Crocker County crowns a new Corn Queen every year, but Jane Willow's the one you would remember. She can't forget Iowa either. Even though she fled to LA to become a film critic years ago, home was always there behind her.


But when a family tragedy happens, she's forced to drive back to Crocker County. The rolling farmlands can't much hide the things she left behind: the best friend she abandoned who now runs a meatloaf hotline, the childhood front porch that sits hauntingly empty, and that fiasco of a Corn Fest that spun her life in a different direction.

Before Jane can escape her past a second time, disaster strikes, and she will have to find a way to right her mistakes and save herself from her regrets. An unflinching love letter to the Midwest that unfolds through a celebration of movies, this ferociously endearing novel brings home the saving grace of second chances.

Dear Iowa,


        First of all, it’s not you, it’s me. Let’s get that straight. I had to leave you, but it wasn’t your fault. Life called, and when it was time to land, I settled in Nevada, far, far away from what we had. Why am I reaching out now? To let you know I wrote a novel about you. And just like this letter, it too is a love letter to you. How you not only gave me my childhood, but shaped my adulthood as well. You’ll see a lot of yourself in The Lost Queen of Crocker County. True City, the fictional town it’s set in is a semantic melding of the two Iowa towns I call home: Truesdale and Albert City. You’ll see other familiar things too--grain silos that stand as beacons of hope and a Corn Queen that dared to dream. Mostly, you’ll see your people, our people, balancing common sense and heart.

        Most love letters are really thank-you letters at their core and this one is no different, so here’s what I should’ve said to you a long time ago.


        Thank you for small town life that is truly the stuff of movies. Where else can you go trick-or-treating at every single house in town, never lock your door, and ride your banana-seat bike across an entire county of gravel roads?

        Thank you for your water towers of various paint colors, designs, and lettering, each one somehow a declaration that we are all unique, even when we feel old, rusty, and obsolete.

        Thank you for leaving me no choice but to own five slow cookers, keep a well-stocked deep freeze in my garage, and have backup butter for my backup butter.

        Thank you for machine-shed parties.

        Thank you for teaching me patience by sticking me behind combines during harvest.

        Thank you for Iowa City, where I fell in love with writing and the importance of seeing the world from many perspectives.

        Thank you for Prairie Lights.

        Thank you for your Hawkeyes. Go, Hawks!

        Thank you for Casey’s pizza.

        Thank you for Hy-Vee.

        Thank you for the best sweet corn on the planet. Sometimes I still look for it out here in the West, only to find sad little knockoffs with no depth of flavor, and it makes me miss you more.

        Thank you for inspiring my desert-dwelling children to say, “Mom, have you ever seen a place so green?” when I bring them to Iowa for the summer.

        No. No, I haven’t.

        Thanks to you, life is one long country lane, stretching out over rolling hills, toward a setting sun that will surely rise again tomorrow. It has to. There is work to be done.

        Thank you, Iowa, for everything.



Love letter to Iowa

Photo by Zoe Shorten


     Elizabeth Leiknes grew up in rural Iowa and can make thirty-seven dishes featuring corn. She graduated from the University of Iowa before receiving her master's in writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. Her previous novels received Starred Reviews from Kirkus Reviews  and Booklist.  She lives with her husband and two children near Lake Tahoe, Nevada.


    Novels by Elizabeth Leiknes

The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns

The Understory

Black-Eyed Susan

The Lost Queen of Crocker County

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