THE STONES by Eleanor Gustafson
1) How did this story come to you?
The David story is unparalleled for its sheer drama, complex characters, romance, and tragedy. The Bible version, however, lacks a certain dimension, and I wanted to make the story and characters come alive and accessible for the average reader. Many have told me that I succeeded well and that the book brought a new and vital understanding of David and the Psalms.
2) Tell us about the journey to getting this book published. All told, I invested 15 or more years in researching, writing, and marketing the book. From the beginning, I felt strongly that it would be God’s timing and not my own that would land a publisher. I had a friend who prayed faithfully with me all those years, and I dedicated the book to her. The Big Moment came, not through one more query letter, but by going to church one morning. There I greeted a former interim pastor who had come that Sunday to preach on missions. He asked if I had found a publisher, and when I said no, he gave me his son’s business card as a contact at Whitaker House. That key did indeed open the door, and Whitaker House took me on. My interim pastor friend, Dr. Tim Tennent, has since gone on to become president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He is also one of my very special endorsers.
3) What do you love most about being a writer?
I have always loved stories, and I love to create good plot lines and solid, believable characters. Editing, however, is my favorite part of the process, and I polish my writing with love and patience. I don’t write fast and normally work through a novel at least 50 times. I enjoy chopping words, making dialogue authentic, finding a better way to say something. I love breathing spiritual content into the story without sounding hokey. The Stones was relatively easy, in that the plot line and characters were already laid out for me to fuss over and plump up.
4) What frustrates you about being a writer?
Lack of time. My life does not revolve around just writing, as much as I love it. I am driven relationally to welcome and interact with strangers and the “little” people in church. I maintain through email, phone, and regular mail a large network of relatives and friends, including a man in prison. I am passionate about missions and serve on the missions team at our church. That too involves much correspondence, sometimes in Spanish, which I don’t speak. My husband of nearly 55 years requires a fair amount of relational time, much of it on our daily, hour-long walks. I’m trying online networking but lack the time required for effective interacting. This interview with Dawn, by the way, is a networking spinoff, and I am grateful to her. And trips to Vermont and our tree farm to cut and haul several cords of firewood per year. Then there’s housework—but let’s not go there. Writing gets squeezed in somehow, but not easily.
Another serious problem for me is that my books tend to fall outside successful marketing parameters. Even my David book has not sold as well as I would like. It is acknowledged to be good, but it’s long (601 pp) and heavy with innate complexities, even though I tried very hard to make the writing itself accessible to most readers. All along, however, my heart has instructed me to write as best I can as I feed off of God. I was to not worry about copies sold. God is my first and most important market.
5) Tell me three things about yourself that would surprise your readers.
I actively helped build our two-story house—framing, roofing, siding, sheetrock, and finish woodworking—along with a 15-foot canvas tepee for my children and a log playhouse for my grandchildren.
· On my way to a TV interview, I buried a pocket penknife in an airport planter so it wouldn’t be confiscated at security. I dug it up, none the worse for wear, when I got back. J
· Eugene Peterson was the first person to endorse my book. He and Tim Tennent are right up there on my hero list!
6) What are you working on now and what's next for you?
I am writing a horse story with strong spiritual overtones. A five-gaited horse named Dynamo serves as a metaphor for a man’s passion for God and his fear of God.
The long and short of it, Jeth Cavenaugh is terrified of God. For starters, how often does a hard slap send a person into the Kingdom? Good things, bad things, make him moan plaintively, “Does God ever work this way with anyone else? I feel like I’m being set up for something.” He is, indeed. Nothing in Jeth’s life is predictable.
7) Parting comments?
I would encourage you to tackle The Stones. It’s a big book because David is big. He is a warrior—big into war, sex, and blood. But he is big into God and is called a man after God’s own heart, despite his egregious sin. And David’s prickly relationship with his ruthless commander-in-chief Joab: Could David have carved out God’s earthly kingdom without Joab’s military genius? This is a novel that will make you see David and his psalms in a brand-new and thoughtful way. Check out the reader responses to my book on Amazon.
And thanks for listening to all of this! May God breathe his Spirit on your writing.