Interviewing author E.L. Farris
My dear friend E.L. Farris has recently published her first novel, Ripple:
Finding herself in trouble, Helen must relinquish control and put her faith in a process she knows to be flawed. As a team of lawyers, therapists and women from a safe house help Helen and Phoebe find hope and healing, a sociopath lurks, waiting for his moment to strike.
A lyrical, dark fairytale that will resonate with fans of women’s literature and psychological thrillers, Ripple delves into the nature of evil, without seeking to provide final answers to the issue of what makes a human commit evil acts. And while the author takes readers to scary places, she ultimately shines a light on the human condition and celebrates the triumph of the human spirit in the face of great tribulation.
I enjoyed Ripple tremendously, and for many reasons. Top among those reasons were the strong, compassionate, very dissimilar women who filled its pages. I have read many popular novels recently in which the protagonists were drafted “empty,” the better to enable readers to insert themselves into the story as the protagonist.
Those empty characters really wig me out. I want to read stories, like E.L.’s, whose characters would be excellent coffee shop companions. I don’t necessarily have to like each of them all the time, but I must always have something to learn or laugh about with them. E.L.’s characters weren’t just real people but real friends to me by the time I read Ripple‘s final pages with a smile on my face.
I am hopeful that these women will inspire some of Ripple‘s readers to find like women in their own lives, and to find the courage to leave abusive situations, knowing there really is help available. The journey to a safer life needn’t be made alone.
E.L. has taken a few minutes out to answer some questions I had for her about Ripple, writing and life. I hope you’ll read them and consider buying your own copy of her compelling first novel.
Have you always been a writer, or did your word-lust begin later?
The first story I wrote that garnered attention was as an eight-grader. It was a sci-fi trip to the future, and until then, I was known for being a jock and, well, somewhat strange. It’s interesting—I learned something really important from this process. My teacher, Mrs. Cook, read back the story, and then she got to the last paragraph, in which I opined that nuclear war sucked. Mrs. Cook gently explained to me that the philosophizing, which I thought was my best writing, took away from the story. I was like, well gosh, I thought that was the best part of the story, but from that I took the difference between fiction and opinion.
What inspired you to begin writing a novel? How about Ripple in particular?
I had wanted to write a “Great American Novel” from a really early age, and had left college the first time to pursue this dream. But life, and my own struggles with substances and mental illness got in the way. Writing brings me closest to myself, and in the past, that soul of mine was pretty troubled. So I set down that dream and went into a profession that would pay the bills.
And yet, I was unsatisfied. Unfulfilled. Practicing law left me numb inside. I didn’t admit this to anyone, but once I’d paid off my law school debts, I was done. I had children and never went back. Through this, I kept journals and the only time I ever felt really alive was when I was writing—or running.
But still, I was afraid to write that GAN. It took almost dying in a car accident to make me live each day like I was dying, to borrow from Tim McGraw. That happened on November 16, 2009, and I vowed from then on to stop hiding from my past and from myself. And I did. That’s when I started therapy and when I started writing for real.
Ah. Ripple. Well, I started with a question: what would my life look life if I still practiced law? It would look just as chaotic as it did then: it would start, as my day started the day I started writing Ripple, with barf and a broken down bus. I intended to write from the POV of an attorney, Cassandra White, and track her as she balanced work and family.
Did you know more or less what the story was going to be before you wrote it, or did it develop and grow as you wrote?
I had absolutely no idea how the story was going to go, except I knew that Cassandra would help a high-powered attorney (later named Helen Thompson) escape to a safe house. And I knew the third protagonist, Phoebe, because, to be honest, she was a younger version of myself.
What helped you keep writing even when you didn’t want to? Even when, perhaps, you didn’t think you could do it?
I feel, and have always felt, like my time here on earth is limited. Ever since I developed a seizure disorder, I felt this, so when I started Ripple, I was racing against the clock. And to be painfully honest, I was really depressed when I started Ripple. I wasn’t sure how long I could hang on.
Of Ripple’s characters, each must reflect a portion of your soul. Even understanding that, I have to wonder which character you feel is most like you. Who is it?
Much of Phoebe’s inward dialogue comes, with polishing, from my journals. To access my own past, I started to write a dialogue between Big El and Little El in which Little El told me what happened to her. A lot of readers thought Phoebe came across as a hard-edged, obnoxious brat. That made me laugh, because I was ever worse behaved than Phoebe as a teenager. So Phoebe comes from me, but Cassandra is most similar to me now. Same substance abuse issues. Similar parenting style (but she’s cooler than me). Same struggle with athletic aging. Same flashbacks during sex.
And Helen—well, that curt, brutal, ultra efficient ass-kicker? Maybe I don’t want folks to know it, but I can act like that too.
What is your favorite thing about Ripple?
Zander. He’s my heart. And he’s based on my youngest son.
Please share a favored passage from Ripple, and its significance to you.
Phoebe’s thoughts, chapter five:
I can’t have friends. I am a shadow. Part girl, part died. No one can share my sickness. No faces, no light. Eyes shut. I tremble and feel the pieces tear, torn, ripped so long ago, and each breath makes it real. Am I real? What is real? How many times can I die inside?
Kill her. I should kill her. I see a little girl and I am wrapping her in a warm blanket. I am carrying her to a safe place. I want to get her there, but there is nowhere safe and I don’t care. It’s not safe. It’s an abandoned mansion rusting; falling cobwebs and rats and I can leave her behind and I will run so fucking far and I’ll be free of her and maybe my pain will die with her. If she dies will I have killed her or just taken her off life support? How can I think like that? I love her. I hate her. Can’t I leave her bleeding in the mud? Hands and bodies drifting. I drift. He should have killed me.
Sigh. I wrote this late one night when I thought I couldn’t go on.
What was hardest for you to write in Ripple? What came most naturally?
I had a really hard time with drugs and alcohol when I first started writing Ripple, especially the scenes between Phoebe and her mother. When Phoebe screams at Helen, I was screaming at my own mother. And yet, this came easily—the words came easily. The scenes about running and that contained Zander and Cass were the most fun to write.
What have you learned about writing from writing and publishing Ripple? Is there any advice you’d have to offer aspiring authors?
Just write. And be grateful you can. As far as publishing, well, don’t write to get rich. Write because you must. Write because your mind screams “Write” when you’re sleeping. Write because you have a story that won’t let you sleep until you write it.
What have you learned about life from writing and publishing Ripple?
It’s funny. I’ve learned, yet again, to be true to my own voice and to my own principles. And now I’m learning that no one else is going to care more about my work than I do. There’s both relief and dread in knowing that.
What can we look forward to next from you? What are your next-up writing goals–all novels, or are you dreaming up other media to conquer?
I Run: Running from Hell with El is with my editor, Christina Frey, right now. The expected release date is April. I’m writing a novel, Michael’s Hand, which I may or may not get serious about. I need to write the sequel to Ripple, but before I take those two novels on, I might write a non-fiction self-help book for abuse and PTSD survivors that will be a companion volume to Ripple and I Run.
When are we going to finally be able to meet up for coffee? Please tell me you’re not going to make me wait till my wedding? (That’s totally a question–it even has a question mark after it!)
Oh man, I wish you lived next door, or at least in the same city! My long runs are terribly lonely, and I would like nothing better than to walk and talk and run and even sit and gab over a cup of coffee as often as you would have me!!
Do you have any questions for E.L.? Feel free to ask them here!
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