Interview with Author CJ Ellisson

Author: Anastasia V. Pergakis // Category:

Yes, I just had to do another interview because CJ Ellisson is awesome! I first met her on but we never really talked until I found her on the blogosphere. We exchange great emails now and I look forward to having her as a penpal while I am in Basic Training.

I recently got to read her novel "Vampire Vaction". It was a great read and I stayed up an entire night to read it - I just couldn't put it down! I'll have an "Book-interview" about it tomorrow!

So, CJ tell of us here a little about yourself.

I'm a happily married mother of two kids, ages 9 and 7. We live in northern Virginia where I was born, but I've also lived in New Jersey and Maine. I started writing a little over a year ago and now can't imagine my life without it.

I feel the same. Life just wouldn't be the same without writing. What made you decide to become a writer?

That is always an interesting one to answer. About two years ago I was pretty sick and going through a ton of medical tests. I had to give up my full time job because of my illness and soon my life slowly constricted to consist of family, friends and the girl scout meetings I led.

One fateful book club night I found out two friends were writing books, and I thought "Why not?" With encouragement from one friend, I started to write in February '09 and haven't looked back.

When the diagnoses came in for three separate diseases and treatment began (don't worry, none are life threatening), I found that writing gave me purpose and direction.

That is great to hear that you found something positive instead of dwelling on the negative. You are definitely an inspiration to a lot of people out there. Who inspires you to write?

No one. Just me. Writing is pretty solitary.

I can tell you who encourages me, though. First and foremost it would be the friend who believed in my writing and who finally agreed to become my writing buddy as I was close to finishing my book last year - Supriya Savkoor. She has taught me so much this past year and helped me to grow as a writer and a person. Next, I'd say my husband, my close friends, and supporters on facebook.

The early readers who read my work online have stuck by me from when the first chapters went up. Day to day they make me feel like my book and writings are indeed worthy. They encourage me with every word, every note, every post and every comment -- helping me to see I'm not alone on this new path in life.

It is great to have people out there that support you. You definitely have a fan here! How much has your life changed since you were published/started writing?

I'm embarrassed to admit I've written nothing else besides my first book, Vampire Vacation, part of the second book, and a few flash-fiction pieces for contests on WDC (Hey, do blogs count? ;-).

Life has changed only slightly so far. I've learned that I have to keep my mouth shut in public no matter what nastiness is spewed my way. And trust me, that's harder than it sounds for a certifiable bitch like me. ;-)

That is nothing to be embarrassed about. I'm pretty embarassed that I have about 12 novels in some state of writing or rewriting and 4 more waiting to get started - but none are even close to be ready for publication! It seems it takes me a while to write. How long does it take you to write a book and what is your schedule like when writing?

The first book took me a little over four months to write. I polished it for a few weeks, sent out some queries, got rejections and polished it again for two more months. I started the second book for National Novel Writing Month this past November, and had to drop out mid-way through when Vampire Vacation advanced in a huge contest and the full manuscript was due sooner than expected.

I try to write for a three to four hours a day when I am writing on a schedule and then I might take some down time with editing other writer's work or networking online. But this is a full-time job for me now. It's amazing how much time can get eaten up online if you let it (another topic for another day!).

Three to four hours a day? Wow! That is amazing. I would love to have that much time a day. Over the cours eof a week it might average out to that but my schedule is more like one hour a day then ALL day on hubby's day off! Whatever works right? So, do you character plot a great deal or have a detailed outline before you start writing, or do you write on the fly?

All the characters are live in my head - but I get lost in the small details from chapter to chapter like eye color and such for the secondary characters. Sometimes I brainstorm with friends on possible backgrounds for these characters so I can be sure what motivates them better as I'm developing them (which can be great fun if alcohol is involved).

I do have an outline, but it's loose. Four to six sentences at most, describing the main action and where I plan to place a sex scene. It's worked for me so far, but everyone creates differently. Believe it or not, I actually balance the sex within the story. My goal was to not have it overwhelm the book, but add to it.

I used to never outline but a workshop recently changed my view on it. Now I will create loose outlines too, to at least keep me on track! That really helps in the rewriting stage too, when the reviews and critiques start coming in. I can get lost in new ideas and suggestions and forget the point of my story. Do you have a critique group, editor, or do you self-edit?

Having only the one book to go with for experience, I can say I've certainly tried a gamut of resources. First, I was in two crit groups. I found some members gave better advice than others, but both moved incredibly slow. Next, I started posting on (WDC) and got a ton of reviews on the early chapters of my work, which later led to a private group with 30+ writers offering me insights.

In conjunction to posting on WDC, I started a facebook business page where I posted the first seven chapters of my book. I got some great response and hundreds clammoring to read the rest. I started a private reading group with over 250 real readers giving me feedback and opinions. Their support helped beyond measure when I started getting harsh critiques, or bashing from judges, on my first-person present-tense style of writing.

I had a bunch of writers tell me no reader would be willing to make a switch to present tense, that they were used to reading past tense and mostly third person and I was never going to sell my book if I kept it the way it was. Having others, the real people in my reading group, share their thoughts helped me to ignore the nay-sayers and stand by my book.

As for self-editing? I needed help with the basics-- a lot of help. I went to school for science and art and had a professional career in banking and real estate. None of which prepared me to write with the professionalism and knowledge a true writer needs.

Supriya, my patient writing buddy, is a free-lance editor by trade. Having her walk me through the basics, teach me about formatting, and even politely *ahem* send me a document on correct comma usage made a huge difference from the beginning of the book to the end.

Once I had a core group of people who could help me with my punctuation and polishing (seriously, who knows all that stuff?) I tried Holly Lisle's One Pass Revision method. I printed out my entire manuscript and was shocked how many errors leapt off the page at me as opposed to viewing it on the computer screen. Her website is an incredible resource and I recommend it to writers of all levels.

I will have to try the facebook business page. That sounds like a great idea to network and get feedback. I'm sure it would make revising and such much easier too. What is the hardest part of writing that you've struggled with?

I could write a whole post on this one question because there is not just one aspect that has been hard. But many. I think that's what happens when you have no formal training and learn as you go.

Specifically, in my first book I can point to an actual chapter. Interestingly enough, it's chapter number thirteen. I had the scene in my head for a long time. I envisioned all this pain and angst on the protagonist's part and I had no idea how to convey it well in words. I'd only been writing for two months or so and felt way, way over my head.

I put it off, I hemmed and hawed... I think I let myself focus on other things for a week or two and never wrote a word--all to avoid having to put pain on paper. I don't know how it is for other writers, but for me, writing about something painful is incredible hard.

My writing partner loved that chapter, but in the end it'll be up to the readers to decide, right?

I struggle with that too CJ. But I find that in some weird twisted way it's because I'm avoiding something painful in my life that I don't want to talk about. Writing that out in a scene is very therpueatic to me and I can move on, a stronger person. Where can other folks out there get a hold of you online?

Group Blog: Wicked Writers
Facebook Fan Page (with uncut chapters)

Thanks for stopping by CJ! I look forward to our interview tomorrow about "Vampire Vacation".

2 Responses to "Interview with Author CJ Ellisson"

C.J. Ellisson Says :
May 13, 2010 at 12:35 PM

Thanks so much for having me, Harley! It was great fun and I'm grateful for the time and effort you put in.

Anthony J Langford Says :
May 14, 2010 at 4:47 AM

Wow - talk about getting lucky early.. a year? well good for her.. Good interview too..
thanks both for sharing...


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