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Interview: Deb Elkink, Author of The Third Grace

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What one does for love. Deb Elkink moved from the bright lights and busy city life to an isolated cattle ranch far off in the prairie grasslands when she fell in love and married an introverted cowboy. Between learning to pilot a light aircraft, sewing for a costume rental store, and cooking for branding crews of a hundred, Deb Elkink managed to graduate with a B.A. in Communications from Bethel University in St. Paul, MN. She also holds an M.A. in Theology (both summa cum laude).

Deb Elkink’s award-winning debut novel, The Third Grace, is set in the contrasting locales of Parisian street and Nebraskan farmyard. Her story seamlessly incorporates Greek mythology and aesthetics with the personal search for self. Ms. Elkink’s writing has been described as “layered and sumptuous,” “compelling,” and “satisfying.”

Readers can learn more about Deb Elkink and her work by visiting the following links:

Facebook ~ Website ~ Amazon Author Page ~ Barnes and Noble Author Page

Could you please tell us a bit about your book? The story? The characters?

My main character, Mary Grace, changed her name when she was 17—the summer she fell in love with the French exchange student visiting her family’s Nebraska farm. François whispered in her ear dark and alluring stories of Greek mythology that left her craving for something more than her parents’ simplistic life and faith. Ever since that summer she’s answered to the name “Aglaia”—one of the Three Graces and icon of François’s seduction. And ever since that summer she’s fought against drowning in waves of her love and loss.

Now, 15 years later, Aglaia is a costume designer in Denver, climbing the ladder to success in the world of the arts. She believes she’s left the plodding farm girl far behind, but “Mary Grace” is not so easily displaced, as Aglaia is about to learn. Dr. Lou Chapman, her mentor, is wooing her with a job offer at the university, manipulating her for personal ends. Her current boss, Eb MacAdam, is a fine, mystical gent who has the girl’s best interests at heart and is sending her to Paris on a work assignment. One friend from childhood with a secret is attempting to reconnect and draw Aglaia back to her rural roots, and another gives pivotal information that helps her understand the cryptic mystery behind François’s abandonment.

When her mother sets her the silly task of actually finding François in Paris to return to him a Bible he left behind as a youth, Aglaia resists—until she notices handwritten comments in the margins, sensual jottings by François referring to their long-ago summer fling. She immerses herself in the memories as she seeks François through the streets of Paris, the fields of the farm, the pages of the book—and finds herself in the process.

How did you come up with the title and how much say did you have on the cover design?

The Third Grace refers to a Greek goddess, one of the three Charites said to preside over the banquet, the dance, and all the fine arts. I first saw James Pradier’s 1831 sculpture of these characters in the Louvre in Paris and identified one as the central figure in my novel. My publisher came up with the book cover and it enchanted me the moment I set eyes on it! We tinkered—the two of us—with a few renditions but stayed with the main idea. His artist absolutely captured the feeling I was going for, with the background of the sand hills and windmill overlaid with a head shot of the marble statue. The title and the cover art suggest the metaphor of stone I used throughout the story, the imagery of the Rock that brings forth fresh springs in the desert contrasted with the swampy sea of emotional memories threatening to submerge my main character.

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt that you would like to share from your book?

“Aglaia angled her glass and looked into its blood-red interior. Wine was a symbol of communion, she thought, and she was using it with carnal deliberation to seal this relationship that had so much to offer her.” (page 13)

“’Stay the night with me, Aglaia. Share some of your treasure.’ His words thrilled her, and then to sweeten the invitation he covered her mouth with his, parted her lips with his tongue, and she could have thrown herself into him then, could have drowned in him. But the picture of Joel with lacerated fists popped uninvited into her mind—her brother who was willing to shed his own blood for her teenaged virtue.” (page 207)

What are some of your favorite ways to promote your work?

I just love talking to women—in groups or one-on-one, face-to-face or by email (after all, I’m a writer of relationship fiction). I carry around a stash of info postcards in my purse so I don’t need to be exhaustive when verbally describing the story, and I hand these out with pride because the novel’s cover photo is so attractive! Promoting through the Internet is less personal for me but allows me to be more detailed and precise in my synopsis—and blogs are so much fun to write, easily tied to my novel and interesting to read in and of themselves. And, because I’m not the introvert most writers seem to be, I actually enjoy radio and TV interviews!

What is a typical writing day like for you?

I wake up too early and stay cozy in bed beside my husband while I gather my wits, until he heads off to his work. Then I make a coffee and hunch over my computer, still wearing my PJs as long as I possibly can. Because we live on an acreage and have few unexpected guests, I’m unconcerned about showering or dressing until after I take an exercise break in late afternoon. For inspiration, I look up and out of my kitchen window at the ancient red barn on our property—with its background of lush green grasses rippling in the summer breeze or deep snow banks whipped about by stormy blizzard winds. I’m a binge writer—when I’m drafting, I hardly stop to eat except to snack on fruit or (I admit) a cookie, though I take phone breaks to chat with my daughters, my mom, or my sister. I usually shut my computer down at suppertime and spend the evening with my husband.

What are some ways that you like to relax?

One or two days a week I to immerse myself in the society of friends and family, and every now and then my husband and I honeymoon over a Saturday night at an elegant hotel or—less often—for seven days on a Mexican or Mediterranean beach (in the shade with a hat and a book). I relax by reading, sewing, cooking for family, or window shopping. I love watching movies, especially psychological thrillers as well as BBC’s various mystery series. (I just finished the second run-through of Inspector Morse, and have you discovered Doc Martin yet?) International travel is my favorite type of relaxation and research, and I’ve got notes and memories covering vacation destinations from London to Naples, Istanbul to South Africa, Buenos Aires to Havana, and of course Paris—my favorite metropolis of all, and the setting of The Third Grace.

What author/s do you think are overlooked in the writing/reading world today?

Our culture owes a debt to the classical European authors whom I regard as “fictional theologians”—Dante, Milton, Lewis, Tolkien. Particularly I think G.K. Chesterton’s body of writing is under-appreciated by today’s writers and readers, who mine his work for clever quotes but neglect the riches within his full-length novels and collections. His breezy Victorian style isn’t always easily readable, I admit, and can become burdensome, but his incorporation of life philosophy within imaginative story is fascinating. (In fact, Chesterton was the subject of my graduate thesis.)

What author would you most like to meet and why?

I think I’d like to meet Joanne Harris, the author of the 1999 novel (subsequently movie) Chocolat. I’d quiz her about themes I suspect she was hinting at but didn’t come right out with. I would ask her, “How does your chocolate motif relate to the grace we find taught—but sometimes not practiced—within the Christian church?”

Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to share with readers?

I’m currently drafting my second novel: Libby, a Minneapolis salesclerk being harassed by a bag lady, is on the verge of her first house purchase, but her best friend is tempting her to spend the money instead accompanying her to “sacred sites” around the world. Libby tours a mansion museum in North Dakota to discover her own heritage and the true meaning of “home.”

What is something about yourself that would come as a surprise to many people?

I was born and reared an uptown girl—went to university in the Twin Cities, rode the streetcar in San Francisco, got to know Tokyo. That is, I’ve always been comfortable as an extrovert in crowds of people under bright lights on busy streets. Then I married a cattle rancher, moved to the isolated countryside deep in the Canadian prairies, and succumbed to the pain and pleasure of the rural lifestyle. Many people would be surprised that my extroverted city-slicker exterior hides a contented homebody within—who makes jam, bakes bread, takes joy in solitude. I love the contrasting adventure of travel to exotic places but am not at all interested in living in town.

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About April Pohren

  • Deb Elkink

    I can’t believe I missed this nice comment by Sheila Deeth–until now, almost a year later! Thanks for the observation about our shared fondness.

  • I have a great fondness for GK Chesterton too. Nice interview.