An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Cynthia Ellingsen,
By Diane Slocum
Three high school friends launch into what appear to be happily-ever-after lives. Doris marries her high school sweetheart and devotes herself to being a wife and mother. Jackie marries a rich man who can support her in style as she pursues her art. Cheryl becomes a marketing dynamo, more than holding her own in a mans business. As they approach middle-age, they all learn that ever-after is for fairy tales. When each of their worlds collapses in its own way, the three have a wild night out and come up with the idea of opening a Hooters-type restaurant, aimed at women, with gorgeous men on display. Their great idea comes with its own perils that threaten to undo life-long friendships.
I thought of the idea because its always struck me as totally bizarre that Hooters is a socially acceptable restaurant. |
AUTHORLINK: We know how Jackie, Cheryl and Doris came up with the idea for The Whole Package, how did you?
ELLINGSEN: Ha! There were no margaritas involved in the conception of The Whole Package. I thought of the idea because its always struck me as totally bizarre that Hooters is a socially acceptable restaurant. I mean, really? As a consequence, I started thinking about what a male version of Hooters would be like and The Whole Package was born.
AUTHORLINK: Did you know how your characters were going to resolve their inevitable crises before you started writing, or did they help you figure it out as you went along?
ELLINGSEN: Thats a great question! Yes, in some respects I did know. I always write an outline before starting a project and within that framework, I figure out how to get to point A to point B. But the great thing about rules is that they are made to be broken. For example, I did not know Cheryl was going to go through her pregnancy experience, I did not know that Jackie would rediscover painting again and I certainly didnt know Doris was going to have such a fabulous friendship with Gabe.
It was only when I started to listen to myself and do what I really, truly wanted (writing) that I found the right path. |
AUTHORLINK: The three friends face a lot of hurdles in their attempts to open a restaurant; did you ever feel as if writing and publishing a novel put you on common ground with them?
ELLINGSEN: Absolutely, although it was actually my experience in Los Angeles where I learned to be an Olympic hurdle-jumper. I pursued a career as an actress and it was roadblock after roadblock. It was only when I started to listen to myself and do what I really, truly wanted (writing) that I found the right path. Likewise in The Whole Package, the three friends only find success when they figure out what it is that they really want.
AUTHORLINK: How does writing and publishing a novel compare with writing screenplays?
ELLINGSEN: Its very different simply because screenplays have a lot of different hands on them. Since there are so many different people offering input, theyll typically go through a lot of changes. Its the nature of the beast. But with The Whole Package, I landed with just one, brilliant editor – Wendy McCurdy. Shes at Berkley and is such a gem. She wanted to change very little about The Whole Package, so its actually very close to its original draft.
AUTHORLINK: What do you like most and least about the writing profession? Any fears?
ELLINGSEN: Nothing gets me happier than thinking that someone having a hard time or a bad day might be reading The Whole Package and suddenly, smile again. Thats such a great feeling. The thing I like the least is the idea that, because there are so many books in the world, tons of women who might have loved The Whole Package will never even know about it. Getting the word out is the biggest challenge. I always ask my readers to please tell five women they know about the book. That way, the information gets out to women who otherwise, never would have heard about it.
AUTHORLINK: What advice can you give writers who are trying to break into publishing?
. . . only work with people who believe in your work. |
ELLINGSEN: Persistence. If you want to succeed, you have to keep going. You have to keep writing. You have to keep trying. Henry Ford said, Whether you think you can, or you think you cant – youre right.
The other half is making it a rule to only work with people who believe in your work. It can be very easy to settle for an agent because youre eager to get your project out there but its important to see the big picture. If its a career youre after, you need to find an agent that you trust and respect, so that you can work together long term.
AUTHORLINK: What are some of the things you have written previously?
ELLINGSEN: I have an alien series that I wrote in the third grade that cracks me up to this day. Ive also written a bunch of novels that will never see the light of day and two scripts with a writing partner, Modern Love and Three Card Monte. These were in development with an indie film company. One project Im excited about right now is a pilot I wrote called Risk Takers. Its in development with a producer from Lifetime, so it would fabulous if it went all the way.
AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?
ELLINGSEN: Im so excited to be working on another project for Penguin-Berkley, called Marriage Matters. I cant say too much about it yet but I can say that itll be fun, funny and heartfelt, just like The Whole Package.
About Cynthia Ellingsen:|
Novelist and screenwriter Ellingsen lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her husband.
About Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.