BERIT ELLINGSEN, INTERVIEWED BY MAGEN TOOLE
Drawing on Eastern philosophy and taking advantage of a wide variety of mediums, science journalist and fiction author Berit Ellingsen discusses her work, her processes and the sources of her inspiration.
Who are you, and how would you describe your work?
My name is Berit Ellingsen and I’m a Norwegian science journalist and fiction writer working in English. I write literary fiction and some science fiction and fantasy. I enjoy writing all kinds of lengths, from nano- and twitter fiction and flash, to short stories and novels.
My stories are about zen, dreams, consciousness, love, relationship, family, death and everything in between. All my published stories are linked here: Short fiction. My long work, The Empty City, is serialized online here: Emptycitynovel.com
Much of your writing is inspired by the philosophies of Zen, Taoism and nonduality. What is it about these particular themes that appeal to you, and how have they informed your work?
The core of these philosophies is the same. It points to the heart of human existence and knowledge, even something as radical your true nature, which may not be as simply or as clearly expressed elsewhere. I find that knowledge very valuable and appealing. Those themes often sneak into my stories, but they are rarely the purpose of the stories or the only thing they are about.
From what other sources do you typically draw your inspiration?
I read several literary magazines online; the short stories there are some of the best available from emerging and established writers. It’s more updated and alive, I feel, than what’s churned out by the large publishing houses years after it was originally written. Reading the stories in these magazines is very learning and inspiring, sometimes awe-inspiring.
I have also beta read several novels written by writer friends this year, and I find it very learning to read and give feedback to other writers.
Books, films, tv-series, games, music, visual art, I find them all to be inspiring in various ways, because they are different types of expression and storytelling.
What is your creative process like?
I write a first draft, then make grammar and linguistic corrections, and polish it a few times. I pay attention to plot, characterization, atmosphere, voice, vocabulary and rhythm etc. I work a lot to find the right words and the right flow.
If the story requires it, I send it to beta readers for feedback. Then I do the necessary changes, leave the story for some weeks, and then do final rounds of polishing. Then I submit the story to a suitable lit mag or anthology, or publish it on my website.
What, if anything, do you want readers to take away from your work?
Readers have their own and often very different interpretations of the stories, and that’s the way it should be. If the stories make the readers reflect a little on the world or their own situation, that’s great.
The events and characters in my stories are rarely ethically right or wrong. If that can make people reflect over the complexity and simplicity of human existence, it would be wonderful.
What have been your biggest creative influences?
Reading a lot of different fiction, from various time periods and all kinds of genres, non-fiction, reviewing and watching a lot of different films, games and tv-series. I’ve been a reader and watcher much longer than I’ve been a writer. Traveling, studying and working have also been sources for inspiration.
How do you balance your professional life with your creative life?
Like most people, and most writers, I find it a little difficult. I love to write and sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to jot down a story. But daily work must come first. I always get that done before I start on the fiction writing and editing for the day.
Is there anything in your own work that you have found particularly challenging in the past?
When I started writing The Empty City I was inexperienced as a writer and editor. As a result, the story has changed a lot, been shortened drastically and edited a large number of times. The stories that I have written afterwards were not as unfinished as The Empty City and have fortunately needed fewer rounds of editing. Although I always find something I would have changed when I read my old stories. I’m constantly editing.
Do you have any plans for future projects?
I have two long (for me) short stories that have more plot and are more linear than what I usually write. They will need some feedback, editing and cooldown before they are finished.
I’ve been thinking about a few longer works, but not sure if or when they will happen. I will also collect my current short stories into an anthology.
Thank you for sharing your words and work with us, Berit. Do you have any parting words for readers?
Thank you very much for the interview and for including me in the Summer Sessions! It’s been great!
I really appreciate the company of all the readers and writers and editors I have gotten to know the last year. It’s been an adventure! I can see why people don’t leave writing once they start with it. I hope to write for a long time to come.