Writer Wednesday: Nancy Kress

I’m excited to welcome author, Nancy Kress.  Find out about her latest book, who her favorite character is, what fueled her desire to start writing, and more…

1.  First things first…a name and a bio:

Nancy Kress is the author of 31 books, including 23 novels, 4 collections of short stories, and three books on writing.  Most recent works are FLASH POINT, a young adult SF novel from Viking (November, 2012) and AFTER THE FALL, BEFORE THE FALL, DURING THE FALL, a stand-alone novella from Tachyon Press (April, 2012).  Her work has won 4 Nebulas, 2 Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (for PROBABILITY SPACE).  Nancy lives in Seattle with her husband, SF writer Jack Skillingstead, and Cosette, the world’s most spoiled toy poodle.

2.  Where are you from and what’s your favorite thing about where you live?

I’m from Buffalo, NY.  I currently live in Seattle, and my favorite thing about it is that it is not Buffalo.  Seattle has a vibrant cultural life, greenery in the winter, gorgeous views, and (almost) no snow.

3.  Tell about your latest book.  What made you want to write it?

FLASH POINT is about a near-future United States in a very depressed economic state—even more depressed than at the moment.  Sixteen-year-old Amy tries to earn money for her dying grandmother by taking a job as a contestant on a new TV reality show.  The show invites viewers to predict how the seven teen-aged contestants will behave in various bizarre ‘scenarios.’  The contestants themselves don’t know in advance when these scenarios will occur or what they will be, and initially—and disastrously—Amy often guesses wrong.  Each scenario on the show becomes riskier than the last as the producers attempt to drive up ratings. Meanwhile, the United States moves toward riots and then revolution by unemployed and desperate citizens.  The political situation is exploited by the show.  I wanted to write this book as a way of weaving together for young people an exciting story and political economics—something I was completely ignorant of at that age.

4.  Where can people find your books?

The most recent ones, plus some of my backlist, are all available through amazon.com, and as ebooks for the Kindle, Nook, etc.

5.  What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m writing a long novella (35,000 words) for an interesting project launched by small-press publisher Arc Manor.  Called the “Stellar” series, each volume will consist of a novella by an established writer and a novelette by a “protégé” writer, the two connected in some fashion.  Mine is concerned, as much of my writing is, with future changes to the biology of humans.  No title yet.

6.  What inspired you to be a writer?

There was no inspiration—more like desperation.  I was a stay-at-home mom living far out in the country with one toddler and another child on the way.  When my son was napping, I wrote stories in order to use words of more than one syllable.  I hadn’t, unlike most writers I know, planned on this as a full-time career.  And yet for twenty-three years now, it has been.  But, also like most writers, I had always loved books and read constantly.

7.  Who is your favorite character in your stories? Why?

I wrote two thrillers, OATHS AND MIRACLES and STINGER, which did not do well despite very good reviews.  Because my name was on them, they were shelved with science fiction, which they’re not, and the thriller audience never found them.  But my protagonist, hapless fledgling FBI agent Robert Cavanaugh, is my favorite of my own characters because he is so quirky, clueless, and (to me, anyway) lovable.

8.  What is your favorite comfort food?

Chocolate.  Always.

9.  What character from your stories was the hardest to write?

Hmmm, let me see…none of them were “hard” in the sense of my not knowing who they were, since I decided who they were.  But Robert Cavanaugh certainly took the most research.  When I began, I knew nothing about FBI procedures, organized crime structures, or the RICO statutes.  I do now.

10.  What’s the biggest challenge about being a writer?

The rejection.  In the beginning, everybody gets rejected (except Robert Silverberg, who sold his first story and just kept on doing that), and rejection never really goes away.  To be a writer you need not just talent but a certain temperament: stubborn (this is often graced with the term “persistent”), resilient, and self-directed enough to keep working when nobody is providing any outside structure, feedback, or paycheck.

11.  Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Write a lot.  Read a lot.  And listen to criticism from qualified people (editors, established writers, good readers) even if you don’t like it.  It may or may not be right, but at least consider it carefully before you decide it’s “not supportive.”

12.  Who are your favorite authors and why? 

Ursula LeGuin, Jane Austen, Somerset Maugham.  I could name half a dozen more and they all have the same qualities: absorbing characters whose stories add up to an interesting viewpoint about the world.  Plus prose that is a pleasure to read (LeGuin’s lyrical, Austen’s satiric, Maugham’s relentless).

13.  What books have most influenced your writing?

Everything I ever read.  I find it impossible to trace direct influences from this writer or that, at least not now.  My first novel, however, THE PRINCE OF MORNING BELLS, was a Peter Beagle pastiche—a fact noted by every single reviewer who read it.  I was learning by conscious and deliberate imitation.

14.  What tools are in your writer’s tool-kit?

A computer and coffee mug?  No, I know what you mean.  At Taos Toolbox, the two-week intensive workshop I teach every year with Walter Jon Williams, I spend time talking about the shape, content, and purpose of individual scenes.  For me, learning to write in well-constructed scenes made the difference between stories that didn’t sell and those that suddenly did.  That’s a major tool.  So are the two basic questions that shape plot: What do these people want?  What can go wrong here?

15.  Where can people find out more about you and your books?

I blog at http://nancykress.blogspot.com regularly, and tweet at nancykress.  One of these days I’m going to redo my web site, which is three years out of date.  Real soon now.

16.  What question(s) did I forget to ask?

Oh, I don’t know… Was my childhood happy?  Do I ever dream about elephants?  What would I do with ten million dollars?  Who will I vote for in the upcoming election?  But we run out of time and space, alas.

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