Today’s guest author brings a lifetime love of words to her writing. Please help me welcome Elizabeth Caulfield Felt to the interview seat! Here’s a look at her credentials and then we’ll dive right in.
Elizabeth Caulfield Felt teaches composition classes and children’s literature at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. Her novels include Charlotte, which won an award from the UWSP Graduate Council; Syncopation: a memoir of Adele Hugo, published by Cornerstone Press; and The Stolen Goldin Violin, a children’s mystery that takes place on the campus of UWSP during the American Suzuki Institute. Elizabeth is a book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
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Betty: When did you become a writer?
Elizabeth: As long as I’ve been able to hold a pencil, I’ve written stories.
Betty: How long did you work on your writing skills before you became published?
Elizabeth: Oh, my! Having announced I started writing early, the answer to this is many, many years! I was an English and French major in college, so took many literature and writing classes. I belonged to writing groups, joined writer organization and went to conferences, read books, and wrote, wrote, wrote. I was first published in 2005, decades after writing my first story.
Betty: There are as many approaches to writing as there are writers. What does your writing process look like?
Elizabeth: Writing is a struggle for me. I want to be a writer, but I never want to write. I love having written, but the work of writing is such difficult work, with so little reward. I’ve given up many times. However, even during the times I stop writing, I never stop getting ideas for stories. I spend many of my waking hours playing around with characters and plot lines in my head. After a certain point, I need to get these ideas on paper. I guess that’s my process. I think about a story for a long time before I decide to sit down at the computer, picking word after word after word. When my fingers meet keyboard, I know all the important plot points of the story and my characters are already well developed friends.
Betty: What type of writing did you start with?
Elizabeth: I don’t remember; I started writing so young. My first published work was a creative thesis, Charlotte, which is historical fiction. Next was a children’s mystery, The Stolen Goldin Violin, then another work of historical fiction, Syncopation. I’ve written a young adult fantasy trilogy that I’m querying, and my work in progress is a contemporary realistic novel about a writer in Scotland. I don’t have a favorite genre; when I have an idea I cannot ignore, I go to work.
Betty: What do you wish you knew before you started writing/publishing?
Elizabeth: Hmm. This is a hard one. My mother wrote seven wonderful novels and wasn’t able to get them published. So, I knew getting published was difficult. What has surprised me is how many people think writing is easy, that getting published is easy, that if you self-publish you can get rich, that they have a book idea I’d want to hear about…. These types of conversations drive me crazy! By nature, I’m a quiet, polite person, so I usually nod and move on, but geesh! Writing is hard! Getting published is like winning the lottery! I have more book ideas than I’ll ever have time to write about!
Betty: What inspired you to write the book you’re sharing with us today?
Elizabeth: The idea for this novel came when a lot of pieces of my life all fell together. In high school, I took French and memorized the poem “Demain des l’Aube” by Victor Hugo. I lived and studied in France for a year and at some point watched the Francois Truffaut film Adele H. At university I wrote a research paper about Victor Hugo and decided I didn’t like him anymore. (He didn’t think much of women.) Many years later, when I was nearly finished with my first novel, a group of friends were reciting poems they knew by heart. “Demain des L’Aube” flowed forth my memory, as if I’d read it the day before. It is a beautiful poem, and I was sad that it had been written by a man I no longer respected. Then I remembered Truffaut’s film about Victor’s daughter Adele. What if she had written that poem? My research about the Hugo family began, I located a copy of Adele’s journal, and three years later, Syncopation: A Memoire of Adele Hugo was completed.
Adele, the scandalous daughter of Victor Hugo, describes life with the famous French author, playwright, poet and politician, a man who brought liberty and equality to “everyman” but felt no desire to do so for “every woman.” Adele, an accomplished poet, pianist, and composer, craves a freedom that the nineteenth century and her father will not allow. Her memoir blurs the fine line between truth and madness, in a narrative that is off-kilter, skewed, syncopated.
To life there is a rhythm one knows from the womb. It begins as the beat of a mother’s heart–slow and steady and safe. An infant finds the pulse in its own heart and continues the rhythm in its needy sucking. The toddler pitter-pats to the rhythm, and the sound of the servants starting the day carry it through. The pulse is in the wind and the laps of the waves from the Seine; birds sing it and squirrels chitter it; the very soil under our feet moans and groans to its pounding.
Firecrackers exploded when Adèle was born. July 28, 1830 was the in middle of the three-day revolution protesting the tyrannies of King Charles X. With such a birthday, Adèle was born for glory and fame.
The Hugo house was on the newly constructed rue Jean-Goujon, the wide fields of the Champs-Elysée as their backyard. The family had everything one could desire: parkland to explore, books to read, a small black piano, and each other.
And then one day, as a unit, this perfect family gasped. Those who survived missed a half-beat from the breath of life. If it had been a whole note, they could have perhaps fallen back into the rhythm, but it was a half-beat. They syncopated. They moved out of step, off-kilter. Forever more, they would run and jump and dream and scream, but they would be unable to slip into that easy rhythm, that regular beat that keeps time for the world.
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It’s always interesting to have a peek at the coming together of moments and experiences to form a new story. Thanks for sharing that with us, Elizabeth!
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