Writer’s Life: Ellen Notbohm

Ellen Notbohm_09 17

I am delighted to introduce you to  Ellen Notbohm, author of The River by Starlight.

An internationally renowned author, Ellen Notbohm’s work has informed, inspired, and delighted millions in more than twenty languages. In addition to her perennially popular books on autism and her award-winning novel The River by Starlight, her articles and columns on such diverse subjects as history, genealogy, baseball, writing and community affairs have appeared in major publications and captured audiences on every continent.

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

To heed the parable that likens words to breaking open a feather pillow on a windy hill—once they’re out there, you can never gather them back in. To understand that we all do and should change as we move through the phases of life, but to carefully consider the permanence of how our words affect others and how that reflects on ourselves.

Where do you write? What do you love (or hate) about it?

My best writing is done pre-dawn, curled up on the bed in our guest room, preferably in nasty weather. It’s cozy, distraction-free and nurtures the muse. Later in the day, I move to my office, which has a lovely view of our towering rhododendrons and outdoor art, but is Distraction Central, where the necessary-tedium business end of being a writer too often dominates.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

A combo of my mother’s 20th century mantra, “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” and my 21st century maxim, “Technology is great until it isn’t.” Something like: “Always have Plan B.”

Who inspires you?

People who continue to embody love, humility, generosity, and respect even in the face of adversity and unfairness.

Is there a charity or community service are you passionate about?

In an ideal world I’d have the money to support every humanitarian and artistic endeavor I feel passionate about but since that’s not the case, I focus on the root of all of it—access to food. Without that, nothing more can happen. I support our local food bank, Meals on Wheels, summer lunch programs, and a grassroots organization here called Potluck in the Park that serves an all-donated array of food to our homeless citizens every Sunday, rain or shine, no questions asked. I’ve been involved for 25 years. One year they told me it wouldn’t be Christmas without my ginger cookies. That ensured that I’ll go on another 25 years.

What are you reading now (or recently) and/or what book do you recommend?

My reading sutra is something older, something newer, something foreign, something classic. This rotation helps me read broadly, not just deeply. It makes me a better writer and a more expansive person. Most of the books on my nightstand are by authors I haven’t read before. Right now I’m reading Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg. It’s a three-fer: older book, translated from Danish, author new to me. And it’s a wow—I knew ten pages in that I would give it seven stars on a scale of one-to-five.

What is the most satisfying part of being an author? What do you least enjoy about being an author?

I never fail to be deeply humbled by readers who reach out to me from cultures and living conditions all over the world to tell me how my books have touched them. I can’t imagine many rewards greater than knowing you’ve changed lives for the better. You can’t put a price on that, but we all have to pay the bills, so it grinds me no end the extent to which writers and other artists are expected to be grateful for opportunities to work for free because “it’s good publicity” or “exposure.” I’ve learned to cheerfully explain that, gosh darn it, I offered “book plugs” as currency to my mortgage holder, grocery store, and gas station but they insisted on real money. Imagine!

If you weren’t an author, what would you be?

I would still be a person who looks at how to bring together the opportunities available to me at any given time, the responsibilities I must fulfill, and the abilities I have, and the dreams and challenges that matter to me. It’s worked splendidly so far!




For more, visit  www.ellennotbohm.com and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn

Upcoming appearances:

July 29:  The Book Stall, Winnetka IL
July 31:  RoscoeBooks, Chicago IL
September 27-30:  Montana Festival of Books, Missoula
October 11:  Bloomsbury Books, Ashland OR
November 10: Cannon Beach Library, Cannon Beach OR

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