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Interview with Rosslyn Elliott

I recently had the pleasure of meeting up with Rosslyn Elliott. Rosslyn writes inspirational historical novels about ordinary people of faith who find extraordinary strength in hard times, which is evident in Sweeter than Birdsong, the second installment in the Saddler’s Legacy Series. This novel contains many gripping elements, one of them the fascinating storytelling about the abolitionist movement. In addition to writing, Rosslyn possesses many other talents, which I’ve explored in her interview below. If you’ve never seen this author’s work, you’re in for a treat.

In Sweeter than Birdsong, Kate Winter joins a musical performance on the stage, and Ben Hanby is the one who casts her for the part. Did your BA in English and Theater Studies play a role (no pun intended) in this novel?
Ha, a good question! My studies in theater help me when I depict performers, directors, or musicians, because it’s easier to get inside their heads. I’ve sung onstage, and it hasn’t always gone perfectly, which gives me sympathy for Kate and her stage fright. I’ve also directed plays and musicals, which makes it fun to create the frustrating or amusing things that happen to Ben when he’s trying to put his musical together. I think my studies in vocal music also helped for this novel, because I had to know what kinds of performance would be in fashion for amateur middle-class performers in 1855. I also had to consider lots of details such as how the key would have to change if a baritone and a soprano each sang the same song.

Wow, you wear many hats! Speaking of which, what ways did your study of American literature inspire you to pursue your lifelong dream of writing fiction?
I spent my young adulthood dancing around the writing dream, always pursuing something in a literary field but lacking the confidence to finish a full-length novel. But after I finished my doctoral dissertation by completing a few pages each day, I realized that novels must be written the same way: with faith that it will all come together, persistence to get the words on the page, and grace to accept one’s own failings. I had to mature spiritually to have the courage and stamina to write a novel. Writing my dissertation was part of that maturing process.
Sounds as though you’ve had many challenges, Rosslyn. What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time between your husband, daughter, horses, and dogs?
I never want to cheat my family of their time with me, so keeping them first is the challenge. The dogs are the easiest part: they minister to me more than I help them! But my daughter’s horse pursuits take up a lot of time, though we enjoy it very much. First, there’s a half hour commute each way to the stable. Then she has her physical conditioning and training for 2 hours, 3 times a week. And because I’m assisting her coach by cleaning, tacking up, and lunging three horses, there isn’t time off for Mom. But caring for the horses centers me and takes my mind off my work and the other pressures of life. Horses are therapeutic for many people, and I find them calming too. I don’t know how I would have made it through some very stressful publishing moments without the horses and the way they remind me of God’s providence.

You mentioned God’s providence. How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I lost my faith in my teens and didn’t find it again for ten years. This is one of the central truths of my life, and living a decade without faith in God was a very painful and dark experience. However, I know there was a purpose to what happened, and my dark decade equipped me to write about a wide variety of characters at all points on their faith journeys. After one of my friends read Fairer than Morning, she asked me from where I had drawn the emotional power of some of the tougher parts of the story. I replied that I may not have lived Will Hanby’s life, but I know what it means to truly despair and to know the type of loneliness and brokenness that only happens to people without God. And I’m thankful that because of that personal knowledge of darkness, my joy in my faith is deeper, and I can share that joy as part of my stories too. I can never forget that the love that really matters is the love of God. And so when I write a love story, it’s not complete unless it reflects that type of love.

Although you’ve endured many trials, it’s clear God’s given you great insight and strength on your writing journey. What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
I’m just starting out, so instead of ‘greatest moment,’ I’ll say ‘most rewarding moment.’ I think it may have been holding my first copy of this book, Sweeter than Birdsong. This was actually the first novel I ever wrote, but it’s chronologically second in the Saddler’s Legacy series. So when I held it for the first time, I experienced the wonder of seeing my first novel in print almost four years after I wrote the first draft and over five years after I decided to write the series.

That’s amazing—to see the first novel you wrote in print. Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
In this case, the story found me. When I finished my graduate work and got up the nerve to try writing my first historical novel, I was living in Westerville, Ohio. I decided to go visit a local house museum to research nineteenth century life for this unformed novel I was vaguely shaping in my head. Before the tour, a guide took me into an outbuilding and showed me a video about the Hanby family, who had lived in that house. By the time I stood up thirty minutes later, I knew that I had just been given an amazing true story that needed to be told. The Hanbys lived romantic, action-filled lives marked by courage, and most importantly, they served others out of faith and love.

I’m inspired by real history. I’m passionate about the past and the spiritual lessons it has to teach us. I know that Americans are becoming less informed about history with every decade, so my dearest hope is to help preserve the past and keep it from being forgotten.

Although I think your way with word imagery (and lyrical flavor) gives your novels a distinct flavor, what do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?  
I’ve wondered about the fact that reviews in different publications have referred to my novels as “well-told tales” or commented on the storytelling flair in them. I was curious about this because I didn’t set out to write “tales” and I didn’t try to create my own style or voice. I just wrote the best books I could write. I paid a lot of attention to action, suspense, and forward motion, but also to creating characters who were realistic and compelling. So perhaps what these reviewers are seeing in my work is that it’s a fusion of a number of elements not always found in historical romance: a love story, yes, but also a suspenseful action-adventure, and guided throughout by a strong theme. Maybe this is what leads reviewers to describe a novel as a “tale.” But I’m not going to spend too much time reflecting on it, because I think it’s healthier to follow wherever I’m led by a story, and not to think too hard or worry too much about who I am as a writer. My background and taste will naturally shape my material into whatever is my ‘voice.’ 

Before we finish up, do you have any parting words?
My publisher is hosting a big giveaway right now to celebrate the release of Sweeter than Birdsong! You can win an Ipod Touch and other prizes by going to: There will be a big Facebook party on February 28th to announce the winners, so keep watching my author page on Facebook.

I also love to have readers stop by my other hangouts on the Internet. First is my website and blog at There’s a contact form on the site plus a comments section on the blog if you want to chat or ask a question. I’m also on Twitter @RosslynElliott. Come say hello!

Thank you so much for sharing with us, Rosslyn! You are a delight, and I truly enjoyed getting to know you.

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