Monday, December 10, 2012

Interview with Kat Ellis: Aliens, Wales, Short stories and Writing Contests

Kat Ellis writes YA sci fi and fantasy and is represented by Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency. I got to know Kat when she hosted the Hook, Line and Sinker agent contest and was thrilled when she agreed to answer a few questions. She’s one of the most energetic and imaginative writers I know. Be sure to check out her blog   But enough from me--let’s get to the questions.

1. Can you tell a little about yourself?  I’m especially curious to
know if the rumor involving your parents, your birth and aliens is
true. If it is, then has it influenced your writing at all?

Haha! The story about my parents spotting a UFO ( is absolutely true, although I have no idea when it actually happened. Probably best left a mystery, unless I suddenly sprout tentacles! 

I grew up in North Wales surrounded by strange stories and local legends, and some of these have definitely inspired my writing. Being immersed in stories about gryphons, witches, dragons, and a whole host of other creatures drew me into reading at a young age, even in the pre-Potter era. 

On a non-writing note, I married my teen sweetheart (we met when I was 16), I'm a fluent Welsh-speaker, and I have an evil cat named Pilot (after Rochester's dog in JANE EYRE.) I play guitar (badly), and poke my tongue out of the corner of my mouth when I'm concentrating.

2. I noticed your short story UNDERGROUND is coming out in the Primed
Anthology in 2013 and that your short story, GLIMMER, received a high
commendation in the 2012 Bristol Short Story Prize. All of us in the
Cabinet have had our battles with writing short stories. What advice
do you have for writing short stories as opposed to novel length?

I will start with a disclaimer: I'm really not an expert, or even halfway to being clever when it comes to short stories. The 3 I've written are all pretty dark, and in terms of process, they start in much the same way as my novel ideas do: just one scene. But whereas with novel ideas they ripple outward to become bigger, overlappy-circly things as the plot develops, my short story ideas stick more to that one scene or image that I had in my head at the start. I explore it from all angles, see if it can stand by itself as a Thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. 

In terms of advice, I will share this one thing: I wrote my 3 short stories for the sole purpose of entering contests and trying to get them published, so then I would have something to add to my query letter to agents in the 'writing experience/credentials' section. Of course there are better reasons to write short stories, but if you're a querying writer with not much to put in that section of your letter, why not try your hand at a few short stories? I found it helpful, and the little bit of success I had with them was a great confidence boost when I was stuck in the query trenches.

3. What advice would you give to someone who has completed a manuscript
and is now looking for representation? Do you feel there is an
advantage to becoming involved in online contests as well as sending
out queries and doing in person pitch sessions. Man, I’m hitting you
with a lot of multifaceted questions, aren’t I?

The one thing I will suggest strongly (I'm raising an eyebrow for emphasis here) is: make sure your work is ready before you send it out. I'm talking polished to a high shine, punchy as hell, and thoroughly proofread. If it isn't, you will have wasted an opportunity to catch an agent's eye, whether it's in a straight query or a contest. Take your time and make it the best you can.

Query contests are an exhilarating, nerve-wracking animal, which I wrote about in a guest post not so long ago (it's here if you'd like to read it:  ) If you've honed your sample pages and query letter to the point where you feel they are ready to go out into the querying world, contests can be hugely successful in matching writers and agents. They can also be a little soul-destroying if your work isn't as polished as you thought when you hit 'send', especially if the contest is open to public critique. 

But that's something that each individual writer will need to decide. Contests may not be your natural groove, and there's nothing wrong with skipping the contest frenzy. I would personally be terrified to pitch in person to an agent or editor, but I know lots of folks would say that's the most effective method. Horses for courses, and all that.

If you want to try your hand at pitching at a conference but aren't sure how to prepare, Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency wrote a really helpful post about that here:

4. As someone who helped organize and host the incredibly successful
Hook, Line and Sinker contest, do you have any advice for people who
might be thinking about hosting a contest?

It was a LOT of work, and incredibly fun and rewarding! If you're thinking of hosting a contest, consider partnering up with someone who can help you with the organizing, especially if they have previous experience. And, in hindsight, it's probably a good idea to plan it so that it doesn't coincide with any major publishing events (as agents will likely be busy), holidays, and other contests. Contest Fatigue Syndrome is a real thing!

The huge plus-side to running a contest is getting to read some absolutely stellar writing and making connections with other writers (like yourself, Pat!) The online writing community in general is an amazing resource and source of support, and I would encourage writers at any stage in their career to get involved in it. 

5. If I were to gaze into my crystal ball, what would I see in your future?

I hope that I will always be writing. If I could get to the point where I could write full-time, I would consider my life made

I'm halfway through a new manuscript called TRANSPARENCIES, which is about a girl who drowns on her sixteenth birthday...then turns up at school three months later as though nothing happened. 

After that, I have a few possibilities simmering - there are 2 old manuscripts I need to rewrite, a possible sequel, and a brand new idea which I'd describe as PITCH BLACK meets THE TIME MACHINE. 

It is possible that I will host or otherwise take part in more query contests at some point, but it won't be for at least a few months while I finish my current WIP. 

Thank you, Pat, for interviewing me! I'm more than happy to answer follow-up questions if there are any. 

Thank you so much, Kat! And I totally agree--one of the best parts of entering and hosting contests is making new writing friends. The online writing community is a wonderful thing when we choose to become actively involved.

Anyone have questions? Kate would love to answer them and as you can see she’s game for pretty much anything. And don’t forget to follow her on Twitter @el_kat .


  1. Oooooh, great interview! I've been a fan of Kat since The Writer's Voice and a fan of Pat since ... hmm ... a while, and now I REALLY want to visit Wales. :-)

    As a fellow entrant in HLandS, I can't tell you how much I appreciated being included in the contest, and I totally agree that it's best to do it when your work is really ready.

    I'm looking forward to reading about book deals for both of you soon!

    1. Thanks Kip! I loved your HLandS entry, and was not at all surprised you got so many requests - now I'm looking forward to hearing your good news, too :)

      Also, if the urge to visit Wales ever overwhelms you, I have a couch with your name on it.

  2. Okay, you guys have me convinced I need to give these contest thingamabobs a chance. Thanks for all the nudges, Pat! So, my question is, how do you go about finding contests? Is there anywhere online where contests are generally announced?

    I also have a writing question for Kat. You mentioned writing short stories while querying. Do you have any advice on keeping your writing spirits up (so your writing is free and confident) while slogging through query rejections?

    1. Hi Suzanne. As a starting point, here's a post I wrote a while back with links to sites which regularly host query contests:

      In terms of keeping your spirits up while querying (which I know can be a real challenge at times!) I'd suggest you keep busy with other writing projects. I found it helped to enter contests and such as I didn't have a chance to wallow. Distraction is key! Hopefully you also have a critique group / writer friends who will give you a boost when you need one.

  3. Back at you about the book deal, Kip. It's a long hard road to being agented and published, one which is so much better with a crew of writing friends around you (kind of like Canterbury Tales with just writers).

  4. Suzanne, there are usually posts on Querytracker and other writing blogs about upcoming contests. Check out the links Kat recommended, I'm sure they have other ideas. There are writer blogs devoted to announcing upcoming contests and several monthly contests.

  5. Funny, Kat doesn't look like an alien. Sneaky...

  6. You right, Mirka--those aliens always have something up their sleeves (like tentacles).

  7. Thanks for coming over, Kat! North Wales?! One of my possible next projects is rewriting a historical fantasy novel that takes place in the Welsh Marches and North Wales in the time of Owain Gwynnedd--I've been looking for a Welsh speaker and here you pop up :) But a question from me . . . who are your favorite writers? Favorite books? And do you tend to write in the same vein as those things you love to read?

    1. I'm very intrigued by historical fantasy project! Please do give me a shout if I can help with any Welsh issues.

      I tend to read quite eclectically, but YA sci-fi and fantasy are my favourite genres to read as well as write. I also have a soft spot for male POVs, as evidenced by some of my all time favourite novels: Michael Grant's GONE series and Neal Shusterman's UNWIND. My favourite author is Nalini Singh (adult PNR), and I would highly recommend her Guild Hunter series if you're looking for beautiful prose, dark storylines and breathtaking romance.

  8. Check you out, and knowledgeable and whatnot! I'm going to Wales for New Year (New Jersey gets old). I shall be sure to look out for you in the crowds. Y'know, just in case.

    1. Bahaha! Knowledgeable indeed ;)

      Hope you have a fab time in Wales - tweet me if you're visiting the North East!

  9. Great interview, Ladies, and great advice from Kat. Thanks!

  10. Excellent interview! My question is surprisingly not about aliens but about keeping your head above water (or your heart above melancholy) when writing dark story lines. Are you able to divorce real life from your writing world completely or do you travel to the depths with your characters?

    1. A strange thing: I find I become emotionally involved much more quickly with a story which is dark. This applies equally to reading and writing, and I *need* that immediate emotional investment if the story is short. But the difference for me when I'm writing a dark story rather than reading it is that I (hopefully) also have that bubbling excitement in the back of my mind because I'm creating something good. It seems to balance out the cloying despair, lol!

      Thank you for the great question :)