Thursday, May 20, 2010

Interview: Helen Ellis

1. How did The Turning come to be?

I had a dream that I woke up, went to my bathroom, and splashed cold water on my face. Splashing cold water in my face is something I have never done in real life, but the action must be ingrained in my subconscious—and now unconsciousness—because I’ve seen it done in so many movies and on TV. Anyway, when I stood up straight and looked in my medicine cabinet mirror, I saw that my face was no longer my own. It was inhuman. And very, very furry.

No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the fur to come off. Days following the dream, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the memory to leave my head. So I sat down and wrote. And tried to figure out how my dream-self wound up in the condition she did.

2. In what ways do you relate to Mary, your main character?

Mary is a high school student, which is an age in my life I remember quite well. A secret nobody will tell you, but I will: for the rest of your natural born days you are in high school.

Maybe you won’t look the same, but often you’ll think that you do. My handsome husband still sees himself as a chubby, short kid. I’m still shocked when I don’t get carded for beer. Maybe you won’t act the same way you did at sixteen, but you’ll remember how you used to act, and then act identically or adjust your adult attitude.

So be brave! Mary doesn’t start out that way, but as a result of “the turning” she gets her nerve up. And I don’t mean she bungee-jumps or cusses out her teachers—that’s dumb. Her bravery means that she kisses a boy she’s had a crush on for years and chooses a fate that is the ultimate awkward phase!

I suggest you be equally brave as soon as you can. The earlier you’re fearless, the easier it is to stay that way.

3. What exactly does "the turning" mean?

“The turning” is an affliction that makes certain 16 year-old seasonally turn into something inhuman for five years.

4. If you could meet any of your characters for a day, who would it be?

I would meet Kathryn Ann, the mother of Mary’s twin best friends, Marjorie and Mags. Kathryn Ann has a call-in nightly TV talk show, Chime In with Kathryn Ann, in which she rants and raves over social injustices. These crimes may include anything from drunk driving to leaving your kid in a car with rolled-up windows to talking on a cell phone while your plane is taxing to the gate. She has opinions and she ain’t afraid to share them. Her catchphrase is: “People have been shot for less than that!”

5. Are any of your characters inspired by people you know in real life?

Mary’s parents are based on my husband and me. Her dad is Managing Editor of a financial news website and her mom is a cozy mystery writer. While The Turning isn’t a cozy, I adore them. Cozies are serials about mostly non-law-enforcement women falling butt-backwards into scenes of crimes. Think Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote reruns.

6. Do you have any pets? And if so, have they impacted your writing at all?

We have two tuxedo cats, Shoney and Big Boy, who you can see on my website banner at: Want to see a video about how I trained Big Boy to answer the phone? Click Want to see Shoney help address an envelope? Click

Last year, twenty-pound Big Boy was startled by the sound of my husband whipping the shower curtain rings across the rod, and he jumped straight up into the air and came down on my face! That’s twenty pounds of cat and claws scrambling to get off my face. Let’s just say I made sure Mary had a similar, but much more traumatic experience!

7. Is there one place in the world you really want to travel to?

I would like to go to Asia: Japan, China, South Korea – I’m not picky!

8. What's next for the series?

After a bizarre series of ritualistic killing in Manhattan, the mayor enforces an 8:00 curfew. Thanks to the turning, Mary can sneak undetected about the city to find out who’s responsible. Mary has the markings of a ruler and thus must choose which side in a citywide turf war to be on. Strays or domestics? But then she finds out that there are more than two sides.

9. Your cover is beautiful- is it what you imagined?

It is MORE than I imagined. The artist took my story and interpreted it beautifully!

10. If you were trapped on a deserted island, what three books would you want with you?

Three big sagas:

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides


Thanks so much, Helen!

My review of The Turning will be posted soon. :)


  1. Another book to add to my TBR list :)

  2. This book sounds really interesting. Great interview!

  3. I don't agree with the statement that you're in high school for the rest of your life, I mean jeez. BUT, I'm a big fan of "The earlier you're fearless, the easier it is to stay that way." What a great quote.

  4. What a great interview. I loved all the questions. The cover of "the turning" is amazing too.


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