Rosslyn Elliott writes inspirational historical novels about ordinary people of faith who find extraordinary strength in hard times. Her debut novel, Fairer than Morning, the first in a trilogy, will be released by Thomas Nelson Publishers in 2011.
As the child of a career military man, Rosslyn lived in four states and two foreign countries before she graduated from high school. She went on to attend Yale University, where she earned a BA in English and Theater Studies. She spent five years working first in corporate New York City, then as a schoolteacher. Her desire for a deeper study of literature prompted her to enter the Ph.D. program in English at Emory University. She finished her dissertation in 2006.
Rosslyn lives in the southwestern United States with her husband. Their young daughter, whom Rosslyn homeschools, walks around the house with pencil and notebook in hand saying, “I just have to finish this chapter.” Then she trips over the dog, just like her mom.
When Rosslyn’s not writing, teaching, or eating chocolate, she enjoys accompanying her daughter to their local stables, where she helps with chores while her daughter learns to ride. Rosslyn loves music and especially loves choral singing. These days she mostly sings lullabies, but she will blast all kinds of interesting things in her car and sing along, from the Winans’ “I’ll Take You There” to Sting’s “Seven Days,” or even some obscure hymn in Welsh.
Rosslyn loves Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate. I’ve filled the cyber shelves with a generous supply of the yummy bars, so everybody can break off a couple of squares (or more—I’m not looking) and indulge while they learn more about Rosslyn and her journey to publication.
Rosslyn’s Journey Begins
•When did you decide to write a novel with the goal of publication?
Despite my love for fiction writing, I was afraid to try it professionally for most of my young adulthood. Two things gave me the confidence to pursue my lifelong dream. First, I met my husband and his family. Their self-confidence contrasted sharply with my own perfectionistic self-criticism. By observing them, I realized that most people who succeed in their chosen careers have to be confident enough to actually try and fail. Imagine that! For someone of my background and temperament, that realization was a milestone. I decided I was going to overcome my self-doubt and fully explore the gifts I’d been given, however my efforts turned out.
The second thing that helped me believe I could write fiction professionally was my graduate study in English. Writing my dissertation was by far the hardest project I had ever tackled, and it was a creative act as well as a scholarly one. After I finished writing 280 pages of complicated literary analysis, I knew that I could complete a novel with the same slow and steady effort.
•How have your education and experiences helped you as a writer?
I’ve trained in writing my whole life. From childhood through early adulthood, I wrote rhymed, metered poetry: either pastiches of famous poems, or my own original compositions. I still believe that writing formal, structured poetry is one of the best training methods to develop a good prose style. Poetic form requires a writer to pay close attention to rhythm, sound, and imagery.
I also did some playwriting in college as part of my Theater Studies/English double major.
When it comes to fiction, I didn’t have a lot of formal training, but I did have the benefit of studying American literature. The crazy amount of reading during my graduate studies taught me about writers, their techniques, and their themes. And I think the cadence of Biblical language that rolls through many of those classic novels is the most beautiful, lyrical model ever.
•Two years ago this month, you received The Agent Call from Rachelle Gardner. How did it come about, how did you react, and how did you celebrate?
I finished my very first novel in May 2008. At that time, I discovered through a writer’s group that widely-respected literary agent Rachelle Gardner was seeking new clients. I sent her a query letter, and she requested a partial manuscript. At that time, I was reading lots and lots of writing websites to give myself a crash course in the business. I realized something unsettling. My first few chapters could use some revision. And those were the chapters I needed to submit to Rachelle!
I didn’t trust my own judgment, as I was so new to the novel-writing craft. I decided to contact a professional editor to get an objective opinion. She agreed to review my first three or four chapters.
That was the best $250 I ever invested in my writing career. The pro editor told me that yes, I had included too much exposition in the first chapter. She also showed me a few writing tics that were weakening my prose and slowing it down. I took her valuable advice, cut the exposition, and plowed through the rest of my manuscript trimming and reshaping. My writing was forever changed for the better. At last, I submitted the improved version to Rachelle.
Three weeks later, in July 2008, I had just finished directing a rehearsal for a children’s musical at our church. As I walked through the building, my cell phone rang, and the caller ID said “Rachelle.” All my synapses fired at once before my brain completely blanked out. I knew that agents never make telephone calls to reject a partial manuscript. They only call to offer representation. I tried not to sound like a complete fool in my excitement, and Rachelle was very kind and enthusiastic. She told me she would be pitching my manuscript at a big publishing convention that very weekend.
•Rachelle called again in February 2010. This was your long-awaited First Sale Call. An agented writer generally knows this call is a possibility because of frequent agent updates, but I’d imagine that doesn’t lessen the thrill. What thoughts went through your head?
Probably very few during the actual call. Ha! I don’t know how it is for other authors, but the first emotion that swamped me was relief. I had been waiting for quite some time to hear whether I would have a contract or not. By the time the call actually came, I was completely strung out from months of waiting.
No matter how many times I told myself that I needed to just let go and focus on other things, the strain of the waiting was intense. It’s like going to a job interview for your dream job, and then having to wait a few months for the answer, never knowing when that answer will come. The wait is absolutely brutal at that point, when you are so close but with no guarantees. I have great empathy for any writer in that position. So the first thing that went through my head is “Thank you, thank you that this wait is over.” I think I went home and collapsed in a puddle of spent nerves.
The thrill came slowly, after that First Sale Call. I think I was in shock. Little by little I started to absorb the incredible blessing that I had just received. For a week or two, I would be going about my daily business and suddenly think of some other aspect of what was going to happen now that my series had been contracted. Every time one of those details occurred to me, I would be floored all over again.
Rosslyn Heads Back to the Keyboard
•Rachelle sent your first book out on submission, but it didn’t sell. How did you respond to the news?
That first novel attracted the attention of one major publisher. They liked several aspects of it, and they liked the writing. They told me that they would be happy to reconsider it if I made certain changes. But those changes were drastic. They basically wanted a different book, with only a few similarities to the one I had written. And I had reservations about whether this house was really a good match for me. I felt that the parts of my work that their editors loved might not represent my real calling as a writer.
So I decided that instead of doing a complete rewrite of that novel to try to sell it to them, I would write my second novel and make it so good that it would be unrejectable. (This was an impossible goal, but it gave me something to shoot for!) I appreciated several of their suggestions about craft, so I worked hard to improve the unity and forward motion of my plotting. Still, I did not plan to tailor my second novel to the tastes of that publishing house. I had a feeling that there might be another home for my work.
I wrote a second novel that was true to my writerly calling, but I wrote it on a much higher technical level than my first novel. I had learned so much by writing the first one that I had many new skills to bring to my second. Still, my standards for this new novel were so high that I completely melted down when I was only a few chapters along in the first draft. I was overcome by the difficulty of achieving what I wanted.
But as a writer of faith, I had this reassurance, even in my lowest moment: I did not believe that I alone was responsible for the outcome of my writing. I believed so strongly in the story that I had to tell, and in the good that could come from it, that I did not allow my own feelings of inadequacy to defeat me. I pressed on, determined to continue no matter how I felt.
In the end, after much sweat and thought and prayer, I produced a novel that achieved my goals. It wasn’t perfect, but it was what I had hoped.
•Your study and hard work resulted in the sale of your second book. What advice would you give to not-yet-published writers based on your experience?
Don’t keep working on one novel forever, especially if it’s your first. In conversing with my author friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that first novels cause a weird kind of blindness in authors. We can’t see their faults as clearly. I was so convinced that I could never write a novel as good as my first. Then, once I finished my second, I realized that it was much better than the first. Sometimes, we need to let go of that first novel and move on.
I am SO grateful that my first novel was not contracted. That non-sale was the best thing that ever happened to me as a writer. Even though it can be very difficult to keep writing and writing without a sale, it’s our best chance of developing the skill we need to become expert in our craft.
Rosslyn’s Debut Novel
•Please tell us about Fairer than Morning.
Fairer than Morning is the story of two young people haunted by their pasts who find love and freedom as they assist fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad.
A saddler’s daughter dreams of marriage to her poetic, educated suitor—until a runaway apprentice shows her that a truly noble man will risk his life to free the oppressed.
This is my debut novel. It begins an adventurous love story based on a real family who lived in Ohio and worked to free slaves before the Civil War
Rosslyn’s Journey Continues
•Your first book is in your editor’s hands. What are you working on now?
I’m revising the second novel in my trilogy, which takes place in 1855 and follows the next generation of the same family featured in Fairer than Morning.
•How do you envision your launch party?
I love themed parties, so I can’t resist the opportunity to throw a Victorian-themed party. Plus, I will get to haul out my Victorian-style clothing!
In all seriousness, I am blessed with the support of Thomas Nelson’s publishing staff. They are very, very good at launching debut authors. So while I plan to help them in every way I can, I will always rely on their wisdom when it comes to publicity. It’s possible that there may be a launch party in the real town where my novel takes place.
Five People Who Have Greatly Influenced Rosslyn’s Writing
~ Charles Dickens is one of my heroes. His work taught me that novels have tremendous power for good. Scrooge, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickelby have changed me for the better.
~ I also have to credit my dissertation director as a wonderful influence. Though he wasn’t teaching me to write fiction, he showed me how to work towards my own absolute best in my writing.
~ My sister Kathryn was my earliest writing friend, a constant companion who loved writing and books. We wrote paired poems and made up stories together. She has been one of the major influences in my life, and certainly in my writing.
~ Mr. Moore was my history teacher in seventh grade when I lived in England. He wasn’t one of those teachers who wowed everyone in the class, but his passion for history inspired me. Our history final was the first time in my life that I went home and studied really hard, strictly because I wanted to show Mr. Moore my appreciation. After he graded the exams, which were mostly essay questions, he took me aside after class and told me that I had a special gift in history, and that I should consider going on to study it or work in the field. This staggered me because of my respect for him, and because it was so unexpected. It still makes me a little emotional to think about it. Teachers are so important.
~ There’s no way I could fail to mention Jesus Christ when it comes to influences on my writing. Without the hope I gained from his compassion and grace, there’s a good chance I would not have lived to this ripe age. My highest aim as a writer is to share hope through my stories, not through a preachy message, but by showing how people find joy even in a broken world.
Rosslyn’s Question for You
Will you share with me a historical figure, author, or literary character who is one of your heroes? Why is he/she inspiring to you?
Since her novel won’t be out until next spring, Rosslyn would like to buy you and a few of your friends a cup of coffee with a $25 Starbucks gift card if you are the lucky winner.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Rosslyn by midnight July 2 (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)
On July 3, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)
Congrats to the winner of the Starbucks gift card, Marilyn Turk!
Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.
Learn More About Rosslyn
Visit her website ~ www.rosslynelliott.com
(a temporary site… brand new site will go up by August!)
Visit her personal blog ~ Inkhorn Blue
Friend Her on Facebook ~ Rosslyn Elliott
Follow her on Twitter ~ rosslynelliott