Interview: Nancy Holder

Nancy Holder will be the writer-in-residence at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of adult, young adult, middle grade, and early reader work, both fiction and nonfiction. She has sold approximately 80 novels and 200 short stories, comic books, and essays in various genres. She has taught creative writing classes at the University of California at San Diego, the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference, and other conferences and colleges, and has been on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing for seven years. She has also served on the boards of Clarion (San Diego) and the Horror Writers Association. You can learn more about Nancy and her work at her website: http://nancyholder.com/


You are an incredibly busy and successful writer, writing in different genres, for different ages, in different formats. How do you keep up? Is there ever a danger of having too much on the go?

There is always a danger. The worst thing in the world is to turn in subpar work because you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. One thing I’ve learned about working a bit more speedily than some is that I have less time to second-guess myself, and as a result, I often write straight from the heart. Since that’s the goal, that’s pretty neat!

You talk about your teaching philosophy as giving kind, specific guidance. Did you have the benefit of this kind of help when you were starting out?

Yes and no. I did a lot of workshopping at UC San Diego and some of my fellow workshoppers were snarky and brutal. But I had one professor, Dr. John Waterhouse, who encouraged me to send things out. He wrote a moving letter of recommendation when I applied to grad school, in which he said he thought I could become a professional freelancer if I chose to. I was stunned. That letter changed the course of my life. I still have it.

As a writer-in-residence at the upcoming Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be living with the students for a week, lecturing, workshopping, and meeting privately with students. What is the one piece of advice you really want to get across to developing writers?

Writers must read. Watching TV and movies is great for developing a sense of structure, but absorbing the written word is vital. Writers need to be able to punctuate sentences and keep their verb tenses straight. And they need to know when they’re reinventing the wheel. It’s important to remain teachable. But it’s equally important to believe in yourself. Every single writer in the known universe started out unpublished. And that includes God.

Why do you think your work is so popular?

Well, I hope that it’s popular. That’s so kind of you to say. I try to be direct and honest (and kind, I guess, sometimes at least) and to say the things that people are thinking, but don’t realize anyone else is thinking. I’ve had so many people come up to me and ask, “How did you know?” I also try to spread the word that even in the darkest place, there is hope. I think that’s such an important message.

What is the biggest weakness you faced in your writing, and how did you overcome it?

Sometimes, because I write so much, I start repeating myself. I’ve really poured on the reading of late so that I’ll be fresher. I’m falling in love with writing all over again. I drive 80 miles a day on school days now, because my daughter is attending a charter school, and I listen to audio books. When I hear a cool new turn of phrase, I chuckle. And take mental notes.

When Wicked was optioned by DreamWorks, what did you do to celebrate?

It was really weird, because my daughter got very upset by all the hoopla. We knew the option had been exercised, but we didn’t know when the announcement would be made. One night I was surfing the net and the announcement started popping up all over the place. The phone was ringing. She got very cranky and said, “Now you’ll be famous and you won’t be around anymore.” Once I realized what was up, my feelings were a little less hurt.

Debbie Viguié and I finally celebrated together by going to Disneyland. We’re both Disney freaks.

Do you have any tales of caution for those anticipating this kind of offer?

They are few and far between, and the number of films that will actually get made is tiny. Since I live in Southern California, I knew that going in. So I was excited and happy (especially when my agent confirmed that Steven Spielberg knew who I was!).

How do you fit in time for short works between novel projects? Is it difficult to keep up on small stuff when you’re deep in novel mode, or does it provide a break?

It take as much energy to write a short story as a novel. I find I keep doing new world building in short fiction, thinking, “Hmm, this would make a cool novel,” and then I move on to the next shiny bright object. I shouldn’t write as much short fiction as I do, but it is my first love.

Do you enjoy tie-ins as much as writing in your own world? What sort of differences do you find in the processes of each?

I love writing tie-ins. I would have been a good TV writer. Getting a tie-in assignment is like figuring out a big puzzle. I always try to fit into the logic and structure of the show, to write “more of” rather than “more than.” It’s not limiting to me because when you write tie-ins, you can write different kinds of books, just as there are different kinds of episodes on a show–one week the crew’s using the holodeck to solve a 1940’s murder mystery, and the next week, Buffy’s dead. It’s just a lot of fun to get to play, too.

You seem to really have a knack for capturing kids’ attention. Any advice for those wanting to write for kids?

It’s like having to read–you have to know kids. You have to hang out where you can see them and listen to them. You have to watch their shows and read the books and magazines they like. It’s like writing a tie-in–you have to know that world. And respect it, and love it. Kids are trying to grow up to be good people, and I love them for it.


For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.

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