give it that rich man, poor man feel like a Dallas/Dynasty kind of feel,” Lovitz says. “I did try to get the feel of the area and I think I’ve gotten that through all three books. A lot of people have told me you’ve definitely got that small-town feel.”

Lovitz, who resides in the Bemidji area, dreamed up the idea for the trilogy of books after having coffee with her father one day. “He was talking bout the old days and I was so interested in what he had to say,” she says. “I went home and dreamt up this whole story and tried to figure out where I could actually locate this place.” A couple of days later, Lovitz returned to her father’s home and told him about her idea. “I told my dad I thought I was going to write a book, so he goes into the bathroom and gets a copy of the Reader’s Digest and there was an article in there about Frank McCourt [author of the book Angela’s Ashes] and he pointed to the article and he told me that if he can do it, I could do it.” At the time, Lovitz had only published one book prior, a book titled Ryle that was part of an anthology completed by numerous female authors. 

Lovitz was always interested in becoming a published author. “I had a disabled child and I didn’t have a whole lot of time to do anything. After my son passed away I thought about starting to write. My husband pointed out that I always said I was going to and I told him I’m going to throw my heart and soul into it if I do it so I took a few writing classes. A lot of things I learned from writing classes I already knew. It seemed like some of the things I learned - I’m always learning and I want to get better - that’s my biggest goal. I like to entertain people with my stories and if I can do that better, I’m all for it,” she says.

To begin work on her trilogy of novels based in the Montevideo and Watson area, she traveled here nearly five years ago, spending time around gas stations, and chatting with local farmers. “I tried to get their story on how things were in the 70s,” she said. “I think a lot of people would relate to it because I asked a lot of questions while I was there, and was told about things like how everybody would get in their car and cruise up and down the Main Street, and information about the holidays and how well the streets were lit with Christmas lights, and how farmers would quickly do up their chores, pick up the kids from school and be able to shop until real late in the evening,” she says. “I found that fascinating because there’s not a lot of places even in the 1970s where people shopped real late like that at the local businesses and I guess I thought that was kind of neat. I liked that whole idea.”

Lovitz also says she tried to incorporate some of the actual businesses that existed in the area in the 1970s, although she did change the names of those. She also included some of the history of the Grower’s Association and how the processing of beets changed for farmers in the area during that time. “I’m reflecting on the Growers Association a little bit because a lot of the farmers told me that they invested and used to take their stuff to Chaska and when that closed down they started taking their stuff to the Renville refinery. They told me about how they worked towards it and donated their money towards it. I kind of took the Growers Association and changed it to the Association of Growers,” she said. “It’s all fiction, but I think it just shows the story down there of the farmers. I just wanted to get the feeling of that area into my books so I have included the quilting ladies, I have the Watson church there’s a lot of little things that people will recognize.”

While visiting the area, Lovitz also visited with members of the Historical Society at Chippewa Village. “There were two older ladies there and it was the funniest thing because I asked them if there was a doctor in Watson back in the day because one of my characters was married to the doctor’s daughters and I told them I named her Angela Burton and they looked at me and asked if I was sure I’ve never been around here. They told me the real doctor’s daughter was Mary Burton,” she says. “I feel like this whole story just wrote itself. The area and the characters… it just seemed like they fell together so well.” While she was at the Historical Society’s visitors center she also purchased a 1971 Centennial program book copy. “It had a lot of information in it about who the governor was and anybody in charge - that type of thing. That was very helpful,” she says. “I did research deep into things like what school play took place the years my characters would have graduated in 1966. It was Charlie’s Aunt, I believe, and so I actually had two of the characters who hadn’t seen each other since high school discussing that. I did try to put some facts that I didn’t think would hurt anybody into it.”

The first book, titled Heartbeat of Desire, was published last September and centers around the story of the characters Cheryl and Jake. “When I wrote the book I submitted it maybe 90 times to agents and I guess for most people it’s 300 or 400 times before finding a publisher,” says Lovitz. “I did get number 39 of the top romance agents to hold on to it for three months but then he texted me to say the 70s aren’t really selling. Rather than waiting around trying to find the right person to sell it, I decided I would just publish it because I’m proud of it.” So Lovitz published the book on Amazon, and the first in the series took second place in the annual Romantic Writers of America contest in the Modern History category. In May of this year, Lovitz published the second book in the series, titled Revenge in a Heartbeat, which focuses on the ending of the story of Cheryl and Jake while introducing the story of characters Michael and Jolene. The third book in the trilogy is expected to be published this fall, again on Amazon, titled Only a Heartbeat Away.

All three of Lovitz’s books in the Heartbeat series contain scenes at the Chippewa County Fair, and so Lovitz thought it was only fitting that she attend the fair this year with a booth in the Women’s Building to meet more of the locals and sell copies of her books. “I’ll be right next to the quilting ladies which is perfect because there’s a lot of the quilting ladies in the books,” she says. “It will be fun just being there and I feel like I really kind of owe it to the community to show up there. I’m excited about the booth and the fair and the board has been just great.”