Come With Me to the Bewilderness... for a Book-A-Versary!

 

Ellis Elliott: Founder of Bewilderness Writing


I'm not sure how Ellis found me, out there on the great big web, but she did. In late 2021 Ellis wrote to me via Devil's Party Press, and asked for book coaching. I said, "Sure." The first time we met, via Zoom, I had (what we used to call) a girl-crush right away. IMHO Ellis is warm, kind, helpful, and very interesting. I still can't figure out why she came to me for help. She's incredibly capable, and talented.
About that same time, I was badgering my husband, and partner in publishing, David. "Isn't there something we can do to help publish poetry so it wouldn't break the bank?" (As indie/small publishers, everything breaks the bank!) Ellis was working on a novel, but she was also a poet, and I had gotten to know a lot of poets (from publishing anthologies and INSTANT NOODLES) whose poetry I was really crazy about. Finally Dave and I decided that if we could put together a co-op of sorts, and the authors were willing to help with some of the tasks, we could do it. I invited about fifty poets to an informational meeting to talk about if we could do it, and how it would work.  Ten poets signed up to try. We began meeting monthly, and a few meetings in, we rolled a virtual die to see whose books was going to be published first. I remember telling the group, "The first person chosen gets a book this year, but that person also gets us when we're in our infnacy, and still figuring things out, so it's a mixed blessing." The virtual die stopped tumbling, and the poet with the honor and handicap of being first was.... Ellis Elliott. 
We began the process to make her book in the spring of 2023, and last summer, one year ago this month, it was released. In honor of the book-a-versary, I asked Ellis to do an interview for AE.


Dianne (DP): Ellis Elliott, owner of Bewilderness Writing and author of National Book Award nominee BREAK IN THE FIELD, congratulations on your book-a-versary! How does it feel to look back on the journey of your book over the past year?

Ellis (EE): It feels like closure on something that consumed a lot of my waking moments for several years, and I’m enormously grateful to have the collection published in the first place. Looking back, I am really proud of my work, and even if just one person read it and came to see the world a little differently because of it, then that’s the reward. 

 
DP: What has the experience of marketing this book been like for you, and do you feel there was a way you courted readers that was more fruitful? 

EE: It has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone, from doing multiple Zoom book readings to holding a workshop/reading at a local library. I think it helped to have something else to offer besides just the book. I run writing groups based on free writing from poetry prompts, called Bewilderness Writing, which I can use to illustrate the “messy first drafts” out of which a poem is born. Everyone has a book to promote, but I found if I offered to run the workshop it helped me get my foot in the door. That said, I also learned that you have to really be relentless and keep at it to remind people your book exists, and I’m not sure I’d get any prizes there. It’s not easy. It’s hard work, and you have to be willing to put yourself out there.

DP: Your book explores themes of blended families and children with disabilities. These topics are very personal. How did it feel to you to write so openly about them?

EE: It felt like I was trying to swim in mud. It was hard, and I think that’s because I really did not want to romanticize anything about being disabled or parenting a disabled person, and I ran into some backlash with that. Also, I really had to excavate my own feelings, and I had to force myself to keep digging, when I really just wanted to tie it in a bow and be done with it. It is not easy to write about disability when it is not your own disability or your birth child. I had to balance between not overstepping and telling the truth of my experience. 
 
DP: Poetry collections often seem to be very personal. Why do you think poetry lives so close to our emotional truths? 

EE: I think poetry distills our language into its most essential parts, and because of that I think good poetry allows the reader to see themselves, to resonate with something in the poem. I often find it could be just one line or image that I take from a poem, but that line or image sticks with me, and I might carry it around for a long time. 
 
DP: Do you think pursuing your MFA was an important part of this journey?

EE: For me, absolutely. I was lucky enough to go to grad school in my 50’s, when I had the time and money to do so. None of the many books I read on craft or the critique groups that I was part of could come close to what I learned from the immersive experience of school. And that doesn’t mean it was all good, either. I quickly developed a thick skin for criticism, along with learning how to keep from that what you need, and let go of the rest. I learned no matter how great or passionately you think or feel about your work, that you have to be willing to put it out there, and sometimes you have to start over. Most importantly, I got to take a deep dive into the craft of poetry, which was the best part to learn,  and the hardest part to put into practice. 

DP: Are there new projects or themes you're eager to explore in your future writing?

EE: Yes! And I’m so excited about it. While I’m thrilled I was able to get my book out there, I am also ready to swim up from the deep end and have some fun now, so I’m working on a cozy mystery novel. It’s based on my own family roots in the east Tennessee mountains and the Appalachian Granny Witch, who 100 years ago when travel out of the mountains was punishing, served as doctor, midwife, and mortuary, all-in-one. The book will add a little paranormal, the hobby of miniatures, medicinal herbs, and history to the mix. And then there’s the murder mystery, of course.

DP: It sounds like a perfect mix for a cosy. I cannot wait to beta read it. LOL. (I had better be a beta reader!)

EE: Of course you will! 
 
DP: Thank goodness! Well, I don't want to ask readers to spend too much time with us, or take too much of your time. I know that, in addition to Bewilderness Writing and working on your cosy, you still teach dance, locally to kids in your community, and Silver Swans, ballet that you teach via Zoom to slightly, ahem, older ballerinas, like me. So, my final question: What advice would you give to aspiring poets or writers who want to tackle sensitive or personal topics in their work? 

EE: You have to have a ladder out, and a ladder can be many things, whether it is to step physically away from your work and leave it in another room, go for a walk, or listen to music. There has to be breathing room and enough space and distance that you can return to it. You don’t need to “bleed on the page” by writing every single detail. Ask permission.  Allow yourself some grace, and always go with your gut. 

DP: I love that. Writing takes a lot of "go with your gut."
Readers of this piece, you can get Ellis' book free! Because it is her book-a-versary, Old Scratch Press is offering her book free. Just sign up, and we'll send you the eBook!
If you want to find out more about the poetry coop, visit Old Scratch Press.
To find out more about Ellis, visit Bewilderness Writing.
And for her debut collection, BREAK IN THE FIELD, check out the reviews she's getting on Amazon, where her book is also available as an audio book, no subscription necessary!




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