Ellyn Bache’s first freelance newspaper story was published in the early 1970s, and her articles appeared in papers for years, primarily The Washington Post. Then she turned to short fiction, which was published in commercial women’s magazines like Good Housekeeping and McCall’s until that market dried up in the late 1980s. Since then, her literary fiction has been widely published in journals and in a collection that won the Willa Cather Fiction Prize. Her critically acclaimed first novel, Safe Passage, was made into a 1995 movie starring Susan Sarandon. Her most recent novel, The Art of Saying Goodbye (William Morrow, 2011), was an Okra Pick and SIBA Book Award nominee. Others have been chosen as Literary Guild selections, Foreword Magazine award finalists, Reviewers Choice Book of the Year nominees, Madcap Award winners, and PW “Recommended Holiday Reading.” She is the owner of a small regional press, Banks Channel Books, which was active until a few years ago, launching the careers of several writers who won the press’s Carolina Novel Award and then benefited when Banks Channel Books re-sold the titles to major New York publishers. After twenty years in Wilmington, Ellyn lives in Greenville, SC. Visit her on the web at www.ellynbache.com.
At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2013 Fall Conference, Ellyn will lead a workshop titled "Presses and Agents and E-Books, Oh My: 40 Years in the Book Biz." In the past forty years, the book business has undergone huge changes for both writers and publishers. How do you cope in this volatile environment? How do you make decisions that will move your career forward? Should you seek out an agent and a large national publisher? When is a small regional press a better choice? What rights do you want to hold onto? What about self-publishing? Should you do an e-book? A print book? Both? Is it smart to submit to online journals – or do you always want to see your work in a print edition? How much time should you spend on blogging and promotional travel? How important is your website?
Writer and publisher Ellyn Bache will deal with these issues and others from the perspective of someone who has been in the writing business since the 1970s, first as a newspaper freelancer, later as the award-winning author of dozens of commercial and literary stories, and finally as a critically-acclaimed novelist and owner of a small press.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I loved stories with a lesson hidden inside, even when I was too young to realize I was being taught something – books like The Little Engine That Could and The Story of Ferdinand. But I was also drawn to some of Hans Christian Andersen’s work, like The Ugly Duckling – not his darkest fairy tales, but the ones that, for all their happy endings, held an essential sadness I thought was true.
If you weren’t a writer, what kind of job would you like to have?
In my family, the prestige thing to be was a doctor like my Uncle Irv. I got distracted by a boyfriend about halfway through pre-med. The romance didn’t last long, but it prompted me to change my major to English. No regrets.
What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wished they had?
In the early days, when I thought I really, really needed to make some money if I wanted to justify all that time at the typewriter (yes! Typewriter!), I would have loved hearing this, from Dr. Maya Angelou: "A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."
Any memorable rejections?
Daniel Menaker, back when he was a fiction editor at The New Yorker, once scribbled a sentence on a rejection letter saying there was too much in my story about “cold feet” without any follow-up. Except for his comment, I never would have seen it. I revised the story, it was accepted the next time out, and later it became a chapter in my novel, Riggs Park. Writers tend to remember how impersonal most rejections are – but we shouldn’t forget the few genuinely helpful ones, or how much they’ve meant to us.
Hemingway wrote standing up; Truman Capote wrote lying down. What posture do you write in?
I have a dining room chair I haul upstairs to put in front of my computer and carry downstairs whenever I have company. It’s the only chair I can sit in for hours without getting a back ache.
The Cape Fear Coast is a hotbed for the film industry. In your opinion, what has been the best book-to-screen adaptation?
Without question, the screen version of my novel, Safe Passage – although it has only a little bit to do with the coast. The producer, Gale Anne Hurd, wanted to film in Wilmington, but the star, Susan Sarandon, agreed to do it only if they’d film in New York where she lived. She had a two-year-old at the time and wanted to be near him, which I thought was nice, since the story is about a mother with a grown child in jeopardy, wishing her sons safe passage through their lives.
What was the worst?
I honestly can’t think of one in particular . . . and I always get in trouble when I answer questions like this.
Why do you feel it’s important for writers to attend conferences such as the NCWN Fall Conference?
No matter how accomplished you are, or how much a novice, you always take something good away from a conference. I met one of my agents at a conference. I’ve met writers who’ve become dear friends and critique partners. I once met an editor who asked to interview me for a magazine article – a complete surprise. Sometimes the best part is that you always go home buoyed up, ready to work, excited.
Do you have pet peeves as a reader? As a writer?
As a reader, I’ve put aside what used to be minor quibbles. If I don’t like it, I stop reading it. As a writer . . . it’s such a privilege to live in a world of words and imagination that the little annoyances pale in comparison.
Are you scheduled in the time you set aside to write, or is your writing time more flexible than that?
I write most weekday mornings. Especially if I’m working on a first draft, that’s the most creative time for me. But if I get a chance to go out for lunch with a friend, I don’t feel guilty the way I did years ago.
Do you write to discover, or do you write point-to-point (for example, from an outline)?
I sometimes do an outline for the publisher, but I don’t begin it until I’ve written three or four chapters, gotten to know the characters a bit, played with the plot. It takes me a couple of weeks. Later, I’m always glad to have the outline to go back to when I lose my way. But given my druthers, I probably wouldn’t write outlines at all. The critical thing I always need when I start a book is the ending. It’s like a security blanket. Once I have it, I feel safe enough to begin the journey.
What was the first thing you ever published?
A press release I wrote for The Humane Society, which appeared in the Martinsburg (WVA) Evening Journal), complete with my byline. I was hooked.
Who is your favorite North Carolina author?
Lee Smith. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed her work immensely and learned more about writing, especially about narrative voice, than I could have from a stack of textbooks.
The North Carolina Writers' Conference runs November 15-17 at the Holiday Inn Resort in Wrightsville Beach. Registration is now open.