A Writing Life

Jill Layman
October 15, 2020

Author Ellen Sussman is so much more than a character in one of her novels. We, as readers, may assume her characters are mirrors of herself or the people she knows. But alas, we are mistaken. “None of the events in my novels actually happened in my life,” she claims, “but all my books are about the passions and obsessions of my life.”

Ellen will share with Revelers just how she does and doesn’t use autobiographical material to create her best-selling novels, like A Wedding in Provence and French Lessons, as well as expound on her romantic inspirations, during the upcoming Revel event, Love, Sex, Romance and France, on Tuesday, October 27th, from 5-6:00pst.

Revelers, hungry for a sizzling conversation, will want to join us. But beware. The discussion may get extra spicy, especially if Ellen shares any excerpts from her two anthologies: Bad Girls and Dirty Words.These collections of personal essays reveal a much more colorful side to Ellen and the other “serious” writers who contributed stories about their own experiences breaking societal rules.

If you are an avid reader (perhaps with a deep-seeded desire to write), please bring your questions for Ellen, who also is an esteemed writing coach and teaches through Stanford Continuing Studies. Ellen discovered her second passion — teaching — after graduating college with an impractical English degree. To help pay the bills, she accepted a teaching fellowship and began her “day job” helping students hone their writing skills. Ellen strongly believes that writing is a craft that can be learned. With a respectful nod to gifted writers, she believes most anyone can learn the mechanics of how to tell a story. Indeed, she scoffs at those writers (mostly male, she asserts) that boast about their writing muse. “It’s like they need to elevate themselves above mere mortals,” she laughs.  

Ellen continues to host writing camps and workshops for aspiring authors, most of whom are women. “Women have been silenced for far too long,” she says. “We need to hear their stories, especially now.”

Ellen certainly knew she had a story to tell. After hundreds of rejection letters and dogged determination, her first novel was published when she was 49 years old, some 25 years after she started teaching to supplement her writing career. Ellen attributes her success to her steadfast writing regimen. She writes at least three hours every morning, five or six days a week. “It doesn’t matter how I feel when I wake up, I get myself to my desk,” she says. “If I’m working on a first draft of a novel then I have to write 1,000 words before I can quit for the day. Nothing interrupts that.”

Ellen refuses to succumb to “writer’s block” that often plagues the best of writers. “Life is not easy, but if I keep showing up to write, then I can find the creative juices that feed me and make everything better,” she explains. “I don’t allow myself the luxury of quitting.”

The alternate universe she creates as she writes becomes a refuge, she says, especially during a year marred by a worldwide health crisis. The novelist can hardly wait to start writing, using it as a means to escape the horror of this year. “I’m desperate to leave this world and drop into the world I’m creating,” she says. “I live there for a few hours before coming back to reality.”

To date, Ellen is the author of six books with her seventh just completed (Ellen was reticent to share the plot for her forthcoming novel, only saying her newest work was a departure from her typical genre — her first thriller). With one novel pending release, Ellen is already back at her desk, scribing the heartbreaking stories of the 2017 Sonoma County wildfires. The devastation from the fires came far too close to home for the Sebastopol resident. Another story to tell in her most compassionate voice.

After years of supporting herself by teaching others to write, Ellen is humbled by her own success as an author. “Being published is truly an unexpected gift,” she notes, graciously.

We, at Revel, believe her success is simply a well-deserved reward. Meet Ellen and learn more from her at the upcoming Revel event Love, Sex, Romance and France, on Tuesday, October 27th, from 5-6:00 pst.

Share This