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Interview: Nancy Viau

August 3rd, 2008 (07:52 pm)
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Current Song: TCM commercial music

I'm going on a posting spree today and have a bunch of author interviews lined up.

First up is Nancy Viau, whose forthcoming juvenile novel Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head is fun and funny. (Read my full-length book review.) Let's find out what inspired Nancy to carve out this story.

Samantha Hansen is a different kind of rock star, and I dig her. Do you share her interest in rocks, in science, or in list-making?

Yes to all three! When I was young, my family and I traveled along the East Coast quite a bit, and I loved to peer out that station wagon window and watch the geography change. My dad would point out interesting sights during the day, and we'd name the constellations at night. Once we got home, Mom took me to the library so I could find out more. As I went through college, I was drawn to science courses like Earth Science, Ecology, Astronomy, and Oceanography. (Keep me far away from Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, please!) It wasn't until later, when I ventured out West, that I really fell in love with rocks. I just couldn't get over how different the land looked there - not only different in terms of each little rock, but different because of the sheer size of everything: the mountains, canyons, plateaus, etc.

And yes, I'm a huge list-maker. I never stop. (I'm my husband's worst nightmare because his "Honey-Do List" keeps getting replaced with a new one.) Like Sam, I tend to have a bunch of thoughts running around my head. If I write them down, I can let them go for that moment . . . maybe even long enough to create another list! My youngest daughter's lists are more like Sam's. Just last week she made a list of precious gems she wants, starting with her birthstone. Thank goodness April is not her birth month. The stone is a diamond.

Which rocks do you dig? What's your favorite kind of rock?

Tough question. When I see a beautiful rock, like a rare, orange-colored citrine (a variety of quartz), I think, Wow, this is my favorite. This lasts until I see something else that amazes me. It may be a chunk of sedimentary rock - one with really cool layers - that I've found in my backyard, or a huge piece of shiny coal like I picked up on the beach recently. On The Beach! Isn't that amazing?!

Do you make lists or outlines while writing your stories?

Not at first. I write the beginning chapters without stopping, but then as my character grows and her life gets more complicated, I have to jot things down. Yep, in a list. It's usually in the form of 10-12 future chapters with tentative titles and notes on scenes I don't want to forget to include.

Like Sam, I had (and still have) a cloud poster. I love their names and appearances - so many 'match,' lovely onomatopoeia! What's your favorite kind of weather?

It's a toss between a blinding Colorado snowstorm, and a super sunny 80-degree day at the Jersey Shore.

How do you feel Sam's loss of her father informs her character? Her collections?

Sam is a know-it-all, so naturally she's upset when it dawns on her (at the ripe, old age of ten) that no one has given her much info about her dad over the years. She has a hard enough time controlling her emotions when day-to-day problems arise, and this big underlying problem is just more thing she has to deal with. Although Sam's older sister would love for her to "get a grip," Sam can't always do that, and her temper often gets her into trouble. Keeping collections (and lists) are her way of putting order into her life.

I loved her relationship with her older sister, Jen. Do you have any siblings? Do your relationships or experiences with them - or those between your own kids - come through in your writing?

I have siblings from my parents' previous marriages, but they're older. They were out of the house by the time I reached eight, so in a lot of ways I was like an only child. I longed for a sister - someone I could laugh and cry with, and fight with, too!

Since I was a little lonely growing up, and I didn't want history to repeat itself, I had four kids. Much of the sparring between Jen and Sam is similar to what happens in my house on a daily basis. Two daughters, who are five years apart, have very strong personalities. If I say any more, they will surely disown me.

Your poems, essays, and other pieces have been published in magazines such as Highlights and collections such as Chicken Soup for the Soul. Do you prefer writing short pieces or full-length novels?

I thought I preferred writing short pieces, and Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head started out quite short—a 10,000-word chapter book. But I was encouraged to expand Sam's character, and from then on, her story took on a life of its own. I had been so used to writing according to specific word count; writing a novel felt very different! I think I'm officially hooked now. I keep saying I won't write any more short fiction, but will instead concentrate only on longer works. But this isn't true, and the good folks at Highlights know this because they just bought a 500-word story. That piece took a lot of hard work to get right. I enjoyed the challenge!

Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?

I definitely prefer fiction. I want to make up stuff, pure and simple. Hard-core research bores me. I don't have the patience for it, but admire those that do. Writing personal essays is a different matter. I like looking at a moment in time, or an issue, and writing down my thoughts about it. It's non-fiction, yes, but it's all my opinion, so the facts are secondary to the emotion. Unfortunately, I don't have much time to write those essays anymore.

What are your ten favorite books of all-time?

The Secret Garden
Charlotte's Web
Little Women
Old Yeller
The Giver
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Stargirl
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse
Where the Wild Things Are
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Visit Nancy's website and LiveJournal.