Sunday, November 9, 2014

Author interview: Eleanor Gustafson

Today, I'd like to introduce you to a seasoned author named Eleanor "Ellie" Gustafson. Not only is Ellie a seasoned author but she knows how to make maple syrup from scratch--she takes it directly from the sugar maple trees located on her farm in Vermont! 

Learn more fun facts and read words of wisdom from this master storyteller in my author interview with Ellie (questions by Alexis in bold, answers by Ellie not in bold)...
Alexis: Do you go by Eleanor or Ellie?

Eleanor: I was never terribly fond of the name Eleanor, and when another Eleanor in our church started going by Ellie, I thought, Why not? I like it! Actually, the British pronunciation—El-a-nah—is much more graceful. I could live with that.

When did you start writing?

I had been making up stories all my life but didn’t write any of them down until my late thirties. I tentatively showed my mother an early short story, and she told me to stick to music as a career. I disobeyed.

Why do you write?

I write because I must. God planted a love of story in my heart and I try to use that gift to lift up His name. Story is a way of communicating truth. Jesus was a master of story, and His listeners usually got the point, though sometimes his disciples didn’t.

How many books have you written and published?

I have five novels in print, though one was self-published.

Describe your writing space. What makes it special to you?

My large, Mac computer makes it special—a marvelous tool for doing almost anything. Otherwise, the office my husband and I share is pretty messy and utilitarian.

Did you spend your lifetime as a published author or do you have a day job? Please explain.

I do not have a day job, but my life has been filled with an assortment of experiences and responsibilities. We just celebrated 50 years as tree farmers on our acreage in Vermont. We’ve done timber-stand improvement to help produce top-quality timber. For instance, veneer-quality logs can bring as much as $6000 per thousand board feet at the mill. In the process of removing undesirable trees, we have worked up tons of firewood, selling some but using most to heat our “homemade” house. And we have made maple syrup—a fun, early spring experience. See next question.

You’ve been a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer and encourager. You’ve also built houses and made maple syrup! What an illustrious life! Please tell me how you did it all, and please share your recipe for maple syrup!

Our recipe for maple syrup (the simplified version): First you locate some sizeable sugar maples, then bore holes, tap in spiles (spouts), hang buckets or rig up tubing. Once the sap is in hand, you get a fire roaring underneath the evaporator and watch the steam roll off. When the syrup gets thick enough, you pull it off, strain it through felt and eventually bottle it. Along with a lot of work, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. We have not made syrup for several years, lacking the time and energy that family helpers used to contribute. Good stuff, though, and now you know why it’s so expensive.

Who are your favorite authors? Why?

For fiction, I love the classics—Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice topping that list.

For contemporary writers, I like Angela Hunt, James Scott Bell, Anne Perry.

Non-fiction—Eugene Peterson is my spiritual mentor, casting new light on Christian concepts. He also endorsed my biblical novel The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David. In my eyes, Dr. P. can do no wrong. Other quality spiritual writers are Henri Nouwen, Tim Keller, and Philip Yancey.

What holiday stories would you recommend to my readers?

I love Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian-Carlo Menotti and Roger Devoisin. It's a children’s book but rich enough for adult taste.

On your website, you said your life has been “full and rich, a grand mix of tears and laughter.” What do you mean? Please share an anecdote.

I just wrote a blog about a special happening, and instead of writing it out, please click on this link and let me know if you have had similar experiences.

Another important aspect of my life involves Sunday morning interactions, a relatively new thing that God has developed in me. I look for newcomers, someone standing alone, people I know are struggling, folks who might be heavy into tattoos, dreadlocks, or face jewelry. I try to engage, to listen, sometimes to pray. When the (church) service begins, I seldom get through the whole hour without crying or being touched in some way by the love of God. After four hours of this, I go home, exhausted. We rest, walk, read, or watch TV, but my computer stays off all day.

Do you have a literary agent? If yes, who? Please share the story of how you two started working together.

Joyce Hart of Hartline is my lady. When Whitaker House declined to publish Dynamo, Christine Whitaker hooked me up with Joyce. We worked together for a year or so, but then Whitaker House changed its mind about the book. Again, a God thing.

Who is your book publisher?

Zondervan published my first two novels, I self-published the third, and Whitaker House has done the last two.

Are you working on more books? If yes, please share a synopsis.

The sick stranger in Linda Jensen’s garden can drink water, but inevitably, water in means water out. She holds a jar for him, but her caring act becomes hugely significant when the stranger’s identity is revealed and the awkward incident hits the headlines. An Unpresentable Glory weaves together three threads: gardening, American Indians, and politics. One pre-reader said that the Epilogue alone demands that the book be published.

What would you say has been the hallmark of your writing career?

I believe the greatest honor I have received was Eugene Peterson’s endorsement of The Stones. He is a kind man, and his name alone has sold many copies of that book for me. I have also been humbled by the positive reviews my books have received. Check Amazon for both Dynamo and The Stones.

Thanks for the interview Ellie! If there’s a question you’d like my readers to answer, please write it here.

You people out there—do you read for escape/entertainment, or do you like to grapple with meaty reading material? One is not better than the other; it’s personal preference. I like deeply engaging stories, but sometimes I’m not up for grappling, and an easy read is the best I can do. I’d like to get your take on it.

Author bio as adapted from on 
Ellie Gustafson writes pretty good books these days. She's been working at it long enough to learn a few things. It all started in 1978 with her first published article, "I Saw a Thing Today," about a couple of weasels she met on a stone wall in Vermont. A bunch of short stories and other articles followed, and then came Appalachian Spring. BIG learning curve. The editor slashed characters, whole chapters, and made a lot of red marks everywhere. Had to rewrite the entire book--on a brand-new 
Apple IIe computer that she had no idea how to operate. The novel was well received, however, which led to more novels and more painful learning experiences.

In many of her stories, Ellie explores the cosmic struggle between good and evil in light of God's overarching work of redemption. Having graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois--where she met her husband while teaching horsemanship (funny story there)--she has since been actively involved in church life as a minister's wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. A host of other experiences, from mice wars to house building, help bring color and humor to her fiction. She does like to laugh a lot.

Ellie and her husband live in Massachusetts, where he teaches online college courses in philosophy. They travel a fair amount, spend time with three children and eight grandchildren, and enjoy camping at the family forest in Chester, Vermont.

Some have said that her latest novel, Dynamo, is her best book, so old dogs can learn from experience!

Connect with Ellie:

Buy Ellie's book Dynamo

1 comment:

  1. I had to laugh when your mother told you to stick to your music career. My mom did the same thing! I was in my 30s, with small children, and had about seven piano students to supplement our income. I told my mom I wanted to be a writer. She told me to try and get more piano students!


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