Monday, February 09, 2009

Pro-File: Nancy Pickard

Nancy Pickard has written series and stand-alones alike. Her novels have won virtually all the major awards and appeared on many bestseller lists. And her short stories are as finely wrought and penetrating as her novels. She is a major voice in crime fiction.

1 Tell us about your current novel.

Huh. I guess by "current" you mean the one that doesn't want me to finish it? I'll tell you about it--it is stubborn, mean, and vindictive, that's what it is. Damn novel. When and if I ever finish it, it will be sweet as pie, lovable, and my best friend. It's called The Scent of Rain and Lightning, and it's about what happens in a small town in Kansas when they send the wrong man to prison, and when that man's son and his alleged-victim's daughter fall in love with each other. It will be my second "Kansas" book in what I hope will be a bookshelf of stand-alones set in my home state. I don't think I have another mystery series in me, though sometimes I wish Jenny Cain or Marie Lightfoot would tell me one more story. It would be particularly satisfying to do another Jenny book; Marie's stories are much harder to tell because of the rather extreme difference in the voice of the chapters that she "writes" and those that I write. (She's a true-crime writer, and the three novels about her contain chapters from the book she's currently writing.)

2. Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?

See answer #1, although "working on it" may be a misnomer. Fighting with it, trying to sneak up on it, giving it anything it wants if it will only let me finish it, that's a more accurate description of what I'm doing.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Finishing this book? Okay, seriously, the greatest pleasure for me is when it flows. Then the days dance by. I am Fred Astaire, only less dead. You would like to have lunch with me then, because I am great company. Now? Not so much. Do you ever kind of envy unpublished writers? (Unpublished writers, don't throw things at me, okay?) I'm not talking about the ones who are going through the pain of submitting and getting rejected; I mean those who are still caught up in the innocent happiness of "just writing." I remember those days, myself, when I couldn't wait to get out of bed every morning to begin writing. I think there's something about becoming a professional anything that eventually leeches some of the joy from almost any job, but the one joy that has never diminished for me has been the high of the "flow." When it goes on for days or weeks, life feels very, very good, and I want it to last forever. Those are the times when I love being a writer. If that's not happening, none of the rest of it--not even awards--is much of a pleasure. The other part of this career I truly love, believe it or not, is speaking to groups of people. When I'm having a tough time with the writing, the speaking gigs lift my spirits a lot, because it reminds me that all this sometimes-hard work results in bringing pleasure to other people. Writing can be such a me-me-me existence; it's lovely to encounter the ones for whom we do this stuff.

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?

See answer #1. Seriously.
Dealing with the business end of it is no picnic either, at times. I'm not crazy about that part of it, although I love a lot of people in that part of it. I adore my long-time editor, Linda Marrow, and I've had only one agent for all these years--Meredith Bernstein. We are a happy little team that works well together. The only one of us who ever causes any problems is me when I'm having a hard time meeting a deadline, and even then they are the souls of patience and encouragement, bless 'em.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Consider law school. People will like you less, but as you sit in your Caribbean hideway you won't care.
Oh, you didn't say, "one piece of advice for new writers," did you? All of my answers today are colored by my frustration with my book, lol. But okay--one piece of advice for the publishing world? Well, here it is: slow the f*ck down. Thank you.
What I mean by that profane little tantrum is that it kills me to see writers struggle with the sometimes-impossible demands that are placed on them by their publishers. (I'm not talking about myself.) The old dictum that a mystery writer needs to produce a book a year, at minimum, is a killer for a lot of writers whose natural creativity doesn't march that fast. I realize that for some writers, the incredibly prolific ones, that much time looks like a luxury, and they'd laugh at the idea of complaining about it, but it looks like a killer to the rest of us ordinary slobs.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in
print again?

This question brought tears to my eyes. Some of those writers are people I know and admire, and I won't name them, because I hope they and their books will come back so that they will not *be *forgotten.
As for the ones who are truly gone, how about Dorothy B. Hughs and Margaret Millar?

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that

It was wonderful. I remember getting the word from my agent and then going immediately for a drive in my car. As I drove, I told myself, "Don't ever forget these feelings. It will never feel like this again."

8. What do you consider the highlight of your career thus far?

Having my last book, The Virgin of Small Plains, chosen as the Kansas book of the year for 2009, in a program called "KansasReads." As a result of that, I have been driving all over the state to visit libraries. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I went to 11 libraries in 11 towns in 11 days. I love every minute of this year-long journey through small-town Kansas, and I am very, very grateful for the reason for it.

Another high point occurs every time a writer draws me aside to quietly tell me that reading Seven Steps on the Writer's Path got them out of a dark place. Not all that many people have ever read that book about the emotional journey of being a writer, but it seems to have helped a few of them who have read it. That's what it's for, and it feels good to know it does the job.

9. How about the low point?

Just before I got over a writer's block and began writing again on Twilight.

10. Which book or short story would you recommend to readers unfamiliar with your work?

Book: The Virgin of Small Plains. Also, The Whole Truth.
Short Story: Out of Africa. Also, It Had to Be You. Also, Dust Devil. (I may change my mind on these in the next five minutes, and then change my mind again.)



Anonymous said...

Dust Devil won the Shamus Award for Best P.I. Short Story. The lady is versatile.


Nancy P said...

Hey, Bob. The lady gives PWA a lot of credit for giving the award to a short story that killed off three private eyes. :: wicked grin ::