A licensed pilot, speaker, cattle herder, academic editor…Deb Elkink is all these and more—such as a debut author.
So Deb…why writing? Why now?
Actually I’ve been writing since I was a child, and all my growing-up dreams centered on becoming a novelist (from the time I penned my first story in elementary school through college communication classes). But I see life in itself as an adventure to be lived, with fiction writing just a result. So when I fell in love, when I birthed babies, when I’ve been presented with opportunities to fly or speak or round up cattle—well, how can I say no? Living heartily and writing at the same time hasn’t always been a possibility for me, as I’m not a great multi-tasker; there have been years during which I’ve written very little publishable material. So going to grad school was a turning point, a way to kick-start serious writing from a firm theological base. I guess you could say I’ve been paying my dues and feel I now might have something of substance to offer the reading public, with the time to do it.
What’s your favorite part about the writing game? Least favorite?
I love daydreaming; I love plotting a piece and developing its characters, researching and anticipating its effect, and chatting about it and going to sleep with that story on my mind. My least favorite part of the process is self-promotion, especially as a new author in the current atmosphere, where marketing is no longer solely the job of the publisher.
In your debut novel, The Third Grace, the heroine is torn between her rural upbringing and her search for self. How much of you is there in the heroine?
There’s a great deal of Deb in Aglaia. For starters, like Aglaia, I fell madly in love at a young age and have a tendency to romanticize circumstances. Like her, I’ve lived the tension of rural versus urban life and learned my own place in it geographically as it shaped my attitudes about myself and the world. (For example, when I relocated from city to ranch—in the opposite direction of Aglaia’s move—I adapted by changing my wardrobe like a costume, wearing Levis and checkered shirts for a while, and even tried to like Willy Nelson’s singing!) But, as with Aglaia, my basic self wasn’t ever annihilated and has had to be addressed—especially as it pertains to my relationship with a living God. Aglaia rebels; my rebellion has been slightly more subtle but just as condemning. Aglaia mourns; I’ve had my own brand of sorrow that elicits grief. Aglaia turns to the arts, imagination, and professional avarice for satisfaction of her soulish thirst; I, too, have been tempted to fall into idolatry of creation rather than Creator. Is there really anything new under the sun?
Where did you get the idea for the story?
When I first visited the Louvre museum in Paris several years ago and stood transfixed before James Pradier’s marble statue grouping, The Three Graces, I knew I’d found the icon for my novel. The three figures immediately suggested to me a trinity of womanhood, triplets in a way, all made of the same “stuff” yet each looking at something different—each with her own focal point or perspective or philosophy. In Pradier’s rendition of the Graces, one looks downward at the earth, another upward at the sky, the third outward at others. They came to represent to me humanity as a whole and, in effect, the personalities of the three lead characters in my novel.
What surprises you most now that you’re a published author?
My appetite. Have you ever tasted pan-seared foie gras on a toasted baguette? One bite of that incredibly rich bit of heaven is just not enough! As deeply satisfying as I find publication of my first novel, I’m surprised at how insufficient it is (and how quickly!) to quell the hankering for the next mouthful—to write my next novel and see it published, too. How can I stop at just a taste?
Got any writing advice for aspiring authors?
Yes—I’d like to pass along the words of an early mentor in college, who said: "Don't fret about not writing if you're too busy living; it will all come out in the end." There’s no way of knowing who we or others really are unless we enter into our lives with zest and observation—a necessary preparation for writing, I think.
What question didn’t I ask that you wished I would’ve?
I wish you’d asked, “What kind of reader did you have in mind as you wrote this book?” I’d have answered:
Well, first of all, my intended audience for this novel was not readers of prairie romance, or those who are squeamish over sensual writing, or those who are confident of their position before God. All the while that I plotted and drafted, Psalm 61:2 sang through my mind: “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” In other words, I wasn’t writing to those who already know where they stand in Christ, but rather to those who—having left their past behind—are still yearning for a destination beyond their view.
In my novel’s epigraph I quote G. K. Chesterton: “Man has always lost his way. He has been a tramp ever since Eden; but he always knew, or thought he knew, what he was looking for.” I wrote The Third Grace for all the Aglaias out there—for women who, in pursuit of their own success and self-definition, have left their “Mary Grace” behind and are beginning to wonder if their background might after all hold some clue as to what it is they’re really seeking. On the first page, I dedicate my novel thus: “To all my lost sisters wandering alone out of earshot—His voice still calls.”
About the Book:
The past casts a long shadow, especially when it points to a woman’s first love.
As a teen, Mary Grace fell in love with a French exchange student visiting her family’s Nebraska farm. François renamed her “Aglaia”—after one of the beautiful Three Graces of Greek mythology—and set her heart longing for something more than her parents’ simplistic life and faith. Now, fifteen years later, Aglaia’s budding success as a costume designer in Denver’s arts scene convinces her that she’s left the naïve country girl far behind—but “Mary Grace” has deep roots, as Aglaia learns during a business trip to Paris. Her discovery of sensual notes François jotted into the margins of a Bible during that long-ago fling, a silly errand imposed by her mother, and the scheming of her sophisticated mentor all conspire to create a thirst in her soul that neither evocative daydreams nor professional success can quench.
About the Author:
I was raised, along with four siblings, in Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) by an entrepreneurial father and an artistic mother, both of whom encouraged creative expression. My first dozen articles and short stories appeared in paying Christian magazines after college, in my early years as a ranch wife (during which time I also learned to cook for huge branding crews, herd cattle, and fly a small plane). In 2001, when our three homeschooling kids were all back in the classroom, I returned to school myself to earn an M.A. in theological studies and then began academic editing of doctoral dissertations and journal articles. For about six years I wrote for a national professional quarterly, and other nonfiction work of mine appeared in various publications (one I’m especially proud of is Christian History). But my love has always been fiction, and so now I reside with my husband in an empty nest on the banks of a babbling brook in southern Alberta—just a stone’s throw north of the Montana border—and write to my heart’s content.