Please Welcome...Leanna Ellis
This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist Leanna Ellis.
Leanna Ellis writes quirky fiction. And you don’t get much quirkier or weirder than an Amish/vampire story, right? Ellis wrote category romance for many years and then God moved her toward women’s inspirational fiction. She’s still just following after God and where he leads…even into the dark, scary world of the Amish.
So now, the interview...
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been up to lately?
Leanna Ellis: Basically, I’m a mom with a wild imagination. So between homeschooling and carting kids to and from all sorts of interesting activities, I work on my books. My last book Once In A Blue Moon came out in March 2010. It had a conspiracy theorist in the story. But at the heart of the story was a woman’s journey. I have a book called Facelift coming out in October.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Leanna Ellis: Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorite novels. Does that count as speculative? Also, there was another book published called Phantom (by Susan Kay) about the Phantom of the Opera and it was very intriguing. I also really enjoyed The Historian a few years back about Dracula. Would that be considered speculative? All of those are secular novels. But I also have enjoyed Frank Perretti’s books. The unseen world has always interested me. The battle of good versus evil, whether in our world or the unseen world, gets my heart racing.
WhereTheMapEnds: Frank's name comes up a lot in these interviews. I wonder if he has any idea of the impact his work has had in changing the face of fiction, possibly for decades to come. Talk about a legacy!
And as for Dracula and the Phantom being speculative, Leanna, suffice it to say that any character played by the legendary Lon Chaney is probably in the speculative realm.
So, Leanna, what made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Leanna Ellis: I didn’t really set out to write speculative fiction. A friend and I were sitting at a book signing (and apparently had too much time on our hands) and I said we should write a novel about an Amish vampire. It made us laugh. And that was about it. But something intrigued me and got some part of my brain noodling around on the idea.
About a year later, a character came into my head…an Amish teen in his running around years, fooling around with dark elements and runs into vampires. He was telling me his story, explaining how he became a vampire and how he wants to lure the Amish girl he loved to become a vampire with him. Then I began exploring this Amish girl, and I’ve always had an interest in the Amish, and began thinking how attractive evil can be at first. And how attracted she would be to the dark side because of her love for this boy. And Forsaken came to life and I had a burning desire to write it.
But honestly, it scared me too. It’s very, very different from anything I’ve written. Honestly, I thought my agent might laugh me off the planet. So I worked on it for a long while, almost a year, (playing with the story in my head and writing the first couple of chapters) without telling her about it. I prayed about it a lot and really wanted God’s guidance and leadership if He wanted me to write it.
Then last September I was at the ACFW conference, and I heard an editor say they were looking for something like Twilight. She even joked that the perfect submission would be an Amish/vampire story. So I ended up telling my agent, who did not laugh me off the planet. She laughed but happily because she loved the idea. So when I got home I sent her the first chapter and she loved it. She was over the moon for it. I wrote a couple more chapters on it and then expanded the story line for a series before we began pitching the story.
What was strange was that, one night I went to church for the service and was not liking what I’d come up with for the series. I went down after the service to ask for prayer. First, did God want me to do this story? Which I always pray for all of my stories. But I was also asking for HELP on the storyline. Before I reached my car, the whole second story took shape. I sat in the parking lot jotting notes to myself. So even though I loved this story, I really crept very slowly forward with it and really prayed over it.
WhereTheMapEnds: That's awesome. I love to hear the path novels take to publication. So now that you've touched on Forsaken, let's talk more about it. How on earth did you get a Christian publishing company to agree to do a Christian Amish vampire novel?
Leanna Ellis: Actually, Forsaken is not being published by a Christian publisher. It is being published by Sourcebooks, Inc., which is a secular publisher. But I will say there is definitely a spiritual element at the heart of the story because it is a story of good vs. evil.
WhereTheMapEnds: Ahh, another boundary pusher. We love those here at WhereTheMapEnds. And what has been the reaction you've received as people have heard that you're writing this novel?
Leanna Ellis: I have been really encouraged by the response. I have had lots and lots of folks show interest in the story. Just telling someone I’m writing an Amish/vampire story usually gets an initial laugh but then they usually lean forward and are curious and intrigued.
WhereTheMapEnds: Is this part of a series or is it a standalone?
Leanna Ellis: It is part of a series called Plain Fear.
WhereTheMapEnds: Plain Fear, I love it!
Now that you've come over to the dark side and are testing the waters of speculative fiction, can we tempt you to stay? Maybe Amish Vampires in Space could be next? Amish Vampire Musical Comedy?
Leanna Ellis: LOL! Love it! Now, I haven’t thought of a musical comedy but I’m a huge fan of musicals, so we’ll see. I’ll have to think on that. Which is kind of frightening because that’s what got me into this situation!
WhereTheMapEnds: Now that you've seen my Amish Vampire cover art...<ahem>...is the cover art for Forsaken readily available yet? I'd like to share it with our readers.
Leanna Ellis: Sorry, you'll have to wait on that one. Forsaken is scheduled for release in August of 2011, so no cover art yet.
WhereTheMapEnds: Very good. I'm looking forward to it. On a broader topic: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Leanna Ellis: I really read across the gamut from women’s fiction, romance to mystery, suspense, thriller and speculative fiction. Last summer, a friend of mine had her first hardcover released. An Amish book in the secular market that hit the NY Times list. I was sitting at the kitchen table enthralled with it and was also eating fresh cherries. I accidentally dripped cherry juice across the pages and it looked like blood. Which of course made me laugh. Perfect for a thriller.
WhereTheMapEnds: Hmm...yes, you're definitely on the dark side now. <g> Given that, what advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Leanna Ellis: I would say to pray about it first and foremost. If God gives you a story then pursue it. If He gives you the go-ahead, then go for it. God uses all kinds of stories to speak His truths. Then just make it the very best book it can be.
WhereTheMapEnds: What's the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Leanna Ellis: My favorite books on writing are Dwight Swain’s Techniques of a Selling Writer, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell and Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon. I have also loved hearing Donald Maass teach about writing.
WhereTheMapEnds: So what writing project(s) are you working on now?
Leanna Ellis: I am finishing up a book called True
Grits, which is due in September, and I’m also working on
Forsaken, which is due in Dec. In between all of that, I’m working
on new proposals.
Leanna Ellis: Thanks, Jeff, for having me here and for not shying away from this story! And to all your readers, if you are passionate about a story, write it and don’t be afraid. Go for it.
That's All for This Time
Great advice! Thanks to Leanna for spending some time with us. Be sure to visit her online.
If you missed the previous months' interviews with other speculative authors, including Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins, Karen Hancock, Tosca Lee, and Ted Dekker, you can read them here.
And be sure to come back next month for an interview with another mover and shaker in the world of Christian speculative fiction.