Guest Interview with Nancy Holzner

Today on What the Cat Read, we have the wonderful Nancy Holzner joining us as part of the Darklands Tour event hosted by Bewitching Book Tours. Purrs and tail waves to you Nancy! =^.^=

Hi, Cameron! I’m very happy to be here—thanks so much for inviting me!

WtCR – Before we begin, could you please share with us three fun facts about yourself?

N.H. – 1. As my bio says, I’m a former medievalist—my interest in that era has led to a (very) small collection of Anglo-Saxon brooches and other medieval artifacts.

2. Years ago, I won a trip to London. We flew over on the Concorde and sailed home on the QE II. I decided right then and there I could get used to luxury travel!

3. I named my daughter after a cannibal. That’s not as bad as it sounds. I once attended a poetry reading by Ruth Whitman, who read from her book Tamsen Donner: A Woman’s Journey. Whitman had traveled the route taken by the ill-fated Donner party in order to re-create Tamsen Donner’s lost journal. I enjoyed the poems (which were not about cannibalism), but I also fell in love with the name Tamsen. And that’s the name I gave my daughter.

WtCR – Who were your favorite authors growing up? Favorite book?

N.H. – When I was growing up, I was one of those kids who’d read anything and everything—the newspaper, my parents’ Time magazine, cereal boxes at the breakfast table (we weren’t allowed to read books during meals). So it’s hard to choose an absolute favorite book. One that’s stuck with me, though, was No Flying in the House, by Betty Brock, about a young girl named Annabel Tippins with a miniature dog for a guardian who learns she’s actually a fairy. There was a lot in that book about discovering your hidden abilities and learning who your trued friends are. In the book, Annabel learns she’s a fairy because she (unlike her human friends) can kiss her elbow. I made many, many attempts to perform this wondrous feat! And I’m pleased to see that the book is still in print.

WtCR – What attracted you to writing in general?

N.H. – I’ve written for as long as I can remember. I started reading at a very young age, and it just seemed natural to start telling my own stories. I stopped writing creatively after college, while I pursued a graduate degree and eventually became an English professor. But the urge never went away. I like to write fiction because I’m always telling stories in my head—narrating what’s happening as I go through my day or describing the things around me. It feels good to get that impulse down on paper.

WtCR – Describe for us your writing style.

N.H. – So far, all of my books have been in the first person, both the Deadtown series (narrated by shapeshifting protagonist Vicky Vaughn) and my first novel, a mystery with a male protagonist. It’s fun to write in different voices. I think my writing style is conversational, the way a friend might tell you about something that happened to him or her.

WtCR – How do you plot out your books? Do you plot each one out individually or do you have an idea of where you want the series to go and base each book’s plot off of that?

N.H. – In general, I start with a very loose outline that hits the main plot points—the incident that gets the story’s initial conflict going, the point of no return, the big turning points, the climax, and the aftermath. I find this helps me to see the overall story arc and breaks up the plot so I have goals to write toward. It also leaves lots of room for surprises, which are always the most fun and exciting part of the writing process.

WtCR – What tips can you give a writer who is just starting out?

N.H. – Write every day, even for just 15 minutes if that’s all the time you can manage. Writing daily helps you stay in touch with your characters and their world. A few days away, and it’s much harder to get back. I also recommend reading widely, both inside and outside your genre. Reading good prose helps you get a sense of its rhythms.

WtCR – What can we expect next from you writing wise?

N.H. – I’m currently writing Deadtown #5, which has the working title of HELLHOUND. That will be out next year. I’m also hoping to write a Deadtown prequel, which tells what happened during the zombie plague that swept through downtown Boston three years before the events of DEADTOWN. I want to bundle that novella together with some short stories set in Deadtown’s world and release the compilation as TALES FROM DEADTOWN. I’m running a Kickstarter campaign with some fun rewards for readers who’d like to support that project.

WtCR – What are your must have snacks/drinks while writing?

N.H. – Coffee! In the morning, I drink the real stuff. After noon, though, I need to switch to decaf for the sake of a good night’s sleep.

WtCR – What inspired you to write the Deadtown series?

N.H. – I’d been reading and enjoying urban fantasy for a while. A friend from grad school recommended Laurell K. Hamilton’s first novel, and I started reading all the similar books I could get my hands on, including series by Kim Harrison, Kelley Armstrong, and Jim Butcher. I thought it would be fun to try my hand at writing something similar.

During that time, an agent whose blog I used to follow would post anonymous snippets from query letters and comment on why she found them problematic. One day, she wrote that she didn’t like the phrase “so-and-so wrestles with his own personal demons,” because, honestly, who else would wrestle with your demons besides you? That got me thinking about a character who kills other people’s personal demons for a living, and Vicky was (eventually) born.

WtCR – When you develop your characters, do you model them off of people in your life or do they sort of create themselves?

N.H. – They definitely create themselves. It’s like they’ve been standing in the wings somewhere in my subconscious, waiting for their turn to come onstage. I have always felt that my characters reveal themselves to me at least as much as they’re created by me.

It’s also true, however, that Vicky’s niece, Maria, got her name because when I pictured her she looked like another Maria, the daughter of a friend. When I started writing the series, the two Marias were close in age. Now, my Maria is only 11, while my friend’s daughter is a very accomplished and sophisticated teenager.

WtCR – Which of your characters are easy to write? Which are difficult?

N.H. – They’re cooperative and stubborn by turns. Tina, Vicky’s teenage zombie apprentice, is usually pretty easy to write. All I have to do is set her loose in a scene and she takes care of the rest. Vicky’s aunt, Mab, is also a pleasure to write; she has such a strong personality that I usually know what she’s going to say and do (although she has surprised me sometimes). When writing a character starts to feel difficult, I find it’s often because I’m trying to make the character act in a way that’s not true to him or her. That usually happens for the sake of plot—I’ve decided that X needs to happen, but the characters would never do X. So I have to step back and think about the situation from their point of view as the actors in the story, not just from mine as its Grand Plotter in the Sky.

WtCR – Out of all of the characters in the series, who is your favorite? Who has surprised you the most?

N.H. – Vicky is probably my favorite, which is fortunate since I spend so much time in her head. But I’m really fond of, well, all of the supporting characters, from the villain to Vicky’s paranormal friends to her sister’s suburban family. Several of the characters, including Tina, Kane, and Gwen, have surprised me in the ways they’ve grown from one book to the next.

WtCR – What is your favorite scene in Darklands? Which was the most difficult scene to write?

N.H. – I have a few favorites: Vicky’s run-in with a guilt demon, Vicky’s entry into the Darklands, a high-stakes archery contest in that realm in which Vicky is forced to compete. It can be difficult to write the scenes that are intensely emotional for Vicky. I usually have to go through those scenes many, many times to convey her feelings in the way I want to.

WtCR – Which is your favorite book in the series so far?

N.H. – That’s kind of like asking a mom which is her favorite kid. 🙂 I have to say, though, that my favorite book is always the one I’m writing now, because I’m unfolding the story in a plane of limitless possibilities—until I send revisions back to my editor and the book takes its final form.

WtCR – Out of all of the books in the series, which one was the hardest to write and why?

N.H. – They all offer their own challenges. I think one of the most difficult things to write in the series was a scene in the first book, Deadtown, where Vicky is reliving her father’s death. I drew on how I felt after the unexpected loss of someone I’d been close to, and the experience was both hard and cathartic.

WtCR – For those who have not yet read any of the Deadtown novels, could you tell our readers a bit about the series?

N.H. – My Deadtown series follows the adventures of Victory Vaughn, a shapeshifter who kills other people’s personal demons for a living. Vicky lives in Deadtown, Boston’s paranormal-only district that was formed after a mysterious plague swept through the downtown and transformed 2,000 Bostonians into zombies. The series explores tensions between the human and paranormal populations, in the context of a crazy demi-demon whose ambition is to lead the legions of Hell beyond its boundaries to rule the other realms. In the middle of all that, Vicky is dealing with her werewolf lawyer boyfriend, a teenage zombie apprentice, a sister who wishes for nothing more than a normal suburban life, and a 300-year-old aunt who can kick any demon’s butt. Not to mention a vampire roommate with a thing about Shakespeare and a niece who’s starting to develop her own powers.

WtCR – Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers before you go?

N.H. – I’d just like to thank readers who follow my series or are interested in picking it up. It’s extremely rewarding to know that people are reading and enjoying Vicky’s adventures!

Thank you Nancy for taking the time to visit our page and for answering a few of our questions. It’s been a pleasure having you with us today!

And it’s been a real pleasure to be here. Thanks again.


Well, there you have it dear readers, an inside look into the writing life of the wonderful Nancy Holzner! But wait, we aren’t finished with you yet, be sure to check back later today as Willow posts her review of Darklands, book five four of the Deadtown series. Also if you are curious to see which other blogs are participating in the tour, and for a chance to be entered into a special giveaway associated with the event, please visit HERE!

Posted on August 4, 2012, in Authors. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thank you so much for hosting a stop on my blog tour with this fun interview! I’m a little late stopping by because I was up half the night chasing a bat out of my house–which feels like something that should happen to my characters, not to me! 🙂

  2. Btw, just a minor point–Darklands is the fourth book in my Deadtown series. The fifth will be out next year.

  3. Sorry for the error in the post, I’ve corrected it.

    We’ve got bats here in my neck of the woods, but never have they gotten into the house. I think I’d much prefer a bat in the house of the wasps that show up periodically during the summer though. Glad you were able to get it out in the end. =^.^=

  4. It’s true–bats don’t sting. But I’ve discovered they can make you scream when they swoop straight at your head. 🙂