YEM Author Interview: Theresa Nellis chats about how she takes inspiration from her students for her books

Theresa Nellis is the author of Keeper of the Mirror: The Portly Lady. Keeper of the Mirror: The Portly Lady follows Peter Powell as he sets off on his own to rescue his father from the Other World. The book explores love tangled with jealousy—layered with a dark desire for power and what happens when your bloodline becomes your deathline. YEM was able to speak to Theresa about discussing her books with her students, writing for a young adult audience, and her passion for animals and animal rights.

Young Entertainment Mag: Do you remember the first time that you knew you wanted to be an author?

Theresa Nellis: I wanted to be an author in first grade, but I was a struggling reader (thus, a struggling writer). I was pulled out for specialized reading instruction. With a lot of support from my mother and teachers, I mastered the written code. I obtained a Ph.D., became a teacher, and later published a fantasy series.

Now, I share this with my students so they can see the value of perseverance. That’s also why I wrote the Keeper of the Mirror series.

YEM: Keeper of the Mirror: The Portly Lady is finally out, how does it feel to have people reading it after having worked on it?

Theresa: It’s like going past a car accident. You can’t help but look, but your stomach gets that uncomfortable, queasy feeling with each glance.

YEM: Can you tell us about Keeper of the Mirror: The Portly Lady?

Theresa: I first envisioned this greedy woman who’d just as soon devour a foster kid as she would a roast beef sandwich on rye. From that point on, her name stuck like a rat’s tail between her large front teeth. Huh?—Book 3, peeps! It’s nearly ready to launch.

YEM: As a teacher do you take inspiration from your students at times for any of the characters in your books?

Theresa: About 75% of the time, the snarkiness just hits my head like a baseball at Yankee Stadium (well, before all the fanfare, lawsuits, and nets). Besides, all the best teachers are a bit crazy—or is that just something I tell myself? After talking with tiny humans all day, the mutual brain training is quite evident—don’t you think?

The dedication for my first book reads as follows:

For My Students

—who were the inspiration for my dark humor—sorry!

YEM: Do your students often read your books and discuss them with you?

Theresa: Yes, they do discuss my books with me. They want me to name the characters after them. I will do no such thing. I’ve told them no because then I can’t murder my darlings.

YEM: Why do you enjoy writing for young adult audiences?

Theresa: I have received feedback about this from parents. Although my books are intended for both male and female readers, I have received a lot of great feedback from parents of boys. Their reluctant readers just don’t enjoy reading. This series—and all its snarkiness—was right up their alley. Parents, I’ve got your back on this one. Keep your kids reading all the way through to the end of Book 3!

Theresa Nellis

YEM: What is your advice on creating a fantasy world such as the one you created in Keeper of the Mirror: The Portly Lady?

Theresa: It’s important to use the setting as much as possible to build lush details for your story. Use sensory details to pull your reader into the experience with you.

YEM: What is your personal favorite genre to write?

Theresa: I’m right where I belong!

YEM: As someone who is an animal lover and passionate about animal rights, how often do you incorporate dogs into your books?

Theresa: Years ago, I had a goofy boxer who embodied every nonmagical trait Sully has. A scene from The Book of Peter is a true mark of a boxer.

“Peter drags his feet along the tattered old sidewalk and nearly trips over a particularly tall group of weeds that had forced their way through the cracks. Sully examines the weeds, does a few quick circles, and relieves himself. Omar walks up behind the dog, plucks a reed, puts it into his mouth, and feverishly chews on it as they walk” (p. 133).

YEM: How do you decide what you are going to write your book about? Is that a difficult process?

Theresa: I’m what they’d call a “plotter,” but I also do a fair bit of “pantsing” as I write. I’m the crazy person up at 2 am writing an action scene. I also have music playlists to help put me in the mood for my current scene.

YEM: How has your work as a social worker inspired your writing?

Theresa: As a teacher and former social worker of twenty-five years, I have worked with thousands of children. Children who had the cruel hand of life slapped sharply against their tiny little faces at every turn. Many scenarios found in my fictional writing have layers of truth webbed within my dark magical lore. For example, Huxley’s three-time hand-me-down clothes dripped off him as he cried while he forced himself to eat scraps from a trash can. Or all the bicycles that would be sold the day after Christmas for parents or other caregivers to purchase many a crack bag is an accurate depiction for those foster children entering the system.

YEM: Is there a genre of writing that you would like to try out in the future that you have not yet?

Theresa: I have an informational text for parents on how to engage their reluctant readers. I have also started my next dark fantasy series that includes vampires, Valkyries, werewolves, fairies, dragons, and pixies. Oh, my!

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