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Part 2: Voice, TRACKING MEDUSA, fame, fans, and why she’s not an actor

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.

In Part One, Ellington answered our Fun Five Questions, discussed pseudonyms and serial writing. Now, the interview continues:

Benson: Have you ever changed voices while writing a piece?

Ellington: Do you mean shifting from first person to third person? Often. I work from character, especially in early drafts, so I trust the character to tell the story, and then I impose structure as I do more drafts. Sometimes that means changing the POV of the whole piece.

Benson: I meant the author’s voice. Have you ever had a problem deciding which name to put something?

Ellington: Oh, sorry. I’m struggling with that right now. TRACKING MEDUSA, which is the first of a trilogy of archaeological adventures, was begun under the Ava Dunne name, but the voice is more Devon than Ava, so I think I will contract under the “Devon” name. “Ava” is used for lighter, more romantic comedies. Originally, I thought MEDUSA would be more in that vein. It’s darker, it’s more Justin’s story than Gwen’s. Justin morphs from a shy, slightly nerdy young guy who lacks self confidence to a real power in his professional and personal lives thanks in part to the fact that Gwen treats him like an equal partner from day one. But, as the books progress, he falls in love with his newly discovered sense of power, takes it a bit too far, and ends up in a pretty dark place.

Benson: Does he come out of it?

Ellington: I don’t know. I’m only about 50 pages into the second book, THE BALTHAZAAR TREASURE – yes, more pirate stuff, gotta keep using the research, you know? I’ve outlined the third book, most of which takes place in Scotland, but opens in Rome, and he starts at a point where he’s going down a dark road. I’m not sure if he’s going to make it through. He breaks Gwen’s heart – and his own – through his love of his newly-discovered sense of self at the end of BALTHAZAAR. There’s enough going on in the book so I don’t feel I’m giving away too much by that revelation. I’m not sure if they can find their way back to each other in SANDOVAL’S SECRET. They start the third book as antagonists, much the way Gwen and Karl are in MEDUSA.

Benson: I read the blog (Ink in My Coffee) as you wrote TRACKING MEDUSA, and I feel as though I’ve lived through its creation. So Karl’s in all three books? He always intrigued me. It sounded like you originally wanted him to be the uber-villain, and he evolved into something else.

Ellington: Oh, yeah, they couldn’t shake him that easily! After all, Karl and Gwen have twenty years of history together, since they were in grad school. Justin – no matter how crazy he and Gwen are about each other – can’t change that. Karl is part of what makes Gwen who she is. Their rivalry is part of what allowed them to be successful and there’s layer upon layer of emotion that doesn’t always manifest in the healthiest way. And yet, if the shit hits the fan, they’ve got each other’s backs. The original intent in MEDUSA was to kill off Karl, but he made it very clear as the book progressed that he wasn’t going anywhere.

Benson: Will we see more of Edward? The vampire? I wouldn’t kick him out of my bed!

Ellington: I hesitated about having Edward and his companions in MEDUSA at all, because I didn’t want it to go into the now over-crowded vampire genre novels; but he really is an important part of the overall story, even without vampirism being the focus, so he stayed. We’ll see more of Edward, probably in book 3, and more of Irina and Bartholomew, too. After all, Irina’s got a thing for Justin, and there’s a part of him that wants to experience the rough trade she offers. And Bartholomew’s got a crush on Justin, although he’s much gentler in his approach.

Benson: Who’s Gwen’s true love? Justin or Karl?

Ellington: Sometimes I think both; sometimes I think neither. Justin loves her no matter what, but doesn’t always understand her. Karl always understands her, but sometimes he doesn’t like her very much, although he always loves her. Gwen and Karl are a really good team in emergencies, but they drive each other crazy in daily life. Justin’s a better match for her, at least until he starts acting like a sexually narcissistic moron, but either one, or both, could be her True Love.

Benson: Will there be a book about Gwen and Karl?

Ellington: Pre-Justin? I’m thinking about it. Gwen talks so much in MEDUSA about the adventure where she and Karl truly became antagonists, exploring whether Shakespeare really wrote Shakespeare, that I may write it.

Benson: Do you think Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare?

Ellington: Absolutely. Not that he worked in a vacuum or never had input – when you write for a specific group of actors, there’s a creative collaboration that’s pretty astonishing and exciting and brilliant, especially if you cast well. It’s one of the reasons I keep writing plays – I love being in the rehearsal room.

Benson: Do you work on much Shakespeare?

Ellington: I haven’t in the past few years. I miss it. I adore Shakespeare. Some people get crushes on actors or rock stars – I had a crush on Hotspur.

Benson: So fame’s not an attraction for you?

Ellington: I don’t think I really comprehend it, you know? I’ve always thought of fame and celebrity as something that’s imposed on people, even ambitious people, and has very little to do with who they are. I have no desire for it – I want to be well-regarded in my field, but I don’t want people interrupting me at dinner, if that makes any sense. And I don’t find someone attractive BECAUSE they’re out in public all the time.

Benson: Does that mean you don’t like working with big name actors?

Ellington: I’d rather deal with them in human terms, if that makes any sense. There are actors whose work I like and respect, actors with whom I want to work. Who you work with is often luck of the draw. As a crew person, you don’t have that much control over how the work is split up. As a writer, it’s about who connects with the work, and how much control the writer retains over casting, which, in most instances, is not much. I think often it’s better to cast someone less well-known, who comes with less baggage. When I work with someone I’ve never met before, I try to ignore whatever I’ve heard publicly. Of course, crew people share information about those with whom they’ve worked, and that’s helpful. But still, you have to come to the work completely open and assuming it’s going to be a good experience and allow the other person to be who they are, not who you think he should be, or who you expect him to be. Honestly, I’d rather work with someone talented and pleasant than famous; believe me, those qualities don’t always coincide.

Benson: How do you deal with your own fans?

Ellington: I’m not well-known enough to have to worry too much, thank goodness! I get a lot of email from the websites and, under the Cerridwen name, I get a lot of letters forwarded by the publisher. I mean, I’ve been writing for that publisher for fourteen years now, in their calendars and annuals. So I get a big stack of about 300-500 letters (which isn’t that much in the overall scheme of it) when the annuals ship in the fall and another stack soon after the holidays, because people get them as gifts. I answer everything, although it takes a few months. I keep a log of the mail with addresses and emails and locations and all that.

Benson: Why?

Ellington: It’s something I came up with when I star-dressed and doubled as a personal assistant for a few well-known actors. I don’t do personal assistant work anymore – I need to be able to walk out of the stage door at the end of the show, be done, and handle my own life, not someone else’s. The log is a way to keep track of what’s come in and gone out. If they send something to be signed, and then write back two months later and say they didn’t get it, send more, but you know you mailed it. Or they accuse you of not answering and try to guilt you into giving them something. But you’ve got the proof. Or they specifically say they don’t want a personalized signature, so you know they’re trying to sell it. While there are thousands of amazing fans out there for everyone, there’s always a handful of manipulative ones who act like you owe them because they’re a fan, or who have no qualms about attempting emotional blackmail to get what they want. Pretending to have a disability and trying to guilt you into doing stuff for them because you don’t is a big and mightily overused one. Most are so clumsy at it, though, you can spot it a mile away. The log is a way to track the whackos, the stalkers, the trouble-makers, and have the documentation to turn over to the authorities if need be. Also, in my case, since I travel a lot, I can pull up the list wherever I travel and see if there’s enough of an interest in my work to schedule events like a panel or a workshop or a signing and combine it with whatever research or other reason I have for the trip. The Excel program is my friend.

Benson: Have you ever had a stalker?

Ellington: Once or twice. But I handled it myself before it got too far out of line. The only time I really got a lot of personal attention was when I had a show in Australia. I still appeared in photographs then, so everyone at the festival knew what I looked like. Plus, I was guest co-host on a radio show, so they listened to me first thing in the morning, I appeared in every interview and venue promoting the show, and it was a topic that was hot in the area at the time. So I got stopped in the street a lot, and every time I sat down in a restaurant or a café, people would drop into the other chairs and start conversations. I’m pretty good one-on-one, in workshops, on panels, I’m okay in interviews. I’m really bad at parties and making small talk. I just suck at it. Most of the fans were very nice and very interesting. A few were kind of creepy and had to learn that, although my essence influences whatever work I do, I am still separate from the work. And it’s weird when people want to sleep with you because they have this idea of who you are because of something that’s on stage or on the page instead of bothering to find out who you really are. They want you to personify their fantasy and it’s like, wait, that has nothing to do with me. You’re projecting your desires onto me and I won’t sit here and be your canvas. Instead of projecting, learn how to create for yourself and you’ll be happier than living a fantasy through someone else. And yet, so much of the entertainment industry is based on feeding those fantasies. Thank God I’m not an actor! I’d be the most ungracious bitch imaginable! I couldn’t handle the spotlight.

Benson: Is that why you’re not an actor?

Ellington: I’m not an actor because I’m not good at revealing publicly the layers of a character, and I don’t enjoy having that much attention focused on me. I make sense of the world through words. I love to collaborate with actors, but I don’t want to be one.

Join us next Monday, for the next section of the interview with Ellington, where she delves into what it’s like behind-the-scenes.

To read an excerpt of HEX BREAKER, visit the Hex Breaker website.

To purchase a copy of HEX BREAKER, visit Firedrakes Weyr Publishing.

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