Connie: Hi, Ellen! It’s a pleasure to sit down with you and visit for a while. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about you and your writing. Before I start asking questions, will you give me and the readers a peek at what you’re working on now?
Ellen: I’m writing two Superromances. The Boyfriend’s Back will be published in May 2009 and The Runner-Up in October 2009. The books star the McNulty brothers, JT and Charlie. I loved writing JT—he’s been burned by love in the past and is afraid to trust again. Charlie is a guy whose need for control is threatened when he gets involved with a newly divorced mom and her family.
Connie: We’ll definitely look forward to them, Ellen!
Harlequin SuperRomance is your publisher/line of choice. When writing with the intention to pursue publication was it a conscious effort on your part to gear your writing toward the SuperRomance line or was it a pleasant coincidence?
Ellen: With my first book, I knew I was writing a contemporary but not where it would fit. My cousin who’s an editor in New York kindly read a draft and suggested that it sounded like a category book. I researched Harlequin’s lines, fell in love with SuperRomance, and was lucky enough to find a home there. Before I started my research I hadn’t paid attention to the lines—I didn’t realize I was reading mostly SuperRomance since I didn’t know what the labels meant!
Connie: Your writing strength just happened to be what you loved to read. How often does that happen…? Are there particular guidelines you have to follow in keeping with the SuperRomance’s criteria?
Ellen: SuperRomance is wide open in terms of characters and plot. The only guideline I follow is the word count. Oh, and it has to have a Happily Ever After. Even those vary, however. My first book ended with a wedding and my second book ended with an exchange of I Love You’s and a promise for a relationship.
Connie: In addition to the word count and HEA, which are the more important aspects you feel necessary to blend with your story and characters, Ellen? Humor, tears, warm and likable characters, cool and possibly arrogant characters…all, other?
Ellen: I try to write what I like to read. My hope is that you’ll laugh a lot and cry at the end. I grew up reading Regencies and the repartee in those old books is so delicious. I love witty and surprising dialogue. I don’t do arrogance, ego, or dominant men—my heroes are all beta guys—smart, funny, kind, and sweet. That’s the kind of guy I married and it’s the kind I like to write or read. That’s not to say you can push these guys around. I think a genuinely low-key guy being driven past his limits makes a captivating, powerful scene.
Connie: Love those types of heroes in any area of romance novels! They’re so much yummier!
Interruptions are annoying but a part of life. Say something comes up that demands your immediate attention yet the characters are really talking to you, the scene is really unfolding, how do you keep the scene and characters alive in your mind yet take care of the emergency?
Ellen: Do I have to take care of the emergency? Can I wait three minutes to see if my husband steps in? Is it possible it’s just a flesh wound? No? …Okay. Sigh.
I stink at interruptions. I actually stink at shifting gears no matter what. I would probably lose the thread and have to try to recreate it when I sat back down. One of the things I don’t believe in is a muse, though, so I wouldn’t worry too much about finding my way back. If the story is working, it will still be working after I get back from the hospital or the morgue. (Although I’m hoping it wasn’t that kind of emergency.)
Connie: Let’s hope not!!
You’re going to start a new book. In what order do you do things? Do you have an idea already formed? Do you pick the names first? Do you pick a WIP title first?
Ellen: I always have a character. I get a brainstorm with a scene that shows me the character or some aspect of the character. I write that scene and everything follows from it. I never have a title or if I do, it’s terrible. Wanted Man was originally called Painted Love because it’s, you know, about a housepainter. (I really should stop telling people that. It reflects poorly on my creativity…)
Connie: Now I’m wondering how it reflects on me; I kind of thought it was a pretty good WIP title…: - ) Continuing with that thought, Ellen, how does your process work, how do you weave all the other elements (timing, who has the point of view for each scene, secondary characters, etc) together once you’ve got the initial story idea in place?
Ellen: My process. It’s terrifying to describe it because it seems so unorderly, but I don’t seem to be able to change it. Here goes…
Tons of pre-writing. I get that first scene and then I dig for characters. I do GMC charts, character inventories, a super detailed outline including snippets of dialogue, and then I expand that into a twenty-page (minimum) synopsis. I have the first three chapters done by the time I finish this exploratory stage.
Then I write. I write and revise at the same time so it’s very backward and forward. I stick to the emotional arc I laid out in the synopsis but I change details, locations, everything. I don’t plan the point of view or any of those details. I just let it happen naturally through the pacing of the story. (This means I usually switch a few scenes during revision to keep the balance.)
Once I have about ¾ of the book done, I do a thorough revision. When I know for sure I’m satisfied with the groundwork I laid, I write the ending. Then I revise some more. I love revising! Love, love, love the power I have to enhance and refine the story once the pressure of finishing is lifted.
Connie: When writing romance, do you ever find the technical writer in you making an appearance? Is it easy or difficult to keep the two writers in you (technical, fictional) separate?
Ellen: I don’t have any trouble keeping the fiction and nonfiction separate, although sometimes when I’m writing about software that’s still under development, the documentation is fiction.
I think my writing style informs both kinds of writing, though. Actually, I think my writing style is informed by my approach to life. I like order. I like clean lines. I like clarity. I like decisions that make sense. I tend to get stuck in a book whenever the psychology doesn’t make sense to me. I write a lot of internalization, which my editor then gently edits down. I need to know every nuance of the character’s thoughts but apparently the reader isn’t as interested.
Connie: Perhaps some are best left to the imagination, but only some.
You were creating a story while sitting in the back of a pre-school classroom. Obviously you can write in settings outside your home, your desk area, but have you found there to be a particular spot or two where you find your creative juices simmer and boil at their best?
Ellen: I write with headphones on and music playing so I can pretty much write anywhere. My favorite spot for plotting is the car. My Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapter meetings are more than an hour from my house. I use that long drive for plotting. I usually stop about twenty minutes from home in a particularly well lit CVS parking lot and quickly type up all my thoughts from the day.
Connie: Smart thinking. Don’t want to forget something that would be especially useful later, do you? Now I’d better move on, get to know you on a personal level… As a little girl, Ellen, during summer break, where could you be found? Outside playing, inside playing with Barbie’s or dolls, inside/outside reading, other?
Ellen: I hated being a girl. Ironic for a romance writer, huh? So you wouldn’t find me playing with dolls of any kind. I was a great reader, but I spent most of my time outside.
Our neighborhood had tons of kids, woods, alleys, and a candy store. My best friend and I spent a lot of time acting out Starsky and Hutch episodes. I wasn’t allowed to watch the show so she described it to me. She had a cable knit sweater with the toggle buttons like Starsky so she always got his parts.
I haunted the library as well. I read every book in the animal section of the children’s room and most of the other books as well. It was a small branch library in a gorgeous building. Any book lover would have been in paradise.
Connie: Sounds like a feeding ground for the fictional writer in you.
Aside from band-aids, what do you try not to run out of in the kitchen or medicine closet for your boys?
Ellen: Hmm. I wish I were organized enough that I didn’t run out of things. My boys are used to making do. I’m hopeful they’re learning coping skills.
You know what we always have, though, the one thing we always replace when the last one is finished? A read-aloud book. I read to them every night before bed. I guess that’s our only never-fail event.
Connie: You’re stranded on a deserted island; you have the chance to have four different people real (family, movie stars, friends) or fictional (TV, book, movie) 1) build your dream shelter and maintain it, 2) be your chef (the island is fully stocked!), 3) be your masseuse/manicurist/hairdresser, 4) feed you grapes and fan you with palm fronds. Who would you pick and delegate to each duty?
Ellen: I’d have the Swiss Family Robinson build the shelter. Their tree house was awesome! My husband can cook because he’s not only an excellent cook, he knows what I like! Also, I’d miss him and he’d probably kill me if I left him alone with the boys.
I’m having trouble imagining that I’d care what I look like on this island paradise, but I’d probably want my sister along for the trip so she can be the stylist. She’s been trying to get me on What Not to Wear for years so I think she’ll be happy to take control of my “look.”
Finally, I’d ask Dean Winchester to hold the palm fronds. He’s the cute brother on Supernatural. He’d probably be irritated by the fanning job but I think he’s extra cute when he’s irritated so double win for me! He’s in hell right now on the show—the island will be a nice vacation, I bet.
Connie: Quite a group there. I don’t think you’ll lack for entertainment or company!
Ellen, your reading tastes are wide and varied. Has it always been so?
Ellen: Absolutely not. When I was a kid I read books about animals or orphans. Orphans with animals were my nirvana. As an adult the only books I avoid for sure are Stephen King’s horror novels. It (the one with the clown in the sewer) did me in. I love romance, fantasy, nonfiction, biography, literary fiction, young adult, pretty much everything.
Connie: Thank you so much, Ellen. I appreciate your time and sincerity you’ve given me and my questions. Before we part ways, is there anything I forgot to ask you’d like the readers to know?
Ellen: Thanks, Connie! Your questions were great—thought provoking and fun! Parting comments? I love to hear from readers and aspiring writers. Send an email to email@example.com. I’ll write back. My website (http://www.ellenhartman.com) has links to places I can be found including my blog, Myspace, and the Supers board on eHarlequin.
Connie: It’s been a pleasure, Ellen.
Comment or respond to Ellen's interview and we'll post your comments below!