This Saturday, you’re in for a special treat, bookwyrms! Please welcome to the blog our special guest, Nancy O’Toole Merservier, author of the Red and Black series and the upcoming fantasy short story collection, The Lady in the Tower.
Without further ado, an interview with the lovely Nancy O’Toole Merservier!
Welcome back, Nancy! And congratulations on the upcoming publication of your newest book, The Lady of the Watchtower!
Thank you so much! It feels strange to call The Lady of the Watchtower new because it’s actually a collection of fantasy short stories that I wrote a few years back. At the time, a handful of the stories were published in online magazines that sadly no longer exist. I figured that this was a great way to give them all a second chance at life.
What is your writing process like? Has the COVID-19 situation changed the process at all, for better or for worse?
As someone who thrives on routine, COVID-19 has undoubtedly made things difficult because life is constantly changing. At first, I was just working from home, so my schedule was more or less the same. Then, I was furloughed, which meant that I had all of this extra time to write, but no idea how to best tackle it while still staying sane. Once I got the handle on that, my job hired me back, so I had to figure out how to fit my writing routine back at the edges of my life all over again. Writing in the time of COVID requires you to be flexible, and to pivot when necessary. These are two things that I struggle with.
On a positive note, having the everyday habit of writing has been good for me. I’ve gone through some trying days this year, and the fact that I can still get to the keyboard and work on something means that I’ve still got it together. And that’s a good thing.
What’s your favorite part of your unique writing process? Least favorite part?
I think my favorite part would have to be when the story starts to transform itself from a random assortment of typo-ridden ideas to something that resembles a real book. This usually happens some time in the third draft. My least favorite part is fixing all those tiny grammar and punctuation errors during professional edits! Not only is it tedious, but if I spend enough time looking at my writing, I start to get sick of it. It’s ironic that I begin to hate my book when they’re technically the most polished.
On your website and on social media, you mention participating in National Novel Writing Month. What’s your experience with NaNoWriMo? Are you a planner or a pantser?
I love NaNoWriMo. Every novel I’ve published started during National Novel Writing Month or their Camp NaNoWriMo spin-off. I love the positive energy around NaNoWriMo and being surrounded by so many people who are so dedicated to their writing. It’s all very motivating for me!
As for the planner/panster dynamic, that is something that’s changed dramatically over the years. For my first few NaNoWriMos, I was a complete pantser. In fact, my first two published books, Red and Black and Black and Blue, were written with very little prep work. But in recent years, I’ve moved over to the planner side of the equation. It’s not a very organized process. I don’t make neat outlines or fill out character sheets. I just basically write down a lot of messy notes. I find that doing more work in the beginning is a great way to prevent frustration further down the line.
On a similar note, how do you deal with writer’s block?
This is an interesting question because writer’s block can mean different things to different people. I don’t experience the “classic” version of writer’s block (sitting down and not knowing what to write) all that often, but I do write myself into corners from time to time. Figuring out how to get out of it can be a real challenge. In these cases, I might take more notes, talk it out with someone, or pace back and forth across the second floor of my house until the answer becomes clear.
Usually, you write (pretty awesome) superhero fiction. What has changed or stayed the same about writing fantasy vignettes for The Lady of the Watchtower, as opposed to superhero novels like Red and Black?
A lot of things ring true for both topics. It’s essential to have characters you can care about, a compelling voice that draws people in, and stories filled with excitement. But there are a few key differences. There are the tropes for one thing. The modern-day city setting that dominates my Red and Black series isn’t found in my fantasy short stories. The emphasis on magic is obviously new as well. Ironically, the topic of transformation is something that I find myself returning to again and again. In Red and Black, Dawn doesn’t just put on a mask. She physically transforms into the superhero Hikari. In The Lady of the Watchtower, characters go through similar transformations, such as a beautiful princess changing into a hideous beast. I guess it’s a sign that it’s a topic that I’m excited to write about.
Tell us more about The Lady of the Watchtower. What’s your favorite aspect of this book? How did you come up with the idea?
Ironically, I came up with the idea of assembling the collection while listening to a podcast. I believe it was the now-defunct Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast. One of the hosts mentioned that he had some short stories hanging around and decided to publish them in a collection.
At the time, I remember being very salty about this. It must be nice to have a bunch of short stories sitting around just waiting to be published! And then I remembered that I had a bunch of previously published short fiction, and nothing was stopping me from making my own collection.
I delved into these older stories, picked my favorite six, and noticed that they all formed around the topic of magic and transformation. And that’s how the book was born!
What is your experience publishing as an indie author?
On one hand, it’s great. I have the freedom to write and publish anything I want. This includes complete control over things like cover art, publication date, and my editorial team. That’s not something that traditionally published authors usually have much say in. I honestly don’t know if I could go trad having enjoyed this level of control.
Of course, on the other side of things, you need to have really thick skin. And I’m not talking about getting bad reviews. Everyone gets those. I’m talking about the sheer indifference you’re likely to face from the wider world. Sure, your friends and family will be supportive, but once you go beyond that, it can get tricky. It’s why you see so many authors bemoaning the challenges around “discoverability.” It’s also why you need to love the writing first and foremost. If writing is something you only like to do if you’re receiving heaps of praise, then maybe you’re in the wrong business.
What other projects are you working on?
I’m always working on a bunch of things. There’s the future of the Red and Black series, of course, and more short fiction. I’m also working on a fairy tale novella series that won’t see the world until next year, but I’m super excited to see people’s responses.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
This may sound obvious, but writers need to write! Finding a time in your everyday life that you can dedicate to writing is one of the most valuable things that you can do. For many people, that’s in the mornings before work/school, or in the evenings before bed. Others write for large chunks of time on the weekend. All of these options are valid. It’s about finding what works for you.
I mention this because some people can get so caught up in the idea of being published that they forget to put the words down on the page. Nowadays, you can spend hours pouring over craft books or marketing podcasts. I’ve seen people go out and pay top dollar on cover art when they’ve never finished a draft before. Once you’re published, you’re going to have to juggle writing with marketing and more administrative tasks, and that can be challenging. So it’s best to establish good writing habits before you have to start thinking about things like amazon ads or querying agents.
Thank you for your time, Nancy!
If you’re interested in The Lady of the Watchtower, or any of her superhero fiction, be sure to check out her website, nancyotoole.wordpress.com. She’s also on Twitter @watchnancytweet and on Instagram @nancyreviews. Also, be sure to check out her podcast, One for All.