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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Writing for the Long Haul: Author Interview with Paul Ellis

Since writing is your full time job, how is your day set up?
If I was to describe an idealized writing day, it would consist of me writing from 5:30 am to about 11;00 am, going for a run, then spending the afternoon running errands. I am most creative in the evening, so I would get back into it about 4pm and finish about 7:00 pm, before the kids go to bed. Let me add that I tend to write in bursts and don't keep this routine going for more than a few weeks at a time.

How long does it take for you to complete a book?
 Each one of my five books has followed a different track and I can't say I have this figured out by any stretch. My first book took two years to write; my last book took two weeks (not counting rewrites and revisions). I don't know if I'm getting better, but I am getting faster.

Your first books were Christian themed to answer adult questions on faith. Your latest book is for children. Why the change?
When I began reading stories to my children, I was miffed that the fathers were often untrustworthy or absent. You could write a PhD dissertation on the absence of fathers in fairytales. As a parent, I didn't want to contribute to this stereotype so I began making up my own stories. At first, the stories were based on events of the day that my children had experienced. Later, they became more imaginative and adventurous.

What is the best way for you to get your creative juices flowing?
 My best ideas come when I am resting. The seed for The Big House came on a Sunday morning when I was sleeping in. In my mind's eye I saw a strange and intriguing sight that became the rooftop scene in the final chapter. It took me two weeks to unpack the story and write it all down. I read it to my kids over a long-weekend holiday and their reactions told me the story was worth publishing.

What children's authors inspire you?
My tastes are fairly mainstream; Tolkien, CS Lewis, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, etc. I also like Stanislaw Lem, the Polish writer. I try and pay attention to what my kids are reading. They are voracious readers. My wife regularly returns from the library with 50-60 books which will all get read in a day or two. I'm not exaggerating. If my kids get excited about a particular book I'll check it out.

Your books help people understand the Bible in everyday terms. What do you think is the biggest myth about Christianity today?
The greatest and most damaging myth is that God is something other than a good Father. Religion has told us that God is a judge and executioner, but Jesus shows us that God is first and foremost our Father who loves us as we are and not as we should be. Perhaps this myth - that God is not a good father - explains the absence of good fathers in the stories we tell our children.

Incidentally, the single greatest story of all time may be the one Jesus told about the prodigal son and the father who eagerly watched for his return. It's the story of the human race in just 500 words.

 What did you know about writing and publishing before you completed your first book?
Having worked in academia for 15 years, I am familiar with the publish or perish routine and my first book was published by a university press. My number one gripe with the traditional model is how the lion's share of the profits ends up in the hands of big business. It's like getting to keep only 15% of your baby. Another gripe is giving up control over things like cover design.

What made you decide to set up your own publishing company?
 I set up KingsPress ( two years ago for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I was curious to see if I could publish myself. It has been a lot of fun doing all those things that authors normally never do, like negotiating foreign language rights and working directly with illustrators. I created the cover of my first self-published title, The Gospel in Ten Words, ( and was excited when it won a prize in a design competition.

 How much does social media play in your promotion of your books? 
 I was initially reluctant to join Facebook, but a friend showed me how to get started and once in I was hooked. That said, I actually don't invest a lot of time in "managing" my social media platform. A far superior means for connecting with my readers comes through my blog, Escape to Reality

 What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?
 Because technology is constantly advancing, it's helpful to have a "suck it and see" attitude. If you have a clear goal, such as getting a finished and polished book onto Kindle, don't spend too much time trying to figure out in advance how to do it. Just do it and learn as you go.

What is the best advice that you've learned that you would like to pass along?
Writing is meant to be fun. Perhaps I'm naive, but I don't believe that the creation of art is meant to be a caffiene-fueled drudge. My strong view is if it's not fun, don't do it. Life's too short.

What other works do you have in the process?
I am currently working on a compilation-type book based on the best articles from Escape to Reality. I also have a children's series cooking in the back of my mind, but I'm not ready to talk about that one yet. Right now much is hanging on The Big House and whether readers like it or not. My kids loved it, but they're biased. Whether anyone else likes it remains to be seen.

What would you like readers to take away from reading your books?
I want them to go "Wow!" either because they have learned something about their heavenly Father who loves them with an extreme and over-the-top kind of love, or because they have read a story that fired their imagination. For instance, The Big House is about a couple of kids who discover that their father is about a billion times more awesome than they think he is which is just about the greatest discovery anyone can make.

That's it for today's interview. If you would like to learn more about Paul's writing and his books, here's the simplest way to do that.

 Paul's blog:  The Big House:

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