Judging from the crop of young people clustered around the M3 Coffee Shoppe table, Red was right in guessing H.E. Ellis was talking about the new book, The Gods of Asphalt. Like them, Red had questions which brought out some amazing answers from the YA author.
M3: You are such an anomaly. Give the M3 Readers your professional bio so they have some idea about you.
HEE: H.E. Ellis is the author of The Gods of Asphalt, a young adult novel about boys and basketball, motorcycles and music. A die-hard New Englander; H.E. dances like a ballerina, swears like a trucker and listens to classic rock way too loud.
M3: I love it. Tell me who is at the top of your thank you list.
HEE: My ex-husband, hands down. This book would not exist without him. He supported me both financially and emotionally through the whole process, and that was after the divorce.
M3: Just another reason you are an anomaly! Talk to me about where you got started on this publishing path.
HEE: I started by entering a local flash fiction writing challenge which I won. That led to a state competition where I placed fourth out of ten contestants. The greatest part of that day was the Hugo winning judge pulling me aside and telling me that if I wasn’t writing for a living, I should be.
M3: I have to agree. Is there a bone you have to pick with the traditional publishing industry?
HEE: None whatsoever. My choice to self-publish is due to my almost dysfunctional need to control everything I write. I respect that legacy publishing has a bottom line to protect and will exert their control over an author’s words; I simply choose creative control over royalties. Five years in and I have yet to regret it.
M3: You are in a fine group with those sentiments. What words of wisdom do you have for the budding authors in the M3 audience?
HEE: Don’t expect greatness out the gate. Get used to the fact that you are going to suck for a good long time. The only way to get better is to keep writing so keep swinging for the fence. In time you’ll hit a home run.
M3: The absolute value of an editor and readers. Do you think the M3 Readers should care about your day job?
HEE: Only if you like genuine teen dialogue in your YA novels. I work with kids, so I attribute my ability to accurately capture teen voice to the 10 years or 12,600 hours I’ve spent listening to it.
M3: I call that multitasking. How do you find time to write whilst wrangling a bus load of children?
HEE: I make time whenever I can. I drive a school bus for a living so that gives me seven hours of alone time in my head with my writing. I write notes on my forearm with a Sharpie between stops. I learned the hard way not to use mechanical pencils.
M3: I can only imagine! Do you ever take a break?
HEE: Never. Writing is like breathing to me.
M3: Has the state of the economy changed the way you do things, even with outside support?
HEE: Not at all. When I decided to write I agreed to make it a priority; so even though it was risky, I opted for a part-time job to facilitate that process. I can live without jewelry, vacations and new cars. I cannot live without my words in print.
M3: What are you working on at the moment?
HEE: A sequel, a pre-quel and a companion to my novel. I’m writing all three simultaneously which makes for some interesting schizophrenic episodes at my house.
M3: That is a whole host of characters and plot lines! Speaking of characters, you have some colorful colleagues. How do you feel about them?
HEE: I’ve found a great deal of support and solidarity among other bloggers and self-published writers. It’s what prompted me to create a “Blogs with Books” page on my own blog. I like the idea of giving back to the community that embraced me.
M3: Knowing the camaraderie and endorsement between indies, do you think the traditional publishing industry considers self-published work as substandard?
HEE: Sadly, I do. Sadder still is the fact that a lot of bad press comes from self-published work that is sub-par. You don’t have to write the great American novel to call yourself successful, but hold yourself accountable for work that’s professional. Living in a nice neighborhood means we all mow our lawns.
M3: The dilemma of holding one’s own self accountable. What kind of victory have you had over the industry?
HEE: Every time a teenage boy says he enjoyed my book it is a triumph over the industry. I almost didn’t write it because every agent or editor’s blog out there stated emphatically that boys don’t read YA. I’m glad I went with my gut and proved them wrong.
M3: A lot of work goes into that proof. Do you credit your own marketing efforts for that success?
HEE: As a self-published author marketing myself is crucial. I don’t have the luxury of riding a legacy publisher’s reputation, so the more I can market myself as a writer worthy of being read the better. It’s largely what my author’s blog was engineered to accomplish. Only time will tell me if I’ve been successful in my attempt.
M3: Let’s talk about The Gods of Asphalt. What makes it different from all the other YA novels out there?
HEE: Very few YA novels are written from the point of view of a male teenage protagonist, let alone one who isn’t supernatural. The feedback I’ve gotten from readers confirms that my novel’s unique perspective is its best feature.
M3: I happen to like novel, pun intended. Tell me what makes this work close to your heart.
HEE: I don’t know about my heart, but my work is definitely close to my adrenal glands. Despite the Chuck Bukowski portrait of myself I am a very girly-looking female, and the world treats me as such. Writing my novel in a male voice allowed me an acceptable outlet for all the pent-up testosterone that society deems inappropriate.
M3: (Laughing) I think there may be more of us needing an outlet than we might admit! Give me a secret. What skeleton you do not want me to put out on the wire is in the closet?
HEE: That I wrote my novel clad in nothing but over-sized, ratty concert t-shirts surrounded by empty take-out containers and emptier Corona bottles, all while staring at a computer screen for hours trying to come up with YA acceptable euphemisms for masturbation. Yeah, that.
M3: Wait, people get dressed to do this? Put on your best advertiser’s hat and tell the M3 Readers in 15 words or less why they should buy The Gods of Asphalt.
HEE: Because I write from experience about what teenage boys really think when girls aren’t around.
Dearest M3 Readers,
Please take a few moments to check out H.E. Ellis and The Gods of Asphalt. Visit H.E.’s blog to learn more about the author and upcoming novels. Follow her on Twitter for the latest on The Gods of Asphalt.
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