Ellen Jensen Abbott is the author of Watersmeet, a fantasy adventure tale about a girl who learns tolerance in a world riddled by hate and fear. Ellen dropped in for a visit, and we chatted up her book.
Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
Ellen Jensen Abbott is a mom, writer and teacher. Watersmeet (YA Fantasy) is her debut novel; the sequel is expected in 2011 (Marshall Cavendish).
How did you come up with the idea for Watersmeet?
It’s been so long now I can hardly remember! The main character, Abisina, came to me first. I have always been an avid reader of fantasy, so when she started talking to me, it was clear that she lived in a fantastic setting. As I got to know her more, as her story became clearer, the world around her also began to grow. From the start I knew she was an outsider and as I thought about why, parts of the plot began to emerge. I had to do a lot of exploratory writing—pages and pages that will never see the light day!—as I got to know her and her story.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing Watersmeet?
I think world building is always the biggest challenge for fantasy writers. You have to create a whole world with a geography, climate, social structure, government, economy, history, mythology, heroes and legends. It’s also what makes it so much fun! At times the world you create generates new—sometimes annoying—problems for your characters—things you had no intention of getting into.
Another challenge I came up against was Abisina herself. She’s very stubborn and there were times when I wanted to send her in one direction and she was having no part of it! For several chapters I couldn’t get her out of her mother’s house, and when I did, she met a dwarf and hunkered down in her house! I had to listen more carefully to the story she was trying to tell and appreciate what I was asking of her. Once I did that, we could proceed. (It’s very strange when something you create begins to tell you what to do!)
Did you learn anything about yourself through your characters?
I did—but it took me a while. Watersmeet was out and I was doing interviews when an interviewer asked me a question how I viewed “home”—something that is very important to Abisina. Through this one question, I suddenly saw myself in Abisina in a way I hadn’t realized before.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of getting your book published?
It is amazing to know that it’s out there, in the world, being read by real people. I love this story and I feel so lucky that I got to share it. Hearing from readers is wonderful! I have always been an avid reader and it’s exciting to think that I may have given some of the pleasure I’ve gotten from stories to others.
Who are some of your favorite authors and what books inspired you to become a writer?
I have such a range of favorite writers. As a kid I was into any fantasy/sci fi I could get my hands on: CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Madeline L’Engle, Ursula Le Guin. But I also loved historical fiction (The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Spear) and—well, anything with a strong story. Now I love reading Hilari Bell (The Farsala Trilogy, The Knight and Rogue series, Goblin Wood), Megan Whalen Turner (The Attolia series), Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book). But I also like Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Amitav Ghosh, E. Annie Proulx—remember, I’m an English teacher for my day job!
What can we look forward to from you next?
I am hard at work at the sequel to Watersmeet, which is due out with Marshall Cavendish in fall of 2011. I am also ruminating about another fantasy set in ancient Turkey (!), a picture book idea (not fantasy technically, but aren’t most pictures books touched with fantasy?), and a book set during the Civil War. That should keep me going for a few years!
Thanks, Ellen! I am looking forward to reading more of your work!
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish
From her birth, Abisina has been outcast–for the color of her eyes and skin, and for her lack of a father. Only her mother’s status as the village healer has kept her safe. But when a mythic leader arrives, Abisina’s life is ripped apart. She escapes alone to try to find the father and the home she has never known. In a world of extremes, from the deepest prejudice to the greatest bonds of duty and loyalty, Abisina must find her own way and decide where her true hope lies.