Q. Nancy, the characters in the stories all seem a little (in some case, a lot!) wounded or vulnerable. What draws you to write about these types of characters?
I’m not entirely sure. It’s not like I set out to write stories about odd, eccentric or unstable people. It’s just, for some reason, I am drawn to those types of people—perhaps it’s one of those “There, but for the grace of God” things.
My fiction—or at least, my short fiction—tends to be about people who are damaged in some way: by what they have done to themselves or by what was done to them, by what they have received, what they gave up, or what was taken from them. They are, for the most part, struggling to navigate through dangerous waters. Some survive and move forward toward land, some are just treading water, and some don’t even know that they have lost the battle and are, even now, drowning.
I feel sorry for those people, wish I could do something for them, and perhaps, in the writing of their stories, that is what I am doing. Because somewhere out there, there is a real person who is held in thrall by his or her obsessions, who is controlled by past or present circumstances, who wants to live a happy, normal, balanced life but finds that the tightrope of life vibrates too much and maintaining equilibrium is but a dream.
“Dream”—and there it is again. The idea of what we want and what we have. For some of us—perhaps for most of us—the former is the dream and the latter is the reality and never the twain shall meet.
Q. Dreams and dreaming figure into several of your stories—“Misconnections” and “Beautiful Dreamer,” to name two. Did you “dream” these stories? And what kind of dream history do you have?
Actually, ever since I was little, I have been an active dreamer. The description of her children’s nocturnal activities in “Misconnections” is taken from my own life. I was (and, when I am very tired or stressed, still am) a sleepwalker and sleep-talker, and prone to dreams that are so real that, when I wake up, I’m not entirely sure if it was a dream or not! And sometimes, the images in the dreams do end up being part of a story. As a matter of fact, the dream image the character has of the little child in “Misconnections” came from one of my own dreams! Unfortunately, I am unable to dream on command—if I could, I would have lots more stories!
Q. Where did the idea of the cover art for TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER come from?
From the very beginning—even before I knew it would be a book!—I had an image in mind for the book cover. The cover is a literal interpretation of each character’s metaphorical journey on the road of life. Some of them zig-zag across the center line only to pull back to the right side at the last moment, while others cross once and never make it back in time. And then, there are the few who are merrily driving right down the center, every now and then drifting first to the left and then to the right, blissfully unaware that they are courting disaster. When I shared the concept with my publisher, it took only a few tweaks before we had the “ah hah!” moment and said “This is it!” and after a few revisions, we successfully “birthed” this book cover!
Q. What was your “writer dream”—your goal— when you began to write? Has it changed over the years?
I don’t think I had a dream. Certainly, I never pictured myself holding a book with my name on it. Writing is such a natural part of me that I never thought about it as an occupation or a goal, any more than I would think about breathing as a profession. It was just something I did.
Of course now, with two books—TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER and my non-fiction book, THE GIFTS OF CHANGE— in print and two short stories as e-books plus others that have been published in literary journals, I do have a dream or two. Great reviews in The Times. Accolades from well-known literary fiction writers. An award or two to stick somewhere on my bookshelf—next to about a dozen foreign translations of my collection!
Or maybe my accountant telling me that my royalties have pushed me into a different income bracket!
Q. What does writing fiction bring into your life?
It is less a question of writing fiction as recounting what my characters choose to tell me. I am their conduit, their confidante; I wait for their stories and then do my best to put them in written form so others can understand what they have done, what they have experienced and why they are the way they are.
Writing fiction gives me the freedom to imagine certain circumstances and scenarios, and then watch my characters cope with them. Of course, that freedom comes at a price—the cost being an inability to let go of the characters, to close the book on them, so to speak. They become real to me and so, years after I have written about them, I grieve for lonely, lost Annabelle, for Connie who gives to the children as a way of coping with her empty life, for Sara’s mother, who longs to turn back the clock and hold her daughter once again.
In a sense, fiction is also my coping strategy. Like most people, I have had my share of pain and loss, disappointment and heartbreak. Many times, I will use fiction as a way to heal. The stories, while not necessarily mirroring my own experiences, do explore the attendant emotions. I watch from a distance, as my characters deal with their own private anguish, and little by little come closer, until eventually, I can allow myself to face my own. Their grief and pain becomes mine—we share, and in that sharing, I can move on.
Q. What stimulates your creativity or serves as a writing inspiration?
I wish I knew what triggers my writing! Then I would make sure I had more of it! Probably dialogue—most of my stories start with conversations—between two people or internal ones—so probably a good round of eavesdropping can really start the mind running.
Do you have a theme you return to time and again?
Probably change. I mean, that is the constant we all face, isn’t it? We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can control everything that happens to us. So, that being the case, what do we do? How do we handle change—happy change, sad change, confusing change? That’s the predicament my characters find themselves in.
Conversely, what creates a major writer’s block for you?
Thinking about what other writers—writers younger than me!—have accomplished. Worrying that some reviewer will consider my fiction amateurish or boring. Even getting good reviews scares me a bit—they are so complimentary that I start wondering if they were talking about some other Nancy Christie who wrote some other really great book!
Q. Based on your own experience, what tips do you have for authors who are preparing for their “maiden voyage” on the sea of publication?
Know how to market, how to promote yourself. Get your website ready. Be available and accessible to the media and to bloggers who want to interview you. Know the writing business—which is not the same as being able to write.
Q. How do you define success as a writer? What makes you feel successful as a writer?
When someone reads a story I wrote and finds something in it that I hadn’t even realized I put there. It’s as though they uncovered some hidden piece of gold, some shiny jewel and told me about it. It becomes an interactive experience.
Q. Conversely, what makes you feel like a failure, and how do you combat that?
When I can’t write. I start to write and get stuck or can’t even get started. Then I am convinced that the last thing I wrote will be the last thing I write. It’s an ugly black hole and I have to crawl out of it.
Q. What is your idea of a perfect writing day?
No phone calls, No interruptions. The sound of the waves outside my window. Lots of coffee. And lots and lots of words pouring out of my head and onto the paper—the majority of which are half-way decent.
Q. What do you want your writer’s epitaph to be?
Just two words: “Fiction Writer”