Today it is my pleasure to interview Amy K. Nichols. Amy holds a master’s in literature and studied medieval paleography before switching her focus to writing fiction. She is mentored by award-winning novelist James Sallis. Insatiably curious, Amy dabbles in art, studies karate, and has a long list of things to do before she dies. She lives with her family on the edge of the desert outside Phoenix, AZ. In the evenings, she enjoys counting bats and naming stars. Sometimes she names the bats.
When did you decide to become an author?
Like many authors, this is something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was very young. Early on, my parents instilled in me a love for reading and books. I wrote stories when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. My mom still has some of them. However, as I got older, my dream of being an author was dampened by the advice to choose a practical career and my fear of rejection. So, while I continued to write for myself, I got a master’s in literature (because I loved books) and then foundered through a number of odd jobs (tech writer, political aide, graphics and web designer). All the while, I whined to my husband about wanting to be an author. Finally, in 2004, I took the leap by participating in the 3-Day Novel Contest, an international writing contest where participants write a “novel” (novella, really) over Labor Day weekend. It was an intense three days, unlike anything I’d ever done before. Monday, nearing midnight and the end of the contest, I wrote, “The End” and I sat at my kitchen table and cried. A couple of months later I found out I’d won third place. I took that as a sign and I haven’t stopped since.
Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
Even though I started writing with the goal of publication in 2004, I didn’t have a finished, publishable manuscript until somewhere around 2010. I spent the years in between learning as much about writing as I could by going to conferences, workshops and classes. I also joined a writing group (The Parking Lot Confessional - http://parkinglotconfessional.com). Another member of the group and I had both been revising our novels for a long time and realized we could stay on the revisions hamster wheel forever if we let ourselves. So in the fall of 2011 we made a pact that by spring 2012 we’d be querying agents, and we kept each other accountable to that timeline. I started querying in April 2012, signed with my agent in August, and sold the novel to Knopf in November. Hooray for deadlines and accountability!
I didn’t, and it’s a pretty cool story that way the sequel came about. I wrote Now That You’re Here as a standalone, then we pitched it to publishers as a trilogy all set in the same universe. My editor came back with a different idea: two books with the second book set in the parallel world mentioned in the first book. When she shared this idea with me I about fell off my chair. I thought it was a brilliant idea. Still do.
I noticed that for each of your books you include a playlist on your website. Can you tell us more about this?
Music plays a big part in my writing process. Back when I started taking writing seriously, I had two small children at home. My husband has always been very supportive, watching the kids while I write, but I found that I had to drown them out completely or I’d get distracted. So headphones and music started out a necessity and became part of my process. What I usually do is find a song that matches the mood of the scene or chapter I’m working on, and I play it on repeat while I write. By about the third play through, the song becomes white noise while the mood and tone sink into my subconscious and inform what I’m writing. I create playlists as I go. When the novel is done, they become a kind of road map through the story, which is kind of cool. I shared them on my site in hopes they might offer readers another insight into the books.
Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Yes! Like, every other day. Writing is a crazy gig. One day you’re up, the next you’re down. You spend a lot of time alone, caught up in your thoughts. Some people take you seriously, others don’t. There’s rejection to deal with. Negative reviews. There have been many points along my journey where I doubted I was cut out for this business. But I’m wired to write stories. It’s how I think. Back in 2004 when I made the decision to pursue writing was when I started becoming who I’m supposed to be. So I keep going.
Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
There’s a scene in While You Were Gone where Eevee returns to her room after an event that pushed her way outside her comfort zone. She flips on the light and sees that her room is just as she left it, and she says, “Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.” That’s how I feel about being published. It’s this huge accomplishment. I’m really proud of what I’ve created and I’m excited about my future. At the same time, though, everything is the same. I still drive my kids to school. Still do the dishes. Play with my dogs. Have coffee with friends. There’s a pretty big learning curve when you’re going through publication the first time, and I’m still getting my head around a lot of the business aspects of the job. There are also times when I have to pinch myself and I think, How did I get here? Like Eevee, I stop sometimes, look around, and realize I’ve changed. I’ve stepped way outside my comfort zone and it’s taken me places I never thought I’d go. And that’s pretty cool.
Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
That drive you have to tell stories is a gift. Not everyone has that. And those who do have it don’t have it the same way. The stories you have to tell are unique to you. Unless you write them down, they’ll only exist inside you. The world is poorer if you don’t share them. So honor that drive. Respect it and foster it. Give your stories the chance to live outside of you so others can read them and be richer for them. Respect yourself as a writer and give yourself permission to make time for your stories. Even if it’s only an hour here, fifteen minutes there. Those minutes add up. You and your stories are worth it.
Is there anything else about you or your books you would like to tell us?
Thank you for inviting me here to talk about writing and my work. And thank you to everyone who’s read the books!
Thank you, Amy, for joining me today. To learn more about Amy and her books visit her online.