Elkink, who now resides near Elkwater in the Cypress Hills, was honoured this year when her debut novel The Third Grace won the coveted Grace Irwin Award — Canada’s largest literary prize for authors who write from a Christian worldview.
Elkink’s novel was up against four other shortlisted finalists in fiction and non-fiction book categories in The Word Guild Christian Writing Awards. After having been talked into attending the awards gala by a persuasive organizer, Elkink was disappointed when her novel only received an Award of Merit in the Novel-Contemporary category.
Later that evening, she was shocked when she saw her novel among the five finalists for the top $5,000 award for Christian writers. When the presenter began to read an excerpt from the winning book and Elkink recognized her own writing, she let out a whoop, raising her arm into the air in triumph. She leapt up from her chair and ran to the stage, giddy with excitement.
It was an honour well-deserved for the years she worked on her novel before it was finally published.
The Third Grace tells the story of Mary Grace and her journey back to faith and family.
She fell in love with a French exchange student visiting her family’s Nebraska farm and he renamed her “Aglaia” — after the beautiful Third Grace of Greek mythology. That set the 17-year-old girl longing for something more than her parents’ simplistic life and faith. Working as a costume designer in Denver, Aglaia takes a business trip to Paris and carries along the Bible her mother asked her to return to François but instead, discovers sensual notes written inside.
According to the book’s jacket cover: “‘Mary Grace’ has deep roots, as Aglaia learns during a business trip to Paris. Her discovery of sensual notes François jotted into a Bible during that long-ago fling, a silly errand imposed by her mother, and the scheming of her sophisticated mentor conspire to create a thirst in her soul that neither evocative daydreams nor professional success can quench.
“The Third Grace is a captivating debut novel that will take you on a dual journey across oceans and time — in the footsteps of a woman torn between her rural upbringing and her search for self.”
Elkink was raised in Winnipeg — a big city girl — with four siblings to artistic parents.
“My dad was an incredible story teller,” says Elkink, adding he had numerous adventures travelling which leant to his stories.
Her mother still plys her craft as a visual artist and spent many of Elkink’s formative years painting.
In Grade 9, Elkink came home from school and told her mother she had to choose if she wanted to be a doctor or a writer — a tug of war between the sciences and the arts.
“She said to follow my heart. I loved the arts. It was an important time and I had to make a decision.”
Having been published in a school yearbook at the age of nine for her poem — an ode to John F. Kennedy — Elkink decided her heart was with the arts and pursued writing.
Her poem took the form of a letter from JFK in heaven to his family and another piece of writing when she was in her early teens focused on Adam’s point of view upon waking in the Garden of Eden beside Eve.
“I realize now I was showing these theological themes at that young of an age,” says Elkink. “It really stuck with me. I love those themes of theology.”
Elkink pursued writing in college in the States and had a teacher who encouraged the students to freelance their work.
When she returned to Canada she met a cattle rancher from Saskatchewan. Gerrit and she soon married and settled down near the community of Hazlet, on the Elkink Ranch in the Great Sand Hills of southwestern Saskatchewan.
For a city-raised girl, Elkink found herself challenged to learn the roles of a ranch wife.
“It was a steep learning curve, but it was very interesting,” she adds.
While she tried to maintain her hand in the freelancing business, life got in the way. With two daughters and a son to take care of, as well as work on the ranch, her writing took a backseat to home-schooling the children and other duties.
“It suited us very much,” she adds, about home schooling. “But it was completely absorbing for me for 15 years.”
Through this time, Elkink dived into the literature greats as she introduced their work to her children.
“I mindfully chose the titles I wanted the kids to read.”
At the same time, she herself was introduced to some of these masters of their craft laying the foundation for what would be her own chosen style of writing.
During this time the idea for a novel had been brewing.
Her life’s experiences were contributing to the final work Elkink would pen, including a trip to Europe she took with her mother. The pair went to France and Elkink remembers standing in the Louvre.
“I stood before the statue grouping that spoke to my heart — The Three Graces.”
Captivated by the sculpture, Elkink decided it would become the cover of her novel.
“I always knew I wanted to get back to writing. I had a dream and it hadn’t died, I had just put it away for awhile.”
She ended up with a manuscript and received feedback about it at a writers’ conference.
That feedback was not encouraging. One of the speaker’s at that conference, Maxine Hancock, said a writer has to earn the right to be heard and has to pay his or her dues.
When her youngest child went to boarding school at age 15, Elkink decided to attend seminary in Caronport, Sask. She pursued her Masters in Theology to add to her Bachelor of Communications she earned after the birth of her first child.
“It was wonderful to learn to write papers,” says Elkink, who added her mentor taught her “what a pathetic writer I was.” Then she continued to hone her craft editing the papers of PhD students.
“It was very helpful. I had to figure out why a sentence worked or didn’t work. I’ve been doing that for more than 13 years now.
“I think going to school was paying my dues,” she adds.
She picked up her manuscript again after having abandoned it and worked on it for another five to six years. By 2008 she had a finished manuscript and took it with her to the national Write! Canada conference. A U.S. agent approached her and the two agreed to work together. Once the contract was signed he told her the 60,000-word manuscript needed to increase to at least 80,000 words.
“I took it to 98,000 words in six months,” says Elkink.
Then the work to sell the manuscript to a publisher began at an unfortunate time with turmoil in the industry. It was finally picked up by Greenbrier Books and hard copies and e-copies were available in December 2011.
While she’s been enjoying seeing her book in the hands of readers, she has also started working on another novel with a completely new cast of characters. She jots down notes in a looseleaf binder and has plotted the contemporary fiction piece which will feature three women. She hopes for completion within a year if possible, but won’t let it get in the way of living life, travelling and spending time with family.
Elkink also keeps busy speaking to women’s groups and is active in her church.
“I have a very full life and I love to meet new women and make new friends,” she adds.
She hopes readers will enjoy reading The Third Grace and find the message in its pages.
“I always write with the audience in mind and I always write with a message in mind. I can’t get away from it being message driven,” says Elkink. “I’m a very emotional person and we have separated our thinking from our feelings. In reality we can’t do that. What are thoughts without doing, feeling, and thinking? I want to speak to the hearts of women — to the mind, emotion and will of women.”
For more information about Deb Elkink visit her website at: www.debelkink.com.