Interview with Eleanor Gustafson

» Posted on Sep 1, 2010 in Blog | Comments Off on Interview with Eleanor Gustafson

This week I’m hosting Eleanor Gustafson with The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David, Elizabeth Goddard with Exposing Amber and Janice Hanna with Love Me Tender. If you want to enter the drawings, please leave a comment on one of the post during the week with your email address. I
will not enter you without an email address (my way to contact you if you win). If you don’t want to leave an email address, another way you can enter is to email me at The drawings end Sunday (September 5th) evening.

Interview with Eleanor Gustafson:

1. What made you start writing?

Blame it on God. ☺ He planted the urge within me, for whatever reason. Long before I ever wrote anything, I was making up stories in my head. After reading an engaging book, I sometimes felt compelled to “finish the story” and would ramble through nearby woods and fields to live for a time with those particular characters. Marriage and babies formed a parenthesis in this process, but once past diapers, the old urge returned. My first efforts at writing prompted at least two people to advise me to stick to music.

2. How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?

My first essay was accepted for publication in 1978. With a few more successes, I took a big breath and decided to try a novel (published 1984). After reading through an early draft, a friend scribbled on it, “You are a writer!” That felt very good.

3. How do you handle rejections?

I have a folder full of rejection letters, which 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.

4. Why do you write?

Hey, when God wires you a certain way, you have to follow through. Some people (my husband), fish or watch baseball; I write.

5. What would you be doing with your free time if you weren’t writing?

Certainly not fishing or watching baseball! I might possibly do a little housework now and then, but that would still be way down my priority list. More time in the garden, perhaps; more time at our tree farm in Vermont—250 acres of woodland used for logging, making maple syrup, and working up tons of firewood. More time to interact with people all over the world.

6. What are you working on right now?

I have a finished novel (Dynamo) waiting for the publisher to say yea or nay. Beyond that I have a couple of rough ideas but little time to develop them. Explain, please. Yes. The most difficult part of publishing a book is marketing. The publisher does what they can, but the author is their best salesman. Since The Stones came out, I have been straight out with various forms of publicity—television and radio interviews, book signings, blog interviews, pushing the book in people’s faces everywhere I go. The most satisfying spinoff, however, has been the development of a ministry through discussions and presentations on the life of King David. Everything from church or living-room gatherings to a lunch-break discussion with Wycliffe JAARS people and a six-session Bible conference presentation. A delicious irony here: No one would ever describe me as a gifted public speaker. Without a sheaf of largely MEMORIZED notes in hand (and I have an abysmal memory), I am your basic flat brain wave. I work at it, though, and get by, but do you wonder that I don’t have time for housework?

7. Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I think I most closely identify with Abigail, David’s third wife, in The Stones. She and I are principled, passionate about God, and have husbands who are a bit cavalier in their approach to life.

8. Tell us about the book you have out right now.

The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David. I just received a copy, by the way, of Kiezelstenen: Roman over het leven van koning David—a Dutch translation. I was tickled! (See cover below.)

The Stones 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 sticky issues that come wrapped in this gigantic character.

9. Do you have any advice for other writers?

1. Read excellent literature.
2. Study why it is good—plot structure, character development, writing style, whatever touch of class is there.
3. Learn punctuation and grammar, like REALLY learn it.
4. Practice writing tight. Take a sentence or paragraph and see how few words you can pare it to without losing either sense or punch. Be ruthless with useless scenes, characters, descriptions—whatever. Make every word pull its weight. Without such chopping, The Stones would have had 800 or 900 pages, instead of 601.
5. Learn to differentiate between authentic and sappy Christian expression. Jargon or cliché-ridden stories turn me off and probably would a non-Christian reader, as well.
6. Look for readers who know good literature to critique your writing—a fresh one for each of early draft, mid draft, near-final draft. These readers should be literarily a cut above you and not just a fellow writer who is also figuring out the art of writing. Nurture these readers. Take good care of them: they are valuable commodities. Take their critiques seriously. You don’t have to agree with every suggestion, but you should have good reason to override it.
7. Edit endlessly. I go through each of my books 50-100 times, and that’s a conservative guess. I am never totally satisfied.

10. How important is faith in your books?

I don’t think I could write a book that did not express my faith in some way. That’s my calling as a writer—to speak God’s Truth in a manner that makes it alive and powerful to readers. I have not always been successful along the way, but writing is a learning process. I wrote one novel that is packed full of Christian concepts but has no religious language at all. I even invented a different world to escape all known religions. It was my least successful novel, but that stems not from this approach but from the story’s dark edginess. The title—Middle Night—still available on Amazon as Print On Demand.

11. What themes do you like to write about?

My bio says, “In many of her stories, Eleanor explores the cosmic struggle between good and evil in light of God’s overarching work of redemption.” Grace and the fear of God also pop up frequently.

12. What is your favorite book you’ve written and why?

I like them all, but for different reasons, and it’s hard to pick just one. The Stones has got to be right up there because David is such an enormous and pivotal character. The people around him are also fascinating, from Abigail on the high end to Joab on the low. Readers have responded enthusiastically, and you can read some of the comments on either my website or on the Amazon link below. Dynamo, my novel-in-waiting, also has strong characters, and while readers’ comments are necessarily sparse prior to publication, they have been positive.

13. What is your writing schedule like?

(Sigh) See my response to Question #6. I’m writing much of the day but not on publishable projects. I’m not sure when that will change, but God is and has been in charge of this aspect of my life all along. My bedrock commitment is to live faithfully before him.