Sunday, April 29, 2012
5 QUESTIONS FOR AUTHOR NINA WRIGHT
Nina Wright is author of the humorous Whiskey Mattimoe mystery series, featuring Abra the Afghan hound, the bad girl of dog fiction. Book #6, Whiskey and Soda, is due out in late May 2012 in both trade paperback and ebook formats. In addition, Nina has published two urban fantasies, Homefree and Sensitive. She is also a playwright, director and actor. In her spare time she rescues stray dogs and converts them into drug sniffing police K-9's. Okay, just kidding about the last one, but she keeps a busy schedule, so I was grateful for her time.
1- What do you feel is the main difference between writing a play and writing a novel?
Thanks for asking this perceptive question. Writing for the stage requires, first, an education in how theatre technically works (the jargon and the mechanics of it), and second, a vision of what will beboth possible and emotionally powerful in a theatrical experience. The essence of good theatre is that it reaches the minds and hearts of its audience through their willing, collective participation inan active illusion. That is to say, theatregoers know that they are watching a simulation of life happening a short distance from their seats, but if the piece works, it draws them into another world and moves them to the perspective-altering response the playwright intended. Strangers gathered in a darkened room simultaneously witness and respond to moments of “live” human crisis. In this anonymous group setting, audience members may be more likely to squirm or sigh or weep or guffaw than they would be while reading a novel. To that end, theatre, when it works, is both more engaging and more objectifying than any other art form I know. It’s also massively collaborative in that the playwright conceives the vision and crafts the story, but a team of talented individuals—including producers, directors, designers, technicians, and of course actors—must ultimately put their fingerprints all over it in before the play comes fully to life.
Writing a novel requires skills in thematic and plot development, characterization, pacing and dialogue similar to those demanded of playwrights. A novelist, however, has greater flexibility in choosing point of view and setting, as well as the number of characters and scenes. Whereas a playwright is necessarily limited in the size of her cast and the cost of her sets, costumes, props, etc., a novelist has no such restrictions. Conversely, it is the sole responsibility and burden of the novelist to build every fiber of her world and the characters who inhabit it. She must be a master at revealing motivation, not to mention molding language, tone, action, and sensory images in such a way that her story comes to life for individual readers. The world of the novel must exist so vividly in the reader’s head that she does not want to put the book down.
2- Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a fairly structured outline, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
Usually I start with a situation that has captured my fancy: a specific person has a sticky problem or question. Then I wonder and wander all over a hypothetical landscape, repeatedly asking myself “why?”, “how?”, and “what if . . . ?” Always I imagine the character encountering unexpected and increasingly troubling complications, including people who are not what they seem to be. By the time I actually sit down to write the novel or play, I have a strong sense of my major players, my setting, my rising action, my climax, and my resolution. The rest I find once I dive in and begin crafting scenes. The best part of working this way for me is that the thrill of discovery becomes part of every day’s labor.
3- What was it like the first time you saw an actual performance of actors reading your dialogue onstage?
To be bluntly honest, I was bathed in sweat! Perhaps that was partly because I had been a professional actor before I became a playwright, so I was vicariously experiencing the on-stage process at the same time I was judging my own work. Fortunately, that reaction never recurred. I learned another valuable lesson very early on: trust other professionals to care for your work. Backstage at Chicago Dramatists Theatre, I was introduced to the cast of my play only moments before curtain. I was silently horrified at the casting choices the director had made; each actor seemed physically wrong for the roles I had written. I did my best to mask my concerns, but my stomach was in knots until the lights went up, and I realized that the director had chosen the right professionals for each role.
4- Your reviews have been remarkable--How do you keep your protagonist, Whiskey Mattimoe, fresh throughout you entire series?
Keeping a protagonist fresh is one of the biggest challenges for any writer of series fiction. I was never more mindful of that than when I wrote my latest Whiskey Mattimoe mystery, Whiskey and Soda, due out in late May 2012. When we last saw Whiskey in the fifth book of the series, Whiskey with a Twist, she was worried that she might be pregnant by her ex-husband. The answer to that question, unveiled in the new book, will doubtless change the course of her misadventures.
From the start, I’ve taken the position that Whiskey Mattimoe, though a fully formed adult, is capable of yearning and learning, which means that her life can and must change as time passes. Like the rest of us, she has experiences that cause her to question her previous assumptions and consider new choices.
I respect that my readers have specific expectations of Whiskey based on her distinct foibles. For example, Whiskey doesn’t seem to realize that she’s as impulsive and libidinous as her naughty dog, Abra the Afghan hound. She’s the least intuitive person in town, which means that her friends are often frustrated as they try to guide her. In series fiction, as in real life, characters must encounter situations that neither they, their readers, nor even their author saw coming. Having a dog who’s prone to run away and wreak havoc helps keep Whiskey’s responses lively.
5- How has the publishing industry changed for you over the past decade, and where do you see it headed for the next ten years?
Although my first novel was published less than seven years ago, I’m astonished by the changes I’ve already seen in the publishing industry, most of which, of course, have been driven by costs and technology. As recently as the early 2000s, I mailed queries and copies of my manuscripts so often that the staff at the local post office knew me well. Now I use email and social networks for virtually all professional communication.
I’m a huge fan of hardbound books, and I believe they will not become extinct, although their number will grow smaller and more elite. The future of mass market paperbacks looks bleak, and I expect fewer trade paperbacks, although POD will continueto enliven that branch of publishing, producing increasingly customized books in order to appeal to print readers.