Wednesday, January 4, 2012




Hello Elise, thank you so much for taking the time to interview with Great Minds. You mention that you were home-schooled for much of your High School years. How do you think this helped you with your writing career?

To this day I still believe that home schooling was one of the best things my parents did for my creativity. I was homeschooled from kindergarten through tenth grade. My parents worked hard to give me a hunger to learn. My early education gave me time to pursue my own interests—art and writing—once I’d finished my homework, and that made me motivated to do it as fast as I could. I hope to home school my own munchkins when I have them!

You started your love of literature very early! At age 4 you were reading, age 6 you were drawing your own picture books and at age ten already typing. What were some of the earliest inspirations that you can remember?

My parents read My Father’s Dragon to me (very young), as well as The Chronicles of Narnia. I have memories from my mother describing stories from Tales of the Kingdom as well, though I read it much later in my adult life, trying to recreate the memories. Come to think of it, I was raised a lot on fantasy and adventure stories (themes that are still present in what I write today!)

What are some of your favorite authors now and what genres do you love best?

My favorite authors at the moment are Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, C.S. Lewis, and Orson Scott Card. I love rich worlds and clever plots, but most of all I love characters who I can laugh and cry with and all of these authors offered that to me. I’ll read just about any genre if the characters are strong and compelling enough.

From reading your bio you seem to have a genuine love for everything artistic. How has this made a difference in your life, compared to most young women your age?

Another thing about home schooling—you get to dabble in your interests and develop them at your own speed. I liked painting, so I did that for a while. I took some dance and singing lessons, too. I think exposure to all the arts created a deeper sense of expression and appreciation in the words that I put into my stories.

My acting classes in college were among the most helpful because they trained me on what makes a character a real person, and how to understand the minds of both a tortured soul as well as a bubbly, mindless airhead. I had to flesh the characters I was portraying on stage into people who an audience would believe were real. This has helped very much with writing my own characters.

What other genres, if any, have you thought about writing in?

Fantasy, especially urban fantasy is a front-runner right now (see the answer to my next question). Given my literary roots and childhood exposure, I think that the themes of adventure, fantasy, magic, romance, and mystery will intermingle in my future stories. My friends tell me I write a lot about death, but I think that’s just because I enjoy stories with high drama, and death is a high-stakes reality for all of us, always.

What are you working on now and when can we expect your next novel?

My current project is an urban fantasy: A fifteen year old boy discovers a magic door that gives him sight into the future and, he hopes, the ability to face his abusive father.

It’s a different focus and genre from “Moonlight and Oranges,” and so far, it’s been terrifically fun to write. Editing is always the monster I must face, eventually. As far as when to expect it, I spent about three years editing “Moonlight and Oranges,” but I’m praying this new novel won’t take quite as long!

Do you allow your husband to read and critique your work?

 That makes me smile. Yes, I do. James reads my work before anyone else. He’s seen rough drafts of all my short stories and chapter drafts of all my novels. He’s not a literary guy—he works as a structural engineer and designs buildings—but he really enjoys a good story, and tells me what he likes about mine—it’s usually the action or suspense scenes!

Tell us about other inspirations in your life and your writing process for "Moonlight and Oranges.”

I get a lot of inspiration from things I read or see. For example, ever since I saw the movie “The Illusionist” with Edward Norton, I’ve wanted to write something about magic tricks and illusions. I don’t know what the story will be, just the backdrop. That’s often how stories start, with a sense of something, like the setting, or a character’s desire. I plan as much as I can before actually writing, and then I step off the proverbial cliff and begin the freefall.

“Moonlight and Oranges” was written in three-hour stints while sitting in coffee shops once a week. I was working a job at the time and I’d told my employers that I reserved Fridays for writing. They could take me for four days a week, or find someone else. Since my bosses had received personal recommendations for me, they were willing to give it a try. (Note: when you want to pursue something that isn’t bringing home the bacon, find a way to work your job as little as possible—while still covering your basic bills— so that you have time for your pursuit).

I finished the draft and gave the story out to friends and family, continuing to revise and cut and enhance it based on their reactions. Finally, I gave it to my critique group, and we went over it with a fine-tooth comb. It was harrowing, I almost gave up on that book and on myself countless times, but I had many loving hands reaching out to pull me back on track.

What is one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to you in your life, something besides your writing career?

Before I say, you should know that I met my husband swing dancing.

This September, he and I celebrated our third year wedding anniversary in Florence, Italy. The night of our actual anniversary, we ate a fancy dinner in the town square, listening to live music from a quartet, enjoying a bottle of chianti, delicious food, dessert…the server even teased that since we didn’t have kids, that night was the time to start trying. When we were walking home, arm in arm, we decided to dance to the live music from the quartet before heading for our hotel. When the song ended, we were about to slip away, but the crowd was screaming for us to give another dance and the quartet players were waving us over to dance directly in front of them. So we began another dance, this time with the awareness that everyone was watching. James dipped me theatrically, I spun in my little white dress that we’d purchased earlier that day, and we felt like a million bucks when everyone applauded. A few days later, James and I were walking past a shop, and the owner leaned out and said in English, “That was very nice dancing two nights ago.” That was when we knew that we had become famous.

I loved this moment so much, I wrote a blog post on Dancing in a Florentine Piazza.

Do you have any advice you'd like to share with other aspiring writers?

Write as often as you can, even if it’s just fifteen to thirty minutes in the morning before you go to work or while you’re on the bus. Easy does it. I’ve noticed that I build momentum this way. Soon I have enough ideas that I can sit for a few hours on a Saturday and churn out something full of energy.

Write on a timer. My rule: the pen has to stay moving while the timer is running. Personally, this makes me disciplined in getting words onto paper (there is no minimum for quality). I write my stories more quickly and efficiently through this technique. I also have a minimum daily word count of 1000 words.

Find a friend with similar dreams and make a “writing date.” Give yourselves time to catch up and chat for a while to sooth the social butterflies, then do some serious writing (you can time it, if you want). Afterward, resurface and chat about your work. This camaraderie is a lifeline to all writers, both published and unpublished. I adore and jealously guard my writing buddies.

Thank you again Elise for this amazing opportunity. I hope to interview you again in the near future.

Thank you, Kitty! It’s been fun get to visit!

Elise Stephens received the Eugene Van Buren Prize for Fiction from the University of Washington in 2007. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys seeing live theater, swing dancing, eating tiramisu, singing, and painting. She lives in Seattle with her husband James. Her novel Moonlight and Oranges was a quarter-finalist for the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @elisestephens

1 comment:

  1. What a great and helpful post! Thanks so much for sharing you! Mark