Random Chitchats

Shop Talk Tuesday with Ellen Booraem

Tonight, Ellen Booraem is in the shop! Ellen is a member of the Class of 2k8 and author of The Unnameables (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2008), a middle-grade fantasy about belonging, the dangers of forgetting history, the usefulness of art, and the importance of wind control.


Medford lives on a neat, orderly island called—simply—Island. Islanders like names that say exactly what a thing (or a person) is or does, and nothing less. Islanders like things (and people) to do what their names say they will. Nothing more.

So what would you expect of a thirteen-year-old foundling called Medford Runyuin? Not much. In fact, you might want to keep your eye on him. Medford’s been keeping a big secret, one that could get him banished forever from Island and the only life he’s ever known. Enter the Goatman, a nameless, smelly wanderer who calls the wind but can’t control it.

And who can’t keep a secret to save his life.

“Booraem’s debut is an ever-surprising, genre-defying page-turner. Realistic characters deal with philosophical problems in vivid, flowing prose that is evocative and often funny. A sort of combination of witch-trial-era Salem and The Giver, this book offers a treat with nearly every page turn.” —Kirkus, starred review.

You can meet the Goatman at www.TheUnnameables.com and check out Ellen’s blog at ellenbooraem.blogspot.com.

Until then, welcome, Ellen! Let’s get down to the gossip.

First off, have you ever had a major hair or salon disaster?

I’ve actually had two, both of the home-made variety and neither captured on film, thank heaven. One was when I had this great idea for quick and easy self-layering. I put my hair in a ponytail, bent over so it hung straight to the floor, and cut it off. I looked like I’d been caught in a weed-whacker. The second was when my partner, a talented visual artist and carpenter, decided he could trim my long, wavy hair. I figured, hey, he’s got great hands, right? Turns out a haircutter also needs a brain—he did it one-handed, lunging with the scissors as if he were fencing. I’m lucky I didn’t die a bloody death. And this time the weed-whacker needed Prozac.

How long have you been with your current stylist and what are your appointment conversations like—chatty and personal, or quiet and professional?
I’ve been going to the same guy for fifteen or twenty years and this is a rural community so we know each other pretty well. He’s more conservative than I am and we both like a good political fight, so the conversations get lively. Sometimes I have to agree with him to make sure he doesn’t forget what he’s supposed to be doing with those scissors.

What kind of hairstyle did you have in high school?

Utterly boring, a fact for which I am profoundly grateful. I rolled it on soup cans because at that time you wanted straight hair parted in the middle so you’d look like a flower child. My mother’s chief goal in life was NOT to have a flower child for a daughter, so for all official photos my hair is parted on the side. Somehow she thought that would affect my thinking. It didn’t.

Here’s your Hypothetical Questions of the Week:

HQ #1: For one day, time travel is a reality and you have the opportunity to visit any famous deceased author you want. Who do you pick?

Virginia Woolf, although she’d catch on right away to my second-rate intellect. I love the viciously funny woman you meet in her diaries and letters, far more than I love most of her books. After Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, and To the Lighthouse I glaze over.

HQ #2: If you could hit the rewind button, which book published by another author do you wish you could have written? Which movie screenplay?

Anything by Diana Wynne Jones, and especially Archer’s Goon. I’m a big fan of novels in which the fantastic and the real world intersect, and DWJ is a master at that. Any one of her novels would have been a hoot to write, although I doubt I’d come up to her standard. As to the screenplay…well, you can’t do better than James’s Goldman’s The Lion in Winter.

HQ #3: You magically find a $100.00 bill in your box of cereal. In what frivolous way would you spend it?
I would spend a day hopping from thrift shop to thrift shop. But maybe I’d have to spend the $100 on gasoline. Or closet space.

HQ #4: TV execs are offering you a spot on a new reality show for writers. Do you say yes? If so, how would you be portrayed? (i.e. the boss, whiner, bore, paranoid-wreck, etc.?) I’d say yes if the locale had no spiders, snakes, sharks, or alligators. (I always wanted to join the Peace Corps, but only if they sent me to Sweden.) I’d try very hard to be the person who sinks into the background and escapes notice, but eventually the Leo in me would rise up and I’d try to boss people around for no particular reason. They’d vote me out in a heartbeat.

HQ #5: If you followed the career path you chose for yourself in high school, what would you be doing for a living now?

I’d be a pediatrician, a writer, a rock star, and a messianic world savior. I was undecided.

The Lightening Round—no more than two words per answer!

Do you . . .

Outline or wing it? Both. At the same time. Don’t ask.
Talk about works-in-progress, or keep your trap shut? Try to talk, sound lame, shut up.
Sell by proposal or completed draft? So far, completed draft.
Love to edit or cringe at the thought? Love it.
Prefer writing a new book or marketing the old? Definitely writing.
Write better at home or in a coffee shop? Definitely home
Read your released book or no, I’ve read it enough? Gah! No thanks.

And finally, what’s your favorite . . .

Time to write? Morning
Movie? The Lion in Winter (O’Toole/Hepburn version)
Book? Pride and Prejudice
Author? Jane Austen
Song? Anything by Sondheim
Pair of shoes? Birkenstocks (I have bad feet. So sue me.)
Guiltiest pleasure? Thrift shops
Line from a movie? “And what have you learned, Dorothy?”

“…If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” (Um. Wanna run that by me again, Dorothy?)

Thanks for stopping by, Ellen! Best of luck with The Unnameables and I have to say that your hair disaster story is the funniest yet! 😉

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