Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Meet Rosslyn Elliott

As the child of a career military man, Rosslyn Elliott lived in four states and two foreign countries before she graduated from high school. She attended Yale University, where she earned her BA in English and Theater Studies. After five years working first in corporate New York City, then as a schoolteacher, she entered the Ph.D. program at Emory University and finished her dissertation in 2006.

Her study of American literature spurred her to pursue her lifelong dream of writing fiction. She has won awards for both her fiction and non-fiction writing, including two Carol Awards for Fairer than Morning, which was also selected as one of Lifeway’s Ten Favorite Fiction Reads for 2011.
Here's the backcover copy for Rosslyn's recent release, Sweeter than Birdsong:

Music offers Kate sweet refuge from her troubles…
           But real freedom is sweeter.
Westerville, Ohio, 1855: Kate Winter’s dreams are almost within reach. As the first woman to graduate from Otterbein College, she’ll be guaranteed her deepest wish: escape from the dark secret haunting her family. But with her mother determined to marry her off to a wealthy man, Kate must face reality. She has to run. Now. And she has the perfect plan. Join the upcoming musical performance--and use it to mask her flight. 

Ben Hanby, Otterbein College’s musical genius, sees Kate Winter as an enigmatic creature, notable for her beauty, yet painfully shy. Then he hears her sing—and the glory of her voice moves him as never before. He determines to cast her in his musical and uncover the mystery that is Kate. Still, he must keep his own secret to himself. Not even this intriguing woman can know that his passionate faith is driving him to aid fugitives on the Underground Railroad.

A terrifying accident brings Kate and Ben together, but threatens to shatter both their secrets and their dreams. Kate can no longer deny the need to find her courage—and her voice—if she is to sing a new song for their future.

Sweeter than Birdsong is a stirring novel of hope and faith inspired by real historical people and events.

Welcome, Rosslyn. What else can you tell us about Sweeter than Birdsong?
Many of the people in the novel are real historical figures, including Ben Hanby and his family as well as Kate Winter, a brilliant young woman who was one of the first women to graduate from college in the USA. The novel also includes an African-American hero named John Parker who bought himself out of slavery and then helped others run to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Many aspects of Ben and Kate’s courtship in the novel are true. Kate’s mother wanted her to marry a wealthy man, and so she vigorously opposed Ben as a potential suitor for Kate. All of the Hanby family are based on their real-life selves, including Ben’s pesky younger brother who causes some serious problems for our main characters. Finally, the novel gives us a look at college life in the mid-19th century because Ben and Kate both attended Otterbein College, which still educates students in Westerville. There’s a historical afterword in the back of the novel that goes into more detail about fact vs. fiction, but I always caution friends not to read it first, unless they want to read some spoilers about the plot!

What was the initial spark for this story? Describe the journey from story idea to finished manuscript.
After I finished my doctoral dissertation, I had decided to try my hand at writing my first historical novel. I was living in Westerville, Ohio at the time, so I decided to go visit a small local house museum so I could research all the kitchen artifacts and farm tools. Before the tour, a guide took me into an outbuilding and showed me a video about the Hanby family, who had lived in that house. By the time I stood up thirty minutes later, I knew that I had just been given an amazing true story that needed to be told. The Hanbys lived romantic, action-filled lives marked by courage, and most importantly, they served others out of faith and love.
In what (if any) ways is Kate Winter like you? Was this intentional? Does she have qualities you wish you possessed?
Kate is like me in my late teens, when I was very unsure of myself in many ways. Like Kate, I had been sheltered to an almost unhealthy degree, so I didn’t really know how to make my own decisions or how to know that what I believed was true. So I could understand Kate’s process of coming to know herself and learning to examine her beliefs and her faith for her guidance, instead of looking for the approval of others. I do wish that I were as ladylike as Kate! But, having been raised in the twentieth century, there are some historical graces that I simply didn’t absorb. However, I’ve never been as shy or reserved as Kate, and that is a good thing since her extreme shyness is a problem for her!

Thank you, Rosslyn, we look forward to learning more about you and your writing tomorrow. 

Answer Rosslyn‘s question below for a chance to win a copy of Sweeter than Birdsong. Include your email address in the form of name[at]domain[dot]com and respond before 8:30 a.m. EDT this Friday morning to qualify for the drawing. This week, U.S. and Canada readers may qualify. 

As I come to a transitional point in my writing career, I’d love to know about your own big decisions. Have you ever made a decision that went against conventional wisdom, but proved to be the right one nonetheless? How do you know when to follow that inner calling?


Angela Holland said...

This is kind of hard question for me to answer. I don't think I have had to make a decision that went against conventional wisdom but maybe I am wrong and don't know that I did. I guess you could maybe say my decision to get married at 17 went against conventional wisdom but I feel it was the right one and am still married after 23 years.

Thank you for the chance to win

griperang at embarqmail dot com

Jasmine A. said...

I haven't really made any decisions that went against conventional wisdom. The closest would be that I haven't conformed to the pattern of most people in their teens and 20's (I am in my mid-20's now). One of those things is that I choose not to date, instead I am leaving that up to God and trusting Him to handle my life. I will admit I have had to explain myself many, many times but I know that I am doing the right thing.
Jasmine A.

Amy Campbell said...

I went to college for many years to get my degree. I gave up my field to stay home with my kids. I could be making big bucks right now but money doesn't bring happiness. Staying home and watching my kids grow does bring happiness.
Campbellamyd at Gmail dot com

Wendy Newcomb said...

I can't think of anything off the top of my head, but I'm sure there have been times in my 60 years that I have made decisions that went against conventional wisdom and I can say that I am happy with where I am today, so they must have turned out okay.


Pam K. said...

I read these interviews backwards (part 2, then part 1) so my answer to Rosslyn's question is in the comment section for part 2.
I love to read historical fiction. It is even more interesting to me when it is based on real people. I think that adds another layer of responsibility for the author to be true to the characters and to really research all the details. I admire authors who can do this well. Thanks to Rosslyn for telling us the story of the Hanby family.

Anonymous said...

Rosslyn, I really can't think of anything in my life that seems to fit your question. I really do like the sound of your new book tho. I like to read about this time period in our history. I sure would love to be lucky enough to win your book. Thanks for this chance.
Maxie ( mac262(at)me(dot)com )

Ginger Solomon said...

I have...
Conventional wisdom says 1.8 children is enough. I have 7. And...I homeschool. :)


Rosslyn said...

Thanks for coming by, everyone! I like hearing the stories of your unconventional decisions. And Ginger, my hat is off to you with your seven! I just about manage to homeschool my one. :-)