Monday, March 8, 2010

Tuesday Writer highlight - Eleanor Gustafson

Eleanor K. Gustafson has been publishing both fiction and nonfiction since 1978. Her short stories and articles appeared in a number of national and local magazines. The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David is her fourth novel. In many of her stories, Eleanor explores the cosmic struggle between good and evil in light of God’s overarching work of redemption. A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, she has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, Sunday school teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. She has enjoyed a variety of experiences, from riding horses to building houses, all of which have helped bring color and humor to her fiction. She and her husband live in Massachusetts, where he teaches Philosophy and World Religions. They travel extensively, spend time with their three children and eight grandchildren, and enjoy working and camping at the family forest in Chester, Vermont.

How long have you been writing?

I have been making up stories much of my life but didn’t start actually writing them till after babies and diapers. An article, however, was my first success and saw the light of day in1978. My first novel came out in 1984 and my fourth in 2009. I’ve learned a lot in those years, both positive and negative.

If you could give new writers one piece of advice, what would you say?

Write the best you can—and then write it even better. Get input from knowledgeable readers and listen carefully to their suggestions.

Have you had any of your work rejected? And, how did you react to those rejections?

I have a folder full of rejection letters, and those letters opened my eyes to the realities of getting published. I spent years trying to find a publisher and/or an agent for my David book, The Stones, and was kept going only by the strong sense that God would bring it to pass in his good time. As it happened, a chance meeting with a friend whose son worked at Whitaker House was, indeed, the chosen moment. I think I have always written with the expectation of rejection, and that bit of reality makes life easier.

What process do you use to critique or edit your work?

I love to edit—the fun part of writing. Essential to editing, though, is a good grasp of punctuation and grammar. Since I had poor preparation in that area, I had to learn on my own. Buy books, go online—whatever you need to attain competency. Editors like good sentence structure—a lot. I work through each book at least 50 times to make it tight, to make it sing. I have learned that a paragraph may sound good one day but seem hokey a month or so later. I also ask a number of people to read my manuscripts, and I carefully plug in their corrections/suggestions. What seems perfectly clear to you may not be clear to your readers.

What are you working on now?

I am writing a novel in which a five-gaited horse serves as a metaphor for a man’s passion for God and his fear of God. As the story has developed, I’ve dealt with a number of challenges: Most people know little about horses in general, let alone five-gaited horses. I am also pushing the envelope on God’s ways of moving and shaping a Christian. My critique readers have prodded me to be clear and authentic in issues ranging from theology to spy interaction.

How do you balance writing and the demands of life?

Basically, I don’t. The demands of life tend to squeeze out writing, but with my Dynamo book close to being finished, I am currently devoting two hours each day (except Sunday) to that work. The big time crunch in my life comes in dealing with emails—friends, missionaries, church affairs, author networking, blog interviews, etc. Sundays involve a long stretch of interacting with people, a taxing but satisfying time of ministry. These are good things. How to choose? Cleaning house is one activity I find easy to “sweep” aside.

Tell me about your current book on the market.

The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David was a HUGE undertaking because David is a huge character. Although the David account gets good coverage in the Bible, my goal was to make the story and characters more accessible to the average reader. From all reports—Amazon reviews and others—I succeeded very well. Men especially like it, as David strikes a chord on many levels—David the warrior, David the sinner, David the passionate lover of God. Women like the story line and character development. Many did not want it to end. One woman said, “I found myself re-reading the preface, the printing notes, anything to keep from closing it.” Another said, “The book shook me up so much that I had sleepless nights and had to read slowly, as I could only take it bit by bit.” Most readers say that the book not only brought David and the Psalms alive but also made them grapple with issues that come wrapped in this gigantic character.

What challenges did you have in getting your book published?

Challenges, indeed: Biblical fiction must be well written, authentic, and true to Scripture. The research required is daunting. Biblical fiction in itself is not a top-selling genre, and this makes the need for big-name endorsers even more urgent. (Eugene heads my list, a beautiful story in itself.) The book is long (601 pages), many of the characters have unpronounceable names, blood flows freely and the times are violent. These are difficult aspects for any publisher to consider. And with top-rank Christian publishers accepting manuscripts only through agents, authors have to negotiate a tricky obstacle course. I worked on this book approximately 15 years from start to finish, including several years knocking on publishers’ and agents’ doors, but from start to finish, I trusted God to bring it to birth. That may be the greatest challenge for any writer—to be taught of God what to write, when it’s ready, and how to stay the course. And promoting the book after publication is another, completely different set of challenges!

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The Stones The Stones Study Guide

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