Archive for August 4th, 2008

Part One: Fun Five Questions, Serials, and Pseudonyms

The prolific Devon Ellington seems to be everywhere these days – she writes the column “The Literary Athlete” for THE SCRUFFY DOG REVIEW (www.thescruffydogreview.com), has the high-traffic blog on the writing life Ink in My Coffee (http://devonellington.wordpress.com), covers sports for FEMMEFAN (www.femmefan.com). Her fiction has been published in ESPRESSO FICTION, WILD CHILD, THE ROSE AND THORN, THEMA, EMERGING WOMEN WRITERS, GRIT, THE SCRUFFY DOG REVIEW, and more; her non-fiction credits include TOASTED CHEESE, HAMPTON FAMILY LIFE, THE CRAFTY TRAVELLER, THE SAVVY GAL, BLESSED GARDENS, THE ARMCHAIR DETECTIVE, and ELLE. Her plays have been produced in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe twice and the Adelaide Festival Fringe (in Australia) once, as well as in London and New York.

Ellington publishes under several names. August 1 saw the release of her paranormal action/adventure novella HEX BREAKER from Firedrakes Weyr Publishing. In September, NEW MYTHS will publish “The Merry’s Dalliance”, a pirate fantasy, and her play BEHIND THE MAN opens Cloverleaf’s January 2009 season. The notoriously reclusive Ellington is unusually candid in her answers to our questions.

Benson: We’re going to start with the Fun Five Questions. What are your vices?

Ellington: Scottish men, Scottish whisky, and Lamborghinis. I’m willing to do without the latter, but not the first two. I mean, after all, I drive a Volkswagen.

Benson: Name something you can’t do.

Ellington: Swim. I drown really well, though. You should have seen me learning how to handle a sailboat in preparation to cover the America’s Cup last year in less than two weeks. THAT was an adventure.

Benson: Qualities you look for in a man?

Ellington: I’m assuming you mean as a romantic interest? Intelligence, compassion, a sense of humor, courage, and beautiful eyes always go a long way with me.

Benson: Red wine or white?

Ellington: Red. Preferably not from California. You’ve got one question left; choose carefully.

Benson: If you were Queen of the Universe for the Day, what would you do?

Ellington: Outlaw acts of deliberate cruelty and eliminate hunger. If we eliminate hunger, I think we can build a foundation to solve most of the other problems.

Benson: Now to talk about your work: Why the different names?

Ellington: Different names for different genres. Marketing people get less confused, since they want to slot you somewhere simple. I don’t like getting boxed. I get claustrophobic. This way, we’re all happy.

Benson: What about readers?

Ellington: They might find me under one particular name, but I’ve been very lucky; they tend to jump with me from name to name, genre to genre.

Benson: What’s different about the names and the writing?

Ellington: The tone is slightly different for each name, which, of course, is influenced by the genre. You’ve got the characters’ cadences in the dialogue, but that’s layered over the author’s voice, and that voice differs from pseudonym to pseudonym. People who know my work well can spot it no matter what name it’s under, and sometimes the same minor character may wander through several pieces that publish under different names, but that’s more of a joke shared with the readers than anything else.

Benson: Like a “Where’s Waldo?” for readers?

Ellington: Something like that.

Benson: You wrote serials for a few years. What was that like?

Ellington: Wonderful. Terrifying. Grueling. I wrote four serials in four genres under two different names for nearly two years: A Western, a mystery, a pirate action/adventure, and a paranormal. Each one required two episodes per week of a thousand words each, so I wrote 8000 words per week.

Benson: Eight THOUSAND?

Ellington: While working full time on Broadway. Yeah, I know. I was insane. I focused on writing an entire month’s episodes on one specific serial each week so I wasn’t switching back and forth on a daily basis.

Benson: What happened?

Ellington: The company went under after two years, which happens, both on the internet and in life. All the rights reverted back to me, but I haven’t done much with them yet. I was too burned out to keep working on them. Plus, THE WIDOW’S CHAMBER, the Western, had run for two years, over 200 episodes. It needs a lot of cutting to be . . .anything. And I want to shift it from third person to first person.

Benson: Why?

Ellington: It wanted to be written through Nora’s eyes from the beginning, but I was afraid, in the serial style, I’d get trapped. Since I contracted for an open-ended serial that could have run for five years or so, I was constantly constructing both long-term and short-term arcs, weaving them together, winding up one plotline every few months and then leaving others open. It was a structural decision to write it in third person, so I could jump around in characters’ heads if necessary. But, for the good of the piece’s future life, it needs to be rewritten in first person. And it’s pre-Civil War, so I need to do a lot more research. I researched on the fly, and, although it’s reasonably accurate, I definitely pushed the envelope in some places.

Benson: Did the pirate serial form the basis for “The Merry’s Dalliance”?

Ellington: No. CUTTHROAT CHARLOTTE was based on the research I did on Anne Bonney, Mary Read, Calico Jack Rackham, and the pirates in the 1700’s, many of whom appear in the story. And, of course, Woodes Rogers, the privateer who became governor of Jamaica and responsible for hunting down the pirates. He was supposed to be a minor character, but he was such a charismatic figure in life that he kept wandering in and stealing scenes. I kind of have a crush on my interpretation of his character.

Benson: Did you kill him off?

Ellington: No! I don’t believe in “killing one’s darlings” – unless they hold back the story. Woodes is important. He forms an . . .interesting relationship with Charlotte, especially after she is elected as pirate captain.

Benson: Elected?

Ellington: Yes. Captains of pirate vessels were elected by the crew and could be deposed at any time. Pirate ships were floating democracies – everyone got a vote, everyone shared in the loot, everyone shared in the work. Their shipboard agreements read very much like our Constitution in some ways. I did cheat and give Charlotte her own cabin – pirate captains usually didn’t have their own quarters, but it’s a convention I needed for the story.

Benson: Where does “The Merry’s Dalliance” fit in?

Ellington: The MERRY, in the story, is a legendary pirate ship in a fantasy world. It’s captained, again, by a woman, but her crew is a mix of the alive and the dead, and it mixes more mythological and folkloric legends in with the story than CHARLOTTE. CHARLOTTE is set against the backdrop of history, the escalating conflict that leads to the American Revolution, whereas the MERRY sails in a world I built for it.

Benson: What will happen with CUTTHROAT CHARLOTTE and the characters in “The Merry’s Dalliance”?

Ellington: Eventually, I’ll go back and restructure CHARLOTTE from serial to novel. I’m too fond of the characters to let it go. ANGEL HUNT, the paranormal, will probably see light of day first, of any of the serials. That was the one nearest completing its long arc. It’s in decent shape. I can cut some of the tangential plotlines and fix the ending, and that should be ready to make the rounds by October. NEW MYTHS asked for more adventures with the Merry crew, so I’m working on the second story. I knew they had more adventures, but couldn’t figure out what to write. I had a half a dozen ideas, but couldn’t settle on something that would make a good, stand-alone story. Fortunately, an actor with whom I worked this summer made a comment backstage one night that just unlocked the piece. I’ll submit it to the magazine in the fall, and, if they like it, maybe it’ll come out next year.

Come back on Friday for Part 2 of the interview with Devon Ellington. In the meantime, visit the Hex Breaker site to read an excerpt and then click over to Firedrakes Weyr to purchase the novella!

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