Meet the Winners Returns – Jordan Ellinger

Last year I ran a series of interviews with my fellow Writers of the Future winners, and it was so much fun, I decided to do it again! As with last year, I decided to start off the series with a former winner, so this time, 2008 Winner Jordan Ellinger has kindly dropped by for the kick off.jordan

Stuart: Hi Jordan, thanks for starting us off this year!

Jordan: My pleasure!

Stuart: You were in WotF 25, so you’ve had a few years to put the experience in context. How would you sum up the effect it’s had on your writing career?

Jordan: I wasn’t one of those writers who immediately breaks out right after the workshop and takes the world by storm. I still needed to keep at it for a year or two before I started selling professionally. By far the biggest benefit I reaped and have continued to reap, since winning the contest, is the wealth of contacts that I’ve made since the event. Remember that WotF isn’t like Clarion West (which I also attended in ’09) or Writing Superstars, or virtually any other workshop. Everyone there is basically at the same place in their writing careers–pros by virtue of winning the contest, but still a year or two away from breaking out. You can grow together. I’ve been blessed enough to attend the workshop at ASI’s invitation for over 5 years now and every year I’ve made new friends with some amazingly talented writers. And of course there are the judges.

Stuart: And what are you working on now?

Jordan: I do more editing than writing right now (having just launched Urban Fantasy Magazine and I’ve been able to lean on some of those judges for stories. Additionally, I was lucky enough to collaborate with Mike Resnick, whom I met at the workshop, on a story and that’s been a big resume booster.

Stuart: When I won, you were kind enough to come hang out with us newbies, and I wanted to thank you for that. I know that you have done a lot of work on the Warhammer books, and you shared some thoughts on the tradeoffs of tie-ins, perhaps you’d like to comment on that here?

Jordan: I have sworn off tie-in writing for the moment, except for Star Citizen and Iron Kingdoms (if my schedule opens up). The problem with tie-in writing is that you aren’t creating assets for yourself. You’re working for a paycheck. An agent asked me last year to put together a collection that he could use to generate some buzz about my writing and I couldn’t. I don’t own anything that I’ve written for the past 3 years or so.

Stuart: But you do get the paycheck, and you build up your resume and skillset, right?

Jordan: After writing tie-ins for so long, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three kinds of people who should be writing tie-ins:

  1. People who love a particular property, and then they should write only for that property.
  2. Failed novelists who are looking to relaunch their careers.
  3. People who want to get paid to write their million words of crap. Even, then, they should probably just write their own thing.

And except for the second group, everyone should write under a pseudonym. You mention that it’s good resume and skill building. Well, many people think that it can HURT your resume, since the tie-in market is still viewed as a writing ghetto. It doesn’t help when larger franchises get staff members to write books, despite them not having developed their craft enough to pull it off. You certainly can build your skillset writing tie-ins, but why not do it by creating properties that you actually own?

Stuart: What advice do you have for this year’s winners as they head to Hollywood, and as they move on, awards in hand?

Jordan: Network, network, network. Tell your loved ones that you’re not going to be available when you’re down there. The judges are all masters of their craft–and they can open the right doors for you if they choose. It was Kevin J Anderson who got Patrick Rothfuss’ book in front of the agent who eventually landed him his big book deal, and Mike has been known to collaborate with one or two winners every year.

Stuart: What’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Jordan: I was mugged in the red-light district in Amsterdam. I’m no giant, but Europeans are generally shorter than Canadians and because of that, and the fact that I was a little drunk, I was feeling pretty invincible. I smoked at the time and asked a very unsavory gentleman for a light. When he threatened to stab me with a needle for full of AIDS I yelled a warning to my friend and took off. About a block later I realize that my buddy wasn’t with me. I turned around and there he was standing right next to my mugger wondering what the heck was happening (there are substances other than alcohol that you can indulge in in Amsterdam and he’d liberally partaken of one of these). I wasn’t going to leave him there, so I began to run back towards them. Luckily, he clued in just before the mugger’s friends descended on us and we were able to make our escape together.

Stuart: Holy Geez! Personally, I’d say the single biggest short-term effect my win has had is credibility. It made me an instant mini-celebrity in the local writing guild, and I now get more support and understanding in my personal life where before, writing was seen as a very time-consuming hobby. Did you find that to be true as well, and what other effects have appeared down the road?

Jordan: Yes and no. I did feel a sense of validation when I won, and people who know about the contest took me seriously, but it can also hurt a writer’s career. Sometimes there’s a sense of pressure; now that they’ve won this big award, every story they write needs to be the best story ever, and that just doesn’t happen. I know a few writers who are blocked right now for that very reason.

Stuart: Sure, I can understand that. “Write the shitty draft” as Anne Lamott says. Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

Jordan: My hobby is Urban Fantasy Magazine. It’s one thing to run a magazine in your spare time, but it’s quite another to invest a pile of money in one and then desperately scramble to build something that’ll recoup that investment. Things are looking great for UFM and we’re ahead of our goal in terms of subscribers, but we’re still bleeding red ink and since the money is coming out of my pocket (and I’m not rich) I need to focus on getting it to at least break even.

Stuart: I usually ask newer writers whether they are “pantsers or plotters,” but in your case, let’s focus that. How do you address productivity in general, and meeting deadlines in particular? Do you see any conflict between creative force and the demands for timely production, and if so, how do you manage that?

Jordan: Part of the reason I got into tie-ins is that I’m unable to finish anything unless I am forced to do so. The contest forced me to finish short stories, and tie-in contracts force me to finish longer works. In terms of creativity, no, I don’t see a conflict. Writing is a muscle and you can train yourself to write quickly. Don’t believe writers who tell you that you have to spend months on a work to have it turn out great…they just haven’t developed the skill of writing to a deadline.

Stuart: Well thanks Jordan. It’s great to get your perspectives, and best of luck with UFM!

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Jordan Ellinger’s story “After the Final Sunset” was a first place winner in the 2008 L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, and appears (as Jordan Lapp) in vol 25 of the anthology. He’s also been featured in AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and various anthologies. He co-founded Every Day Fiction, the once-a-day Flash Fiction magazine, and is Managing Editor of Urban Fantasy Magazine. More information at www.jordanellinger.com.

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