Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nancy Pickard stops by to chat.

Today we welcome Nancy Pickard, a writer who has managed to stay at the top of our profession for a remarkable twenty years after winning her first Agatha, and who just gets better and better. If we divide mysteries between cozy and hardboiled, I suppose she belongs more on the cozier side but actually she writes good literature that just happens to involve a crime.

RHYS: Welcome to Jungle Red, Nancy, and congratulations on your new novel, The Scent of Rain and Lightning, which has garnered a whole slew of starred reviews. Tell us a little about the story and the inspiration for it.

NANCY: Thanks, Rhys. I'm delighted to be here.
There are two big "what ifs" in my story. One is, 'What if a man who may have been wrongfully convicted of murder is released from prison and comes back to the same small town that may have rushed him to "justice"? The second is, "What if his son and the daughter of his alleged victim fall in love?"

I was inspired by several things. One was the landscape, which is quite dramatic and unexpected and called to me to write a story set there. Another was my knowledge that when a person goes to prison for a crime he didn't commit and then is released, the family of the victim may not be able to forgive him even if he didn't do the crime, because they have spent years, maybe decades, hating him, and they can't let go of it. (This is not to imply that my character is or is not innocent. No spoilers here.) Another was the thought that the children of murderers and their victims may have more in common with one another than they do with most other people. They are both innocent victims of the same crime. They may understand what the other has endured, in ways that nobody else can. And last was the idea that decent people can do bad things.

RHYS:I love the title, by the way. Can you tell us a little about the significance of it?

NANCY: Just as there's always a change in the air before a storm, I think there are signs before human storms, too. Sometimes they're subtle, like a slight scent of rain, and sometimes they're as blatant as thunder or lightning in the distance. In my book, there are warning signs for the characters, but unfortunately for them, they miss those signs. Good thing they did, though, or I wouldn't have a novel.

I "almost" thought up the title all by myself, btw. I had another title on it--can't remember what that was--but an editor read my manuscript, saw a phrase that was something like "a scent of rain and lightning," and said to me, "There's your title." So do I get credit, or not? I think. . .not.

RHYS: It's another stand-alone novel, following the huge success of the Virgin of the Small Plains. Are you done with series? Do you like the freedom of different casts of characters in the stand alone?

NANCY: I'm *probably* done with series. Never say never, right? But it would be hard to give up that freedom you mentioned and to go back to a series. The thought of it makes me feel a little panicky, as if the fence lines around my pasture had just pulled in a lot closer to me, pinning me in a smaller space. So to speak. Apparently, writing these two books that are set (partly) on ranches has infected me with a cow-metaphor virus.

RHYS: You choose to write about your home state of Kansas, making it almost a character in your novels. Your deep feeling and appreciation for your native territory is so obvious when one reads. What is it that attracts you so much to your own environment?

NANCY: I was married for a long time to a cattle rancher, and the area where he (still) ranches is beautiful. I love rolling ranch land, I love plains and prairies, and I love small towns.
Kansas, is all of that, plus some surprises in the landscape, too. One of those surprises is in "Scent," which features a monumental landscape of high rocks similar to "Monument Rocks" in western Kansas.

RHYS: You have won numerous awards and achieved pretty much everything that can be achieved in the mystery world (apart from James Patterson's income, maybe). What would you still like to accomplish in your career?

NANCY: Is it too late to be James' ex-wife? Okay, seriously. Well, I haven't met a book deadline in years. That would be nice. (If my editor sees this she will heave a sign so big it will push all the water out of New York Harbor.) I guess I'd like to win an Edgar, and so be a bride instead of always a bridesmaid (a finalist four times), but it's okay if I never do. Sometimes it really is enough to be nominated. Really. No, really.

I think all I really want for my future is a goodly supply of ideas and enough time and skill to do them justice. I want to make a lot of readers very happy that they read my books. I want more days when I love my work and fewer days when it makes me crazy. Or I make myself crazy. These desires may not sound that ambitious, but they sound like a huge world of goodness to me.

RHYS: Is there anything very different you'd like to try?

NANCY: Nope. I think I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, and writing what I'm meant to write. Sometimes I think it would be wonderful to try to write a big fat fantasy/adventure/magical novel, but then I think no, because that might take the pleasure out of reading them. What I really want is to just keep improving as a novelist. That could mean trying new things--large or small-- in any given book. That would be satisfying.

RHYS: So what's next for Nancy Pickard?

NANCY: Finish this blankety-blank book that I'm (hahahah) writing. Right now I have six different first beginnings, three endings, seven titles, and no middle. It's due at the end of November. ::clutches throat with both hands, makes desperate gagging sounds::
Thanks so much, Rhys. Y'all have a wonderful blog, and I'm proud to be a guest here.

RHYS: Thank you, Nancy. And great success with The Scent of Rain and Lightning.
What a fun guest. And if you haven't read her books yet, rush to the bookstore today!


  1. Besides being a wonderful writer, Nancy is an insightful teacher of the craft and a very gracious lady. I am only one of many many writers she has gently pushed forward.

    I have a hunch this one is the prize taker, Ms. N, although all of your books are winners.

  2. Hi, Jersey Jack, and all who arrive. Thanks for those kind words. It's already a pleasure to be here. :)

  3. Hello Nancy,

    Fellow Kansan here. I love how there are still small towns in Kansas, but we are still close to "bigger" cities. Just have to watch out for those tornadoes.

    Didn't Susan Lucci finally win an Emmy? There is hope for you yet!

  4. Hey--
    Oh, "just keep having good ideas." That is such a perfect wish. Everything else comes from that, doesn't it?

    And I'm with you on the nomination being enough. No, really. No, REALLY. (But as for you..well, we shall see. Typing with fingers crossed, very difficult.)

  5. Melissa, Lawrence Block is the real Susan Lucci of mysterydom. When he finally won Best Novel after years of being a finalist, he actually did say, "Finally, a bride!" and brought the house down.

    Hank, I figure I have thoroughly jinxed myself by mentioning it, and now I can relax, knowing it will never happen.

    I'll pull back the curtain and say a crass thing about the rewards of being nominated--it helps sell sub rights. (subsidiary rights, like to foreign publishers)

  6. But now it's UNjinxed, because you said it was jinxed. See?
    Or does that make it jinxed again?

    (My captcha word is "pallaphy." Wonder what that would mean? Wehn someone turns into a pal? (Or maybe that would be "pallify.") Pallaphy is the study of pals? NO, that's pallology. Oh, never mind.)

    Nancy, you really can't remember your first title?

  7. No, I really can't, dear pallaphy. I tend to try out a lot of titles, and then forget all of them except the one that actually gets used. For instance, this current wip has been named:
    If Ever I Would Leave You
    Outside of Heaven
    and a couple of others I've already forgotten. As the book has changed (drastically), so have the titles. Currently it's The Last Cafe. What do you think? I kind of hope I get to keep it, but that depends on the story.

  8. I was so stunned when I got an Edgar nomination that it really did seem like an honor to be nominated. But as I see only male writers essentially winning, year after year, I'm beginning to feel it's about time I saw a Nancy Pickard (or a Rhys Bowen) with that little statue!

    And the magic word for me to sign in is "ravedist." Doesn't that sound totally teenage. It was the ravedist concert ever!

  9. Hi Nancy, I love the title and the premise for your latest novel. It's been on my must-read list for a while now. I think I'll move it to the top. :)

  10. Nancy, I truly enjoyed The Secret of Rain and Lightning. The artwork drew me in. The story captured me. Lovely to read your answers today.


  11. Nancy - It is lovely to see you here.

    As to titles: Marketing or someone changed the title I had been using all along for my third book. They were probably right about wanting the series to "match" better, but by that point I'd formed a fierce attachment. I'm going to use my original title some day, somehow.

  12. Rhys, the next time a woman wins, we'll throw a ravedist.

    Susan, I approve of that plan. :)

    Thank you, Avery. I think I was really lucky to get that pretty cover.

  13. I remember the year S. J. Rozan won.

    Hey, Nancy! So good to have you here. I think of you whenever I've written a flabby scene that needs CONFLICT and SENSORY images.

  14. Nancy,
    Welcome to Jungle Red I'm such a big fan of yours. I will definitely get this book.

    I love your line about feeling that you're writing what you are supposed to be writing.

  15. Hi, Jan, G.M., and Hallie. Thanks for the warm welcome, everybody.