3Ws – Jan Ellison

Jan Ellison photographed in San Francisco, CA September 24, 2013©Jay Blakesberg

Jan Ellison photographed in San Francisco, CA September 24, 2013©Jay Blakesberg



What do you create?

The biggest, best thing I’ve created is four new people. The eldest is six foot four and sometimes my husband and I look up and wonder how this extra man ended up living in our house. In four days, he’s headed off to college.

I’ve also been writing fiction and creative non-fiction for fifteen years. My debut novel, A Small Indiscretion, published in January by Random House, took longer to create than all four of my kids put together. That said, create is not usually the word I think of when I think of writing, and I don’t think of myself as a particularly creative person. My daughters are creative; they knit, sew, act, draw, paint. My dad is creative; he writes music and invents whole new worlds in his science fiction and fantasy novels. The things I’ve “made”—the essays and short stories and the novel and the bad poems—feel more like the result of an interrogation than an act of creation. It’s more about finding something that already exists in my head, letting it out, understanding it. It’s as if there’s this lump of stuff, a block of ice or clay, and my job is to chip away at it, to shape and reshape it, for months, years, decades, until it finds its true form.


Why do you create?

There’s that word again, create. This is semantics, perhaps, but when I started writing, I didn’t set out to create anything; I set out to purge what was inside my head. To exercise my mind in a way that felt necessary. To manipulate words in a manner that was pleasing to me. Words are the only material I’m interested in manipulating; stories are the only thing I’m interested in making. Even my poems tell stories, so I suppose at bottom, I create out of a story-telling impulse.

But I also turn to words when I want to preserve something—a memory, a scene, a feeling, a snippet of overheard dialog—or when I want to know more about one of those memories or scenes or snippets, either real or imagined. I want to find out what’s beneath it, or behind it, or before it. Sometimes I write to escape the mundane and slip into a narrative more interesting than my own. Often, I write to find out what I think. In fact, the act of putting words on the page is more akin to thinking, to me, than creating, but with luck, and time, and compulsion, and work, that thinking can sometimes turn into something tangible, like a book.


What do you consume?

I come from a family of beer drinkers: My brother is a prize-winning home brewer; my dad won’t drink anything but excellent IPA; my sister lives in London and drinks Guinness. In my family, ordering a glass of wine in a bar is just strange, and drinking cheap beer, like Bud Light, is sacrilege: You may as well be drinking water.

So a month ago, I would have said that what I consume are great novels and good beer. But—brace yourselves—I’m giving the whole low-carb, gluten-free thing a shot, so I’ve had to give up beer. Novels are wonderful and everything, but I’m here to tell you that there is no replacement for an excellent ice cold beer on a Friday afternoon. There just isn’t.



The book: A Small Indiscretion
Essays & Short Stories: Writings
San Jose Mercury News: ‘A Small Indiscretion,’ a large love of writing
San Francisco Chronicle: Review
Newsletter: Sign up!
Facebook: Jan Ellison
Twitter: @JanEllison
Barnes & Noble

_MG_4124-1Ellison_Final jacket



  1. Angela Terry says

    What a wonderful interview! I started reading A Small Indiscretion and it’s so good. I paused in my reading because I realized that I might have to book myself a hotel room to sneak away and read this book all in one go. And very interesting on the “why create” – Thank you and Ms. Ellison for this interesting and fun interview.

  2. I am absolutely touched by your interview. It is personal to me, because I recently realized how writing allowed for the opportunity to connect to the world around me. Writing is like an assortment of my cluttered thoughts arranged to create a masterpiece. Your writing is flawless and I will be following your work as an inspiration to my writing journey. Thanks again for a wonderful interview and have a fabulous day.

  3. Jan, I have to laugh — I recently moved home to San Diego after more than a quarter century away, and OMG, the beer here…it’s just insanely good. I’ve been low-carbing otherwise but with the beer…no. No. I cannot.

  4. This just in: the whole thing about IPAs (and other quality brewed matter) being carbohydrates is a hoax foisted upon us by the 1200. If you don’t know about the 1200, they’re the mean-spirited pan-dimensional entities that conspire to make our lives miserable in all sorts of ways; they’re the ones who hide your wallet, your keys, etc. I know the 1200 are real because Thodkin Marblemeister (go ahead, google him) himself told me about them. Enough for me. Cheers!

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