Eileen Astels writes, “faithful romances worth pondering.” She has six books underway. Five are part of “The Olive Series,” a collection of contemporaries set at the fictitious Olive Disability Equestrian Center, and one is a stand-alone.
Nearly seven years ago, Eileen, who has a Bachelors of Mathematics, bid farewell to her job as a systems analyst and began pursuing her love of writing. This “mathie turned romance writer” takes her new career seriously. She puts fingers to keyboard as soon as her kids are on their bus and works on her stories until they arrive home in the afternoon. (Life sometimes gets in the way, and she has to share this time with chores and errands, though.)
Home is Southern Ontario, Canada, where Eileen lives with her supportive husband, three equestrian-crazed daughters, two dogs, two hamsters, a guinea pig and two tanks of fish. When she’s not working on her stories, Eileen likes to spend time with her family, garden and sew.
Join me as we learn about Eileen and her writing.
The Journey Begins
.•What led you to leave your systems analyst job and pursue writing full-time? Why did you choose to write romance?
Two a.m. calls to drive into town to fix a batch run, three kids to get ready for school, and a husband who started traveling more for work are just a few of the reasons hubby and I decided a career change was in order. At the time I quit, we’d planned my new career to be stay-at-home mom in our new country neighborhood with lots of volunteer time at the school, but God had other plans.
I had always had a debilitating fear of losing my husband on his occasional business jaunts. So, it was no surprise that my stress increased when his travels became more frequent.
One day, when hubby was bound for yet another trip and after I sent my kids off to school, I found myself logging onto our old PC and starting a word document. I typed for twenty-seven days straight while the kids were at school, pounding out a story that helped me put my trust in God for hubby’s safety and our future. There began my writing journey.
Romances have always been my all-time favorite genre, so of course that’s what I wrote.
•How did “The Olive Series” come to be? Did the characters come first, or did the story idea take root and become peopled as it grew?
I never really considered my first story as anything but for personal healing as I wrote the initial ill-written draft (waaaay too much telling). But after it was down on paper, I wanted to make it sing, so I started studying the craft of fiction writing.
As I accumulated books on the craft, joined writing groups, took on-line courses, and attended writer’s conferences, I began editing that first draft and realized how much I really liked the story and the characters in it. I grew especially fond of the fictitious Disability Equestrian Center and its surrounding woods and wanted to write other stories that would allow me to incorporate that same scenery. Plus, I wanted to figure out the three daughters’ HEA’s. But since they were still so young in the first book, I needed a transitional story, so the new coach’s romantic journey came to mind as the second in the series, followed by the three daughters’ stories. I still have lots of work to do on those stories, but they are coming together at their own pace.
•You’re not yet pursuing publication of your novels, but you have seen your name in print. Please tell us about your devotion in Daily Devotions for Writers from The Writing Academy and how your contribution made it into the book.
One of my critique partners passed me a request she’d come across about submissions for this proposed book. We both wrote some samples for it, and thankfully, our submissions were accepted. It’s amazing what opportunities are out there to get started in this huge publishing world if you just take a chance and submit. It’s a small contribution, but it shows that everyone’s experiences and thoughts are worth sharing.
•You’re a self-professed seat-of-the-pants writer, so there must be surprises along the way as a story takes shape. What have been the biggest, “Oh, wow! That’s sooo good. I can’t believe I wrote that.” moments so far?
I’m sighing as I contemplate this question because I must admit that the scenes that hit me the most are my heart-wrenching ones. I’m not one to dwell on sad times. I really prefer to pick up the valuable pieces and forget the actual scenario involved when it comes to my poor nerves being shaken, so I never plan for a sad scene to take shape. But they come anyway, and beg for word count.
It’s the growth that comes from those scenes for both the character and for me, the author, which holds the “wow” factor. Second to those are the ones that produce a lip-turning smile or cause a rolling chuckle to escape. Those are usually surprise scenes as well. I’m generally a very even keel person, so to get me physically crying or laughing isn’t easy, especially in books.
As I grow in writing, I’m finding that a short synopsis is helping me with my plotting upfront, so I guess I’m deviating from the seat-of-the-pants writer just a little now.
Potholes and Pitfalls
•In one of the posts on your blog, A Christian Romance Writer’s Journey (a great name for a blog, btw 🙂 ), you said your first attempt at writing was a healing process and helped you cure a fear. We writers face many fears. What are some that tend to trip you up, and how do you overcome them?
Keli, I love your blog name, too. Perhaps we’re more alike than we know.
But, you just had to ask me about my fears, didn’t you? Okay, besides losing my hubby in a spiraling-out-of-control airplane, I house many more fears that I’m constantly attempting to surrender to my Heavenly Father. The sinner in me keeps a tight hold on them, though, it would seem. Most of my story ideas come from inner fears such as, losing a loved one, fatal illnesses, not reaching one’s potential, not being accepted. I strive to write romances that reveal some type of healing for my main character(s).
As far as writing-related fears, my greatest one is never writing well enough. And I’m not meaning for publication, but rather for my own satisfaction. Endless revisions and editing of old manuscripts often depletes any confidence I might discover through endless prayer. I know that God, in His timing, will help me overcome this (and hopefully in a humble way), but as I work to get to that point, my spirit has been crushed more than once along this journey.
Last fall I found that I really needed to step back from the Olive Series titles for a while. The actual writing in those stories just felt too discouraging at the time. I was spinning in circles trying to perfect my words, scenes, and plotting. It was time for a rest from my beloved Disability Center.
I still felt called to write, but I needed to do so with something fresh, so I began working on a stand-alone novel. This one has been very slow going for me. Just getting the characters designed in my head has me backtracking often, but I do feel the story is teaching me, and that’s what it’s all about.
At the end of my life, if not one of my stories is ever published, I know in my heart that God’s purpose for them was accomplished. I learned and grew as a child of His in the process of writing them. Whether or not they are used to help others some day, I surrender to God. That’s totally in His power, not mine. So, I just keep flipping from editing to first-draft writing, to revising, as I feel called to do. It gives me whiplash sometimes, but such is the journey of this writer. Any others like me out there?
Partners on the Journey
•Your critique group, the Pearl Girls, has been a source of support, encouragement and instruction. What are some of the most powerful things you’ve learned about yourself and your writing from your Pearl Girls?
This list could go on forever. Honestly, a good critique group is invaluable on this journey. But it can also be detrimental at times for those with little confidence. You really need to be able to see that each critique offered is just one person’s perspective and thoughts. If I could offer one piece of advice for those starting in a critique group it would be to cherish your writer’s voice. Protect it while taking your critique partners suggestions to heart!
Don’t be too quick to alter your prose just because a member made a suggestion. Instead, wait to receive all of the critiques back, compare them and see what suggestions were duplicated. Really assess if the ideas and suggestions provided will better your work before you decide to do the revisions. And make those revisions in your own voice, not verbatim from a sample offered.
That said, what have I learned from my amazing critique group:
1) My writing skin is getting tougher, so much so that I can receive contest results without a heavy chest.
2) There is always more to learn and simple typos to be spotted.
3) Our stories and writing are very subjective. Accept that not everyone will “get” what you’re trying to say, but rephrase to appeal to as many as possible.
4) Someone will always have another suggestion for you to ponder.
5) I’m the absolute worst in our group with grammar and getting my words to flow smoothly.
6) Critique partners are the life-blood to revisions, editing, and encouraging each other to keep on persevering and writing for Him. I pray that everyone serious about learning to write finds a group or partner just right for them!
The Journey Continues
•What are your plans for “The Olive Series” collection? For your stand-alone? Are you ready to begin submitting soon? And what other stories are dancing in your head just waiting to pour forth?
I truly have put my writing in God’s capable hands. So, I guess that’s why I shrink away from the word “plans” with respect to publication. While I’d like to believe God has publication plans for this series and my newest novel, I don’t want to speculate. I believe if God has put writing on your heart, then it is our duty to venture out there and see if He’ll open the doors to publication.
So, yes, I will start shopping this series and my stand-alone when I feel they are ready. If nothing else, the rejections will build my character, I’m certain. I’m in the process of preparing a proposal right now for the first book in my Olive Series, but then, I’ve been there before and decided against sending out at the last minute. So, until I actually pay for the postage and hand that package over, I won’t commit to doing this. We’ll just have to wait and see I guess.
As for other story ideas, I have a teen novel brewing in my mind and heart. It woke me up very early one morning and keeps seeking attention. Also, that stand-alone I’m currently working on has presented a possible series as well. I’m considering creating an Emmanuel Series from it. Certain characters seem vibrant enough to sustain their own stories, so I have lots to keep my fingers flying and creativity juices flowing. More time would be really nice to have, though!
Joy on the Journey
•You have the joy of working in your recently redecorated writing studio. I’d like you to give us a glimpse of what goes on in your creative sanctuary.
Actually, Keli, since my little dog, Tucker, broke his leg, my writing has had to take place at the kitchen table or in the comfy chair in the master bedroom on the main level of our house. My office is still downstairs. All my files and books remain there, and I print off my hard copies down there, too. I even do my very minimal plotting on my large whiteboard at times in my sunny-walled office, but since Tucker can’t manage the steps, the majority of my actual key tapping is done upstairs where he is free to roam without worry of steps. For now it works, but it’s still great to have everything organized in my own sunny haven a level below.
•Do you listen to music, or do you prefer quiet?
With all the wonderful Christian music out there, it’s sad that I cannot write with any background sounds other than the water trickling from my fish tank pump, and the sound of farm equipment hard at work around our home. The bonus to this crutch is that when my girls and hubby are at home, writing goes away, and they get my full attention. Well, that is unless a good book is underway. Then I negotiate for some reading time in between family activities.
•What beverage is sitting nearby?
Cold, stale coffee. I sip all day long. Nasty sounding, isn’t it!
•Is chocolate a requirement, or is another snack a must?
I’m not a huge chocolate fan, and since losing forty pounds over a year ago, I really don’t snack. Good thing or my keyboard would be quite the mess. I’m still quite disciplined with what enters my mouth and content with that.
•Do you have a pet keeping you company?
My faithful black lab, Tippy, and little YorkiePoo, Tucker, always slumber at my side while I write. Occasionally their snoring brings me back to reality.
•Is your email program open or closed?
Something I’m trying to change, but, yes, it’s open. I’m addicted.
•Is your desktop visible or buried under a mountain of books and papers?
I use a laptop, so it’s always visible and transitory.
•Do you stop to perform research or make a note and move on?
I do both, depending on when the need arises. If I’m in the middle of writing and discover I need to do some research, I just highlight my guess. But if I preplan and know what’s coming, I set aside some upfront time to do the research.
•Do you have photos of your characters or just picture them in your mind’s eye?
I picture them in my mind. They usually resemble strangers I come across in public.
•Do you write sequentially or work on scenes as they come to you?
Mostly sequentially, though on rare occasions I have jumped ahead and written a scene I knew was coming up and couldn’t get out of my head until it was written.
•How do you reward yourself after a great day of writing?
Praise God, act silly with my dogs, and get really creative with my girls’ afternoon snack for when the bus drops them off. They really like it when I’ve had a productive writing day. So do I! They don’t come as often as I’d like.
I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Eileen. And now it’s your turn to ask a question of your visitors? What would you like to know?
Keli, thanks so much for this opportunity. You posed some really thought provoking questions. I learned more about myself in answering them. Thank You!
I’m always curious about how others would describe their writing journey. If asked to finish the following sentence: “My writing journey is one of ………..” what would you answer? I’ll come back and leave my own answer in the comment section, too.
Learn More About Eileen
Visit her Website: www.eileenastels.com
Visit her blog: A Christian Romance Writer’s Journey
Leave a Comment for Three Chances to Win
Eileen’s Special Drawing
Eileen is giving away a copy of Daily Devotions for Writers, in which her devotion appears, to one visitor who leaves a comment for her. She’ll choose a winner at the end of the day on May 4th. (To enter, be sure to leave your email address when prompted. I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.)
Congratulations to Susan, winner of Eileen’s drawing!
My next drawing will take place May 10th. The winner will receive an elegant simulated leather bookmark from Hallmark that reads: “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. – Max Lucado.” Plus, I’m including a $5 Borders gift card to apply toward a book in which to use the bookmark. A nice two-fer!
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by May 10th and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On May 11th, I’ll post the winner’s name in the Welcome post at the top of the blog.
Congrats to Peggy, the winner, who left a comment on Eileen’s post...
You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!
If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by me, your blog hostess Keli Gwyn, just leave a comment on any post between now and May 31. Be sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.
On June 1, I will choose one person who will have her/his choice of several covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your “firstborn” in your hands.
(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)