Writer, Blogger, & Educator Elizabeth Daghfal—Nothing Beats a Great Story, Part 2

Give Elizabeth Daghfal an idea, and she’ll run with it. But get out of the way so you don’t get blown over in the wake. It only takes a suggestion—an image, a song, a place—for the idea to grow into a full-blown play script, a musical production, an article, or a novel. 

Last time, Elizabeth shared about the impact of stories on her life, how she started her blog, and where her ideas come from. Join me today for more Q & A about her past and current projects.

What are your current writing projects and goals?

Elizabeth: I’m preparing three book proposals:

  • My contemporary Christian novel, Calls in the Dark, in which a young woman struggles with the loss of her baby, but her husband doesn’t understand her pain. And soon it might be too late. Especially when the strange phone calls start.
  • My picture book, Can God Find Me? where a young child worries that the world is awfully big. Could we ever get lost from God?
  • Another picture book, Lessons Learned. Because sometimes Mama and Daddy teach you very different things. And it’s so much fun!
The cover of the book that Elizabeth let her kids illustrate when they were little. Now she’s preparing the story to send to the agent (without illustrations).

After spending six months updating my website, I’m finally posting regularly. I hope to reach more people who need the type of encouragement I write about: what we learn from being a wife, a mom, a Christian . . . and, all too often, being just plain human.

I’m also working on a historical novel, Scarlet Fear.

When my kids graduated from a school level (elementary, middle, high), I wrote a poem and gave a framed copy to all the teachers who impacted them. This was my 2nd daughter’s poem. 

Where did your specific story ideas come from? Did they start with a character, a premise, plot line, or an image? 

Elizabeth: My novel, Calls in the Dark, started with a picture and the first five words of a sentence. Years ago at the Northwestern Writer’s Conference, a presenter gave us a challenge. We blindly reached into fat manila envelopes and pulled out a picture and a set of words. We had fifteen minutes to write fast and furious. That became the prologue.

Path of Inspiration–this sight inspired one of the scenes in Elizabeth’s novel.

For Scarlet Fear, the inspiration was a character. A woman from the Bible whose story begs to be told.

My picture books usually start with a theme. Something I wanted to teach my kids. But one, Ruth’s Swing, was a game I played with my three-year-old daughter as she traipsed along beside me, volunteering in her older siblings’ classrooms. I finally wrote it down and share it with classes regularly when they need a break. It always brings laughs.

What helps you know your characters well?

Elizabeth: You know that feeling of wanting hot chocolate, a blanket, and your warmest slippers because you’re reading a book set in a blizzard—only to look up and remember it’s ninety degrees in July?

That was me when I was writing Calls in the Dark. I needed to hurry and finish it. Because even when not writing, I found myself depressed over my problems or jumping up and down at my success—only to remember that none of them were mine. They were my character’s.

I get to know my characters by looking through their sunglasses. If they hide from me, I realize they’re really hiding from themselves.

How do you develop your story? Are you an outliner or a pantser or a combination? (NOTE to reader — a pantser is a writer who jumps in without a plan, flying by the seat of her pants.)

Elizabeth: I’m probably a “plantser.” A little bit of planning, a little bit of pants. 

I like to have a detailed outline. But when the character digs in her heels—refusing to do what I’m telling her—I go back to the beginning of the scene, read it through, then open a door to see who’s on the other side.

It might not be a door. It could be a letter or a cupboard or a phone. It could even be a filthy lunchbox. Whatever the character will look at. 

But often, it’s just what the scene needed. Or what the story needs four chapters down the road.

What part has a writers group played in your development as a writer? 

Elizabeth: I didn’t have a writers’ group for a long time, though I tried to pull one together. 

Attending writers conferences was bliss as I received feedback on my writing (Northwestern Writer’s Conference and the Maranatha Writer’s Conference)  and talked with others who understood my writer’s brain. The chance to encourage and be encouraged was addictive. But afterward, I went home to continue solo. 

Years passed. I finally found (somewhat) local writers through the online Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild and forum.  

We met monthly, discussing sections of our work-in-progress that we’d sent earlier by email. What a blessing. It gave us a chance to see our work through others’ eyes. What worked. What didn’t. And what had them scratching their heads. They read all the way through my novel, giving me confidence to send it on for an evaluation by a professional. She wanted to see more!

Courtesy of Visual Hunt

Through the guild, I also joined another group for children’s writers. Since everyone was all over the country, we did everything through internet. 

Now the groups don’t look the same as before. But the friendships are rich. I even attended a conference with ladies from both groups.

We share successes. We share confusion.
And we root for each other trying to make writing a priority
in the midst of all things family and work. 

The richest part of all? Being able to pray for each other in the lives we live to the glory of God. Writing can be a very lonely effort. To know there’s someone out there who understands it? There are no words.

Tell me about some of your play productions.

Elizabeth: In 2016, Dancing through the Decades was a school dance musical that the elementary school performed. It involved at least a third of the student body (200+ students). I wrote the script and directed acting separate from the dancing.

The show was based on students traveling back in time and experiencing different music and dances from history. The director had the basic idea and I ran with it, taking a rendition of our library car  and creating a “Back to the Future” experience. 

It just so happened that I had one of the students predict the Cubs winning the World Series that year. So everyone heard it THERE first. ☺  

Jenny & other time travelers in the Time Travel Car for Dancing Through the Decades. Picture by Cindy Landini.

I took pictures of the actual car in the school library, cropped out the background, resized each piece on Photoshop, and had them printed on large vinyl sheets. A school dad built a rolling frame, glued the vinyl sheets to thin pieces of wood, and made the door open and close for the travelers to climb in.  

The travelers raced across the stage (Fred Flintstone style, powered by feet) as the lights strobed between scenes, showing their time travel. In the 1980s, they even had a visit from Marty McFly and Doc when the car broke down. 

Elizabeth with students (left to right) Alli, Mari, and Aly in Dancing Through the Decades. Pictures used with permission by Cindy Landini.
Elizabeth (left) with director Angela Konicki and set designer Karen VanBlarcom

Angela, the program director, chose costumes, created and taught dances or found others to do so, set up dance rehearsals, organized the stage, lights, sound system . . . She asked me to write the script and direct the acting.

Karen VanBlarcom was the set crew director—not to mention the most extraordinary art teacher ever. I wish she could have been my teacher! She managed the student stage crew, directing and teaching them to design, create, and set props for the show.

Many of my other shows were church programs, like these (I produced one yearly for twenty years):

  • Once Upon an Egg is one I adapted from a video and directed.
  • God with Us, as a cumulative tale, starts with a simple stage prop and slowly transforms or adds to it so that you see how the Bible story grows, building on the foundation from the beginning to the end. I wrote the script.
  • Mid-Winter Night’s Dream is a two-act play that I wrote and produced a few times in different churches, sometimes with all youth group students, sometimes with age-appropriate actors (adults play adults, students play students).

What are some of your writing habits and routines?

Elizabeth: I get most of my work done at night. Or at McDonald’s. I take my computer everywhere just in case I’ll have time to pull it out. My husband still won’t let me live down the fact that we went to the Bahamas for our fifteenth wedding anniversary—and I brought my laptop to the beach.

What can I say? I relax best when I’m writing. Other people sleep . . . I write.

But I don’t have a set time to write. Or a set amount. Generally I have five works in progress on any given day. I jump between them, focusing on whichever one is more urgent.

I suffer from the same “malady” . . . I’d take a laptop (or a spiral notebook) on vacation, too! Writing is far more appealing than just sitting there baking in the sun. 

What’s your biggest challenge as a writer? How do you work to overcome that?

Elizabeth: My biggest challenge is ignoring the voices in my head that still question my creativity. Or whether it’s creative enough. I keep creating to prove the voices wrong.

What do you like to read? What are some recent titles you’ve enjoyed?

Elizabeth: Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, about Louis Zamperini, was fascinating. Although I admit I had to put it down at some parts to clear the pictures from my mind.

Incredible YA novels? Avi’s Nothing But the Truth and Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind.
Both books should be read by every teacher, principal, and parent. For Draper’s book, that means parents of kids with special needs and kids without. For Avi’s, it should be standard reading for every reporter. 

For casual reading, I enjoy Christian novelists like Dee Henderson, Kristen Heitzmann, Terri Blackstock, and more recently, Lisa Wingate.

And you can never go wrong with Jane Austen.

I mostly enjoy reading and studying my Bible. It explains the greatest story ever told.

*********************** 

Later this summer, Elizabeth will return with tips for encouraging creativity in children, and will share about her involvement in the National PTA’s Reflections Program that encourages students in the arts.

BIO: Elizabeth has been married to her husband David for 28+ years. They have five children whose antics have given her loads of writing material over the years. (At one point she had four children three-and-under—and, yes, lived to tell about it.) She holds a degree in elementary education which kept her busy as a substitute teacher and volunteer in her kids’ school district for the past 20 years. Somehow they all survived to the kids’ adulthood, the last one entering college this year. Elizabeth’s trying to figure out what she wants to be now that she’s all grown up.

What project are YOU working on right now? How do you silence the negative voices in your head?

OR What do you WISH you were working on right now? What is holding you back?

OR Where do you do your best work? At home, at McDonald’s, or the beach? By daylight or at nighttime?  

Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

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4 thoughts on “Writer, Blogger, & Educator Elizabeth Daghfal—Nothing Beats a Great Story, Part 2

  1. The show/play/program ideas are so intriguing!
    They all sound wonderful.
    I wrote my first novel almost entirely at a coffee shop. It was great.
    2nd novella was written at a furious pace at a bed and breakfast I had to myself for 24 hours before my
    husband joined me.
    Now that I have no kids at home and I am 75% lazier than I was then, I write mostly while lounging in a chair. And I write 75% slower.
    The term “plantster” is great!
    And Laura, you’ll have to keep us informed of when Calls in the Dark comes out 🙂

    1. Wow, I don’t know how you managed writing a novella in 24 hours! That really is fast and furious. But maybe you need those deadlines and limited time frames to get things done!

      Yes, “plantser” is a great term. I think I fall into that category.

      Now that I’m an empty nester, I love writing at home. I am not tempted by housework as some are prone to be. I think I’d be more distracted writing at a coffee shop!

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