The Ginger Nut Heads To A Deadtown For A Chat With Nancy Holzner

Hello folks today at Ginger Nuts HQ, we have the author Nancy Holzner over for a chat.

Nancy Holzner grew up in western Massachusetts with her nose stuck in a book. This meant that she tended to walk into things, wore glasses before she was out of elementary school, and forced her parents to institute a “no reading at the dinner table” rule. It was probably inevitable that she majored in English in college and then, because there were still a lot of books she wanted to read, continued her studies long enough to earn a masters degree and a PhD.

GNOH – Hi Nancy, how are things with you in Upstate New York?

After a long, chilly, wet spring, summer has finally arrived. Birds are singing. Flowers are blooming. And I’m enjoying watching it all from my window, since I’m usually chained to my computer trying to write.

GNOH – What exactly is Upstate New York, and is there a Downstate?

Downstate is the area around New York City. Upstate is Everything Else. To put it another way, downstate is where you’ll find wealth, culture, and big-city excitement. Upstate is where we have decaying Rust Belt cities and cabbage farms. (Few people know that New York is the #1 grower of cabbages in the United States.) So no contest on where to live, right?

Actually, I live in the Finger Lakes region of central New York state, which is a beautiful area full of lakes and gorges and hills and vineyards. Not a cabbage farm in sight.

GNOH – Can you tell the readers a bit about yourself?

I’m a former academic who lives in a college town, which is a bit like a recovering alcoholic living over a bar. Ithaca, my upstate town, is home to a large university, a medium-sized college, and a shocking number of underemployed PhDs. I live here with my husband (both of us have PhDs we don’t use), and we manage to work from home without annoying each other (separate offices help). I’ve always been a reader—I studied and then taught English—and I read pretty much everything, from the classics (I was a medievalist) to literary fiction to all the genre books I can get my hands on. Besides Ithaca, I’ve lived in Boston, London, and Auburn, Alabama, as well as several other places.

GNOH – You have had a varied career path, teacher, technical writer, freelance editor and instructional designer, college admissions counselor, and corporate trainer. Do you think all this variation has help you develop an outlook and experiences that helps you write?

I think it has to. I’ve dealt with people in many different contexts, and that absolutely helps in creating interesting characters. On the other hand, working as a freelance writer and editor helped me get familiar with the publishing process and learn how to deal with the whole working-from-home thing, which is not always as idyllic as people imagine.

GNOH – Corporate Trainer, are those not some sort of devil spawn whose sole purpose in life is to make us grunts tow the company line?

In a word, yes. But since I write about demons, it was very helpful to spend time as devil spawn. (Cue evil laugh.)

GNOH – As an American English teacher, can you please tell me what’s the deal with Americans dropping the letter U all over the place?

Mostly, we don’t notice those U’s because we’re so busy changing S to Z and flipping around –RE at the end of words.

GNOH – So what prompted the move into fiction writing?

I’ve always wanted to write fiction, but I found all sorts of ways to convince myself that I couldn’t. Then about 10 years ago I decided that if I wanted to try, I’d better get serious. So I signed up for online courses, joined a writing group, and worked on poetry, stories, and long fiction.

GNOH – Who are some of your literary heroes?

That’s a dangerous question to ask a former English teacher. I’ll stick to contemporary genre fiction. In urban fantasy, my favorites are probably Ilona Andrews and Jim Butcher. In dark fantasy, I love the writing of Caitlin R. Kiernan and Anne Bishop. In mystery, I’m a huge fan of the late Donald E. Westlake.

GNOH – What made you decide to write Urban Fantasy?

A friend recommended the first book in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, and when I read it I thought, “Wow, this is really fun.” From there I started reading authors like Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, and others. I was having such a good time reading the genre, I decided I’d try to write it.

GNOH – Have you done anything to make your novels stand out from the crowd? The Urban fantasy market is a crowded one?

I think one thing that makes my Deadtown series different is using Welsh mythology as a background. With each book, I’ve been able to delve a little more deeply into that. Readers have also liked the politics of the series, the idea that human society would try to contain and repress paranormals if they became aware of them. Plus my zombies aren’t your typical zombies. They’ve got intelligence and personality, and even though they’re always hungry you’re probably safe around them (as long as you manage not to bleed–the smell of blood is a game-changer).

GNOH – Urban Fantasy, Paranormal romance are two distinct genres, yet somehow when someone mentions Urban Fantasy, they automatically think Paranormal romance. How do you think the balance can be readdressed, there’s a lot of good stuff out there that is missing it’s intended target audience just because of a mislabelling.

That’s a really good question, and I’m not sure I know the answer. I think the line between these two genres has become so blurred that it’s unlikely ever to get firmly redrawn. Some of it comes, I think, from the fact that so much urban fantasy has a female protagonist, and people assume that if the story is about a woman, then romance will feature heavily. That’s not necessarily a valid assumption. Female characters can be as focused on solving a problem or saving the world as male characters can–and that tends to be the focus in urban fantasy. In paranormal romance, establishing a relationship is at least as important as saving the world. It can be hard to tell which way the balance is tipping in any given book.

GNOH – There seems to be a trend to Darker Fantasy, what’s you take on it?

I love it. I really like books that explore the borderland where fantasy meets horror. Books where the monsters represent real human fears and you’re pretty sure that not everyone will come out alive. Caitlin R. Kiernan, whom I mentioned earlier, is an author who comes to mind who writes really creepy dark fantasy. I’ve got some ideas for darker fantasies I’d like to write, but they’re embryonic right now.

GNOH – Your books take some inspiration from the Welsh legend of Ceridwen. Did you plan to use this from the outset, or did the idea come into play once you had started writing?

I knew early on that I wanted my protagonist to be a shapeshifter. I’d read the Mabinogion in grad school, and the story of the Ceridwen and Gwion Bach came to mind. Ceridwen could change into whatever she wanted unlike, say, a werewolf, who’s restricted to one creature. I knew Vicky’s race would be based on this legend before I started writing.

GNOH – Did you always intend for this to be a series?

Although I wrote Deadtown to work as a standalone, I always hoped it would become the first book in a series. As a reader, I love series. I enjoy going back to a familiar world and to characters I know. As an author, I’ve invested a lot of time in building the world of Deadtown, so it’s great to be able to keep telling stories set in that world. I also love building a story arc for the series. Each book has its own story arc, of course, but a series gives me more room to explore how the characters develop and change over time.

GNOH – You’ve populated your books with a vast menagerie of creatures and characters, have you played around with the conventions of the creatures? For example your zombies aren’t the typical mindless shambling flesh eaters.

Yeah, the idea of a teenage zombie in a pink miniskirt was too much fun to resist. I play a little bit with urban fantasy stereotypes. Vicky’s roommate Juliet Capulet (yup, Romeo’s Juliet) is an exaggeration of the sexy vampire. Vicky’s boyfriend Kane, who’s a werewolf, plays with werewolf conventions by making him more civilized than the humans in the book: he’s a lawyer, a crusader for justice, and a connoisseur of the finer things in life. I try to both respect the conventions of my genre and play with them.

GNOH – The Deadtown series features a feisty female, which tends to put off male readers, how would you convince a bloke to pick up one of your books?

Actually, nearly half the fan mail I get comes from male readers, so guys are definitely picking up my books. If they can deal with a cover that shows a leather-clad chick with a flaming sword, what they’ll find inside is a lot of action. My series is straight-up urban fantasy, not romance or chick lit with fangs. People who read a few pages can see that pretty quickly, I think.

GNOH – Can you tell us about Peace Love and Murder?

Peace, Love, and Murder is my first novel, an amateur sleuth mystery set in a fictional upstate New York college town that’s not too terribly different from the one where I live. It was fun to write. I loved coming up with quirky characters who felt like people who might really live around here. PLM was originally published by a small press. Recently, I’ve made the novel available as a super-cheap ebook, because I think it’s a fun book and I want people to read it. The first chapter is available here.

GNOH – How did writing this compare to writing Deadtown?

Peace, Love, and Murder is the first novel I finished. For years, I’d been trying to write something more literary. At the time, I belonged to an online writers’ group that did weekly writing prompts—write 500 words in response to a prompt, which might be a phrase, a photograph, a situation. In response to one of those prompts (a character calls a number written on a bathroom wall), I wrote a scene. I had no idea who the characters were or what the context they were acting in, but I had a lot of fun writing it. I dropped the literary novel and started writing more scenes with these new characters. Pretty soon, it was clear I was writing a mystery.

So to anwer your question: With PLM, I started with a scene and felt my way into a plot. With Deadtown, I did a lot more prep work—worldbuilding, character development, plotting—before I jumped into the writing.

GNOH – You also write non fiction, how does this compare to writing fiction? Which gives you the most sense of achievement?

I’ve written how-to and reference books on topics ranging from classical mythology to MS Office 2010. Those are much more straightforward to write than fiction. And although there’s a certain satisfaction in looking at a big doorstop of a how-to book and thinking, “I wrote that,” I get a much greater sense of achievement in writing fiction. There, I’m creating whole worlds, not just doorstops.

GNOH – How would describe your writing style?

Wow, that’s hard. I guess I’d say it’s conversational and easy to read. All of the novels I’ve written so far have been in the first person, so my style is basically my sense of the character’s voice.

GNOH – How do you go about writing a novel, do you plan every detail or do you just go with the flow?

I fall in between those extremes. I start with a loose outline that hits the major plot points. That breaks up the project into manageable steps, giving me goals to write toward. At the same time, it leaves plenty of room for surprises and new ideas.

I look at different writing approaches as different ways of reaching a destination. Some people just set off in the general direction of where they want to go, trusting that they’ll get there. Others program their route into a GPS and rely on turn-by-turn directions. My approach is more like taking along a paper map. I have an idea of the route I plan to take, but I’m open to detours along the way. And if I manage to get completely lost, I have the map to get me back on track (that’s the theory, anyway).

GNOH –You are part of the Dark Central Station author blog, how did you come to be involved with those guys?

A couple of years ago, Sean Cummings invited me to participate in a group blog for urban fantasy authors. After a few months, people got busy and the blog fizzled out. We decided to try again, and pulled in some authors who were willing to commit to posting once a week. And so DCS was born. It’s been a lot of fun.

GNOH – What does the future hold for you?

Book 3 in my Deadtown series, Bloodstone, releases in North America at the end of September. (I’m not sure about the UK/European release date; that’s usually a few months later.) I’m writing book 4 now, and that book will be out next year. I’ve also been getting some requests to write a sequel to Peace, Love, and Murder. I’d started one, but then I got sidetracked when Deadtown sold. I’d like to finish that sequel if I can find the time.

GNOH – Thanks for popping over for a chat Nancy it’s been fun.

Yes, it has! Thanks so much for inviting me.

You can purchase Nancy’s books here


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