Elysia was born in Texas, but was whisked off to Italy 2 weeks later. The gypsy years of her youth were spent on the road or in military quarters. When asked to compress, she says her childhood was spent in Alaska and her adolescence in Hawai’i.
Elysia signed with her agent, Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency, at the end of last year. She lives in northern Virginia, in the D.C. Metro Area, with her husband and three children.
1) When did you start doing Irish Dance? Were you able to continue when moving from one state to another? Do you like to wear wigs?
I didn’t start doing Irish dance until I was an adult. I think I’ve been dancing about six years now. I’ve competed as far as you can go in the Adult category at feisanna, working through the levels and winning first place in various dances at the Prizewinner level. Adults do not have to wear wigs. (Which I am glad for). We typically wear classy, simpler dresses with Celtic designs that are less flashy than you’d expect from a Solo Costume (though we can wear solo costumes at the Prizewinner level). Some adults curl their hair, some put their hair in a bun, some just pull it back with a headband.
2) When did you start teaching Irish Dance? Do you have many active students?
I started teaching as an assistant Irish Dance Instructor at the McGrath Academy of Irish Dance in 2007. The McGrath Academy is a thriving Irish dance school owned by Lauren McGrath Dutton, TCRG and World Champion Irish Dancer. She rocks.
3) What were your first novels about?
I wrote my first novels when I was a young teen-ager. The first was some kind of King Arthur/ Guinevere type romance entitled Scarborough Rose. The second was about a rogue cowgirl/bandita who robbed trains for a living. She had a troubled past but was a good person underneath it all. The Sheriff who hunted her down became smitten and won her heart. Another was about a woman who made it as a model even though she was just over five feet tall. She developed a romance with her handyman. One that I never finished was a Fantasy/Romance type story where the men lived on one island and the women on another (they were at war) so they had to sneak on to each others’ islands to have sex. I’m seriously laughing at myself right now, but I gotta admit they were pretty creative. These novels were all done on a mix of old-fashioned typewriter, longhand, and Dot Matrix printing. I revised them a lot, which surprises me when I think back on it as so many new writers think they are “done” once they’re done. Revision was really hard before Word, let me tell you. When I got married, I threw these novels out, thinking I’d be embarrassed if my husband or kids ever read them. I regret that so much now.
4) When did you get serious about writing and why?
I think I was always serious about writing. Even with those first, silly novels. There was nothing I wanted to do more than write. I read and wrote voraciously from a young age. Oddly, it never occurred to me to take creative writing courses in college, even though I aced every single paper I turned in, no matter if it was for Literature, Criminology or Physiological Psych. There is a big difference, though, between writing and trying to sell your writing. I got serious about the business when I won the Pikes Peak Writing contest in 2007. For me, getting published is about reaching a wider audience. Touching more people. If I write for myself, and my writing group, that’s great. But I want to connect with as many people as I can. Storytelling, for me, is about making people feel something. Making that connection. It’s like my heart pumping blood – it’s great for the aorta but I’d love to reach all those zillions of capillaries, too.
5) Many writers go through a stage when they hate what they’re writing. Do you ever feel this way?
No. If I hate it, it’s not the right story. I only write what I feel passionate about.
6) How did you get your agent?
The short answer is, Sara Megibow plucked me out of the slush pile. The long answer is, a lot of hard work went into what led up to that. I’d had my eye on the Nelson Agency since 2007 when I went to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference and Kristin was there. I was impressed with her and the agency and kept them as a “favorite.” I kept writing and attending conferences, and then in 2010 I attended The Sandy Writing Conference in Crested Butte. I participated in the First Pages Workshop, where you put the first two pages of your manuscript, anonymously, in a box, and the Agent/ Editor panel reads everyone’s pages aloud and stops when they would normally stop reading a submission. Then they tell everyone why they stopped reading. At that panel, my manuscript was the only survivor, other than Judy Blume (the coordinator slipped in several best selling authors’ work). This built my confidence in the newest novel I was writing. I went home, finished it and queried a few agencies that were on my Wish List. Sara Megibow asked for a partial, then a full read, and then offered me representation.
7) What social media do you use? Do you use them solely for promotion, or do you have fun?
I’ve used Facebook for a number of years. I created a Fan Page after I joined Nelson Literary. I also joined Twitter after that. They are very different and I enjoy both for different reasons. I use them both for fun, for connecting with others, and for promotion.
8) What is your favorite electronic or digital writing tool?
9) What is your favorite non-electronic writing tool?
My running shoes. I do my best writing when my endorphins are high. All the plotting is in my head, but I get it down later. A lot of times, if I’m stuck on something, I’ll go for a run and find the solution.
10) In all the moving around you did, which gave you the greatest culture shock?
Honestly? The move from Hawai’i to Virginia. We moved to Hawai’i when I was 12. We moved to Virginia when I was 17. Those are the years we, metaphorically speaking, emerge from our cocoons and transform into butterflies. You can’t even imagine how different the Hawaiian culture is from Mainland cultures. I was a minority there, a cultural outsider. It could get really rough. That is the environment I transformed in. So when we moved back to the Mainland, I was completely lost. Everything smelled funny. Everybody looked so white. Even though I was white. I know this makes no sense to someone who hasn’t been through it. Let’s just say, I was an alien in my own skin for a long time. I felt displaced. One of my friends from Hawai’i Fed-exed me a Maile lei for graduation. There’s too much to explain there, but let’s just say, I had a small piece of home around my neck when I threw that graduation hat in the air. Even if all the kids here didn’t get it, and asked me why I was wearing a strand of leaves, I could just smile to myself and think, Mahalo, Rose. I love you, too.
11) What kind of jobs have you held since getting your BA in Psychology?
LOL. Um. You can’t do anything in Psychology without further degrees. I could have gotten a Federal job, probably, but, I chose to get married and pregnant soon after graduating and it was crucial to me to raise my own kids. Teaching Irish dance is the only money making job I’ve had since my degree, but I’ve raised and homeschooled my children for the past 15 years and feel I’ve made a huge investment in them, my family, and the world by doing so.
12 & 13) What on earth possessed you to run a marathon? How many have you run? What is Team Running Strong For American Indian Youth?
I’ve been running for a long time. I love that it’s organic, whole body, and an excellent way to free my mind. I never intended to run a marathon, but I’m a huge fan of Billy Mills. He’s one of my heroes. A Lakota Native who overcame poverty, racism and the loss of both parents, Billy was the first and only American to win the 10,000 Meter Event in the 1964 Olympic Games. His win is one of the Greatest Olympic moments of all time. Better yet, he’s spent the nearly 50 years since that moment touring the world, speaking for those who have no voice and raising money for Team Running Strong For American Indian Youth.
I’ve run the Marine Corps Marathon twice, only because I wanted to raise money for his charity. Billy is so amazing and kind. I’m currently training and raising money for TRS for the third year in a row: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/elysia-whisler/2011. The money donated to this charity provides much needed funds for things like running water, indoor plumbing, school supplies, organic gardens and youth centers. Because of the places I was raised and the cultures I was surrounded by growing up, I find it nothing short of shameful that many of the First Peoples of our nation live in the deepest poverty and I plan to run for Billy Mills’ charity every year I am physically able.
14) In what ways to you pay reverence to culture in your works?
All of my stories incorporate a little piece of either my own cultural background, or the ones I grew up in. I love culture and ethnicity. I love what makes us different and, thus, what connects us, no matter how different we may seem. I feel I have a unique experience, growing up the many places I did, and a unique slant to my writing because of this. I can easily put myself in anyone’s shoes, no matter the culture, and can see things from both sides, due to my upbringing.
15) What kind of research did you do in order to write Black Rocks?
Black Rocks was based a lot on my personal genealogy. I’m a big fan of family history. Most of my ancestors came to the Wilkes-Barre, PA area to mine coal and find a better life, and it was this foundation that provided the basis for Black Rocks. While researching my family history I realized my relatives were part of the largest coal strike in American History. Ground-breaking history, actually. It got me wondering what the women of this era had to endure. Surprisingly, there was little in print for research, but, I found everything I could (big shout-out to Interlibrary Loan), and, coupled with census records and family stories, I constructed what I thought was a great love story set against this historical backdrop.
16) What is a Ghost Dance? Did the idea inspire the plot, or did you already have a plot, and the idea for a Ghost Dance came later?
Briefly, the Ghost Dance is a religious movement begun in 1890 by Wovoka, a Native prophet. It was supposed to bring a peaceful end to white expansion. I was familiar with it long before I wrote a story with that title. The title is a metaphor; there is no actual Ghost Dance in the novel. If you’re not familiar with the Ghost Dance you may not pick up on the parallels, but you can still enjoy the story. You can check out the synopsis of that novel on my Web site: www.elysiawhisler.com.
17) What works do you have out on submission?
Right now, Sara and I are focused on the work which garnered her offer to represent me, EVERY PASSION. After Sara took me on, I’ve spent a little time working some minor revisions.
18) What are you working on now?
I’ve been doing a lot of revision on some of the works we’ve discussed here, so that they’re ready for Sara to see at some point. I’m also starting a new novel, which will be another contemporary work of women’s fiction.
19) Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
Han is the only one who shot. I recall seeing Star Wars in the theatre, the first year it was released, when I was almost five years old. I clearly recall going into the theatre a sweet, vulnerable, impressionable child. Thanks to that scene, I emerged a scarred, terrified little girl who no longer knew whom to trust. Why couldn’t Lucas have had Greedo fire first, but miss, for example? Maybe he could shoot the wall? I dunno. I do know this: I’d be a different person today. After the movie, I went home, cried myself to sleep, and rethought my Halloween costume for October. You shoulda seen the size of the Ear Buns my long hair made when I dressed as Leah instead of Han. Oh, Han. If only …
20) When the day comes that you are on stage, accepting some prestigious award, who are you most likely to forget to thank?
My husband. Because he supports me so much and is such an integral part of any success I’ve had. He’s my biggest cheerleader and my harshest critic. Thanking him would nearly be like thanking myself for my achievement. He’s implicit. I take him for granted in a really sacred way.
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