Today in lieu of my normal Manic Monday post, I have a special guest - Author Ellis Hoff. Ellis lives in Medina, west of Minneapolis. Just over a decade ago, while trying to balance kids and a corporate job, it became evident that something had to give. That something was the job. And, although being a full-time mom wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, it offered enough flexibility for her to pursue her dream of writing. She wrote before everyone was up, and after they went down for the count. She wrote at the beach, at ball games and in the pick-up lane at school. She carted her kids to libraries and bookstores to pick the brains of published writers, and squeezed in some night classes.
With her kids now grown, Hoff’s undergone a transformation of her own, turning up the suspense aspect of her storytelling and diving into the thriller genre full force. Sins of the Mother, her debut thriller, is the book she always knew she’d write.
Sins of the Mother?
Ellis: Sins covers a couple of days in a sleepy little county that's seen hard economic times and, recently, a possible child abduction. The story's protagonist, Maryanne Levine, is a deputy in the Lourie County Sheriff's Department, and bored silly with mundane tasks and thankless paperwork until the other shoe drops. A woman goes missing in Lourie, the mother of the missing girl, and she's handed a leading role in the investigation. As vulnerable as she is smart, Maryanne soon finds the case bigger and darker than she could have ever imagined. As she races the clock to find both mother and daughter, she's drawn into a web of secrets, betrayal and madness that just might be her own undoing.
JET: What drew you to thrillers?
Ellis: I guess it's a twisted fascination with “worst case scenario”. I think we'd all —although, I should probably just speak for myself — like to know how we'd manage under uncontrollable circumstances. Throw out the day-planner and the other comforts of ordinary, and try it on the fly. Race the clock. Walk on the wild side. See what, push come to shove, we're really made of. Writing suspense, and reading it, may be as close as I ever need to be, but who knows? Life is unpredictable.
Tattoos are the hot new accessory for a lot of my female friends (kind of like hair extensions a few years back), but I tell them, and they laugh, that I'm holding out on the off-chance that I may have to go on the run one day and don't need an identifying emblem blazed through several layers of my epidermis. The thing is, deep down, I'm not joking.
JET: What’s been your most challenging hurdle on the road to publication?
Ellis: Finding myself. Discovering what I really want to write. I had some success with romantic comedy, enjoyed, and still do, penning it immensely, but I think I've always known that there was another door I needed to unlock. Something a little edgier. I think being focused improves the quality of writing, so I'm here in thrillers and trying my best to take as many hostages as I can.
JET: What was your favorite moment in the journey?
Ellis: The first time I typed “the end” on a manuscript. There are rewrites and edits, sure (not to mention the trials of trying to sell), but still...finishing an entire book was a very memorable moment. It's a feat that has lost little appeal over the years.
JET: Which authors had the most influence over you growing up?
Ellis: This is a great question.
My mother was a huge reader. She read everything, and had a ten-to-twelve book stash in her nightstand at all times. She introduced me to Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart when I was about eleven or twelve. I loved those books, we both did. So, when I first started writing, at the tender age of about thirteen, I stole the English governess voice and it sounded...like a mid-western teenage girl trying to sound like an English governess. Painful to say the least. Then, one day, she handed me a book she'd just read by a new author. You might have heard of him.
I was transfixed. So...you could just write the way you saw things? Have people talk the way they talk, think the way they think, no mandated rules of propriety? Excellent.
It changed my world. I nixed the virginal governess on the spot and started writing in my own voice. Funny thing about your own voice, it grows with you.
JET: When did you know you wanted to take the plunge into the writing world?
Ellis: Fourth grade, originally.
Ms. Michenski, my English teacher, gave us a writing assignment. We'd been reading short stories all month, so she asked us to write one of our own. Mine got me an A+ and my mother a scolding from Ms. M for doing my homework. My mom woke me up when she got home from conferences to tell me about it, more pleased than pissed, and that put me on course.
Although it would be years before I'd actually try my hand at becoming a professional writer, I remained committed on some level and have always written. I was in my thirties when I finally decided to put writing on the front burner, so to speak, and watch it cook.
JET: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of book research? Most interesting fact you uncovered?
Ellis: Most of what I've done, that turned out to be crazy, was neither intentional or sought. I'm the woman who gets cornered by the crazy uncle at a wedding reception who feels the need to share that he's being stalked by the US government, carries a crossbow in his trunk and asks if I'd like to see it.
I, not so long ago, visited a long-time girlfriend who'd gotten herself into a bit of trouble. I didn't realize how much until she abandoned me with her new roommate — in a desolate house where a scream would be lost — who wasted no time telling me about how he'd just gotten out of prison after seven years for aggravated assault. Oh, and that wasn't the worst of it. He went on to tell me about how, in a bar fight, knowing the cops had been called and that he'd probably being going back (back?) to prison, he came to life in his telling of how he chewed his opponent's finger off and kept it in his cheek until he was shoved into the back of a cop car. He seemed to think this was justified, humorous and clever. “Worth seven years?” I asked as if I were interviewing him (out of instinct, I probably was) and he considered before answering, “Probably not.” It was half an hour before my friend returned, but it seemed like an eternity. I did, however, between shudders I tried to conceal, sop up what I could of his mindset. This man was polite, couldn't have been a better host. Was I warm enough? Did I need a more comfortable chair? Would I like to wear his jacket? Smoke a little rock?
I don't know what it is, but I seem to inspire the oddest, sometimes alarming, confessions of virtual strangers. Especially now that I am a writer, and often introduced that way. It's true, I think, that everyone has a story. And some of them, true or not, are doozies. My husband's leery of some of the folks I've given a listen to, and I suppose with cause, but I've gotten some good character-creating tips firsthand over the course, and have made use of them.
JET: Of all the novels and stories you’ve written - which one is your favorite and why?
Ellis: The last is the one on my mind. It took me a while to get here. I really like Sins. I particularly like how Maryanne defies the stereotypical physical attributes of heroine status (lithe and pin-up pretty), but with a heart that won't let her roadblock what her head tells her is out of her reach. Her internal battle exemplifies her vulnerability and spirit.
I also feel that Reck, the lead male and Maryanne's composite opposite, is compelling, especially as we uncover his emotional liabilities.
And then there's the plot. I like a good twist, or two, myself.
JET: Any advice for the novices out there?
Write. And keep on writing. Do not stop to do research unless it's absolutely necessary. There will be plenty of time for that later. With this big, wide world that comes into your house every day, invited or not, you know way more than you think you do. Go with your instincts and stay in the moment for as long as you can.
I've been in classes with writers far more eloquent and seasoned than I who keep submitting their first three chapters for review. Combing over them, perfecting them.
No one sells three chapters.
Also, let your characters face the situation you've created without coddling them too much. Sometimes it's hard not to be protective, but you've done your job, let them do theirs. It will only make them stronger. I don't know anyone who lives over a safety net, so let them loose and see what happens.
JET: All right - now that I’ve hammered you with the big questions, let’s tackle my favorite (and geeky) quick ten…starting with Paper or Plastic?
Ellis: My own fiber-fused bags. In a pinch, paper.
JET: Steak or Tofu?
JET: Beach or Mountains?
JET: Country or Rock-n-Roll?
JET: Leather or Lace?
JET: Angels or Demons?
JET: Paper or Digital?
JET: Silent Film Classics or Cheesy B Rated Horror?
Ellis: Cheesy B rated Horror.
JET: Twilight or True Blood?
Ellis: Totally with the True Blood. OMG, hooked!
JET: Coffee or Tea?
JET: Thank you for indulging me. Before we wrap this up, can you tell us what you're working on now? What's next?
Ellis: I'm writing “Sisters of Privilege” which puts Maryanne, of Sins, on the trail of her sister's missing son. It also brings her back to Lourie County, where some unfinished business awaits.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat on my blog. Folks, you can find out more about Ellis Hoff and Sins of the Mother at http://www.novelconceptpublishing.com/.
Thanks for joining us today!
Until next time,