Welcome to Writers4Higher
This issue, Writers4Higher features
Hi, Nancy. Welcome to the Writers4Higher family!
1. Tell me about yourself. Your book(s), your life, your inspiration.
When I was a little kid, one day I looked at a new thing called television, and it frightened and repulsed me like nothing I’d ever seen in nature. I tried never to look at it again if I could help it. Thus began my lifelong, instinctive avoidance of popular culture in favor of deeper rivers that run quietly, a tendency to stay away from crowds, clear my calendar and to watch birds more than movies.
In my teens, the hodgepodge inside my head began to overflow, so I started to hoard it in notebooks. I made lists of groovy words (yes, I was a hippie), bumper stickers, trenchant graffiti, jump-rope chants, imaginary birds, symbolisms of colors, jewels, planets, animals . . .world without end, and notebooks couldn’t encompass it all, especially not as I studied English Literature in Gettysburg College. In my twenties, living in rural Pennsylvania, I started to write novels – just as a hobby, mind you, another way to fill notebooks. I didn’t have nerve enough to admit, even to myself, that I wanted to be a writer. I just wrote.
I was addicted to my writing; I had to write every day. Writing was my “fix.” Seriously. I did it as an alternative to becoming drowned in Valium. Back then nobody knew much about childhood depression, but in hindsight, I’m sure I had it, and I know darn well that it continued into my adulthood, then intensified when I married and had children. I saw doctors, of course, but frankly, they weren’t much help. Ultimately, it was my writing that saved me.
How? Very briefly, like this: At the time I knew only that I had compulsive daydreams and that I had to get them down on paper by writing fantasy. I didn’t know that the struggling characters were myself and me. I had no idea why I was imagining situations so extreme that my forbidden emotions might actually be allowed to surface. Having depression had made me feel so worthless that I was astonished to be able to sell books such as THE WHITE HART and THE SILVER SUN for publication and even more astounded that people read them. But after the first four or five books I began to realize that, in writing about gallant, loyal, compassionate protagonists I might actually be expressing my own personal values, in which case I was not a bad person. A fan wrote me praising my depictions of friendship and love. Love? Me? Holy catalpas, was I not totally unlovable after all?
Ten fantasy novels gave me a decade of such insights and strengthened me so much that once more I wanted to use my “camera eyes” on the real world. Instead of mythic fantasy, I wrote contemporary fantasy, aka magical realism, set in small towns and shopping malls. I felt so much better that I bought myself a horse, fulfilling a childhood dream, then started writing children’s books and poetry about horses. By now, my kids were in school and I could have found a job, but my royalties made that unnecessary. I wrote, went trail riding with my friends, got back in time to greet my kids when they came home from school, took cross-country camping trips with my family, and kept growing as a person and a writer, venturing into some serious topics in YA, including crime, abduction, missing persons, and mystery.
I realize, writing this, that my life has a different texture than most people’s. It’s not lumped into the dates of new jobs or locations or even publications. On the average I published a book a year, and I lived in central or western Pennsylvania; it didn’t matter where. I do not have a hometown or any sense of belonging to a group. Doris Lessing says writers must create a space, a quiet place in which the voice of story can speak. Having been a loner since childhood, I have space galore. You could plop me down anywhere and I’d find something to look at/write about.
Although not many lumps in my life, there were a few big bumps . My divorce - my husband didn’t like me once I got well and strong. And the empty nest, and menopause, which messed up my body chemistry enough to throw me back into depression for a while.
But by then the doctors were able to help me. Also, I had learned how to look out for myself. Eventually I started going to singles dances – that was weird – where, against all odds, I met my wonderful second husband. We’ve been together for fourteen years now, and he’s the reason I’m living in the Florida panhandle and loving it.
2. Where do you see your writing taking you in the future?
This way of writing is so new to me that it’s hard to say where it may take me. It’s already found me a totally unexpected place as author of a Publishers Weekly “Soapbox.” I have a feeling I may be doing more blogging, social outreach, and writing about writing. But I’m also working on my current novel, just a little differently. For once, I’m taking my time.
3. How do you use your talents/time to help others?
I volunteer for the local library, and back in Pennsylvania I volunteered at an animal shelter and a horse rescue, at a community center thrift shop, at March of Dimes Horseback Riding for the Handicapped . I’ve heard that one of my books, COLT, has influenced at least one young reader to make equine therapy her career. Other fans have let me know that my books inspire them or console them. This always surprises me, but I hope my books do help people somehow.
I don’t know whether the following counts as help or annoyance, but as I’ve gotten older, past middle age, I’ve become willing to deploy my mouth in public. If I hear anyone calling a boy “girly,” I speak up: “That is a huge compliment.” Last week I heard a woman say, “Children are people, too,” and a man answer, “No, not really.” I turned on him like a mother bear protecting her cubs. Poor guy, he said he was joking, and I do have a sense of humor, but a joke is seldom just a joke. When I was a kid, people joked about women drivers. Now they don’t anymore. They know it isn’t fair to put women down. I wish they wouldn’t joke about children either.
Or about mental illness.
Occasionally I say so. I know I’m opening a can of anacondas whenever I speak up, so I try to be discreet, but there it is: I really want to help get rid of the stigma and ignorance that still darken the lives of people with psychological disorders. I’ve tried to do this through writing, but the topic does not seem to be marketable, or maybe I’m too close to it. What I can do is tell my story in venues such as this. My writer-for-higher purpose can be to show that mental illness is just that, a sickness, a normal challenge of the human condition, and it can be treated and cured..
I’d like to thank this wonderful blog for allowing me that opportunity.
Would you like to find Nancy?
Check out the links to this talented author:
Fiction with a Southern Twist