27 Jun 2016

Author Interview with Ellen Wittlinger

Hi Ellen! Can you tell us a little about your latest book?

Local Girl Swept Away (Merit Press, June 2016) tells the story of four best friends, 2 boys, 2 girls, who, in the wake of a tragedy and then revealed secrets, deal with grief, love and betrayal. It’s set in Provincetown, MA on Cape Cod, a small, eccentric community where everybody knows everybody.

What inspired you to write it?

Many years ago when I lived in Provincetown, two young women were swept off the breakwater and into the sea. One survived, the other did not. This event disturbed my imagination for years and finally, I rearranged it to become this book.

How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
I didn’t. The publisher always decides the cover. However, I like it a lot—it has a sadness to it and a foreboding feeling.

If it was made into a movie, who would you like to play the main characters?

Well, by the time any movie would be cast, these actors would probably be too old for the parts, but I could see them in it right this minute:
Jackie: Kiernan Shipka (with dark hair)
Lorna: Evan Rachel Wood (with red hair)
Finn: Ansel Elgort
Lucas: Josh Hutcherson
Dream team.

Is it part of a series or is it a stand-alone novel?

Where is the novel set and why did you choose to set it there?
Provincetown, MA on Cape Cod. This place has spoken to me for years. It’s such an unusual town with its mix of fishermen/townies, LGBT people and artists/writers—it’s like no place else on earth. It’s also secluded at the very tip of a peninsula and I liked the way that isolated these characters and made them depend on each other. And the weather is fierce and beautiful.

What is it about this genre that appeals to you so much?
I like writing coming-of-age novels because the teenage years are so exciting. Everything that’s happening to you is new and you feel as if no one else has ever had these feelings before. I don’t think there’s another time in life that’s as dramatic and emotional.

What made you want to become an author?
I always loved writing, but loved painting too. I majored in art in college, but when it came right down to it, I was a better writer than a painter. Basically, I knew I’d do something in the arts, and writing is the thing that worked out for me.

How do you come up with character names?
I LOVE picking character names. They have to feel right for the idea of this person I have in my head. I have three or four baby name books that I go through over and over for each character. I make lists of possibilities. To me, it’s the most fun part, and I have to do it pretty near the beginning of the process so I can live with the name for a while. Sometimes names change as I go along, but not usually.

Do you struggle to come up with book titles? Do they come before, during or after you've written your book?
Different with every book. Local Girl Swept Away was obvious. It was the banner headline in the newspaper when one of the characters is swept off the breakwater. But sometimes it’s harder and I end up with lists of possibilities. Often my editor suggests something.

Name one of your all-time favourite books?

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Who, or what, inspires you?
My writer friends who keep on working, even when the work is hard and the publishers aren’t buying.

Where is your favourite place to write?
Either the screen porch at my house or the local coffee shop.

What is your favourite movie that was based on a book?
Probably The Hunger Games. Or possibly The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Name two of your favourite authors.
Only two? Grace Paley and Elizabeth Strout.

Tell us a random fact about yourself.
I never really learned to swim.

Who would play you in the movie about your life?

Janeane Garofalo because of her grouchy voice and self-deprecating humor.

Tell us an interesting fact about where you live.
I live in a village of 1,000 people.

What are your (writing) plans for the future?
I’ve begun another YA novel, but I’m also working on a play and thinking about starting a third screenplay. Love the movies!

Tell us one thing that's on your bucket list.
Selling a screenplay and having it filmed.

Favourite myth / fairytale?
The Princess and the Pea. And also the musical made about it: Once Upon a Mattress

Who/What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I remember telling people I wanted to be a “grease monkey,” but I’m not sure I really knew what that was. I liked the word and the idea that you could wear old clothes and get dirty. In reality, I’ve never changed a tire. As I got older, I wanted to be an artist, a painter, but that didn’t work out.

Ellen Wittlinger is the author of seventeen YA and middle-grade novels. Her novel Hard Love won both a Printz Honor Award and a Lambda Literary Award. Her books have been on numerous ALA Best Books lists, Bank Street College of Education lists and state award lists. Ellen has won state awards in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Her work has been translated into many other languages including Turkish, Croatian and Korean. She has taught at Emerson College in Boston and in the Simmons College Writing for Children MFA program. Out June, 2015 is a YA, Local Girl Swept Away, set in Provincetown, MA.
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