Q&A: Elaine Isaak

Elaine Isaak
There are a lot of wonderful writers living in our state. As the Director of the NH Center for the Book  I get the opportunity to talk to many of them. This interview series of Q&As with New Hampshire authors here on Book Notes lets me share that experience a bit with my blog readers. 
If someone hasn't read your work yet, where should they start?
The start of my current series is Elisha Barber.  This is a dark historical fantasy about medieval surgery—it was a lot of fun doing the research, but perhaps not for the faint of heart!

When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
I knew I wanted to be a writer from a very early age. I actually have a tiny Snoopy notebook with "stories" I wrote in the first grade. I was grateful to have a teacher who sometimes let me stay in during recess and hide out in the Reading Hut in our classroom to read and to write. One of the magic moments of my first book publication was when this same teacher came to a book launch event and I got to thank her in person.

How did you end up living in NH?
My folks and I moved to Hollis toward the end of junior high.  When I decided to leave college, I returned to the state, first sharing a seacoast apartment with my sister, then returning to my parents' house. I met my future husband at a poetry reading in Nashua, and we've been living in different parts of the state ever since.

Where do you like to write?
 I have a small, but dedicated writing office on the first floor, with one sunny window, sometimes distracting when birds are flying around outside, or simply when I'm thinking that it looks like a good day for a hike.

How important is place in your writing?
I do a lot of research before I write, and researching the setting is critical to that process.  Investing in the place of a story allows you to really dig in and explore the characters who live or visit there, the specific sensory details of the environment, and how its history and landscape can influence the story.  For my Elisha series, set in medieval England, I bought the Ordnance Survey maps of the specific areas where the story takes place, and also had a chance to visit many of my settings to capture the feel.  Sometimes, studying the maps gives me ideas about scenes or where to set them.  The right place adds incredible resonance to a work.

What do you do when you aren't writing?
I'm the mother of two, and I also work part-time as an outdoor guide and climbing instructor for the YMCA in Goffstown.  It's a great balance for being alone in my office, playing with my imaginary friends.  Being an adventure guide gets me outside, working with people and being active.  I'm also doing a lot of hiking with my hiking partner, hoping to do Kilimanjaro some day!

What’s the best piece of advice (writing or otherwise) you were ever given?
"There are two ways to get to the top of an oak tree:  catch that first limb and climb, or find a good, healthy acorn, sit on it, and wait."  Too many people I know, especially would-be writers, choose to wait rather than to start working, but it's only when you begin, when you take chances, try and fail, that you discover your passion and you improve your art, whatever that art may be.

What books do you love and what about them speaks to you?
 Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, which blew my mind, and showed me the emotional impact a great book (conveyed through a great character) can have.
Richard Bach's Illusions: the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, because it proclaims that we are capable of anything we strive to do.
Tim Powers' Anubis Gates, which is an experiment in beautiful prose and bizarre, yet effective, plotting.
Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, because inside the room of my mind, a forest grew and grew, and that is what great books are really about:  what grows inside the mind of the reader. 

What are you working on now?
I have just sent an Asian historical epic about a clockwork doomsday machine out to my beta readers, and am now developing the plot for my first action/adventure novel.

You can learn more about Elaine’s work at www.TheDarkApostle.com/books

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