Elyse Douglas is the pen name for the married writing team Elyse Parmentier and Douglas Pennington. Elyse grew up near the sea, roaming the beaches, reading and writing stories and poetry, receiving a Master’s Degree in English Literature from Columbia University. She has enjoyed careers as an English teacher, an actress and a speech-language pathologist. She and her husband, Douglas Pennington, have completed three novels: The Astrologer’s Daughter, Wanting Rita and a Christmas novel to be released later this year.
Douglas grew up in a family where music and astrology were second and third languages. He attended the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music and played the piano professionally for many years. With his wife, Elyse, he has helped to pen The Astrologer’s Daughter and Wanting Rita.
When asked how they write a novel together, Doug often answers, “Well… If Elyse is dismissive and quietly pacing, then I know something’s not working. If I’m defensive, dramatic and defiant, then I know Elyse will soon be scowling and quietly pacing. We remind ourselves of Rita and Alan James in our novel, Wanting Rita. How the books get finished, I don’t know.”
Elyse Douglas live in New York City.
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Q: Thank you for this interview, Elyse and Douglas. Can you tell us what your latest book, Wanting Rita, is all about?
Wanting Rita is a love story about a nerdy, sensitive rich boy and a radiant, volatile small-town beauty queen from a poor family. They form a strong connection in high school but Rita marries someone else. Fifteen years later, after Rita suffers a tragedy, Dr. Alan Lincoln returns to his Pennsylvania hometown to see her. His own marriage of three years is disintegrating, and he sees in Rita the chance to begin again with the true love of his life. During the ensuing passionate summer, their rekindled love is threatened by old ghosts and new secrets.
In one sentence, Wanting Rita is a story about the obsession of first love and the later, shattering, tender journey of an all-consuming love affair.
Rita Fitzgerald is a beautiful, impulsive and intelligent young woman who shoots to small-town stardom after winning a local beauty contest. Her family is poor and her father has a dark past. Rita carries emotional scars from that past.
Alan James Lincoln is a highly intelligent snob, who is excited and baffled by Rita. Her beauty awakens a young passion that engulfs him. Through his persistent and loyal love for her, he grows both as a boy and then as a man.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
Usually our characters are imaginary, although Rita is loosely based on two women Doug dated when he was in high school and college.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
We usually begin with a vague outline and then discover the plot as we go along. WANTING RITA was somewhat different; it seemed to come from the ether: plot, emotion, characters and setting. The idea came in one night – actually, early one morning. The story was like an anxious friend, who kept saying “stop messin’ around here, and finish this thing. Here it is, take it down.” The book seemed to be waiting for us every morning; we worked on the first draft 6 days a week, 6 hours a day.
Q: Your book is set in Hartsfield, Pennsylvania and then in New York City. Can you tell us why you chose these locations in particular?
Hartsfield is an imaginary small town, although it is based on a small town in Pennsylvania that had gone through economic hard times. Part of the idea for the novel came as a result of an article in The New York Times about the disappearing small towns in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The economic hardship in Hartsfield was integral to the plot, in that it helped to frame tragic events to come. The New York City location helps to contrast rich and poor. Dr. Alan Lincoln lives in New York City, while Rita, his first love, experiences her tragedy in small town impoverished Hartsfield.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
Yes, as stated above, the contrast between rich and poor in a small town helps drive the plot. The setting is also crucial in establishing the psychological complexities of the two high school lovers, who come from such different family cultures and social positions.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
It’s a flashback to the first time that Alan is alone with Rita. It’s an unabashedly romantic scene, but one of our favorites.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
This excerpt is from the scene mentioned above, on page 69.
I couldn’t speak. Rita took me in for a moment, searchingly, and smiled. When she kissed me, her lips damp and soft, I shivered. My heart throbbed with the first wildness of true love, and suddenly and unexpectedly, I cried. All my defenses were breached and my senses were stung by a sweet and wicked bliss. My eyes were fully open and Rita saw the tears. She touched them in wonder and surprise, and kissed them, as the shadows danced around us. Feeling hopeless and ashamed, I looked away.
“Hey…don’t turn away from me, Alan James. No, no, don’t turn away. No one has ever cried for me before. Ever. No one.” She took my head in her soft hands and looked deeply into my eyes. “It’s okay. It’s okay to want me. Wanting me is okay.”
Q: Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?
Doug: Frankly, I don’t have time for writer’s block. I have too many projects lined up, like airplanes on a runway, waiting for take-off.
Elyse: I get up and go for a walk.
Q: What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?
Q: Which already published book do you wish that you had written and why?
Elyse: Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve. I got completely lost in that story; I loved the setting, the characters and the plot.
Doug: Any book by John D. MacDonald, because he’s a great writer.
Q: What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors regarding getting their books out there?
Take two Tylenol. Take a nap. Then continue doing what you love and be persistent. Try things. Mix things up. Keep one foot in the box and the other up over the side but not on the floor. Focus your marketing and don’t overspend. If the product is good, you’ll find an audience. Write more than one book.
Thank you so much for this interview, Elyse and Douglas. We wish you much success!