Today, Ross Eliot, author of Babette is guest posting and he has agreed to a mini-interview. His book: Babette: The Many Lives, Two Deaths and Double Kidnapping of Dr. Ellsworth is a fascinating read. I’m halfway through it and it’s one of those stories that’s hard to put down and it’s also hard to decide what is real and what isn’t. It’s almost like watching a car accident. You don’t want to look, but you can’t stop.
Babette: The Many Lives, Two Deaths and Double Kidnapping of Dr. Ellsworth
By Ross Eliot
Genre: Memoir, LGBTQ/ Trans Nonfiction, NW History
This narrative begins in 1998 when, in his early twenties, Ross Eliot relocates to Portland, Oregon and eventually the basement pantry of a grand house owned by Dr. Babette Ellsworth, an arcane history professor.
Her past unfolds in stories, from the 1928 kidnapping in central Washington carried out by a mysterious wealthy French woman, to life in occupied Europe during World War II with the Czarist assassin of Rasputin a frequent houseguest. The professor’s later life experiences in America only create more intrigue, from teenage prostitution to her late-life sex reassignment, involvement with the Catholic Church and connections to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whose cult perpetrated a notorious 1984 bio-terror attack in Oregon.
Eliot cares for Dr. Ellsworth until her death in 2002 before an entire class of students, however, the shroud covering her story has only partially raised and murkier secrets than ever suspected emerge. Part memoir, part mystery, part history lesson– this true tale binds drama from classic Greek tragedy together with revelations worthy of the most bizarre fiction. From gender and sexuality to religious theory and existential philosophy, it’s an unorthodox love saga between pupil and mentor, yet also for the city of Portland where they live.
The Guest Post:
Here’s a link to Ross’s guest post. My apologies that I am providing a link instead of including it in the body of the post. It was sent over as a PDF and WordPress is only allowing me to upload it as a link. Here is it: guest article
How did you decide to write this memoir?
I had to write this book because I compulsively document exciting or strange parts of my life, and the years I spent living in my history professor’s pantry were without a doubt the weirdest times I ever had. No journal or diary entry could do the adventures justice, it had to become a book.
What was the most difficult part about writing this book? The most gratifying?
It was often difficult reconstructing dialogue to make the story flow. I was helped because Babette had such a strong personality that her words stuck in my brain verbatim, even years later. The hard part was that I’m primarily an academic writer and dialogue just isn’t something I’d ever done previously. The most gratifying part was actually picking out quotes. It’s been said by some reviewers that Portland is the 3rd main character in the book, but I actually feel Babette’s library fills that role. Books were her true love, especially old French novels, and I decided to begin each chapter with brief selections from her favorite writers that would fit the theme. It just felt so right adding those elements.
If you can remember the first time you met Dr. Ellsworth, what three words would you use to describe her? What about now?
Then: What the hell? Now: Still a mystery…
How has your life changed since writing this memoir?
In practical ways I feel much more at peace. This was such a longtime project that it’s been awesome to finally work on other things, like remodeling my bathroom or seeing friends more. At the same time, I’m overflowing with absolute joy now that I can share Babette with the world. Publication has really enabled her story to become a difficult, troublesome, yet essential part of queer literature and I think she would have loved that.
Ross Eliot is a writer, roofer, auto mechanic, DJ and commercial fisherman based in Portland, Oregon and Sitka, Alaska. He is best known as publisher and editor of the critically acclaimed counterculture gun politics magazine American Gun Culture Report from 2006-2011 and the current internet journal Occupy the 2nd Amendment.