It is with pleasure I invite Nancy Christie to my blog today.
1) CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING, FOR EXAMPLE, HAVE YOU WRITTEN ANY BOOKS AND ARE YOU WRITING AT THE MOMENT?
I’ll answer the last question first – I’m always writing! But I do distinguish between my ‘work writing’: – the article writing and copywriting I do to earn a living – and what I call ‘my writing’: my fiction that I do for love, that I have been doing ever since I was seven and wrote my first ‘book’ about a tiny group of people who lived on Tomato Can Lane, (I’m sure I was heavily influenced by Mary Norton’s The Borrowers series.)
(After my mother died I was going through a huge box of papers and cards she had collected for decades and I found a copy of the story. When I am dead and famous, I’m sure it will be worth millions – I’m joking, of course!)
The fact is, if I didn’t have to earn a living writing, fiction is all I would do. It’s just a written version of what I used to do as a child: play ‘let’s pretend’ with my best friend and neighbour, Danny. Back then, kids watched Saturday morning cartoons and Walt Disney on Sunday, and the rest of the time, you were expected to make your own entertainment, mostly outside. Now I am not sure if the generation today plays in sandboxes or even understands what a sandbox is!
Anyway, most of ‘my writing’ is short fiction, although I have completed one novel (as yet unpublished, in case anyone is interested!) and am working on a few others.
Second question: my first book ‘The Gifts of Change’ was published in 2004 by Beyond Words. It was an outgrowth of journal entries I made after my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1999 but it isn’t about her experience but rather my efforts to make sense of a lot of changes happening in a short time: her illness and many other personal events (both happy and painful) that took place within a few years: Elevator Speech: The Gifts of Change is about making the most out of changes that come into your life.
Last year (2013) I had two short fiction e-books published by Pixel Hall Press: ‘Annabelle’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’. This coming summer (2014) Pixel Hall Press is publishing my collection of short stories ‘Travelling Left of Center’, which will include those two as well as others, in both print and e-book format. I can’t wait to hold my book in my hands! It’s incredibly exciting and reaffirming.
2) HOW MUCH RESEARCH AND PREPARATION DO YOU DO BEFORE YOU WRITE? FOR EXAMPLE, DO YOU WRITE CHAPTER PLANS AND CHARACTER PROFILES? DOES ANY OF THIS CHANGE WHILE YOU WRITE?
I never plan out my short fiction. It is pure inspiration. Something will come to me – mostly a line of dialogue or a few sentences of narrative – and I just follow where it leads, I may have some sense of what happens in the end, but the how and why remains a secret until it is written.
Unfortunately, as I learned when I wrote my first novel, ‘Finding Fran’, that does not work as well for novels! I was part way through and realised that I didn’t have a good sense of time – what took place where – and some key facts. I had to go back and do a timeline and character bios!
With my fiction, the characters don’t so much change as evolve. It is not unlike what happens when you first meet someone. You may know a little about that person but then, as the relationship develops, you learn more. That’s what happens with my fiction. Each time I edit or rewrite, I understand more, figure out more, fine-tune more. In retelling the story, I am learning more. It is an exciting journey that doesn’t end until I have learned everything I am supposed to know.
An interesting side note – when I started editing the stories for the collection, my publisher pointed out that I needed to change a few of the character’s names. Apparently, there are some names that I really really, really like. This is fine when the pieces are on their own, but could be a little confusing in a single body of work. Changing names was hard. It’s like changing the name of your child after a few years.
3) DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE TIME TO WRITE> HOW DO YOU BALANCE THIS WITH OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES, SUCH AS WORK OR FAMILY LIFE?
I try to write my fiction first thing in the morning, before I get in the ‘work writing’ mode. If I can get 30 minutes a day of straight fiction writing, I am happy. But I haven’t done so well so far this year. I have a lot on my plate right now – personal and professional – and am focusing on the marketing and promotion strategies for ‘Travelling Left of Center’, which involves a lot of research and blogging and fun stuff like doing interviews and blog posts.
Plus in December of 2013, I created ‘Celebrate Short Fiction’ Day and I have a lot of ambitious plans for this years event, which includes a lot of marketing and promotion and connecting with writers and groups that support short fiction.
But I have written a few new short stories in the past six months or so, plus edited existing ones that have been growing cobwebs on my computer.
Balance? Like most writers it’s an ongoing struggle. Some days, I can balance pretty well. Other days, well…I’m teetering.
4) WHAT PART OF THE WRITING PROCESS DO YOU FIND THE MOST IMPORTANT? FOR EXAMPLE, FIRST DRAFT, EDITING, REWRITING ETC.?
It’s all important! Obviously, if you don’t do the first draft, then you’re dead in the water. But editing is essential – not only to improve the narrative flow and the descriptions, but also to dump all those cliched and hackneyed phrases and overused expressions that creep into the writing.
My dear friend, novelist Morrow Wilson, reads nearly all my short stories, and after he tells me what he liked,he points out where I need to be more original. And he is right – darn him! The trouble is they are so familiar that I don’t even notice it until he points it out! (I’m trying, Morrow, I’m trying!)
As for the stories in ‘Traveling Left of Center’, my publisher and I are going through the editing process right now. It’s interesting to read someone else’s comments and to come to work with fresh eyes.
5) WRITING HAS LOTS OF HIGHS AND LOWS. HOW DO YOU KEEP YOURSELF MOTIVATED?
Well, needing to pay the bills is a real motivator as far as the work writing is concerned! Since this is apparently the only truly marketable skill I have – and quite frankly, the only thing I want to do! – I don’t have much choice but to be motivated! And for the most part, I enjoy the articles and the copywriting projects I get. They are interesting and challenging and afford me the opportunity to meet new people and learn new things.
As for the fiction, I don’t need motivation because I am always writing, either on paper, at the computer or in my head. What is hard though, is when I read about authors who have amassed a huge body of work (and they are my age or younger!) and I think, ‘You are such a slug! Why haven’t you written more? Published more? Gotten a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize or won some major award?’
I used to want to be the youngest successful fiction writer. Now I will settle for being the oldest!
Seriously, though, for me, it’s not about awards or sales or reviews or acclaim. Yes, they would all be nice to put on my website or in my obituary. But what I really want is to write stories I am proud of, write stories about people I care about – even if they are fictional – write stories that, at the end of the day, are the kind of stories I would want to read. Because I am not only the writer, but also the first reader. I write for myself first – to have a story to read – and for anyone else second.
6) DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA AND/OR BLOG? HOW USEFUL DO YOU FIND THIS?
I do blog. In addition to my website. I have four blogs, three focused on writing (Finding Fran, The Writer’s Place and One to One) and one that is more inspirational (Make a Change). I am also active (although not as active as I should be) on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and of course, Twitter (@NChristie_OH)
From a marketing standpoint, they are useful, and the writing blogs are great fun because I get to talk to other writers about their process. But they are also more work to add to my ever-growing list of things to-do.
7) IF YOU COULD PASS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO A NEW WRITER, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Focus on being the best writer you can be – which isn’t the same as being the most prolific or the best-selling or most award-winning. If you truly care about writing – if you want to honour the gift that you have been given – then you will have to be willing to do the labour and devote the time and energy required to create the best work you can. And that means always improving your skills, not letting your ego get in the way, and editing, revising and rewriting until each piece is as polished as it can possibly be.
Thank you to Nancy for answering these questions and I wish you the best of luck for your new collection of short stories, ‘Travelling Left of Center’.
Her website is at: http://www.nancychristie.com/
on Twitter – @NChristie_OH