…No we’re not talking about spring break in Cancun! We’re talking about debut author Kate Ellison, who wrote The Butterfly Clues, a novel that details one girl’s thrilling and suspenseful search for a murderer. We asked Kate to reveal the secrets of her writing process and reflect back on her journey to publication.
PLL: At what age did you decide you wanted to seriously pursue writing and publication?
Kate: I think it was something I’d at least considered in some way for a very long time. But writing was more a thing I loved and dabbled in than something I ever thought to pursue in a real-career sort of way until toward the end of my final year in college. Before that I thought I would pursue work as an actor. I started taking some creative writing classes when I had room in my schedule and had teachers who encouraged me to keep writing, to try and get published, and it started seeming possible to me that this was something I might really be able to do. I think it was really in this year of incredible confusion about the life I’d always thought I wanted and how my desires and expectations were starting to shift that I came to the inescapable realization, that writing was something I had to do, that it was not a fleeting passion but something that would follow me wherever I went.
PLL: How did you know that writing would be your preferred medium for expression?
Kate: I still didn’t! I still go through phases and tend to be quite restless in terms of what I’m creating and what I’m using to create it. I’ll take breaks in any writing day to draw something, just to keep things interesting, to exercise a different part of my brain. My next book may even involve illustrations… we’ll see!
PLL: What is another creative way you like to express yourself?
Kate: Oh! There are so many I love! Drawing (of course), painting, jewelery-making, singing, (trying to learn to play) guitar, improv, storytelling, clothes-making, dancing, cooking, yoga, lucid dreaming… the list goes on. But all those passions and experiences really only help me with my writing because every experience gives me something new I can write about.
PLL: When you get discouraged as a writer, what do you say or do for yourself to continue on?
Kate: As any author will tell you, this happens a lot. It’s hard to take the pressure off of yourself to make something straight-off-the-bat “good.” I think that’s the big thing—this internal pressure to produce flawless material straight off can be paralyzing. I’ve felt it before, and it’s stopped me from trying to make anything at all because I felt like I didn’t have the spark. But, you just have to give yourself permission to let that go, which is a really hard thing to do. It takes a lot of trust. So, I spend a lot of time trying to cultivate that trust and discipline in myself, within my own process, so that with each book I write I trust myself more and the process gets easier.
PLL: Why did you choose to write young adult fiction?
Kate: I still feel connected to the “teen” part of myself in a lot of ways. Growing up is so tough. I wanted to write fiction that specifically addressed some of that toughness, and newness of experience, and loneliness, and world-broadening that happens at this time in a person’s life. It’s so exciting in so many ways, and so terrifying. I think it just felt right and important to me to write from this point of view.
PLL: What advice would you give young (pre-teen and teenage) aspiring writers?
Kate: Even when you feel blocked, push through it just by doing it. Read. Read constantly. Read work that inspires you to write, that taps into that part of your brain or your fingers or whatever that says go. Travel as much as you can—even if it’s not as far as you’d like it to be right now. Talk to people who aren’t like you, and people who you think are like you but probably aren’t. Garner experience. Let your writing come as it comes. Don’t worry about being perfect, don’t worry about being “good” at all, because most things take time before they become what you want them to become. Also, get together a few other friends who love to read and love to write, and form a little group. Share the stuff you’re working on. Share other work that inspires you. Talk about it. Make things together. Don’t be afraid to be weird. Don’t be afraid to make work that scares you.
PLL: Lastly, in The Butterfly Clues, Lo solves the mystery of Sapphire’s death. If you could solve any pop culture mystery what would it be and why?
Kate: JonBenet Ramsey—did we ever figure out who murdered her? I remember standing in countless grocery store checkout lines as a kid in the 90s and how every single tabloid was just glutted with pictures of her six-year-old beauty queen face and dramatic block-lettered headings like: WHO KILLED JONBENET? Well? Who did?! I just feel like that whole thing sort of dissipated. What gives? The world still wants to know! (Or is it just me?)