Elizabeth White (www.elizabethwhite.net) is the author of CONTROLLING INTEREST, OFF THE RECORD, FAIR GAME, FIREWORKS and the Texas Gatekeepers series for Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired Suspense line. She lives in Mobile, Alabama.
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Elizabeth White is the author of such Christian romance titles as CONTROLLING INTEREST, FAIR GAME, the Texas Gatekeepers series, and the newly released TOUR DE FORCE. In this interview, White discusses what prompted her to center this latest novel on a character from a previous work, and describes how she was able to portray the world of professional ballet so accurately in the text. She also reveals her most and least favorite aspects of being a novelist, elaborates on the role her spirituality plays in her writing, and shares what she hopes readers will take away from her books.
Question: When and where were you born?
Elizabeth White: I was born fourteen million years ago in Mobile, Alabama, but I grew up in North Mississippi. Let’s just say I came of age in the Disco Era. Yes, children, bell-bottoms and sparkly vests. It was not pretty.
Q: Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books influenced you the most as a child?
EW: I lived at the public library in Southaven, Mississippi, and pestered the life out of my elementary teachers asking to go to the school library when I finished my work early --- which was every day. Also, my two best friends’ mothers would buy them books, which I was allowed to borrow. I read all the Nancy Drew books, all the Trixie Belden books, all the Black Stallion books, all the Little House books, and on and on. My parents bought a set of encyclopedias from a door-to-door salesman when I was about four, and I would sit in the floor to read them when I was bored.
Most influential books were Louisa May Alcott’s. I read them so many times I can quote big chunks of LITTLE WOMEN and LITTLE MEN.
Q: Who are your favorite authors and why?
EW: I’m going to avoid listing Christian fiction, because so many of my favorites are my friends and I’m afraid I’ll accidentally leave someone out. So I’ll start with Georgette Heyer for Regency romance... Lois McMaster Bujold for sci-fi... Max Brand and Zane Grey for westerns... Samuel Shellabarger and Elswyth Thane for historical fiction.
Q: Who are your heroes?
EW: You mean famous people? One is Laura Bush. What a classy lady. I have friends from college who are now on the mission field. Honduras, Africa, Thailand, inner-city Fort Worth, southern California --- those are true heroes to me.
Q: How did you become a publishing author?
EW: Nothing terribly unusual. I’ve written stories all my life, but I took a college fiction-writing course and got seriously bitten by the bug. That’s also where I met my critique and brainstorming partner. When my son was a baby, I finished a YA novel (which is on a shelf and will never see the light of day), which garnered initial interest from Bethany House. When they passed on it, I made up my mind to learn whatever it took to write publishable fiction. So I joined RWA national and the Gulf Coast Chapter RWA, where I went to workshops and networked with editors, agents, and other writers. At a conference in 1998, I met an editor from Tyndale House, who bought my first novella for their HeartQuest romance series. "Miracle on Beale Street” was published in January 2000.
Q: What was your inspiration for TOUR DE FORCE?
EW: Gillian Kincade was a character in last year’s OFF THE RECORD. As the off-beat teenage sister of Judge Laurel Kincade, Gilly took on such a distinct personality (as characters often do) that she demanded a story of her own. I had already set her up as a ballet dancer, so I “grew her up” and gave her a career as a budding star on the New York stage. I watched hours and hours of ballet videos on the sites of Ballet Magnificat, a Christian ballet company in Jackson, Mississippi, as well as the New York City Ballet. I also interviewed dancers with those companies, notably Kathryn Morgan, who is from Mobile and now dances in NYC.
Q: Did you model any characters or experiences in the book from reality?
EW: You mean, do I dance? If you could see the bruises on my knees just from trying to make it across the Wendy’s parking lot, you wouldn’t ask that question. But since you did... I once took tap, jazz and rudimentary ballet as a child. I learned just enough to pick up elements of the dance language. As noted in the previous question, I interviewed several real dancers to discover issues related to injuries, interpersonal relationships, rehearsals, performances, costumes, staffing... I wove as much of that kind of stuff into the story as I could, without compromising the privacy of my interviewees. So --- no one character is a “real person;” but each is an amalgam of truth. I don’t know if that even makes sense to anyone who isn’t a writer.
Aside from the dance elements, Gilly’s tightly-knit family is very similar to mine. We are all musical and bookish and quirky. I imagine my sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews will recognize little inside jokes.
Q: Have you ever felt the Lord speak through your writing?
EW: Of course. Often, as I write, I am weeping at truth He whispers --- sometime shouts --- into my heart. In TOUR DE FORCE, one scene in particular --- the scene where Gilly is at her lowest point and finds herself ministered to by her antagonist --- wrenched me deeply. I thought, Lord, I sometimes get so consumed with anger against you and people who hurt me that I’m startled by your way of miraculously healing relationships, as well as bodies. He is truly good to redeem bad situations. Grace.
Q: What are your dreams for your writing? What dreams have you already reached in writing?
EW: Like all writers, I dream of reaching a far-flung audience. My private joke is that a real writer is a closet exhibitionist --- in that we crave that audience. Even when I was writing stories as a child and hiding them under my bed, I dreamed of being a published author like Laura Ingalls Wilder or Louisa May Alcott. I consider it the height of honor to have been published by my three wonderful Christian publishers. And one of my dearest dreams has been reached in discovering that people have come to know the Savior through reading my books.
By the same token, I’ve learned to hold my gift lightly and never presume that I “deserve” publication. God has got good plans for me --- and if He moves me away from writing for publication, well, there’ll be something just as worthwhile to do. It probably sounds cheesy, but all I want is to be where He’s working. That’s one of the main spiritual themes I was exploring in TOUR DE FORCE. I pray it comes through.
Q: What’s your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
EW: Favorite: Reading a letter from someone who has been challenged by one of my stories to seek the Lord or fall in love with him a little more. I also love research. I’m a lifelong learner, and I just get a charge out of learning about personalities and history and how things work.
Least favorite: The first draft. It comes out in excruciating jerks and starts, like vomiting glass. Is that too graphic? Revisions are painful in a whole ’nother way. Sigh.
Q: What do you hope people come away with after reading your book?
EW: I think I said it in a roundabout way in a previous question. But maybe I can clarify. TOUR DE FORCE is about the fact that gifts are given, not for our own benefit, but to be spent at the feet of Jesus --- a return gift of love to Him. As I wrote the book --- even that painful first draft --- I had a mental image of Mary of Bethany breaking her jar of nard and dumping its contents on Jesus’ head. In fact, while I was in graduate school I wrote a poem from Mary’s point of view. It’s a little weird, so bear with me...
from day one---
sister superchick and brother deadmanwalking
listened to the party line
but i said screw the consequences and
blew past for the gold.
now he’s here---
the messiah’s fiery eyes
know my worms and sniffles
see the midnight blue odor of fear
and he won’t look away.
on my knees---
find the alabaster death jar
beneath my bed
nobody knows they’ll be wide-eyed
but i don’t care anymore it reeks.
so i dump it on the only one to earn its price
release my hair to scandal’s tune
press my cheek on dusty feet
mud salt tears
Q: How can readers learn more about you and your upcoming releases?
EW: Feel free to visit my website, www.elizabethwhite.net.
© Copyright 2009, Elizabeth White. All rights reserved
Click here now to buy this book from Amazon.com.
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