February 2013


Gwen Ellery writes historical fantasy novels, humorous short fiction, and comedy scripts. She is currently publishing a series called Paris Brats about four expats who have set their sights on the City of Light. She lives in Europe with her German partner. You can find out more at her website (Interview by Zebeen A. Panju)

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  1. 1. How did you get the idea for Paris Brats?

    I’d have to say it was like a recurring dream that wouldn’t go away until I wrote the first episode. One day about six years ago the idea popped into my mind. I pictured a prose fiction sitcom series about expats in Paris, and I got goose bumps, quickly jotting down all I could about the two main characters. I’d been reading a lot of Bertie and Jeeves stories at the time - I’m a big Wodehouse fan - and wanted to write from the comic perspective of a lovable, bumbling innocent abroad because I find naive characters amusing and unpretentious, and I identify with the feeling of being constantly out of one’s element.

  2. 2. Why did you decide to go indie with the Paris Brats Series?

    There were a lot of reasons, but the main one was that the time was ripe for serialized shorter forms. I’d pitched the idea for Paris Brats to my agent several years ago when I wrote YA novels under a different name. This was before the digital revolution in publishing, and she passed on the idea. I then pitched Paris Brats to an editor at a writing conference. She told me that linked novellas weren’t financially interesting for her company. Well, my muse was not amused, and the idea kept knocking on my door whenever I did story brainstorms. Finally the digital revolution came, and I felt encouraged to strike out on my own. I chose to leave my agent in early 2012 to go indie. It’s the best professional move I’ve made to date. Amazon’s current terms for authors are excellent, and the newfound creative freedom has me feeling giddy and excited about writing and literary culture in general. Of course, the tide could turn at any time for independent publishers, but at the moment, conditions are good.

  3. 3. In episode one of Paris Brats, Fern struggles with the issue of taking a corporate job. Is that something you’ve struggled with too?

    Definitely. I have a love-hate relationship with corporate America. I’ve worked for a multinational publisher in their promotions and international sales departments. I’ve seen internecine politics, inefficiency, and sometimes just plain incompetence. Naturally not every company has a poisonous corporate culture - I’ve heard good things about other publishers, especially the smaller, independent ones - but that particular multinational disappointed me. I’d gone into publishing in awe of a team of cultural gatekeepers, excited to be a part of something meaningful and greater than myself. I came out with a more realistic picture of a group of faulted, often very skilled people stuck in a system that values greed and social status over quality and truth.

  4. 4. Where do you see the publishing industry going over the next few years?

    I wish I knew. I hope that Amazon and its competitors will continue to promote and expand their epublishing platforms for indie authors. The 70 per cent royalty rate that Amazon offers authors to distribute books is very attractive, and more and more authors will go indie to take advantage of it, hiring freelance editors and cover designers instead of contracting with a larger publisher.

  5. 5. How does your screenwriting experience affect the way you write prose fiction?

    I’d say that screenwriters generally receive a more structured education than novelists do. Most of the great writing craft books on story structure are aimed at screenwriters. Prose fiction writers can benefit from reading these works too. I definitely have. Before getting certification in screenwriting and writing for actors to perform, I was confused about what a story actually is deep in its bones.

  6. 6. How would you characterize the type of humour you write?

    Hmm. I’d say it’s self-deprecating and over-the-top. E.g., In the opening scene Paris Brats 1, Fern has been wearing a bridesmaid’s dress for two days and isn’t sure why. She’s humbled and confused about having been kicked out of her cousin’s wedding and suspects she may have slept with the groom. At no point is she sarcastic or bitter about it. That’s not her style.

  7. 7. Why do you write humour?

    It’s my goal to have the last laugh in the face of all that frightens, angers, and pains me. If, on my deathbed, I can’t laugh about the situation - after a good cry - I might as well already be gone.

  8. 8. If you were to give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

    I recommend finding a good support system. Surround yourself with kind people who value the arts or at least don’t devalue you personally.

  9. 9. I see you’re an American living in Europe. Why did you move there and how does life abroad affect your writing?

    For some reason, in my twenties and thirties, I was obsessed with moving overseas. I tried and failed several times to do it and finally got a degree in teaching English as a second language, so I could support myself overseas. I think I wanted a new set of less painful memories, or maybe I thought my life would be more beautiful in Europe because I’d be surrounded by beautiful architecture. My life is more beautiful now, but that’s only because I fell in love with someone who loves me back (It’s rare, but it happens. It took over thirty years for it to happen to me). It doesn’t matter where we are when it happens, but love does make life better, at least in my case. Love gives me the strength and the courage to accept myself as I am and to write the way I write, warts and all. Now that I’m permanently installed abroad, I like to write fish-out-of-water stories to keep myself amused instead of frustrated. It’s hard to fit in to a foreign culture, but if you can just nod most of the time and try to speak the new language, eventually things start to feel almost normal, which is a lot like writing fiction, actually. You have to make believe until it’s all there and feels real.

  10. 10. Do you have any other books in the works?

    I’ll be coming out with a YA historical fantasy set in nineteenth-century Vienna this year. It’s called Simmer, and it’s very dark and dramatic, not at all like the Paris Brats, though the heroine occasionally cracks an inner joke. Otherwise, I’m continuing with the Paris Brats Series, publishing a new episode as often as I can. After I have at least four of them, I plan to bundle them and sell them as a set.

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