Eleanor Cripps’ debut novel was 10 years in the making, but the Austrian-born author persevered through lengthy historical research and language barriers to transform her draft into a hard copy.
A native German speaker and independent publisher, the Falls Church resident of 15 years had to be extra careful about her manuscript when submitting it for publication.
“I always had an editor in other writing I did who is knowledgeable and experienced, but I didn’t have that here. Grammatically, I had to read through the English three or four times. Usually, my English is better in writing than in speaking,” she said.
A now-retired real estate agent, Cripps published her inaugural novel, “The Countess Choir Woman,” in January of this year.
Based on actual events, the book tells the story of an 18th century Hungarian teenager, Tessa, a ward of a Catholic Cardinal who becomes a singer at an abbey. As she grows older, her rebelliousness gets her confined in prison-like conditions before being freed by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph II.
Cripps hails from the Austrian town of Loeben and discovered the historical events that inspired the book at a class reunion. A classmate of hers, Ruth Maria Stoeckl, had a friend doing archival research in the nearby city of Graz and it was through Stoeckl that Cripps heard of the story of the titular countess. The book is dedicated to Steockl for guiding her through the research process and procuring the materials.
“I was so impressed with this brief outline of her life and it was so unique, it just touched me, it’s an overdramatic and touching story,” she said.
The book is classified as historical fiction because Cripps didn’t know the dialogue that took place between characters and other details. However, Cripps did have a chance to see the actual Goss Abbey where the historic events took place.
“Anyone who writes a book is proud of their accomplishment,” Cripps commented. “I’m proudest about, to the best of my knowledge, it is the only book that writes down the story of this particular woman in book form.”
The publication of her book was also based on good timing as well.
Cripps saw a TV ad for Christian Faith Publishing and sent her book in for review, thinking the story might resonate with Pennsylvania-based company’s audience.
Within a week she got a reply of acceptance.
“The overall goal is to find those manuscripts that are either faith-based/spiritual in nature and/or secular works that adhere to wholesome and virtuous qualities. We avoid and reject those submissions that are obscene, blasphemous, and/or hateful in nature,” said Christian Faith Publishing Executive Vice President Joseph Hengle. “When the project was finished, the production team were extremely proud with the finished product and hoped it captured the heart and soul that Ms. Cripps put into creating it.”
In addition to working for 30 years in real-estate, Cripps worked in a hotel in DC, at the now-defunct Pan American airlines in Vienna and as a trade delegate for a German steelworks company in Myanmar (then known as Burma)
Born in Vienna, Cripps emigrated to the United States in 1965 after working for five years in South Africa and two years in Myanmar.
As with today’s immigration process, Cripps remembers the ordeal as a deeply bureaucratic affair. She had to take a number of exams including a physical exam to show she wasn’t pregnant. She also acknowledges that she was the recipient of good fortune. Two months after she applied for her visa, President Lyndon Johnson signed changes to immigration laws that required jobs to be filled locally, limited visas to skill sets that Cripps didn’t possess, and assigned visa priority to go to relatives of U.S. citizens. Today Cripps proudly identifies as a Vienna-born American citizen.
When she first came, she lived in a tenant house adjacent to a farm in Manassas with no bathroom and central heating.
When her parents first came to visit her, she recalls, her father said “’You know, my child, we have indoor plumbing in Austria’ and I said ‘I believe in working your way up from the bottom.’”
Cripps has been active since her retirement nearly 20 years ago.
She’s involved with multiple charities, has taught herself Italian and circumnavigated the world six times by boat all while taking care of her disabled husband — her only full-time job.
“The Countess Choir Woman” can be found at brick and mortar stores and online at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and Apple iTunes.