Friday, May 23, 2014

Lessons Learned on the Path to Publication by Eleanor Gustafson

Eleanor Gustafson

Sometimes we glean knowledge by studying the craft of writing; other times we learn by doing and seeing what works—or doesn’t work. Author Eleanor (Ellie) Gustafson tried different approaches to her stories, then landed on success for her and readers. Enjoy as she shares her personal journey to publication. ~ Dawn

Lessons Learned on the Path to Publication
by Eleanor Gustafson

“Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you make the whole trip that way.” ~ E.L. Doctorow, writer (b. 1931) 

A friend sent that to me, and it’s a pretty good start for any statement on writing. A murky business, at best.

How did I become an author? Blame it on my mother. She read to me every night before I went to bed, not knowing she was planting seeds that would later destroy her dream of my becoming an organist! I began making up my own stories at age five or six, but later, after reading my early attempts to write, she told me straight out: Stick to music as a career. I did become an organist, but story had too strong a hold on me. I began publishing both fiction and nonfiction in 1978. 

After these early successes, I got brave enough to try a novel. Appalachian Spring sold well, but not content to simply pump out saleable fiction, I next tried a time travel set on our tree farm. Modern girl meets boy of 1796 over a stone wall in Vermont. Good novel, bad ending. Learned from that and tried a dramatization of the gospel using no religious language and creating a made-up world. Bad novel, in that raw evil balances off the Christ figure, but a good ending. Learned from that and came out with my signature book, The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David. Good book, good ending, though dauntingly long—600 pages! But how can you shrink David to less than that?

Brings us to Dynamo, a novel that takes in my passion for horses and my passion for God. This one is a genuine page-turner, but again, I engaged in risky writing. The book is complex. One layer is horses and the high-stakes world of horse shows and stable intrigue; another is the good, bad, and ugly of human relationships; but the bedrock layer is the sovereign God who interacts with Jeth in unusual and unpredictable ways. The Big Question: Can or would God do these sorts of unusual things in a person’s life today? I’ve gotten some pushback on that, but I think I have made a good case in the novel.

Obviously, I am not writing to sell books to make lots of money. I try to write my passion and let God take care of the rest. My name as an author may never be more than a footnote on the publishing world, but God has freed me to write what he has placed in my heart. His judgment and not the world’s is the only thing that really matters.

Again—writing is like driving at night and seeing only as far as the headlights. It requires a great deal of faith, but as Christians, faith is the only safe path to walk.


“Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you make the whole trip that way.” ~ E.L. Doctorow Click to tweet.

Write your passion and let God take care of the rest. Click to tweet.

Writing requires a great deal of faith, but as Christians, faith is the only safe path to walk. Click to tweet.

Jeth Cavanaugh is searching for a new life along one of Pennsylvania's mountain ridges when he stumbles upon a stable of show jumpers owned by Rob and Katie Chilton. Throw in a volatile gaited stallion named Dynamo, and Jeth will do anything to work there. He earns his living by training and showing Rob's jumpers, but Dynamo is his primary passion.

Everything changes when God enters his life—in the unconventional form of a hard slap by an old girlfriend—and ignites a new, greater passion within him. But along with fervor comes fear at the undeniable evidence of God's hand on his life. Inexplicable events, both good and bad, make him moan plaintively, "Why does God do this to me? I get the feeling I'm being set up for something."

He is, indeed. Jeth's life is anything but predictable, much like the God he serves. The real Dynamo and his ultimate trainer emerge out of an excruciating mix of disaster and brokenness, which are never beyond the reach of redemption.

This story is God in your face: Who is He, really? What does He ask of us?

Ellie Gustafson writes pretty good books these days. She’s been 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 II computer 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 mouse wars to house building, help bring color and humor to her fiction. She does like to laugh a lot.

She 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!

Dynamo is her fifth novel and builds off her lifelong love of horses.

To learn more and connect with Ellie: