“Imagine if you had witnessed something horrific. Imagine if it had happened to your friend. And imagine if you hadn’t done anything to help.”
The world of LDS literature is rife with can only be termed “issue novels”. Whether they are out to take on drug abuse, polygamy, suicide, racism, or even date rape, issue novels pick a socially difficult topic and discuss it. The aim of these novels seems to be to bring awareness to an issue and to help those dealing with it do so in a faithful manner. Some of these novels turn out distastefully didactic. Others, however, open our minds to new points of view and provide much needed catharsis. This is What I Did: by LDS novelist, Ann Dee Ellis, is one of the good ones.
Logan is the new kid in town with a past. “Something horrific” happened to his best friend, Zyler, and since then Logan has refused to attend school or even talk to anyone. His well-intentioned parents have tried everything: they moved, enrolled him in a new school, enlisted the aid of the neighborhood boys to be nice to him, and even signed him up for Boy Scouts. But instead of the clean start they were hoping for, what Logan gets is a firestorm of gossip, bullying, and depression–until a therapist hands him a notebook and tells him to write down what he did. This is What I Did: is Logan’s notebook–filled with quirky dialogue, drawings, and notes–and through it the reader accompanies him on his journey of understanding and reconciliation.
Now, the interview:
LC: This is What I Did: has been categorized blandly (as a plain-Jane young adult novel) and thrillingly (as a psychological drama). How would you categorize/describe your book?
ADE: Good question. I guess I’d go with “a real book.” It’s definitely not an easy book–definitely not escapism. My agent describes it as emotionally graphic and I guess that works. I just wrote about a boy who doesn’t know how to fit in, who doesn’t know what to say and when to say it, and who wishes he didn’t have to deal with hard things. I think we all wish we didn’t have to deal with hard things but we do. And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
The voice, format, and graphics in the novel all give it a distinct appeal and make it a unique reading experience. How much of that occurred to you during the writing process and how much came together during the editing and publishing process?
Most of it came during the writing process. I’m not a traditional writer. I have a hard time writing paragraphs and an even harder time writing chapters so most of my manuscripts end up being puzzles. One of my favorite books is the House on Mango Street. When I read it for the first time I remember thinking, “You mean it’s okay to write like this?” It was refreshing and exciting for me to discover that in writing, there is no one right way.
The only thing that really came during the editing process was the graphics. The designer for the book came up with those and I think he did a great job. In fact, the book won a national design award.
You got your MA from BYU and you live in Utah. How do your cultural and religious backgrounds influence your writing?
Well, I am who I am. No matter what I write, it’s coming from me. It’s still a part of my experience, my thoughts, my insecurities, my background, my religious beliefs etc. even if it is fiction. That’s why I think writing can be so vulnerable and exciting and isolating at times. People get to know you in a very different way.
There is sometimes a lot of talk within LDS art circles about LDS authors “crossing over” to the national market and vice versa. Did you consciously choose to write for the national market as opposed to the LDS market? How do you see yourself fitting into the LDS artistic spectrum?
I didn’t consciously write for the LDS market. I just wrote. And I don’t know how to answer the second part of the question. I like to write. I am LDS.
What are you reading these days? What are a couple of your favorites?
Ummm, I haven’t been reading a whole lot. I started a Joyce Carol Oates book about three weeks ago and I keep reading the first chapter over and over again. The truth is I do not have a lot of down time. Between chasing my little boy, trying to finish grading papers, and making sure I don’t shrink all of our shirts, I don’t find a whole lot of time to read. Sad. But when I do get time, I love reading all kinds of things. My favorite book in college was The Bell Jar (this says A LOT about my life as a single adult in Utah County). Sylvia Plath is an amazing writer. And like I mentioned earlier, I enjoy Sandra Cisneros’s writing. I also love reading short stories. Flannery O’Connor is one of my favorite writers.
You are about to have your second baby. What’s harder: getting a book published or giving birth and being a mom?
I’d say the mom thing. I love it but it’s hard. HARD. But funny. And worth it. Today my toddler dumped a canister of sugar on my head–don’t ask–let’s just say I was a little distracted and he saw an opportunity. At first I was mad. Furious. I mean, I am literally nine months pregnant and umm, not all that patient or calm or relaxed. So I was furious but he was laughing which only made me more mad until I realized how funny it really was.
I am hoping that this experience, this Mom Experience, can only enrich my writing. I mean before this first baby I had never had anyone dump sugar on my head. I can only guess what the second will bring. Yeah, my books are just going to get better and better (ha ha ha).