Thursday, July 10, 2014

~ Hi Ellen !! ~

One of the great things about being a writer and being in a writers group, is the fellowship.
What could be better than meeting a group of people who suffer from the same multiple personality disorder that you do?What joy to find a group of people who understand what it's like to have strange people living in your head, leading you down the garden path and demanding that you tell their the way that they want it told? Yeah, we're a crazy lot. But I digress.

Another great thing about least all the ones I've met so far, is their generosity. Generous in their time, and in sharing any hard earned wisdom they've gleaned along the way. Ellen Harger is such an author.

I'm honored to say I know this woman.You have no idea what words are capable of , until you read one of her books.Not only can she write the pants off a story, but she's smart and witty and you're going to love her.
Her newest novel : The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones is a story about love, loss, pain, starting over....basically a story about LIFE. It's just that in Ellen's hands it's more beautiful !

So pull up a chair, grab your cup of coffee and say hello to Ellen Harger.
Honoring the theme of Ellen's book, her answers are in RED.

Aright, alright...enough applause. Let's settle down. 

Ellen, having read both of your novels Strong Enough and your latest novel,
The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones, I'm curious. How was the writing process different this time around?

With The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones (from now on known as Anon Blog), I hit on the hook pretty early--a blog between two lovers. Having a solid hook was a huge leap forward. My first novel, Strong Enough, was written by trial and error. That and pure determination to finish. I wrote scenes to figure out who the characters were. I tried various situations on several characters, fired an important cast member, and totally cut the unifying image--a key. 

The one technique I continued to use was procrastination. I called it "incubating the story." Letting it simmer in my sub-conscious. Which meant I was stuck. Maybe because originally in Anon Blog, Mr. Write was a blast from Mrs. Jones' past who looked her up on the internet, but the blog never really fit them. So even though I had a hook and blog posts written between Mrs. Jones and Mr. Write, the story wasn't flowing. Plus, in the first version they didn't make it. It was a fling, an experiment in fresh love until the world noticed their private world on the internet. 

I write to music and love soundtracks, so I incorporated that passion into my first novel. In the spring of 2013, I immersed myself in P!nk's album, The Truth About Love, and found the missing ingredient. Fear. Fear was driving Mrs. Jones' actions. Now I needed to know why.

But the most significant change was music enjoyed a new role with Anon Blog. The songs on The Truth About Love meant something to Mrs. Jones while they underscored the theme that love is hard. After that, I didn't need an outline to write. I was flying on instinct. I joined a writing camp with the goal of completing my novel in a month. My first draft was Swiss cheese. The next step was to hire the writing coach from camp as my editor, but I didn't let her see my newest draft for three months as I filled in all the holes.

An editor is a gift you offer yourself. No matter your writing style, that's a universal truth.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer, after completing this book?

After writing Anon Blog, I learned to trust my unique voice. I spent years envying other writers--usually people from my classes. In my mind, they wrote cleaner, crisper imagery and expanded moments so the reader could relax into the book. Even though I never copied another writer, I did focus on clarity. Last summer I found a local writing group and love our monthly critiques. I didn't offer my writing until Anon Blog was a solid, cohesive draft. But after hearing, "I love your voice" a few times, I stopped coveting other writer's style. 

Did my voice change radically? No, I've workshopped short stories written years ago and quirks are still there. What I learned was to trust my instincts. Anon Blog is written in first person, present tense. It savors the fragment sentence like a fifty-year-old Scotch. So much of the prose happens in Gillian's head that I had to forego italics to denote every internal thought or italics would drown the prose. This is my voice and I pushed it with Anon Blog. I took changes and tested rules. It doesn't always work. I have unpublished pages of experiments, but I kept trying and finally, I trusted.

Like a lot of people, I love to peek behind the curtain of authors and celebrities and catch a glimpse of who they are when we're not looking. What's your writing space look like? Are you neat as a pin? Or a messy genius?

Yes, and at the same time. I love my writing space. The desk is large with two long drawers. The renovatino of the space into my dream office began with a lamp and while I have lots of plans, I'm enjoying the slow transformation. I have fabric for pillows and to cover my reading chair, folded into a neat pile. It's been a year but I've yet to sew. I think I'm waiting for my custom made bookshelves and a slender table beneath my bulletin board. My husband doesn't trust me with his saws. 

As far as neatness...everything has its place. My calculator goes in the drawer on the right, small note pads on the left of my miniature hutch. All my graph paper pads belong in the desk drawer on the right with my tape, label maker, checks, and supply bin (lead, paper clips, mini post-its, etc.) On the left is my laptop and miscellaneous items. Which reminds me, I think it's time to clean out the drawers and reorganize. However, on each corner of my desk are batches of things to do/deal with. I like colorful folders with printed labels, but I don't like to file until I have a good stash crowding my work space. My shredder is currently full with a pile of papers on top. 

While you're in the mood to divulge secrets...give me more. Tell me something crazy. Surprise me.

1. After years of dancing in my basement while watching Solid Gold Dancers, Flash Dance, Turning Point, I took a dance class for the first time when I was eighteen, and danced in theater productions for four years 
2.I'v lived in ten states, Germany and spent a summer in Italy. 
3. My parents considered leaving our dog Mittens in WV with my Mamaw when we moved to Germany. I was seven and informed them I would stay with dog and Mamaw. Luckily my parents hadn't made the final decison and Mittens came to Germany. It would have been epic to see me and my mom square off. I'm not sure, but I think she would have won. I was lucky she hadn't made up her mind. My mother had one major go-to rule for parenting: once she said "No" she never backed down. 
4. Marion Zimmer Bradley rejected a short story I submitted to her Fantasy Magazine when I was nineteen. 
5.When I was six, I twirled a baton in the Ceredo-Kenovo Sweethearts ( because my sister did). Later, in high school the experience helped me to become a twirler for the Highlander Drum and Bugle Core.

Wow! Those were fun facts. You are full of surprises.

Still on the topic of sharing, but on a more serious note, what advice would you offer to aspiring authors who think they don't have the TIME to write?

Theories abound. Some adhere to the write an hour a day. Other's prefer a daily minimum word count. I didn't learn which was best for me until I participated in National Novel Writing Month. I'm more comfortable with a time frame, but to help me write and not edit the same sentence for ninety minutes I use focus booster. The ticking should be annoying but it honestly boosts my focus. Maybe the sound distracts the fear like a laser light does a cat.

You won't know what works until you try a few techniques. Discover the best way to motivate you. I got to the point with Strong Enough that finishing was my only remaining incentive. I wanted to at least say I completed a novel (endings are tough). Who cares if it takes you a decade to finish? As long as you keep returning to your characters to tell their story, isn't that progress? Keep going. The more involved you get with your plot, the more you'll want to share with readers. 

For those who have a hundred stories competing in their head, awesome! You have a catalog waiting to be brought into existence. If selling your book, not just finishing it, is important, regular writing sessions are critical, so my theory is write the first draft in a month. The best thing I learned from NaNoWriMo was to stop editing and push through the scene. However, I cannot use word counts. I have two NaNo manuscripts that made it to 50,000 words in a month. I must completely rewrite one--I followed a tangent and missed my story. The other followed an outline, but the editing is daunting.

All those tips people offer in their blog posts and articles? That's motivation. I know they can sting when filtered through your fear and translated into "You can't be a serious writer unless you write twenty-five hundred meaningful words a day." 
Don't stab yourself with all the tips you're not doing. Take comfort in the fact that you keep searching for a key to unlock your writerly style. 

Writing is difficult. Keep writing. Don't let anyone else tell you how fast you need to be. Let the first book teach you about what kind of writer you are. When it's Theory vs Experience, experience wins. Try different tips: write with a timer, with headphones, with a writing prompt, a coach, in a coffee shop. Try until you find the formula that is your writing style.

And finally, what did Gillian ( your protagonist in The Anonymous Blog..) teach you?
What is essential can't be destroyed.
Ash is fertilizer.
Truth is more attractive than we know.
And moving is critical. 

Thanks for taking the time to stop by today Ellen. Readers, now that you've been properly introduced, introduce yourself to her writing. Make sure to grab her book when it comes out on July 21st.

From the author:

I'm a word gypsy and emotion sifter, writing about broken condoms, unhappy marriages and women's issues at the chick-lit end of women's fiction and women's fiction end of chick-lit.
I believe great storytelling asks readers to confront what they've stuffed deep down. We all get blinded by emotion and stuck in ruts: in June 2005, I woke up to a wall of fire. Watching the flames eat away at my life was my biggest turning point in life. 
My first novel Strong Enough released February 2013. My sophomore work, 
The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones debuts this July.

In the mean time you can find Ellen everywhere:


  1. I've read both Ellen's books (Strong Enough and AnonBlog) and admire her versatility. Both books feature a female protagonist on an emotional journey and/or personal evolution. But Strong Enough had a down-home Fannie Flagg feel to it. The issues and themes were thoughtful and deep, but wrapped in midwestern charm and humor, with the small town itself becoming one of the characters.

    Anon Blog, on the other hand, was burned down to the bare bones of human feeling. The story emerged out of ash, leaving your fingertips sooty as you turned the pages. No one can write about fire the way Harger can. When she gets to her descriptions of her house burning, smoke rises from the page and you feel the heat of the flames on the back of your neck.

    Harger has a talent for physical description, bringing location and environment to vivid life. AnonBlog beautifully captures a woman as a phoenix, rising from destruction to face what is lost forever and what remains.

    1. Hmmm - my comment disappeared. If it reappears, know now that it was hiding in a black hole.

      Thank you, Suanne! It's amazing when a reader shares their thoughts--tells a writer about the story. It's such an amazing treat.

      And now I have to SQUEEE - a down-home Fannie Flag feel? SQUEEE!

  2. Great article! Writing is a hard, lonely business and not one for social butterflies, but as I am finding, it is very rewarding. I have learned more about myself from own characters than I could have with a shrink! I appreciate that you didn't hold back with strong questions and that Ellen Harger wasn't coy in her responses. Very honest and in depth. I took away some great tidbits and also some inspiration! Write on!

    1. Hey, thanks! And thanks for leaving a comment. They're like little Hershey's kisses for the eyes.
      It's hard being vulnerable--easier in fiction--but I'm a reader. I want to know what the author was thinking. Like Terri, I like to get inside the writing space and watch the magic.


  3. Terri, it was such a pleasure visiting your blog. I loved your questions and the introduction was wonderful. Writing groups are tremendous things. I searched for this group for years, even tried to start my own critique group once. Since returning to Springfield, I've found talented writers online and here at home, and I agree, the generosity is amazing.


  4. Great questions and answers. I love how you called procrastination "incubating your story." Lol. I must remember that. I can tell from your posts that I'll enjoy your writing style. Congrats and what great reviews from Suann! I need to return to ORA's critique sessions.

  5. What a great post. It's like we just sat down to chat. :) Can't wait to get my copy of Anon! Congrats, girl.


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