Today I’m thrilled to welcome author Ellie Gustafson as she share insights into how she writes. Read all the way through to the end to find out how to enter to win a free copy of Dynamo.
Portrait of a Slow Writer
Though I wallowed in story making as a youngster of 5 or 6, it took 44 years to get anything in print, plus an additional six to get a novel out there. In the succeeding 33 years, I produced a grand total of 5 novels, with one yet to be published. I won’t bore you with the details, but one took 15 years of research and publisher hunt, and the others average out to roughly 8 years apiece.
Why so long? Some writers crank out novels by the dozens in that time period.
Like Moses, I am slow of speech, but I like to think my waters run deep. With each of my books, I have tried to create fleshed-out characters and a story line that grabs. But the deep-water part is getting readers to think about the consequences of choices, as well as the spiritual realities of real life—both positive and negative.
All of my major characters have had to grapple with life-changing options.
• Hannah (Wild Harvest), at first seeing only a hunky boyfriend in her across-the-stone-wall world of 1796, observes the spiritual cast of his life and ends up putting her own life on the line in a spiritual battle that ends in real death.
• King David (The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David) suffered devastating consequences from his night with Bathsheba, but his heart had been claimed by God, and his kingly line culminated in the coming of Jesus.
• Jeth (Dynamo) became a Christian only after his girlfriend slapped him hard because he wouldn’t go to bed with her.
This sort of writing requires time—not just the thinking part, but making the words speak powerfully and elegantly. My educational process did not prepare me for authoring. My high-school English teachers were, with one exception, ineffective, and as a music major in college, I was excused from all but basic writing and lit courses.
But that early longing to make up stories would not leave me. I began writing full of ignorance, but assorted editors taught me the importance of word order, punctuation, and paring to the essentials.
I go over a manuscript 50 to 100 times, finding and fixing things I hadn’t seen previously. The result—I hope—is good writing and a powerful story that will help readers think deeply about important matters. Each novel has taken years before publication, but my goal is more on pleasing God than on selling books—though I’d love for you to buy one!
• Born in a NJ county that had more cows than people.
• Went to Wheaton College IL.
• Married a multi-tasker, 3 kids, 8 grands.
• Tried on the cloak of writing; found it fit well.
• God first touched me through story, and he still speaks through story. I love Him passionately.
What fun or unique things can you tell us about yourself?
When I was twenty, I became the most reluctant and least beautiful Miss Branchville for the county fair beauty parade. The fair being held in Branchville, the town fathers were desperate for a representative. The British judge was looking at the girls’ figgers, and I, of course, didn’t measure up. Good for a laugh, though.
My husband and I are tree farmers, having been both county and state Tree Farmers of the Year. Working together in the woods bonded our family in many ways, one of which was reading Paul Bunyan stories around the campfire. One night during our outdoor supper, I grabbed a sponge from a clip rack. Hearing the kids laugh, I looked again and saw a dead mouse, clipped by its tail, near where the sponge had been. Some mouse activities I don’t laugh over (nest with five little ones in our sleeping bag), but this prank had us hooting.
Please describe yourself with three words.
• Loving, laughing, Godperson
What can your readers expect from you next?
An Unpresentable Glory is ready to go—just needs a publisher.
Kileenda Jensen’s orderly world turns upside down when she finds an unconscious man in her award-winning garden. Against all reason, she takes the stranger into her home, touching off a series of uncomfortable, off-putting situations that unaccountably point to an overarching glory rising out of pain, tragedy, and love.
First Page of Dynamo:
One last kiss. Simple, unadorned, passionless, two seconds at best in a bottom-end motel parking lot. But kisses of any sort had been long in coming, and this one, impoverished though it was, was the last touch of love Jeth was apt to get for a long time to come.
After the quick kiss, Jeth stepped back and closed the door of Janni’s powder-blue Acura. As he did, he noticed a thread of her dark hair on his sleeve. He would keep that; he’d need it to warm his emptiness. As she backed out, he clapped the hood and waved. His eyes hungered after her, pursued her out of the driveway and into the stream of traffic. He looked at the hair again and shivered in a breeze that couldn’t decide between winter and spring. He turned and walked slowly around the faded, scratched trunk of his own clunker. He was glad to have the heap. No money, no job, and a no-good reputation. Basic transportation, yes—along with a full gas tank and one hundred dollars that Janni had put in his pocket. Plus three pieces of cold, pepperoni pizza.
“Don’t call me,” Janni had said. “If Daddy guessed I was even talking to you, he’d ship me to Africa or the South Pole.”
“You’re a big girl now. Somebody once took horses to the South Pole, y’ know.”
“Don’t change the subject. Daddy can do what he wants with me, and you know it.”
“I called you yesterday and got away with it. Are you sorry?”
“Of course I’m not sorry, but it’s not safe.”
“Why don’t you do the unthinkable and get a job—get away from Daddy? Twenty-six is old enough to think and act on your own.”
“Wingate women don’t work. Mom buzzed off because she wanted something more satisfying than kissing the emperor’s feet. If I behave myself—according to His Majesty’s way of thinking—I’m golden. If not… Jeth, whatever you end up doing, don’t call me.”
Don’t call. Be alone. Be cut off from everyone you know, from everything you know how to do. Horses had been his life. Horses and Janni…
He leaned his hands against the rust-pocked car and stretched his back, picking through his thoughts to determine if being with Janni once again had made him feel better or worse. He harvested the hair from his sleeve, held it up and studied it, then released it to the breeze that had suddenly become winter.
He drove almost aimlessly along the pleated ridges that marked central Pennsylvania, his eyes drawn to the long mountains that folded one into another with receding shades of green, gray, and blue. Two years deprived of that view… He sighed and went back to considering what to do. He had hoped those few hours with Janni would help him sort things out, but he’d been too distracted to think along those lines.
Early in the afternoon and a piece of pizza later, he realized he’d taken a wrong turn onto a backwater road that appeared to angle across a broad valley. He didn’t have a destination in mind, but he did have a direction, and across the valley wasn’t it. For whatever blurry reason, he had wanted to stay on the ridge road. While looking for a place to turn around, he spotted a number of horses behind a row of new-leaved trees. Fine horses. Wingate horses, not low-grade nags. Animals worthy of white-board fencing and a barn with copper-roofed cupola. But the picture was wrong. Some of the fencing was board—weathered and sagging—but far too much of it was smooth wire. Not safe. He drove slowly and came to a rutted driveway with a small, amateurish sign, “Morningstar Stables.” He could turn around here, or…
To enter to win a free copy of Dynamo, leave a comment below.
Ellie Gustafson began thinking up stories at a young age but did not begin writing and publishing until 1978. A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, she has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. Additional experiences include gardening, house construction, tree farming, mouse control, and parenting—all of which have helped bring color and humor to her fiction. One of her major writing goals has been to make scriptural principles understandable and relevant for today’s readers through the undeniable power of story.
The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David grew out of her fascination with the biblical story of David. Dynamo builds off her lifelong love of horses.