Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Very Hip Tea with Ellen Harger and Channing Tatum

So I read this fantastic book called "The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones" by Ellen Harger. There are a so many things to love about Ellen and her book that its almost impossible to pick only a few.  Her main character, Gillian, is struggling in life, but maintains such a wonderful (and realistic) sense of humor that you can't help but root for her. In addition, Ellen's writing style is just a joy to read. She manages to conjure up with words such clear and clever mental images that I almost hate her a little for not having thought of it myself!
I asked Ellen a few questions.  And though in reality our interview was via email, it would be fine if you pictured us having tea at a really hip spot. And let's say Channing Tatum was our waiter. (Why not?) He was very impressed with our sparkling wit. He was so drawn to us, in fact, that the other customers may have felt a teensy bit neglected.

A quick excerpt from "The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones."

My fictitious man taunts me during work. He wants to know more. It’s intoxicating to feel interesting. I’m so addicted, I sneak a little blog time at lunch. This leads to making notes about our story. Do I write posts for him? Or just write letters to my mysterious man? The project has moved beyond journal and into a full fledge fantasy.
Plus, the silliness encourages my desire for divorce, but I can’t shake doubts because I can’t answer why with any satisfaction. My only concrete reason to end my marriage is a compass-like pull in my gut pointing toward release. I’m certain there’s no checkbox for that on divorce forms.
I can only hope my jump wasn’t noticed. “Yes, Joyce?”
“Be sure to have all the new payroll files finished today.”
Assurances made, I make labels and enter data for the five forms per file. It’s drone work, allowing me to blank back out to my only concern. Since the blog is fictitious, a place for release, I won’t give my mystery lover an identity. That way he can conform to my every whim. He’s just an expression of wanting, of wanting me. He has no face, no voice, no birthday or job dissatisfaction. He’s not bound to the daily grind of mercilessly boring reality.
Today he’s scruffy like the hero in the movie “Once.” It’s an odd choice because the stars don’t end up together. The leading lady remains faithful to her husband, determined to make it work. The hero goes on and the possibility, the potential, is never tested. The sexuality is so tempered that its absence induces longing in the audience. It’s that connection, even with the sacrifice, that digs through the bullshit. It’s about a deeper connection than mere sex.
Sex. Sex is a once a month ritual I check off the calendar like scrubbing the toilet. My husband doesn’t ask for it, so I’m allowed to maintain the minimum necessary to differentiate between spouse and siblings. My desire deflated pretty quickly after we said I do. Sex in marriage is like an all-you-can-eat buffet - you pay once and don’t go back for seconds.
After the fire, my desire flat-lined completely.
I held children at bay, too. I like kids but the cost scares me. Everyone says you can’t plan for it, a family, but I like checklists. So I required a baby line in our monthly expenses, and no taking it from savings. How could we afford college when we couldn’t save more than a few hundred dollars a month?
I’ve always been responsible, trying desperately to stave off catastrophe. The fire was free. It cost everything.


Questions for Ellen (by me, with Fictional Channing Tatum looking on in admiration)

1. Fire is a purifying agent in this book.  What did it burn away in Gillian’s life?
I love this question and the simplest answer is excuses.
Before the fire, the memories of who Evan and Gillian were as a couple surrounded them: photographs, merged collections, and furniture picked out together. Even if unhappiness tapped at the window, memories encouraged Gillian to close the shades by gently rubbing her neck with “Remember when?” Fire burned away all the baggage that bound them together.
It also purified her mixed emotions into concentrated sadness. The loss of belongings revealed a deeper loss of dreams and identity, forcing Gillian to climb out of her depression by asking difficult questions. Her questions weren’t perfect. In fact, they’re often selfish--the ashy residue she must clean off.

2. Mr. Write is a difficult to get a bead on, for both the reader and Gillian.  There is something very magnetic about ‘the unknown’.  What is the most compelling aspect of him according to Gillian? 
She’s definitely attracted to his unknown, but also to his interest in her. When she creates the blog, no time is spent on her imaginary lover’s physical details. Her desire is to share thoughts she’s scared to say.
When a stranger responds, two things happen. First, her fantasy is potentially threatened by a prankster, making Gillian protective. Her blog is important because she’s already healing before he asks to dream about her. Second, by returning, Mr. Write transforms blog as therapy into physical desire. It begs the question, was Gillian angry or lonely in her marriage? Which came first, the lack of talking, or touching?
Ultimately, what I learned from Gillian was that blog was about communing with herself. She stopped appreciating her own individuality and doubted her value.

3. Swag!  What’s not to love about little giveaways that authors do.  Tell me all about your swag, won’t you?
We all want fun but practical ideas. While brainstorming with a friend who’s a born party planner, she got a funny look and said, “Matchbooks.” The pros and cons popped like firecrackers: matchbooks promote the theme of fire perfectly as well as being practical, look like tiny books, and are collectible. The cons exploded as: where, how, how much? A little internet search and I found a budget friendly approach: print custom stickers and buy white matchboxes off of ebay. The assembly was easier than I hoped and they’re a big hit.

4. Books change a lot between the first conception of the story and the final draft.  What is one of the biggest shifts that this tale took?
Originally, Mr. Write looked up Mrs. Jones on the internet. He was a guy she wanted to date years before, but he was married. The blog was a place where they wrote love letters as two fictitious characters.

5. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?  If so, what pushes you past the wall?
I have no fingernails because when writer’s block hits, I worry the weak spots with my thumbnail until the nails tear. I search for imperfections as I try out different words. In fact, writing answers to these questions, I lost the nail of my ring finger on my right hand as I struggled to express my thoughts.
I’d say writer’s block is part of the job, but the fact is, its fear. We all worry about capturing a new phrase, corralling words, and using creative alchemy to unfurl a moment like a magic carpet that suspends a reader beyond disbelief. We agonize over word placement until a sentence snaps with the zip of a tightly wound towel.
There’s only one real secret to writing and that’s to write. You push past writer’s block by not letting it bully you. Writer’s block is the brute muscle for fear, doing its dirty work. It shows up and glowers at you until you say, “I can’t tonight. I’m not feeling it.”
As my editor, Becky Dickson says, “Writing something bad is better than writing nothing at all.”
Even though I know this, deadlines are fantastic motivation for me. I also like to block out the sounds of home by listening to music with giant headphones. 


Now, the question is - how hard do you want to read Ellen's book?  I know Fictional Channing Tatum has already run out for his copy! Go fast! You might not catch him, but you can enjoy the view running behind him.

Ellen's website is here.
Her book trailer is here. 
Her bio is here (literally):


I'm a word gypsy and emotion sifter, writing about broken condoms, unhappy marriages and women's issues at the chick-lit end of women's fiction and the women's fiction end of chick-lit.
     I believe great storytelling asks readers to confront what they've stuffed deep down. We all get blinded by emotion and stuck in ruts. In June 2005, I woke up to a wall of fire. Watching the flames eat away my life was my biggest turning point in life.
     My first novel, Strong Enough, released February 20113.  My sophomore work, The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones, debuts this July.

Disclaimer: As far as I know, Ellen doesn't have a thing for Fictional Channing.  He just inserted himself into my Tea Room of the Mind and neither of us had much to say about it.  Mr. Tatum does not go quietly, as it turns out.  My apologies to Ellen.

Do you have questions for Ellen?  Comments?  Channing complaints?  Leave below!


  1. This is the best one of these I've ever read, and I've read many of them. I want to buy the book.

    1. Terri's questions were brilliant. I really enjoyed digging deep to ponder the themes she noticed in my novel.

      Minx, you smooth lady, I'm thrilled you enjoyed tea with Terri and me. The book releases on Amazon this Monday (7/21/14).

  2. I'm really looking forward to reading this book. And I love the matchbox idea!

    1. Thank you! I'm so excited for launch day. :D

  3. Great interview, ladies. "The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones" sounds like a terrific book, Ellen.Loved the idea of the swag. I struggled with that earlier this year, but I'd never have thought of matchbooks!

    1. Thanks for to stopping by, Barbara. I finally was able to see one of her little matchbooks last night. They're adorable! :)