Name: Ellen W. Abernathy (writing as E. W. Abernathy)
Where are you from: I grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, but have lived in Morganton, North Carolina for the last 35+ years.
A little about your self—i.e. your education, family life, etc:
I’ve been married for 34 years, have two adopted daughters, and three grandsons. I’ve worked in the legal profession for 28 years.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
E.W. Abernathy: My first novel, Cold Comfort, debuted on June 29, 2015, and I am busy working on a sequel to it.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
E.W. Abernathy: I’ve been writing since the 3rd grade. I was the only kid in my class who got excited when the teacher told us to write a story using all of our vocabulary words. When I was around 11 years old, I wrote a story about a teen-aged boy who kept a corpse in the crawlspace under his house. I showed it to my grandmother and her response was, “Can’t you write about something happy?” And the answer to that question, is a resounding, “NO!”
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
E.W. Abernathy: I guess I knew I had an affinity and a talent for writing in about the 7th grade. I had a lot of encouragement from a special teacher that year.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
E.W. Abernathy: I’ve always been fascinated by mental illness and music is a huge influence in my writing, so it’s only fitting that the two combined to produce Cold Comfort. The songs that inspired Cold Comfort were Sanitarium: Welcome Home by Metallica and Uncle Jack by Motley Crue.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
E.W. Abernathy: I’m sure I do, although I’d be hard pressed to tell you what it is. I write a lot in first person, usually as a male character. Don’t ask me why—I have no clue. Writers soak up everything they’ve ever read and synthesize it, then regurgitate it in their own style. And of course the authors we most enjoy have the biggest influence on our writing style. The late Donald E. Westlake was a huge early influence on my writing style.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
E.W. Abernathy: Whenever I begin writing a story, I usually have a working title—something short to identify it on my computer. The working title for Cold Comfort started out as Sanity and then evolved into Two Short Steps (to Sanity), but as so often happens, as I was writing the book, another title occurred to me and it was so perfect that it became the final title. See if you can figure out where in the book the phrase Cold Comfort occurs.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
E.W. Abernathy: Well, I usually like to let readers draw their own conclusions, and I am constantly amazed by the things people take away from the story, but some of the messages I want to get across in Cold Comfort are as follows: (1) Don’t be too quick to judge people. You can’t ever know their whole story; (2) Sometimes we’re afraid of the wrong people, which directly relates to #1. We tend to shy away from people with mental illnesses and turn blind eyes to the heinous things supposedly sane people do; (3) A little bit of love and acceptance go a long way.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
E.W. Abernathy: I’d say all of it is all too realistic
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
E.W. Abernathy: Only in the loosest possible sense in that I’ve been misunderstood and judged by people who didn’t know my whole story, and I’ve been treated badly by others because I’m “different”.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
E.W. Abernathy: As previously mentioned, the late author Donald E. Westlake influenced my writing the most. I loved his writing style and his sense of humor. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess was also a huge influence on my writing. My personal mentor is author R.L.B. Hartmann, who is also a close personal friend. She has done more for my writing than any other person in my life.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
E.W. Abernathy: I am currently reading. A Hero’s Curse, a fantasy for middle-school aged children, by P. S. Broaddus (who is also a friend).
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
E.W. Abernathy: P. S. Broaddus is a new author who bears watching closely. Another author to keep an eye out for is Ernesto Pavan. He will hopefully be publishing his novel Revived soon, and I am excited to see how it does.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
E.W. Abernathy: I currently have three works-in-progress. The first is a sequel to Cold Comfort, which currently has the working title A Measure of Cold Comfort. The second is a historical novel set in antebellum North Carolina, which has the working title Long Hard Winter. The third is a dystopian/futuristic novel with the working title Aryan: The Final Reich.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
E.W. Abernathy: My good friends Bell and James Lane have been a tremendous support to me and have been fabulous cheerleaders. They have encouraged me every step of the way. Also some great teachers—Louise Kidd, Harold House, Lucille Hipp, Rebecca Gulickson, Yvonne Gale (hope I remembered how to spell their names correctly!).
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
E.W. Abernathy: It is a career in that I spent almost every spare minute writing or doing something associated with writing—research, editing, revision, promoting. I’ve yet to make a profit on Cold Comfort, but I could no more not write than I could not breathe. I do have a day job and have worked in the legal profession for 28 years, but if a stranger were to ask me what I do, I would tell them that I am a writer.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
E.W. Abernathy: If I had to do it all over again, I would write Cold Comfort the way I knew it should have been written instead of wasting a lot of time and creative energy trying to “fix” it based on other people’s opinions and perceptions. I tend to doubt myself a lot and if I had just followed my own instincts, the novel would have been finished much sooner and I would have saved myself a lot of angst. The best advice I could give other writers is this: Listen to your own heart and follow your own instincts. It’s your novel and no one else but you can write it.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
E.W. Abernathy: I’ve always loved reading and I’ve always read voraciously. My parents never refused to buy me books. I may not have gotten everything else I ever wanted, but they never said no to a book. My mother and my grandparents read to me regularly when I was a child and my grandfather made up stories for me about a wood sprite named Jack-a-Mirandy. So I’m sure that’s where the interest was born. The best thing parents can do for their children is to foster a love of reading in them.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
E.W. Abernathy: Here’s the prologue to Cold Comfort:
The back half of the room is full of people, most of whom sit or stand behind a waist-high wooden partition. At the front is a massive bench set on a platform, dominated by a woman wearing a black choir robe. I keep expecting her to burst into song, but the concert never begins, and I get the feeling that she won’t be singing a tune I want to hear anyway. Sitting to her right, two women busily shuffle papers and type away at computers. Two uniformed men are positioned to her left. Interspersed throughout the room are several other men in uniforms with holstered guns at their hips.
Laurie and Mama sit in the gallery to my rear, tissues clutched in their trembling hands. Laurie has a frightened look on her face. My mother is crying. Her skin is as gray as the paint on the walls of this mausoleum where my life is about to end. She catches my gaze and offers a weak smile of encouragement, which quickly morphs into a grimace. The man in the expensive suit at the table beside me looks even grimmer. His face tightens as a group of people enter through a side door and take their seats. I am piss-my-pants terrified.
The woman in the black choir robe addresses the group, and one person rises to converse with her. I try to concentrate on what they are saying, but the Voices are rioting, and the cacophony they create blots out most everything else.
You’re gonna fry, John-boy.
I hope you’ve got an asbestos butt.
They’re gonna throw you to the wolves.
“Madame Foreman has the jury reached a verdict?”
They’re coming to get you.
You see how everyone’s looking at you?
They all want you to get the death penalty!
“Yes, your Honor, we have.”
“Will the defendant please rise?”
“I didn’t do it—I didn’t do it,” I whisper. I feel a jab to my ribs.
“Get up,” the man in the high-priced suit mutters in my ear.
I rise quickly, banging my knee on the table leg, the ankle restraints nearly tripping me. Wincing, I face the woman in the robe. Her mouth moves, but I can’t hear what she’s saying.
Oh man, here it comes.
You’d better bend over, put your head between your legs, and kiss your ass good-bye.
“I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.”
“For God’s sake, John,” the man in the high-priced suit says hoarsely. “Be quiet!”
You should have killed yourself when you had the chance. Now somebody else is going to do it for you.
“Shut up! Shut up!” My mind is reeling from all the commotion.
“I beg your pardon, young man!” The woman scowls down at me from her bench.
“Your Honor,” the suit says, “my client is an extremely disturbed individual. I think it’s fairly evident that he is not and never has been fit to stand trial.”
“Be that as it may, he’s been silent and disengaged throughout this trial, and he can stay that way long enough for us to finish.”
My whole body is shaking—no matter how hard I try to control it. If only the Voices would cease and desist, I might be able to make it through the remainder of this ordeal with a minimal amount of humiliation. They are not about to give it a rest, however. If anything, they grow even more obnoxious.
What you do is grab the gun off that cop right there and start shooting.
Yeah, first you get that bitch behind the bench, then you plug that smug bastard next to you.
Make sure you have at least one bullet left for yourself, though.
Shoot through the roof of your mouth—that’ll do it.
I glance at the nearest cop, estimating the distance between us to be only six feet. He looks toward me at precisely the same instant, his hand feeling for the butt of his gun, and I wonder if he, too, hears the Voices. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the other uniforms come to attention, as if they are of one mind.
Well what are you waiting on?
You want them to shoot you first?
Go for it!
“Madame Foreman, what is the jury’s verdict?”
Quit wasting time, you dumb shit.
This is your last chance!
“We find the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity or mental defect.”
The room erupts into chaos. There are screams and shouts, and I turn to see several men rushing at me. Paralyzed by the hatred and pain on their faces, I can only watch as one of them vaults over the partition and throws himself at me, fists flailing. Then I’m being pulled backwards, and two deputies are wrestling the man to the floor.
“I’ll kill you if I ever catch you out on the street, you sick scum!” he screams after me. “I’ll kill you for what you did to my little boy!”
I hear similar threats as I’m pushed through a door and down a hallway, but I can’t be sure if it’s the Voices, the angry crowd, or a mixture of the two.
“I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
E.W. Abernathy: My tendency to second guess myself is a real handicap and something I work hard to keep in check.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
E.W. Abernathy: As previously mentioned, the late Donald E. Westlake was probably my all-time favorite. He had an incredible sense of humor. I also love Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels for the same reason—the sense of humor she brings to her stories.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
E.W. Abernathy: Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to travel with regard to my book. My hope is that Cold Comfort will become so popular, I will be traveling extensively to promote it.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
E.W. Abernathy: I found a photo I knew I wanted to use for the cover, but I am not proficient at design, so I hired Emily Tellez (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com) to pull it all together for me. I think she did an excellent job and I highly recommend her.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
E.W. Abernathy: Well, the easiest part and the most fun was the actual writing of it. The hardest part was the editing and revision. It was brutal, and to make it almost traumatic, I discovered a significant flaw in the story after I thought it was finished, which necessitated a rewrite. I wanted to give up at that point, and I may have shed a few tears, but eventually I was able to overcome the problem and make the story even stronger.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
E.W. Abernathy: I learned that I can complete and publish a novel—something I thought I would never be able to do.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
E.W. Abernathy: Listen to your own heart and follow your own instincts. It’s your novel and no one else but you can write it.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
E.W. Abernathy: First and foremost—Thank you for reading! Secondly—I love connecting with my readers, so please hit me up on Facebook or Twitter or email. I want to hear what you think and I love discussing my stories and the characters.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
E.W. Abernathy: Oh my goodness, no. It would have been a children’s book, probably a school reading book. Fun with Dick and Jane or some such.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
E.W. Abernathy: The current political state of the US makes me cry. I have never been more ashamed of our politicians than now.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
E.W. Abernathy: Just off the top of my head, I would say Donald E. Westlake so I could tell him how much I enjoyed his writing and how much he influenced me.
Fiona: What do you want written on your headstone and why?
E.W. Abernathy: Well, I want to be cremated, so no headstone for me, but if I were to have one, I might take a cue from Billy Wilder’s tombstone, “I’m a writer, but then nobody’s perfect”.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
E.W. Abernathy: Naturally, I love reading. I also enjoy cooking and listening to music. Heavy metal is my favorite genre.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
E.W. Abernathy: I love action/adventure movies or dark comedies—Weekend at Bernie’s was a big favorite. I’ve been watching Sleepy Hollow on Fox, but these last two seasons have left me rather disappointed. I also watched Secrets & Lies on ABC and really enjoyed that. Frankly, I don’t watch TV much anymore, most of the shows seems trite and/or poorly written.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
E.W. Abernathy: I love the “cuisine” of the southern US. Hey, what can I say? I was born and raised in the South. Purple is my favorite color. My favorite music is heavy metal and hard rock—always has been and always will be. When I tell people that I like Five Finger Death Punch, Disturbed, Korn, and Rammstein, it earns me some funny looks.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
E.W. Abernathy: I can’t imagine not being a writer because it is so ingrained in my nature, but I’ve always had a fascination with mental illnesses and psychiatry/psychology, so I might have studied that and become a psychiatrist.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website?
If so what is it? My website is: http://ewabernathy1.wix.com/author-ewabernathy and my one and only blog is posted there. I intend to do more blogs, but right now I’m working on Aryan: The Final Reich, so it’s taken a lot of my time.
Social media contact info:
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/ewabernathy1
Facebook personal page: https://www.facebook.com/ellen.abernathy.18
Amazon ebook link: http://amzn.com/B010MKBWUO
Amazon paperback link: http://amzn.com/0692381155
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B010Z7P4FI