Monday, August 24, 2015

An Interview with Elisabeth Grace Foley

Today I'm delighted to be interviewing fellow writer and blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley! 

Elisabeth Grace Foley is a historical fiction author, history buff and insatiable reader. She has been a finalist for the Peacemaker Award for Best Independently-Published Western Novel, for Left-Hand Kelly, and is also the author of short story collections The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories and Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories. Her work has appeared online at Rope and Wire and The Western Online. Her other books include a series of short historical mysteries, the Mrs. Meade Mysteries; and short fiction set during the American Civil War and the Great Depression. When not reading or writing, she enjoys music, crocheting, watching old movies, watching football and basketball, and spending time outdoors.

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1. (Heidi) Some differences and similarities you see between the three major forms of storytelling—literature, music, and film? 
(Elisabeth) I’ve always seen music as more of a companion to storytelling—maybe because I enjoy film soundtracks so much. I often put a story to music in my head, but I wonder if it’s influenced by knowing the music was meant to evoke a certain kind of story or setting? In film, a lot is often conveyed by implying or hinting—showing the actions of characters and leaving it to the audience to understand or fill in the blanks themselves. It takes a skilled filmmaker to do that well. But I think literature always has the advantage when it comes to depth, because the author can tell the reader as much as they want to tell—of characters’ thoughts and motivations, or the hidden causes of events.

2. How have you seen those three mesh together in your own creative process? 
Music and film often help inspire the way I picture stories playing out in my head—I do a lot of daydreaming and planning for stories before I ever put them on paper. Letting my ideas get too “cinematic” can be a stumbling-block too, though; if I imagine the visuals of a scene too exactly I sometimes end up struggling to find the words to describe it to my own satisfaction. Striking a comfortable balance is the thing!

3. When and how did you first begin writing? 
I started writing and illustrating my own “books” made of drawing paper almost as soon as I learned how to write. Growing up, I was always scribbling a little and sometimes daydreaming about being a published author; but I really grew serious about writing and began practicing it in earnest in my late teens.

4. What are you currently working on? 
I just finished a complete rewrite of a novel manuscript: a historical/Western novel I first wrote about four years ago. I’m going to let that sit a little while before I dive into editing it, and my immediate project will be doing final edits on and publishing The Silent Hour, the fourth entry in my Mrs. Meade Mysteries series. 

5. Particular author/s who have influenced you? 
Oh, there’s so many. I suppose every author I enjoy has influenced me in some respect—but the most tangible influence has probably come from two that I always put near the head of my favorite-authors list: O. Henry and B.M. Bower.

6. Is there a “non-writing” activity that shapes your writing? 
I like going for walks when I get stuck, or simply when I have an idea brewing in my mind and want to think it out a little further. Walking always seems to clear my head and set all the wheels in my brain turning.

7. Your opinion on the advantages and disadvantages of digital books? 
I’ve had a Kindle for several years, and as a reader, I love it. It’s helped me discover and have easy access to hundreds of books I might never have found otherwise. As a writer, it’s also wonderful to be able to create my own ebooks and launch them to readers almost instantly from the comfort of home. But I do still love physical books—reading nonfiction, for instance, especially for research, doesn’t feel quite as comfortable on an e-reader. And then, I’m always hesitant to place complete trust in technology—I’ve experienced enough crashes and loss of files for that—so I do think any book with hopes of living on for posterity ought to have a print run too!

8. Do you ever do graphic design to help with your writing? 
No, that’s one area in which I am not gifted! That’s why I chose to have my book covers designed by other people with the necessary skills.

9. Do you outline? If so, in a general way or very detailed? 
I outline loosely—I often make a list of scenes as I shuffle the events of the story into the proper order in my head. For a short story or novella it usually falls into place pretty simply, but for a novel I’ll rework the outline as needed if the story changes and develops while I write it.

10. Do you work on multiple projects at once? 
Sometimes. I picked up a helpful tip for beating procrastination once: have two or more projects “open,” so to speak, so if you really get stuck with one or tired of it, you can switch to another for a little while. I find that does work. That way I can still be accomplishing something, and eventually come back to the first project a little fresher. 

11. Do you edit as you write? 
I handwrite my first drafts, and my pages are often pretty chaotic with scrawled margin notes, markings and suggestions for alternate wording or phrases that could be left out, etc. Then when I type the story for the first time, I examine all this and sift out the best phrasing—so that basically becomes my first round of edits.

12. Certain themes you see surfacing and resurfacing in your work? 
Hmmm. Well, one connecting element that I notice is that whatever sort of story I’m writing, it usually deals with relationships between people, whether they’re family, romantic or otherwise.

13. A particular aspect of writing you struggle with or a challenge you’ve overcome? 
In a general sense, I suppose you could say organization. I’ve struggled with sticking to a project till completion and being distracted by attractive new ideas. I think I’m in the process of overcoming this now; I’ve been developing a work routine that seems to serve me well.

14. How do you deal with feedback—particularly negative feedback? 
For negative, the process usually goes something like this: gulp, wince, try not to think about it for a while, and then come back later and try to consider in a reasonable, level-headed manner whether the criticism is just.

15. One thing you’ve learned from other writers? 
I’ve learned (or at least I’m learning) not to worry about whether the stories I write best and enjoy most are “serious” or “meaningful” enough, especially compared to other writers’ work. I’ve seen writers whose work I admire pursuing the path where their own interests and talents lie, and I’ve realized that’s the way to produce your truly best work.

16. A helpful nonfiction book or website? 
One remarkable little book that I found very encouraging and helpful is Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. It’s about creativity in general, but extremely applicable to writing. 

17. What do you consider one of the single most important things to remember (i.e. an attitude or technique)? 
There is one attitude I’ve come to realize the importance of: don’t rush. I’m extremely thankful that I didn’t rush some of my early manuscripts (which I thought were good at the time!) into publication. Sometimes it’s a good thing to let the manuscripts pile up, so you can look at them objectively after you’ve practiced your craft for a while. And even when you’re more experienced, don’t rush a particular project; work at it carefully until you’re sure it’s the very best you know how to make it.

18. A word of encouragement for fellow writers? 
No matter how difficult and exasperating writing can be sometimes—we write because we love it, don’t we? At the heart of it all, it’s just plain fun. Don’t forget about that during the tough times; remember the moments when you laugh out loud at something your own character said, or when you’re walking on air because a scene came out just the way you wanted it to. There’ll always be more of those moments.

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Note from Heidi: Thank you so much for visiting today, Elisabeth! It was such a pleasure having you!
And everyone, be sure to visit Elisabeth Foley's blog at


  1. Awesome interview with an author whose work I greatly enjoy :-)

    Elizabeth, I also tend to visualize what I'm writing very vividly, only I don't usually get bogged down in writing out exactly how it looks to me -- instead I struggle with making sure there's enough descriptions so people actually have a sense of what's going on! Because I can see it in my head, I tend to feel like everyone else should too, and have to remind myself that if it's important that readers know where things are and what they look like, I have to write that stuff too!

    I also tend to have at least two writing projects going, often one I'm writing and one I'm revising. Then when I get stuck or frustrated, I can switch -- it's so helpful, isn't it?

    Your advice not to rush is good. I was banging my head against some rewriting decisions last week, and I realized that I just needed to let the story alone for a week or so, let myself get some perspective, not force myself to work on it when I was getting nowhere. Obviously there are times when you have to meet a deadline, but generally... don't rush. Absolutely.

  2. Thanks so much, Hamlette (and thank you, Heidi, for having me here)!

    I'm an odd mix of visual and non-visual, I think—I can picture things like action in a scene clearly enough, but people's faces and the interiors of rooms, for example, are a mental blur. Whereas some of my siblings can draw faces straight from imagination!

    Yes, I often switch between projects in different stages too—it can be a relief to fall back on something comparatively less intensive like line-editing when a first draft gets snarled up.

    1. Character faces tend to be a bit blurred for me as well, actually, except in closeups now and then. The same goes for when I'm reading -- I'll get a general face-shape in mind for characters, hair color, etc. and then let everything blend together. Hmm.

  3. I know what you mean by making things "cinematic" being a distraction! I greatly enjoy casting people from movies and (though having their manner of walking, their voice inflections, etc. before me can be so inspiring) it can also be somewhat discouraging, too.

    I will be sure to keep the "don't rush" in mind as it not only good advice, but encouraging as well.

    BTW: I have read Left-Hand Kelly and I really enjoyed some of the side characters! Matt in particular being a new all-time favorite character of mine. :)

  4. I often "cast" characters too...and then sometimes find the more I write, they morph into a more original character in my mind so that they don't really resemble the original model any more. It's funny.

    Oh, I'm glad you liked Left-Hand Kelly! Matt was a favorite of one of my sisters too—it's rather a case of one of my own creations surprising me with how readers have taken to him. :)


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