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Nancy has also authored multiple sport autobiographies and Star Wars books for LucasFilm. Get to know Nancy in the below Q&A where she talks favorite novels, writing young adult fiction, and much more!
What are some of your favorite novels?
I have so many favorites across all genres! My list is always changing, but here are a few…
In horror, I’m a huge fan of Stephen King – especially The Stand and Salem’s Lot. No one makes me care about characters more than SK! I also like Peter Straub, particularly The Talisman, and Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box.
In the young adult world, Jennifer Mathieu’s The Liars of Mariposa Island, John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, and Jennifer Longo’s upcoming novel, The Things I Carry are currently at the top of my favorite list.
When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I’ve always loved to write, but loving to write and making it a profession are very different things. I wasn’t sure the latter was possible.
After graduating from Cornell University, I was hired as a staff writer for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and realized for the first time that I might actually be able to make a living as a writer!
From there I took jobs as a campaign writer for the University of California, San Francisco, and then as a sport autobiographer, co-writing athletes’ stories, including Rumanian gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, tennis player Monica Seles, gymnast Nadia Comaneci, jockey Julie Krone, and speed skater Apolo Ohno.
But it wasn’t until I finally wrote my first young adult novel, When Elephants Fly, that I really felt I was an author. That novel— which revolves around Lily, a young woman trying to live a careful life to avoid a hereditary mental health condition who becomes an elephant calf’s caretaker, ultimately risking her freedom and sanity to save the calf’s life—allowed me to let my imagination truly soar and I’ve never felt more fulfilled.
The Speed of Falling Objects, my newest novel, has really cemented that feeling of artistic freedom. Writing Danny’s story, a young woman who believes she’s defective and inferior based on a perceived disability, gave me a chance to deeply explore a character, my own fears, and to deliver a message about becoming the hero of your own life’s story.
When did you decide that you wanted to start writing fiction?
After writing for a circus, a university, and co-writing sport autobiographies I realized that while I loved writing, I desperately wanted to tell my own stories.
The first step in that direction was LucasFilm. They hired me to create a middle grade trilogy featuring Anakin Solo (the youngest son of Han and Leia in the adult novels). It was a joy to imagine Anakin’s adventures at a Jedi Academy! I’m a HUGE Star Wars and science fiction fan so being part of the Star Wars world was incredible and it gave me the courage to begin writing my own stories.
What are some of the key aspects that you enjoy about writing young adult stories?
The teen years are a time when everything is new and nothing is perceived with weariness or cynicism. Each friendship, accomplishment, betrayal, disappointment and the bittersweet pangs of first love and loss are incredibly powerful. Who wouldn’t want to write about all these firsts and how they impact a life?
Writing YA also allows gives me the opportunity to create novels that I wish I’d have the chance to read—stories that might’ve helped me to navigate tough times, alter perceptions, overcome stumbling blocks and broaden horizons.
It’s also really interesting that the audience for young adult novels is comprised of a lot of adults, especially women. I think that’s because we are truth seekers and more apt to delve into emotions. Some of us want to remember a time in our life when things were new, and others, myself included, still need to make sense of aspects of the past so that we can let go of it and move into a lighter, brighter future. Reading about characters finding their way helps us find our own.
What inspired you to write The Speed of Falling Objects?
There were two inspirations for my novel. First, I wanted to write a story about childhood and teen labels, misunderstandings, and lies, and how these shape self-definition. Many of us rarely question who we truly are, even as adults, and whether we’ve accepted a false version of ourselves.
In The Speed of Falling Objects, Danny defines herself by her accident, her mother’s bitterness, and her father’s abandonment. She believes she’s defective, inferior and an embarrassment. But over the course of the novel, Danny discovers that she created herself based on misperceptions and lies, discovers unique abilities, and learns to be the hero of her life’s story.
The second inspiration was my obsession with survival stories. Two are standouts. Touching the Void, the story of mountaineers facing impossible choices, and Endurance, an account of Ernest Shackleton and his crew whose ship was trapped by ice. Both drove home the point that no one knows who they truly are until they’re put under immense pressure, forced to discover their nobility or cowardice and find a way to survive.
In addition to survival stories, I’m a fan of the reality TV show Naked and Afraid. Don’t judge me! The latter isn’t really about two strangers who meet naked in jungles and deserts. It’s about watching a man and woman from entirely different walks of life navigate working together to overcome horrendous conditions. Again, the truth about who they truly are surfaces.
The Speed of Falling Objects is set in the Amazon rainforest.
There are 3600 species of spiders, 2.5 million insects, and 17 types of venomous snakes. I couldn’t imagine a better place to allow Danny to face her fears, discover her unique skills, and define herself as the hero of her own journey.
What do you hope are some of the key takeaways from the story?
I hope readers will question who they are, what led them to that assessment—was it childhood stories, parents’ labels, their own faulty memories? If, after self-reflection, they don’t like who they are, regardless of whether who they are is based on the truth, I hope that they’ll find the courage to discover their unique gifts, as Danny did, and define themself instead of letting others define them.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on several projects right now. The first is a young adult novel that’s in the hands of my agent. Fingers crossed it will find a great home that will help me to continue to grow as an author. The second will be my first adult novel. I’m in the process of drafting this new book, and while it’s early days and sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the choices and what direction to take, I’m ready to leap into the unknown.
What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?
I’m currently reading Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. It has been on my TBR list for quite some time and so far it’s fantastic. Next up is, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and then The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.
Thank you so much to Nancy for participating in the Q&A!