Friday, December 11, 2009

Interview with Urban Fantasy Author NANCY HOLZNER

Nancy Holzner grew up in western Massachusetts with her nose stuck in a book. This meant that she tended to walk into things, wore glasses before she was out of elementary school, and forced her parents to institute a “no reading at the dinner table” rule. It was probably inevitable that she majored in English in college and then, because there were still a lot of books she wanted to read, continued her studies long enough to earn a masters degree and a PhD.

She began her career as a medievalist, then jumped off the tenure track to try some other things. Besides teaching English and philosophy, she’s worked as a technical writer, freelance editor and instructional designer, college admissions counselor, and corporate trainer. Most of her nonfiction books are published under the name Nancy Conner.

Nancy lives in upstate New York with her husband Steve, where they both work from home without getting on each other’s nerves. She enjoys visiting local wineries and listening obsessively to opera. There are still a lot of books she wants to read.

You can read Deadtown’s first chapter here.

- Nancy, thanks so much for being here today. Can you tell us what DEADTOWN is about?

Thanks for inviting me, Joylene. It’s a pleasure to visit your blog. Deadtown is an urban fantasy novel set in an alternative version of Boston. Three years ago, a virus turned two thousand Bostonians into zombies. The former quarantine zone has become Deadtown, a city-within-a-city that’s home (by law) to Boston’s paranormal community. Shapeshifter Vicky Vaughn lives there, along with her vampire roommate, her teenage zombie sidekick, and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Alexander Kane, a workaholic werewolf lawyer.

Vicky kills other people’s personal demons for a living, demons of fear, guilt, and revenge. When one of her clients is horribly murdered, Vicky must face a bigger, badder demon—one from her own past—to protect the city.

- What prompted you to write Deadtown?

I’d been a fan of the urban fantasy genre for a while. For people who aren’t familiar with that genre, it’s contemporary fantasy that’s set in the modern world (usually an alternative version of a real city) and features magic and paranormal characters. Urban fantasy has a fast-paced plot, lots of action, some humor, and often a touch of romance.

Anyway, I was reading more novels in that genre than any other, so when I was looking for a new project, I thought I’d give urban fantasy a try.

The idea from the book came from several sources. I’d noticed an agent complaining in a blog post that she disliked the phrase “so-and-so wrestles with his own personal demons” and wondering who else would wrestle with your personal demons besides you. I thought, “What a great premise!” and started to think about a character who was a professional demon exterminator. I also drew upon my background as a medievalist (the novel’s background mythology comes from the Mabinogi, a collection of medieval Welsh legends) and my knowledge of Boston, where I went to college. With those ingredients, the story began to come together.

- Can you tell us a bit about Victory (Vicky) Vaughn?

Vicky is one of the Cerddorion, a race of shapeshifters descended from the Welsh goddess Ceridwen. She can change into any kind of sentient creature, and she gets up to three shifts per lunar cycle. Usually, she chooses what she shifts into, but sometimes strong emotion can force a shift. (For example, as a senior in high school, Vicky’s older sister Gwen got stage fright and shifted into a mouse.) Among the Cerddorion, only females have shapeshifting ability; they gain it at puberty and lose it if they give birth. Gwen chose motherhood, but to Vicky, carrying on the family legacy of demon-slaying is her calling. This makes her a little wary of relationships.

Vicky can be a wisecracker. She’s also brave, loyal, and resourceful, and she has to deal with the effects of bearing the mark of the Hellion that killed her father. She gets into trouble sometimes because she’s always first in line to rush in and try to make things right. Alone, though, she’s sometimes unsure of herself.

- How long did it take you to write Deadtown?

I wrote the first draft in about three months. But, as every author knows, revisions are where the real work begins. I spent probably twice as long on the second draft as I did on the first. Then I set the manuscript aside for a little while, came back to it, and did the final polish in about two weeks.

- Who are you, Nancy? How did you become a published novelist?

I’ve always loved books. I majored in English in college, then went on to earn a masters and a PhD in the same subject. I started my career as a medievalist, teaching Old and Middle English literature to university and graduate students. After several years, I left academia and became self-employed, working as an editor, corporate trainer, and author of nonfiction books. About seven or eight years ago I got the writing bug. I took a couple of online classes, joined a writing group, and wrote one novel, which I then put away because it wasn’t ready for publication. The next two novels I wrote sold.

- What was the hardest part about writing Deadtown?

Finding the time to spend on it. Because I write full-time now, I spend the work day writing nonfiction, and I focus on fiction during the evening and on weekends. All that writing means that sometimes I feel like I’ve run out of words at the end of the day, and the hardest part can be digging down to find the energy to switch to my current novel. It’s worth it, though. When I get my second wind, it’s great.

- Are there other genres on your horizon?

I published a mystery, Peace, Love, and Murder, in August with Five Star Press, which puts out hardcover books for libraries. That was fun, but looking forward I’m going to keep writing fantasy. I’d like to continue Vicky’s series, and I have an idea that I’d like to develop for a second series.

- What would you like your readers to gain from reading Deadtown?

Fun. I set out to make Deadtown an entertaining, fast-paced read. From the reviews I’ve seen so far, readers are definitely getting that out of the book. But I think there’s also another level to the book, one that raises questions about identity and what it means to do the right thing.

- Working on anything else? Can we look forward to a sequel, maybe?

A sequel will follow in about a year. Its title isn’t finalized yet, but this novel picks up a couple of months after the ending of Deadtown. Actions that Vicky took in the first book come back to haunt her (literally) and she travels to Wales to get further training. There, she meets a distant relative who . . . well, let’s just say he’s the black sheep of the family and he’s up to no good.

- Any advice you would like to give new writers?

Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read classic literature and best sellers. Read the kind of book you want to write, but read outside your genre, too.

Join a critique group so you can get other people’s opinions on your writing, and also so you can learn to read, analyze, and strengthen others’ writing. Learning how to critique well will make you a better writer.

Be persistent, and be patient. This is a slow-moving business, and expecting quick results shoots you in the foot. When you’ve finished a novel and you’re shopping it to agents or editors, start a new one. Write every day. Don’t expect that you’re owed a book deal, but don’t give up, either.

Question from Justin: Are you enjoying marketing it? Is your publishing house doing most of the prelim stuff like bookmarks, media release, and posters?

Overall, it’s a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed reaching out to other authors and book reviewers and appearing on blogs like Joylene’s. I’ve met some really cool people. I probably underestimated the amount of time it would take to promote the book, but I’m learning. As long as I give up on sleep, I should be OK. J

My publisher printed up a batch of advance review copies and sent them out to reviewers. They’re currently including Deadtown in an Ace/Roc Holiday Giveaway at the Dear Author blog. And I’ll be appearing on the Ace/Roc and Penguin USA sites next month. So they’ve been doing a lot to help raise my visibility. (But I’m having bookmarks printed up myself.)

They call it Deadtown: the city’s quarantined section for its inhuman and undead residents. Most humans stay far from its borders — but Victory Vaughn, Boston’s only professional demon slayer, isn’t exactly human…


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog posting and thank Joylene for asking Nancy along. Coming from across the Pond the term Urban Fantasy isn't so prevalent, but this has helped enormously.

  2. You're so welcomed, Linda. I like surrounding myself with intelligent, inspiring women. Men, too. I'm hoping all their brilliance rubs off on me.

  3. Hi Linda,

    I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. I find that urban fantasy is kind of a moving target when you try to define it. To me, "urban" is a necessary component, but not all UF books have it. (Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series comes to mind, and I love her books.) And some are on the dark-and-gritty side, while others, like my novel, sprinkle in humor. So I'm revising my own definition all the time.

  4. Nancy, you make me want to give Urban Fantasy a read. It's a genre I have never tried. But I did read the Mabinogion so your book sounds interesting!

  5. Just clicked the link in the beginning of the interview and read chapter 1. Wow. Great read. Very visual. Fast pace without being confusing. Great humor. I knew I'd want it after becoming a fan after reading Peace, Love & Murder, but now I can't wait until it's out. Actually, I couldn't wait. I was probably the first person to pre-order the Kindle version. Now I'll be tapping my fingers on my Kindle, hoping to hurry it up.

    Thanks for the great interview, Joylene and Nancy.

  6. @VL Smith: Thanks! I think urban fantasy is a really fun genre. Although it's got its conventions, there are a lot of different approaches. My world's relation to its Welsh mythological background is getting stronger as I continue the series.

    @Horror with Heart: Thanks for stopping by, Keith! And thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you found the first chapter fun. It was a lot of fun to write.

  7. While it's not my genre of choice I did take a look at the first chapter and found lots of good description and fast action. Well done! And I've enjoyed this interview, too, Joylene. Thanks for sharing your interesting guests with us.

  8. Hi Vicki, Keith, Carol. Thanks so much for stopping by and saying hi to Nancy. I baked, but can't figure how to serve them over the net.

  9. Hi Carol,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to look at my interview and read Deadtown's first chapter. I appreciate it!

  10. Nancy, your first chapter is the classic example of what publishers are looking for in a book: Hook, great voice, 5Ws, and EOC. Nicely done!

  11. Thanks, Joylene. As I mentioned to Keith, it was a lot of fun to write. I wanted to do a twist on the old advice, "Never open with a dream." :)

  12. Hi Joylene and Nancy, an informative interview and a lively first chapter -- thanks for doing it. I need an intro to UF because a work in progress seems closer to that than to anything else. Need to figure out where it will fit on the shelf and the public's mind.

    Maybe you'd do another post on what attracts readers to UF and what repels them. I note you have no vampires even mentioned in the chapter -- that'd be really good if they turned passe. Boring things.

    Chris H.

  13. Interesting interview, Joylene. I've never read any urban fantasy, but now know a lot more about it. The book sounds great, Nancy. Congratulations.

    Love the cover.



  14. Hi Chris. I had no idea what UF was before Nancy came along. Now I'm trying to think of a movie in the genre without vampires. I'm at a loss.

    Hi Beverly. Thanks so much for dropping by. It's been awhile. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

  15. Thanks, Joylene. Merry Christmas to you, as well. (I musst do my shopping.)


  16. @Chris H: There's a lot of good urban fantasy coming out right now; the genre is growing like crazy. As I mention above, it's pushing its own boundaries to include dark fantasy, noir-style PI stories with supernatural elements, paranormal romance--it's a big tent, as they say. I like to play with humor because, really, there's something absurd in fantasy, and why not have some fun playing that up? A good source to learn more about what's going on with UF right now is Sci Fi Guy's blog (

    @Beverly: Thanks! I think it's a fun book. And good luck with your Christmas shopping--just starting mine, too. :)

  17. I just wanted to thank Joylene again for inviting me here. (And also Keith for introducing us.) It's been fun!

  18. Nancy, it's been wonderful sharing this time with you. Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year. Please come back any time.

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