Tuesday, 29 December 2009

INTERVIEW: Nancy Holzner

With the year drawing to a close, readers always love to hear about new talent, so we thought that we'd go out with a bang and whats better than guns, Urban Fantasy and Zombies in Miniskirts? Here with her first Urban Fantasy Nancy brings all this and more to the table, so sit back, grab a beverage of choice and overindulge in the luxurious...

FALCATA TIMES: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

NANCY HOLZNER: Whoever said must have been in the middle of a bad writing patch. There are times, when you’re in the middle of a story and things aren’t yet coming together, when you wonder why the heck you do this. Yet you can’t put it aside, either. The characters stay with you, possible solutions bubble up from somewhere in the subconscious. You dream about the story. Thoughts about it pop into your head while you’re in the shower. Writing can feel like an affliction at those times, because the story isn’t doing what you want but it also won’t leave you alone.

But I don’t agree with that statement because it takes all the joy out of writing. I don’t write because I’m afflicted; I write because there’s nothing more satisfying than the creative process, with all its frustrations and pleasures.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

NH: I’m one of those people who started writing as soon as they could hold a pencil. So I’ve always written, although I went back and forth about whether I wanted to be A Writer. (Yeah, I thought of it with Capital Letters like that.) For a number of years I pursued an academic career, getting a Ph.D. in English and working as an assistant or adjunct professor. While I was doing graduate work and teaching, I didn’t do much creative writing. I loved research and teaching. Teaching was my form of creative play. But seven or eight years ago, I started getting ideas for stories and writing them down. I took an online writing class, and there was no looking back.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

NH: I think short stories and novels are different experiences for both readers and writers. From a reader’s point of view, a short story is kind of like peering through a window into a house, while a novel is like moving in and living there for a while. Both forms contain all the elements of fiction: plot, character, setting, point of view, tone, style, theme, and so on. But short stories use all that in a form that requires a precision almost like poetry. Short stories teach writers not to waste words, and that’s a skill that benefits novelists, too. But I think that writing a novel requires an additional skill, and that’s the ability to sustain a story over hundreds of pages. Short stories don’t teach you how to do that.

That said, I admire short story writers. I think it’s a difficult form to write well. I’m one of those writers whose short stories get longer and longer until I realize that I’m actually writing a novel.

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

NH: Yikes, I’d be very uncomfortable trying to say, “Don’t buy that book, buy mine!” I don’t think I could do that. But I might suggest to people browsing in the science fiction and fantasy section to take a look at Deadtown’s first page and hope that it grabbed them. I’m a lousy salesperson; I think Deadtown can sell itself better than I could ever sell it.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

NH: Shapeshifter Victory Vaughn kills other people’s personal demons for a living. When the Hellion who murdered her father threatens Boston, Vicky must face the demons of her own past.

Okay, I needed more like 30 words, but that’s the best I can boil it down to.

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

NH: I started my career as a medievalist, so all my must-haves are at least 600 years old. The complete works of Chaucer, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Malory’s Morte d’Arthur and a bunch of obscure medieval texts. I’ve got my favorites from every period, which is probably why we’ve got bookcases in every room of the house. I also read pretty widely in urban fantasy—I find the myriad approaches to the genre endlessly fascinating. I’ve got too many favorites to name them all, but I never miss a new book by Ilona Andrews or Devon Monk.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

NH: A little of both. I work with a loose outline that sketches out a novel’s inciting incident, plot points, and climax. The outline helps me get started and gives me goals to write toward, but it’s subject to change as I write. It’s helpful to revisit the outline from time to time during the first draft and to make changes that reflect the unfolding story. Working this way gives me a sense of structure but also lets me be open to surprises along the way.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

NH: I don’t have a lot of downtime. I write how-to and reference books as my day job, and I write fiction every spare minute I can. To clear my head, I’ll take a walk (I live in a wonderfully walkable neighborhood and within walking distance of two waterfalls). For pleasure, I read. But sleeping is the only way I know for sure that I’m relaxing. J I’ve just finished reading Three Days to Dead, Kelly Meding’s debut urban fantasy—fun book.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

NH: Even though I’m a crazed opera fanatic, I sometimes listen to ’80s pop music. (You won’t tell anyone, will you?)

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

NH: I don’t have a pet right now, but I’d love to have a dog. When my daughter was small, we had a border collie named Loki. He was a terrific dog—smart and loyal and loving. I still miss him.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

NH: In Deadtown Tina, Vicky’s teenage zombie apprentice, was a blast to write. She’s kind of a brat; she comes across as shallow and self-centered, and she doesn’t listen, so she gives Vicky a hard time. But she’s also a kid who lost everything when she was zombified. There’s something very brave in the way she insists on being herself, despite the fact that she’s become a monster. Plus she’s just fun. She always surprises me.

FT: How similar to your principal protagonist are you?

NH: Vicky’s a lot more physical than I am. She lives very much in her body; I live more in my head. I think our emotional reactions are similar sometimes, although she’s braver than I am. And she also looks way better in leather jeans than I would.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

NH: I used to call writing fiction a hobby. Even though I’m making some money from it now, it’s still what I do for fun.

FT: Where do you get your ideas from?

NH: Ideas are everywhere; you just have to pay attention. I brainstorm a lot by playing “What if?” When I get the seed of an idea, I ask myself a lot of “What if?” questions to flesh it out and see where it wants to go. I can brainstorm for weeks before I start plotting.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

NH: When it’s time to sit down and write, I can put up a lot of resistance to getting started. But that’s procrastination, not writer’s block. If I get stuck when I’m writing, I usually find it’s because I’m grasping the role of “author” too firmly, trying to make things happen rather than let the story unfold. The best way I’ve found to deal with that is to step back from being the “author” and try to get more fully into the characters’ point of view. I might write out a conversation with the character, for example, or freewrite in the character’s voice.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

NH: I write fiction in the evenings and on weekends. My husband and I both work at home, so in the evenings we go out to a coffee shop and I take along my laptop and write. I’ll write from about eight until ten in the evening—until midnight or later if I’ve got some momentum going.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

NH: I concentrate best when I’m not distracted by sound. I can usually tune out coffee-shop conversation and whatever’s playing over the PA system. But ideally, I like it to be quiet. I can slip inside the story faster that way.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

NH: By the time I sold a novel, I’d written several nonfiction books and before that I’d done some freelance editing, so I was familiar with the basics of the acquisition, editing, and production processes. Fiction publishing moves much more slowly than nonfiction publishing, which made it hard to stay patient at times. With this novel, I’m learning that promotion takes a lot more time and effort than I’d imagined. But it’s also fun.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

NH: Writing is the playground of the imagination—and that’s true for writers and readers both. I love it that I can put words on a page and somewhere, a reader picks it up and lives the story. Readers bring their own experiences and perceptions to the story, so no two people ever read it in the same way. That’s amazing to me.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

NH: Deadtown’s sequel is currently with my editor. In it, actions Vicky took to solve the central problem of Deadtown cause a whole new level of trouble for her, and she has to travel to Wales for further training from her Aunt Mab.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

NH: Facebook. Twitter. Amazon. Sirius Radio’s Metropolitan Opera channel. Gmail.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

NH: When I decided to give writing a serious try, I signed up at Writers Village University (www.wvu.org) and took their free online course. I was in a group of aspiring novelists there for several years and made some really good friends among my critique partners.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

NH: My very first submission was a short story to a small, local literary journal. Not only did they accept it, they made it the first story in the issue. I was thrilled. That gave me a boost that kept me going when the rest of the literary world didn’t follow suit. I try to look at rejection and criticism as part of an author’s life. Those things are part of completing a manuscript, part of having book out there. I want people to read my books, and it follows that not everyone will love them. That’s part of the deal. With criticism, I look to see if there’s something I can learn from it. If so, great. If not, I move on. I’ve never been particularly thick-skinned, though, so thickening my skin is something I’m still working on.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

NH: I’m a full-time author, but right now most of my income comes from writing nonfiction. As a freelance writer, all too often I find that projects tend to bunch up on me, and I end up working frantically trying to meet too-close deadlines on multiple projects. That’s the worst. (But it’s really not a bad thing at all, because multiple projects equal money coming in.) The best aspect is letting the people who live in my head come out and play.

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