The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Devon Ellington. Devon publishes under many pseudonyms in fiction and non-fiction, some of which are Cerridwen Iris Shea, Christy Miller, Ava Dunne, and Jenny Storm. She also has an extensive list of clients for her freelance business. The newest book in her Jain Lazarus series, Old-Fashioned Detective Work, will be available this spring.
Devon makes her living as a writer and considers writer's block "a luxury allowed to those who can rely on someone else's income. I have no time for it," she said.
She's always working on half a dozen projects at once, since that's how she pays her bills. Readers can catch up on what she's currently working on by checking out her blog, "Ink in My Coffee."
One of her projects is the Penny Dreadfuls, a series of short retro-futuristic-comic fiction with slight touches of romance. "They're homage to the penny dreadful novels of yore," she told me, "but with a feeling of both retro and future. So far, I’ve got three sets of characters involved – The Remarkable Adventures of Cornelia True and Roman Gray, Mick Feeney’s Perilous River Tales, and The Nowhere Chronicles. You can find them at: http://pennysdreadfuls.devonellingtonwork.com."
I asked Devon, "What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?"
"To me, good writing means the author connects with the reader," she replied. "Usually, for me, it’s connecting to a strong character, but the quality and beauty of the writing is also a large factor. Good writing seduces the reader, draws the reader in, includes the reader in the experience, rather than excludes the reader. Good writing immerses the reader."
Ninety-nine per cent of the time, Devon's stories start with character and then she adds the "what if?" element. In the first drafts of her works, she trusts the characters to lead her where she needs to go. She'll get ideas for plots and may make notes, but at the first she simply trusts her characters. They often appear and start to dictate their stories.
"Then I'll start asking questions, or dropping them in various situations, and we take it from there," she said. "I restructure and worry about logic and continuity in subsequent drafts."
Devon told me that every book has its challenges. "Every book is rather like re-inventing the wheel, to a certain degree," she explained. "The hardest part of writing Hex Breaker was initially figuring out how some disparate scenes I envisioned would hold together and also when Wyatt entered the book. In the original concept, Billy Root was supposed to be Jain's foil. But then Wyatt sauntered into Chapter Two and took over. He's a much better match for Jain, and Billy’s getting his own adventures in book three, which I’m about to start (shout out to all Billy’s fans) in which he’s well-partnered, too, I wanted to kill Wyatt off at one point to clear the way for Billy and Jain, but neither Jain nor Wyatt were having it!"
Devon writes most of the time. She shared what her work schedule is like.
"I get up early, feed the cats (because nothing gets done if the cats are hungry), put on the coffee, do my yoga, write my first 1000 words of the day. Then I blog, check email, check job boards, and do whatever writing has the most pressing deadlines. I often read, research, or edit in the afternoons. If I’m not working a show or going out with friends at night, I might have another writing session at night. After the first 1K of the day, I sort of make up my day as I go along, depending upon deadlines, research needs, interviews, etc. The larger swaths of unscheduled time I have, the more I get done. I hate being on a rigid schedule. I resent it and start getting in my own way."
Devon lives with three cats, but told me she would love to have a dog. "As soon as I buy the house and get settled, I'm going to make the rounds of shelters and get more than one," she said. "I also hope to adopt a rescued, retired greyhound at some point. And there will continue to be cats. If I wind up with enough space, we may add alpaca and some rescued horses to the mix. Um, if anyone out there knows of a good New England farm for sale, contact me, okay?"
She's a member of the National Wildlife Federation and plans to convert her yard into a certified habitat as soon as she gets her house.
As a New Yorker, it would probably not surprise anyone that the most horrible experience she would like to erase from her past would be 9/11. "I knew a lot of people who died that day; a lot of the firefighters were from firehouses in the neighborhood where I'd lived up until a month prior to the attack. There were also people I knew from high school and other areas of my life who perished in the Twin Towers."
Devon, in addition to writing stories, books, and non-fiction, is also a playwright.
"I have a clause in my contracts stating that, in my work, theatre must always be spelled t-h-e-a-t-R-E. As someone who’s spent my entire professional life in the theatre, it’s not an American/English spelling; it’s the distinction between amateur and professional. I have walked away from potential publishing contracts when they were not willing to grant me that spelling."
Finally, I asked Devon what advice she would give to a new writer just starting out.
"Stop making excuses," she said. "Get your butt in the chair and write. There will never 'be' time to write – you have to make it, take it, steal it, wrestle it."
You can keep up with Devon on her blog, http://devonellington.wordpress.com