Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hearing Voices: When a Character Cracks Up

My first novel, Adventures with Max and Louise features a woman who, through a surgical error, is given unwanted breast implants. Before they can be removed, they start talking to her. One is an English bloke, Max, the other a black woman of a certain age, Louise. Both have very strong opinions on what Molly, the main character, should do to fix her life, which is stuck firmly in the past.

In other words, Molly is completely nuts. And she knows it. She's hearing voices. The completely
 Adventures with Max and Louise
mental thing about it is that when she starts listening to them, they make sense. Both Max and Louise, although they clash wildly, want Molly to break out of her shell and take some risks in love and life.

When I was writing the book, people at cocktail parties or my daughter's soccer games either laughed uproariously or they took a step back with a confused look on their faces, asking "Seriously? A book with talking boobs?" And to be honest, readers either willingly suspend their disbelief in order to enjoy the story or they don't.

But the insanity of the idea is what made it interesting to me. Weighed down by years of guilt about an accident in which her mother died, Molly's breaking point is the surgery, which cracks her open, spilling out all the fear, loneliness and guilt that have shadowed her since the day of her of her mother's death. With the breaking point comes two voices that change her life forever.

If you ever read any books by neurologist Oliver Sacks, such as The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, featuring stories of patients with various mental disabilities, Molly's voices aren't that much of a stretch. But unlike many real and debilitating mental illnesses, this one goes away once the Molly has reached a crisis point and moved beyond.

Great fiction takes characters and tosses them into the sea of crisis, spitting them out changed, for better or worse. In every day life, when faced with the chaos that life throws our way, we all have various coping devices. Sometimes going a little bit crazy is one of them. In fiction, writers can take it further because unlike real life, no one is going to end up getting hurt.

And in my books, I can promise you a few laughs along the way.

A native of Seattle and graduate of Smith College, Ellyn financed her MFA at The American Film Institute by working as a cook on fishing boats in Alaska. After several years as a screenwriter, Ellyn came to her senses and returned to Seattle, where she wrote her first novel, Adventures with Max and Louise, which was pubished in 2012. Her second novel, Divine Moves, was published the following year. She's polishing her third novel, Fifty Acts of Kindness and outlining her first YA novel, Finding Nirvana.
When she can find the right mix of humor, depression and hysteria, she'll write about her years in Los Angeles.
She lives near Seattle with her family and a shelter dog.
For writing news, sneak peeks at new projects and her blog, visit

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