Monday, February 23, 2009

Welcome Nancy Pickard!

ROBERTA: Jungle Red Writers is so very delighted to welcome mystery goddess Nancy Pickard! She is the author of sixteen novels plus short stories and Seven Steps on the Writers Path with Lynn Lott. The Virgin of Small Plains won the Agatha award for best novel, and was a finalist for the Edgar, the Dilys, and the Macavity awards.

Welcome Nancy! First of all, we are dying to know what's coming next and when will we see it?

NANCY: Thanks, Roberta. It will be THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING, another stand-alone set in a small town in Kansas, but it's not finished yet. It's the story of what happens when a small town sends the wrong young guy to prison for murdering one of their most beloved residents, and then what happens twenty-six years later when he is released. It's a family saga, small town politics, love story, and mystery, set against dramatic landscape.

ROBERTA: Can't wait for that--though I guess we'll have to. I remember hearing you interviewed at Malice Domestic several years ago, just after THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS had been published to much acclaim. You said that you'd pulled back from conferences and other activities over a period of time to concentrate on writing. Can you please talk about your writing process and how you keep your focus?

NANCY: There was another reason I pulled back, which was that I felt myself getting cynical about conferences, etc. I sternly told myself that if I couldn't enjoy them and be appreciative, I should stay home. It took me about 10 years to go back with any regularity, but when I did they were fun again.

As for my focus? I don't have much sometimes. I'm a binge writer--when it's flowing, I don't do anything but write. But when it's not, flowing, when the well goes dry after I've sucked so much out of it, then nothing happens at all for a while. When I started writing fiction, I brought my disciplined, journalism-trained self with me, but I lost her somewhere along the way. I began to go with the ebb and flow of my internal rhythm of creativity--as pompous as that sounds, alas--and it changed my process completely. I think I write better books as a result of that change, but I have a harder time meeting deadlines. And by "harder" I mean I don't meet deadlines, lol. Well, I guess I do still meet the ones for short stories, but novels? Hopeless. I do not recommend this course of non-action for new writers!

ROBERTA: You've had wonderful success with short stories along with your novels. Tell us about how writing shorts feels different. Can you work on two things at the same time?

NANCY: I can't work on two things at the same time, except in the sense that I can sometimes write a short story or plot a new book during those dry-well periods I described earlier.

Short stories feel different, because they feel. . .short, lol. It is such a joy to know I will be able to type THE END after only about three weeks. I don't mean that it takes me three weeks of doing nothing but working on a story, I just mean that's about the gestation, writing, and editing period of several days spread over several weeks.

ROBERTA: Of course, everyone is nervous in this publishing climate. Since you've been at this a while, any thoughts on where you think we're headed? Advice for the anxious writers?

NANCY: I've been in this fiction business almost 30 years, and I can tell you that I have never experienced a single year when publishing people sat around on Dec. 30 and said to one another, "Wow, what a great year in publishing!" It's always a bad year in publishing. That's one reason I stopped reading industry news a long time back. It's best, I think, to limit one's focus to the page in front of us, because our own writing is the only thing we can control, and I'm not even sure how much real control we have over that. My philosophy from the beginning was that somebody is going to be published, no matter how dire the times, and it may as well be me. I've heard other published authors express the same bedrock sentiment. I recommend it. As for where we're headed? Every year will seem like a bad year in publishing to a lot of people; for others, well, somebody has to get published.

ROBERTA: I love that mantra: "Someone is going to be published, it might as well be me...someone is going to be published, it might as well be me..."

Last question, we can't end an interview without mentioning your central role in founding Sisters in Crime. Have women writers made progress since the early days of the organization? What do you think we need to keep working on?

NANCY: Absolutely, we've made tremendous progress. If we could compare bookstore and library shelves today with those of, say, 1980, we'd see the astonishing difference in the authors and kinds of books. What do we need to do? We, individually, need to keep writing the best books we can. We have much, much more than a toehold on those shelves now; we have entire shelves to ourselves. To keep that place, we need be creative, adventurous in our writing, and confident in ourselves. As an organization, we need to continue to support our sisters (and fellows). Join Sisters, provide useful programs for writers, BUY BOOKS, create and maintain links to the industry, have fun.

ROBERTA: Thank you for visiting--now go back and finish that book so we can all buy it! And the floor is open....


  1. Nancy! How wonderful to see you here..and to read your very wise thoughts. Cannot wait for the new book.

    I remember, vividly, reading Virgin of Small Plains--and having two reactions:

    1. Wow. This is one of the best mysteries I've ever read


    2. Rats. What am I doing trying to write? I could never be that good.

    I still think number one is correct. And I've tried to turn number 2 into being inspirational.
    So thanks for both!

    Besides writing-writing, you have a quirky, thoughtful, and hilarious blog, filled with wonderful people and always with something new to think about.

    I'm a big lurker there, and it really feels like a piece of a special world.

    Do you enjoy it? I know you took some time off to focus on writing...

  2. Thank you, Nancy, for stating very simply what a lot of us are struggling toward. Know yourself and your limitations; trust yourself. And enjoy the process!

  3. Hey, Hank! I love it when you visit my blog, and I love my blog. Or, I should say, I love the people who come there. We're a funny little community of peeps, some of whom I originally "met" on political blogs, some of whom are writers. Lately, I haven't posted much about writing, because I've been traveling too much to concentrate on the blog, but I hope to get back to that soonish.

    Everybody's welcome at my place, as they are here. Lurk, or say hi anonymously, or comment using your name. . .it's all good.

    And, blush, thanks!

  4. Sheila, you put things pretty nicely, yourself! :D

    "know your limitations" is an interesting one. I think those are the places I nudge in every new book, as I attempt to scooch those boundaries out a bit in the attempt to become a better writer. As to trusting myself. . .I'm still not sure I do, but I do trust the process. Maybe there's a difference? Whatever, trust is a big part of writing, imo.

  5. Apologies to Nancy--I made two errors in the intro. Should be. . .17 novels. And. . .The Virgin of Small Plains won the Agatha and Macavity awards for best novel, and was a finalist for the Edgar, Dilys, and Anthony awards.

  6. Don't apologize, R! If you took that off my website, well, let's just say it needs updating, hee.

  7. Welcome Nancy. Blogger is being weird and swallowed my earlier post.
    I don't think anyone has mentioned yet that you are slated to be guest of honor at the upcoming Malice Domestic convention.
    I do agree about conventions, however. One can easily become conventioned-out. They do take up time and energy that could go to writing. Sometimes I find myself wondering what I am doing there.
    Not Malice (or Hawaii) however!

  8. Hi Nancy,
    I absolutely loved The Virgin of Small Plains and can't wait for your next book-- which sounds like all the things I like - small towns, dark secrets, that dramatic landscape. It was also comforting to hear about the ebb and flow of your creative process - which I relate to completely.

    It's great to have you here! I sometimes feel the way about the Internet as you do/did about conferences -- I just have to avoid it for creative reasons -- so I haven't been to your blog for some time, but its still one of my favorites.

  9. Nancy
    I know you can't give anything away...but what was the genesis of your new book? Was there one event, or thought, or idea, that started you on the way?

    And did you know instantly that you "had it"?

  10. Hi, Rhys and Jan!

    Hank, my ideas for books tend to percolate in a different way lately than they used to do. In the last few books, they've come from themes/issues/crimes that dig into my psyche and won't stop bugging me. The one I'm finishing, for example, came from learning how, when somebody is released from prison after being wrongly convicted, the victim's family and friends sometimes find it impossible to let go of their long-held view of his guilt and their hatred of him. For some reason, that fascinates me. It mirrors, in a bigger way, how people can have a hard time letting go of anger, resentment, etc., even when it turns out to have been unfounded. It's not really a huge part of the book, but it was part of the starting place.

    I also get snagged by scenery, and just "have" to set a book in it. Usually I steal it and put it in a fictional county/town.

    Some other stuff that has gnawed at me until I had to write a short story or novel about it. . .

    . . seeing a beautiful child with a facial scar and wondering how it happened. . .

    . . .being gobsmacked with awe when I think about the Freedom Riders of the civil rights movement, and their astonishing courage. . .

    . . .a town's concern for and attachment to an unidentified murder victim. . .

    . . .the fact that a child who is abducted and then returns years later has become a different person than the one he would have been. . .

    . . .how people deal with outside events that turn their own lives upsidedown. . .how some people come out stronger and glowing with inner light, while others cannot escape from the rage. . .

    . . .how lonely a lot of grandparents seem who have moved to Florida. . .

    . . .how legends grow up around the unknown. . .


  11. I have to leave town in a bit--going to a David Cook concert in Fulton, Mo.--but I'll check back tomorrow in case there's any more conversation. Thank you guys so much for your interest. You have a wonderful blog!

  12. Nancy gave a great workshop at the library here in Hollywood FL some time ago-- I walked away feeling so energized!

  13. A David Cook concert! That's wonderful....tell all. (And Hey, Neil! Nice to see you!)

    And I'm sitting here waiting for the phone to ring with the verdict in a murder case. My husband's representing the defendant. I don't know how either of them stands it.

    Oh. I just had an idea. Really.
    Nancy--you're an inspiration.

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    Jungle Red rocks the Agatha nominations!

    for Best First Novel
    Pushing Up Daisies

    for Best Novel
    A Royal Pain

    And because the world works in mysterious ways, we're including

    For Best Short Story
    "A Nice Old Guy"

    Congratulations! And many other wonderful friends and guest bloggers at Jungle Red also nominated..Fantastic!
    But we're luxuriating in our sisters noms just briefly before we break out the champagne for everyone!

  16. Hey, Nancy --

    What a relief it is to hear you say that writing comes in fits and starts, and that EVEN you don't make your deadlines. If toothpaste oozed out as slowly as I'm writing my new novel, a tube would last a decade. Splurt.

    After the HUGE success of Virgin, I wonder if you felt you'd set the bar high for yourself?

  17. I really appreciate your insights about writing. I strongly believe that our focus as writers should be on the writing itself -- that's really all that should concern us -- and that all of the peripheral things are just annoyances. I try to keep my own counsel, for good or bad.