Today I have a Q&A with Nancy Christie where she talks about her new collection of short stories Traveling Left of Center which is published on 9th September, and tells us about her perfect writing day.
1. About TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER AND OTHER STORIES
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.
2. You made a reference to your “short fiction”—does that mean there is a novel or two kicking around in your writer’s closet? And are those characters damaged as well?
Yes—two that I have finished and several more in various stages of creation. And no, those characters are more normal (whatever that means!) although they too have their own battles. But those battles are, in a sense, more conventional—trying to figure what they want out of life, trying to carve a new identity and role when circumstances alter.
I don’t think I could sustain a story line like “Annabelle” for fifty or sixty-thousand words. It’s not a writing thing but a temperament thing—it would exhaust me psychologically to become so immersed for so long in that type of story. When I write, I live with my characters. It would be too draining to live with Annabelle or Sarah in “Skating on Thin Ice” for months or years on end.
3. How long have you been writing? When did you start? Why did you start —what triggered your writing?
I was always a reader—the best gift anyone could give me was a book—so I would imagine that influenced me. And as a child, my next-door neighbor Danny and I were always making up stories, acting out scenarios, creating our own worlds out in the woods. From making up stories to writing them down was a natural progression. I wrote my first short story (actually I called it a book—it even had a cover!) in second grade.
There’s a lot to be said for not having all those electronic games that only require button pushing. When children are left to their own devices and have nothing but their imagination to work with, they can be very creative.
4. Why do you write fiction?
To understand what I see or feel or am going through. To serve as a conduit for imagined characters whose voices are as loud to me as those of real people. To play with “what if” without exposing myself to any real danger—physical, mental, emotional, psychic. To escape—but I’m not sure if it’s a case of “escaping to” or “escaping from”! To get it out to make more room for new “its”—while fearing all the time that there are no more “its” left to make room for!
Do you have any writing totems? Superstitions? Strange routines? Things you do or have to have around you when you begin your writing process?
No. I was cured of having requirements when I worked for the newspaper part time and had two kids and a fulltime job. I have written everywhere and anywhere: in hospital waiting rooms—and more than once, in patient rooms!—airports, hotel rooms, in a temporary office in my basement surrounded by workers who were jackhammering a floor, at a cottage by the beach (the kids were swimming but I was working), in a fabulous room at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, California. That suite was wasted on me, by the way—all I did was sit with my laptop and pound away at the keys! I might as well have been in some cheap roadside motel!
5. Do you have an agent?
I have a foreign rights agent—Sylvia Hayse—but not one for domestic sales. I would like to have an agent because I know enough to know I don’t know as much as I should about the business side of being a published author. And even though both my publishers—Beyond Words and Pixel Hall Press—have done right by me, I would still prefer to have an agent.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Finally what do you want your writer’s epitaph to be?
Just two words: “Fiction Writer”
About the author:
“Nancy Christie is a professional writer, whose credits include both fiction and non-fiction. In addition to her fiction collection, TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER, and two short story e-books, ANNABELLE and ALICE IN WONDERLAND (all published by Pixel Hall Press), her short stories can be found in literary publications such as EWR: Short Stories, Hypertext, Full of Crow, Fiction365, Red Fez, Wanderings, The Chaffin Journal and Xtreme.
Her inspirational book, THE GIFTS OF CHANGE, (Beyond Words/Atria) encourages readers to take a closer look at how they deal with the inevitability of change and ways in which they can use change to gain a new perspective, re-evaluate their goals and reconsider their options. Christie’s essays have also appeared in Woman’s Day, Stress-Free Living, Succeed, Experience Life, Tai Chi and Writer’s Digest. She is currently working on several other book projects, including a novel and a book for writers. A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and Short Fiction Writers Guild (SFWG), Christie teaches workshops at writing conferences and schools across the country and hosts the monthly Monday Night Writers group in Canfield, Ohio. Visit her website at http://www.nancychristie.com or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or at her writing blogs: Finding Fran, The Writer’s Place and One on One.”