Big win astonishes debut novelist
Alberta author Deb Elkink awarded prestigious writing prize
By Aaron Epp | Wednesday, August 1, 2012
The Third Grace by Deb Elkink tells the tale of Mary Grace, a big-city costume designer who grew up as a Mennonite farm girl and is now on her way to Paris in search of an old French boyfriend and her own misplaced identity. Photo courtesy Deb Elkink.
MEDICINE HAT, ABDespite the fact that she was wearing four-and-a-half inch heels, Deb Elkink ran to the podium when she won a $5,000 prize for her debut novel in June.
"When I ran to the front, I actually leapt into the air and shouted, like I was chasing cattle on horseback, and I punched the air," the 58-year-old author says with a laugh on the phone from her home near Medicine Hat. "It was very undignified and very satisfying!"
Elkink won the Grace Irwin Award at the 24th annual Canadian Christian Writing Awards gala in Mississauga, Ontario for her novel, The Third Grace.
Published in November 2011 by Greenbrier Book Company, the novel tells the tale of Mary Grace, a big-city costume designer who grew up as a Mennonite farm girl and is now on her way to Paris in search of an old French boyfriend and her own misplaced identity.
The Grace Irwin Award is Canada's largest literary prize for writers who are Christian. The Third Grace beat out 52 other novels submitted for consideration.
Elkink says she was astonished when she was announced as the winner.
"It was one of the best moments of my life," she says. "There's a kind of validation you get when your peers recognize your work."
That Elkink calls it one of the best moments of her life is interesting, given the range of experiences she's had since growing up in Winnipeg.
With a love for writing that began in grade school, Elkink sold around a dozen short stories and magazine articles after graduating with a B.A. in communications from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
After marrying her husband, Gerrit, Elkink immersed herself fully in a rural life of marriage, ranching and child rearing in Saskatchewan's Great Sand Hills.
She cooked for branding crews of 100, earned her private pilot's license, helped round up the family's 1,000-head cattle herd and homeschooled her three children until they completed Grade 9.
Later, she earned a Master's in theology from Briercrest Seminary in Caronport, Saskatchewan.
Elkink has visited 30 countries on five continents, and says the idea for The Third Grace originated during a visit to Paris in 1989.
She says her writing is about telling timeless truths. Rather than tell a moral tale and hit people over the head with a Christian message, Elkink believes that what makes literature truly Christian is if it is written by someone who understands the basic underlying back story of Christianity and the Word of God.
"The book isn't meant to evangelize," Elkink says. "It's meant to express a condition of the human heart, and especially women's hearts."
While it took nearly 22 years to complete The Third Grace from the time she had the idea for the novel to the time it was published, Elkink is hoping to finish her second novel in one year from now.
She doesn't worry about being prolific and takes comfort in knowing the output of author Grace Irwin, for whom the award Elkink received is named after. Irwin published seven books during her career.
"That was very calming for me to read," Elkink says. "She didn't think she needed to write 50 books in 50 years. She wrote seven books in 50 years and they [are] a valued contribution to the literary scene in Canada. That's an encouragement for me."