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Interview with Elizabeth Camden

With eloquence and grace, and not a little advice from her own experience, Dorothy Mays, writing as Elizabeth Camden, shares pieces of her philosophy, personal history, and writer’s heart with us.

Tell us a bit about your responsibilities other than writing, and what’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with those other responsibilities?

I am a college librarian for my day job, which is a fabulous career for a writer to have. On any given day I might help students research the arcane details of a renaissance court case or what qualities make a Beethoven symphony great. Other days I am dissecting the migration patterns of sea birds or how cheese is made. This constant exposure to a huge range of topics helps trigger ideas I pump into my writing.

I’ll admit that there are days when I am so exhausted after work that I don’t know if I can summon the energy to write, but I use a little tip I read in a running magazine. When you don’t feel you can squeeze in a workout, allow yourself the luxury of quitting only ten minutes into the run. Anyone can find time for ten minutes, right? Once you get motivated to hit the road, the odds are very good that you’ll be happy to continue the complete run. In all my years of running, I have only quit at the ten-minute mark two or three times. This advice holds true for writing. By the time I’ve got the computer booted up and re-read a few pages, the creative juices start to flow and I rarely quit after ten minutes.

Balancing work, family, and writing is hard, but it is also a joy. One of my favorite quotes is from A League of their Own when Geena Davis has reached her breaking point and is getting ready to throw in the towel. Tom Hanks scolds her, “Of course this is hard. If it was easy anyone could do it. It is the hard that makes it great.” I think this line is true in almost any endeavor that is really worthwhile…starting a business, raising kids, training for a sport, writing a book. It is the hard that makes it great.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
One of the great things about sharing our Christian faith is that there are so many different avenues we can take. Some people are fabulous public speakers or have a natural aptitude for counseling. Others are selfless missionaries. As a deeply introverted person, those avenues are difficult for me, but writing has always been a joy. I find this is the best way for me to share my sense of hope and spirituality with others.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
I’m still pretty new at all this, but I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to receive my first fan letter delivered to my author’s email account. After years of writing in lonely solitude, my book had finally made it into the hands of a real-life reader. And she liked it enough to dash off an enthusiastic letter in the middle of the night! That was huge for me. For someone who suffers from almost terminal insecurity, those letters mean a lot to me, and I’ll never forget the first.

Why did you choose to use a pseudonym?
Probably the most common reason people use a pseudonym is that their real name is either too hard to spell or is already taken by a well-known personality. My real name is Dorothy Mays, and there is a Playboy Playmate with the same name who has maintained a racy website for years. I simply did not want to compete with her! Not in the world of inspirational fiction, anyway.

I do need to publish nonfiction under my real name for my work as an academic librarian. Probably the nonfiction work I am most proud of is a book I wrote called Women in Early America: Struggle, Survival, and Freedom on a New World (ABC-Clio, 2005). That was great fun to write because I got to delve into the history of women living during an amazing era. Most of my other nonfiction is dry, dusty stuff dealing with library operations or curricular reform on the modern college campus. Not for the faint of heart, but necessary if I want to be a tenured librarian on a college campus!

Who/What spurred you to write novels?
Have you ever fallen in love with an art form so badly that you wanted to go beyond simply enjoying it, and start producing it? I think this is how most artists, musicians, and writers get lured into their craft, and it was the same for me. Reading has always been such a significant part of my life that I got to the point I wanted to try producing the kind of novels that had such a major impact on my life.

I love emotionally charged stories, so romance was a natural genre for me. I would be comfortable writing either historicals or contemporaries, but since I have a strong background in historical research, it seemed silly of me not to capitalize on that as a basis for launching a fiction career. I am lucky that historical romance sells very well, as it is certainly my preferred genre.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I love a good stormy romance, which isn’t very common in inspirational fiction. My stories aren’t safe. I want turbulence and heartbreak and danger and romance. My characters have huge dreams and are willing to risk everything in order to make them happen. When they fail, they do so in a spectacular fashion. When they love, it is with both hands stretched out and no-holds barred. I love a deeply emotional love story, but also want glimpses of wit, delight, and joy sprinkled in amongst the drama.

Finish this statement: If I started my writing career all over again, I would want to know…
I would want to know and understand the importance of networking. I spent years and years working toward publication, and made a ton of mistakes along the way. I think I could have avoided them if I had a network of fellow-writers where I could swap battle stories.

In all honesty, I am still terrible at networking. Juggling a full-time job with a hectic writing schedule doesn’t leave a lot of free time for getting established in local writer’s groups. This is why the various ACFW online groups have been terrific for me.

Any parting words?
I’d like to thank you for hosting me on the ACFW website. I love rambling about the publishing industry and the romance genre in particular. I blog regularly at http://elizabethcamden/blog Since I am a librarian, I also post lots of pictures of gorgeous, mouth-watering libraries. I hope you will stop by for a visit!

Thanks for sharing with us, Ms. Camden.

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