Author Interview: Ellen Simpson

Ellen Simpson
Ellen Simpson

Editor of the hit series Carmilla opens up about her work.

What sparked the idea for your story The Light of the World

This short story is actually a scene out of time, a little while after the ending of my novel, The Light of the World. While the story ended in a really wonderful place, being able to look back in and see Liv and Eva together was a real treat for me as a writer.

What is different about writing LGBTQ stories for a YA audience?

In a lot of ways, writing for a younger audience presents an interesting challenge. As a young person, many of the stories about LGBTQ people I read boiled down to being essentially about suffering. There was no such thing as a happy ending for the characters I fell in love with, or, if there was, the answers were few and far between. They felt like cautionary tales written by an older generation, a warning that it would never end well and never be easy to be queer. That if you found love, it would be at a great price, and if people found out about your being LGBTQ, they would not be accepting.

I want to break this mold, as I think a lot of millennial LGBTQ authors want to. LGBTQ young people need to see themselves in books, being happy and successful. I think The Light of the World really embodies this want of mine. It tells a story about falling in love without the added complication of the coming out story that is so popular in LGBTQ books aimed at young people.  While coming out stories have their place in telling the stories of the queer experience, there is a lot more to being gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans than a process that is never-ending for LGBTQ folks.

We’re writing stories that we would have wanted to read as children and young adults. Stories where sexuality takes a second place to well-developed characters who just happen to queer. Those are the stories I wanted to read when I was a kid, it’s pretty great to be in a position where I can be the one telling them.

Do you believe that bookstores should have and/or need LGBTQ fiction sections?

I honestly really hate the idea of content-specific sections of bookstores. I see this all the time when I go into my local independent bookstore, or the big box store down the street. Books are parceled out by content such as Black/African literature, Asian literature and LGBTQ literature all the time and housed separately from the fiction section.

The intent in doing this is good. Comparatively speaking, there is a lot less of these stories out there. Publishing is largely white, straight and male. It makes sense to separate out the books by people who are “different” so that their easier to find. But the works of straight, white cis men are housed under the “fiction/literature” section and no one bats an eye. If they write a book about a black, Hispanic, or LGBTQ character, their book will still be housed in the fiction/literature section of the bookstore.  But it begs the question: are these stories that are about non-white, non-straight characters written by non-white, non-straight people not also literature?

Creating a LGBTQ section in a bookstore implies that those books are not.

What was the first story you ever wrote about?

Beyond the hundreds of pages of Sailor Moon and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fanfiction I wrote in middle and high school? It was a disaster. When I was 14, I wrote a story that was a combination of the two above storylines with some wildly imaginative character design and location combinations. Magical Transformations? Rural New England? Were-animals? Greek Gods? Yikes, though given the success of the Percy Jackson books, I might have been on to something there.

Thankfully my laptop at the time, with its 512 MB of memory, crashed and that disaster was lost to the ages.

Still, it was a learning experience; one that it took me over a decade of life and writing to recreate in the story of The Light of the World. I was afraid to write anything original, for fear that it would come off as ridiculous as my first story.  Getting over that fear, I think, is one of my biggest accomplishments as a writer.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m a pretty big reader. I’ve challenged myself to read no books by white men this year and so far, I’m batting 1.00 on that goal too. My goal is to run a half marathon later this year, so this summer will be full of running through the heat to prepare myself for that undertaking.

What advice would you give new authors?

Stop agonizing about the details and just write. So often I see new writers talking about how writing a novel is challenging, but they also spend comparatively little time writing, in the big scheme of things that I find the advice somewhat empty. Words on paper are better than perfectly curated playlists and Pinterest inspiration boards. At the end of the day, that playlist, those pictures you saved? They’re not actually words towards your story. You have start writing if you want to be an author.

Write every day, even if it’s only a page or two. Those pages will add up and soon you’ll have a rough draft that you can put away and not think about for a while. When you come back, your eyes will be fresh, you’ll remember things you wanted to add and things you wanted to say. You’ll see the flaws, you’ll be able to fix them

Surround yourself with other writers. Get a best writing friend who’s also writing. Swap ideas, talk out the sticky bits. Read each other’s work and be each other’s harshest critics. This is two-fold. It’ll give you a support network, as well as a space to receive criticism from someone who you know gets your writing.

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