Q&A with Nancy Christie About TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER--
**Say Hello in the Comments section and get a free copy of her story "Annabelle"! :)**
**Say Hello in the Comments section and get a free copy of her story "Annabelle"! :)**
The characters in the stories all seem a little (in some case, a lot!) wounded or vulnerable. What draws you to write about these types of characters?
I’m not entirely sure. It’s not like I set out to write stories about odd, eccentric or unstable people. It’s just, for some reason, I am drawn to those types of people—perhaps it’s one of those “There, but for the grace of God” things.
My fiction—or at least, my short fiction—tends to be about people who are damaged in some way—by what they have done to themselves or by what was done to them, by what they have received, what they gave up, or what was taken from them. They are, for the most part, struggling to navigate through dangerous waters. Some survive and move forward toward land, some are just treading water, and some don’t even know that they have lost the battle and are, even now, drowning.
I feel sorry for those people, wish I could do something for them, and perhaps, in the writing of their stories, that is what I am doing. Because somewhere out there, there is a real person who is held in thrall by his or her obsessions, who is controlled by past or present circumstances, who wants to live a happy, normal, balanced life but finds that the tightrope of life vibrates too much and maintaining equilibrium is but a dream.
“Dream”—and there it is again. The idea of what we want and what we have. For some of us—perhaps for most of us—the former is the dream and the latter is the reality and never the twain shall meet.
Dreams and dreaming figure into several of your stories—“Misconnections” and “Beautiful Dreamer,” to name two. Did you “dream” these stories? And what kind of dream history do you have?
Actually, ever since I was little, I have been an active dreamer. The description of her children’s nocturnal activities in “Misconnections” is taken from my own life. I was (and, when I am very tired or stressed, still am) a sleepwalker and sleep-talker, and prone to dreams that are so real that, when I wake up, I’m not entirely sure if it was a dream or not! And sometimes, the images in the dreams do end up being part of a story. As a matter of fact, the dream image the character has of the little child in “Misconnections” came from one of my own dreams! Unfortunately, I am unable to dream on command—if I could, I would have lots more stories!
Where did the idea of the cover art for TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER come from?
From the very beginning—even before I knew it would be a book!—I had an image in mind for the book cover. The cover is a literal interpretation of each character’s metaphorical journey on the road of life. Some of them zig-zag across the center line only to pull back to the right side at the last moment, while others cross once and never make it back in time. And then, there are the few who are merrily driving right down the center, every now and then drifting first to the left and then to the right, blissfully unaware that they are courting disaster. When I shared the concept with my publisher, it took only a few tweaks before we had the “ah hah!” moment and said “This is it!” and after a few revisions, we successfully “birthed” this book cover!
Enough about the book—let’s get personal! How long have you been writing? When did you start? Why did you start —what triggered your writing?
I was always a reader—the best gift anyone could give me was a book—so I would imagine that influenced me. And as a child, my next-door neighbor Danny and I were always making up stories, acting out scenarios, creating our own worlds out in the woods. From making up stories to writing them down was a natural progression. I wrote my first short story (actually I called it a book—it even had a cover!) in second grade.
There’s a lot to be said for not having all those electronic games that only require button pushing. When children are left to their own devices and have nothing but their imagination to work with, they can be very creative.
What does writing fiction bring into your life?
It is less a question of writing fiction as recounting what my characters choose to tell me. I am their conduit, their confidante; I wait for their stories and then do my best to put them in written form so others can understand what they have done, what they have experienced and why they are the way they are.
Writing fiction gives me the freedom to imagine certain circumstances and scenarios, and then watch my characters cope with them. Of course, that freedom comes at a price—the cost being an inability to let go of the characters, to close the book on them, so to speak. They become real to me and so, years after I have written about them, I grieve for lonely, lost Annabelle, for Connie who gives to the children as a way of coping with her empty life, for Sara’s mother, who longs to turn back the clock and hold her daughter once again.
In a sense, fiction is also my coping strategy. Like most people, I have had my share of pain and loss, disappointment and heartbreak. Many times, I will use fiction as a way to heal. The stories, while not necessarily mirroring my own experiences, do explore the attendant emotions. I watch from a distance, as my characters deal with their own private anguish, and little by little come closer, until eventually, I can allow myself to face my own. Their grief and pain becomes mine—we share, and in that sharing, I can move on.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you like to be?
I often thought I would have liked to be an archeologist. In some way, the professions are similar. The archeologist carefully digs through stone and sand and dirt until he uncovers a world that has long been hidden, and, in some cases, the remains of people who lived so long ago. I dig through thoughts and memories and emotions until I find the imagined world and imagined people.
Then we both do the same thing: we re-create that world. The only difference is the archeologist recreates what once was while I recreate what existed only in some space and time outside of this reality.
When do you usually write: are you a morning writer, late night writer, any-time-you-can-grab-a-minute writer?
I am at my most creative first thing in the morning. For years, I kept to a 30-minute a day writing schedule, heading into my office with my second cup of coffee by 5:30 (that’s AM, not PM!) and working on fiction. Lately, though, my schedule has been in flux and my writing has been temporarily shunted off to one side. Bad, bad Nancy!
Is writing your full-time career?
Well, writing is my full-time career, but unfortunately that is not fiction writing. I do a lot of writing for companies and magazines—that’s what keeps the cats fed and the lights on!—so since that’s my income, it takes up the bulk of my time. Fiction, however, is my passion, so I try to get it in there regularly. As I previously mentioned, lately it’s more irregular than regular, but there is always some part of my writer brain that is thinking and imagining and creating.
Nancy Christie is a professional writer, whose credits include both fiction and non-fiction. In addition to her fiction collection, TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER, and two short story e-books, ANNABELLE and ALICE IN WONDERLAND (all published by Pixel Hall Press), her short stories can be found in literary publications such as EWR: Short Stories, Hypertext, Full of Crow, Fiction365, Red Fez, Wanderings, The Chaffin Journal and Xtreme.
Her inspirational book, THE GIFTS OF CHANGE, (Beyond Words/Atria) encourages readers to take a closer look at how they deal with the inevitability of change and ways in which they can use change to gain a new perspective, re-evaluate their goals and reconsider their options. Christie’s essays have also appeared in Woman’s Day, Stress-Free Living, Succeed, Experience Life, Tai Chi and Writer’s Digest. She is currently working on several other book projects, including a novel and a book for writers.
A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and Short Fiction Writers Guild (SFWG), Christie teaches workshops at writing conferences and schools across the country and hosts the monthly Monday Night Writers group in Canfield, Ohio.
Visit her website at www.nancychristie.com or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or at her writing blogs: Finding Fran, The Writer’s Place and One on One.
Keep Reading For Story Teasers!
Keep Reading For Story Teasers!
Finding Fran http://www.nancychristie.com/findingfran
The Writer’s Place http://www.nancychristie.com/writersplace/
One on One http://www.nancychristie.com/oneonone/
Make a Change http://www.nancychristie.com/makeachange/
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Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/NChristie_OH @NChristie_OH
Keep Reading For Story Teasers!
(From “Traveling Left of Center”)
“Girl,” my mama had said to me the minute she entered my hospital room, “on the highway of life, you’re always traveling left of center.”
Mama was always saying things like that. She had a phrase for every occasion, and would pronounce them with a certainty that, in my younger days, I accepted as gospel. But that time, I didn’t pay her no mind. I just went on painting my nails “Passionate Purple,” hoping that the sexy polish would catch the doctor’s eye.
I was justifiably proud of my hands, especially since, at that particular time, they were the only part of me that was skinny. A girl’s body sure takes a beating from having a baby. It had taken me at least a year to get my shape back after Robert Nicholas, and it looked like Rebecca Nicole wouldn’t be any kinder to her mama than her big brother had been.
(From “Alice in Wonderland”)
“Alice! Alice! Where are you?”
Her mother’s shrill voice crept up the stairs, seeping around the corners, through the cracks and under the door like a damp chill until it found Alice, sitting cross-legged on her rumpled bed, a scratchy woolen blanket wrapped around her, holding tightly to her book.
She heard the words as though they came from a great distance, not just the floor below. But instead of responding, she kept on chewing, tearing off more bits to slip into her mouth and onto her tongue. “Cairo… Alexandria… Mozambique… Tangiers…”
“Alice! I want some tea!”—complaining, demanding, the words pulling at Alice like a rope around her neck.
“Nebet, the master awaits your presence,” said the servant, bowing before her with the respect due to one of great beauty and power.
“Tell him to wait,” Alice answered calmly. She extended one slim leg to allow the servant girl to free her delicate, high-arched foot from its sandal. “I will bathe first and then see him. Perhaps. Or, perhaps not”—the control she wielded evident in her tone, her attitude… The heat from the Sahara desert permeated the room, melting her muscles and bones into a sinuous form, curled and waiting like a cobra. The perfumed water tempted her…
“Alice! Dammit, you get down here right now!”
One last bite, one final swallow, and then Alice reluctantly set the book back on the shelf, the bangles and caftan vanishing as the cover closed… She had tarried too long and the price she paid for any delay, any deviation from the daily routine, was an endless litany of complaints and grievances, lasting until her mother was fed, bathed, and finally put to bed.
(From “Watching for Billy”)
The sound woke her from her usual afternoon sleep. One of the curses of old age was the need to nap at odd hours of the day, coupled with the inability to stay asleep during the dark hours of the night. And since Roger died, it was even worse. Agnes found herself nodding off at mid-morning while the game shows played on the television screen, during the afternoon courtroom dramas, after the soup-and-sandwich dinner that almost always constituted her evening meal. Why not? There was no one to talk to and nothing else to do.
Brad said that she wouldn’t be bored if she moved into one of those retirement homes. But she didn’t want to leave her home and go live among strangers—even if sometimes the loneliness was more than she could bear.
“I’ve lived here more than 60 years and I’m not leaving now,” she had told her son. “There’s nothing you can say that will change my mind.”
“Fine,” he answered, an unmistakable note of irritation in his voice. “But if you won’t move, then you need to at least have an alarm installed. There have been too many break-ins in your neighborhood lately.”
Agnes agreed reluctantly… was dutifully attentive when the technician explained how the alarm worked and what each noise and light represented.
During the long summer days, she didn’t bother to activate it until bedtime, trusting in the safety of daylight to keep thieves and robbers from her door. But as winter drew near and the days grew shorter, she found herself turning the alarm on at the first sign of dusk, feeling for the first time a little unsure, a little vulnerable, in the house where she had lived for six decades.
(From “Anything Can Happen”)
“Where are my keys?”
Charlotte always put them on the hook right near the front door. Each night when she came home from work, she followed the same exact procedure.
First, she would check to make sure the door was locked, that she had bolted it securely against any intruders.
Then quickly, before anyone could come up behind her, she would unlock all three bolts, slip inside and quickly lock them behind her, before hanging her key ring on the small brass hook next to the doorframe.
Only then would she set her handbag—the one she had chosen specifically because of its multiple zippered compartments inside a larger section that itself was secured with two clasps—on the side table.
Finally, after she had hung up her coat, she would look around to make sure that everything was where they belonged. And sometimes, if the day had been particularly stressful, she would even go back and check, just to make sure the door really was locked and the keys were there, where they belonged, that they hadn’t somehow disappeared from their appointed location.
And yet, this morning, the hook was empty. No key ring hanging there. No keys on the floor. Or in her purse. Or in her jacket pocket. It took her nearly twenty-five minutes of increasingly anxious searching and feverish speculation (What if she had left them in the lock outside her door? Might someone even now be carefully, quietly turning the key, releasing the bolt, preparing to come in?) before she finally located them.
“A place for everything and everything in its place,” her mother had drilled into her, and Charlotte had to admit that it made life so much easier when things were kept where they belonged. And, like so many of the strictures that narrated her life, Charlotte always followed her mother’s rules and admonitions to the letter.
So how did her keys end up in the silverware drawer?