Come For The Interview; Stay For The Story – Jonathon Ridgsby for RandomHouse Group, June 21, 2020
We met at Two Medicine Lake, in Glacier National Park, Montana, June the 20th, 2020. Ellen is an elusive writer who travels much and stays out of the public eye when she can.
“Jerry” (her husband of twenty-seven years) “and I decided long ago that he was going to be Fame – I was going to be Fortune,” she laughs.
He’s fishing today, at a nearby resort. Summer Solstice this year is a warm day, in part because of clear blue skies above. Children are splashing in the water, squealing at the chill, as folks await the next guided boat tour of the lake. The breeze is mild, rippling the water and teasing loose hair.
Ellen is a striking woman, younger-looking than her almost-fifty years would suggest; long blond hair glints red and gold with a hint of silver. Lean and fit, with well-defined muscles in her bare forearms, today she is wearing brand new jeans, their dark blue intense as only brand new denim can be, and a royal blue satin shirt with a white knit vest. And white tennis shoes, achieving a blending contrast between top and bottom. Her face is only lightly lined around eyes and mouth – smile lines, it becomes quickly apparent.
But her most striking feature is her eyes – blue-gray, with a hint of green, and alive with the kind of intensity that this reporter has seen only in martial-arts champions. The kind of look that says the possessor is well-balanced and fully present – mentally, physically, spiritually.
Ellen insists we leave the bench and picnic areas for those who need them. “I’m young and healthy,” she says with a raised eyebrow. “And you need to relax.” She offers what she calls a ‘situpon,’ a flat cushion sewn into bright fabric that she says she learned to make while a Girl Guide in Canada.
“I thought you were American.”
“All my life,” she says cheerfully. “We moved around a lot while we five were growing up” (She has two brothers and two sisters – “And two parents,” she adds, radiating satisfaction. “A well balanced family.”) “One of the places we lived was a town along the Saint Lawrence River, in Quebec.” She pronounces it ‘Kay-bec.’
“So tell me about your newest book. It’s not the second book of the Guardian’s Oath trilogy; what possessed you to write them out of order?”
She laughs heartily, causing passers-by to glance over and smile. Strange smiles, as though they aren’t quite sure what they’re smiling at, but are pleased nonetheless. “Well, as I’m sure you know, Kindred’s Fury is a sequel to Kindred’s Creed, which I published in 2018. Rhiadon, the main character in both, is a very strong-willed individual; when she wants a book written, it gets written.”
“So you claim that your characters are real people?” And the question comes out somewhat sarcastically.
Ellen doesn’t respond to the tone, but says, voice mild, “I would be exceedingly surprised if most writers did not feel their characters were real people on some level. Truth, though, between you and me, in my mind and within their own framework they have to be real.” She leans forward, intense eyes boring into mine. “If they’re not real to the mind behind the hands that write about them, how could they possibly be real enough to identify with, for a reader? Each and every single one is a person, with different strengths, flaws, voice and worldview; every single one sees their world as having them at the center – just like you and I and every one of the people waiting for the tour boat. Every single one has a different past, even the twins Shawna and Cody – mostly the same experiences growing up but from different perspectives, which changes the experience. Without those unique, real and fully-developed personalities, they become cardboard cutouts of people – surface, no substance – and the story becomes flat and formulaic.” Leaning back, she shrugs. “Color me crazy if you will – many people do, and the label hurts them far more than it hurts me – but yes. My characters are real people, they lead real lives, facing real threats with real consequences for their choices, with both triumph and shattering downfall awaiting them, and I am privileged to be their chronicler.”
It’s understandable why Ellen rarely consents to give interviews. When she speaks with passion, there is a sense of leashed power, of natural forces gathering to do her bidding, should she but give the word.
“So how did all this start? Your writing fame, the Midwestern Wanderer, all of it?”
She chuckles, almost as if to herself, and looks off across the lake, toward the mountain. “I suppose you could say it started when I learned to write. Or maybe when I learned to read. You could also say it started in 1995, when I began developing Shawna, Cody, Jay and Kiana as characters, their backstories, their life’s challenges and victories. Or you could say it started in May of 2013 – or September of 2014 – and all would be equally accurate.” She turns back to me. “I have a picture, you know, of my older brother Ted here at this lake.” She pulls it out of a pocket to display it. It’s folded into quarters, but a nice snapshot despite the creases.
“We were out to Kalispell in May 2013, watching a friend run in the Spartan Sprint, and Ted wanted a picture of himself in his shirtsleeves – it was a nice day, maybe a bit windy – with the ice floe floating across the background.”
“What’s the significance?”
“First, let me ask you – does what you do bring you joy?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
She purses her lips briefly. “You sound defensive. Does your work bring you joy? Or do you do it because you have to earn a living somehow, even though it’s not really what you want?”
Nobody ever gets to do exactly what they want.
“I do. My brother does. In fact, there’s an entire network of people in the world who are living their dream, their bliss, without ever worrying about something so mundane as ‘making a living.'”
“You’re speaking, of course, of WorldVentures. Amazing company.”
She smiles again, but there’s a rueful look to this expression. “WV is indeed amazing, and I love the company and everyone in it. Wayne and Mike are true visionaries. But WV isn’t what I’m referring to when I say a network of people living their dream.”
How can it not be?
“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Ellen,” she says, with a gleam of mischief in those powerful, wise, intense eyes. “She dreamed of being a writer. She made little books that her mom would bind up with yarn, and in them she wrote little stories. But she grew up, and learned very painfully that writers cannot live without income, and so she had to get a job – a series of jobs, for she was forever finding work, learning how to do it well, then growing bored and moving on. None of her jobs fulfilled the needs of her soul, regardless of how competent she became, or how quickly. Her writing did, but it never prospered. And months became years, years became decades, and by and by she gave the writing up – it was never going to pay, and she had other concerns. The nagging ache at the base of her spirit passed into gentle regret, a wordless longing, that was surely normal. Surely everyone felt it. And then…”
“And then…” She breathes deep. “We walk the road our own choices put us on. And that road takes us exactly where we need to be, even if it’s not where we want to go. My road led me, stage by stage, event by event, back to my writing.” She nods her head at the surroundings. “This is where I created the idea of the Midwestern Wanderer. This is where I took my writing back up again. The Universe and the Powers That Be were kind enough to offer me a second chance, though I had rejected it the first time it was offered. But putting the work in was hard. The words no longer came effortlessly, and the habit of writing had been lost.”
Even in her own simple story, her words make a net to capture attention.
“In September of 2014, I was introduced to the Master Key Master Mind Alliance. And then I rediscovered the inward path back to what I had given up; my writing, my joy, my purpose.”
“And you’ve been tremendously successful! You’ve released at least one book per year that sells well in spite of the doubters that said your subject matter would never appeal to people. Midwestern Wanderer is known as the authority for travel in the midwest. I’ve seen some of your African safari pictures, and the ones from the shark dive two years ago that inspire people to check out your other work, which leads them to your books about the Sphere. And your Guardians have fostered a whole new method of thought, where moral justice takes precedence over convenience, and people have started looking inward for answers instead of seeking outward solutions to their problems! God, you could be a high-profile celebrity if you wanted!”
She laughs outright again – surprise and delight. “Seriously? Wow. The ripple effect is astonishing. But none of it would have happened without the MKMMA. Before that, I had dreams, I had wishes and desires. But no plan to get from where I was to where I wanted to be.”
“So the MKMMA is a plan?”
Blue-gray-green eyes sparkle. “That, my dear Jonathon, is another tale. And if what you do does not bring you joy, then it is a tale you need to hear – and very likely the reason my agent asked me to do this interview when she knows that I do not grant them. The synchronicity of the Universe is always in operation.”