Recently I interviewed Ellis Nelson. Her last two published works are Elephants Never Forgotten in 2015 and Into the Land of Snows back in 2012. Let’s see what she has to say about her work . . .
PH: Ellis, you write fiction for Young Adults; more specifically in the mystical, paranormal, or possibly “visionary” genres. Visionary is a relatively new category of writing that you self-identify with, but I believe most readers are not yet familiar with it. Do your last two books fit under that label, and if so, can you tell me your definition of visionary?
EN: Into the Land of Snows definitely fits in the visionary fiction (VF) category. My main character grows in his understanding of consciousness and reality. That is the central theme of the book. Ultimately, his preconceived ideas about reality crumble and his world vision opens to new possibility. I think the definition of visionary fiction is emerging but for me, any book that tackles going beyond the limitations of the third dimensional reality fits the bill. That said, I think pegging books solely to this or that category can get sticky. Many books are combinations of genres and I still agonize over how to present or label a book for editors and agents.
Elephants Never Forgotten lends itself easily to the world of science fiction because its main theme involves the manipulation of genes, a scientific endeavor. But even here, it could just as easily be tagged adventure. My main character travels to a Botswana of the future. I wouldn’t label this book as VF; however it does look at the animal/human bond and heart-centered connection. For me, this is a spiritual book on a certain level and does represent part of my own spiritual journey.
PH: I’m fascinated by the fact that you can write these kinds of stories for young adults. Is there any downside to those folks being exposed to such subjects at an early age? On the upside, what’s the benefit for them?
EN: From my point of view, the earlier the better. But then, I came into the world as an open, inquisitive kid, very intrigued by the spiritual, paranormal, and the desire to understand the nature of reality. The benefit is that we grow a society of bright, open-minded, heart-centered individuals. The ultimate revolution in consciousness! This is the reason I write for kids. They are the future. The downside is that we already have plenty of kids who feel like outsiders because they are different. We’ve seen bullying since time immemorial. We live in a society that is highly judgmental and materialistic. I do recognize that those who don’t fit in run risks.
PH: Good point about creative kids not getting respect from their less thoughtful peers. On your website, you say that you were interested in Buddhism, and that you were also interested in mystical things when you were that young. But as an adult you were in the a military. At first glance that would seem to be a little at odds with things mystical. How do you reconcile that?
EN: I think they are at odds. I grew up in a working class family and did well in school. An Air Force ROTC scholarship put me through college. Although I had a deep interest in history, psychology, and religious studies, the AF would not pay for those kinds of degrees. I have an undergraduate degree in math and an advanced degree in management. I served four years as an acquisitions officer and left the AF. The way I go about any task really goes back to those values and methods. My husband is a retired Lt. Col. and we’ve lived throughout the country. I still retain the core values and ideas of leadership. However, my spiritual life has taken me in new directions.
PH: Have you ever had your own paranormal or mystical experience?
EN: Yes, many. I’ll talk about a few. On my books blog, I mention that as a toddler I repeatedly told my mother about a man who visited me at night who wore a hat with a big feather. I don’t have any conscious memory of that. But I regard that as my first encounter with the paranormal. As a teen, I watched books fall from shelves and heard footsteps when no one was at home. As an adult, I saw a ghost at Bent’s Fort.
But some of my most amazing experiences have been with my own pets. These are the experiences that convince me we are connected in very incredible ways. I am very empathic, but it took me a while to admit this.
The first instance happened when I took one of my older cats in for a regular vet exam. Now, I had had a tooth hurt from time to time prior to this and I decided to wait and see if it got worse over time. At the vet, it turned out that my cat had dental issues and the vet wanted to schedule a cleaning letting me know that extractions might be necessary. I scheduled the procedure and over the next two weeks, my back molar was really starting to give me problems. Now it was actually throbbing and I thought, for sure, I’ve got to get to the dentist. Turns out, the cat had three teeth removed. “The worst one,” the vet said poking a finger toward an xray, “was this one.” It corresponded to my troublesome molar. My tooth never hurt after my cat had the tooth pulled. A curious coincidence?
A couple of years later, I had a Golden retriever who was going through chemotherapy. I’d drop him off in the morning for treatment and the office would call in the afternoon for me to come and pick him up. They’d fit the treatments in between appointments so I never knew how long he’d be there or when he’d get the meds. The second time I took him, I was at home and suddenly got very nauseated and so dizzy I had to go lie down. I’d never had that happen before and had no idea what was going on. I was really concerned that if things didn’t resolve quickly, there was no way I could drive to the vet’s and get the dog. It took about an hour or so for the situation to abate and I was able to drive to the vet’s later that afternoon. I dismissed the incident because I had no explanation for it.
The next week, the same thing happened and I noted the time. I’m a slow learner, but when I went to retrieve the dog, I had a question for the vet tech. “What time did Barkley start getting the drugs?” The time was exactly when I started to feel sick. I was experiencing the chemo right along with my dog. Later that night, I did a meditation and entered a space to talk with my guides. That was the end of my chemo. I did learn some important lessons about healing and the reality we live in.
PH: There really are no coincidences, are there? Let’s talk about the storylines of your latest books for a bit. Briefly, what are they about, and is one more mystical/paranormal or visionary than the other?
EN: In Elephants Never Forgotten, we are taken into the future where microelephants are pets and wild elephants are extinct. Twelve-year-old Nigella receives a shipment from her deceased grandfather. Her inheritance is a herd of micro-elephants. But her elephants are different. She starts to wonder what her grandfather was up to. With the help of her best friend, Kepler, the girls set off on an adventure to discover the truth. This is a futuristic, SF novel for the younger set.
In Into the Land of Snows, we follow sixteen year old Blake to Base Camp on
Mt. Everest to spend time with his physician father. When a deadly avalanche occurs, Dad is forced to rethink things and sends Blake away. Now accompanied by a Sherpa guide, and in possession of a mysterious camera, Blake undertakes a journey that will challenge everything he believes. In the magical Himalayas, he will be forever changed by what he experiences. This is the visionary novel where Blake’s reality is shattered and he is opened to a whole new paradigm.
PH: Both stories sound compelling. But as you well know, one of the big issues in getting published these days is getting one’s work to conform to a known genre. Sometimes it’s like fitting the proverbial square peg. When you published these books, did your publishers insist on what genre and sub-genre they should be grouped into?
EN: No. In both cases the publishers asked me for tags. In my experience with children’s books, the main classification is first deciding if the work is for a middlegrade (MG) audience or a young adult (YA) one. After that, a book can be associated with further descriptions as adventure, fantasy, SF, magical realism, contemporary, etc.
PH: I haven’t read your books, but if you asked me which of your last two fit into what categories, I might say Elephants could be “visionary/science fiction,” almost like a Jurassic Park for the younger set? Do you agree?
EN: Yes, I see your point. For promotional purposes, I was using “Jurassic Park meets Micro”. I love Michael Crichton, by the way! The genre VF is very new and most publishers, agents, and editors don’t recognize it. So at this point trying to attract any of them using VF isn’t going to work. We’re still left with paranormal, New Age, spiritual, etc. I have a manuscript right now I’m circulating and it’s VF, but I’m calling it adventure. It reads like a thriller, but it has strong mystical elements.
PH: What about a genre/sub-genre for Snows?
EN: The genre for Snows is YA. It’s a teen book with potential cross-over. Its subgenre, in a perfect world, would be VF. However, the tags associated with the book are adventure and contemporary.
PH: I read your excerpt from Elephants, and I noted that you don’t “talk down” to your young adult readers. It seems it could be enjoyed by an adult just as well. Did you intentionally write it to cross-over into the adult fiction market, or did it just come out that way?
EN: It was not a conscious intention to write a cross-over. My books do involve copious research and, I think, a level of sophistication. All of my books have an underlying objective to teach something. Those are the kinds of books I devour so those are the kinds of books I write. The part of your question dealing with not talking down to young readers is also critical. I don’t believe that children come in as blank slates. I’m a parent too. Children come into this world as spiritual beings with personalities and experience. That has to be appreciated and honored.
PH: You mentioned you have a manuscript in circulation right now. Can you give us a hint about it?
EN: I’m shopping for an agent right now for a YA book titled, The Greening of the Laurel. In it, Ryan’s junior year is turned upside down by a series of bizarre visions and freaky encounters with fire. As his reality crumbles, he must confront his past life in Cathar France in order to regain a lost manuscript that is key to guiding scientists in unlocking the secrets of the universe. Only then will Ryan be free.
PH: Sounds fascinating. So where do you think this is all headed? By that I mean both adult and YA literature about the visionary, the mystical, the paranormal, ghosts, etc.? Is it just a fad, or do you think we’ll see these genres evolve and gain in popularity?
EN: Cultures have always told stories about these things. Although the term VF is new, the stories are not. They fill a need. The need is to go beyond everyday reality, to search for truth and meaning. These things are not going away. Today, we see the mystic and quantum scientist joining hands using different words, but pointing in the same direction. The old paradigm is dying. It’s scary for some. Some will hold on tooth and claw, but we’re going there anyway. The future will be different and so will our worldview. VF is a way to make sense of that new future. I’m optimistic that we’re heading in the right direction.
PH: Thanks for being in the hotseat with me today, Ellis! One last question: where might a reader buy your books? Are they in e-book form, or is hard copy available?
Thanks for hosting me, Paul!
PH: It was enlightening talking with you Ellis, and best of luck with your book sales and your latest work!
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