Elaine Ingalls Hogg is the author of Meditations from Heaven and Earth, Historic Sussex, Historic Grand Manan, When Canada Joined Cape Breton, and editor of the first Christmas in the Maritimes anthology.
For the past seven years she wrote an inspirational column for the Kings County Record and has had stories included in nearly two dozen anthologies, as well as in various magazines and newspapers, and on CBC radio. Elaine’s most recent awards include recognition in the 2009 New Brunswick Literary Competition and the Barnabas Fellowship Award from InScribe Christian Writers in 2008. Elaine and her husband, Hugh, live in New Brunswick, Canada, and share their home with two adopted rag-doll cats, Angus and Alex.
Janet: Welcome, Elaine, and thanks for taking time to join us. That’s an impressive list of accomplishments! Tell us a bit about how you got started writing.
Elaine: During my early adult years I often thought about my childhood dream—to be an author. At night, alone with my thoughts, I’d think about the kind of story I’d write someday but when morning came, the duties of the day pushed aside those thoughts and nothing appeared on paper.
One morning I was visiting a friend who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. As we talked, she shared that the hardest thing for her to face when she learned her diagnosis was the thought of dying without ever being able to tell her grandchildren that she loved them. That day, I wrote a love letter to my grandchildren, Grandma Loves You, which I later self-published.
When my friend heard it, she asked me to share it with her family. That was probably the first story I wrote after more than thirty years of a writer’s block.
Janet: And once you got started, it just kept coming! You write for all ages, both mainstream and Christian material, from newspaper columns to online devotionals to full-length books. I’m sure you enjoy aspects of each, but is there one in particular that’s most rewarding?
Elaine: It is difficult for me to pick which project is most rewarding. However, If I had to pick just one, I think Remembering Honey, the award winning children’s picture book, will always hold a special place in my heart.
When I wrote that story (Nimbus Publishing, 2000) I wasn’t planning on becoming an author, I was a homemaker, a music teacher and a volunteer at our local hospital. While speaking at a Palliative Care Workshop to train new volunteers, I shared the story of how I wrote Grandma Loves You for my grandchildren.
A woman I had never met before came up to me after the workshop and said, “You should write a story to help children understand death!” I thanked her but added that I didn’t think I was the right person for the task for I didn’t know how to undertake such a project.
“Oh, but I think you are just the one who should do it,” she said. “And I’m going to pray for you every night until you do.”
I wasn’t able to win the argument against a sweet little old lady and God, so I wrote Remembering Honey and I’ve been writing ever since. A valuable lesson came out of that encounter, no project is worth doing unless it has prayer behind it.
Janet: Amen! Except for Remembering Honey, most of your projects have been nonfiction. I know you’ve been working at fiction for a while now—and you won an award for one of your children’s novels in the 2009 New Brunswick Literary Competition. Now this year your manuscript, The Exile, was short-listed in the Word Alive Press 2010 publishing contest. Congratulations!
Elaine: Thank you! A couple of years ago, author Connie Brummel Crook, read a chapter or two of my children’s novel, Willa, the Diary of a Maritime Girl, 1914, and she encouraged me to continue.
That fall I finished the manuscript and sent it in to the New Brunswick Literary Competition. Last May I was pleased to learn that the judge, Glenn Murray, author of Walter the Farting Dog, felt my work merited second place.
Now this year I submitted portions of my first adult novel to a contest hosted by Word Alive Press and it was shortlisted. These two events have encouraged me to continue writing fiction. Perhaps one day I’ll have a fiction book to add to my nonfiction collection.
Janet: I certainly hope so! What are you working on now, or are you between projects?
Elaine: Lately, I’ve had little time to write on a regular basis due to vacations, speaking engagements and family commitments. However, this week I’m back at my desk and presently I’m working on adding colour to my adult novel, The Exile. Once that is finished, I’ll probably go back to writing another nonfiction book as I’ve had three or four people approach me with some interesting ideas for future projects.
Janet: Let’s talk a bit about some of your nonfiction books. Historic Grand Manan introduces readers to the island where you grew up. I think that’s a great privilege and tribute, to document your own home town’s history. Was it harder writing Historic Sussex without the personal connections and family memories?
Elaine: Yes, it was easy to find the passion and interest I needed to keep me writing while I worked on Historic Grand Manan. The island was the place of my birth and long before I was asked to write the book, I’d been collecting stories to share with my children and nephews. However, by the time I was approached to write Historic Sussex I was ready for a new project and seeing I enjoy research and history, I had little trouble getting interested in the story of my adopted town.
Janet: In researching your historical writing, what’s the weirdest bit of trivia you’ve picked up?
Elaine: When I wrote When Canada Joined Cape Breton, I learned a ship sailed right into the causeway just weeks before it was opened. Apparently the captain was using old navigational charts and was unaware that the causeway was nearing completion.
When I wrote Historic Grand Manan, I learned of one of the most unusual grubstakes in Canadian history. A Dr. Faxon moved to Grand Manan in the early 1800s and sold lots to interested Americans who came to the Island to settle. He used one of the most interesting bonuses to entice Jacob Lavenseller, a farmer born to German parents in 1773, to stay.
Lavenseller came to the Island in the fall of 1804 and shortly after his arrival he made an agreement with Dr. Faxon to settle Bradford’s Cove. The agreement stated that Faxon would give Jacob and his neighbour, John Hall, one barrel of pork, one barrel of rum and two barrels of flour and help build a house as his grubstake.
While writing Historic Sussex, I learned the annual slave auction at Sussex continued to take place until December 31, 1898. Eleven years prior to this date, in 1887 an American, George Francis Train was in New Brunswick on business. When he heard Sussex held public pauper auctions, he made an arrangement to join the staff of the local newspaper, The Weekly Record.
Train used his position to expose the injustices of this system that to him differed little from how slaves were treated in the southern United States. After only a few months, Train found public opinion had reached such a fever pitch that he was forced out of New Brunswick. Finally, in 1899, Kings County opened a municipal home for its poor in the nearby community of Norton and the auctions stopped.
Janet: Those could all be fodder for more writing! Along with book-length projects, you have regular deadlines for your column and devotionals. What do you do when the muse is uncooperative?
Elaine: I keep a ‘pigpen’ a little notebook where I jot down ideas, character descriptions, favourite sayings, quotes and scripture verses. So far, when I’m struggling with the writer’s muse, I’ve been able to find a suitable topic by poring over past notes and ideas.
Janet: You’re also a speaker, to women through Stonecroft Ministries, and to children through Writers in the Schools. How is it to see your listeners’ reaction to your talk, instead of sending your written words out to be read at a distance?
Elaine: True, having the listener right in front of me can be scary, but so far, I’ve had great audiences so I’ve really enjoyed seeing their reaction when I speak. Perhaps this comes from the fact I was a storyteller long before I decided to write things down. I can remember telling my brother stories as we walked back and forth to school. When I was twelve years old I had a Sunday School class of children from a less privileged section of town and for the most part they listened to my stories.
Later, when I was in high school, it was not unusual for several neighbourhood children to be waiting for me when I arrived home after school. On a number of occasions they insisted I tell them a story before they would let me go inside.
Janet: Sounds like you have a lifelong gift with words. Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?
Elaine: When you are working on your own as most writers are, it is easy to get discouraged or wonder if this is the best way to spend your time. A few years ago I wasn’t sure if I should continue writing and I made my decision a matter of prayer for several weeks.
One day I was flipping through my Bible when the words “The Lord’s Answer” caught my attention. I stopped to read what the Lord was answering and imagine my surprise when I read: Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.” (Habakkuk 2:2 NIV)
Since reading this I’ve continued writing as I feel the verse was confirmation of what God would have me do. (Recently I re-read this verse and couldn’t help but smile over the word ‘tablet’. It started me wondering if I now had the perfect reason to buy a tablet computer. LOL)
Janet: Tablet… or an iPad…. Good luck with that! Faith is clearly a vital part of your life, whether you’re writing for the Christian or for the mainstream market. One of your editing projects was Christmas in the Maritimes, and you have a Christmas miracle story concerning the book that’s included in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic book that released this October. Can you give us the super-short version of what happened?
Elaine: “Just Tell Us You Love Us” p. 183 in Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas Magic is a story of how God answered prayer and supplied funds at a precise deadline that enabled me to show 140 Canadian soldiers that they were remembered at Christmas four years ago.
Janet: Writers are told to read widely and voraciously. I think that’s one of the perks of the deal. What are you reading these days?
Elaine: I was at a book fair recently and brought home about twenty books for my winter reading.
My most recent reading for pleasure was two novels, one by Maeve Binchy and another by Michael Crummey. Presently I’m reading Clipper Ship Captain: Daniel McLaughlin and the Glory of the Seas (Pacific Maritime History Series) by Michael Jay Mielde and The Master Mariner, Running Proud by Nicholas Monsarrat to help me understand some of the nautical terms and experiences I want to use when adding colour to my novel, The Exile.
Janet: About Angus and Alex (good Scottish names!) the adopted rag-doll cats: is there a story here? And can you share a photo? I have this picture of a cat with Raggedy-Ann hair and I know it’s out of line.
Elaine: Oh how I wish they had Raggedy Ann hair! Instead, in the months they have lived with me they’ve shed enough fur to make me a winter coat! Angus and Alex , formerly Smith and Wesson, came to our house to stay for a few weeks while our daughter moved. Their stay has been extended and now, nearly two years later, they consider my office and more particularly my desk their permanent home.
(][[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[) I was called away from my computer so Angus [the brown one] took the opportunity to add his two cents worth!
Janet: I’m guessing Angus and Alex are more peaceful now that they’ve laid down their weapons☺. And they’re gorgeous! Well worth cleaning up the stray hair. Thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit, Elaine. May the LORD continue to bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life.
You can visit the Elaine Ingalls Hogg website for more about her writing as well as upcoming speaking engagements (and to see a photo of Elaine with Clifford the Big Red Dog). Check out her “Did You Know” page to learn more about Elaine.