December Spotlight On…

Elise Stephens, author of Moonlight and Oranges, answers questions about writing and her recently released novel, which has received comments on Amazon such as … 

“Love, love, love this book!” 

Moonlight & Oranges swept me away on a delectable journey of the senses and soul.”

A graduate of the Creative Writing program at the University of Washington, Elise won the Eugene Van Buren Prize for Fiction from the University of Washington in 2007. The author of various short stories, essays, and articles, Elise also maintains a blog at:

The Interview

Tell us about your Novel, a retelling of Psyche and Cupid, Moonlight and Oranges. What prompted it. You have great Q and A’s on your blog.
Thank you!  I assume you’re referring to the five things I did that brought me to this successful place blog post Looking Back.  I think that in general, those five things are incredibly helpful to everyone.

I knew I wanted to write the story when I discovered that there was more to the fable than a marriage in which the bride never gets to see her husband and then she looks at his face and he leaves.  *Yawn* As soon as I realized that the story continued, that Psyche went off to find Cupid, that Aphrodite laid a series of deathtraps for her daughter-in-law, I was absolutely dying to retell it in novel form.

In Moonlight and Oranges I’ve intermixed a love-at-first-sight romance with a young bride’s challenge of trying to fix the mess she’s made of her love story, while at the same time facing threats from a mother-in-law who wants only one thing—her daughter-in-law’s destruction.

You became interested in mythology after reading a book of Greek myths at age 13, why do you think myths resonate with a modern audience?
I think that the reason we still have old myths with us today is because they resonate with generation after generation.  Otherwise, they would have just died out as a fad.  Myths are compelling to modern audiences because the heroes are still facing what we have to face today—broken marriages, illness, relational strife, family drama, identity, self-worth, inner demons, etc.  As soon as I strip away the special powers of Aphrodite as a goddess, I get a manipulative mother-in-law who wants to make hell for the new woman in the family.  That becomes very relatable, even if my readers relate to having to deal with a vicious aunt or a jealous ex-girlfriend.  

And for the record, my relationship with my mother in law is quite healthy.  We don’t get into screaming matches over the phone or threaten each other or anything like that.  She loves me very much.

What has it been like working with Booktrope on the launch of your first novel?       
So far, things have been great.  I began working with Booktrope without an agent.  I’d still love an agent, but for now, I’m doing it on my own.  I love the amount of teamwork in our arrangement.  For example, I had a lot of control over my book cover design—I keep getting excellent feedback on it—and I got to have someone who works with me directly on the book’s marketing so that I didn’t have to do it all by myself, which was an enormous relief.  There is always a tradeoff—going with big publishers versus little ones—but all the doors opened wide for me with Booktrope, and my heart has been warmed by the amazing people I work with.  I’m glad to be where I am.
What is your writing process like?
I believe in writing every day—six days a week with one day to rest.  I try to write first, before my brain fills too much with deadlines or emails or tasks to accomplish for the day.  I set the bar at 1000 words per day, and this is very achievable for me.  During November 2011 I participated in NaNoWriMo (learn more about writing 50,000 words in 30 days here:, which forced me to produce many more words per day (2,000 or 3,000), and that was only possible because I had plotted out my novel intensely before November 1st.

Plotting for me means pulling out a diagram of plot points, dividing my story into three acts, and figuring out what my pivotal moments are going to be.  I simultaneously sketch my main characters: protagonist, antagonist, helper, mentor, threshold guardian, temptress, etc.  As a side note, I almost always have a sultry dangerous female character in just about everything I write.  I love the concept of the Shapeshifter archetype from Chris Vogeler’s The Writer’s Journey and I use it all the time.

After I’ve plotted and character-sketched my story, I write it out, scene by scene, with pen and paper.  I have found my creativity is more constant and more enjoyable when I take myself away from a computer screen.  I especially like that paper can’t underline every mistyped word.

I also work very hard to make sure that my stories have some kind of message, such as “Trust is required for true love to endure” or “Live your life in the present.”  If I can keep reminding myself of what I want the story to say, I have a better chance of not running off on some rabbit trail.

And then… I write and write and write and try to not think too much while I’m in “the flow.”

What have you learned that you wish you’d known before you started your first novel?
I wish I’d known about how helpful it is to have a close group of writing friends read my manuscript.  Moonlight and Oranges went through so many revisions before my critique group saw it, and then when they began to pull it apart for the bizillionth time, I was half an inch away from despair, because I was exhausted with the writing of it.  I realized, as I worked through the manuscript with them, that I should have shown them earlier drafts that weren’t “perfect” so that I didn’t spend as much time slamming my head against a wall, trying to work out the kinks on my own.  

That said, there’s still the challenge to make my work as good as I possibly can before it meets the eyes of my critique group, because I know they’ll find holes that I never knew were there.  Bottom line—get your work read by fellow readers as soon as you can bear it.

What are you working on now?
Another novel!  I’m also praying that it’s not nearly as much of a beast to revise as Moonlight and Oranges.  It is an urban fantasy in which a fifteen-year-old boy discovers a magical door that will allow him to see the future.  He uses the door on the day he discovers that his alcoholic father has returned to town to see him.  I’m discovering a lot more about why to do certain things and why not to do certain things when writing this novel, but I’m feeling like I have more direction for revision than before, which is encouraging.
Final Words of Wisdom                                                                                           
Surround yourself with friends.  People who support your writing dreams and goals are your life blood.  Talk about yourself as a writer and take your writing projects seriously. Schedule writing dates at coffee shops with other writing friends and make writing a fun social event.  Write even on the days when you feel you have nothing to say.  Sometimes you have to get a bad story onto the page before you reach your next great one.

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.