Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interview and Giveaway with Ellen Jensen Abbott, author of Watersmeet

Join us in welcoming author Ellen Jensen Abbott to the YA Authors Cafe! And stick around for a chance to win a copy of Ellen's wonderful debut novel, Watersmeet!

Melissa: Tell us about your newest book?

Ellen: Watersmeet is the story of Abisina, an outcast in her home village, who flees those who want to kill her to find the father she’s never met. On her journey, she is rescued by dwarves, kidnapped by centaurs, contacted by a ghost, and aided by a mysterious necklace.

Melissa: What was the inspiration for this story?

Ellen: There were many! I was a big reader of fantasy when I was a tween and young adult, and I still read the genre as much as I can. Naturally, when Abisina’s story started to spin out in my head, it was a fantasy. I love monsters and creatures and magic and mythology. I have a lot of fun playing around with the possibilities that such otherworldly ideas present.

But I was also intrigued by a conversation I had with a dear friend who came out to me as a gay man after years of friendship. In our following conversations, he talked about the homophobia he carried with him and this really surprised me. It sounds silly to say now, but I had never thought about prejudices we are taught and hang on to, even when we are the objects of that prejudice. Watersmeet is not about homophobia, but it does explore the question of letting go of one’s prejudice, even when one has been deeply injured by that prejudice.

Finally, the setting of Watersmeet is inspired by the years I spent growing up in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. In some ways, Watersmeet is set in New Hampshire—but it is New Hampshire as I saw it as a kid: the mountains are bigger, the water is colder, the sky is bluer. When I go back to visit, I can still catch glimpses of that place.

Melissa: What are you working on now?

Ellen: The sequel, of course! The continuation of Abisina’s adventures, tentatively titled The Centaur’s Daughter, is scheduled for a Fall 2011 release with Marshall Cavendish. I just turned in my first big round of revisions and am waiting to hear back from my editor. I also sent in a larger, expanded version of the map that appears in Watersmeet and can’t wait to see what the artist will do with it!

Melissa: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Ellen: Invention. There is definite fun in this part of the process as you get to know your characters and your setting and the conflicts that will drive the story, but this is also when I have to work the hardest. I write pages and pages of exploratory writing—often thinking that “I’m on my way,” only to discover that I took a wrong turn back there around chapter 3! I almost always know where I want to start and where I want to end, but making my way through the uncharted middle can be difficult. Unlike some writers, I adore revision. That’s when I feel like I really get to practice craft and pull the story from the tangle of threads I’ve created. I cut, cut, cut and love seeing the sleeker lines emerge.

Melissa: Have you ever wanted to quit writing?

Ellen: There have been many times when I’ve thrown my hands up and asked myself why I do this to myself? Why do I keep struggling with these characters who I made up but still won’t listen to me?! I may have even tried to quit once or twice, but it was quickly clear to me that writing isn’t really a choice. Those characters find you whether your sitting at your keyboard or not. For better or for worse, I’m a writer. I am happier when I’m writing regularly. Often, when I’ve just finished a big project, I stop writing for a few weeks while I dig myself out of the hole I’ve created by ignoring bills, house cleaning, and laundry. Invariably, the time away extends longer than I anticipated—mostly because I dig very big holes. Then inertia sets in, I’m out of practice, and it is easier and easier to say, “Oh, I’ll work on that story tomorrow.” I get grumpy. My family starts avoiding me. Finally it will hit me: I need to write! Even a sentence or two. Pretty soon, I’m back in it—pulling my hair out over misbehaving characters—and much happier.

Melissa: I can completely relate! (And so can my family.) What is on your nightstand right now?

Ellen: An eclectic mix! The Secret Year, by Jennifer R. Hubbard, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë, King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett, and Stranded by JT Dutton.

Melissa: Ellen, thank you for visiting us at the Cafe! For more information on Ellen and her books, visit

Questions or comments for Ellen? Feel free to leave her a message in the comments and she will check in throughout the next week.

BONUS! Everyone who leaves a question or comment for Ellen will automatically be entered to win a copy of Watersmeet! Make sure you include a working e-mail address so we can contact you if you are the lucky winner!