Ellie Midwood is a New York based author who loves writing about her city and its people. She’s a health obsessed yoga enthusiast, a neat freak, an adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew and a doggie mama.
Ellie lives in Brooklyn with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.
Discuss your newest book.
My newest book is called “The Austrian” and it tells a story of the highest SS leader, tried by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Ernst Kaltenbrunner. It’s not your average WWII story, it’s extremely angsty and emotional due to the psychological state of the protagonist, incarcerated in Nuremberg, who already knows what awaits him. However, even though many perceive him to be a cold blooded murderer, the story that unravels in front of the readers’ eyes shows a very different side of him. I love writing about deeply troubled, conflicted characters, and Ernst was just a perfect protagonist in this sense. Sounds very interesting! I love reading books revolving around WWII.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always been writing, as long as I can remember. I guess my love for reading and writing came from my mother – she is a librarian and used to write poems herself. It is a creative gene, I guess.
What are your current projects?
I’m currently working on book two in “The Austrian” series. Ernst’s story is a very lengthy one, and I didn’t want to put everything into a 700-page book, so I had to separate it into three parts, like I did with my previous series, “The Girl from Berlin.” If book one explored the theme of how one gets involved with something as vile as the Nazi Party and his reasons for it, the second one shows a more doubtful protagonist, who starts opening his eyes to all the bloodshed and atrocities he involuntarily gets involved with. And it’s also in the second part, where he falls in love with a Jewish girl, Annalise, the protagonist of “The Girl from Berlin” series. So there’s definitely going to be a lot of romance inter-weaved with the spy intrigues and politics.
What books have most influenced your life most?
Not my life, but my writing. This would definitely be my all-time favorite “The Kommandant’s Mistress” by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman, the one that inspired me to write “The Girl from Berlin” series. It’s a story of a Jewish girl who is forced to serve as a sex slave to the commandant of one of the concentration camps in occupied Poland. It’s a brilliant work from the psychological point of view, showing the twisted relationship of the victim, and the one who’s in power. It’s written in a stream of consciousness technique, which also adds much more depth to the emotional state of both characters. I keep re-reading it from time to time, and it still amazes me how sharply and unapologetically it’s written. Wow.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
He’s a deeply conflicted character, not the normal protagonist that the reader is supposed to like. He tells his story without holding anything back, horrified with his own actions and trying to understand how he came to be this monster when he had only the noble goals in the beginning. He is an SS leader, who was fighting with Hitler himself against the extermination program. He was trying to drown his conscience in a bottle of whiskey and was constantly torn apart by his desire to protect the soldiers under his command, and at the same time hated his own leaders, who made him become what he hated to be – one of the main executioners of the German Reich. This constant psychological inner struggle makes him extremely interesting.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Absolutely. The main theme of book one explores the subject of how easy it is to follow the wrong leaders and fall under the wrong influence. Ernst’s country, Austria, was devastated after WWI; the impossible retributions, imposed by the Versailles Treaty, brought many people towards starvation. That’s when the Nazi Party got a hold of both nations, and, playing on people’s fears and anger, took over power so easily. You can easily draw a parallel with what’s going on in the United States right now.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I guess I have to thank my fiancé for it, who believed in me so much that let me quit my job and become a full-time writer. We’re both actually very happy that I did. There’s nothing more fulfilling than to do a job that you love, and to me writing doesn’t even feel like a job. The promoting does, but not writing itself. It’s a pleasure. It’s sweet to have someone who believes in you so much. Mazel Tov on the upcoming wedding.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
Full-time, almost every single day, for twelve or fourteen hours sometimes, and if I don’t write, I read for inspiration. Some people don’t realize what a time-consuming process writing is. It indeed is a full-time job, but thankfully it pays off as well, not only in the monetary sense, but in the emotional as well. My happiest moments are when I see a new review for one of my books, or when a reader contacts me on social media and says how much they loved my book. It’s extremely rewarding.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
Writing it from the first person point of view, when my main character is a man, and a Nazi high ranking official on top of it. (I’m a girl, and I’m a Jewish girl, so making him sound realistic for the readers was a real challenge.) Judging by the positive response, Ernst came out very realistic, so I can sigh with relief and go back to writing book 2. I can see how that would be challenging.
What book are you reading now?
“Labyrinth” by Walther Schellenberg. He was the chief of the foreign intelligence in Nazi Germany and my protagonist’s subordinate. I have read it before and re-reading it again since it gives a first-hand account to many counterintelligence operations that few people know about. All my historical fiction novels are based on true historical events, and I enjoy all the compliments from my readers about the authenticity of the historical background that I put into my works. So “Labyrinth” is a great source of information for my manuscript.
What is your preferred medium of writing? Pen and paper or strictly tablet and computer?
Computer. I type much faster than I write, and besides I’m too impatient to re-type a written text. I love efficiency, but I understand how some people prefer pen and paper. It’s a personal choice, I guess.
Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
Prior to actually sitting down and writing I tend to pace the room and act out a dialogue. I used to play in a theatre back in my high school and university, so this helps me immensely, bringing those little voices in my head to physically talk to each other. A very strange habit, but it helps me a lot to create realistic dialogues.
How important are names to you in your books?
Well, the names of the real historical figures who I fictionalized are very important, because they had to be left authentic. As for the fictional characters, they bear certain meaning as well. For example Annalise, which means ‘graceful’ in German, is a ballerina, so this correlates with her profession prior to her involvement with the American counterintelligence. And her husband’s last name also wasn’t chosen randomly: Heinrich Friedmann (Friedmann can be translated both ‘free man’ and ‘the one who frees people’) is a German, who works for the American OSS office and relentlessly tries to save as many people as he can.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Never get discouraged by any negative words. Don’t listen to anyone, except yourself (and your editor;)) If you chose this path, you have the right to write your own story and to tell it the way you want it. Never get discouraged because one person didn’t like it; with time you will acquire a team of loyal readers who will wait on pins and needles for your next work. Don’t write for the critics, write for your fans.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I do yoga because it helps me both relax and concentrate better, and I also read a lot.
From where do you gain your inspiration?
Biographies, books related to the period of time that I’m writing about, documentaries, some new facts about the characters that I happen to discover. It’s interesting how a writer’s mind works: something insignificant triggers it, like learning your protagonist favorite cigarette brand, and you write the whole scene where you only mention it once. It always amazes me how such small things can inspire the whole scene or even a chapter.
What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?
I love being a self-published author and honestly, I prefer it to working with big publishing houses, and here’s why. First, it gives me all the freedom to write what I want and how I want it, and I know that no one will make me change the ending because it’s ‘not marketable’ for example, or because the publisher doesn’t like it. Second, I choose the time when I can publish my book and I don’t have to wait a year before it hits the shelves. And finally third, it actually is more profitable unless you’re a really famous author like Stephen King and have a multi-million contract; the rest of the authors get only ten percent of the profit, which is much less than you can make as an indie author. So that’s one of the major factors as well.
How do you market your books?
I use Twitter, Facebook almost daily and I also use different paid marketing services as well, who do the promotion for me. Bloggers are also a big help, and I think many writers underestimate what tremendous work bloggers do. I highly appreciate each and every one I came in contact with.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
Don’t just post something like “Buy my book, please!” because it never works. Instead, post a new positive review you just got, quote something from your book that can pick the readers’ interest or say how happy you are about an award your book received. Enter competitions like Readers’ Favorite book awards, New Apple or any other platform that promotes indie authors. You’ll get a great exposure even if you don’t win, and it’s always a big plus.
What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book?
I would say marketing normally takes up about an hour of my daily routine. I use different tools on different times of the day, for example Twitter in the morning, and then I post to certain Facebook groups throughout the day. And I also try my best to interact and reply to all my readers and people who post on my page or have a question for me. I try my best not to ignore anyone.
What do you do to get book reviews?
Sometimes I ask bloggers if they would be interested in reviewing one of my books, but mostly it’s just readers, leaving their reviews.
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?
I would say it’s been quite successful since I published my first book in “The Girl from Berlin” series seven months ago. I have 58 reviews for the first one, 31 for the second and 24 for the third, with average rating from 4.4 to 4.6. And “The Austrian”, which was released on March 7 has already gained 6 five star reviews and a five star seal from the Readers’ Favorite. So I’m very happy with it.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
I’ve been quite lucky because I only had very few negative reviews so far, but I’m being very philosophical about negative ones. I write using the ‘unreliable narrator’ technique, where the main character is not your typical, likeable character. While most readers praise how realistic these characters came out and how human they are, some don’t like them exactly for this very reason: for the mistakes they make, for how unconventionally they act and for how they fall in love with the wrong people. But that’s how it happens in life, and I would never change my writing to suit the stereotypical, purely positive protagonist type. I don’t find them interesting, to be truthful. I like the ones, who are complex and conflicted, they are much more interesting to watch grow and learn from their mistakes than the good one who don’t make any.
What’s your views on social media for marketing?
It’s a great marketing tool which can work for everyone’s budget. If you don’t want to invest anything at all, it’s a great way to promote your work for free. And if you don’t mind to pay a few dollars to boost your posts on Facebook for example, that’s even better. I like the freedom of choice social media gives to everyone.
Which social network worked best for you?
Twitter and Facebook.
Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
Never take anyone’s help on social media for granted. If someone shared or retwitted your post, always reciprocate – it’s the best way to help a fellow author or a blogger and also a great promotional tool.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
My latest book, “The Austrian” is available in paperback and as a Kindle version on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01COTSSZI
Also, the readers are more than welcome to read the first chapter of “The Girl from Berlin” absolutely free: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B015BNZWNK