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Ellis Nelson on her Buddhist influences and writing the Child Protagonist

The blogsphere is literally exploding with talented writers and poets, very few of whom get the attention they deserve. INTERVIEWS will introduce you to a new generation of writers and thinkers. So watch this space, who knows what you’ll find . . . 

YA writer Ellis Nelson talks about writing for the younger reader, her buddhist influences and her latest work.

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Tell us about yourself.

I’m a newly published author and that’s very exciting. Prior to this, I served as a US Air Force Officer, government contractor, and teacher. In many ways, what I do today seems very removed from my work experience. Maybe that proves you can start I have two grown kids and a husband. Currently we live in Colorado in the foot-hills of the Rockies.

What is your favorite literary genre to write in and why?

I bounce back and forth between writing middle grade novels and young adult. What I’m starting to see is that all my books pose questions about our existence in the material world. Namely, is the material world all we’ve got? Scientific materialism is the prevailing philosophy in the United States at this time. It imposes a very limited way of living one’s life and I’m constantly asking my readers to open their minds and expand their worldview. As we push into new frontiers it’s going to be imperative that young people be able to adapt, grow, and change. I think if anything, I’m trying to get readers to ask the big questions and then go looking for their own answers.  So really, any genre which allows me do this becomes an acceptable vehicle.

What do you feel are the advantages of writing YA and Children’s fiction as opposed to novels for adults?

I think kids are so much more open to new ideas and ways of seeing things. It offers a writer more freedom to try things out. Kids will go along for the ride and trust that the journey will be worth it. I love the quote by author Madeleine L’Engle about writing for kids.  “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

What kinds of characters do you enjoy writing the most?

I enjoy watching characters come to life. This happens when you start putting them into situations and seeing how they react. I like the quirky character that surprises and delights. One thing that’s really important in writing for children and teens is that kids have to be portrayed as real kids. They have to act, talk, and think like a kid. Successful children’s writers have to master this art and stay on top of modern day changes. That includes knowing something about technology and social media.

Tell us about your most recent work.

‘Into the Land of Snows’ is a YA adventure novel set in the high Himalayas of Nepal.  The main character, an American teenager named Blake, is sent to Base Camp on Mt. Everest to be with his father who is working as the team doctor for a group of mountain climbers. Blake’s parents are divorced and after Blake gets in trouble at home, his parents think some time with Dad might be needed. Shortly after his arrival, an avalanche forces Dad to reconsider and, for safety sake, he sends Blake off the mountain with a Sherpa guide.  Before Blake leaves, a Sherpa boy gives him an old camera as a token of friendship. Turns out this camera may be the one carried by George Mallory in his 1924 attempt on Everest.  Blake holds in his hands the possible solution to the biggest climbing mystery ever.  Did Mallory make it to the top?  Will the camera prove it finally? The problem is that Blake is on the trail and the magical Himalayas hold many other adventures for him.  His whole idea of reality will be challenged and tested.

 ‘Into the Land of Snows’ carries a strong Buddhist influence. Where did your interest start?

The first memory I have of being exposed to Buddhist ideas goes back to sixth grade. We had a small classroom library and the teacher owned a small book containing Buddhist phrases. I absolutely loved it!  Of course, growing up in a small town in upstate New York was not conducive to learning much about Buddhism. It was many years later and after several personal crises that I returned to this interest and did something about it.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, logistical, etc.) in bringing your book to life?

The book did require substantial research. I took classes offered in faraway Dharamsala, India. Thanks to the internet, I was able to study with a Buddhist master who fled Chinese-occupied Tibet to follow the Dalai Lama into exile in 1959. Listening to Geshe Sonam Rinchen’s patient lectures aided my understanding of Tibetan Buddhism. That along with a friendship with a young monk in India helped me to process and write the book. The book was a joy to write. In some ways, it almost wrote itself.

How much of what you write is based on personal experience? 

When I look at ‘Into to the Land of Snows’, I can say I’ve never been a sixteen year old boy and I’ve never traveled to Everest. But the underlying truths Blake struggles with were part of my personal spiritual journey. Wrestling with life as illusion changes your worldview entirely. As I’ve gone on to write other books, I’m shocked at how biographical the books really are. I can look at them and know exactly what I’ve been working through emotionally. The odd thing is that it’s an after the fact revelation. I’m not consciously aware of it when I’m actually working on the novel.

If you could meet any other writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?

I would want to meet Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson). Several years ago I read a biography about him and was totally fascinated. He shared my background in mathematics, and my interest in religion and the paranormal. I’d have to ask him what caused the break between him and the Liddells.  Did he suffer from migraines? What does he think of his legacy? Has history portrayed him accurately?

What are your current projects?

I have a middle grade, time travel novel (Down the Treacle Well) and a YA ghost story (Tender Tulips, Dark Diamonds) circulating with publishers. Currently, I’m working on another YA novel. This one is set in Colorado.  A teen begins to experience paranormal phenomena connecting quantum physics, the extermination of a medieval heretical group, and his past.

Now go and see for yourself! To read more about Ellis’ work, click to visit her blog!

About thethiessenreview

Amateur reviewer. Book obsessive. Cocktail drinker.


5 thoughts on “Ellis Nelson on her Buddhist influences and writing the Child Protagonist

  1. Thanks for all the likes! Feel free to leave comments or ask a question. I’ll be checking back.

    Posted by ellisnelson | October 19, 2012, 2:04 AM
  2. Great stuff. That time travel novel sounds really interesting.

    Posted by Jevon | October 22, 2012, 1:07 AM
  3. That one is my ode to Lewis Carroll. Two brothers are whisked back to Victorian England and find themselves sprawled out on the living room carpet of the Rev. Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). He’s in quite a state, Alice has gone missing in Wonderland and Dodgson fears for her safety.

    Posted by ellisnelson | October 22, 2012, 5:13 PM

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