7QT: A Visit from Ellen Gable

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Join the effervescent Jennifer at Conversion Diary for Seven Quick Takes Friday.

I’m delighted to host my editor and friend Ellen Gable, as she makes her way around the blogosphere promoting her latest book, A Subtle Grace.  You don’t know Ellen?  Let me introduce you!

Ellen Gable (Hrkach) is a bestselling, award-winning author of five books. She is also a freelance writer, publisher, editor, book coach, NFP teacher and President of Catholic Writers Guild. When she’s not writing, Ellen enjoys spending time with her family, watching old movies, playing trivia games and reading on her Kindle. Originally born in New Jersey, USA, the author now calls Canada her home. She and her family reside in rural Pakenham, Ontario, Canada.

Here’s Ellen’s cover:

Book Blurb/Synopsis:

1896, Philadelphia. In this sequel to “In Name Only” (2009 FQP), “A Subtle Grace” continues the story of the wealthy and unconventional O’Donovan Family as they approach the dawn of a new century. At 19, Kathleen (oldest daughter) is unmarried with no prospects. Fearing the lonely fate of an old maid, her impatience leads to an infatuation with the first man who shows interest. The suave, handsome son of the local police chief seems a perfect match. But will her impulsive manner prevent her from recognizing her true beloved? A disturbing turn of events brings a dark shadow that threatens the life-long happiness she desires.

Dr. Luke Peterson (the family’s new physician) also makes quite an impression on Kathleen. His affection for her leads him to startling revelations: about Kathleen, about his practice and, most importantly, about himself.

Will (oldest son) believes God may be calling him to a religious vocation. Eventually, he discovers the hidden circumstances of his humble beginnings, compelling him to embark on a pilgrimage to Rome.

(Although “A Subtle Grace” is a sequel, it can be read as a stand alone book.)

1.       Thanks for visiting my blog, Ellen!  We have your bio here, but Tomato Pie readers want more.  Tell us about the first moment that you felt a call to write:  Was it a specific moment or did it gradually develop over time?

Initially, I felt a specific call to write non-fiction when my middle son was a toddler.  I had a few articles published  (link: NB: this article was initially published in the Spring 1995 Nazareth Journal).  Later, when my fifth son was a baby, my mother shared some disturbing information about my great-grandmother.  My husband then suggested that I write a novel based on the fictionalized stories of myself and my great-grandmother. I hired three editors to help teach me how to write fiction, both in terms of content and with regard to copy-editing (my spiritual director, who is a writer, was my first reader/editor).  Once that first book was near completion, I realized that I wanted to continue writing novels, most especially fictional stories where I wasn’t restricted in terms of plot or character (since my first novel was based on a true story).

2.       I know your five sons are all growing up before our very eyes, but by my math, when you started your first novel  Emily’s Hope, you still had young children and were homeschooling as well.  Tell us how you juggled your Vocation as wife and mother with your vocation as writer and businesswoman.  What do you wish you’d known then that you know now?

Yes, when I first started writing fiction, my youngest was three (he’s now 14). I now have four adult sons (my fourth son just turned 18) and one teenager. I initially started writing during the day in the summer, after the homeschooling year was completed. One day, I remember feeling “in the groove,” and particularly inspired. I was at my computer, really focusing on writing a specific scene for the book.  My three year old came to me and kept patting my hand, saying, “Mom, Mom, Mom….” And, although I didn’t say it, my attitude was “Shut up kid, I’m writing a novel.”  It was at that moment that I realized I could not write during the day or any time that my children needed me.  However, I felt so passionate about finishing Emily’s Hope that I began writing at night when the kids were in bed or early in the morning before they woke up. Staying up late was a sacrifice for me because I’ve always been an “early to bed, early to rise” type of person.

What do I wish I’d known then that I know now?  Wow, hard one.  I wish I had realized that writing fiction, especially long novels, is HARD work. I wish I had realized that many readers will pick up your novel, something you’ve spent hundreds of hours on, and trash it like it’s not important.  I wish I had known I needed a thicker skin to deal with bad reviews.  In the beginning, when I received a bad review, I would be crushed and on the verge of tears.  (I’m much better now, but bad reviews, especially ones that mock or criticize my faith, are still difficult to read.)

3.       After you’d written your first novel, did you know right away that you wanted to keep writing, or did it take some time?  How did you find yourself writing your second novel, In Name Only?

Yes, I did. Once Emily’s Hope was near completion, I remember feeling like I wanted to write a story that was not based on a true story.  One night in bed, the entire plot of In Name Only came to me and I began writing it even before I finished Emily’s Hope.  I kept a little notebook in my purse because detailed ideas for individual scenes kept coming to me at the strangest moments.   I actually enjoyed writing In Name Only more than Emily’s Hope because I felt freer to create the story and characters.

4.       What is your favorite part of the writing process?  Is it the initial idea? The collaboration of editing?  The marketing?  

My favorite parts of the writing process are 1) research and 2) character studies. I love spending hours on the internet looking up 19th century photographs or film (YouTube is great for that kind of thing).  Writers and authors are so fortunate to live in a time period when we can simply turn to our computer for research…and the information is so extensive.   I also enjoy looking up old census forms and I find it easy to lose track of time when I’m on Ancestry.com. But I keep telling myself that it’s all in the name of writing a believable, compelling story.   Census forms give me great ideas for possible occupations for my characters. I also write detailed character studies of each character to help me, as the author, understand what motivates each character so I can better tell his/her stories.

5.       Conversely, what part of the novel-making process do you dread?  How do you get through that and still keep soldiering on with a smile on your face? 

I dread editing my own writing and I usually don’t do it with a smile on my face.  I enjoy editing other writers’ manuscripts, but when it comes to my own, it’s not fun.  I don’t mind writing the initial draft, but the editing and polishing are very tedious and I wish they weren’t part of the creative process.  However, I’ve come to appreciate that good editing and a polished manuscript are both essential for the success of my books, so I forge ahead.

6.       You and I are both transplanted Philly girls.  Three of your novels have roots in Philadelphia.  What is it that draws you back to writing about the City of the Broadstreet Bullies Brotherly Love?  Those novels involve not just Philadelphia but Philadelphia specifically at the height of the Industrial Revolution.  What is it about that particular time and place that speaks to you as a writer?

I’ve been fascinated with Philly history since I was a child and my father took me for an excursion to downtown Philadelphia, just him and I (probably 1964, when I was five). We visited the Liberty Bell and the wax museum. Also, I own several books about mid-to-late 19th century Philadelphia history that I devoured when I was younger.   Philadelphia in the 19th century and even early 20th century was quite different from present day Philly.  I figured that, if I’m going to write historical novels, I’m already ahead of the game if I know what I’m writing about.

7.       Before we go, tell us how your spirituality as a Catholic informs your writing life.  If you weren’t Catholic, what do you think your life would be like today?

My Catholic faith is a very important aspect of my writing and my stories.  To me, my faith is a natural extension of my writing.  My stories illustrate good and evil.  I have, however, changed how I illustrate good and evil.  In my first book, the religiosity and preachy message were quite thick.  In my last two novels, less so.  With my first book, I started out by wanting to evangelize regarding NFP and pro-life issues.   Admittedly, I wasn’t as concerned with the quality of writing.  The more I wrote, however, the more I realized that first, the story must be written well  and, second, whatever message is there will come through more clearly if the story is told well.

Thanks, Ellen!  Dear reader, if you’re looking for more from Ellen, you can virtually find her in the following places:  

Ellen’s Amazon Author Page

Ellen’s Blog, Plot, Line and Sinker

Ellen’s fanpage On Facebook

Follow Ellen on Twitter

Ellen’s Goodreads page

Ellen on Pinterest


  1. Great post! Several of the questions and answers really seemed like they could be applied to my writings. Ellen’s story is also really inspiring and gives me a lot of hope and determination. Thanks!

      1. You’re welcome! I’m glad too :p And we’ve actually met in person; I went to a talk you gave at the Barnes and Nobles in Exton. You complimented my name, Dominic, because you said my patron saint was cool….Lol

      2. You’re welcome! Your talk was actually what gave me the impulse to start a blog about my book. Please feel free to check it out, and feedback is most welcome! It’s http://montairyus23.wordpress.com/
        Thanks for being very responsive!
        Aul…or Dom…. 🙂

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