Interview by Lori M. Myers, Interviews Editor
I first “met” Chicago-based author Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow when our stories were included in the anthology Forever Families published by Mandinam Press. Mine was fiction; hers were six short memoirs about her family and past. One of those pieces affirmed her mother’s strength through difficult years; another the offering of a heartfelt gift from sister to sister; all were written with the sensitivity and clarity of a writer who sees, hears, and feels the things around her. Nothing slips by. Nothing is deemed insignificant.
Elynne and I remain connected: through social media, as “friends,” and as writers who share this crazy passion.
Lori: Tell us about your writer beginnings. When did you begin writing, and what did you write?
Elynne: I began writing when I was in grammar school. In high school I was a reporter for our school newspaper. In terms of creative writing, I wrote memoirs only for myself and called my style stream of consciousness prose. My pieces were about friendship, expectations, hopes and coming of age. James Joyce and Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye had great impact on my writing style and focus at that time in my life.
My last year of high school, I lost my beloved grandma in a plane crash. In my college creative writing course, I wrote a memoir about my devastating loss. My instructor wrote on my paper that I had “the material for a masterpiece.” His comments included nothing more about my writing or my loss.
Over the years, I continued writing for myself less and less. My careers as a PBS television general manager and professor kept me very busy, and I only wrote for work related projects. When I retired from teaching in 2007, I began writing short memoir professionally in addition to a few short stories. I have been very fortunate. My stories are published in over thirty anthologies and several magazines.
Which of your family stories has received the most reader response?
Unfortunately, I have had much tragedy to write about in my lifetime. Eleven years after my grandmother’s plane crash, we lost my sixteen year old sister Ivy and my father Rubin in another plane crash.[Many] stories have received touching and unforgettable reader responses for which I am most grateful. “The Red Pen” has been received with great reader empathy and appreciation as has “Twice In One Family” about both plane crashes. “More Than Life” and “Golden Hands” have received comments of reader gratitude and awe about my parents. And readers tell me that they cannot stop laughing at my stories in Forever Travels.
In my younger years, I did not write stories. Rather, I wrote feelings. I have learned that a writer must tell the story.
Family stories seem to have special meaning for you. How do you approach those in your writing process. What advice can you give memoir writers?
My hope was that through my published memoirs, I would honor the legacies of my family members. They are/were special people to love and know. In addition, I have had a meaningful and adventurous life. Writing memoir was a natural fit for me. In my younger years, I did not write stories. Rather, I wrote feelings. I have learned that a writer must tell the story. The emotions are inherent in the choices of wording and narrative format. One must never tell one’s readers what they should be feeling. A writer must make readers feel through the art and skill of storytelling. I am passionate about the stories I want to tell and share. When I started writing professionally, the stories poured out of me. I could not stop writing and was amazed at how many life events I recalled. My goal is for my memoirs to be published and, in that sense, to leave me and to establish their lives in the minds and hearts of my readers.
You’ve been published in numerous anthologies. What is it about writing for anthologies that attracts you?
When I was ready to submit my stories for publication, I decided to hopefully get them published in anthologies so that my work would reach more and varied audiences. I knew that editors and publishers would promote their anthologies. I was an active participant in marketing these books. Being part of an anthology with an editor, publisher and other contributing authors is being part of a family. The expectation is that each of us will help the book find its place in the world. Being published in over thirty anthologies and several magazines has brought me a readership that I treasure and have worked hard to develop.
Your story “The Hat” (you can watch Elynne reading this story here) is due to be turned into a short film. How excited are you?
Excited is an understatement. From NYC to Chicago to Michigan to Canada, I have performed my program of stories, In Her Own Voice, for universities, bookstores, non-profit organizations, literary festivals, senior centers, museums. A Chicago producer asked me to perform my story “The Hat” for a theater audience. A script writer was in the audience. I will hear actors perform his script adaptation and then the film will be made. The opportunity to see actors perform my story and to see it in a different medium thrills me. And my readers are waiting to see it through links on social media.
When you’re not writing, storytelling, or signing books, what do you enjoy doing? Hobbies? Other interests?
My husband and I love to travel the world. We are walkers. We love movies, the Chicago Symphony and theater. We are both native Chicagoans and are proud of our city. We try to play tourist in Chicago whenever we can and to enjoy all that this beautiful urban experience has to offer.