Posted on October 18, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

Marketing isn’t cheap, and it can be hard to set yourself apart from the crowd even if you’ve got deep pockets.

Yet Ebony McKenna found a way to resolve both of those dilemmas: Appear on a game show.

Right before the fourth and final installment of her Ondine series came out, she tried out for and was accepted onto Australia’s Million Dollar Minute quiz show.

McKenna’s plan was to plug her quirky fairytale books starring a 15-year-old named Ondine — any cash winnings would be a bonus.

Million Dollar Minute pits three contestants against one another with rapid-fire questions; at the end of the night, the winner has one minute to answer five more questions.

A perfect score means you can take the cash and head home, or you can sign on for another night on the show — giving you a chance to win more but also risking what you already have. The goal is to hang on long enough to fight for $1 million.

McKenna didn’t make it that far, but she survived four nights — and had a blast. She told us about that experience as well as her less-intense (though no less interesting!) writing career recently.

SADYE: Can you tell us a little bit about your Million Dollar Minute experience?

EBONY: Most quiz shows around the world have similar audition processes. There will be a room full of hopefuls, and you’ll answer about forty questions.

Then they’ll mark your answers and start weeding people out — usually (this sounds terrible) they knock back the grey retired blokes. They also weed out the people who don’t do what they’re asked, like if they call your name and you say, “in a minute” and make them wait.

The more other people messed up and irritated the producers, the better my chances of getting on the show! My advice to anyone going on a quiz show that begins with a “cattle call”? Do what they ask.

A few weeks later, I was called in for a taping. ... I was seated between two very competitive young men — the champ and another challenger — and all I could do was hit the buzzer if I even had a clue what the answer would be. I figured I had one shot so I’d give it my best.

It was insane and hectic and my adrenaline was so high I really can’t remember much. All I can remember is at the end of the night the host said I’d won and I think I squeaked! ...

I managed to win the second and then the third game, but at the end of game three I stuffed up the questions in the minute. It was too late to ask if I could take the money I'd won the night before (ah well!).

By the fourth episode my brain wasn’t processing much. I’d been up since 6 a.m. and hadn’t slept much the night before (from nerves and excitement). Even though I lost, I still took home some winnings I’d picked up along the way.

I have so much respect for people who can keep coming back and have their brains still working, because mine was AWOL!

SADYE: You wrote a few novels before the Ondine series, but they didn’t end up being published — what was different about the Ondine series?

EBONY: The main difference between Ondine getting published as opposed to the others was that I finished it! But also, I think I stopped trying to impress everyone else with how “clever” I could be and simply wrote something that was fun, which amused me and made me giggle.

I was previously writing serious science fiction “epics.” I still love them, and maybe one day I’ll fix them so they’re good enough to publish. But the Ondine books — and others since then — have been much more “me.” Well, the “me” I wish I’d been as a teenager: clever and witty and coming up with brilliant solutions.

SADYE: What is it like switching from adult to YA fiction?

EBONY: The most challenging part of writing for teens and young adults is the absolute honesty required. (Which is bizarre considering the Ondine novels feature a talking ferret as the male love interest.)

Teens can sniff a phony at twenty paces. They can tell if you’re patronizing them or trying too hard. So although you can have a crazy premise, the reactions and emotions of the characters in your teen book have to be completely honest.

The best part about YA fiction is reliving those wonderful “firsts.” Your innocent childhood is more or less over; now you’re growing up. You’re expected to behave like an adult, but you’re still being treated like a kid. I loved reliving those awkward, exciting and sometimes scary “firsts” that come along during the teen years.

SADYE: Was it emotional for you to wrap up the series?

EBONY: To be honest, it was both painful and a pleasure to wrap up Ondine. Book four took so long to write (about eighteen months) because I wanted it to be absolutely perfect. I wanted to wrap up all the loose ends and give Ondine and Hamish a fitting ending — but I didn’t want it to be rushed or feel as if the solutions were too easy. That would have been insulting to the readers.

The best part about writing book four was to re-read the earlier books, looking for clues I’d subconsciously put there. There was a lot of back and forth to make sure everything felt consistent and logical.

There were moments I cried while writing, because it was so emotional to say goodbye to these wonderful people who’d been part of me for nearly a decade.

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Learn more about Ebony McKenna on her website; like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. Her books can be purchased on her website.

Know an author you'd like to see featured? Email sadye (at) with a recommendation!

Categories: Author Interview

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