Q&A With Stephanie Ellis
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Q&A With Stephanie Ellis
Mickey Mikkelson, who is a publicist and one of his clients is New York Times Bestselling author Tosca Lee, connected me to many authors. One of these authors Mickey connected me with is author Stephanie Ellis. Below is a bio of what Stephanie writes which I think readers will find interesting.
Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her longer work includes the novels, The Five Turns of the Wheel and Reborn, and the novellas, Bottled and Paused. Her novel, The Woodcutter, is due for release via Brigids Gate Press in 2023. Her dark poetry has been published in her collections Foundlings (co-authored with Cindy O’Quinn), Lilith Rising (co-authored with Shane Douglas Keene) and Metallurgy, as well as the HWA Poetry Showcase Volumes VI, VII, VIII and IX, and Black Spot Books Under Her Skin. She can be found supporting indie authors at HorrorTree.com via the weekly Indie Bookshelf Releases. She is an active member of the HWA and can be found at https://stephanieellis.org, on Twitter at @el_stevie, Instagram stephanieellis7963 and also somewhere on Facebook.
Q: At what point in your life did you realize your calling was to be an author?
A: Quite late in life actually! I’ve been an avid reader from a very young age to the extent my mum would confiscate my books and send me outside to play. Though when you live in the middle of nowhere they were one of my few escapes!
The writing came later, when my children had become a little older and I was able to return to the workforce on a part-time basis. I was a librarian in junior and then senior school. Reading the books on those shelves made me think I could do it. I will add there were often adult works on the senior’s shelves so I had a whole range of literature to examine. Reading has always been as necessary as breathing to me but once I started writing, I also discovered this was true for the latter! I can’t imagine a time now when I won’t be creating my stories or poems!
Story submissions and publication only started when I was about 50, I am now 58. There you go, it’s never too late¬
Q: What do you enjoy the most about writing novels, dark speculative prose & poetry?
A: In stories, including narrative poetry, it’s the point when a thought or idea suddenly starts to ‘breathe’ and you have this whole new world filled with remarkable characters who are shouting at you to tell their story. It’s amazing how much they come alive and then there is nothing I can do but follow them on the path they lead me.
For poetry, it’s very much about playing with words and in my poems usually when I have made a first initial pairing of words; these somehow set the atmosphere and mood, even tell me where I’m going! The combination, the lines that follow are often determined by the rhythm the words themselves create. I love the alliterative and almost lyrical quality of early Anglo-Saxon and Viking poetry. Their ability to create metaphors, those wonderful kennings, are a delight, they give texture to the way the poem will be spoken and I love trying to include similar elements in mine. Although I can never hope to match these masters!
The speculative aspect is also very freeing, it allows you to explore any sort of idea and experiment in a way that you cannot in mainstream literature.
Q: What is your advice to anyone on writing great dark speculative prose, poetry and novels?
A: Read in the genre so that you understand your market. It doesn’t mean you should imitate what’s already there but it shows you what people understand by speculative fiction and poetry, allows you to work out where you fit – or not. I would recommend continuing to read widely in general, and not just within your genre, as this keeps you ‘fresh’. If you stay within the same narrow confines of writing, you might become a master of that aspect but it can become restrictive. You might also become bored and if you write whilst bored, your readers will detect this!
I would also recommend searching out organizations which represent this field, the HWA for dark fiction and dark poetry writers, the SFPA for speculative poetry amongst others. Check out individual author/poet sites and podcasts. There is a lot of free material to be found and some, such as Angela Yuriko Smith (Exercise Your Writes – YouTube), Tim Waggoner (Tim Waggoner’s Writing in the Dark – YouTube) offer great advice and pointers. There are also writing books, e.g. Writing in the Dark by Time Waggoner and Writing Poetry in the Dark by Stephanie M. Wytovich which is a great resource. There are so many others but if you start with these, they will point you to wherever you need to go. And of course, there’s the wonderful On Writing by Stephen King. The latter is great to dip into when you’re feeling a bit down or seeking inspiration. Writing is not an easy occupation because of its isolating nature and the peaks and troughs of acceptance and rejection are hard to come to terms with. Read the journeys of others, connect with others and you will realize you are not alone. We are all the same.
Q: If there are other genres you would explore writing, which ones would they be and why?
A: I think you should write where your interests take you and sometimes that might be outside of the genre you started in. At the moment I have been writing in certain sub-genres: folk horror, gothic horror and dystopian/post-apocalyptic horror. I do have a love of history and there now seems to be a growing market for historical horror and so I’ve been combining two passions. But what historical horror has allowed me to do is move over slightly to a more mainstream approach and write a dark historical fiction novel (Women of the Witch Eye) which is currently seeking agent representation. It has witchcraft and superstition within its pages but it is not outright horror and would certainly find a place on the fiction shelves as opposed to the small horror section that bookstores usually provide.
I would love to explore more historical, dystopian and fantasy fiction, again with a dark edge but not with the overt horror vibe of my other writing. I see these as a natural progression in terms of what I am writing already.
Q: If you’re writing something now, can you reveal any details?
A: I have a few things on the go! I am currently working on the third novel in the folk horror Five Turns of the Wheel series. This is a world I have created and whose mythology I really enjoy developing. The new one is set in deep midwinter and I aim to bring in more early pagan belief, with a nod to the Norse, and celebrate Yule in a slightly less than modern way. One thing I would throw in here is that if you create characters and a world you enjoy in one book, if you haven’t killed them off, keep telling their stories. It is such a fun thing to do. A tentative title for this one is Of Wolves and Mother but I haven’t fixed it yet, I’ll know by about the three-quarter mark, the point when I usually know the ending as well. Did I mention I was a pantser?
I also have three dark poetry projects on the go. Two co-authored works, one of which is well-underway, the other only just started. I am also working on a new individual collection, the focus being very much Hel’s story. You might detect a theme here with Norse mythology. I love the stories and poetry and having traced my genealogy back, I have found a Norman and from there, an explicit viking, heritage.
Q: Is it fair to say in your novels, the characters and worlds within them are based off of actual people and places? I love it when authors can create using real life as their inspiration.
A: The Five Turns series was born out of my rural childhood. I grew up in an isolated pub, The Cider House, it wasn’t even in a village and although I put it within a settlement in The Five Turns of the Wheel, it was still pretty much the building I grew up in. The surrounding villages are also a transplant of the geography of that area – and I know it worked because my dad read the book and said he recognized it all. A character or two have made their way into the pages but only in a very loose context. It’s more about the place than people with me as I don’t want to get sued! Reborn, the follow up to The Five Turns of the Wheel, is set more in the Hampshire area where I was living until recently. Elements of the characters’ journey through Winchester are true enough. My novella, Paused, was set in Southampton where we actually lived (not far from Winchester). I thought why not? Not all stories have to be set in London!
It also makes it easier when you write because you can visualize it and it adds realism. Don’t struggle to create a place when you’ve something on your doorstep, just throw in a few made-up streets or whatever and you’re away!
Q: Does Hollywood have any interests or rights to your work? Hollywood is long overdue for creativity.
A: No, but it is an ambition of mine to see my books on screen! With the Five Turns series and the short stories set in that world, I’ve created some original folk horror/dark fantasy which I believe would work brilliantly. Villains, heroines, pagan traditions, myth. It’s all there. And the novella Paused would work as a brilliant bio-thriller.
I live in Wrexham now which has become famous through the Welcome to Wrexham series. I only live 10 minutes from the football ground, perhaps Ryan Reynolds or Rob McElhenney might show an interest one day. Maybe I could sneak some books into the grounds somehow …
Q: What’s your advice to anyone wanting to submit their poetry and prose to magazines and anthologies? When dealing with writer’s block, what helpful advice do you give others on how to deal with it too?
A: The most important thing is to make sure you understand the submission brief and then to follow the guidelines. You’d be surprised how many writers don’t do the latter and are automatically rejected because of this. I’ve been on the editorial side of the fence so I can attest to this (I would edit flash fiction and occasionally receive a novella!) and other editors have often reported this. Not only is it a waste of your time not to get it right, but it is also a waste of time for the poor editor involved. These days, a submission call can result in hundreds of entries and to expect an editor to read or comment on something which is not what they’ve asked for, is hugely disrespectful. If you’ve written to the brief and submitted in the appropriate format (and with as clean a copy as possible) and obeyed the ‘how to’ part of submitting, then you have a good chance. Once you’ve submitted, be prepared to wait. Do not query until the period indicated in the call. This can be months. If you query before this, it can cause irritation. And if you are rejected, don’t respond, even to say ‘thank you’. Again, the editors do not have time to read these. I always throw in a catch all ‘Regardless of the outcome, many thanks for taking the time to read my work,’ at the end of a submission email. And above all, don’t respond rudely to a rejection. It’s the easiest way to get yourself blacklisted by that particular editor plus they talk to other editors and publishers and word will travel.
Don’t panic though if you make some mistakes on submission. If you are a new writer and have indicated as such, quite often the editor will help point you in the right direction for future submissions, some gentle guidance about how to go about something. I’ve even submitted and forgotten to attach the actual story in the past. We all do it so there is some understanding as you learn the ropes!
Q: What’s your advice to new authors on how to deal with negative reviews, online trolls and family and friends who aren’t supportive of their writing goals?
A: A lot of writers, especially the more established ones who are racking up the sales say don’t read the reviews. I’m trying not to but I do keep peeking mainly to see that people are reading my books. It is strange how you can have a majority of good reviews but then home in on the one or two for whom the book doesn’t work. Try to forget these, remember how subjective you are as a reader and know it is the same for them, at least they have given your story a chance.
I had one, very personal, bad review put up on Netgalley for a book which has received widely positive feedback. This particular review was directed more at me because of the site where I was editing at the time. They stated they ‘wanted to see if I could write’ and then basically tore the book apart but you could tell it was all from the perspective of assuming things from the blurb. What they wrote did not match the content of the book at all. It hurt but I did not respond. Some have said I could approach Netgalley but honestly, I don’t think it’s worth it. If it was someone who was deliberately targeting me on a wider basis across selling platforms as has happened to some, then perhaps I would do something. In those instances, you are harming a person’s ability to make a living.
I intensely dislike trolls, they are no more than cowards and bullies hiding behind anonymity. Difference of opinion is fine. But trolling, no. Abuse in this manner is never alright.
I am lucky to have family and friends who are supportive of my writing. They might not always read it, but they support me in whatever I do in order to progress. They know it is important to me, especially as I have spent years raising and supporting a family and putting them first, and now it is my time. With the support of my (working) husband, I have been able to step away from my old job in the school and focus on writing full time. It is a privilege to be able to do this and is something I was in no position to do even a few years back (I will add to having a wobble with energy prices recently but I’ve plowed on!). Those who work full time in the day job and then write around that time have my full sympathy, understanding and admiration.
As you build up your writing career, you will make writer friends along the way, online in the main but hopefully in real life as well. Try and develop a few close friendships where you are able to offload your writerly moans and groans. The other person will understand and help you out of any ‘down’ times. It’s also a great way to share successes, spark ideas, and have a laugh as well as removing that isolation.
If you are serious about writing, you will find your way into publication but be prepared for the long game and whilst you learn how to cope with the disappointments, always remember your successes. Keep the latter to the forefront of your mind and it will help strengthen your resolution. Don’t let anyone say writing is not a career. Books are products and part of a huge industry, the stories they tell feed into films, TV and plays. How is any of that not a valid business? Somebody has to create these works and it is as possible for it to be you as anybody else.