A look at the past, the present and the future with Ellen Jensen Abbott (by Amy K. Nichols)

Ellen Jensen Abbott
This month the authors of YA Outside the Lines are interviewing each other, and I had the privilege of interviewing Ellen Jensen Abbott, author of the Watersmeet Trilogy. Here's what she had to say about how she got started as a writer, her influences when it came to writing the Watersmeet novels, and what she's working on for her next release.

When did you make the decision to pursue writing, and how long after that decision did you get published? What did that journey look like?

I was always a successful academic writer, but I didn't have the confidence to dive into fiction. In fact, when I was in college, I thought I would be the host of literary salons, bringing writers together but not writing myself. When I got older, I realized that I was selling myself short. I had just had  my second child, and I needed something to keep my mind engaged and I turned first to non-fiction and then fiction writing. It took me about ten years from articulating that I would like to be a writer to seeing my first book on the shelf of Barnes and Noble. 

What idea sparked Watersmeet, and how did that idea grow to be the Watersmeet Trilogy?

I began with an image of a former student of mine (I'm a teacher by day), and while I recognized her, I also knew that it wasn't her--that she was a character in a story. I didn't know the story around her, but I knew she was an outcast. She's a beautiful, intelligent, warm young woman and her outcasting didn't make sense. I built the story--and the world of Watersmeet--around her to make sense of her rejection. As an avid reader of fantasy, it was only natural that this world would be a fantasy world.

The story was a trilogy--or at least more than a single book--almost from the start. My very first book--which never got published--was set in the same world but at a point in the future. As I built that world, I created it's history, it's founding stories, it's heroes. When that book got encouraging rejections I decided to start the story in the early years of the world, so the Watersmeet series is the story of Abisina, the main character, and the story of Seldara, the land where the story is set. It's hard to build a nation in one book, so I always had the idea of several books in mind. 

Your books draw a lot from mythology. What is your favorite mythological character or story? Did it impact the Watersmeet books?

I'm a huge fan of Homer's Odyssey. I love the story of the wily Odysseus and the mirror story of the equally wily Penelope. I love the monsters, the witches, the feasts, the seafaring. Except for centaurs and fauns, I don't really have any Greek creatures in my novels. I was more influenced by C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia which has a similar mix of mythologies represented as I have in the Watersmeet books. Dwarves, giants, dragons, centaurs, fauns, hags, etc. They're all in Lewis and I decided if it was good enough for him it was good enough for me! I did make up some of my own monsters, too. There are some blind, white eels that are particularly creepy!!

What are you working on now? 

I'm working on a new fantasy, set in a very different world that will have a slightly steam punk feel. It feels odd to say that because I haven't read much steam punk, but that's how the world is growing in my imagination. The main character will be a girl, there will be a love interest and a long con, but that's as far as I've gotten! I'm inching forward now, waiting for my next vacation to really get underway!


  1. I know all about the long journey to publication! Can't wait to read the steam punk book.

  2. I really like the role your former student played in your book. And so glad you embarked on the writing journey! Looking forward to the steam punk!

  3. It's interesting to learn about your journey. Good luck with the WIP!

  4. I've always loved the Odyssey too! I went to college thinking I'd be a Classics major - that lasted about a month, but it's still in my blood. Looking forward to learning more about your WIP!


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