Monday, February 23, 2015
Interview of Author Ellen Gragg
Latest Book: What Was I Thinking?
Buy Link: http://amzn.com/B00K5AFPE6
Ellen Gragg began her writing career as a journalist, writing features and theater reviews for newspapers and national magazines. While attending college at Washington University in St. Louis she first became interested in the rich history of the city, particularly the period surrounding the famous 1904 World's Fair. While working as a consultant in the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries and writing about everything from crop dusting to FDA regulatory compliance, Ellen began writing novels in her spare time. After flipping channels on TV and watching a romantic comedy heroine choose to cast off her modern life in favor of her beau's for all the wrong reasons, the seeds of What Was I Thinking? began to take root.
Ellen resides in the Midwest with her husband, two cats, and the occasional stray dog.
Q: What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?
A: I try to force myself to write a minimum of 100 words every day, no matter how busy or unmotivated I am. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s the beauty of it. When I’m just too busy, or exhausted, or soooo not in the mood, I can tell myself “Just write 100 words. It will hardly take any time at all. Just do it.” And usually I’ll sit down and write. Nearly always, I get into the flow by 50 words or so, and blow way past the 100 mark without noticing. But if I set a huge goal, it turns into a mountain that I can’t face.
I like to write first thing in the morning, but my current assignment at work means I have to leave home very early, and it’s just not practical to try to get up early enough to write before heading out. For the time being, I’m slipping in my writing after work, while my husband cooks dinner. (I do the dishes.)
Q: What is the most important thing you do for your career now, as compared to when you first started writing?
A: When I first started writing, the most important thing was getting published at all, in any form. It felt for years as if getting a publishing contract would be like winning the lottery – extremely unlikely, and life-changing if it did happen.
Now that I’ve had the reality of publishing, the most important thing is to polish my craft, and to deliver a story that readers can sink into, and forget they’re reading.
Q: How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
A: Well, two of my heroines – including Addie, in What Was I Thinking? – are bitter about having spent a fortune on a degree from Washington University that they didn’t end up using in their careers. That’s straight from my life. I don’t regret going to Wash U – I met my husband there, and had a very happy time in college – but for a very long time I regretted what I spent on a degree I wasn’t using.
Other than that, my heroines tend to have little pieces of me, especially the striving for independence and career respect, but I work hard to make them new and different. For one thing, I’ve been happily married for many years, so it would be hard to put my own life in a romance novel. I hit happily-ever-after a long time ago.
Q: If you could change something about your first book, what would it be?
A: I would re-edit it to cut out some slow passages in the beginning. I let myself fall in love with some long sections that the story doesn’t need. I hope Romance Books 4 Us readers will read it anyway! But I promise the next book will have a faster pace.
Q: Do you eat comfort food/listen to music when writing?
A: I don’t listen to music while I write. I used to, but over the years I developed a rule of no distractions, and that includes music. It also includes no Internet access. I keep a spiral notebook and pencil handy, and if I come up with something I need to research, I make a note of it for later. I’ve learned that taking just a moment to look something up – or to sing along with the radio – can kill my momentum.
I don’t often eat while I’m working, but I do drink Diet Coke. Very rarely I’ll have a small snack with me. I do find that I tend to forget about both food and drink after a paragraph or so.
Q: How do you choose names for your characters?
A: I find names to be the hardest things of all. I tend to use placeholder names early in the draft and let ideas come to me. Then I do a search-and-replace to put the final name in. For some reason, I tend to name men Sam and give women names that start with J. But that changes before submission. My detective book – my current work in progress – started with a name, though. I once worked for an editor who didn’t use a first name. She just went by “N.J.” I imagined that maybe she was named Norma Jean and hated it. From that, I started thinking of detective stories where the name is a big part of the first chapter, like V.I. Warshawski’s refusal to tell anyone what V.I. stands for, and I developed a book around a struggling detective whose mother named her Norma Jean, and who got called Jeanie a lot. Her struggle to be taken seriously is partly played out in trying to force people to call her N.J.
Q: If you could give a younger version of yourself advice, what would it be?
A: Don’t give up. Don’t be embarrassed to try. Write every day, no matter what.
Q: Have you ever used an incident from your real life into one of your books?
A: Real-life incidents sometimes go into first drafts, but they get edited out. They ring false in fiction.
Q: Any part of a book that drives you crazy as you write: beginning, middle, or end?
A: I get impatient in the middle. The Fun & Games part of the book feels like the most work, which isn’t right. I want to work on that impatience, because I really want to deliver the fun to the readers. Beginnings just flow, partly because I’m excited to move towards the fun & games, and endings seem easy, but the middles are work.
Q: How many stories are swirling around in your head? Do you keep a mental list, a computer file, or a spiral notebook filled with the ideas?
A: I have three novels and one novella in my current WIP rotation. Two are very active in my head, and the other two are filed under “that’s a cool idea, and I need to get back to it.” They’re on a thumb drive, each in its own folder. The most active ones also have paper file folders full of source material and notes, and binders with marked-up printouts.
And I carry one notebook to scribble ideas whenever they hit me, for all projects as well as marketing. I flag pages with sticky notes to remember to transfer to the computer when I get home form work.
Q: What is your favorite holiday and why?
A: Christmas. I love decorating the house, baking, having relatives come to visit, and filling up the house with people and good smells.
Q: What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
A: For my day job, I’m a quality consultant in the life sciences industries. I help pharmaceutical and medical device companies make sure their computer programs are in line with FDA regulations.
I was a competitive figure skater for a few years, as a young mother. My husband was very supportive of my offbeat hobby, and he and the children always came and cheered for me.
Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: Anything other than a writer. My parents were both college English professors, and my form of rebellion was to fight against the push to be a writer. It was hopeless. It was in the blood. One of my sisters is a well-known travel writer (different last name) and my cousin (another last name) is a very successful science writer.
I took ballet lessons first grade through ninth, and really thought I was going to make a career of it. But reality raised its ugly head, and I realized dancing wasn’t my talent.
Q: Favorite food.
A: General Tso’s Chicken from the Taiwan Teahouse in Indianapolis. They make everything fresh, with no preservatives, and it tastes amazing. It’s the only place I can eat at a restaurant and feel happy about it afterward.
Q: Favorite happy memory.
A: My last trip to Clearwater Beach with my husband. Walking hand-in-hand along the beach, with the water lapping at our ankles, holding my big floppy hat against the wind, and letting my long skirt flow.
Q: Favorite drink.
A: Diet Coke. But I’m ashamed of it. I’ve been trying to quit for years.
Q: Hot summer days or chilly winter nights?
A: Can I have both? Hot summer days walking ankle-deep in the water, followed by chilly winter nights in front of a roaring fire? If I have to pick, I’ll take the hot summer days.
Q: What is the top thing on your bucket list?
A: Publishing the next novel.
Q: If you could have a super power, what would it be?
A: I’d like to be able to slow time down. That way the special moments could last longer, and maybe I wouldn’t be late to meetings so often!
Tell us where to find you: website(s), publisher’s page(s), blog(s), Facebook page(s), etc. List them all! Website & blog: http://www.ellengragg.com/
Follow me on Twitter @EllenGragg
Mired in a stagnant career and the lonely, faceless slog of modern life, at first Addie Hull doesn't quite know what to make of handsome, chivalrous Bert Roland and his oddly old-fashioned mannerisms. Deciding to be reckless in her life for once, Addie lets herself be swept off her feet. But mere weeks into their romance, Bert announces that he must return home to St. Louis... in 1904.
What's a little thing like time travel in the face of true love? Addie jumps at the chance to follow Bert and leave her modern life behind, but 1904 is no time for a modern woman, and once at home Bert starts seeming like much less of a modern man. Even the electrifying magic of the World's Fair seems to be hiding unpleasant surprises at every turn. As much as Addie loves Bert she has to wonder...What was I thinking?
Bert explained his whole theory to me, complete with abstruse detail and equations on whiteboards. To the extent that I followed it, it made good sense. Naturally, he left me in the dust somewhere in the last hour. Otherwise, I could have come up with the theory myself. Still, I thought I got the gist.
“So, you’re sure time travel for humans is possible, and that it can be engineered to be safe, and controllable?”
“Yes. Absolutely. You do need a sort of motorcar, though. To contain the instruments and protect yourself from random objects in the time-wave, of course.”
“Have you built a model? Could I see?”
“Indeed. I have a working model, right over here.”
He opened a door into another room, and there, bathed in fluorescent light, was a genuine Victorian monstrosity. Well, possibly the love child of a Victorian monstrosity and a Model T. It looked something like an antique car, and something like a horse-drawn carriage, and had all sorts of curlicues and flourishes. I couldn’t tell which details were functional, and which were merely decorative. The one thing I could tell was that it was under renovation. It seemed to have once had metal walls with tiny portholes—they were now lying damaged around the floor—but the contraption now had Plexiglas for one wall and there were additional Plexiglas panels leaning against the tool bench.
“It’s wonderful. What do you call it?”
“I’m not sure yet. Mother suggested the Roland Steamer, as Mr. Ferris named his wheel after himself, but I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I just call it ‘It’ to myself.” He stopped and stared lovingly at It.
“Your mother knows about it?” This was the first I’d heard of her, though of course I’d known there must be such a creature.
“Yes. She’s the only one—until you—who didn’t laugh when I tried to explain.”
Ooh. I suddenly realized I was in a basement lair with an unmarried weird guy who confided in his mother. How long until he told me what level of World of Warcraft he had mastered?
I leaned into It, being very careful not to touch anything, while getting a good look at the controls. “This is really something. And you said you have proof it works? You’ve actually tried it?”
I turned to look at him, and found he had moved closer. “Yes,” he said, “I’ve taken a short hop myself.”
“Really? Really?” I lost the capacity to think with the thrill of it.
“You believe me?” he asked, looking deep into my eyes. “You truly do?”
I nodded. He kissed me. It was some kiss. This guy definitely hadn’t wasted his youth on World of Warcraft. We broke apart, and I felt an amazing connection between us. It was as if we were still touching.
“You’re so beautiful,” he breathed, looking at me as if overcome. I stepped closer, and pulled him back to me, initiating the kiss myself this time. He responded, clutching me against him, and I reached for the curl at the back of the neck that I’d been wanting to touch ever since we’d met.
I don’t know how long we stood there, just kissing with the most innocent of touches, but it felt like eternity and it felt like less than a second. It seemed more intimate than some sex I’d had. I was burning and I knew he was, too.
He pulled back abruptly. “I’m terribly sorry,” He said stiffly. “That was completely inappropriate. I’ll see you home.”
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