Monday, February 20, 2023

Q&A with Ellen Potter



Ellen Potter is the author of the new middle grade novel Hither & Nigh. Her many other books include the middle grade novel Slob. She lives near Syracuse, New York.


Q: What inspired you to write Hither & Nigh, and how did you create your character Nell?


A: The Icelandic origin story of the Hidden People, or elves, was one of the early sparks for Hither & Nigh. According to the folktale, the Great Spirit came down to visit Eve while she was in the middle of bathing her children. Only half the children were clean, so Eve hid the dirty kids in the bushes.


Not a great idea, as it turned out. The Great Spirit knew what was up and condemned the dirty kids to a life of concealment. That’s why, according to this tale, most humans can’t see creatures like elves. I loved this idea and wondered how these Hidden People would manifest in a city like New York.


As for Nell, she is such a hard-boiled realist that I thought it would be interesting to plunge her into this world of magic. She brings her analytical mind to a situation that demands an expansive view of reality.


Q: The School Library Journal review of the book says, in part, “Universal realistic themes are used as jumping-off points for magical elevators, talking park statues, and other fantastical details that readers will find appealing...” What do you think of that description, and what did you see as the right balance between magic and realism in the novel?

A: I suspect that if magic exists, it would slip into your life very naturally, imperceptibly. I don’t think our brains could handle it otherwise. That’s why I tried to melt the familiar with the magical. I want my readers to experience the magical transition the way Nell experiences it.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I never know how my books will end. I may have a vague idea about how things will unfold a chapter or two ahead, but that’s about it.


When I try to plan out my story, the characters usually revolt. They don’t appreciate being herded through a particular storyline. They’ll dig their heels into the ground and make things difficult. Those are the times when I get massively stuck.


I’ve learned to “hold on loosely” as the song goes, and let my characters guide the way. How would they genuinely react in any given situation? It may force the story to go in a very unexpected direction but that’s when the best stuff happens, isn’t it?


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: The idea that the world has a mysterious, invisible structure is so appealing and comforting to me. I hope that readers of Hither & Nigh will come away wondering about possibilities. And maybe looking at chopsticks a little differently.


Q: What are you working on now? Will Nell return for more adventures?


A: There will definitely be more adventures for Nell! I just finished the sequel, Hither & Nigh: The Golden Imaginarium.


I am also writing the third book in an upcoming chapter book series called Squirlish. The series is about a little girl who is found in Central Park as a baby and is raised by a squirrel. Lots of fun!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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