Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Ellen Lindseth

Ellen Lindseth is a graduate of University of Colorado, Boulder, and the Carlson School of Management. She has also studied at the Loft Literary Center (Minneapolis, MN) and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the Romance Writers of America (RWA). She is the author of the novel A Girl Divided, a 2019 finalist for the RWA’s prestigious RITA Award, and “As Time Goes By,” a short story chosen for publication in the Midwest Fiction Writers’ anthology Festivals of Love.

When not writing about resourceful women of the 1940s, she feeds her passion for adventure by flying as a private pilot, researching new experiences (such as performing burlesque onstage for a local fundraiser), and traveling the world with her husband (also a pilot) in search of plot ideas.

Lindseth's new novel is The Long Path Home.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Quite a bit really, as it reflects both the heroine’s physical journey through the course of the book as well as her emotional one. I wasn’t sure at first, though, to be quite honest. The working title, the one that guided me through the story’s creation, was Violet Exposed. That one would have accurately portrayed the dilemma the heroine, Violet, finds herself by the end of the story, when her many personas get in the way of finding true love and redemption.

While readers might not be burlesque dancers, or runaway daughters, or even find themselves in the midst of a spy plot, I think we all eventually face the choice of whether or not to reveal our true selves to someone else. And I think we all secretly wonder if we would have the courage to do so?

My publisher, however, thought my working title sounded to much like an erotica, and wanted me to come up with a more wistful title. Not being an author who is wedded to her titles, I tossed out some ideas, and we settled on The Long Path Home.

With the benefit of time, I think this new title does give the reader a better feel for both the external plot in which she travels overseas with the USO to a war-torn Italy, hoping to free herself of murder charges and find her way back to Chicago, and the internal one where she is forced to reconsider her past decisions with the hope of one day reconciling with her family. Both journeys are perilous. Both journeys – if she has the courage to see them through – will ultimately lead her home.

What's in a name?

For me, a great deal. Take Violet, for example, my heroine. I wanted to give her an old-fashioned name that would’ve been popular during WWII, one that could be shortened into an affectionate nickname, and would also reflect her character. In the language of flowers, the sweet-scented violet symbolizes truth and loyalty – two virtues my Violet struggles with and then ultimately embraces.

I also loved the idea of calling her Violet because the plant itself, if you’ve ever grown one in your garden, is so resilient. Once established, it is next to impossible to eradicate. This unexpected toughness in something appearing so fragile and lovely is a key trait of Violet’s throughout the story.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find endings incredibly difficult to write. Where to start my characters on their journey is far easier -- they tell me. In what I consider a lovely gift, my characters come to me fully formed, with all their quirks and traumas already in place. My role is to decide what their ‘Happily Ever After’, or perhaps ‘Happily For Now’, would look like. Then I create the experiences that will guide them, which isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Like in real life, there are many paths to the same result. There are always different versions of success that might lead to happiness. Because I want to explore all the possibilities, I find it incredibly hard to pick just one.

Which is where the editor comes in. The painful truth is that sometimes I pick the wrong ending, or don’t make it clear enough, or don’t continue far enough into the character’s future to show the pay-off. When my decisions are challenged, I might resist at first, but the reader’s experience always comes first for me. So when my editor says, “You might want to re-look at this,” I almost always do.

In the case of The Long Path Home, my initial vision was challenged quite a bit. I think I rewrote the ending at least five different times, changing the location of the pivotal scene twice, the characters involved, and even Violet’s role. At the suggestion of my wonderfully supportive editor, I also added a couple scenes at the end in order to increase the emotional payoff. At times the process was quite painful, but the resulting narrative is something of which I’m extremely proud.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

While there are definitely aspects of my personality in all my heroines, they are not me. They may share traits (mostly my flaws), but they are distinct individuals. That said, I do try to put myself in their shoes as much as I can, so as to really know them.

With Violet, I knew she was a burlesque dancer, and not a bit apologetic about it. Having been on stage in small academic productions, and danced as an adult in recitals, I already had an idea of how addictive applause can be. But to addictive enough to strip? I wanted to explore that, and actually was lucky enough to take burlesque classes from, and then perform with the Rose Academy of Burlesque here in Minneapolis. I’m here to tell you, stripping on stage was indeed a rush, even if I will never, ever do it again.

Still, I’m glad I did it as the experience gave me deeper insight into Violet’s character, an insight I hope managed to make it onto the page where the reader can experience it, too.
Visit Ellen Lindseth's website.

--Marshal Zeringue