Today we are very excited to welcome author Amy K. Nichols to the blog for an interview!
1. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did you want to be something else?
I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember. When I was old enough to form letters, I began writing them down and adding my own illustrations. (My mom still has some of those!) Throughout the years, various career options have caught my eye. Professional musician. Medieval paleographer. Doctor. Forensic document examiner. Recently, I’ve been tempted to learn cybersecurity and become a professional hacker. Long story short: I’m insatiably curious, and when I see fascinating or shiny things, I want to chase them all down their various paths. At the end of the day, though, I always come back to writing. Storytelling just fits who I am as a creative person.
2. How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?
It depends on the project and the deadline. One of the first things I tried when I made the decision to pursue writing was the 3-Day Novel Contest. It takes place over Labor Day weekend each year, and participants attempt to write a novel (a novella, really) in just three days (Friday midnight to Monday midnight). It’s insane. And so much fun. That first year, I won third place, which confirmed two things: writing is what I’m supposed to be doing, and when necessary, I can do it fast. That being said, I spent years learning how to write a good story and getting one ready for submission. Now That You’re Here took me about five years from concept to publication. Then I was on deadline for the second book, and wrote it in about eight months. So it really varies.
3. How do you come up with themes for your stories?
It might sound strange, but I feel like the stories and their themes choose me. I never set out to write a story about XYZ. Instead, it usually happens like this: I’m doing something mundane, like sweeping my floor or drying my hair, and suddenly there’s a voice in my head and a scene playing out like a movie in my mind. The other day it happened while I was icing a cake. It’s random and weird. Sometimes it happens at inconvenient times, like when I’m driving or having dinner with my family. I keep notebooks and the notepad app on my phone handy at all times. Once that voice shows up, I listen to it for a while to get a sense of who the character is and what kind of story they’re telling. Then when I sit down to write, it becomes a kind of collaboration between the voice and the ideas the story sparks in my brain.
4. Do you have a schedule of when you write?
I have two school-age children. Their school hours are my writing hours. As soon as they’re off to school, the work window opens and the clock starts ticking. Some days, I’m really good about getting writing done. Other days, I’m not. A schedule definitely helps, as do deadlines. A little pressure goes a long way. My goal is always to be available for my kids when they’re home from school, so sometimes if I’ve squandered the school hours, I’ll work after they go to bed. When a deadline is looming, all bets are off. I hide away in my writing cave until the work is done. They’re pretty patient with me when it comes to those pressured times, though, and my husband is super supportive. But yeah, a schedule and routine definitely help.
5. How are you able to balance other aspects of your life with your writing?
The longer I live, the more I think balance is a myth. Nothing ever works out evenly for me when it comes to making time for both life and writing. I tend to see it as more like a fluctuating pie chart. Some days, writing takes up a big slice of the pie. Other days, it’s marketing tasks related to writing. Many days, my responsibilities to my family gobble up most of the pie. I make a lot of lists to keep track of priorities and deadlines, and the alarm clock on my phone helps me remember where I need to be when. (Yes, I’ve been so deep into writing, I’ve forgotten to pick up my kids from school.) Balance, though? I’ve yet to achieve balance.
6. What elements do you think make a great story line?
Personally, I think a great story comes down to character. I have to be emotionally invested enough in the protagonist (or at least one of the main characters) to care what happens; otherwise, the book falls flat. A story can have the craziest, twistiest roller coaster of a plot, but if I don’t have some connection to the characters, then . . . [shrug].
7. What was the hardest thing about writing a book?
Writing a book requires a sacrifice not only of time but also of emotional and mental energy. For me, it becomes a completely immersive experience. When I finish a draft, I feel drained. Empty. Like I’ve poured all of myself into the characters and story. That’s the exciting part, but also the hard part. It takes time for me to recover from writing a book. I have to learn how to function in the real world again. It’s kind of how I imagine Danny feels after jumping parallel universes.
8. How many books have you written so far? Do you have a favorite?
I’ve completed drafts for six different manuscripts. The fourth manuscript I finished became the first published book. The fifth became the second. Choosing a favorite book is a bit like asking which of my children I love best. Each story is unique and connected not only to the time in my life that I wrote it but also to the person I was when I wrote it. So I can’t really choose. Maybe my next book will be my favorite one of all.
9. Do you have a favorite character?
From the Duplexity series, my favorite character to write and discover has to be Danny from the second book, While You Were Gone. In the first book, Now That You’re Here, we only got a sense of who he might be based on what the other characters thought of him, and they didn’t like him. No one did. He was a loser, a loner, and a bully. So I found it really interesting to put him in an environment where he suddenly has the love and friendship he’d been missing in the other world, and then watch who he became as a result. His story arc moved me to tears. It was a hugely rewarding experience, and a good reminder that most of the time bullies are operating from a place of hurt. Writing Danny’s story was a lesson in compassion.
10. Where do you write?
I have a comfy office, where I used to do most of my writing, but when we got a puppy, I moved to the kitchen table, where I could keep an eye on him (he likes to eat socks) and let him outside. I like the mobility of working on a laptop. When it’s nice out, sometimes I sit on the patio. When it’s crunch time and deadlines are approaching, I usually retreat to my office, where I’m less likely to be interrupted.
11. When deciding on how to publish, what directed you to the route you took?
From the start, my dream was to one day sign with an agent and publish with a New York publishing house. So I gave it a try, and it worked. My backup plan, though, if the book didn’t sell, was to publish it on my own.
12. Have you gotten feedback from family about your book(s)? What do they think?
One of my favorite moments after Now That You’re Here came out was when my mom called to tell me my dad had spent the last two days doing nothing but reading. When he finished, he wrote me a long email saying how much he’d enjoyed it and how proud he was of me. My dad is what you might call a reluctant reader, so just knowing he’d invested that kind of time into reading my book was amazing.
13. What kinds of things do you like to do outside of writing?
I’m insatiably curious. In high school, I made a list of things to do before I die. After surviving a very scary situation in my early twenties that I didn’t think I’d survive, I pulled that list out and starting working my way through it. I’ve learned welding, fencing, painting, glass blowing. I’ve traveled. I enjoy live music as often as I can. Lately, I’ve been exploring ceramics and I’m learning karate. My husband bought me a ukulele for my birthday and I’m having loads of fun with it. Many of these things I do alongside my family. For example, I learn how to play the songs my daughter likes, and she sings along. Life is very much about exploring, I think, and learning new things keeps me growing.
14. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing?
Two things: 1) you learn to write by writing, so the sooner you start, the better you’ll get; and 2) finish what you start, even if you think it’s bad. You can’t revise a blank page.
16. What is your favorite book? Favorite author? Do you have an author that inspired/inspires you to write?
I have so many favorite books and authors, I can’t possibly narrow it down to one. A few of my favorite books are The Book Thief, Love Medicine, The Outsiders, The Name of the Wind, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Martian Chronicles. See? If I don’t stop, I’ll just keep naming titles. Some of the authors who’ve inspired me include Neil Gaiman, Louise Erdrich, Andrew Smith, Ron Carlson, Jewell Parker Rhodes, James Sallis, Michael Ondaatje, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon. . . . Again, I could just keep going.
17. Do you have any go-to people when writing a book that help you with your story lines as well as editing, beta reading, and such?
I’m in a writing group with a couple of friends. We call our group The Parking Lot Confessional. We’ve been on this journey together for a number of years and we have a really good bond. We keep each other accountable. I’m also mentored by the amazing crime novelist James Sallis. His guidance and wisdom have been integral to my being where I am today. I feel very blessed to be surrounded by such incredible people.
18. Are you working on anything now?
I have a slew of ideas rattling around in my brain, but recently settled on two separate stories, one science fiction and one contemporary. I’m gearing up for While You Were Gone to hit shelves on August 4, but I’m also building the foundation beneath these new stories in hopes they’ll be out in the world soon, too!
Thanks so much for stopping by today, Amy. It was great having you here!
Amy K. Nichols has been crafting stories for as long as she can remember. She is the author of YA science fiction novel Now That You’re Here, to be published by Knopf December 9, 2014. The follow-up, While You Were Gone, will be published in 2015. She is mentored by award-winning crime novelist James Sallis and lives on the edge of the Sonoran desert with her husband and children. Amy is a member of SCBWI and SFWA, as well as the Class of 2K14 debut authors. Visit her online at http://www.amyknichols.com.