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Ellen Jackson

CINDER EDNA by Ellen Jackson…Still delighting readers after 20 years

In 1994, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard published Ellen Jackson’s CINDER EDNA, a fun, twisty take on the traditional Cinderella story. Twenty years later, The Washington Post revisited CINDER EDNA to find out why kids and their
caregivers are still reading and loving this tale. (It’s still in print!)
Ellen has stopped by today to discuss the book and her writing. Thanks for coming, Ellen!
Can you believe it’s been 20 years since CINDER EDNA was published? 
How did you decide to write this story in the first place?
Even as a little girl I was bothered by the Cinderella story (even though it was probably
my favorite fairy tale). For example, I could never understand why the prince
didn’t recognize Cinderella when he came to her house with the glass slipper.
He’d been dancing with her all night, and presumably looking at her. And why
“glass” slippers? That didn’t seem like the best choice of material for a pair
of shoes. My first thought was to write a humorous story that would explain all
those little discrepancies. But then it occurred to me that Cinderella wasn’t
much of a role model either. Why not have my Cinderella be spunkier and more of
a go-getter?
Did the writing come quickly, or did you have to work to get it just right?
The general plot came fairly quickly, but I struggled to get the details just
right. For example, at the end there’s a description of the Cinderella’s life
as a queen and daily routine. I wanted to make it funny, and I rewrote it
several times. And the same was true at the beginning of the book where I tell
about Cinder Edna’s chores. The details had to be funny, but appropriate and
not too distracting.
Was there a message behind the story that you wanted to convey to kids?
I don’t really try to send a message when I write. My primary goal is to entertain and
make children (and, hopefully, their parents) laugh. The “message” or theme
usually creeps in somewhere along the way, but it’s often just a part of how I
look at the world. In the case of CINDER EDNA, I was aware that Cinderella had
led me astray as a child. It instilled in me the idea that I needed to look for
a prince–someone who would sweep me off my feet and provide for all my needs.
And I’d better grow up to be beautiful to attract that prince.
That was just my childish take on the story. Don’t misunderstand, I love fairy tales and
I think that most can be interpreted in more than one way, especially
Cinderella. But I’m not beautiful and I’ve learned that it’s more satisfying to
improve your own life rather than expect a fairy godmother to do it for you.
All this was in the back of my mind when I wrote the story, but I wasn’t really
planning it all out consciously.
After you finished writing the story, how long did it take to sell it?
It took awhile—probably at least two years. It was rejected 40 times before the 41st
publisher acquired it. Some editors thought it should be a “magazine piece.”
Others thought fractured fairy tales were a dying genre. There were a lot of
different reasons why it was rejected.
Tell us about the illustrator, Kevin O’Malley. Had you worked with him before or since?
I’d never worked with Kevin before, nor have I worked with him since. At the time, he was
very much an up and coming illustrator at Lothrop, Lee and
Shepard.  Kevin and I did sign books together at ALA when CINDER EDNA
first came out, so I got to meet him. I thought he was absolutely delightful.
He’s a wonderful performer and very funny.
CINDER EDNA is still going strong as a book. Hasn’t it been performed on stage, too?
Yes, CINDER EDNA has been made into a short film, performed as a play by several
different theater companies, and made into a musical three or four times. My
agent has sold foreign rights to Germany, Korea, and several other countries.
That’s amazing! I’m thrilled for you that this wonderful story–one of my personal
favorites–has touched so many lives. Thanks a bunch for telling us about it,
Ellen. And continued success with your writing!

Readers, you can visit Ellen at http://www.ellenjackson.net/.


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Writing As Process or Product?

When I taught Freshman Composition for two undergraduate institutions, our instructional mantra to our students was, “View your writing as process, not product.”

This meant that students should see their writing as works which could be revised, rethought, reimagined many, many times (not just copy-edited), but never really finished. For some, this was a new idea, a new, laborious idea. They preferred to write the paper, turn it in, and be done with it, come what may. Others felt writing as process attached a name to what they’d been doing all along. They were comfortable with the give and take and were relieved to know their institutions valued it as well.

In practical terms, writing as process meant that we used classroom time to brainstorm appropriate topics together and to group-critique or peer-edit one another’s papers. For instructors, it meant that once a student finally turned in his paper, he could use the instructor’s further feedback to improve the paper, and potentially get a better grade, many times over. But it wasn’t a gimme; students had to use the feedback to rethink their works. The dedicated writers in my classes often turned in three or more versions of each essay assigned.

What did all this reimagining entail? Students had to learn not only the value of brainstorming but ways to brainstorm. They had to learn how to provide feedback concretely but tactfully. They had to learn how to receive feedback, how to evaluate it, what to do with it, and ultimately, whether or not altering their works accordingly would meet their writing goals and preferences and the assignment’s requirements.

I’ve been on both sides of the classroom: as an English undergraduate and graduate student and as a writing instructor teaching others how to write. Care to guess which view of writing I was and am most comfortable with–process or product?

Right. Process. It has always come naturally to me. The brainstorming (also known as prewriting)–the time before you pick up a pen, when you let your mind wonder “What if?” The drafting–and drafting, and rethinking, and drafting, and printing out, and reprinting out, and reading aloud, and drafting, and revising, and rethinking, and rereading. The critiquing–asking others whose feedback or skills you trust to read your work and tell you where you fell short and where you hit the bullseye, followed by more drafting and revising and printing out and reading aloud. The editing–perfecting word-level choices, sentence constructions, punctuation, and grammar.

I haven’t been in college or taught Freshman Composition for awhile now, but every time I approach a writing task, I use the same things I learned and taught and was drawn to earlier in life: brainstorming, drafting, revising and rethinking, getting feedback from professionals I trust, further revising and reimagining, followed by editing.

As to the feedback portion, I am a long-term member of two online critique groups–shout out to Critcasters and Rhyme & Reason–and to one in-person crit group–PB Thursday. These groups are filled with published and pre-published, agented and pre-agented professionals in the area of writing for children, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them for their advice, support, wacky ideas and brilliant suggestions. They are my first and best readers.

I also periodically consult intelligent and witty people I’ve met along the way whose advice I respect, people like Ellen Jackson and Laurie Accardi. And my mom isn’t a slouch at writing and giving honest feedback either. Hi, Mom!

Where do you fall in the process/product debate?

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