Author Interview: Ann Dee Ellis on This is What I Did:

Ann Dee Ellis on Ann Dee Ellis: “Ann Dee Ellis was born in Provo, Utah, five days before Christmas. She eats a lot of popcorn, drinks a lot of chocolate milk, and watches a lot of ‘Project Runway.’ Her first novel is in a drawer. Her second novel, This is What I Did:, was published by Little, Brown in the summer of 2007. Ann Dee teaches writing at Brigham Young University and enjoys not freezing in the snow with her husband and baby boy.

Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I feel like I’m always either sprinting or stumbling. I started writing for young adults in graduate school. I had never thought about creative writing when I applied. I wanted to teach writing and focus on rhetoric, but I can’t really answer this question properly right now because I keep looking out my window, and it’s snowing and snowing and snowing and this has been possibly the longest winter of all creation. But I know that’s not true because I just finished reading Into the Wild [by Jon Krakauer], and I really should stop complaining about how cold I am and how dreary it is and how I can’t get any writing done because my hands are about to break off. Ugh.

Long story short, I started writing for teens because I took a class from Louise Plummer (who is an amazing writer and a funny funny lady), and I decided that writing about things that mattered to me would be more fulfilling than writing computer manuals.

I immediately started writing about my boy problems at the time (I was twenty-three and had no shortage of this kind of material) and ended up with a novel about making out. For some reason, it never got published.

But my second book was a bit more successful. I took the first fifty pages to the Writing for Young Readers Conference at BYU and ended with with an agent and eventually a book contract.

Congratulations on the publication of This Is What I Did: (Little Brown, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

There are two things that inspired the book.

1. I’m extremely dorky in situations where I’m not supposed to be dorky. I’m horrible at mix-n’-mingle type things, I never did well at cool parties, and I always feel like I’m making things up to try to fit in. Logan and I have this in common.

2. I have someone close to me who was bullied beyond belief. Even more than Logan. I was thinking about him when I started the novel.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I wrote the beginning of the book during the summer of 2004 (I think–I should have written it down). Edward, my agent, had it in his hands around August. It was sold around March of 2005. And finally came out the summer of 2007.

The first book was smooth sailing. I love my editor. She understood Logan completely, and the revision process was fun. Really.

The hardest part for me when the book actually came out. I felt like a piece of me had been dropped on everyone and I couldn’t take it back. I never realized how vulnerable I’d feel. Sometimes I’d be eating french fries and all the sudden think, “Why would I do that to myself?”

I was the most nervous to have my family and friends read it. Suddenly, people knew me in a different way, and it was both exciting and terrifying. I still have a hard time talking about my writing to people close to me.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

I wore shorts all winter long my freshman year in high school because I thought my butt looked fat in jeans. My mom’s rule was no shorts until May, but I’d find a way to leave the house when she was gone or distracted.

I loved the same boy, day in and day out, for four years. I smashed eggs on his head, smeared mayonnaise in his sweater, and once asked him to a dance. He didn’t ask me back.

I was the last one cut from the volleyball team, and once Megan Zimmerman, who drove a red jeep and made out with seniors, told everyone that she thought I had the best nose in the 10th grade.

Needless to say, this was the most intense four years of my life.

I still have intense times. I still am insecure. My butt still looks fat in jeans, but never are things quite so present as they were back then. Being a teenager is exhilarating and exhausting. Hopeful and horrible. That’s what appeals to me.

What has been your social-professional experience in the children’s-YA writing community? Who has made a difference for the better and how?

One of the most influential people in my writing and professional life has been Chris Crowe. He is an amazing teacher, writer and friend. He has always been supportive and he is an excellent example of someone who knows how to have balance in all aspects of his life.

I’ve also been so relieved at how friendly and encouraging other writers have been. It was great to be in the Class of 2k7. It was wonderful to have Sara Zarr (author interview) as a close friend who could tell me it was okay when I felt like going into a hole.

It was a relief to have mentors like Carol Lynch Williams and Virginia Euwer Wolfe encouraging me. I think the children’s-YA writing community is such a valuable and crucial thing for some of us who tend to feel on the fringes.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Relax. Laugh.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

This is hard for me. I don’t do it well at all. Promotion has never been my strong point, and I tend to be either totally obsessed or totally absent. I’m still working on this one. I probably will never get it right, but I’m learning to be okay with that.

What do you do when you’re not in the book world?

I spend a lot of time chasing my baby. He’s not a baby anymore really. He runs now. So that’s interesting. But he and my husband are the center of my attention.

When I’m not chasing them or writing, I like to get outside and do things. That’s so descriptive. Let me try again: I like triathlons even though I came in last in the only one I’ve actually ever attempted. My goal is second to last next time.

I like to hike even though I don’t get to do it as much as I’d like to. I like to dream about one day owning a Flat Pak house and being good at keeping things organized and clean.

I like Hawaii. I will trade houses with someone in Hawaii for a couple of weeks.

Utah is beautiful. Not freezing at all.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book, Everything is Fine, will be out March of 2009. The book cover is on my website and details will be coming soon!