Eleanor Gustafson has been published in fiction and nonfiction since 1978. Her short stories and articles have appeared in numerous national and local magazines.
A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, Eleanor has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. She calls on her experiences to infuse color and humor into her books.
Eleanor and her husband, Jim, live in Massachusetts. They have three children and eight grandchildren.
What sparked your writing journey?
My earliest memories (apart from staring out a window while an “accident” created a puddle) center on stories. My mother fed them to me, and I soon began creating my own. A story brought me to the Lord, and story has been a strong player in my life ever since.
How does your faith play into your work?
Perhaps a better question would be, how does your work play into your faith? My passion and understanding of God is the bedrock, and story is the superstructure that stands solid on such a foundation. I try to avoid being preachy, letting the message flow out of the drama.
God sometimes sends us down an unexpected path in life, giving us something better than what we had originally planned. Have you ever experienced such a “divine detour”?
My family was musical, and I fell onto that genetic track. My early plans to be a veterinarian were discouraged by a wise high-school guidance counselor, so I enrolled at Wheaton College (IL) as a music major. Fortunately, I met my husband at Wheaton and never had to make a living playing the organ. Would have been a disaster. Story, though, never left me, and when my kids were mostly grown, I decided to switch from mental creation to paper writing. Thus began a total shift of focus, from involvement in music to publishing essays and short stories and then novels. I feel this was of God, and I never regretted the shift.
Let’s talk about Dynamo (Whitaker House, April 2014). Please tell us about it. What was the catalyst for the story?
Dynamo was one of my early, mental stories. I pulled it from my brain file, looked it over and decided it had potential. It picked up my passion for God and my passion for horses, so off we went.
Jeth Cavenaugh hires on with Rob Chilton at his stable of show jumpers and a cranky five-gaited stallion named Dynamo. He studies Rob and Katie’s spiritual commitment but doesn’t step over the line of faith until his girlfriend Janni slaps him viciously. From then on, God begins to work in unorthodox and unsettling ways. But he does have a church friend, Maybelle, who becomes his guide in this foreign territory. She serves as Jeth’s personal prophet and God interpreter and walks him through the spiritual minefield of God’s unusual activity in his life.
The book is written from a unique perspective and carries a sharp, clear message through a dynamic storyline, strong characters and dialogue. I basically laid out the classical understanding of servanthood. And while the horse part is simply the setting, it does provide an effective vehicle that powerfully communicates who God really is and what He asks of His servants.
I might mention my other book, The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David. In some ways they are similar. God is an active agent in the protagonists’ lives; there’s plenty of sin and brokenness, and both David and Jeth get slapped down. The bottom line for these men, however, is God’s gracious redemption and higher calling.
Our stories often teach us something. What did you learn (about life, faith, and/or even yourself) in the process of writing this book?
My characters get in my face and often serve as my spiritual guides. They speak to me profoundly and prod me to worship genuinely. Or, in some cases, they steer me away from the shoals. In Dynamo, Maybelle serves not only Jeth as a God interpreter, but serves me, as well.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
Well—and this will probably turn off half the world—I almost never snack, regardless of the emotional climate. I do, however, occasionally go out for ice cream just for the sheer enjoyment of its sweet, creamy coolness. AND—speaking of celebration—we eat ice cream on the first day of summer and even more enthusiastically on the first day of winter because of the sun’s shift northward. Well, actually, spring and fall get recognized, too. Does that say anything about my love of ice cream?
This website features musicians as well as writers. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
As I said, music is in my genes. I have played piano, organ, trombone, assorted recorders, and have sung solos and in ensembles and choirs. I loved choral directing but never had a choir that could do really great music. I’ll have to wait on that for my heavenly choir. But then the pendulum swung away from music and toward writing. Musical bits and pieces do show up in my writing. My first novel, Appalachian Spring, is the title of a symphonic work by the composer Aaron Copeland, and Jennifer’s housemate was into classical music. In Dynamo, Jeth’s girlfriend had a musical mother, but with Jeth, she utilizes fine music for its lovemaking potential.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
When I was young, I loved to dance around the living room to the classical work Bolero by Ravel. It starts softly but gradually crescendos to a raging, rhythmically hypnotic climax. Another song was Mountaineers’ Dance from Khachaturian’s Gayne ballet—a rough and thundering brawl of music. Both of these never fail to set fire to my heart. I think that’s the dramatist in me, passionately desiring to move readers emotionally.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
None of the above. I’m still trying to answer that question. I have always been my own person—not a joiner, happiest on my personal track where I could pursue my thoughts and dreams and make up stories. A girl once very shy but now needing to greet strangers, to listen to troubled hearts, to welcome and hug and love on people. Please tell me who I am!
I’m a dog lover (and horse lover too). Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.
No pets allowed as a child, but I sort of adopted a friend’s dog. Got into horses big time in my teens when people down the street bought a pony for their granddaughter. Idyllic days! I dedicated Dynamo to the woman who shaped my life during those years. She shared not only horses, but flowers and birds and time, freely given. After I married, our only pets were Speedy and Spooky, two anole lizards that required live flies, spiders and mealworms that sometimes hatched and flew around. We also had a German shepherd that struck fear in the hearts of visitors. If only the Dog Whisperer had been around back then! I did rescue three baby raccoons and raised one of them for six weeks. A true adventure!
Thanks, Ellie! It’s a pleasure to have you as a guest at DivineDetour.
A pleasure to be your guest! Thank you!
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For more information about Ellie, visit her website or her blog.
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