Today I’d like to welcome a dear friend and fellow member of the Pamlico Writers’ Group, Eileen Lettick. When I first met Eileen, I just knew, she was one of my sisters. Welcome to Creekside Café, my writer-sister, Eileen. Can I get you a drink?
Eileen: Hi Sherri. Thank you for inviting me in for a drink at the Creekside. I’ll have Grey Goose on the rocks with a healthy wedge of lime, or if you don’t have that, a steaming hot cup of Lipton will do. But whatever you do, don’t forget a chocolate-chip cookie on the side for a little something sweet. Then I’ll be braced for any question you put to me.
Sherri: I think we can find some emergency chocolate and I believe I smelled some chocolate chip cookies baking earlier. Here at the virtual café anything is possible and none of the calories count.
Tell us about your background, Eileen. I know you are a transplant to eastern North Carolina. Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
Eileen: I’m a Connecticut Yankee, born and raised in Stamford. I can see your eyebrows raising because my hometown is in the heart of what’s notoriously known as Connecticut’s Gold Coast. Although, I must say, what my family experienced was more like an “aluminum foil” kind of life. I don’t think any of us even have gold fillings in our teeth. I am the second oldest of fifteen children. The death of my eighteen-year-old brother in 1964 left me the oldest child at the age of sixteen. I took this responsibility very seriously and felt it was my sole responsibility to keep the rest of my siblings out of the police blotter. This probably accounts for my take charge, bossy attitude that occasionally rears its ugly head—just ask my husband. I received my BA in education from the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut and my MS in Instructional Management and Curriculum from Western Connecticut State University.
My husband, Larry, and I have been married for twenty-nine years and have three sons and five grandchildren. We live in Chocowinity, North Carolina, while our children and grandchildren are spread across California, Wyoming, and Connecticut. It stinks to have them that far away! When they do come to visit, the doors of Camp Lettick open wide. We fish, swim, golf, play cornhole, and cruise up and down the Pamlico River on our big red tugboat, Ruby Begonia.
Sherri: Well, as a friend and member of the Pamlico Writers’ Group, I have to say your take charge attitude has been a blessing. If I have a job that needs doing and it’s in your wheelhouse, and sometimes when it is not, I know I can depend on you. You don’t know how important that is until you’re swimming in it and people want to help but don’t know what to do. Eileen and I both serve on the conference steering committee and she spearheaded the poet laureate program.
Eileen and I will also be presenters at this year’s writers’ conference. It will be my first workshop, but Eileen is a seasoned pro having presented programs with her former writers’ groups and in her previous profession. Tell us about your workshop.
Eileen: In my upcoming workshop, “Teens Writing for Teens” participants will examine popular YA literature and explore the author craft and common elements that create the “IT FACTOR” in a quality Young Adult work. They will delve into establishing a consistent point of view, finding their unique voice, and exploring subject matter pertinent to the Young Adult audience. Participants should come prepared with a piece of their own work to revise throughout the workshop. It should be fun.
Sherri: What do you hope attendees will get out of your workshop? What power do you want them to come away with?
Eileen: I hope that the individuals who take my class will walk away with techniques on how to insert voice into their writing to make it more enjoyable for their readers. Hopefully, they will discover a little “IT Factor” of their own.
Sherri: I eluded to your mysterious past. As a personal friend, I have some knowledge of your past experience but tell our guests more about your experience. How have your jobs, past and present, influenced your writing?
Eileen: I taught elementary school for 30 years and then worked for three years as a writing consultant before my career came to a sudden halt when I found myself thrust into the role of a 24/7 caregiver after one of our sons was in a life-altering automobile accident. When I look back on my years of teaching, I realize the tremendous joy I experienced when I witnessed children, teens, or adults make those reading-writing connections. Even now, when I present to a group of children or adults, I realize that this is what drives my soul. It’s what I was meant to do.
As far as the influence my teaching career has had on my writing, there has been a direct relationship because the historical time travel that I just published, Sarah the Bold, grew out of a classroom study of Colonial America. I needed a book to use as a culminating novel for the unit, and I wanted one that would reflect what I had taught the children throughout our unit of study. Because I couldn’t find it, I decided to write it. As my class observed their teacher struggling to put words to the paper and taking risks with her own writing, the art of the craft became more real to them. I think those days were probably the most powerful writing lessons I ever delivered. To my delight, the publication of Sarah the Bold has opened doors to me, and I am once again being invited to present to school children. It’s a lot of fun talking to kids about writing. Their questions are amazing.
Sherri: I really enjoyed Sarah the Bold, even though you wrote it for middle grade children, it is so well written that any age would enjoy. This is your first published book but not your first writing experience. How long have you been writing seriously? Have you always been a writer?
Eileen: Ever since I was in grade school, I have enjoyed the pleasure of writing. I was one of those nerdy kids who wrote little clever things for family occasions, mostly poems, but I would never call myself a poet. In high school, I entered an essay contest sponsored by a women’s club from New York City. The topic was “What Music Means to Me.” I also had to sing. I wrote the essay and sang “Camp Town Races.” On the last day of school, the principal held an assembly and announced I had won the cash award–$5.00! I couldn’t wait to spend it on lipstick and bubblegum.
As a young mother, I wrote a series of Erma Bombeck-ish articles and tried to get them published in our local paper. The editor didn’t think they were too funny even though they cracked me up as I wrote them. Another enterprising idea I had was a letter-writing service for those too lazy to write them. I teamed up with a local florist. This project proved as dead as the people I wrote about in my condolence letters. I guess people realized they were better off visiting Hallmark.
I didn’t really start to get serious about my writing until about twenty years ago. I joined critique groups and started to really invest some time in studying successful writers. Anna Quindlen, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, and John Steinbeck influenced me greatly. I find I get the greatest enjoyment reading about women who overcome obstacles. That’s why I think I enjoy creating strong female characters in my own writing.
Sherri: I love the things I’ve read of yours. You create a wonderful panorama in just a few words. If you could change anything about your writing/publishing past, what would it be?
Eileen: I think about this quite a bit. I wish I had pursued writing seriously when I was much younger and had not taken so long to give myself permission to publish. I also wish I had considered an MFA in creative writing. I believe it would have opened different doors for me. But then I think if I had, I would not have had the same life experiences, and perhaps not experienced so much joy in my life. And I guess there is something to be said for publishing your first book at the age of 70. When you hold that first novel in your hands for the first time and do that funky chicken dance, it has a lot more “IT FACTOR” than if you’re young and beautiful!
Sherri: Well you’re still beautiful and I can’t wait to see you do the funky chicken with the next book. If you have enjoyed our interview today, check out Eileen’s book, Sarah the Bold and join us for the Pamlico Writers’ Seventh Annual Writers’ Conference April 5th and 6th at the Turnage Theatre in Washington. For more information about the conference go to www.pamlicowritersgroup.org. Follow Eileen on social media through the following links.
Eileen’t Website: http://www.eileenlettick.com/