Barb: And it’s a guest! One of my Goodreads friends, a very sweet author in need of new readers! Check her out! Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome J.Ellyne!
Barb: Where do you live and write?
Me: When I moved from North Carolina to Florida in 2008, I kept my North Carolina home and bought a second cheap home in Florida during the post-Madoff economic collapse. The Florida home became my primary residence. Both houses are very small, 2,500 square feet combing them both. I love Florida the most because my central Florida east coast hometown is in the subtropics where it hardly ever goes below freezing. There is no such thing as ice or snow here. Even in the winter, daily highs usually go above 70 Fahrenheit, (beach weather). The beach is only a five-minute drive from my house and I think it’s the most beautiful beach in the world. It has playful surf and pristine sand. Pelicans fly in formations of 20 to 40 low over the beach. Dolphins play in the trough between the coral reef and the beach. In the spring sea turtles waddle ashore to lay their eggs in the sand. Sometimes I find a baby having trouble figuring out which way to go to the water and I help it. The local chamber of commerce calls my town “Florida’s undiscovered paradise” because few tourists come here and there are no condos on the beach. Near my small city, there are five uncrowded county beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, each only a few miles from the next. I’m not telling the name of my town because I prefer it to stay undiscovered. However, if you do happen to discover it you will be welcomed by friendly natives unlike what happens farther south in the Miami area. I go to my North Carolina home reluctantly after it gets too hot to stand in the Florida summer. The house in North Carolina is under tall shade trees at 3,000 feet elevation in the Blue Ridge Smokey Mountains. It never gets to 80 degrees there and the mountains are beautiful. The closest neighbors are deer, wild turkeys, and bears. It’s very quiet and peaceful. Both places are good places to write.
Barb: And they both sound like heaven on Earth (even for someone like me who couldn’t care less about the seaside – might change my mind if I ever visit, LOL!). Why do you write?
Me: I was born an entertainer. I have the talent for it. I’m an artist. I’m not bragging. I’m not getting rich from entertaining. My father was a poor music teacher and an orchestra conductor. My mother was a poor pianist with perfect pitch. My grandmother was a poor opera singer and a painter. I learned to read music before I learned to read words. I went to music school to follow the family tradition but, after graduation and a one-year experiment with teaching, I took a detour into computer programming. It paid more money and, unlike my father, I didn’t care for teaching or being poor. I sing with a local semi-professional group these days and often take the lead. One thing I believe strongly is, no matter how good you think you are as an artist, there is no art without an audience. The purpose of art is to entertain and enlighten the audience. Writing is the same as music to me. I know I have a talent for both. I write and sing to entertain and enlighten my audiences. I wish I had more readers, larger audiences, not for the money, but so the art would be more widely enjoyed.
Barb: I write and draw, hence the “creative barbwire” name… When did you start writing?
Me: In high school, I was fortunate to have two superb English teachers, one as a sophomore and the other as a senior. As a sophomore, I wrote more than a dozen short stories. My teacher deemed all of them best in class. She made me stand in front of everyone and read my stories to the class. I loved it; it was a performance. As a senior, I took an honors class in English. The school only admitted students in the top 10% of grade point averages. The teacher was very tough. Here was this class of 20 college bound students and she never gave out As because she said an A meant perfection and no mortal could ever do anything perfectly. She gave Bs, Cs, Ds, and even Fs. I got Bs and was proud of them. I learned more from her about writing than from any other teacher or workshop coach. We wrote all kinds of things, not just fiction. In college, I also had a few good teachers. I always loved when a teacher based a course grade mostly on a long essay term paper, whether it was a history course a psychology course, or whatever. I think my psychology term papers were some of the best fiction I ever wrote – ha ha! I was a music teacher for one year and couldn’t stand facing that job every day. It seemed like a combination of babysitting and police work. As a computer programmer, music and writing were hobbies and I never seemed to have enough time for them. In 2004, I quit my programming job and began serious work on my first novel.
Barb: I’m still hoping to quit the dreaded DayJob… and I hate reading my stuff aloud! 😉 What genre(s) do you write?
Me: I dislike the word genre. It seems like a classification mechanism to keep new authors in the backwaters of publishing. What genre are Stephen King’s novels? I can tell you they aren’t displayed on the horror, science fiction, or fantasy shelves of bookstores. You will find them in a section called literary fiction, or mainstream. In the same section, you will usually find J.R.R Tolkien and Tom Robbins. Stores only allow best-selling authors to have books in that section and yet it contains books that are clearly works of horror, science fiction, fantasy, romance, alternate history, epic adventure, paranormal, young adult, and more. Every one of my books contains elements of science fiction, fantasy, romance, alternate history, epic adventure and adult sexual scenes (which I don’t classify as erotica). I’m at a loss as to how to classify them. I don’t see the point of narrowing the list to a genre. To do so would only keep some potential readers away.
Barb: I know, but we need to put those tags and BISACs on the books, or we’d end up in the oblivion well… and I’m also one who has trouble putting labels on her books. SFF QUILTBAG friendly? There’s no such category anywhere… What is your writing routine?
Me: I’ve recently changed my routine because I’ve learned the hard way that writing for long stretches at a time causes blood clots. I ended up in the emergency room followed by the OR, then the ICU for two days, then a week in a hospital bed. Now I get up at 5:30 AM and write for an hour and a half, no longer. Then I have breakfast, followed by another hour and a half writing. Much of this writing time is spent doing research, which often involves reading the works of other authors. Sometimes I read non-fiction for historical research. Other times I read fiction closely related to my own. After my early writing sessions, I do chores around the house until lunch. After lunch, I do another hour and a half of writing. Then I go to the beach if the weather is nice. If it’s not I will do some yoga and meditation. My final writing session is another hour and a half after dinner. I’m writing six hours a day now in four, one and a half hour sessions. Before my medical emergency, I was writing twelve hours a day in three four-hour sessions. The latter routine is dangerous to any author’s health, no matter their age. Writers of all ages are at risk for blood clots in their legs, in my case resulting in deep veined thrombosis and a pulmonary embolism, a life threatening condition. The emergency room doctor said I was about two days away from dying.
Barb: Ugh! I tend to write in small installments because my back can’t sit for long at the compyter (besieds, in the mornings I still have that DayJob…) What do you feel are your strengths as a writer? How have you developed these qualities?
Me: The talent I am most proud of, as an author is my ability to tell an engaging and entertaining story. I’ve always been a dreamer and my day and night dreams are full of stories. I love to tell friends and people I meet stories. Sometimes I base my stories on my experiences but more often, they are things I’ve heard about and most often they are just pure imagination. My editors and reviewers tell me I also have skill in conveying the emotions of my characters and getting readers to identify with them. This is difficult to do. I work at it by rewriting until I get it to happen. Editors and reviewers also tell me I have the ability to make my plots exciting as they unfold, to make my books irresistible page-turners. I picked up some tips about this from Stephen King in his book On Writing and as he demonstrates in his best works such as The Dark Tower series, 11/22/63, and The Stand.
Barb: I also found On Writing very inspiring… Where do you find your inspiration?
Me: My inspirations come to me in the form of dreams, lucid dreams. An example of a lucid dream is, I get up out of bed and go in the living room where my husband is still up watching television. I tell him about a dream I just had. It was a bad dream and I’m looking for some comforting but he just smiles. As I tell him about it, I find talking difficult. My words come out slurred. My tongue feels too thick. He tells me to go back to bed and I do but as soon as I lay down, I really do wake up to discover the part that seemed so real was actually just a dream. I have many lucid dreams, almost one every night. I talked to a therapist about them and he recommended a book about lucid dreams. It turns out many psychologists believe lucid dreams could actually be real in some alternate reality, perfect for fantasy inspiration! I even have my protagonist have lucid dreams sometimes in my books.
Barb: Yes, we live in other dimensions when we sleep in this one! Sometimes I wake up tired for all the things I’ve done “elsewhere” in my sleep! 😀 Do you put yourself in your stories?
Me: I can always spot the author’s surrogate character in every work of fiction I read. It’s hard to avoid because experience is a big part of the material upon which authors draw. However, I make sure that I’m at least aware I have a surrogate and I limit the extent of me in her to no more than 25%. I feel if the protagonist’s personality is the same as my personality, I know the rest of the characters will suffer as a result. They will become cardboard props by comparison. Therefore, the other 75% of my protagonist’s character comes from traits I wish I had or from things I admire in some of the people I know. The same formula applies to villains. My main villain always has a small part of me in him or her, my dark side. The majority of the rest of his personality I base on bullies I know or knew and bad bosses I had. In other words, no, none of my characters is me but all contain a bit of me. I do work hard however to make every major character be real. They take on a life of their own, to the point where I let them tell the story in my dreams, from their point of view. Then all I have to do is transcribe them when I wake.
Barb: Outliner or improviser? Fast or slow writer?
Me: I never outline and I never improvise. As I said above, I base my books on dreams. I don’t start writing until I have dreamed the whole book. I write the book entirely in my head before I sit down to type it into my computer. This means I could write very fast if not for the research. Sometimes my dreams motivate the research. Other times the research causes dreams. I did an immense amount of research for each of the first four novels in my fantasy series, The Fair and Fey, and I will do an enormous amount more for book 5 which is finished in my head as far as plot goes but which I have only barely started to type into my computer. The research for book two took twice as long as the research for book one and each of the following novels took increasing amounts of research. Each of my four novels took two years to write. I guess that means I’m getting faster because the second novel is almost twice as many words as the first and the third novel is almost twice as many words as the second. Books four and five were originally dreamed as a single story but somewhere around a third of the way through the fourth book (as dreamed), I could tell it was going to be too big for a single book, so I picked a place to give it an ending of its own and left the second half for book 5. The research for book four took five times as many hours as the research for book three did. It’s a research beast because Arthur Pendragon, aka King Arthur, is one of the main characters and it behooves an author to know what she’s talking about when it comes to Arthur, lest she be ridiculed. Steinbeck spent ten years doing the research for his proposed book about King Arthur, ultimately dying before he could finish even half of what he planned to write. There will be those who ridicule what I’ve written about Arthur anyway but at least now, I have facts on my side. I gave Arthur his personality from my dreams but historical material gave the facts of his deeds in broad terms. It also gave me enough material that book 4 is another 50% more words than book three and at over 186,000 words, it’s only half of my tale involving Arthur. Book 5 will be the other half.
Barb: Tell us about your latest book
Me: The Elves of Avalon, Book 4 of The Fair and Fey, is finished now and the first edition will be available from my publisher Smashwords, and from Amazon and all other Ebook retailers soon. I’m using Smashwords’ Preorder option, setting final release date at March 22, 2016 to allow other retailers time to promote it to their customers. Smashwords customers can grab a copy of the first edition on that date and all the books of The Fair and Fey series are currently available from my Smashwords author page.
About book 4:
What if Arthur Pendragon did not want to be a king and for most of his military career was not a king but only the war leader of the united armies of the kings of Britannia? What if there was no such person as Lancelot? Romanticists added him to the legend as pure fiction almost a thousand years after Arthur’s last battle. What if Guinevere was not a nice person? She stole Arthur from his first wife Anna Pendragon, aka Morganna Le Fey. What if Arthur needed the help of a small band of Elves to accomplish his goals? What if Arthur had a Christian father (Uther Pendragon) but a Pagan, half-Elven mother (Igraine) and was neither Christian nor Pagan? All but one of the preceding things are true facts of historical record. The fantasy element is the story of the Elves. No one has provided proof that Elves exist but Tolkien convinced me they really did exist at some time in the past.
Some people in the Fantasy and Science Fiction group on Goodreads have stated that Tolkien invented the trope of Elves. This is not true. In the Silmarillion, a book Tolkien wrote about the time before the setting for his LOTR trilogy, he states that the first Elves migrated south from the North Country to Middle Earth. I know Tolkien did tons more research than did I or anyone else and I’m sure he got this idea of Elves from the North Country (the Noldor) from reading Finnish mythology. I know because, by coincidence I happened upon this same mythology in doing the research for book two, Maahilund.
Finnish mythology is full of tales about Elves called the Maahiset who live in an underground city in ancient Finland and have magical powers. I dreamed this first, and then I did the research revealing the truth in the dream. What if Middle Earth later became known as Germania after the Elves left Middle Earth and sailed into the West (Britannia)? These are the background bones for how the Elves and Arthur Pendragon crossed paths in my dreams. An Elf named Vilya is the main character in both books three and four. She helps Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, in book three and after his death, carries baby Arthur to Avalon at Merlin’s urging, to keep him safe. In book 4, many years later after many battles with Orcs, Demons and Saxons, the Elves return to Avalon but not Arthur, not yet anyway. He still has one more battle to fight in Britannia, the battle of Camlan. This is not a spoiler because everyone knows Arthur must fight again, at Camlan, after 25 years of peace. The Elves of Avalon, Book 4 of The Fair and Fey, is also a romantic and sensual love story between Vilya and another Elf named Narya. This love has spanned millennia, through death and reincarnation, from the time when they met in Maginaugh, Book 1 of the Fair and Fey. Each book from book two on contains enough back-story to stand on its own for the benefit readers who join the tale at that point.
Barb: Indie publishing or traditional publishing – and why?
Me: I made a vow to myself pledging I would never indulge in vanity publishing. My definition of vanity publishing is where the author has to pay money to get his or her work published. I am very strict about this. I won’t even pay an editor or a graphic artist as many Indie publishers do. What’s the point in paying out thousands of dollars for publication of a book by a new author when statistics say I have about as much chance of recouping the money as I do of winning the lottery? I’m being honest. These are the facts of breaking into this business. Neither publishers nor readers are much interested in reading new authors, no matter how pretty the book cover, or how elegant the grammar. I spent six years getting rejections of my first novel from traditional print publishers and agents. I could paper the walls of my study with them. I wrote everyone and got back nothing but form letters saying, “Sorry but we are not taking new authors at this time.” Finally, one agent was kind enough to say, “Try Smashwords.” Smashwords is a brilliant publishing vehicle for Ebooks. They do a lot for the author, act as the publisher, and provide their services free of charge. The only downside is I have to do all the marketing myself and I suck at marketing. I would be happy to have a traditional print publisher take interest in my work and market it. A good thing about Smashwords is I am allowed to retain the intellectual property rights and can move to another publisher if I find one.
Barb: Smashwords is a distributor, not a publisher. Much like Amazon, Apple, Kobo, etc. I started by making my own covers and then I hire my artist friends for “special projects”. And since I’m not a native, I do hire a proofreader! 😉 Any other projects in the pipeline?
Me: I have many dreams and, to paraphrase Field of Dreams, if I dream it, the book will come. I can’t help it. Currently I have written the beginnings of the first two chapters of Book 5 of the Fair and Fey. I have dreamed the whole book. I don’t have a title yet but Arthur will still be a main character and Vilya will still be the protagonist. I have other dreams too, beyond the Arthurian epics. Some are even modernistic, so perhaps one day I will write an urban fantasy. Will there be modern day Elves in it? Yes, I think there will be.
Barb: What is your goal as a writer and what are you doing to achieve it?
Me: I feel like I have achieved my main goal: to have published books and attracted actual readers (beyond my close friends) who say in reviews they enjoyed reading the books. Now it’s a matter of secondary goals: to continuously improve my writing, to attract a broader base of readers, to get my books in print for readers who prefer the printed word to the electronic word, and to make a living wage from my writing. I’m stumbling in the dark trying to figure out how to achieve this next set of goals.
Barb: Improve the writing: take online workshops; attract a broader base of readers: think long term – they will find you; books in print: Createspace and its expanded distribution. And follow Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith! 🙂What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Me: Kill your darlings. This is what Stephen King says in On Writing. Every author has a word or perhaps two or three words, they tend to overuse. King meant we should go through our manuscripts looking for these words and delete every instance. My word was that. When I went looking for my darlings, I found I had an embarrassing plethora of thats. I went overboard, finding painstaking ways to eliminate every last one of them, just to see if I could. I don’t go that far anymore but now I understand why King calls them darlings. I had grown attached to them as literary crutches and it hurt to kill them.