Posts Tagged ‘careers’

My guest today is author Deb Elkink.

Deb Elkink

Deb grew up in Winnipeg, attended university south of the border in the Twin Cities, then married a cowboy and moved from her bright lights to his isolated cattle ranch in Saskatchewan, where she learned to fly an airplane, round up the herd on horseback, and cook for branding crews of a hundred. She published a few early stories, then focused on her role as ranch wife and mom until returning to academic studies rather than succumbing to an empty nest. Today Deb and her husband live in a cozy cottage on the banks of a creek that runs through their acreage in southern Alberta, where she writes at her kitchen table to the music of the wind in the grasses.

Janice: Hi Deb. I’m excited to do this interview with you. After reading your book, The Third Grace, I have a new appreciation for your knowledge of Greek mythology, of various cultures, and of your writing skills. What is your background in writing? What areas of writing you are involved in besides fiction?

DEB: Thanks for the opportunity to chat with you, Janice, and for reading my novel—always a great compliment! I was raised in a very creative home and decided I wanted to be a writer when, at age nine, my poem was printed in the elementary yearbook. My first degree (BA Communications) trained me in freelance writing and, many years later, my second degree (MA Theology, 2001) spring-boarded me back into active writing. I applied my new skills toward academic editing, acted as staff writer for several years with a cross-Canada professional quarterly, and most recently added reviewing for a fiction site that welcomes my theological critique. In my blog I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible—a sort of word study. These nonfiction forms of research and writing have sharpened my skills and prepped me for fiction.

Janice:  Can you tell us what brought you to fiction?

DEB: My earliest influences include my mom’s imagination as a visual artist, my dad’s yarn-spinning around the fireplace, and my insatiable lust for Nancy Drew. Formal learning has always been a major stimulus for me: I received top marks for story analysis and composition in high school, and this pushed me on to postsecondary studies where one prof, a writer herself and wife of a well-known theologian, mentored and encouraged me. Next, I found that the best part about home-teaching our kids for fifteen years on the ranch was our genre-based approach to all our projects, which enriched my own exposure to the literary classics. My subsequent seminary studies were so rewarding that I sometimes today contemplate returning to scholarly pursuits in order to learn more about—especially—British literature (my graduate thesis focused on how the Victorian writer G.K. Chesterton used the image of the tree in his fiction to symbolize Christian beliefs). All of these influences combine with my high view of Scripture to convince me that reader interest in the truths and principles of the Word can be effectively stimulated through a great fiction story.

Janice: Do you have a specific audience in mind as you write?

DEB: I dedicated my first novel to the younger woman, who—though perhaps raised in faith—has turned away from God: “To all my lost sisters wandering alone out of earshot—His voice still calls.” My current novel again focuses on relationships (and a hidden theology); I hope it will appeal to a wider audience—again, not necessarily Christian. I believe fiction can “slip past the sleeping dragons” (C.S. Lewis) of my readers’ resistance to truth. Everyone is starving for God’s Word, but often readers don’t recognize their hunger pangs unless their emotions are first engaged through their senses.

Janice: How do you write, Deb? Are you a very disciplined writer or do you have to force yourself to stay in the chair? Do you work on more than one project at a time, and do you edit as you go? Do you outline or are you a seat-of-the-pants writer?

DEB: I tend to be a binge writer focused on one story to the exclusion of all else in life—just ask my husband! I wake up in the mornings to sit at my computer all day, not even dressing until I put on sweats for afternoon exercise on my elliptical in front of Dr. Phil. As for process, I first plot my complete novel outline using pen and paper, then continually research and edit as I draft on my laptop—though this means I often don’t get many words written in a day. Immersing myself in each line and paragraph of each scene is a pleasure for me, and at this stage I allow myself as much time as I need until I’m fairly satisfied with the page.

Janice:  Your debut novelThe Third Gracewas released in 2011. Can you give us a brief summary of the storyline and what inspired the original idea?

DEB: An urban costume designer can’t escape the flood of memories from the summer she was seventeen and fell in love with the French exchange student visiting the family farm, who whispered enthralling Greek myths into her ear and set her longing for something more than her family’s simplistic faith. Now thirty-two and still single, she’s leaving for Paris on work assignment when she discovers a Bible he left behind, its margins full of his handwritten, sensual references to their long-ago romance. She searches for him through the text and the streets of Paris—and finds herself in the process.  

I came to the story on my first trip to France in 1989, when I discovered a marble statue grouping in the Louvre of The Three Graces of Greek mythology. These goddesses came to symbolize to me relationships among women as well as the twisted spirituality implicit in mythology. I was at this time still living on our remote ranch, and the contrast between city and country, aesthetics and common sense, sophistication and practical living really hit home. I’d succumbed to the enchantment of the French (cuisine, couture, and culture) and wanted to explore the gap between it and my own heritage rooted in the Mennonite faith.

Janice:  I must mention here that you were the winner of the 2012 Grace Irwin Award. This is Canada’s largest literary prize for writers who are Christian, so it’s quite an accomplishment for a debut novelist. Congratulations!

DEB: Thanks, Janice! It was a real surprise for me, I must say, and gives me deep encouragement today to keep on writing.

Janice:  How did you create / develop the characters? Are they based on real people or totally figments of your imagination?

DEB: I would be nervous about writing scenes with friends or acquaintances in mind! My characters are almost completely fictional, although most of the personality traits belong to someone I know; for example, the wise boss in The Third Grace is an abstract remix of Chesterton and my mother-in-law combined with some philosopher I’ve never met. I try to keep my characters in line as I draft; they often want to break out on their own but, when I allow this, the storyline inevitably suffers, so I’m quite stern with them.

Janice:  Where is the book set and why did you choose those particular settings?

DEB: I grew up in the city and “suffered” the trauma of moving to the countryside, and my character makes this same transition the other way around (from Nebraska farmyard to uptown Denver)—both of us experiencing the juxtaposition between rural and urban settings. I love Paris (I’ve been there half a dozen times, as recently as this past summer) and my character has the same romantic emotions I feel whenever I dream of stepping foot on Gallic soil. I originally set the book in Calgary and the Saskatchewan Sandhills, with the visit to Paris a focal point, but my agent requested I change the North American locales to places in the States. My next novel retains more Canadian content. 

Janice:  What was the most difficult part of this project for you?

DEB: Overwhelmingly it was my slow writing style; I took many years building up a head of steam and finally getting the ideas down in readable format, floundering when an early draft ended up in the drawer for more than a decade. I battled insecurity about getting this book written in between the real-life activities of marriage, childrearing, education, and social and spiritual growth.

Janice:  And your favorite part?

DEB: Interesting to me, it was again my slow writing style; I believe in savoring each moment of my day and my life, which consists of much more living than only my imaginative writing.

Janice:  How would you categorize The Third Grace? What take-away value is presented?

DEB: The Third Grace is a story of return: God calls us back to Himself through the Bible.

Janice:  For those of us who are also trying to promote our writing, what media have you used to promote The Third Grace, and how would you evaluate the effectiveness of those avenues?

DEB: Sadly but honestly, I admit to disappointing book sales despite the shiny “award” sticker on my novel. In the year following publication, I signed up with an online agency that put me on virtual book tour at substantial cost in time and money for very little discernible gain. I’ve had fairly good local newspaper coverage, but I’ve been invited to interview on only a couple of the many TV and radio shows I’ve contacted. I continue to appear now and again as guest on various author blogs, I keep up a Facebook presence (not yet Twitter), and I continue to build an email list of supporters. I enter contests, give away copies of the novel when speaking, distribute the book locally (and of course on Amazon and the like), and shamelessly hand out informational postcards to strangers on the street. At the end of the day, I see my greatest marketing opportunity to be publication of my next book.

Janice:  Tell us a little about yourself: home, family, work, hobbies, interests, talents…

DEB: My husband, Gerrit, and I will celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary this fall (fingers crossed that he’ll surprise me with some exotic vacation)! After my first two decades as Manitoba city girl and my next two as Saskatchewan ranch woman, I continued my homemaker status in Alberta for this third two-decade portion of life when my husband took on work in the oil-and-gas sector back in the mid-nineties. We have a close relationship with our three grown children (data administrator, family physician, and power engineer), and I try to entice them home to the acreage for a meal every week or two. 

As for hobbies, I love to sew and am currently awaiting an order of silk and cotton from a great online source! I’ve inherited my mother’s soup-making abilities, as well, and am working this into my next novel. I like languages and have studied a few—though my tongue ties when facing a native French, Spanish, or Japanese speaker. I get out on the ski hill every couple of years (yeah, I’m not really athletic). I’m crazy about travel and have so far visited about thirty countries on five of the seven continents of the world.

Janice:  What are you working on now in your writing career?

DEB: I’m currently in drafting mode, consumed by my second novel with its message that everyone is looking for inner peace, a place of rest for the soul. A salesclerk, pushing fifty and being hounded by a homeless baglady, is on the verge of her first house purchase while her zany new-age friend is begging her to instead spend her money accompanying her to “sacred sites” around the world. Rather, she tours a historical mansion museum to discover her own heritage and the true meaning of home.

Janice:  Do you have a thought or encouragement for other writers?

DEB: I suspect some of your readers become frustrated like I do when production is slow, impatient to be used by God. Rather than viewing my writing as some special “calling” that I must fulfill, I see it more as a privilege granted me when I called out to God from the desires of my heart in asking to serve in this way. I believe that, first and foremost, He wants my joyful response to Him in everything I do, writing related or not, to His glory (Col. 3:17). This understanding releases me to live each day peaceful under His sovereignty. I relax, as well, after making a reasonable effort as far as marketing, knowing that He cares more than I ever can about how His message is presented to the readership. So my encouragement for other writers is to rest in God rather than frantically writing or promoting, and trust that He will shed His glory in His way through our words, work, and—most of all—daily attitude.

Janice:  Thanks so much for your time and for giving us a glimpse of you and your work. I wish you all the best in your future writing.

DEB: Thanks again for having me!

Please check into Deb’s social media sites below:

Website: www.debelkink.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deb.elkink

Email: deb@rolledscroll.com

Favorite daily Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com

Blog: http://www.rolledscroll.com/?blog

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How do I become a writer? What are the qualifications?

The short answer is: you become a writer by writing. Doesn’t matter what you write or whether or not you’re published. If you write, you are a writer. That’s the one non-negotiable qualification.

The long answer goes beyond this simple explanation.

The first suggestion I make to people who wish to become writers is to seek out others of similar persuasion. One reason is that writing can be a lonely business. Some of us embrace this semi-solitary lifestyle, while others grow wide-eyed with apprehension. However, we all need some kind of connection with others. These days there are many virtual options to actually stepping out of the house to meet with someone. Writers hang out on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads, and any number of social media. They leave their views and reviews on amazon, Barnes & Noble and their blogs. Seek and you shall find.

Another reason we writers need to mix with each other is to share and learn. We’re all at different levels of knowledge and experience. Someone out there will have gone through the particular writing dilemma you currently face. Someone else will need your encouragement to “Stay Calm and Carry On.” Helpful scribes and organizations are constantly posting links to writing contests, courses and creative ideas:  http://www.inscribe.org/contests/,   http://thewordguild.com/contestsawards/

A second suggestion for newbie writers is: read. All readers are not writers, but all writers are and must be readers. Read all the time, read widely, and train yourself to read analytically. Before I began writing, I either liked a book or didn’t like it; I couldn’t necessarily pinpoint my reasons. Now I can usually pick out one or more of the following flaws: the characters are underdeveloped and flat, they act inconsistently with what we were led to believe about them, there are too many passive words, the plot isn’t exciting enough, the author didn’t bother to correct grammatical errors or typos, the point of view is unclear and inconsistent, or the various threads of the story have not been satisfactorily concluded. As you learn more about the elements of fiction, you will be able to discern the difference between poor and good writing.

One of the most important requirements of the writing life is hard work. For a lot of people, myself included, it’s easier to “have written” than to actually write. Creativity can be elusive when we sit down to an empty page. There are times when inspiration favours us and thoughts flow from brain to hand like an electrical current, but these times are rare. Mostly, this work is plodding and difficult.

So why would anyone want to write? I suppose for the same reason people choose to have children. For many if not most of us, pregnancy, birth and child-rearing is a painful, endless and exhausting task. Why do we do it? Something about life and love and unexpected rewards, like a three-year old nicknaming his favourite teddy bear “Mom.” There’s a soul-shift that brings us to the page with overwhelming gratitude that we have been offered this opportunity to work with words. I believe we have been gifted and chosen by God to write. That’s the initial step. It’s up to us to follow in obedience to the One who has chosen us, to prayerfully take up the pen or cozy up to the keyboard to craft stories that will interest, entertain, challenge, bless and inspire others.

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From cover to cover, this book is a success, offering positive insights and suggestions to a specific group of people: those between the ages of 45 and 64 who are considering creating their own businesses or recreating their careers.

The author writes from her personal experience of being thrust into the position of sole wage-earner after nearly thirty years of a support role in vocational ministry. Instead of dissolving in despair, she pulled up her socks and used the hobbies and skills she possessed to launch her own business: Words of Worth.

3D Success – Changing Careers in Mid Life is effectively organized into three parts:

* Discovering Your Passion

* Developing Your Plan

* Defending Your Priorities

Each part broadens into chapters beginning with wise quotes such as “You cannot plow a field by turning it over in your mind (unknown author),” and “The secret of success is doing common things uncommonly well (John D. Rockefeller).” The chapters close with Lessons I’ve Learned (“nothing worth having comes easy,” “don’t let other people determine your attitude”) and Something to Think About (“how do I want to be remembered when my life is ended?”).

Linda writes in a conversational style, “with the sincere wish that by sharing the lessons I have learned, you will find your journey a bit easier,” yet the book is decidedly professional, both in format and content. It is a book to be trusted. It is also a book that will add purpose and motivation to any career, whether you are changing direction or not. As a reader of fiction, I did not expect to be so engrossed in Linda’s book, however, I found myself not only reading but following suggestions, considering others who would benefit from the book, thinking of businesses and career counselors who could use 3D Success as suggested reading for clients.

3D Success is chock full of real life challenges and practical suggestions. It portrays a strong work ethic and promotes positive attitude and integrity, also stressing the importance of maintaining mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health in order to be successful.

If I were to describe 3D Success in one word, I would choose:  encouraging. I recommend it to anyone who needs a boost in his or her career, whether it is in transition or not. Thank you, Linda, for sharing your hard-won experiences for the benefit of others.

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