Nairne Holtz


20 QUESTIONS IN THE HOT SEAT

1. Why do you write, what is it that compels you?

Asking me why I write is like asking me, why am I lesbian? I think it chose me.

2. What’s the hardest thing, for you, about writing?

Self-promotion. To my mind, humility is a virtue.

3. What genre do you feel most comfortable writing in?

Literary fiction.

4. How do you like to approach your writing when starting a new project? Do you do outlines, and breakdown scenes, or leap straight into writing the narrative?

I like detailed outlines, although they are subject to frequent revision.

5. How do you create your characters? Do you start with a basic outline of personality type, or work them up as you go along?

Characters come to me intuitively, but I tend to create too many, so then I’ll go back and drop characters or combine them so that each character adds something central and distinct to the narrative or acts as a foil to the other characters.

6. Do you talk to your characters at all?

No, but I talk to myself without noticing it.

7. Do you have certain writing rituals that you like to perform?

Multiple decaf cappuccinos.

8. Writers quite often work through personal issues in their narratives. Do you, and how do you handle that?

Unconsciously and indirectly perhaps. I think there is a real danger of self-indulgence and laziness if you work through personal issues in fiction.

9. Do you have people read your work as you write, or do you wait till a project is complete? What would you say were the benefits to either approach?

When I finish a draft, I let my girlfriend read it. She’s very thoughtful about structure.

10. Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

Uh, life.

11. Do you like to write to music, and if so, what kind?

I do write to music. I love bass, I love hip hop, but I can only write to instrumental music. Unfortunately, I’m not keen on classical so I write to bands such as Air, Pat Metheny, Laurie Anderson, and—this is embarrassing—a lot of Pink Floyd.

12. If you didn’t write, what would you do?

I used to be a reference librarian and I liked that, so some kind of job where I gathered and analyzed information to solve problems.

13. What’s your favorite story that you’ve written?

Phantoms, which is online on Blithe House Quarterly and Crows, a story about two lesbian junkies that will be in my second book.

14. What are some of the things you do to improve on your craft? Do you attend conferences? Take workshops? What works best for you to improve how and what you write?

I have a graduate degree in literature from McGill, which I think taught me a lot. I read all the time, but, basically, I think just writing and doing edit exchanges with a few other writers is what helps me improve.

15. As a writer what do you look for in a prospective publisher?

Distribution. I needed a small press that could do distribution in mainstream Canadian bookstores like Chapters and Indigo and in feminist and LGBT bookstores in the United States; there are a very small number of presses that are capable of this.

Design. Either a press that does beautiful design work or allows me to have a lot of say in the design. (Insomniac allowed me to choose the cover.)

Publicity. A press that has a literary publicist who has a lot of experience and plenty of contacts with magazine editors and freelance writers who will do reviews.

Professionalism. A press that responds promptly and politely and treats publishing as a business, not a social scene.

16. What, from your perspective, are some of the most common mistakes authors starting out in the business make with regard to approaching a prospective publisher?

I think most fiction authors know that by and large you need an agent to have a big publisher even read your manuscript.

In terms of small presses, authors should realize that slush piles are often not read and that in this business manuscripts tend to be read because the author makes some kind of contact with an editor; perhaps a friend who is a writer recommends you to their editor or what have you. So writers need to make an effort to get out into the writing communities that they want to be a part of and interact—join your local writer’s union, go to readings, buy books put out by publishing companies you think you would be a good fit with, make friends with other writers. This shouldn’t be done in a cold and calculating fashion and nor should you ask people you barely know for favours; instead, check out what’s out there and see who you click with.

I also think authors need to think through what they want to achieve by publishing a book. If the only publisher interested in your manuscript doesn’t offer you an advance and just offers to pay royalties, this suggests to me they don’t have the money to commit to all the other things that are necessary to make your book sell. So, yes, you may manage to publish a book, but it may not reach an audience.

17. What are some of the things you do to build up audiences for your work? What do you think are some of the most effective things an author can do to advertise him or herself?

Do readings. Get involved in writing communities. Publish short pieces. But don’t overdue it; your priority should always be honing your craft, not setting up something about how fabulous you are on My Space.

18. How do you feel about e-publishing and e-books? Would you go that route?

I still go to bookstores and buy books. My novel is available as a free download; Insomniac claims that doing this provides a tiny spike in retail sales. Apparently, people tend to read a chapter and then order the book! Otherwise, I can’t imagine just putting out a book as an e-book.

19. What were your best and worst experiences with an editor?

I’ve published one novel, and my editor, Gillian Rodgerson, has been pretty great. In terms of short fiction pieces, I can’t say enough nice things about Montreal editor Claude Lalumière. He’s very opinionated and isn’t afraid to ask very successful authors to rewrite scenes, but he’s smart and his suggestions are good. A few times I’ve had stories accepted in anthologies only to have weird interactions with editors who were overly familiar and made suggestions that didn’t make any sense. In those situations, I’ve always pulled my stories. If you get a bad feeling from someone, listen to it. A publication in which your story isn’t presented the way you want it isn’t worth it.

20. And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a writer? And what, for you, totally sucks about it?

The best thing about being a writer is when you get totally into the writing and the characters and situations just feel so alive. It’s like a narcotic really. The second best thing is when someone reads your book and really gets it. What sucks? Having to deal with cronyism in publishing as well as the harsh reality that like likes like: my girlfriend claims I’m a brilliant writer, but that I have the misfortune to write brilliantly about lesbians and people who aren’t lesbians generally aren’t interested in reading about them.

Our thanks to Nairne for taking time out to answer our questions and share some of her insight with us.


Author Profile:

Nairne Holtz is a Montreal-based author whom The Globe and Mail has identified as a “writer to watch.” Her first novel, The Skin Beneath (Insomniac, 2007), won the Alice B. Lesbian Debut Fiction Award and was a finalist for Quebec’s McAuslan First Book Prize.

She has also created an annotated bibliography of lesbian-themed Canadian literature that includes reviews of more than one hundred books and can be viewed at: CANADIAN LESBIAN LITERATURE.
  

Nairne’s novel, THE SKIN BENEATH, is available from:
Insomniac Press
Amazon.ca

Also available in the US October 2008

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