Fairer Than Morning, the first novel in a series of a Christian-romance trilogy by debut author Rosslyn Elliott, will be released April 2011 by Thomas Nelson Publishers. While Rosslyn awaits the next phase of her life as a writer and continues work on her second two books, I thought I’d ask her to share a few of her insights on the writing life – as seen through the eyes of a newly published author.
Q: Rosslyn, it’s a pleasure to have you here on Peace Garden Writer. I’ve been following you through your blog for about a year now, and have really enjoyed getting to know you and a bit about your journey as a writer. How’s life, now that your dream of authorship is being realized?
A: I am appreciating every single moment of it. I have told several friends that this may very well be the happiest time of my life, not only because of my writing but because my family is healthy and I am enjoying my time homeschooling my daughter. That’s not to say that life is perfect, because it never will be. But I’m glad for the tough times in my past, because they have allowed me to deeply appreciate this smoother and happier time.
Q: Let’s back up to the time in your life when you decided you were really going to pursue this for real. Were there certain things in your life that proved significant in terms of your being placed upon this particular path?
A: I had to overcome my self-critical nature and my fear of failure in order to write my first novel. Not only had I grown up with a very self-critical mindset, but I also attended an Ivy League college where perfectionism and hyper-criticism were rampant. The hidden blessing of my time at Yale is that it forced me to ask myself whether this was really the attitude I wanted to hold for the rest of my life. Did I always want to be so afraid of failure that I hid from life, instead of nurturing the potential in myself and others? I think my years as a high school teacher also taught me to value the imperfect, and to respect effort and process over perfection. I loved my students, and loving their enthusiastic but still-developing work made me more forgiving of my own flaws. The final step in gaining the will to write was finishing my doctoral dissertation. Before I wrote the dissertation, I had always felt that I couldn’t finish long projects, and that I must not have the ability to write a whole novel. But it wasn’t that I lacked ability or work ethic. The problem was simply that I didn’t have the confidence or writing process in place. Finishing the dissertation taught me the technique of how to work on a long piece, and technique gave me confidence. Slow but steady wins the race, when it comes to novel-writing.
Q: Once you decided to push forward with your goal of authorship, what were some of the steps you took to prepare yourself? And did you give yourself a loose timeline for the accomplishment of your goals?
A: I gave myself no timeline because I ended up making a major interstate move shortly after I started my first novel. This threw a major wrench in the gears for about a year, because of the challenges of selling a house and parenting a very young child while teaching part-time, especially because I was temporarily a single mom (my husband had gone ahead of us to our new home to start his job). But once I recovered from our move, I met a couple of women who became my critique partners. We met once a month, and I owe the completion of my first novel to them. There’s nothing like the accountability that critique partners can bring you! I really did not want to let down the group by not submitting anything, and so I steadily churned out my chapters in order to make our deadlines.
Q: At what point did your agent, Rachelle Gardner, enter the picture? How long did it take you to connect with her and how long from the time you signed on with her did it take for a book contract to be secured?
A: After I finished my first novel, I was in a haze of manic excitement. I could not believe I had actually done it. So what did I do? Like a fool, I submitted the thing almost immediately to a couple of agents. I knew little about the industry, and had to fake professionalism as best I could. Sometimes I did not fake it well, but those embarrassing stories are best told over a cup of coffee. Rachelle was one of three agents I contacted, and she was the one I really wanted to represent me. I will always be grateful that she was able to see past my naïve submission process and the rough edges of my work. She recognized potential in my storytelling and writing and offered to represent me in July 2008. My first novel received some consideration from one publisher, but providentially, they rejected it. Thank goodness, because in retrospect I realize that I was not ready. It was my second novel that earned my contract, eighteen months after I initially signed with Rachelle. I had grown a great deal as a writer during that time, and when Thomas Nelson offered me a contract for a three-novel series, I could be confident that I was ready for the pressures of a professional writing career.
Q: Rosslyn, we’ve connected on more levels than just our writing. We are also mothers dedicated to our families, and faith-seekers dedicated to our vocation as Christian women. How have these three areas of your life converged at this time? Do they feel fairly balanced, or do you feel one area rising higher than the other two right now?
A: I think I’ve found a good balance. It’s easier for me than for some homeschooling moms because I only have one student. I really admire moms who homeschool more than one child, because homeschooling is a different ballgame when you have two kids or more. For my daughter and me, it’s pretty calm. My daughter thrives on it and loves it. She attends a school for homeschoolers one day a week, plus she participates in many athletic activities. So her social life is active, and I get a workout when I help out at the place where she rides horses. I have had to cut back on some of my ministry work at church in order to achieve balance. This can be hard but I have had to learn to say no anyway. I hope that when my friends and acquaintances read my novels, they will understand that writing inspirational fiction is a ministry in itself. That can be hard to see because our writing is usually a solitary activity, but the purpose of all those hours spent alone is ultimately to touch others in a deep way and to provide encouragement to many.
Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned so far about the publishing industry and the writer’s place within it?
A: The best strategy for making contacts in publishing, trite as it sounds, is to be yourself. I say that with one caveat: if a writer has a lot of trouble being open and natural with others, then she may need to work on that aspect of her personality. I am equal parts extrovert and introvert, so I’m sometimes shy when I first meet people, but I relate to them pretty well once I get comfortable. For better or worse, I’m honest and open, and I don’t try to impress anyone. I’m not a big believer in status. I have a great time learning about other writers when I go to inspirational writers conferences, and that helps me relate to everyone in an equal and natural way. I was interested to observe the dynamics between people at the conference I attended recently. Most people can loosen up and be honest and real if you give them a chance. The ones who have more trouble making authentic connections are those who just can’t lower their guard. Putting up a superficial mask or creating a ‘persona’ to relate to others is not going to truly build relationships. Almost everybody can sense the difference. One tip is that we should try to know what topics make us really comfortable. I get excited about big ideas, history, classic literature, and analytical challenges, so if I start talking to someone about these things, I lose my self-consciousness. I need to work on my ability to discuss my own career when people ask me about it, because I am not as enthusiastic about talking about myself.
Q: If you could go back to the days before your signing on with Rachelle and being presented your three-book contract, what advice would you give yourself?
A: Slow down, self. Be patient. Put aside your first novel and give yourself three months to get some distance on it before you submit it. But the best thing I did was seek the advice of a professional editor on my first few chapters, and I would not change that. If anyone needs that kind of objective, expert feedback (and I think we all do at some point), one editor I highly recommend is Meredith Efken. She is a superb writer herself, which gives her the ability to critique all levels of writing.
Q: What drew you to Christian romance? What is the most difficult part of writing in this genre?
A: I was drawn to Christian drama before I was ever drawn to romance. I have always loved historical dramas with spiritual substance, and that was what I wanted to write. But a good love story increases the depth and appeal of a drama, and so my challenge was to write a romance that I myself would enjoy in the way that I enjoy lots of historical movies with romantic plots. The hardest part of writing romance is to keep it real and fresh. I don’t want to write stories about limerence—that is, a simple chemical reaction in the brain that we often call ‘falling in love.’ Instead, I want to write about real love. Jane Austen led the way in that kind of romance writing. She understood very well the difference between limerence and love.
Q: Tell us about your books and where we can buy them once they’re out?
A: Fairer than Morning is the first novel in my series called The Saddler’s Legacy. It will be released in April 2011 and available at all major retailers such as Barnes and Nobles, Amazon, and independent bookstores. The series is based on the real lives of the Hanby family of Westerville, Ohio.
Fairer than Morning is the story of two young people haunted by their pasts who find love and freedom as they assist fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. A saddler’s daughter dreams of marriage to her poetic, educated suitor—until a runaway apprentice shows her that a truly noble man will risk his life to free the oppressed.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in your new life as a published author?
A: Doing my best to write more good books. It’s a challenge that never ends, and never really gets easier, but that’s the joy of writing. And I look forward to hearing from readers! I hope they will find these stories as uplifting as I do.
Thanks Rosslyn, and all the best in this incredible journey you’re on! Readers, you can learn more about Rosslyn by going to her new website here.
Q4U: Are there any questions Rosslyn didn’t answer to which you’re itching to know the answer? Fire away!