I am SO THRILLED to have USA Today’s bestselling historical fiction author, Ellie Midwood, on the blog today for an author interview!!
If you haven’t heard of Ellie’s books, well, where are you? In a cave? Well, even if you are in a cave, you have to go and get her sensational books that are soaring to the top of the book world charts.
I’ve read both her novels “The Violinist of Auschwitz” and “The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz”, and needless to say, I adored them both. You can read my reviews (which are both FIVE STARS) at the two links below:
And I cannot wait for the next book, “The Girl on the Platform”!!
So, let me tell you a litte about Ellie Midwood….
Ellie Midwood is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning historical fiction author. She owes her interest in the history of the Second World War to her grandfather, Junior Sergeant in the 2nd Guards Tank Army of the First Belorussian Front, who began telling her about his experiences on the frontline when she was a young girl. Growing up, her interest in history only deepened and transformed from reading about the war to writing about it. After obtaining her BA in Linguistics, Ellie decided to make writing her full-time career and began working on her first full-length historical novel, “The Girl from Berlin.” Ellie is continuously enriching her library with new research material and feeds her passion for WWII and Holocaust history by collecting rare memorabilia and documents.
In her free time, Ellie is a health-obsessed yoga enthusiast, neat freak, adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew, and a doggie mama. Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.
Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical fiction category (2016) – “The Girl from Berlin: Standartenführer’s Wife” (first place)
Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical fiction category (2016) – “The Austrian” (honorable mention)
New Apple – 2016 Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing – “The Austrian” (official selection)
Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical fiction category (2017) – “Emilia”
Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical fiction category (2018) – “A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son”
And now, what we were all waiting for, her author interview!!
- What literary pilgrimages have you gone on? – Before the lockdown I’d been fortunate to visit Auschwitz traveling exhibition here in NYC. Even though the real Auschwitz-Birkenau camp/museum is definitely on my list of must-visit places, this traveling exhibition helped me visualize history I’ve been studying mostly through books and Auschwitz-Birkenau’s virtual map. Reading about it is one thing, but seeing all of these uniforms, spoons, bowls, shoes, suitcases, barracks, and gas chamber doors and gas columns is an entirely different matter. It helped me immensely with descriptions I put in my latest books about Auschwitz.
- What is the first book that made you cry? – I’m actually very unemotional, so I don’t really cry while reading books or watching movies. I can feel very strongly about the subject but it usually moves me to action in different ways – I either decide to write about it, donate to the cause dedicated to it, bring awareness to it, but I have to do something. All of my strongest emotions are somehow connected to action. I would say, the latest book that made me feel very strongly was “Know My Name” by Chanel Miller. An extremely raw, honest, and powerful memoir which I’d highly recommend to everyone.
- What are common traps for aspiring writers? – Not doing enough research and trying to save money on certain things that are simply must be done by professionals. I always say that the first thing in writing is research, research, and more research. It doesn’t matter what you write – historical fiction or legal thrillers – you simply must know what you’re writing about in detail. Have a novel set in Chicago? Make sure you know the city inside and out. Have a protagonist with depression? Make sure you know how it manifests instead of relying on stereotypes. And after you’ve researched your setting, main character’s profession, and procedural details to death, make sure you hire a good structural editor (this is particularly important if it’s your very first work!) to go over your plot and help you make it stronger, tie up all loose ends, develop the characters, and add or cut descriptions where necessary. Then send it to a good proofreader to “clean it up” and only after that submit it to the publisher/agent or, if you’re publishing it yourself, hire a professional formatter and a cover designer to help you make your book baby as beautiful and professional-looking as possible. Don’t try to save your money on these things as it’s these details that can make or break your literary debut. And good luck!
- Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want? – I never write “for the market”; I don’t think I’d be able to force something out of myself solely because it’s “in” right now but is of no interest to me whatsoever. All of the books I write deal with subjects that either fascinate me personally or have some special meaning to me as an author. I don’t think I’d ever be able to create anything readable just for the big bucks. It would most likely be flat and unreadable, haha!
- Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly? – Oh yes. This is the case with yours truly – I’m a very unemotional person and always rely on logic rather than heart, but it never stopped me from writing emotional scenes or making the reader feeling the emotions my protagonists experience (according to the reviews and personal messages at least, haha!). I think as long as you can describe emotions in such a way that the reader can virtually feel them as well, you’ll do just fine as an author. It’s the same with historical fiction writers: can you really write a good historical fiction if you never lived in the era you’re writing about? Sure, as long as you can make it real for the reader. Same with emotions.
- What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? – Oh, there are too many to name here! I’ve been truly fortunate to become friends with so many talented authors, I’ll never run out of books to read if I stick just to the list of my author buddies! One of my first author friends was Carissa Ann Lynch; we began writing approximately at the same time and have been making this incredible journey ever since. We’ve never met in person (I hope to change it soon, when the restrictions are lifted!) but I consider her my writing sister. She’s a truly gifted writer and just a wonderful person I’m very lucky to know. I was extremely lucky to meet my another writing sister, Yolanda Olson, last year and it’s been one of the best afternoons ever spent (in the cemetery. Yes, it was my idea. No, she didn’t think I was weird; she writes horror, so she’s used to it). I have a bookshelf dedicated solely to her signed paperbacks and I guess just by this you can tell that I’m a huge fangirl, haha! Besides these two of my writing besties, I can name so many authors who have supported me, celebrated with me, collaborated with me on different projects, but I’m afraid we’ll run out of time and space. They know who they are. I always thank them in the acknowledgements.
- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? – “Don’t abandon that manuscript; this whole writing thing will turn out just fine for you!”
- How did publishing your first book change your process of writing? – The process itself, believe it or not, didn’t change all that much. I experimented with styles and different points of view for a while but now I’m very set in my ways. I’ve always been a pantser and my inability to work with outlines certainly didn’t change. I became more rigid with my daily word count, if anything. My writing schedule is more organized now. But that’s the only thing that changed.
- What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? – I’ve just now got us a second pup and that has definitely been the best money ever spent from my book proceeds! We’ve been wanting a sister for our fur daughter Pupper for quite a long time, so we’re in virtual heaven! They say money can’t buy happiness; I say, it can buy dogs and that’s the same thing!
- What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? – I can’t recall a definite moment but it began when I was very young; whenever I read a quote that resonated with me on a personal level or whenever I heard someone make a speech that gave me goosebumps, I realized that words carry a huge weight. The fact that I can call to action or bring awareness to certain subjects through my works only came to me much later, in my twenties, I’d say.
- What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters? – Everything. I always say that it’s my utmost honor to be telling their incredible, inspiring stories and that I hope that I do them justice with my words. All of my protagonists who are based on true people are my personal heroes; I decided to tell their stories because they astonished and inspired me so much and that’s why I consider it my duty to research their experiences as best as I can so that I can present them as accurately as possible. I can only hope they would have been satisfied with my modest efforts if they were alive today.
- What does literary success look like to you? – You’ll probably laugh at me, but I actually never considered this question. The superficial answer would be, when you get an award or reach a bestseller status or have a movie based on your book… but that’s not really “it” to me personally. I mean, those are all absolutely fabulous milestones but in my personal opinion, literary success is when you write from the heart and readers love your work and can’t wait for your new book to come out. That’s literary success to me.
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? – Research is pretty much a daily occurrence here, so I’m not even sure how to put a timeframe on it. I’ve been interested in the history of WWII since I was a child (I grew up on my grandfather’s war stories), and began researching the subject in my early teens. Since then I’ve been accumulating research sources, collecting memorabilia, digging deeper and deeper into the already-familiar subjects – you get the idea. So, I’d say the basis for my research is always there. As for some specific themes I need to research (Mala’s hair color, for instance, or Edek’s pre-war occupation) I always turn to survivors’ memoirs if they’re available or historical studies and biographies written already after the war. I research before I begin to write, while I write, and when I’m doing rewrites and the first round of editing. I’m a little OCD when it comes to the most minutest details, so I need to make sure that I get everything right. It does take time though, sometimes a few months.
- What are the ethics of writing about historical figures? – I think when writing about real people, it’s incredibly important to stick to the facts. Also, it can get quite tricky not to fall into a protagonist/antagonist trap; what I mean here is sometimes authors tend to “villianize” (I think I just invented a new word here) a certain historical figure to the point where they become a cardboard-cut evil caricature or, on the contrary, to idolize another historical figure who serves as their protagonist ascribing qualities to them that they never possessed in real life. In my personal opinion, the more an author explores all shades of gray of their characters based on real historical figures, the more compelling their writing will be. To me personally, as a writer and as a reader, accurate descriptions of historical figures are extremely important, so if I see that a book strays away from it and turns a real person into something they weren’t in real life, I just won’t finish the book. It’s not historical fiction anymore, it’s just fiction.
- Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones? – I do read them, mostly during the first couple of weeks of the release as I’m curious to see how the book is received. Naturally, I love positive reviews but even critical ones can sometimes be very helpful, as long as the criticism is constructive. Of course, some negative reviews don’t even make any sense (a review that is complaining that the plot was weak in the story that is based on true events; or a reviewer claims that something is historically wrong even if you have mentioned that very event in your note in history they clearly were too lazy to read), so I just laugh those off. Reviews never affect me, neither negative not positive. As long as my editor is happy with my book, all is good.
- What was your hardest scene to write? – the scene dealing with “Hungarian Action” in “Auschwitz Syndrome.” It was very heavy even for me, who’ve been studying the subject for many years. I think (and many historians agree) that it was the culmination of the Auschwitz hell and naturally, it came out very graphic and very disturbing. I don’t think I’ve re-read it since.
- What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? – Overcoming the dreaded “block.” But in this case I usually just write myself out of it. I’ve noticed that it goes away much faster if you actively deal with it rather than waiting for the inspiration to return.
- Does your family support your career as a writer? – Oh yes! I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have such a huge support team behind me who cheer all of my accomplishments and celebrate all of my newest releases. My friends have been a huge support throughout my journey and I make sure to always thank them in the acknowledgments for all their love.
- Can you tell us a bit about your book/series and why you chose this topic? – I knew that I simply had to write about Mala after I first read about her incredible story in a survivor’s memoir. I was actually amazed that no one has written about this courageous, selfless young woman, who risked her life to help the others and actively resisted against the Nazis in a place where survival itself was considered resistance. But what she did, what she accomplished together with Edek (I’m being purposefully vague here as I don’t want to give away any spoilers) simply had to be written as a novel. Mala was a true hero and such an inspiration to all of the inmates. Many survived only thanks to her efforts. It was my utmost honor to be telling her story.
- What is your favourite quote to leave us with? Something that tells us a bit about you and why? – I have a lot of favorite quotes, each fitting different subjects, but since we’re talking about WWII, I’d say this one: “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” by Winston Churchill. I’ve always lived by these words and I recommend everyone to do the same. Never give up. If you keep fighting, eventually you’ll win all of your battles. Just don’t give up. That’s what’s life is all about.
Thank you so much, Ellie, for joining the Hist Fic Chickie today! I wish you continued success on your novels and I am so glad we connected through social media!!
D. K. Marley – The Hist Fic Chickie
For more info on Ellie and her books, you can visit her website at: https://www.elliemidwood.com
Here are the buy links to her novels: