Elena Yates Eulo’s internationally published novels include her critically acclaimed Civil War novel, A Southern Woman, published by St. Martin’s Press and by Presses de la Cite in France; Ice Orchids, published by Berkley Books and by Star Books in Britain; and young adult novels published by Holiday House.
In addition to writing novels and short stories, she has been a journalist, playwright, screenwriter, and ghostwriter after a brief career as an actress and professional singer. It was her creative writing class with the esteemed professor and author Sidney Offit of New York University that changed the course of her life when Professor Offit advised her to turn her attention from stage to typewriter. During her time in New York she met the actress Samantha Harper who introduced her to metaphysics. Elena was raised in Sligo, Kentucky, where her grandmother, Topsy Morgan, owned a country landmark restaurant not unlike the one in The Two Sisters’ Café. In the back room of the White Cottage she listened to colorful and poignant stories confided to Topsy by friends and neighbors and acquired an ear for authentic small town characters. To learn more about her books, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author.
From high school on, my teachers told me I should be a writer. In college, I burned everything I ever wrote, wanting to be something else, but there is no burning destiny. Later I wrote what I thought people would like, not what I wanted to write. No success. Then I ghostwrote other people’s work, and they had much success. In my own writing, I couldn’t hold myself to one genre, had trouble creating an identity. I wrote: ICE ORCHIDS, a sci-fi adventure; A SOUTHERN WOMAN, a Civil War drama; THE TWO SISTERS’ CAFE (co-written by Samantha Harper Macy), a fantasy; and two YA sports books. I also co-wrote a bit of TV and children’s theater plays that were produced off-off Broadway. My newest novel, traumatized girl-meets-traumatized horse, is set in a small Kentucky town during World War II and will soon be submitted to publishers by the Vicky Bijur Agency. My next novel, now in process, is set in yet another small Kentucky town, this time in the sixties, and is a character-driven mystery. Actually all my novels are propelled by my characters. In this, I am consistent.
Outliner or Seat-of-the-Pantser?
Oh, do I try to have an outline. Oh, do I end up in outer space barely held by a thread of my raveling pants to that seat. And oh, do I pay the penalty of not being more organized in my thinking. I would not have had to do over a year’s rewrite on my recently completed book had I forced myself to be more logical in plot progression.
What piece of advice would you give the younger you?
Take your writing more seriously, write more, be more selective, and follow the advice of that New York agent who asked to meet you on her trip to LA. Remember what she said, younger self??? And I quote: Go to bookstores and read until you find the kind of writing you like, preferably on the bestseller’s list. You have the voice that can get you there. But you need discipline and you need to read, read, read. You need to find yourself, so LOOK! Ahem. Um . . . I’m still looking . . .
If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
I think I’d choose Alice Walker. I would ask: How do you bring life to such wonderful characters, how to you handle plots that stretch over years while your characters age and change, while never letting down the subtle momentum that keeps your readers unable to put down your books, how do you trust that you will find readers as deep and wise and wonderful as you are?
What advice would you give to new writers?
Don’t let the drama of your own life become bigger than your writing. Instead, use it to feed your writing. Keep a pen and pad by your bed and when you wake in the middle of the night, force yourself to write something right then, right there. Don’t measure your day’s work by word count but rather by the quality of what you wrote. Don’t be easily satisfied. Be ready to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Be hard on yourself. Work hard! I remember many years ago going to a writer’s conference that Stephen King attended. No one could get over that while the rest of us socialized all day, he stayed in his room with his earphones on and wrote his eight hours. Every day, five days a week, he wrote. Do that. Maybe not eight hours. Maybe six. But do it.
What do you miss most about being a kid?
Most people have a hard time believing me when I say this, but it’s true: I remember almost my entire life, even scattered memories of myself as an infant. Certainly, I remember being potty trained, learning to tie my own shoes, choosing my breakfast in the country cafe I was raised in. Most importantly, I remember what it was like to think as a child. I so miss the clear, beautiful working of a new and un-programmed mind. Because I remember what it’s like to have that, sometimes I can write from that space. When I do, it’s my best writing.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
That would be leaving home. I spent many years being terribly homesick. I bring many of those people and places back to life by writing them. If I could do it all over again . . . well, actually, I don’t think I could leave again. It comforts me to think that maybe I have grown in ways I could not have grown without all the pain of being on my own in cities like New York and Los Angeles. Maybe my mind has become broader, maybe I am more accepting of other people’s foibles, maybe I am not so foolish as I once was. I think I knew I was supposed to go, supposed to think past my old thoughts, supposed to wander. I guess next time I’d take a better road map with me and prepare a more organized life plot. I’d say, wait a minute, this plan needs a good outline. What happens if you get caught in the desert? (That’s what I call the middle of the book.) What if you can’t get out and die out there? Maybe you need to get a real job and just stay home. But then maybe I would still go. If it’s part of the book, you have no choice, do you?