I say The Ugly One is historical fiction, but if I were being extremely accurate I would go with prehistoric fiction with a touch of magical realism. It takes place during the height of the Incan empire. The main character, Micay, is a 12-year-old girl with a jagged scar that runs like a river down the side of her face. The boys in her village bully her horribly, causing her to feel like an outsider among her own people. She hides behind her hair and her silence. When Micay receives a macaw as a gift from a visiting stranger, her life begins to change. I visited Peru twice to research Incan culture and incorporated several Incan myths and a sprinkling of the Quechua language throughout the story. The Ugly One is my first book with Clarion, but I published a previous book entitled Tree Huggers with Royal Fireworks, a much smaller press.
When does your book release?
It came out in paperback this past spring.
Which character of your book was the hardest to write?
The Paqo, or shaman, was tricky at times because he likes to talk in nature riddles. I don’t have much in common with an older man from Incan times, but I recognized his good heart and his desire to teach his student, Micay, with wisdom.
If you’re not writing, what do you love to do?
Spending time with my family is number one on my list. My husband and I have a ten-year-old daughter, two dogs, and a bird. I love it when we are all together, lazing about on the couch or going for a walk in the woods. (The bird stays at home then.) Also very high up on my list of Favorite Things To Do: read, practice yoga, garden, travel, and sleep in on the weekends.
Did anyone inspire you to start writing or did you always know you just had to write?
I wrote my first story when I was five. It was about a giraffe, a flower, and a butterfly. I vividly recall staring at the “book” I’d created, mesmerized by its magic and power. I was hooked.
Any advice/tips for newbies?
I still think of myself as a newbie. What I would say to others is what I say to myself. Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep believing in yourself. Don’t let rejections define you.
A word that you use way too often? (Mine are “quite” and “probably”)
Lovely. It’s such a *lovely* word, but it can sound a bit antiquated at times.
Last but not least: What’s your favorite type of candy, if you don’t mind me asking?
When I was a kid, Starbursts were it for me, especially the reds. They were my happiness. My ten-year-old self would probably be quite horrified to discover that I don’t eat much sugar these days. I’ve reprogrammed my taste buds.
Leanne Statland Ellis is the author of The Ugly One, a Junior Library Guild selection that is currently on the Illinois Reads 2015 list. The book was inspired by her travels to Peru, where she hiked the Incan trail, had an interesting encounter with a rock at Machu Picchu, and experienced several rehabilitated macaws landing on her head in the Amazon rainforest. She lives in Chicago with her husband, ten-year-old daughter, and a menagerie of beloved pets. Leanne has been teaching third through fifth grade for the past twenty years. She has a lot of love in her heart for her students, who often clamor for her to read her latest project to them in class. Having lived in sunny Los Angeles for many years before moving to Chicago, she has come to realize that it is not a coincidence that her main character worships the sun. You can learn more at LeanneStatlandEllis.com.