Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Author Interview: Nancy Oswald

I'm spotlighting children's author Nancy Oswald today. Nancy's new book, Hard Face Moon, has just been released by Filter Press. She and her husband live on a ranch in Colorado.

Welcome, Nancy. How long have you been writing? What made you start?
I've been writing for more than twenty years interspersed with raising a family, helping on the family ranch, and teaching full time.

When did you sell your first book?

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?
Well, I've done a little of everything. I usually have a vision about where I want to end, but many of the plot details are often missing. For my two most recent historical novels, I used a time line because I wanted to track where the characters were according to the dates of the actual historical events. These time lines were double layered with notes of the fictional progress above the actual historical dates. I also have created notebooks with relevant information that I can refer back to as I write. An example of this is a notebook with sign language for a mute character. I only used a fraction of the material I'd printed, but it was a security to have it by my elbow, so when I was stuck I could easily reference it.

As time passes, I am getting more organized, at least as far as keeping track of research information. I have done more than my fair share "flying by the seat of my pants" and having to backtrack to find information. Organization, however, is not my forte. For fiction, I'm not the kind of person that can sit down ahead of time and think the whole thing through. It just doesn't work for me.

How do you choose your characters' names?
Some of them just come to me and I'm settled on them and like them. Others take hard work. I've used character-naming books, created lists of possibilities and selected from them. I've also used other writings or historical resources. Recently I was reading a book about the history of schools in Fremont County and one of the pages had a student roster from the late 1800's. The roster was a goldmine of names like Lester and Florence and Fay and Edna. These are the real thing and far better than anything you could find in a naming book.

What a great find! What is your daily schedule like?
Schedule? During the school year, I teach four days a week which every teacher knows also means bringing home work on the weekend, not to mention classes, conferences and other obligations. During the school year, I try to sit down one or two days over the weekend with one goal in mind: "Put words down and move forward." Sometimes this is a paragraph, sometimes two or three pages. I am, however, committed to writing Morning Pages ala Julia Cameron. This is three pages every morning of whatever is on your mind, and while it doesn't really help get books written, it keeps the pencil moving.

How do you handle life interruptions?
All my writing with the exception of my 1985 book, which was written before I was a full time mom, have been amidst interruptions. As my husband would probably testify to, I'm pretty good at tuning things out, and since interruptions are the standard and not the exception, I guess I handle them like you would falling off a horse. Just climb back on and get going again.

Do you write with music playing? If so, is the music likely to be songs with lyrics or only instrumentals?
I'm pretty much a quiet writer partly because we have always lived in rural areas where quiet is the norm. Often after a busy week at school, I consider quiet a luxury, but this is not always the case. Lately, I have written to music and found that I enjoy it, so mostly I prefer quiet, but I do both. Lyrics are OK as long as they are not loud and distracting. If something has lyrics, I usually tune them out.

What food or snack keeps the words flowing?
Oh horrors. Food and snacks are my worst distraction! I've been known to prowl the house looking for chocolate, especially if I'm having a hard time focusing. This is NOT a good thing. Normally I sit down with a cup of hot green tea. It may not keep the words flowing, but it keeps the calories at bay. If someone comes up with a great lo-cal food that really does keep the words flowing, let me know.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?
I'm like Snoopy when he says, "It's exciting when you know you've written something good." When I've been able to put words down in such a way that I know I've communicated the exact emotion or the exact essence of something, I feel great. This usually comes after a certain amount of struggle, like tossing and turning in bed until you get your pillow fluffed just right, then ahhhhh, the right word or phrase manifests itself on the page and there is a great deal of satisfaction that comes along with it.

Believe it or not my least favorite thing about writing is sitting. This is worse during the first draft because I am doing a lot of muddling. My husband bought me an hour glass after I read this tip on a writer's list serve, so when I'm really having trouble getting going, I plunk myself down and turn the hour glass over admonishing myself not to move until the sand has run through it. Usually this is enough for me to get going, which sometimes is the hardest thing. Just start!

Tell us about your new book, Hard Face Moon.
Hard Face Moon is historical fiction based on the Sand Creek Massacre which occurred Nov. 29 of 1864 in eastern Colorado along the banks of Sandy Creek. In the early dawn, Colonel Chivington and his Third Colorado Calvary Volunteers attacked a sleeping Cheyenne Village whose peaceful chief, Black Kettle, believed they were safe and under military protection. Mostly women, children, and old folks were killed, and the survivors escaped by walking to the safety of a Dog Soldier camp on a moonless night, in winter conditions with little clothing, and only the freezing temperatures to staunch the flow of blood.

The story itself is told through the viewpoint of a 13-year-old mute Cheyenne boy, Hides Inside, who desires to prove himself as a warrior. The plot focuses on the rivalry between Hides Inside and Two Crows, another young Cheyenne, and his friends. The conflict is resolved during and after the massacre when the value of cultural unity and "family" outweighs the individual differences of these two boys.

What is your next project?
Whew. After that one, I want to lighten up. I've started a book set in Cripple Creek, Colorado, which has a lovable donkey named Maude as one of the main characters.

What is your advice for other writers?
Aristotle said, "What we learn, we learn by doing." Writers write. Keep at it one word at a time and don't let yourself get discouraged by life's interruptions.

What other work of yours has been published?
The Insect Zoo and the Wildcat Hero reprinted as Bees, Bugs, and Baseball Bats, Scholastic Canada, 1985 and 1990. (Now out of print)
Nothing Here But Stones, Henry Holt and Company, 2004 (Willa Award Winner in 2005)

Thank you for the Interview, Nancy.
Thanks so much for allowing me to share my thoughts with you. Good luck with all of your writing pursuits.

Hard Face Moon can be found for purchase at the following websites, or by contacting Nancy at nancy_os@wildblue.net:
Target.com, Amazon.com, Amazon Canada, and at Filter Press.


  1. I enjoyed reading this interview. I appreciated her advice to keep writing, one word at a time and not let life's interruptions stop you. That's great advice.

  2. Christine Harrison1:00 PM

    I resonated with Nancy's struggle for time to write and to organize information. Great interview for positive advice and inspiration. Thank you Marsha

  3. As always, Marsha, good job. And I, too, have a tough time with the sitting. Not so much because I don't like to sit, but because my back starts to hurt, etc. I've learned to get up and do something for a few minutets at east every hour if I'm on an "extended" (meaning I have more than an hour or two to write) writing schedule.

  4. Good interview. I appreciate knowing someone else has files filled with way more research material than they were able to use.

  5. Thanks for visiting and making comments, ladies. These interviews are fun, or I wouldn't keep doing them.


I welcome your comments.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...