This is the first in a series of interviews conducted by Cheryl Malandrinos of panelists who will be participating in this year’s conference. She begins with Devon Ellington, author of fiction and non-fiction under a half-dozen names. Her plays have been produced in New York, London, Edinburgh, and Australia.
When did you decide to embark upon a career in writing? Did someone or some event influence your choice in any way?
I’ve written since I was a kid, and was published in school magazines, etc. In high school I wrote articles for the local paper about the music programs at our school. Once I got into college I was more focused on the production side, so I got away from the writing for a while. After a few years of working backstage in theatre, actresses complained they couldn’t find good audition monologues. I started writing for them, and they’d nail the job whenever they used my material. It expanded into scenes and plays, and then I went back to writing short stories and novels. I also write articles and reviews, and have a business writing arm of the career where I write brochure copy, event scripting, training videos, speeches. You name it, I write it.
What genres does your writing focus on?
I write across genres. I love mystery, urban fantasy, and paranormal. The Annabel Aidan name launched with ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT, which is romantic suspense — and I found I enjoy writing that, too. I’m glad more and more books are crossing genres and mixing genre elements because I think it makes the worlds richer.
Can you tell us about your latest release?
ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT, under the Annabel Aidan name, was released digitally in June and then in print in late August by Champagne Books. It takes place backstage on a Broadway show, and focuses on the dynamic between Morag, a witch who works backstage and Simon, a Secret Service agent assigned to protect a conservative Vice President who’s making a guest appearance in the show and the character with whom Morag works most closely. A series of escalating attacks raises the question if the actual target is the Vice President or Morag.
What inspired it?
It started as an idea for my second year of Nano (National Novel Writing Month). I’d never tried romantic suspense, and I look at Nano as a playground, a place where I could play with things I might never get to do otherwise. Because of the time constraints, I wanted to set it somewhere familiar – backstage on Broadway. And, since backstage is rarely depicted realistically, I wanted the challenge of exploring and writing about the ups and downs and joys and frustrations of that intensity, pairing it with romantic suspense. I thought a good foil for my protag would be a Secret Service agent. We’ve had Secret Service stationed backstage during a show when VIPs are out front. They are amazing, intelligent, wonderful people, and I wanted to show that. Having a Vice President perform in a Broadway show is a bit of a stretch, but I also didn’t want him to be a cipher or a cliché – I wanted him more complex and interesting than that. I did some research into procedure (which regularly change as the needs of the job and fighting terrorism change), and read a lot of memoirs by ex-Secret Service agents. And I let her rip! Of course, because it was a Nano, which emphasizes quantity over quality, I had to tear it apart for five years and restructure it to get it into even remotely submission-ready form. Fortunately, I landed at Champagne, where they assigned me a wonderful editor and here we are!
Why have you chosen to write under multiple names? Has this provide challenges for you in terms of marketing?
When I started writing, if you wanted to work in more than one genre, that was the norm. Too many marketing people couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that one might be good in more than one genre. So, it made sense to use different names for different genres. Now that the burden of marketing is on the writer’s shoulders, and the writer has more control, there’s more opportunity to market across genre lines and it’s more accepted. I find it gives me a lot of freedom. Readers who like to read in multiple genres can follow me from genre to genre. Readers who like to stay in one genre know that if they buy an Annabel Aidan book they get romantic suspense, if it’s Ava Dunne, it’s romantic comedy, and if it’s Devon Ellington it’s mystery or urban fantasy, etc.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning for the Say What? workshop on dialogue you\’ll be leading at this year’s WriteAngles Conference?
I’m running off the materials for the packets I’ll give out in the workshop. I’m playing with how I’ll structure those 50 minutes, so the participants actually get to do a bit of writing and see how to build a dynamic scene. It’s 50 minutes of playtime! I am so excited to present there, and meet everyone, and PLAY! I’m honored you invited me.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY, the next Annabel Aidan romantic suspense, which deals with ghosts dating back to New Amsterdam. I’m teaching a lot, and in one of the classes, we go from idea to novel in a year, revise it, prepare submission packets, and send it out, while writing a handful of short stories and sending them out, and starting a second novel. I’m developing two ideas for that class (I’m writing along with them), and I think it’ll be the urban fantasy as the first book and the gothic steam punk for the second.
Where can readers find you online?
I have a blog on the writing life called Ink in my Coffee, where I post usually five days a week, detailing the ups and downs and the integration of work and life. The main Devon Ellington website has most of the other names featured, and a workshop page, and all the rest. My business writing site is Fearless ink. I also have a site for tarot and herbs and the rest for the other major name I publish under, Cerridwen Iris Shea.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Writing isn’t easy every day, but if you want to be a writer, you make a choice: write or don’t write. Write and you’re a writer. Don’t write, and you’re not. So many people make such big drama over it. There’s no drama. If you want to write, if you really, really want it, you put butt in chair and write. You show up, even on the rough days.