Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ellen Potter Interview

Today’s TMT Blogiversary Blog Tour Stop is at The Polka Dot Owl Blog.
Visit the blog to read about her favorite mentor text!

When I joined Twitter, I had no idea that within months I would have authors who I admired and loved following me, but that is exactly what happened! Ellen Potter was one of the first authors that followed me on Twitter and I was so star struck. Move to the present where Jen and I were lucky enough to get to read and review her newest novel, The Humming Room, in April and now we are lucky to have an interview with her to share. Twitter has really changed my professional life!


          The Humming Room

Teach Mentor Texts: How did you get the idea to write a novel inspired by The Secret Garden?

Ellen Potter: My editor, Jean Feiwel, suggested that I write a modern retelling of The Secret Garden, and I loved the idea. The Secret Garden has always been one of my favorite books. There were also elements in the book that I have explored before in some of my other works—magic that is woven into the everyday-ness of life, ghosts, mysterious houses.

When writing The Humming Room, how did you go about choosing what aspects of The Secret Garden you would keep, what you could change, what you would eliminate and what you would add?

I knew I wanted to keep the basic storyline the same. In part this was because it is such a great storyline; also I’m always annoyed when retellings veer off too drastically from the original. I did, however, feel the need to change the setting. I chose the Thousand Island region in New York because it can be pretty isolated at certain times of the year, like the Yorkshire moors. I also loved the old mansions that are on the islands! So many of them have this gorgeously layered history—and often a ghost or two.

I also amped up the romance in The Humming Room. In The Secret Garden, Dickon and Mary are just great friends. I felt like they were teetering on a crush, so I gave them a little romance in my book.

The Humming Room included folk tales that Violet shares with Roo about her new home.  Were these folk tales based off of actual oral traditions of the area or did you craft them? (This was Jen’s favorite part of the book, by the way.)

The legend of the Faigne, a boy who is a sea creature--much like a Selkie--was entirely fabricated. I researched other tales of sea creatures throughout the world, but often they were frightening monsters. Jack (my counterpart to Dickon) was more of a sea sprite. I loved creating his legend and the romantic backstory that went with it (so glad that Jen liked it!)

When did you decide to become an author?

I’ve been writing stories since I was about seven, and I took it pretty seriously back then. I wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember. I briefly considered becoming a vet, but seeing as how I cringed when my dog’s toenails were clipped, it’s probably a good thing I abandoned that idea.

Many authors contend that to be a great author you have to be a reader. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?

Yes, absolutely. I don’t subscribe to many hard-and-fast rules in writing, but that is one of them. It’s extremely difficult to understand how to make a story work unless you read widely and often. Reading also gives you an ear for language. When I run writing workshops, I can always pick out the avid readers by their writing. Their sentences are just more sophisticated, more “musical.” Also, they know how to hold a story together from beginning to end.

Are you reading anything good right now? Do you have a favorite genre?

I’ll read anything in any genre as long as it’s well-written.
One of my recent favorites is the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer. Also, I have been very fortunate to read Anne Mazer’s brand new book (she sent me chapters as she went along), and it is fabulous! Sorry, guys, it’s not out in stores yet, but you are in for a treat when it’s published!

What is the best writing advice that you ever received and what advice would you give an inspiring writer?

I’ve received lots of good advice over the years, but one of my favorites came from the brilliant Megan Shull (author of Amazing Grace). She said that when she gets stuck on some part of a story, she “soaks the beans.” You have to soak dry beans in water for many hours in order to get them ready to cook up nicely. “Soaking your beans” means doing no writing for a day. You just think about your story and maybe read a book, see a friend. The next day, you sit back down and start in again. Often you’ll come to it with some fresh ideas, and your story will start simmering away.

My best advice to writers would be to remember that your story is probably not going to be perfect when you first write it down. There’s a whole section about “Ugly First Drafts” in the book that Anne Mazer and I wrote, Spilling Ink; a Young Writer’s Handbook.  First drafts are ugly indeed! You need to revise a story many, many times before it’s ready to be read by the world. I often revise my books 20 times or more before they are fully polished.

At Teach Mentor Texts, we are all about promoting literacy and spreading the love of books.  How do you finish the statement: Writing is...?

Writing is what makes me feel excited about getting out of bed each morning (that, and a nice cuppa coffee)

What about: Reading is...?

Reading is better than a Krispy Kreme Doughnut. And you can’t imagine how much I love Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

Thank you Ellen! And I think that comparing reading to 
Krispy Kreme shows how delicious and precious reading is! 

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