Versatile writer hones her craft through love of fiction and history
By Mardy Hanlon-Stolte
“If you want to be a writer, you have to check your ego at the door,” Mary Ellis said last evening at the Friends of the Marysville Public Library Author Series at Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium.
The writer’s program marked the second of four author visits in the series, which is in its ninth year.
Ellis shared her perspective on the challenges of “getting published in a rapid pace world.” While in her forties, she began her writing career.
“I was a school teacher before I was a writer,” Ellis said.
She pursued traditional publishing that requires a writer to have an agent whose job is to “work for you.”
“They have a vested interest in you, the writer,” she said.
At that time, self-publishing didn’t exist. According to Ellis, there are advantages and disadvantages to self-publishing.
“It’s not an easier way. You still have to learn your craft,” she said.
Ellis explained how the first step in writing is to conceptualize an idea by developing a story through populating characters and events.
“Drama is what drives writing,” she said. “A story of my life would put you to sleep. You want drama.”
Fifteen years ago, Ellis tackled writing an historical romance.
“I’ve always been a great reader,” she said. “I’ve always loved fiction…and history.”
The novel takes place during the Civil War. Research required Ellis to visit battle sites, such as Gettysburg and Antietam.
“This was, by the way, before Google,” she said.
Unfortunately for Ellis, core readership in historical fiction was low at that time and she received multiple rejections from publishers.
“Rejection hurts,” she said.
Taking the advice from publishing sources, Ellis began writing Amish romances that was a popular genre. Living in Medina, she traveled to Ohio’s Amish counties – Wayne and Holmes in the northeastern part of the state – and Lancaster, PA.
“I started spending my weekends there,” Ellis said.
While conducting her research, she befriended members of the Amish community and gained their confidence. Ellis consulted them about her depiction of cultural aspects featured in her writing. She focused on authenticity and accuracy of the Amish lifestyle.
Ellis has written 12 novels that are set in the Amish community, including “The Plain Man,” her final Amish romance.
“I’m very proud of my work,” she said.
In time, Ellis learned readership in Amish fiction was dropping. Because agents always “have a finger on interest of readers,” she took her agent’s recommendations to heart and decided to “try something else.”
“If you’re lucky enough to get an agent, whatever advice he or she gives you…take it,” Ellis said.
And she did exactly that by revisiting her Civil War fiction piece that she wrote15 years earlier. “The Quaker and the Rebel,” the first in her Civil War Heroines series, was released earlier this year and is the first of a new three book series.
Revising the novel was far more daunting than Ellis had anticipated. She admitted thinking, “It will be an easy job once I sign my contract for a three book series.”
“Not so,” Ellis said. “I really liked the story, so I labored through it and repaired it.”
Currently, Ellis is writing her second Civil War novel that involves a love triangle. She assured the audience “not to get worried…it’s still PG rated.”
“Stories do take on a life of their own,” Ellis said.
Author John Kachuba will be the next featured writer of the Author Series on April 29 at Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium, 233 W. 6th St. Tickets can be purchased that evening.
(Article originally published in Marysville Journal Tribune March 22, 2014 and reprinted here with permission from the author)