Today’s interview is with Ellen Cassidy, author of the women’s fiction novel Shelter Me, and a compelling short story collection, No Place Like Home.
If you had the good fortune to be mentored by a successful writer of any era, who would you choose, and why?
Possibly Stephen King. I’m not a horror fan, but I love (some, not all) of his books. There is simply nobody who does characterization, coming-of-age stories, (my favorite) and dialogue better than him. His memoir, On Writing, is also one of my favorite craft writing books.
Let’s talk a little about your novel, Shelter Me. I’ve always been fascinated by the human tendency to lie to ourselves. What does your protagonist in this story lie to herself about the most?
My protag, Kathleen, has something happen to her in the novel that affects more than just her. She tells herself that her lover doesn’t need to know, “to protect his dream.” In reality, she’s simply afraid of what his knowing will mean to her. The consequences.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.” Have you found this to be true in your writing?
I think there’s a lot of truth to that statement. Writing is a tremendous outlet for all kinds of emotions, including shame. It’s cathartic in every good way. You can make your characters do the things you wish you had done, and said, with no regrets.
What are your strengths as a writer?
I would say my strengths as a writer would be translating some of my real-life experiences into compelling fiction, without it being obvious. As in, a reader wouldn’t be able to discern where my imagination begins or ends. As writers we hear, “Write what you know,” all the time, and I think this goes beyond writing about a cop if you’ve been a cop. It’s taking all that’s happened to you, the people you’ve loved and not loved, and making it relatable, funny, sad. And if you can make a reader laugh AND cry with your words, you’ve hit the jackpot. Not sure if that’s happened or not for my readers, but I sure hope so.
You’ve written a novel and a volume of short stories. Which was harder to write, and why?
The novel was harder to write, hands-down. There is just so much involved that needs to be spread out at a pace that’s not boring, threads to keep track of, and the constant balance of tension, dialogue, prose, and show vs.tell. Of course these things are all present in short stories too, but it’s much more compacted and easier to track than in a sprawling novel. I struggle with organization, so that’s a huge challenge for me with a novel.
Do your characters ever surprise you?
I hear writers talk about this, as if their characters have a mind of their own. Frankly, I don’t get it. I feel pretty firmly in the driver’s seat. There have been times when the words flow as if from a muse, of course, which is the best feeling in the world. And rare. But mostly I’m in charge. And procrastinating. Ha!
Where to find Ellen
This award-winning set of poignant stories has the heart of Dorothy and her land of Oz lessons threaded through each one. Courage. Loss. Friendship. Challenging evil. Whether it’s a budding elementary school romance or a grieving woman starting over, readers will find themselves travelling down the fateful yellow brick road with every character, and wanting more.
What happens when desire changes everything you thought you knew about yourself? Kathleen Brooks is a forty-year-old widow who is blind-sided by a passionate liaison with Thomas Hart, a budding musician on the brink of big things. Plagued with guilt at her seeming abandonment of common sense, she is plunged into a deeper connection with Thomas than she ever imagined, and amidst this intimacy her role as a teenage mentor feels at-risk. When an unexpected development occurs, the past crashes head-on with the future, and Kathleen is forced to make decisions affecting everyone she loves.
Ellen Cassidy wrote in journals, crafted numerous letters-to-the-editor, joined writing groups, and ranted on her blog for years, until finally publishing an award-winning collection of stories called, “No Place like Home.” She resides with her husband and tuxedo cat, Shadow, in Southwest Michigan. Her future life will include writing, living, and reading with her beloved granddaughter Ada Mary in Tennessee, where the rest of the family are welcome to join them if they bring Eric Carle books.