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Posts Tagged ‘Muse Online Writers’ Conference’

Part 7: Themes in the Work, The Muse Online Writers’ Conference, Nano, mentoring, and writing routines

The prolific Devon Ellington seems to be everywhere these days – she writes the column “The Literary Athlete” for THE SCRUFFY DOG REVIEW, has the high-traffic blog on the writing life Ink in My Coffee, covers sports for FEMMEFAN. 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: Similar themes run through a lot of your work: Loyalty, betrayal, and the Misfit.

Ellington: I’ve been a misfit all my life. I’ve never fit anywhere. I learned not only to live with it, but enjoy it. Growing up, the one big rule in the household was that you never do or want something because “everyone” does it or wants it. Do the research, make your own decision. We’re getting more and more into a mind state of over-medication and irresponsibility. Nothing is anyone’s fault – always blame someone else. Take a pill and fix it. Not only does that cause personality to crumble, but I don’t like giving up control of myself and my life to someone who probably doesn’t have my best interests at heart. Often in my work, characters have been hurt because they wanted to be accepted in spite of being non-conformist, and, over the course of the story, they learn not only self-acceptance, but how to find others who will accept them on their own terms without fear or manipulation. How people find each other, how people mesh, especially when they are individualists rather than conformists, really interests me. That intersection between fate and choice is something that fascinates me. Everyone gets there differently. Just because you were hurt by someone in the past doesn’t mean you have to punish everyone who comes into your life in the future, which is something I think happens frequently. And yet, you also have to have a certain amount of defense mechanisms, you have to learn from experience to experience, or you keep making the same mistakes. How one learns, how one applies it is all very interesting. Loyalty is very important to me; however, people are going to disappoint you, hurt you, even if that’s not the intent. That’s the nature of human relationships. There are predators, but, for the most part, people are muddling along doing the best they can, and responding the best way they can, even if it’s not the response you want. That exploration of the muddling and the unmuddling, when it’s worth to keep investing in someone else, when you need to walk away . . .I think it’s a universal dilemma. Part of my job as a writer is to explore those permutations, make the personal universal and the universal personal.

Benson: You’re teaching at the Muse Online Conference again this year, correct?

Ellington: Yes, I’ll be teaching the dialogue workshop again for the entire week in October. It’s a great conference. There are so many wonderful workshops, it’s online, so you do it in your own time, and it’s free. Last year I developed my Nano novel for it.

Benson: For those who don’t know, Nano is National Novel Writing Month. (www.nanowrimo.org) During the month of November, tens of thousands of people all over the world commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Was last year your first Nano?

Ellington: My third. My second year as a mentor, but my third overall.

Benson: What’s come out of Nano?

Ellington: The first year’s was called THE FIX-IT GIRL, about a woman in the publicity department of a Hollywood studio in the 1930s. I need to break it into two books and do some re-structuring. There was just too much in there for one book. The second year I tried my hand at romantic suspense with something called ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT. It was a mess, I was trying to stretch out of my comfort zone, and there’s some very bad writing in it, although recently I’ve had someone interested in it. If that ever does see the light of day, it’ll go under a completely different name. Last year, I developed EARTH BRIDE in Christine Amsden’s world-building workshop – she calls it “science fantasy”, because it mixes elements of both the science fiction and fantasy genres. That worked pretty well, although it’s nowhere near ready for submission. But that was my first foray into that genre, and really opened up my confidence in writing mythological fantasy, which is what’s sold for me recently. But, because the point of Nano is quantity, not quality, it can get frustrating, and anything created during that month needs much more work than material created elsewhere. There’s also a burnout factor where, at the end of Nano, I just can’t look at it anymore, sometimes for years. Which is bad, because unfinished work drains everything else.

Benson: How did you develop a book while you taught?

Ellington: I took both Christine’s workshop and Karina Fabian’s workshop, and developed science-fantasy pieces in each. It was fun, because Karina took my workshop, and we both took Christine’s – if it had been in life, instead of virtual, we wouldn’t have been allowed to sit together. I did the homework for their workshops, which got the creative juices flowing, and worked with my students, and did a lot of yoga poses in between hours at the computer. EARTH BRIDE pulled harder, the characters would not shut up, so that was my Nano; I need to do more reading in biology for the other piece because so much of the story is based on plant and animal life. I’m a taskmaster – my students had daily exercises, which they posted and I critiqued, sent them back to do rewrites, etc. Several of them have published their first pieces in the year since, so I’m proud of the progress. 200 people signed up for my workshop, but about 40 did the daily exercises. Still, 40 exercises/day to critique takes time. You want to give every piece the attention it deserves.

Benson: You mentioned you mentor during Nano. How does that work?

Ellington: Yeah, there’s this thing where first-years get adopted by people who have done it before. To hit 50K in 30 days, you only have to do 1661 words/day, but I like to do 2500 words/day and be done before Thanksgiving. I send them daily encouragement emails as a group and then hop on and off the forum all day to answer individual questions.

Benson: How many do you mentor?

Ellington: The first year, it was around thirteen, fifteen? Something like that. Last year I had thirty-four.

Benson: Thirty-four?

Ellington: Yeah, it was a bit much. And some of them drop out because they don’t have the commitment, although I have very little patience with that. I want to be inclusive, but people who don’t keep up their end of the bargain, which is to write every day, drain everyone. If I do Nano again this year – and it’s a big “if” – and I mentor, then I’ll make some changes in how I do it.

Benson: How do you do it?

Ellington: I keep the same writing schedule I do outside of Nano: Get up early, feed the cats (because nothing gets done if the cats are hungry), put on the coffee, do my yoga, and then write. Normally, it’s my first 1000 words of the day; during Nano, it’s the first 2500 words of the day. Anyone in my life has to accept the fact that once I’m actually out of the bed, don’t talk to me for the first two hours of the day until I get the yoga and the first 1K of the day complete. It’s non-negotiable. Then, during Nano, I send out the daily encouragements, then I write the blog, check email, and go back to whatever writing’s on deadline, and switch off on projects all day, depending on what needs to be done. I usually read or do research in the afternoons. I’m good in the morning or at night – afternoons are low-energy for me, and I have trouble focusing. On anything. I’m basically useless. If I’m working in the theatre, I have a truncated writing day – especially on matinee days – because I have to give myself two hours to get in, due to lousy train service. If I don’t have shows, I’ll usually spend evenings with friends or loved ones, or maybe do a workshop or a reading, or if someone I know is performing, I’ll go see them, or, if the writing’s going well (or I’m on a tight deadline), write some more at night. When I lived in Manhattan, working in theatre full-time, I went out after shows at least five nights a week – I mean, I’m in New York, I should take advantage of it, right? But now that I have an hour and a half to two hour commute AND the trains stop running at a certain point, I usually have to leave directly after the show to make a train so I can get home sometime between midnight and one a.m. Sometimes I’ll go out for a glass of wine, but I have to keep checking the time.

Benson: Do you write when you come back from the theatre?

Ellington: Rarely. I’m too tired and I’m covered in the energy of the people with whom I’ve worked. That’s not a bad thing, it just affects the writing. And then it’s battling across town through the crowds to get back to the train station, and dealing with the drunks on the train ride home. I need to relax with a glass of red wine, shower, chill out for awhile, play with the cats, or they’ll keep me up all night, maybe check email – it takes me a couple of hours to putter around and go to bed. I get back around midnight most nights, so it’s usually about 2 before I get to sleep. Sometimes, if a character’s been talking in my ear all night, I’ll write a few pages just so the character will shut up, but usually I write first thing in the morning, before I’ve had contact with the world.

Benson: When do you normally get up?

Ellington: Without an alarm, around 6 or 7, depending how late it was went I went to sleep. If I haven’t had a show the night before, anywhere between 4 AM and 6 AM. If I don’t get to bed until 2, it’s later, and then there’s usually one day a week where I’ll go back to bed in the afternoon to catch up.

Benson: Do you ever take a day off?

Ellington: That’s why I freelance; so I can take time off whenever I want! I usually have a floating day off, whenever the mood strikes. And some days, the writing goes badly, so I give myself the day off to replenish the creative well. Read a book, go to a museum – looking at paintings always gets the words flowing again.

Benson: Do you get writer’s block?

Ellington: I don’t have the luxury of writer’s block. This is my business, not my hobby, as well as being my passion and my vocation. But it’s not what I do on the side. I don’t rely on anyone else’s income – it’s all up to me. On the bad days, you have to rely on craft to get you through. If you only write when you feel like it, in this day and age, you won’t be able to sustain a career. Unless you’re in that top tier of money earners, you also have to be able to juggle multiple projects, and you also have to realize that plenty of them will never see light of day. But, hopefully, you learn something on each one that you can apply to the next one.

On Friday, we run the final installment of the interview. Ellington discusses writing on the road, relationships, editing, and what she believes in the electronic publishing vs. traditional print conflict.

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

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

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