Welcome to the three hundred and thirteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with romance / suspense novelist Nancy Clark Townsend. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Nancy. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Nancy: I was born and raised in New York City – the Inwood – Northern Manhattan neighborhood to be exact – but I resided most of my life about 60 miles north in the Lower Hudson Valley area. Now I live in a very rural part of north-western Louisiana. I like to think that I’ve been on the path to become a writer most of my life. I was writing stories when I was 8 and 9 years old and never stopped. I was always an avid reader thanks to my mother. Just about every Saturday morning from the time I was very little we would walk to the public library and spend a couple of hours there. She timed it for story hour but we also browsed. I think it is difficult to become a reader and writer if you don’t have an intense reading background from an early age.
Morgen: I don’t remember much from my childhood (not for any reason, I guess, than it being fairly uneventful – that and I have a terrible memory) but I do remember going to the library, and loving it. What genre do you generally write?
Nancy: I classify my novels as romance / suspense usually. I enjoy reading a variety of genres but I don’t venture into writing some because I don’t feel I have enough knowledge to do so – like adventure, war and sci-fi. The exception to that is my first published short novel – Furred & Feathered Friends: Katrina Castaways. Since the animal characters speak to one another and are the main focus of the book, I think of it as a fantasy.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Nancy: Furred & Feathered Friends is my first published book. I have a short story “The Dog and the Nike” that will be published sometime in 2012 in an anthology entitled That One Left Shoe from Betsy A. Riley of Blue Dragon Press. Also, two of my animal memoirs appear on my author friend Kimberley Dehn’s website – “Inseparable” and “The Cat With Many Aliases”. I encourage everyone to check out all of Kim’s website because it is a cat lover’s paradise.
Morgen: I have a cat-mad friend, I’ll have to send her over. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Nancy: In 2002-03 I sent out several query letters, synopses and the first three chapters of a couple of my novels. I had looked up agents in a directory from Writer’s Digest Book Club and found a few that I thought might be interested. I received polite replies saying the novels weren’t what they were “currently looking for”. Unfortunately, I had just been widowed and I gave up much too easily. I’ve always considered writing as my hobby and I did it for fun. So I went back to hobby mode until recently.
Morgen: I went the agent route too but then eBooks really took off and I saw how easy it was to do. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Nancy: Right now I read paper all the way because I don’t have an e-book. Furred & Feathered Friends is available on e-books: Barnes and Noble.com and Amazon.com. I wasn’t directly involved in that particular process.
Morgen: You said earlier than you’ve tried to secure an agent, do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Nancy: I don’t have an agent, but I have an amazing publisher – Betsy A. Riley of Blue Dragon Press. I know she has been vital to MY success. I’m sure agents can be important to an author’s success but I don’t believe they are vital. Networking is vital and the Internet is a great resource for an aspiring writer.
Morgen: Isn’t it great. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Nancy: I haven’t begun to think of myself as a “brand”. Most of my marketing to date has been through friends and word of mouth, mostly on the Internet. The friend I mentioned before, Kimberley Dehn, has posted a link to Furred & Feathered on her website. My publisher is handling most of it so far.
Morgen: That’s the thing about agents and publishers; they do know their market. Do you have a favourite of your characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Nancy: I love all the animals in Furred & Feathered Friends, but my favourite is the Newfoundland dog Bruno, a great big bear of a dog and the leader of the castaways. I envision him as having a deep voice so both Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones come to mind in an animated version.
Morgen: Oh yes, they’d be great. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Nancy: I think titles and covers are extremely important and I’ve had a say in changes. I’m rarely happy with my working title but Furred & Feathered Friends had that title from its inception. Then my publisher suggested the subtitle, Katrina Castaways. She was right on target because “Katrina” was the magic word, even though it’s been several years since the hurricane. I wrote this book shortly after Katrina and Rita blasted Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in particular. Some teachers in TX and LA have shown interest in using the book in their classrooms. I would be delighted for that to happen, and it shows just how important a title can be. As for the cover, I’ve already had people tell me they love the animals pictured on the cover of Furred & Feathered Friends. A cover is, after all, the very first thing you see in an ad and on the book – it HAS to grab the reader.
Morgen: It is, and it does. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Nancy: I’m working on a book called The Witness Wore Fur. This title is my publisher’s brainchild and I love it. It’s a romance / suspense about a dog – a black and white pointer – a widow and a police detective. It [Witness] will be published this spring . Some of my readers have fallen in love with the characters in Furred and Feathered Friends: Katrina Castaways, so I’m also working on a sequel.
Morgen: What a wonderful mix. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Nancy: Most of the time I write every day one way or another. I belong to two on-line writing groups and it’s a rare day that I don’t post in both. AARP has a group called “Writing Memoir” where I post under the name “foxieblue”. The other group is a private forum called “Advanced Writing Workshop” with a small group of writers. Sometimes I find myself stalled in a novel so I go on to some other novel or project. When I go back to it I’m usually able to pick up the thread and move on. I think most of us have times when life interferes with writing because of health or personal problems.
Morgen: I love online networking. I belong to loads, mostly on Facebook, but haven’t had time up to now to contribute to more than a couple (Tuesday Tales and Writers for Welfare) but now the day job’s behind me… 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Nancy: Plot and run. Sometimes I just have a germ of an idea. I’ll start writing and see where it goes without any particular goal in mind. That’s the way real life is after all. If I find it’s going nowhere, I just save it in a “maybe” folder and don’t angst over it. I never work with outlines. I even have problems putting one together after the fact. And I may be a good writer but when I hear the word “synopsis”, I panic.
Morgen: The English novelist and short story author Jeffrey Archer was the guest on Radio Litopia last night and he said that no author should plot because it never goes to plan. He knows the endings to his short stories but not his novels because, he said, if he knew the ending then the reader will too. We mentioned characters earlier, do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Nancy: Although I’m careful to not make it obvious, most of my characters are based on real people. In the course of a lifetime you come in contact with so many interesting personalities. Who needs to make them up? Some characters are a conglomeration. It depends on what I want from the character. I think that’s what makes my characters believable. From the moment I start a novel I keep a list of the characters in alphabetical order – whether they are animal or human. Whenever I put one in I make sure I keep track of everything from hair and eye colour to occupation. That has proven invaluable. I even list things like restaurant names, the type of cars driven, addresses, etc. – anything I think I might forget.
Morgen: It pays to be consistent because if you’re not a reader will pick you up on it. Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Nancy: I’m hopeless as a poet. I admit to a problem with short stories because I get so caught up in a story it’s difficult to keep it short. Furred & Feathered Friends is by far the shortest novel I’ve ever written, at a little over 14,000 words. I mentioned before that my short story “The Dog and the Nike” is appearing soon in the anthology That One Left Shoe. I’ve submitted three short pieces (I think they would be considered fictionalized memoirs) for another anthology but I haven’t heard from the publisher yet. I also submitted a short story to a new magazine and I’m waiting to hear about that as well. Novels are definitely my “thing”. As for non-fiction, I’m also working on my memoirs although I’ve decided not to try and put everything in one volume.
Morgen: I empathise with you on poetry. I do say that I don’t ‘get it’ but then I’m a prose lover so I rarely read any poetry which probably doesn’t help. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is tighter?
Nancy: I’m a compulsive editor and sometimes that gets in the way of my writing. I try to just go with the flow until the book is done and then go back. My publisher told me that she has very little editing to do because my writing is so fully-formed. Unfortunately, sometimes I have to tell myself, “Enough, Nancy!” and let it go. It’s like sending your child off to that first day of Kindergarten or even worse, to college.
Morgen: I think you can edit forever, especially if you leave some time between edits. As you say, you have to just let it go – easier perhaps if you have someone who’s going to edit it anyway. Do you have to do much research?
Nancy: Not often. Only a few of my novels are that detail oriented and in general I try to avoid writing about what I don’t know. The Internet is a big help when I want to include something I’m not knowledgeable about or I need to check on a fact.
Morgen: It’s great. I’m the same. History was one of my worst subjects at school plus it’s not a genre I read. Ditto science-fiction and fantasy. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Nancy: I tend to write in third person although I’ve done a limited amount in first person. One novel had first person for the main character with some sections here and there written in third person about a couple of other characters. The change-up was kind of fun. I’ve never attempted second person.
Morgen: Oh, second person is great fun. Well, I think so. I’d not heard of it until a couple of years ago and have been hooked ever since. 🙂 Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Nancy: Over the years I have written so many novels that I can’t imagine them all being published – at least not in my lifetime. Maybe if I achieve some success in what years I have left – I’ll be 74 in July – there will be a market for my “sleeping” novels posthumously. I leave that thought with my children.
Morgen: Mary Wesley was first published at 71 and went on to write another 13 books. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Nancy: The early favourable response to my short novel has taken me completely by surprise. I shouldn’t have been because my publisher, Betsy A. Riley, is a very sharp and talented lady.
Morgen: She is. She was one of my interviewees last July. 🙂
Nancy: Logic tells me that she wouldn’t be bothering with what I’ve given her so far – Furred & Feathered, The Witness Wore Fur, or “The Dog and the Nike” if they weren’t marketable. I guess that’s my insecurity showing. I have to say that my favourite aspect is the writing itself, the creative process. My least favourite is anything to do with the business end, which is why I so value this great gal who has stepped up to promote my work – my publishing guru, Betsy. She has taken all that off my shoulders and is there for me every step of the way.
Morgen: I think loads of authors have less faith in their work than an agent or publisher, and as you say, they wouldn’t spend their time (and therefore money) promoting something they weren’t happy with. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Nancy: Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing. Don’t give up. There are so many venues now with e-books, print-on-demand, the Internet, self-publishing. The world is wide open to you so explore your possibilities. Network. Make friends with other writers. I think we are a generous group of people and always willing to help others to achieve their dreams.
Morgen: I was amazed (because I didn’t know otherwise) how supportive writers are to each other. I compare it to learner drivers – we were all there at the beginning once. Going off at a tangent for a minute, if you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Nancy: I can cook quite well but I’ve never had a love of cooking. I should buy a bumper sticker that says, “I’d rather be writing.” I would invite them to one of my church’s potluck suppers because they are better than anything I could ever put together. If it had to be in my home, I’d order in pizza. I assume you really want me to name public figures of some note: (1) Congressman Benjamin A. Gilman (R-NY) – he is now retired, but he served in the House of Representatives for 20 years and for a number of years I worked for him in his old law office; he was the best example I’ve ever seen of a man who truly represented his constituents regardless of their party affiliation; (2) the late author Dick Francis – he is still my favourite writer and I have most of his books (I owned and raced harness horses at one time); he is my role model as a writer though I will never achieve his skill; and (3) CNN’s Anderson Cooper – he is one of the great broadcast journalists of our time because he is fair but he doesn’t hesitate to expose dishonesty.
Morgen: Dick Francis is hugely popular in the UK. As for achieving his skill, I do think that writing is like any other craft – we all improve with practice. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Nancy: Follow your dream and keep on writing. And frankly, although we were taught back in English class not to use them, I adore so-called trite phrases.
Morgen: 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Nancy: I am editor for “Church Chatter”, a newsletter I put out every other month for my church, Hall Summit United Methodist. I do a little of my own writing for it but mostly I collect interesting items, news, recipes and miscellaneous titbits to fill up its 8 pages. I create two puzzles for each issue – a Bible Word Search and a Bible Acrostic that I probably enjoy putting together more than everyone enjoys solving them. I mentioned before that I also write posts for AARP Writing Memoir and the private group Advanced Writing Workshop. In AWW we not only put forth our own writing – poems, essays, short stories, non-fiction books and novels – but we encourage and critique one another’s work.
Morgen: Last year I created a children’s author-related word search for a teen writing group I helped out at. I’m not sure if it ever made the newsletter but it was certainly fun to do. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Nancy: No party tricks or hobbies aside from writing. I am Treasurer for my church and I have prepared lesson plans and led a number of Bible studies in the past couple of years. I’m preparing one now on “The Passion and Death of Jesus” but admit I’ve been somewhat sidetracked by what is going on in my writing life. I have two wonderful dog companions who do their best to get me up in the morning when they decide it’s time. They also make sure I do my chores (like feeding them). There’s Buddy the adorable mixed breed who is nine and Luke a handsome black and white pointer who is about three. In fact, Luke is the name of the dog in The Witness Wore Fur and he is also a pointer, etc. Both wandered into my yard as starving abandoned puppies and promptly adopted me because they recognized a soft touch. They are much smarter than me. I also enjoy interactive games on line – Scrabble and a similar word game, Lexulous, through Facebook.
Morgen: Oh, I’m completely side-tracked by writing (can you tell?). My mum said to me recently that I shouldn’t let writing take over my life… she’s a few months too late. 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Nancy: I purchased two books from Writer’s Digest Books years ago that have been valuable to me – Character Naming Sourcebook and Building Believable Characters. I think they have both been updated or replaced but today there is even software to help in creating characters. (http://www.writersdigestshop.com).
Morgen: There’s loads of great information – I love it. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Nancy: A friend told me about a site on Facebook – Inwood – Northern Manhattan – which is where I was born and raised. I’ve met some wonderful people there. It’s fun to relive the old days, find out what is going on there today and share photographs. I encourage everyone to get back in touch with their roots if they can.
The private Advanced Writing Workshop has been invaluable to me. My co-writers, bbdunne, Betsy A. Riley and Sara Van Der Wansem are the reason I am officially a published author today, thanks to their support and encouragement. The same is true of AARP Writing Memoir. The people in that group are really great and so helpful.
Morgen: Groups are great. I belong to over a dozen on LinkedIn and the support to / from everyone there is fantastic. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Nancy: I think the future is wide open for authors in all genres. The venues may change but I really hope the time doesn’t come when books as we know them disappear.
Morgen: I can’t see that. There will be less traditionally published, for sure, but pBooks and eBooks will run alongside each other. I know some people who have both of the same book. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Nancy: I have an author page on the Blue Dragon Press website http://bluedragonpress.com/Nancy.html and also at Kimberley Dehn’s website that I mentioned before. If anyone would like to write to me I’d love to hear from them – nancy@BlueDragonPress.com.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Nancy: I have a Facebook page, but you won’t find much about my writing there. It is mostly devoted to my advocacy for abused and abandoned animals. Via the Internet I work with groups like Pet Pardons and Save a Life from a Shelter and others, as well as a number of individuals in an effort to save animals from abuse and being euthanized at kill shelters. We share posts with pictures and stories in order to find them rescues, foster and medical care and ultimately new forever homes. It’s heart-breaking work but last year thousands of animals were saved this way.
Morgen: 🙂 My dog is a rescue and he’s great. We’re both very lucky. 🙂 Thank you so much, Nancy.
I then invited Nancy to include an extract of her writing and this is the prologue from THE WITNESS WORE FUR (to be published by Blue Dragon Press in the near future)…
The girl struggled to free herself from the duct tape that bound her wrists and ankles. Thank goodness they had fastened her hands in front of her and hadn’t checked her jeans pocket. She always carried a small pen knife that her father gave her when she was in a Brownie troop. It was easy to free her ankles but she had to use her teeth on the wrists.
She could hear the men laughing and talking in the other room while she worked, and she prayed they wouldn’t come for her too soon. Right now she knew they were drinking – they figured they had plenty of time for her. How foolish she had been to accept a lift from that guy even though she knew him.
Heart pounding, she made her way to the window, thankful that the room was on the first floor. She turned the old-fashioned lock and slowly pushed the lower sash upward. It creaked softly but she doubted they would hear it with all the laughter and the TV in the background. Her poor dog had been barking non-stop since they used a rope to tie him to a tree.
She found the dog quickly. He whimpered happily at seeing her but he obeyed the whispered command for “quiet”. He had almost chewed through the rope, so she sliced it the rest of the way as she wondered what they had done with his collar.
Free at last, they dashed for the nearby woods.
Nancy Clark Townsend is a retired secretary. She resides near Shreveport, Louisiana with her two rescued dogs Buddy and Luke. Nancy studied Creative Writing at SUNY Empire State College and through “Writer’s Digest” courses. She has written several romance and suspense novels and is working on her memoirs. She was a legal secretary for many years. Later, as an education secretary, Nancy worked with teachers to write and produce curriculum guides for elementary and high school students. She describes herself as “somewhat adventuresome and a survivor” because she met her second husband through the personal column in a newspaper and her third on match.com. She has been widowed three times. Nancy’s son Greg is a police lieutenant in a Lower Hudson Valley city in New York State. Her daughter Karen, whom she describes as “the incredible soccer mom”, lives in Virginia. Between them Nancy has seven grandchildren. She also have a stepson, Michael, who has just retired as a Sergeant in the United States Army and lives in Georgia, and a step-daughter-in-law, Tara, who lives in upstate New York. Between them, Nancy has yet another six step-grandchildren.
Morgen: Wow, I’m surprised she has time to write! 🙂
Update October 2012: I would like to add my other books – the links can be found on http://www.bluedragonpress.com/Nancy.html.
Both are in my animal series. Furred & Feathered Friends: Junkyard Dogs is about abused pit bulls that are rescued thanks to Angus the Parrot and his other animal and human friends. Also published since the interview is Furred & Feathered Friends: The Cracked Turtle which highlights Toby the Dachshund mix and his 3 young kitten friends who help an injured turtle and even save one of their human friends after he is injured. I have two more in the series that are “in the works” – For the Birds and The Water Dog.
When I wrote FF&F: Katrina Castaways shortly after Hurricane Katrina, I never expected I would end up producing a series. I have my publisher, Betsy A. Riley at Blue Dragon Press to thank for that since it was her suggestion. I’m having a lot of fun with these.
I am also working on a synopsis for a full length novel entitled What Really Happened to Rebecca? It’s the story of a young man in his mid twenties who has just discovered he was adopted after his parents die and his journey to find out about his birth family and his roots. The first part is based on a very unusual and true adoption story from my years as a legal secretary; the second part is pure imagination as to what he actually finds. I have the novel written, but Betsy suggested I send it to a bigger publisher. They want the entire manuscript, but they also want a synopsis. The novel wasn’t a problem; the synopsis is another matter and it is proving to be a challenge. Wish me luck.
Morgen: Absolutely, they can be a real nightmare. Good luck indeed.
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