Thursday, September 3, 2015

Thorn and Petal

Hi everyone, Sandra Orchard here, since I am happily filling my days with "grandchildren time" (our new grandson arrived 2 weeks ago), I invited fellow Canadian author and winner of the prestigious Grace Irwin award for her 2012 debut novel, Deb Elkink, to share a bit about her writing journey.

Of course, first, I can't resist including a gratuitous pic of the newest addition to our family. <big grin>  (This would be the borrow Deb's illustration. As a grandparent, I get to avoid most of the thorns--sleepless nights, dirty diapers <wink>)

Am I blessed or what?! 
And yes, I'm worse than those Grandmas with the brag books, 
I take every opportunity to show off my adorable little ones to the entire cyber world!

Take it away, Deb

A novel is like a bunch of fresh roses: You don’t get the perfume without the prickles. Excellent fiction demands rigorous research and exacting composition.

Twenty years ago, I attended a writers’ conference with the manuscript of what I naively conceptualized to be my first novel. Confidence wilted beneath the blast of a brutal blue-pencil session, and the plenary speaker didn’t revive hope of timely publication when saying we must earn the right to be read by “paying our dues”: taking courses, inviting criticism, writing obituaries and church bulletins and letters to the editor, reading everything, expecting rejection . . .

Now, I’d wanted to be a novelist since my preteen love affair with Nancy Drew. I wrote innocent poetry in grade school and angsty romance in junior high. Throughout high school I eschewed math and science for arts-based electives. Even my first degree in communications (though resulting in personal devotionals printed in Sunday school papers) depended more on imagination and expression than knowledge and interpretation. To this day I find fantasizing more natural than factualizing, creative yarn spinning more satisfying than dry researching. After all, it’s easier to let my imagination fly than to plow the earth for proofs. Emotions don’t require footnotes.

But native creativity takes me only so far before I hit the wall of ignorance. Artistry is essential for God’s people; the Tabernacle and Temple might never have been built without it (Exodus 25-28; 1 Kings 6-8). But exercising imagination is a concept tied, also, to an evil heart (Gen. 6:5; Luke 1:51). Proverbs 2:3-11 instructs me to seek knowledge, insight, understanding, common sense, and wisdom.

So I decided, after finishing my fifteen-year tenure as home-educating mom, to develop my mind by returning to school myself. I enrolled in seminary to ensure theological coherence before I set whimsical pen to paper—and I learned the first rule of scholarly writing: Consistency and clarity are king. The thorny strictures of academic study protected my budding imagination so it could bloom within the orthodoxy of right thinking.

Under an exacting advisor, my master’s thesis combined biography with literary criticism to explore how British author G.K. Chesterton imbued his fiction with symbolism. This demanded wide reading in English classics as well as biblical studies, and (along with several years of my academic editing and of writing for a national professional quarterly) it prepared me, finally, to draft my first novel, The Third Grace

The thesis itself has just been published for general readership (Roots and Branches: The Symbol of the Tree in the Imagination of G.K. Chesterton). My second novel (working title, The Red Journal) is almost completed and comes directly from my examination of the book of Hebrews.

I’m still “paying my dues.” The thorns of fiction writing don’t need to include graduate studies or editing nonfiction or writing professional articles, but all learning is, by definition, challenging. For me, the pleasure of the blooming novel comes with the reality of the thorns. 

Sandra again: Thanks so much for sharing Deb. I love hearing about the widely diverse paths we've each walked to get to where we are in our writing today. 

Deb Elkink writes from her cottage on a creek in the rolling hills of southern Alberta. She holds an M.A. in historical theology (Briercrest, 2001) and loves retelling the timeless truths of Scripture. Deb won the 2012 Grace Irwin Award for her debut novel, The Third Grace. Visit her:

Sandra Orchard is a multi-award-winning author of mysteries and romantic suspense with Revell Publishing and Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense imprint. A mother of three grown children, she lives in Niagara, Canada with her real-life-hero husband and writes full time…when not doting on her young grandchildren. Subscribe to Sandra’s newsletter to receive a subscriber-exclusive mini-novella. Learn more about Sandra’s books and bonus features, as well as writer helps, at or connect at


  1. Hi Sandra, congratulations on the birth of your grandson. Wonderful news.

    And thanks for introducing us to Deb. Great having you, Deb, on ICFW. An excellent post - yes, the fantasising is so much easier than the doing. I so enjoy the research side and it's my great time-waster. Much easier chasing down an idea on Google than putting words on a page.

    Congratulations on your debut novel and your thesis. I think I want to read both (Chesterton has always intrigued me but I'm always a bit intimidated by his brilliance) so I'll pop across to your website to get more details.

    1. Thanks, Ian! We're enjoying him to bits. :D

  2. Deb, thanks for visiting with us :) Writing fiction is not easy and I appreciate novels that are well researched.

    Sandra, congratulations on the safe arrival of your grandbaby! He's adorable :)