Monday, May 28, 2012

RIP: Miz Ellen

What I remember first about Miz Ellen was how she made me laugh. Her ready and incisive wit made me an instant fan. One of her last quips was related to Mondrian's "Trafalgar Square," which I finally got to see in Atlanta this past year: "As for Mondrian--he was just giving us a good line..." 

 We met as reviewers for the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards contest. She was spot-on with her comments about the contestants' writing, but she handled herself with graciousness, tact, and humor. I was honored when she extended her friendship.

Of course, I knew she was a writer. If she wasn't, I was going to tell her she should be. So, I'm stealing her own words from an email to me after I lost a dear friend last year. They say it better than I ever could--and Ellen won't have a chance to speak again. 
"Words fail. I can only reach out in compassion. The Buddha knew what he was talking about when he said, 'Attachment causes suffering.' It took me years to realize that this did not mean we had to root out the love we felt in our heart." Ellen Mizell – October 2011
But who could resist getting attached to Ellen? She was familiar to me from the beginning. Her life motto was at least word-for-word what my grandfather Mac used to tell me growing up. "Learn something new every day. It keeps you growing."

Ellen didn't just learn herself. She was an excellent teacher. Here's more of her wisdom culled from emails and her blog:

"Life and age and illness will impose limits on our endeavors; death is the ultimate stillness. But if we sit still, open, listening, the universe or God or Enlightenment might have a chance to catch up to us. I have been more alive since I have learned stillness; my mind can take me further than any plane ever will." 
"To anticipate life like that is to fail to live it fully. Waiting should be a process, not a pause. Good things do come to those who sow the seeds and wait for the harvest to come in. It takes discipline and faith to live in the moment, to embrace waiting and to use it to advance our spiritual progress." 
"Sadly, lying is against my religion. Dang religion. Christians can just have faith; to be Buddhist you have to practice. I need lots more practice…"
"Don't be afraid to take your new project slowly and think what you want to do...or to give your characters some slack to see what happens." 
"I start to see how good editing makes the good sublime." 
Here’s an example from Ellen’s own work that I think of every time I brew a cup of tea, which happens to be most every day.
“Black tea, grown in China, blended and processed in England. Teahouses, trade wars, and a great world empire. A world in a cup.” 
This came from the first book of hers I read, a space-opera, which she abandoned for a paranormal fantasy series. These lines so beautifully described an ordinary experience that it's haunted me and driven me to write cleaner and more economically. And like Ellen, to make the ordinary extraordinary.

Knowing as a writer she needed a presence on the Web, Ellen moved into blogging. Her blog, The Final Word, isn’t just about writing, though, it’s about all aspects of life and death. 

Being Ellen, she was hungry for ideas. She asked for suggestions. Then, she dared me to argue with her on every topic from Congress to Capitol Punishment. The one topic we just didn't agree on was toilet paper:

Ellen was also one of the bravest souls I’ve known. I don’t know if she knew her death was imminent, but she touched on passing in all of her Tiffany DeWeese novels.

Her last novel, Spirit Horse, had a passage which I will never forget.
"For a wonder, no other spirits crowded up to use the gate and I stood alone in the otherworldly light. The gate beckoned, opening on a distant vista of green pastures, sparkling brooks and tall stately trees. I smiled: today my view of heaven looks just like Kentucky horse country. Tomorrow it will be something different." 
I’m leaving you with Ellen’s last words from the same comforting email she sent me in October 2011. I believe she would want to say this to everyone she cared about:
"One can not love a butterfly by grabbing it and holding your hand, open your heart and let all the people, animals and spirits that you love go free."  Ellen Mizell, October 2011 

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012


  1. Becky, this was beautiful. And I think Memorial Day was the perfect day to post it. There are a lot of kinds of soldiers and Ellen was brave and true--the best kind.

  2. Hart, Thank you so much for your comments. I went through all of Ellen's email and a lot of her blog to find the things she'd said that left an impression on me. I definitely felt like her words were better than mine. You know, I still miss her every day.