This month we decided to go local for our author interview series!
We met fellow author and Illinoisan Elizabeth Rago just over a year ago. At a local coffee shop, we got together to talk books and writing, what life is like being women in business; and of course, the joys of motherhood inevitably made its way into the conversational mix. She had just published her novella, On Tenterhooks, and we…well, you know you can always visit us in editing hell.
We fired off ten questions to the vivacious author, and she fired back with some fabulous answers! In her typical fashion, Elizabeth is genuine and insightful. (Seriously, just wait until you read her logic behind marrying a werewolf!) We’re so excited for you to catch a glimpse into her life - be sure to follow her on social media (links below) to get to know her even better!
The Celestial Thread: What is the first story you can remember writing?
Elizabeth Rago: I remember writing a non-fiction piece about penguins in the 4th grade and I still have it today.
TCT: Would you rather have more time or more money?
ER: Hands-down more money. I have all the time I need, I simply have to manage it better. I have so many projects I want to start in terms of making the world a better place and supporting people and organizations and a lot of those ideas need financial backing.
TCT: Name one book that you’ve reread, and one book that you closed without finishing. (And tell us why.)
ER: I've been on a mission to re-read the books I read as a child, so one most recent read for me was "Go Ask Alice". I read it in high school and remember it having a huge impact on my ability to be compassionate towards another person who was going through such a horrible personal descent. I had to read it again as an adult. It hits home a bit harder this time around, because I've known so many people who've succumbed to suicide.
One book that I closed without finishing was "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold. I have a very hard time reading books where children are the victims of heinous crimes. I'm an empath, so those stories not only stick with me but haunt me for weeks and sometimes months afterwards, making life debilitating at times. I recognize these books are powerful, and I can't negatively critique them, but I also cannot bear to read them.
TCT: Your book, On Tenterhooks, is a novella. Why did you choose that format?
ER: I've always absolutely LOVED short stories and novellas. Of Mice and Men, A Christmas Carol, Ethan Frome, Animal Farm, Three Blind Mice by Agatha Christie - all pull you right in and send you on a tale with the characters from the get-go. I live for those quick reads.
On Tenterhooks started as a screenplay originally and honestly, it was a little too Rom-Com for what I wanted in terms of the depth of the characters. So I tabled the screen play and started to write it as a short story. Writing in these shorter formats requires me to get to the point and dig deep to understand the women in my stories right away without leaving time for the mind to wander. After I completed it and started sending my manuscript out to be considered for publication, agents liked the initial story, but they wanted it to be longer than a novella. "Unknown authors don't do well publishing novellas. You're not Stephen King." was a response that sticks in my head.
I also want people to wonder about the characters beyond what's presented on the pages and the shorter format allows for that kind of imagination to open up for the reader.
TCT: As readers, we’ve belonged to a number of bookclubs, it’s always exciting to have an author participate in the discussion of their book. You’ve done a lot of this as an author - what’s it like being on the receiving end of the questions and discussion?
ER: It's a bit scary to be on the receiving end because what if someone hated your story? I do love discussing the hows and whys of writing and what ends up happening at an author visit is quite magical - the conversation inevitably shifts from me and my story to a group member encouraging one of her friends to write her own personal story. We all have a story to tell and my mission with one of my other projects, The Modern Domestic Woman, is to tell the amazing stories of women around the world.
Gathering a group of women inevitably brings about personal storytelling, which is my favorite environment - enjoying the stories of other women.
TCT: Are you a pantser or plotter?
ER: For my fiction writing, I'm both for sure. However, I don't create timelines and outlines when I first start a story. I vomit out all my ideas first, then I let the characters start talking to me. (I know, a bit crazy, but all writers have to be a bit insane.) As the story grows, I dump all these scenarios and conversation and descriptions out onto paper and then I start to organize. I step back and take a look at how the story and people are shaping up. I write spin off short stories based on the characters to get to know them more and then round and round I go. More ideas flying by the seat of my pants and then planning and editing. A LOT of editing.
TCT: Is there a character you’ve written that when you look back on her/him, you realize you’ve put the most of yourself into?
ER: I'm working on a horror/supernatural novella at the moment which is basically me as a fictional character - I lazily named her Elizabeth. I've always wanted to be a character in a book. Her life is tweaked a bit - she's divorced (I'm married) and her kiddos are in high school and college, while mine are still in grade and middle school. But this woman is very much me on the page and what I would do if there was a supernatural presence in my house.
TCT: Kiss, marry, kill - zombie, vampire, werewolf…go!
Kiss the vampire (Historically, vampires have always been a little too femme for me, but I wouldn't pass up a good kiss if the vampire was Michael from "The Lost Boys" or even the 1970s "Love at First Bite" with George Hamilton.).
Marry the werewolf (MUCH more manly and my type, plus we can enjoy life during the day and he can go out on killing sprees in the night while I read and drink wine. Not a Twilight werewolf, I'm thinking more of a dark chiseled one from Underworld).
Kill the zombie (no brainer).
TCT: If you could give your younger writer-self one piece of advice, what would it be?
ER: Write down every single silly idea, buy those vintage books you saw at those estate sales, and start getting up early in the morning to write because that's when your brain is the most creative.
TCT: Any writing projects in the works that your readers can look forward to?
ER: Oh my goodness, YES. That horror story I mentioned earlier where I'm the main character will be published this year. It's called The Neighbor and I've been delayed in finishing it because I got in a car accident in 2018 and battled a really brutal concussion, shoving all my fiction projects to the back burner.
I'm also working on a historic fiction piece about two women who survived the Peshtigo fire of 1871, and lost their families in the process. These two unlikely friends are brought together by their own personal tragedies to carry on together. This brutally devastating event happened the same time as the Chicago Fire, but few know of the Peshtigo fire because - Chicago.
Elizabeth Rago is a professional freelance writer with over 15 years of experience specializing in women’s lifestyle content. She’s written for the Chicago Tribune, Today’s Christian Woman, Literary Mama, and other lifestyle and literary publications. Elizabeth proudly works with many women-owned businesses in the health, wellness, performing arts, luxury lifestyle, beauty and home decor industries, supporting them with creative content. She is also a syndicated columnist and editor of The Modern Domestic Woman.
In 2016, Elizabeth was featured in Mending the Sisterhood & Ending Woman’s Bullying by author and humanitarian writer Susan Skog, and in 2018, published her first work of women’s fiction, On Tenterhooks. You can follow Elizabeth on Instagram @elizabethrago and join The Modern Domestic Woman community on Facebook