• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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A Girl Put a SPell On Me

Twelve years ago, when I was just starting out as an agent, a manuscript came my way that was haunting, deeply sad, and at its center was a mother daughter drama played out against the world of clairvoyance and the occult. There was also a murder any one of us could have committed. Amazing book I was very proud to have worked on.  Afterlife  has just been reissued as part of the wonderful librarian Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust Rediscoveries. Tonight, the author Rhian Ellis has graciously agreed to answer some questions. Also for your viewing pleasure is a promotional video for the book. Thank you, Rhian! And congrats.

1)      What kinds of writing do you outside writing fiction?

Emails, shopping lists, letters to the editor, doctor’s notes, and anonymous blog comments. I would like to write ruminative essays, but I can never get the tone right. I constantly turn ranty.

2)      How much do you plan in advance and how much develops as you write.

I like to see the end when I start, or at least an end. Seeing the end is a kind of rudimentary structure — you can veer off-track, but at least there is a track. I’ve found that if I don’t have a good sense of where I’m going, I follow my whims into the swamp. But on the other hand, if I outline too much I get bored. It has to be a careful balance between surprising myself and keeping myself focused. To be honest, I find it a really difficult thing.

3)      What is the secret to writing characters?

I try to pay attention to how I perceive real people and make characters who inhabit the world in a similar way. What makes people distinctive? I think physical description is really important — not “six feet tall, blue eyes,” but maybe “awkwardly tall, crazy eyebrows.” Once I can see them, the personality follows. I used to steal stuff from people I know, but that’s a really bad idea. No matter how hard you try to disguise them, people recognize themselves.

4)      Your novel asks the questions: what is real? What is faked? How does that apply to fiction?

The book is really about writing, which I’d forgotten. Writing and mediumship both depend on the ambiguity of truth. Fiction has to feel true, even though you know it’s made up. It has to say true things. I came to decide that’s how mediumship works, too. A lot of the things Naomi says about being a medium is actually channeling me, talking about writing.

5)      Did you research clairvoyance; how did you create the world?

There is a real town like Train Line in Western New York state — Lily Dale, NY. I grew up nearby and spent a couple of summers working there. So the world was pre-created, which was handy. I also read a lot of books. For years I’d been finding stuff in the paranormal section of the library — I love that stuff.

6)      Can you talk about the mother/daughter relationship and how you created the tension between them?

The mother in the book is nothing like my own mother, in that mine is not hectoring and overbearing, but I did draw on our own intensely close relationship. It nearly killed me to break away and go to college, back in those days when it was too expensive to call more than once a week. I gave Naomi the same kind of relationship with a different mother, and then gave her reasons to never break away.

7)      What are you working on next?

You know I have been working on something “next” since late last century. I am a mess: I start too many things and finish too few. But it is my life’s goal to send you something before you retire from agenting and become a full-time screenwriter. So I’m taking suggestions!

P.S. Of all the wonderful gifts clients have given me over the years, this one from Rhian holds a special place in my heart.

16 Responses

  1. This makes me happier than anything that has happened all week, possibly longer. Going to grab that book right fucking now.

  2. Sounds like my kind of book—and my kind of writing philosophy, too.


  3. Pre-created worlds are among my favorite flavors.

  4. ouija…love it.
    When my mother was a girl she asked the ouija board to spell out her future husbands name. Years later during WWII she met and married, (after an 18 day courtship), the man she would spend the next 62 years with. The ouija name…one letter off.

  5. You’re screwing up my Amazon account. I come in here and all of a sudden I’m buying a strange book I would never lift from the shelf. I so loved my mother. Her death sent me into a downward spiral that held me for five years.

  6. Nice post; good questions – I especially liked #4 – and insightful answers. It was good to read of a successful author’s writing process and the desire to get even better. Congratulations on the reissue of “Afterlife”, Rhian! Thinking of author/agent relationships, I don’t imagine it gets any better than this.

  7. I am going to buy your book this week, and perhaps hold a seance. Maybe the kids and I will levitate the beagle and have a Tarot card stand at the end of the driveway. That ouija board brought back a million fifth grade sleepover memories! And I love comparison of writing to mediumship. Perfect.

  8. Great interview. That “awkwardly tall, crazy eyebrows” hits very close to home.

  9. I bought and read After Life a month ago and it was wonderful and I thank Rhian Ellis for it. It stays with me still. Of course writing is like mediumship, and the book wraps itself right around that. Wow.

  10. a moment’s pause and a bowing of the head for the passing of Gore Vidal, then it’s back to work

  11. I read After Life last month and loved it. Beautifully written and creepy, and though I never thought it would happen, I became fond of that cranky old mother in the end.

  12. Swore off book-buying for the rest of the summer (too many in the queue) but read the first few pages of Afterlife online, bought it and paid for next day shipping.

  13. What a great thing Nancy Pearl is doing for the reading world. I haven’t read AfterLife but I will.

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