Home > Books, Interview, Writing > Interviewing author E.L. Farris

Interviewing author E.L. Farris

My dear friend E.L. Farris has recently published her first novel, Ripple:

ripple coverWhen high-powered attorney Helen Thompson discovers that her fifteen-year old daughter has been sexually assaulted, she takes drastic measures.

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.

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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 runI 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!
Also join her giveaway–details below!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Ripple by E.L. Farris

Ripple

by E.L. Farris

Giveaway ends February 22, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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  1. February 12, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Great interview, Deb. I enjoyed reading RIPPLE very much, both as El’s early critique partner and, later, as a general reader.

    I am curious to know what piece of criticism El received from beta readers that she decided to ignore. It has to be difficult, hearing all those different voices and deciding what to keep and what to rework.

  2. February 12, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Holy crap, that’s a good question. And first of all, thank you so much Renee, both for your help then and your support now. As far as criticisms ignored, I got to the point where I handed it all over to my editor, and then I went with her intuition. There were times she felt like I’d lost my voice or was writing to please a certain audience, and she kept hammering at me to “use your voice, only your voice.” Otherwise, the thing is, my beta readers all disagreed on what worked and what didn’t. There were some things, like legal jargon, for example, that some people LOVED and other readers scoffed at, so I had to answer the question: is this a legal drama, or is it a psychothriller? Once I answered that (it’s more of a legal drama, focusing on helping women heal) with a heavy emphasis on complex character development, that I could then figure out what to keep.

    Another criticism I got and am still getting is the length of Ripple. Some readers think there’s fat, or entire scenes that are extraneous. I thought about that carefully, but I didn’t set out to write a bare-bones thriller. I set out to write something with a bit of epic sprawl to it. Once I figured that out, I could go ahead and keep the word count at around 120K rather than 80-100K. Also, I’ve had many, many readers tell me they didn’t want for it to end, and they want a sequel. And most of my beta readers wanted more, rather than, less, Ripple.

    Thank you for your great questions!

  3. February 12, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Thank you, Deb, for interviewing El! I really loved reading the book, and this was an extra bonus!

    I was very pleased to see that there might be a sequel to Ripple! The hardest thing for me in reading the book was getting to the end just as the characters were healing and moving on. I would so love to visit them again and see how they’re doing. I suppose my question for El would be to ask if there is a sort of rough draft/plan in place for a sequel; Would all, or at least most, of the characters be included and continue their journey there?

  4. February 12, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Hey Christine!! And thank you–this made me grin! Yes, I have an outline for the sequel, with all the characters present (except for Parkings–he’s staying in jail). And a new character, Jim John McMahon will appear. He’s a Marine from Virginia–loves God, his country and Phoebe. Meanwhile, Phoebe has taken up guns and roller derby and is writing experimental poetry. Helen and Cass have gone into business. Cat’s still running. Mimi and Miranda are still joking. Zander is still skidding into rooms, and it will be 5-7 years from when Ripple ended. And it’s going to be called Wave.

    • February 13, 2013 at 7:16 am

      I almost squealed reading this! I’m already so excited and looking forward to reading it! ❤

  5. February 12, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Congratulations El on your new book. Damn, girl are you busy! Great interview, Deb.

    • February 12, 2013 at 8:26 pm

      Thank you so much Peg!! And yes–Deb rocks this interviewing bit–I felt really comfortable here.

  6. February 13, 2013 at 3:21 am

    El, you are an inspiration. Huge congrats to you. I’ve always thought that being a writer isn’t really a choice, it’s something you feel compelled to do. My questions is: as you were laying your soul bare, revisiting your own memories, how did you quiet the self-doubts? How did you push on through it, that fear of readers possibly criticizing something so deeply personal? I started writing last year and got blocked by this fear of telling my truth and having people either not understanding it or not accepting it.

    • February 13, 2013 at 5:05 am

      Thank you so much Darla, for your kind thoughts! I think it’s a compulsion as well–mine chases me around like a beastly stalker. Now, as far as quieting self-doubts, well, I don’t know that I ever did. The writing itself gave me more confidence. I suppose it’s one of those chicken and egg things. Do you have to be confident first, and then write, or does the writing give you the confidence you need to write well? It also helped to have a few believers in my work who believed in it and in me.

      As far as fear about telling my truth, I still am scared shitless about it. But the thing is, I’ve wasted way too much time locked in someone else’s reality. One of my greatest fears is that my family will find out about what I’ve written and will attack me. And then I remind myself of why I write: it’s out of love, not anger or bitterness. I write to make the world a better place. And I write because I love it. I don’t write to hurt others.

      One thing I can say with 100% certainty: you are a beautiful writer and woman. You can write both comedy and drama (like what you wrote for Black Box the other day). Fears can be paralyzing. I know this. But God only gives us one shot. xoxo

      • February 13, 2013 at 9:41 am

        Thanks El, that’s so sweet of you to say.

        I think that’s what I fear, my family reacting to my story (it would be mostly based on my relationship with my mom) But what you said rings true–you write out of love, not bitterness. I want to write so I might be able to understand and accept my relationship with my mom, not to tear it down. I guess, you can never go wrong with the truth, even if it might be a little painful. Well, I am psyched to read Ripple! Best of luck to you and your future books!

  7. February 13, 2013 at 4:27 am

    This is a wonderful interview, thank you for bring El to us in this way. I love you both for your free sharing.

    I loved Ripple, loved that it made me cry and loved that it made cheer the characters when they climbed mountains. I appreciate hearing the process. Is it wrong of me to say how proud I am of you? For all your hard work, for being brave, for shining a light, for leading the way?

    I don’t care, I am so proud of you EL.

    • February 13, 2013 at 5:25 am

      And I love you, dear Val! Thank you so much for loving Ripple! That’s like being told that someone unabashedly loves your kid–you know? My gosh, no, it’s not wrong to tell me you’re proud of me! Hell no!! That makes me so grateful and happy to hear!! Love you my friend.

  8. February 13, 2013 at 5:58 am

    I haven’t yet read Ripple but I plan to. That was a very enlightening interview. Thank you, Deborah. I look forward to reading the book.

    • E.L. Farris
      February 13, 2013 at 8:14 am

      Thank you so much for your support!! It makes me smile seeing that you’re going to read Ripple!!

  9. February 13, 2013 at 6:37 am

    This is a great interview. It really points out that so much of writing is psychological – something I need to consider more, perhaps.

    • E.L. Farris
      February 13, 2013 at 8:18 am

      Hello Alison! I agree that so much of writing is psychological, both in terms of how we integrate our characters into plots and how our own psyches can alter, diminish or improve how we approach a writing project. I am intrigued by humanity, actually. I want to understand why we act the way we do and then try to capture it in words. Have a great day!

  10. February 13, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Terrific interview. I know El through her blog (sniff) and have ordered Ripple. Thank you Deb for an interview that tantalizes, introduces the author but doesn’t give anything away.

    • E.L. Farris
      February 13, 2013 at 11:49 am

      Awww Elise–I miss you too!! I keep meaning to come by and visit (stern stare at self–Wordpress isn’t playing nice since I switched over). And Deb, as always, rocked it out!! xoxo ~el

  11. February 13, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Love the questions and am soaking in the answers. I am forever intrigued by process.

    There no one right way to write–I get that, but I need reminders. So often we can get ourselves stuck in the muck by wondering “Am I writing this too quickly?” “Am I writing this to slowly?” We have to let go and let the process be what it is and let the inspiration come from where it will come. Sometimes the pages will write themselves and sometimes you’ll stare at blank pages and doodles for days. Sometimes we will use very personal pieces of ourselves and sometimes we’ll make the whole damn thing up. It’s all okay.

    I only hope I can put on paper the incredible characters you have E.L.. I find myself missing them terribly and hope you will write a sequel one day.

    • E.L. Farris
      February 13, 2013 at 11:52 am

      The process totally intrigues me too, Kelly (smiling at you but am emoticon-less). I think that what we really need is encouragement and a ton of courage. AND, my gosh, one thing I’ve learned is that comparison is not our friend (shivering!). And yes–there are days the words fly as if summoned, and other days they emerge in drips as if wrung out of a scruffy old t-shirt.

      And it is all okay! Yes!

      Aww thank you–yep. I plan a sequel. Thanks so much my friend!

  12. February 16, 2013 at 5:56 am

    I cannot wait to read it!

  1. February 20, 2013 at 5:41 pm

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