Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Spotlight On: Nancy Holzner

I love Spotlight On weeks, it gives me a chance to really get to know some authors and ask the questions to the things that I really want to know about. Today, we welcome Nancy Holzner. I read Deadtown right after Christmas when Nancy and I both participated in BookObsessed's Zombie New Year's Eve Bash and the holiday week leading up to it. I really enjoyed reading Deadtown. The story includes some unexpected twists and turns as well as embracing some higher fantasy elements and mythology within the modern setting. If you have not read Deadtown, you should check it out. In the meanwhile, kick back and get to know Nancy Holzner!

In the early part of the novel, you describe the virus that strikes Boston. The visual and visceral reaction Vicky experiences sucks you right in – why a virus instead of a magical attack?
The main reason I chose a virus to create Boston’s zombies was its ambiguity. Was the virus just a weird mutation? An act of biological warfare? Something else? In Deadtown, no one knows, but as the series continues the origins of the virus become important. That is all I had better say for now. :)


Do you have plans to expand Deadtown into a series? You definitely have the characters and the storyline potential with Vicky and her supporting characters.
Yes, my initial contract with Ace was for two books, and Deadtown’s sequel is with my editor now. I’m currently working on proposals for three more books beyond that. After I’ve got those done, I’ll know whether Vicky’s story ends at that point or keeps going.

Why zombies? Did you enjoy typical zombie fare prior to giving it a fresh spin in your world?
Zombies have tended to belong to horror more than to urban fantasy, although urban fantasy authors like Mark Henry and Mario Acevedo have written about zombies in very fun ways in their books. In Deadtown, I wanted to have a sudden event that forced humans to recognize and deal with the paranormal population that was starting to come forward, and turning a couple thousand Bostonians into zombies seemed like a good way to do it. As for traditional depictions of zombies, I’ve enjoyed Jonathan Maberry’s Pine Deep trilogy; for zombie movies, I like a touch of humor, as in Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. I consider Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the original zombie novel, and it’s one of my favorites.

Vicky's Welsh background is also a fresh spin, embracing the Celtic but avoiding the more traditional Irish, Scottish or English – what intrigued you about Welsh mythology?
I used to be a medievalist, so I’ve read a lot of Arthurian literature, and much of the source material for those stories comes from Welsh legends. When I was thinking about the qualities I wanted my demon-killing protagonist to have, I recalled the legend of Ceridwen and Gwion Bach, which includes a shape-shifting contest. I thought it would be interesting to make Vicky a descendent of Ceridwen and put a slightly different twist on shape shifting. Vicky can change into any creature she wants (or sometimes strong emotion forces a shift), up to three times each lunar cycle. She can shift at any time during the month, but the animal side grows stronger as the full moon approaches. Vicky’s race is called the Cerddorion (ker-THORR-yon), which means “sons of Ceridwen.”

What do you enjoy reading?
I’ll read just about anything. I go through phases when I’ll focus on a particular period or genre. I read a lot of urban fantasy (favorite authors include Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, Devon Monk, and Kim Harrison—who hooked me on urban fantasy when a friend recommended Dead Witch Walking). Mystery is another genre I’ll devour for a while before I move on to something else. But I also like 19th-century fiction, and of course medieval literature. And sometimes the work of a particular author will grab me, and I’ve got to read everything by that author I can get my hands on. Examples that come to mind are Iris Murdoch, Edith Wharton, Ann Patchett, Ian McEwan, Paul Auster, John Gardner, and E.L. Doctorow. (That’s a pretty diverse group, but they’ve all had that effect on me.)

Would you describe a typical working/writing day? What routines or rituals do you observe to get your writing done?
I write how-to and reference books as my day job, so I have to be able to sit down at my desk and get straight to work. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy, of course. For example, there are days when I tell myself I’ll just glance at the headlines and before I know it, an hour and a half has gone by as I read the news. I’ve discovered that I’m not good at multitasking—whether I’m working on fiction or nonfiction, I really need to focus to make progress.

On a typical day, I get up and try to take a walk before breakfast. If I don’t get out and get moving then, it’s easy for the day to get swallowed up by work. I write nonfiction throughout normal working hours—longer if I’m on a deadline. In the evening, my husband and I usually go out to a coffee shop, and I pull out my laptop and write fiction. We both work at home, so we like to get out of the house when it’s time to relax. I get a real left-brain/right-brain workout most days. On the weekends, I spend some daylight hours working on fiction, and we go out and do errands—and even occasionally have some fun. :)

As a writer, what's the most difficult part of the process for you? The creating? The editing? The submitting?
I love both creating and editing. Of those two, I’d say that facing a blank page is a little harder for me. I really enjoy taking something I’ve drafted and shaping it, taking it from a sketch to a scene. Whatever phase of the process I’m in, the hardest thing is often getting started. I can be a world-class procrastinator. What helps is to reread what I worked on the previous day. That usually draws me back into the story.

The very hardest thing, though, is hitting a roadblock in a story and not being sure what caused it. It’s frustrating to feel stuck. I’ve learned that I most often get stuck when I’m being too much The Author and trying to make my characters do something simply because that’s what I’ve decided is supposed to happen next. Relaxing that authorial stranglehold on the characters—watching them instead of directing them—usually gets things moving again.

What's next for you?
Deadtown’s sequel (the title hasn’t yet been finalized) will be out in about a year. As I mentioned earlier, I hope to continue the series for several books after that. I’ve got ideas for other projects, too—possibly a fantasy/ghost story set in the Catskills—but nothing’s fully developed yet. I do plan to write some short stories set in Deadtown’s world and post those on my website.

Your husband is a published author, how do you balance marriage, home and creativity?
It works well for us. Steve is a terrific husband; he’s patient and considerate about the time and effort I need to put into my own writing. As I mentioned earlier, we both work at home, and we each have our own office, so we’ve got our defined workspaces. Although we write different things (he’s exclusively nonfiction, mostly programming and science books with over 130 published titles), we both understand the pressures, the difficulties—and the joys—of writing for a living. So when one of us has a tight deadline or is immersed in a difficult author review, the other can really sympathize. We’ve even coauthored a few nonfiction books. I think it would be fun to write a novel together, but he doesn’t read much fiction.

Author to Author
Rejection is something every author faces, what is the best advice you ever received on handling it?

Don’t take it personally. Rejection can feel very personal, because writing is such a personal act. It’s just you, your characters, and your words—until you give your story to someone else to read. And when that act of reading comes with a judgment, it can be hard to take. I try to deal with rejection and criticism with the attitude that these things come with the territory. All authors face them. So if I’m facing them, I’m doing what other professional writers do. Rejection might be something I’d like to cross out of my job description, but it’s just part of the publishing process. A necessary part.

When I was in graduate school, I had a friend who was trying to get published in academic journals. As soon as she sent out an article to one journal, she’d package up the same article as a submission to the next journal on her list. If a rejection came back, she’d mail the article to the next journal on the same day she got the rejection. No brooding, no tinkering—just trying again. I always admired that approach. I asked her what she’d do if she went through the whole list and no one accepted it. She said she’d either set it aside or rewrite it from scratch. But it never happened. Before she ran out of places to submit to, someone accepted the article. I’ve tried to develop a similar attitude. A rejection feels like a failure, but that’s not necessarily, what it is. It’s part of the process, and you can develop your own process for dealing with it.
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Nancy Holzner began her career as a medievalist, then jumped off the tenure track to try some other things. Besides teaching English and philosophy, she’s worked as a technical writer, freelance editor and instructional designer, college admissions counselor, and corporate trainer. Most of her nonfiction books are published under the name Nancy Conner. Be sure to stop by her website to learn more about her work.

Be sure to stop by tomorrow for Candace Havens, author of the newly released Harlequin BlazeTake Me if You Dare and much, much more.


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