Interviewed by Sommer Schafer

Read Angie Ellis’s fiction piece, Blue

Sommer: One of my favorite aspects of this story is how you’ve created a female character who is so unabashedly honest about her unhappiness. Traditionally, it is the male characters who are given the leeway to express such sadness and contrariness. Even today, it still feels just the slightest bit taboo to write female characters that are as complex, haunted, and troubled as their male counterparts. I wonder if this has something to do with society’s hesitancy to offer allowances to women because women are still ultimately viewed as saviors or angels? And it’s interesting to me how it’s often other women policing women in how they behave, talk, and look. Give me a woman any day who is able to fully be and express herself. In this regard, did your main character nag you at all as you developed her (like, oh geez I shouldn’t be writing a woman like this!), and if so, how did you write past that critical and/or ashamed voice in your head?

Angie: I agree that, in spite of massive progress, we sometimes still want female characters to have a certain purity or goodness. Especially when it comes to those old traditional roles—we’re used to seeing women who are nurturing and faithful, with problems that aren’t all that problematic. When that’s flipped, it can be jarring.

So, yes, early on, I had to fight the urge to make Allie’s flaws a little more palatable. I mean, not only is she having an affair, but it’s with her husband’s brother and it’s completely passionless. That hurts! Plus, she’s kind of gloomy. 😁  In any case, I’m glad I stuck with Allie as she is—I became quite fond of her, actually. She’s honest about her darkness, insecurities, selfishness, fantasies, reserve, needs, judgements, and ultimately she pushes herself to grow.

On that note, who are some of your favorite literary female characters? Why?

Miriam Toews writes remarkably flawed and unforgettable female characters—Nomi in A Complicated Kindness immediately comes to mind. Sarah Waters also writes unusual, complicated, shady, funny, aggravating female characters. I love Gil Adamson, whose Mary Boulton in Outlander is troubled, curious, wild, strange, and big-hearted. And, lastly, Alissa York’s Effigy is centered around the fascinating wives of a Mormon man—the story very much belongs to them, each so vividly drawn I felt that sting at the end of the book when I had to say goodbye.

I love how you’ve created a main character whose voice is equal parts depressed, dry, and funny—I guess those characteristics go together quite well! The way Allie tidily drops the truth is very affecting: “We’re married and unhappy, so we renovate our house a lot”; “He says this like I just confessed to being in love with his brother. [. . .] I should mention that I am in love with Nick’s brother.” How did you plan the quiet revelation of these truths within the greater plotline of the story?

I’ve often tried to plan my writing but it never goes well for me, so I can’t say the revelations were given much forethought. They really popped onto the page and the harder work came after, with the many, many revisions, where I attempted to smooth it all out and give the story more focus.

To me, Allie is entering a liberation at the end of the story: she realizes that “Susan” is probably just like any other woman with strengths and weaknesses, she isn’t living with a man she doesn’t love anymore, and she’s given up the job where she was treated like shit. Sure, it’s an extremely unsettled place to be, but I feel happy for her because her journey has just begun. Why did you choose to end the story on a note of unsettledness instead of on a more, perhaps, confirmed note?

I’m happy to hear you found the ending hopeful for Allie! I feel the same way. She’s taking a huge risk in starting over, alone, so it certainly is unsettling. But that’s the truth of any big change and why we so often resist. I think she’ll flounder for a while but she’ll be okay, and I hoped that would be hinted at enough in the ending. To take it further felt less satisfying to me. I wanted to end on her bravery.

What do you think: writing is more about inspiration or perspiration? How do you keep going, either way?

Hmmm…it’s hard to separate the two, really. Usually, I write my way into the themes, character, images, and so forth, then once I see what I like, I cut what no longer fits and dive into re-working, trimming, focusing themes, cleaning up prose. So, it really is intertwined.

For example, there was a darkly spiritual element in Blue’s earliest form that came from a place of inspiration. But the story was cluttered with both angels and devils and at some point I realized they were both serving the same purpose in the story—to haunt Allie and keep her in place with guilt and fear. So I cut the devils, re-worked the angels, and the story felt more focused because of it.

Thank you for doing this with me, and congratulations on another amazing publication with us!

Oh, thank you! I’m thrilled to be in The Forge again.