I actually came out with two new books at once. Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could is a nonfiction kids’ book about a premature baby horse born at our ranch. He had so many problems that it’s a wonder he lived. The story is warm and uplifting––Tecolote not only lives, but grows up to be a great riding horse. The book is illustrated with photos we took while the action was unfolding. I’m not going to concentrate on Tecolote for this interview. Perhaps I could do another on the little horse’s story later.
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy is my new sci-fi fantasy. In the tradition of 1984 and A Brave New World, The Angel occurs on the eve of a nuclear Armageddon in the late 22nd century. The world has degenerated into a police state. Eliana, an angelic visitor from another world, arrives on a mission which can save her planet. She has to find the “Golden Boy.” He turns out to be a 16-year-old tech genius in a world where technology is outlawed. Jeremy is also a revolutionary and the FBI’s most wanted. Together, Eliana and Jeremy begin an adventure that can save both of their planets. The story has a cast of engaging characters and an explosive ending.
How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?
Almost no time at all. I was busy working on the sequel to my first novel, Numenon, when The Angel burst into my mind. The energy behind this story was so compelling that it knocked my other work aside.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
My brother died unexpectedly and tragically three years ago. He was my only sibling and, though a grown man, my “little darling.” I reeled in grief, trying to make sense of what happened. About three months after he died, I had a dream in which a glowing figure appeared, hovering over my bed. She was beautiful and totally good. The physical pleasure of being around her was wonderful. As the dream went on, the “angel” hovered closer, eventually merging with me –– so that I was the angel. It was quite dramatic. I hung out in that state for a couple of hours and then drifted back to my regular self. Over the next few days, the plot for The Angel came to me.
How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
The Angel is an allegory about my brother and I. Many of the themes relate specifically to the two of us. My life is threaded throughout the plot.
Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?
The main characters are Eliana and Jeremy. Eliana is the angelic visitor from another world. Jeremy is a teenage genius who has almost single-handedly brought technology and the Internet back to a world where it’s banned. Jeremy has probably the most dysfunctional family in the universe. He needs to get over his issues with them to develop farther. But he’s a sweet kid, and endearing. My favorite character is a relatively minor one in this book: Sam Baahuhd. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but I’ll say he’s a primitive person living in extremely constrained and difficult circumstances. He is the hero of one of the sequels to The Angel. Why do I like him? He’s a hunk and a very masculine man. He’s complex, sensitive, smart, and a true leader.
Who is your most unusual/most likable character?
Eliana, the angel, is undoubtedly both most unusual and most likable. She’s beautiful, graceful, and utterly good. A dancer better than any the world has seen. Everything she touches is charmed and made better. I’m very pleased with the job the book designer did on the cover. It’s a flying ballerina, which captures Eliana perfectly.
How long did it take you to write your book?
The outline of the plot came to me in 4 or 5 days. It took me 5 weeks to write the first draft, then 1 ½ years to go through the editing/rewriting/editing/proofing process.
How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?
I had the outline of the story in mind. Refinements came to me as I wrote the draft, and still more plot and refinement occurred in the editing process. Usually a plot comes to me in a pretty complete chunk. Then I have to fill in the blanks and write it out.
Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)
I mostly did research on the Internet. Researched nuclear proliferation, nuclear war, global warming, rising oceanic levels. Stuff about nuclear Armageddon. Thank heavens for the Internet!
How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
As I noted, I have sort of large, internal experiences where my unconscious or soul coughs up a whole book. But the characters are fleshed out as I write them. Sometimes they go their own ways and change. Mostly they just get deeper and more articulated with writing. I pay attention to who they are and what they want.
Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?
Not really. I have a sense of a beginning, middle, and end and I honor those. If I get carried away, FOR SURE my editor will knock back anything that isn’t right. She’s not shy about saying what she thinks.
How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?
Again, it’s that gestalt thing. It feels right in my gut. However, I have been doing this a long time. I’ve been writing full time since 1995. I was in one writing group 9 years, another one for 2. I’ve worked with the same editor ever since. I’ve improved, and my writing has improved.
What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?
I’d like them to be charmed and moved. I’d like them to look at the world around us and realize that it’s fragile. I’d like them to look at our economic and political systems and realize that we need to work together to solve our problems in the Great Recession. The Angel isn’t implausible a future, given our current reality.
Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?
“Do good, avoid evil.” St. Thomas Aquinas
What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?
Keeping myself going. Doing the work. Overall, this was the easiest book I’ve written. When I finished writing its first draft, I had a sequel clamoring to get out rattling around my brain. So I wrote it. And when it was done, the sequel to that wanted out. So I got three books of a series from one dream. Not bad.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book?
Losing my brother. That was the spark that ignited the book.
What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?
I realized what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.
How has your background influenced your writing?
I have two master’s degrees, one in economics and the other in counseling. Both of those impact my writing a great deal. In writing The Angel, part of my unconscious was grieving for my brother; the other part, the economist, was looking around at our society going, “How on earth are we going to get out of this recession???” That’s why The Angel occurs on earth’s last day. If we don’t solve our current problems, we could get something like what I write. That’s scary.
The other part of me, the counselor, shows up in interest in how people’s heads work. Some of my earlier stuff was like doing depth counseling with the whole cast of characters.
How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
It colors it a lot. In my early writing and my first three books, horses figured heavily in plots. Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could is about a horse, period. We live on a horse ranch and have bred Peruvian Paso horses for twenty years. I’ve ridden all my life. So that colors what I write about. And my novels are a rehash of my early life, often very modified. But the details and feelings reflect my experience.
What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?
I write every day. I’ve got the two new books out now, so I’m doing a lot of correspondence and copy writing for marketing materials. I’m also preparing the sequel to The Angel for publication. I’m always writing something. I go for a feeling of satisfaction: I’ve gotten something finished, written a scene that I like, gotten a piece finished for a press kit. I don’t write to satisfy a word or time count. I usually work almost all the time.
Do you have any rituals that you follow before sitting down to write?
Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on Lady Grace, The Angel’s sequel, as I noted. When I get that edit finished, I’m jumping to Mogollon, the sequel to my first novel, Numenon. People have been emailing me asking where it is. It’s written, but needs a big edit. That will occupy me for a while. A few days ago, I looked at draft of Sam & Emily, which is the sequel to Lady Grace. I’ve got two books lined up after The Angel. Phew.
Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?
I want to reach an intelligent reader who’s not afraid of light or dark. A lot of life is pretty stories and light. Some of it is horrifying. I like to write in a way that reflects both.
What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?
Marketing and sales.
What is the easiest part of the writing process?
Doing that initial core-dump of ideas and plot that is the first draft. That’s glorious.
Does writing come easy for you?
Once I get the inspiration. Getting the inspiration for Numenon, my first novel, took me fifty years of hard living and a lot of pain. The idea and plot erupted in a torrent. The first novel in the series and then a bunch of sequels burst from me the way The Angel did.
What’s been the most surprising part of being a writer?
How much I like it.
Have you ever had difficulty “killing off” a character in your story because she or he was so intriguing and full of possibility for you, his or her creator?
Oh, yeah. My first novel, Numenon, was published in 2009. I had the draft of the sequel done and anticipated getting it out right away. It’s still not out. Why? Because it’s huge. It’s a 23 million page novel at this point. What’s driving me crazy is figuring where to cut it. Which subplots have to go entirely? Which characters? I’m in love with them all. That’s the problem. But I’ll get over it and sharpen my scalpel.
Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?
I have drafts of 10 to 15 books written and sitting on my hard drive.
How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head?
Lady Grace, the sequel to The Angel, is swarming in my brain. That’s because I’m in the middle of an edit of the manuscript. The rest are on my hard drive.
What do you like to read?
Pretty much everything. Just finished the Decker/Lazarus series by Faye Kellerman. I’m starting the Stieg Larsen books.
What writer influenced you the most?
Leonard Tourney. He was a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, now retired. He has written eight or nine very good novels. He also led the writing group I was in for a couple of years. I can hear his voice correcting my work when I sleep. He had a huge impact.
What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?
The Outlander (and series) by Diana Gabaldon.
Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was it?
“Don’t give up, Sandy. You’re going to succeed. It may not be the way you imagine, but it’s coming” That was from my editor.
What advice you would give to an aspiring author?
“Don’t give up, (fill in your name). You’re going to succeed. It may not be the way you imagine, but it’s coming.”
How have you marketed and promoted your work?
I’ve done book readings at local bookstores, gotten coverage in the local newspapers. I did an Amazon Bestseller day. I’ve been on a number of radio shows. I’ve entered book contests with my books. (My first two books won a total of 12 national awards.) I’m entering contests with the new ones, too. I do some chatting it up on forums on-line. I’ve got a blog to help writers stay sane: http://yourshelflife.com
What are your current writing goals and how do you juggle the promotional aspects with the actual writing?
I’d like to get out two more books in 2011, Mogollon, the sequel to Numenon, and Lady Grace, the sequel to The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy. Juggling that with promoting the two new books? Prayer is my only hope.
What words would you like to leave the world when you are gone?
Have you written any other books?
Yes, three other books. To learn more about my books, Please see my Amazon page: phttp://www.amazon.com/Sandy-Nathan/e/B001JS6VMI/or my web site: http://sandynathan.com
Excerpt from: Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could by Sandy Nathan
Excerpt from: The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy by Sandy Nathan
February 21, 2011 at 10:46 am
Wonderful interview. I’ve read and enjoyed both these books.