About Elsa Marston . . .
What was your "growing-up time" like?
With deep roots in New England, I grew up in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. I had (still do!) a twin sister named Lee. We were quite different: she was outgoing and sociable, while I was shy and liked to do things by myself. We fought a bit as kids--but we're great friends today. Our dad, a professor of English at Northeastern University in Boston, often invited students to our home. Being part of the Northeastern community was a big part of our lives. Our mom, a home economics teacher, made our clothes and excellent pies. We were lucky kids.
I liked lots of different things. I climbed trees, painted and drew; played the piano, tennis, cymbals, and basketball (I was hopeless); loved drama, read tons of books, and kicked footballs (I was pretty good). I longed to travel and see other parts of the world, and I've always loved the sea.
What about school and college?
After the Newton schools, I went two years to Vassar College and finished my BA in American civilization at the University of Iowa (to "see the world"). Then I earned an MA in international affairs at Harvard University, studied Middle Eastern history at the American University of Beirut, and got another Master's degree--in art education, of all things--at Indiana University. All this prepared me for nothing much in the real world of jobs, but was a pretty good background for writing, later on.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A trapeze performer (very, very briefly), a concert pianist (briefly), an espionage agent (well, for a while), an artist, a humanitarian worker in foreign lands, and most enduringly, a writer.
How and why did you start to write?
Our dad, a wonderful bedtime storyteller, first inspired me to think of writing stories. Growing up near Boston, we often went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where the Ancient Egyptian rooms sparked my fascination with ancient Egypt. A fine fourth-grade teacher helped, too; that year, I started to write three novels, one of them about a boy in ancient Egypt. None of those projects got very far, as you can well imagine; but my novel THE UGLY GODDESS (Cricket Books, 2002), about an ordinary boy in ancient Egypt and his extraordinary adventures, at last brought that childhood dream to life--although I didn't realize it until after the novel was finished!
I always liked writing--for school newspapers, contests, even term papers. Later, as I read books to my children I thought, I can do this, too! Again I was lucky. I didn't work at a job-outside-the-home while my kids were growing up, as my husband had a steady job teaching at Indiana University and was interested in my writing. Although I couldn't have the career I had wished for earlier--working for an organization that would help people in developing countries--I used my education and interests to become a children's author.
What do you like to write about?
A lot of my writing is about the Middle East and Arab-Americans. That's because my late husband, Iliya Harik, was from Lebanon; family connections and his work as a political scientist (Indiana University) took us to that part of the world many times. I want to share with young readers my own interest in those lands and peoples, and equally important, help contribute to better understanding of the Arab/Muslim world. In that way I hope to continue Iliya's life's work, along with my own.
I'm also interested in life in America. One of my novels (not yet published) is about a family that acquires a lot of stray animals one summer; to avoid having to send them to the animal shelter, the kids raise money through various schemes--all of which have surprising results. A historical novel I'm working on now is about the first (and very quirky!) naval encounter in the American Revolution, off the coast of Maine; another novel in progress is based on my own roots in this country: Quakers, Puritans, and Native Americans in 17th-century New England. Not least of all, I love to write humorous stories and fantasy, especially the "what if" type of story in which a mythological creature pops up in the real-life world.
How do you spend your time when you're not writing?
I play tennis (even better than I can kick a football!), feed the cat, go to theater and concerts, and keep in touch with our sons. Ramsay teaches religion courses at Brebeuf Preparatory School in Indianapolis and is a writer and a Master Gardener, Amahl has a personal fitness studio in Providence, and Raif is a computer whiz in Austin, Texas. My lovely granddaughter, seventeen-year-old Savannah, writes very well and loves theater and singing. For fun, some years I go on a trip in the wild west with the Sierra Club or similar group . . . camping, hiking, climbing up and down canyon walls, working on trails, and marveling at everything I see.
In 2009 I went to Palestine, helping with the olive harvest, learning about conditions of life there, and speaking to various schools and groups. This year (2010) I plan to go back to Ramallah and Bethlehem as a visiting author--but probably no olive harvest this time (though it was fun!)
Now, would you like to know something about my books?