How Ellen Meister Became a Writer

March 3, 2013 — 6 Comments

I was an English major with an emphasis on creative writing, and my goal was to become a novelist after graduation. I am, however, the greatest living procrastinator (do they give awards for that?) and I managed to put it off for about thirty years.


Hy Goldberg, Visions Photography

Ellen Meister
is the author of four novels, FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER (2013), THE OTHER LIFE (2011), THE SMART ONE (2008) and SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA (2006), as well as numerous short stories. Ellen teaches creative writing at Hofstra University and  runs an online mentoring group for women authors. She has served as editor for a literary magazine and currently does public speaking about her books and other writing-related issues. She is working on her fifth novel.

Web site:

Farewell,+Dorothy+Parker+cover+mediumRead more by and about Ellen:

Novel: Farewell, Dorothy Parker

Interview on NPR: Literary Idol Comes to Life

Novel: The Other Life

Novel: Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA

How Ellen Meister Became a Writer
This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Eric Bosse for the recommendation, and thanks to Ellen for saying yes!

1. Why did you want to become a writer?

I always loved to read, but as a teenager, there was a discrete moment in the middle of a J.D. Salinger short story where the naturalness of a simple line of dialogue struck me like lightning. These words were music to me, not because they were profound or important, but because I understood the kind of ear it took to invent something so real. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it was rapture. At that moment, I understood what it meant to be a writer, and the spark was lit.

2. How did you go about becoming a writer?

By reading and writing. But I’ll elaborate …

In college, I was an English major with an emphasis on creative writing, and my goal was to become a novelist after graduation. I am, however, the greatest living procrastinator (do they give awards for that?) and I managed to put it off for about thirty years. When I finally got serious, I wrote a few terrible screenplays, which taught me a lot about story structure. Soon after that I started writing my first novel, which I rewrote about a thousand times. I was lucky enough to find a literary agent to represent it, and the book, “Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA,” was published by Morrow/Avon in 2006. I’ve written and published three more novels since then, and I’m particularly proud of my newest one, “Farewell, Dorothy Parker.”

Applewood_large3. Who helped you along the way, and how?

Imagine a world in which a Jewish middle class woman from Long Island and a female truck driver from rural Georgia connect and become best pals. God bless the Internet.

I started writing my first novel in 2001 and felt very isolated–there were no writers in my life and no one to bounce ideas off. This was before the explosion of writer communities online, but I did manage to find a message board where people who were looking for critique pals posted queries. I connected with a smart, talented Southern woman named Rhonda Gill. We were both working on novels and so we emailed chapters back and forth for feedback. It was validating, instructional, motivating and uplifting.

Soon after that I found a community of short story writers at, and my network of writer friends exploded. Each one of them helped me in some way, and several became lifelong friends. God bless the Internet indeed.

4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

Since I’ve been steeped in Dorothy Parker for the past few years, I can’t deny the inspiration I get from her wit, courage and precision. But while her biography is interesting, it’s not something I aspire to. The depression, heartbreak,  alcoholism and suicide attempts are not romantic to me.

Like just about everyone, I suppose, I’m inspired by the biographies of writers who believed in their vision, stuck to it, and achieved great success despite the odds. But on a more personal level, I know several very successful writers who are kind, hard-working, honest, extremely talented and impressively generous. I’m lucky enough to call a few of them friends, and these are the people who inspire me.

5.  What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

Dear Aspiring Writer:

Don’t fight your ambitions, embrace them. Ambitions are good; they will keep you striving. Just don’t measure your worth by whether you meet your goals. Because I guarantee that no matter how much success you achieve, you’ll keep the raising the bar, and will always feel like that shining, tantalizing, exquisite prize is beyond your reach. So love what you do, kick envy into the back alley where it belongs, and once in a while remember to appreciate how far you’ve come … not in your career, but in your writing.


6 responses to How Ellen Meister Became a Writer


    Loved these interview questions! Thanks so much for this opportunity, Kelcey.


    Thanks for this, both of you. Very true and inspiring words about writing, process, and community.


    I think what you published made a great deal of sense.

    But, what about this? what if you wrote a catchier post title?
    I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to run your blog, however suppose you added something that makes people want more? I mean How Ellen Meister Became a Writer ph.d. in creative writing is a little vanilla. You might look at Yahoo’s front page
    and watch how they create news headlines to get viewers interested.
    You might add a related video or a pic or two to grab readers interested about everything’ve written. In my opinion, it would make your blog a little livelier.


    I was curious if you ever thought of changing the structure of your blog?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe
    you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two
    images. Maybe you could space it out better?


    Piece of writing writing is also a fun, if you be acquainted with after that you can write or else it is complex to write.

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