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Face Down on Dry Land: An Interview with Resa Nelson

by on September 24, 2013

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Resa Nelson about her writing, how she became a writer, and what is coming up in her immediate future in terms of books. For those of you not familiar with her, you can read more about her here. The following is an excerpt from the interview, you can read the full interview here on my website.

PL Online: How did you get your start as a writer?
RN: It all started when I was in the second grade. What happened was there was a class assignment where we were split up into groups of 3, and the assignment was to both illustrate and retell a classic children’s story. The story that my group had was the three little kittens that lost their mittens.  So we worked on it, we drew pictures, and we came up with our own way of telling the story. At least in my mind, in my memory – it might be very selective – it was a real hit in the class. It was pretty much at that moment that I knew I wanted to be a writer, and all because of the three little kittens that lost their mittens.

PL Online: Who are your favorite authors?
RN: What I do is I read outside of my genre, and the reason for that is that I don’t want to be influenced by other fantasy writers or other science fiction writers, because I do write both. I read mostly mystery thrillers, I would say my favorite writer is Harlan Coben, that’s because he’s not only known, he’s known mostly as the master of the twist and turn, and his novels are really unpredictable. But the reason I really like him, is I think he does a great job of creating characters that feel like people I would really like to hang out with in real life. A lot of that boils down to basic human decency, people who are aware of other people, and aware of their own actions and how their actions can impact other people. What I tend to do is pick an author and try to read as much as I can if not everything, A couple of years ago I had a Dennis Lehane year, and this year has been Gillian Flynn. I’ve really been loving Gillian Flynn’s Work.

PL Online: How do you feel as an author about the value of the public library in today’s society?
RN: I think there is no place like a public library. When I was a kid I spent so much time, just scads of time, there. I think for kids especially who may not feel like they fit in, the library can be an extraordinary safe place. I think that’s important for kids. I remember when I was really little, my hometown library was like this huge stone building, probably built in 1900. The children’s section was in the basement, and it was extremely scary, which made it all that much more wonderful. So I’d go into the basement into the children’s section, and it felt like a scary maze. It was almost as much fun as going to an amusement part. Then I would just wander through the book stacks and look for treasures everywhere. To some extent you can do that online, but there is nothing like being there. It’s a sensory experience. It’s musty, and you can smell the books around you, and you can reach out and feel them. Some feel old, and when you open them the pages almost fall apart, and others are new and they crack when they open because no one has read it yet.

PL Online: In your About the Author section of The Dragonslayer’s Sword, you discussed some of the work that went into research for your book. What made you decide to learn blacksmithing and sword work?
RN: I thought “How can I write about a woman who is a blacksmith if I don’t know how to do it” and I thought “I’ll go learn how to blacksmith.” I was the only woman, and of course all of my classmates were these big, gigantic burly men, and they had no problem picking it up, but for me it was hard. A woman, physiologically, a woman doesn’t have the same upper body strength unless she takes steroids. So I had to figure out how to keep up with the men. So, first I talked to my teacher about it, and I talked to my classmates about it. My feeling was that I wanted input. I’m interested in everyone’s opinion; you never know where the good advice will come from.  I did 3 things: I found the smallest hammer that felt comfortable in my hand, and I picked up dozens until I found one that felt good. Then, I decided to choke up on it the way you choke up on a baseball bat. That helped me have more control over it, and then I decided to become ambidextrous. What was happening was I would hammer – the thing is the course, it met once a week for like 3.5 to 4 hours – spending all that time in front of anvil, after the first 5 minutes it felt like my arm would fall off. So in the beginning, it was not easy. But, after one or two classes, I got pretty good at it. By the end of the course I was keeping up with the men. I was very, very happy about that.

PL Online: Some authors are totally against the rise of e-books, while others have sung their praises. How do you feel about e-books?
RN: I think e-books are fabulous. There is always going to be room for every format whether it is a hardback book a paperback book an e-book, audio book, whatever, because I think that different people have different needs and wants. I don’t think everyone can be put into one basket. I think there is room for everything.

PL Online: What would you say is the toughest lesson you had to learn as a starting writer?
I think the most difficult lesson was that I had to learn that there is no magic bullet for learning how to write, and that every writer has to find their own path, every writer has to figure out how to learn, how to write and what works for them and what doesn’t work for them. Once I understood that, I kinda went “oh, okay” and everything made sense after that. A lot of people who want to be writers get tripped up by “if I just learn how to do this” but no, writing is like learning how to swim. My parents decided that the one thing I had to learn how to do was to swim, because it was the one sport that could save my life and they wanted me to have that ability. I failed my first year of swimming lessons, and I had never failed at anything, but the next year I just decided to take the course again, do my best, and what was so hard for me was the fact that you have to learn all these different skills, like how to use your arms and your legs and you have to learn how to breathe. You have to learn how to twist your torso, and then you have to learn how to coordinate all those things so that they work together.

The thing that really helped me, in order to learn the American crawl, I would lie face down on my bed and I would practice all those things individually, then practice them together. By practicing on dry land, I could actually do it. And writing is like that. You have to learn how to write characters, how to write dialogue, how to create a plot, have to learn how to build a world. All of these different things, then you have to learn to do them all at the same time. It’s exactly like swimming. No one can really tell you how you can do that successfully. You have to figure out your own path and your own way and to me that’s like lying face down on dry land.

PL Online: Do you have any advice for a would-be author that you would like to share?
RN: It boils down to a couple of things. If you want to be an author, you really have to learn your craft and work at your craft. That’s exactly what writing is, a craft. It’s not some kind of special gift you are born with. It’s something you go out and learn how to do, like blacksmithing. You learn all these different things and you practice over and over and over again and one thing that I do is to read people who I think do it really well, and I think “okay, how did they do that? How did they achieve that” so I constantly work at my craft. I don’t think I’ll learn everything in my lifetime, there will always be something to learn.

PL Online: For my readers who may be interested in a book signing, can you tell them where you will be appearing at any conventions or other gatherings in the near future?
RN: There isn’t anything scheduled for the near future. I typically go to three Sci-Fi conventions in the Boston Area: Arisia in January, BosKone in February and Readercon in July.

For more information about Resa Nelson, you can visit her website here.  Be sure to check out her novels: The Dragonslayer’s Sword, The Iron Maiden, The Stone of Darkness, and The Dragon’s Egg, from the Dragonslayer’s series as well as her standalone book Our Lady of the Absolute. You can also follow Resa on Twitter @ResaNelson.