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Interview with Nancy Christie

She is the award-winning author of two short story collections: Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories and Peripheral Visions and Other Stories-both published by Unsolicited Press and three nonfiction books: the inspirational/motivational book, The Gifts Of Change (Atria/Beyond Words) and two books for writers: Rut-Busting Book for Writers and Rut-Busting Book for Authors (both by Mill City Press).

Her short stories have appeared in literary publications including Ariel Chart, One Person’s Trash, Two Cities Review, Talking River, Edify Fiction, Toasted Cheese, Wanderings, The Chaffin Journal, and Down in the Dirt, among others, with several earning contest placements.

A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Florida Writers Association, she teaches writing workshops at conferences, libraries, and schools. She is also the host of the Living the Writing Life podcast and the founder of the annual Celebrate Short Fiction” Day.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
If I hadn’t become a writer, I would have liked to have been an archeologist. Even as a child, the idea of uncovering past lives-of finding people long dead, and learning how they lived-fascinated me. I suppose in a way that’s what my fiction does: it reveals the lives of people that no one knew about and tells their stories: what motivated them, what they feared, whom they loved.

Q.2 Do you have any upcoming books?
I’m working on my second novel while waiting (and waiting and waiting!) to hear back on the pitches I sent out on my first one. I’m also writing stories for a holiday short fiction collection I’m putting together. I love Christmas so it’s fun to write stories centered around that season!

Q.3 When did you decide to write Peripheral Visions and Other Stories?
I had been compiling stories for this collection (my second) for quite a few years, but I couldn’t complete the book until I did the final edits of the title story. This involved re-creating the road trip that Lena, the main character, took from Ohio to St. Augustine to make sure I had the geographic details correct.

After my father’s death in 2015-I had been his caregiver for several years-I finally did the drive to finish the research. But I also found that the trip and the solitude (it was a solo drive) helped me deal with the loss of my father.

Interestingly, years earlier when I had started working on the title story about an older woman (Lena) who is diagnosed with cancer, both my parents were in good health. Subsequently, they each developed cancer-my mother in 1999 and my father in 2013-which was the cause of death for both: my mother in 2005 and my father ten years later. In an odd way, I feel like writing about Lena helped me deal with the loss of my parents.

Q.4 How do you come up with the name of your books?
The title for my first collection, Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories, came from a line in the title story. The main character was in the hospital after giving birth to her second child-by Baby Daddy #2, as they say. When her mother came to visit her, she says to her daughter (with love yet in frustration), “On the highway of life, you’re always traveling left of center.” That became the theme for the stories in the collection: characters who either can’t or won’t get a handle on their lives and so are always traveling “left of center.”

The title for Peripheral Visions and Other Stories also was inspired by a story in that collection-specifically, the choices that Lena was making for her life with what little time she had left. It’s about the importance of following your heart and going after your goals whether you are 20 or 40 or 70-of seeing the possibilities that exist in the periphery rather than settle for what’s right in front of you. And of believing that it’s never too late to go after what you most desire.

Q.5 If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Probably the same thing I find myself telling me now: don’t compare yourself to other writers, don’t judge your success against other writers, don’t evaluate your creative abilities by the number of books you sell or awards you win or anything else. Only measure yourself against the writer you were yesterday and strive to be better each day: push the envelope, reach higher, work harder.

Q.6 How do you select the name of your characters?
They pretty much name themselves, although sometimes I do look through a list of names until I find one that sounds right. Unfortunately, there are some names like “Sara” and “Paul” that I am very fond of, which leads to the same names showing up in multiple stories, even though the characters are different.

This created a problem when Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories was in pre-publication revision. I needed to change some character names to keep readers from being confused-not an easy thing to do since it was like re-naming one of my kids!

Q.7 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
I have published five so far: the two short story collections I already mentioned, two books for writers-Rut-Busting Book for Writers and Rut-Busting Book for Authors-and my first book, The Gifts of Change, an inspirational book about making the most of the changes that come into your life, even the ones you didn’t ask for and certainly don’t want.

As for favorites, while I am proud of all my books, I have to say that my two fiction collections are closest to my heart. I love writing fiction-short or long-form-and would like nothing better than to spend my time only doing that.

Q.8 How long does it take you to write a book? Also, how do you deal with the change of genres?
The two short story collections came together over a period of years-decades, really, since the oldest story in the first collection was drafted in the late 1980s. I had never planned on putting together a collection. I was just writing stories. The two books for writers each took about a year, between writing and interviewing contributors.

The Gifts of Change came from a series of journal entries that I began writing when my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. I had a few excerpts published individually, and then decided to pitch it as a book. It was published by Beyond Words in 2004-the year before my mother died.

Switching genres wasn’t hard to do since I only work on one book at a time, but it definitely makes marketing trickier. Am I a fiction writer? An inspirational writer? A writer of books on writing?

I have had to balance my social media and other marketing strategies between my nonfiction persona and my fiction persona. My writing books often lead to talks and workshops, which gives me an opportunity to sell all my books to the attendees.

But I don’t do fiction writing workshops so I have had to come up with other ways to promote those books, such as doing YouTube videos where I read an excerpt from one of the stories and then share what inspired that specific piece.

Q.9 What were your feelings when your novel was getting ready to be released?
Until that moment, I hadn’t actually thought about what it meant to have the book out in public. I had been so focused on finishing the edits and trying to learn what to do in terms of marketing and promotion that the reality of having my book out there didn’t hit me at first.

The book is so personal-the essays in it are about me and my life and my experiences-that when I realized that the book would be read by total strangers, I had an almost irresistible urge to yank it away and hide it. I had to get over it and let it go. And I’m glad I did. I heard from a lot of women that reading the book helped them, which was very gratifying.

The funny thing is, it’s not like I ever really wanted to be an author. I had been a freelance writer and was used to interviewing all kinds of people-famous and not-famous-and telling their story. I never thought about being the person who would be interviewed. That was a huge identity shift! I’m still more comfortable asking the questions rather than answering them!

Q.10 Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?
My next big goal is to have one of my novels published. I’ve sent one out there and am awaiting responses, a second novel is undergoing edits, and several more are in various stages of completion. My novels are all lighthearted women’s fiction-not romance, though, because I just can’t write love stories!-about women who are navigating through unexpected changes in their lives and finding their inner “moxie”: their strength and courage and resilience.

Q.11 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
Hmmm… not really. I have had to learn to write when and where I can. In the beginning, when I had two young kids and was working two jobs, I didn’t have the luxury of only writing when the conditions were “right.” It was more a case of steal a minute here, an hour there.

And now, I have to write my fiction in between writing for a living (I’m a copywriter by trade) because copywriting was what paid the bills. Still does.

So, it is more about doing it when I can, and not worrying whether I have the right pen or paper or music or whatever. I have written in airport terminals, in hospital rooms, and once, in the bathroom of a hotel perched on a toilet seat because that was the only working outlet where I could plug in my laptop!

I’m very focused and disciplined. I have a schedule for my own writing-first thing in the morning, usually around 6 AM-and then a few hours later, I switch to doing client work to pay the bills. I also work on my own writing on weekends as well as doing marketing for my books. Basically, I am always writing!

Q.12 Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?
Yes, I do because I have had it happen to me. What works for me is to set the project aside and go do something mindless and physical: run the sweeper, go for a walk, mow the lawn. Usually, the problem resolves itself and then I can come back and start writing.

On those rare occasions when I can’t get past it, I just save the story and start working on another one. (I have a lot of stories in various stages of completion.)

However, when it comes to client projects, there is no such thing as writer’s block since the deadline is staring me in the face. I learned that when I worked at the newspaper. No editor wants to hear “Sorry, have writer’s block.”

Q.13 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I haven’t written a lot of short stories featuring male protagonists, but when I have, they just came to me fully formed, so to speak. It was like I knew them already-or someone like them-so I didn’t have to really think about it. But I don’t think I could write a novel with a male as the main character. (Of course, now that I have said that, I am tempted to try to do it…)

Q.14 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
Too many to have just one favorite so here are a few: Alice in Wonderland-my favorite childhood book and one I still read from time to time.

A Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin because it’s like reading a tapestry. So many storylines all woven together so perfectly. Each time I read it, it’s like wrapping myself in a beautiful cloth.

The Writer On Her Work-Vol 1, edited by Janet Sternburg, because it spoke to me in a way that made me believe I could be a writer and that I wasn’t alone, that there were other writers who have felt the way I felt about writing.

Agatha Christie’s autobiography because of her very practical approach to viewing writing as an income source. Until I read that book, I never thought I could make a living as a writer, but she gave me the encouragement I needed.

Q.15 How does your family/friends feel about your book or writing venture in general?
My parents were very supportive of my writing, although I think they were surprised when my first book came out. (I was, too!). And they were also very supportive of me starting a freelance writing career, even though they knew how risky it was to be self-employed. But they believed in me and that was important to me.

Q.16 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
It would be so much easier if I did! I am definitely a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. With my short stories, I never know how they will end until I get to the end.

And when I started writing novels, I followed the same process. I didn’t plan out the scenes in advance, didn’t have a list of characters and a detailed biography for each, and wasn’t sure what the various plot points would be. I just started writing, and once the first draft was completed, I went back through it multiple times to smooth out the rough edges and add scenes and secondary characters that I thought would advance the story.

Of course, this meant I had to make notes on the fly, or I could end up with a character who was allergic to shellfish (mentioned in Chapter 2) eating a shrimp cocktail in Chapter 8!

Q.17 What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Don’t put all your attention on finding an agent or deciding how you are going to publish (traditional or self-publishing) or on writing X number of books in X number of months. So often I see posts on social media like the following: “I’ve never written anything before and I don’t really know how to write, but can someone give me advice on how to get published/get an agent/sell a ton of books?”

That’s putting the cart before the horse.

Start by learning your craft and becoming the best writer you can be. That means taking courses or reading books on writing or getting feedback (not just compliments!) on your work. Push yourself. Stretch yourself. Always try to be a better writer today than you were yesterday.

Q.18 Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
That is a frightening thought because writing is what I do instinctively. I am always making up stories. So not writing ever again would never be a choice for me. If I couldn’t write, then there would be nothing for me to do or be. I’ve been writing since I was a child. It’s all I know. It’s who I am-a writer.

Q.19 Who designed your book covers?
My publisher, Unsolicited Press, did the covers for my story collections, Beyond Words did The Gifts of Change, and I worked with Mill City Press to come up with a cover for the two writing books.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far.
In so many ways it has been better than I ever dreamed it could be. Writing, and then being able to share what I write, is so fulfilling and rewarding. I never want it to stop. And God willing, it won’t.

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  1. Thanks so much for having me as your guest. I love talking about my work and writing in general!

  2. Nancy, you are an inspiration to all of us writers. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insights. And thank you, Aakanksha, for interviewing such a knowledgeable and interesting writer.

    1. Thanks so much, but all the credit goes to Aakanksha. Answering her questions made me realize things about my writing life that I hadn't really thought about.