Alfheim wound up as a young adult urban fantasy, though I had never written that before. As I began to write it, the genre wasn’t a conscious choice, it was an exploration of something I’d carried around with me since boyhood. When I was ten, I had a dream in which I was taken by creatures to a place that was magical. Even though I don’t recall the specifics of that dream, I do remember these creatures leaving me back at my house at dawn and desperately wanting to go back with them. In fact I woke up and was so annoyed that I couldn’t go back to sleep to make the dream continue. What I took from that experience was a sense that I wanted to find a way back to a world of magic. It wasn’t until Twilight that it dawned on me that as a writer I was free to let go and jump in with both feet in a way that would let me explore that desire. The young adult urban fantasy genre is so appealing because it lets you follow a path into world building where your imagination is your only limitation. It appeals to young people because it touches upon subjects that are relevant to them, and it appeals to adult readers because it offers pure escapism allowing them to recapture the thrill of their childhood again.
What do you find most challenging about the writing process, and how do you deal with it?
The biggest challenge is dealing with daily life. The constant and necessary things we have to do every day yanks attention away from our focus. It’s why you’ll often find writers taking long showers or sitting quietly in a room or going for long walks. You might also witness a writer having a seemingly two-way conversation with some unseen entity. You might think we’re either anti-social or just plain nuts. Well, we are. It’s a constant battle for balance. I am one of those writers who need absolute silence when writing, so I look for times when I’m assured an uninterrupted amount of time in which to let go. I pray for those moments when I’m so absorbed in the story that everything else around me disappears; hours will go by and you’ll suddenly wake up and realize that the sun has gone down. Writing also takes place when you’re not actively typing out words on the screen. Much of the writing process involves screening possibilities and variations of a scene in your head, various conversations between characters, and imagining yourself walking in the locations where the story takes place. Remembering what you’ve imagined in order to write it down later is a brain exercise akin to memorizing lines for a play. The normal advice is to try writing a little every day, but sometimes it’s just not possible, so I’ve developed into a binge writer. I’ve managed to complete two novels that way, so I can’t complain.
When and where do you do your writing?
This is related to the question about process. In a perfect world, I would get up, make a cup of coffee, and sit down at the computer. That rarely works because I must contend with the faces of my Old English Sheepdogs, Harry and Nana, who look at me in full expectation of both a walk and their own breakfast. Then of course I have to work, so that’s a factor. I try to write on days when I’m not working and have the apartment pretty much to myself (and my hairy muses) or at night when the rest of the household has gone to sleep. I have a small desk with everything I need on or by it: an internet connection for quick fact checking, a bookcase with my reference books, and close proximity to a refrigerator – I often get the munchies when I write. Pizza goldfish are a favorite go-to snack. It used to be jelly beans, but my dentist yells at me.
What have you learned about promoting your books?
That you can’t do it alone and that without it, your book will simply stagnate. From the earliest days of my turning serious about writing, there was an emphasis in platform building because the paradigm of publishing has turned toward self-promotion. This is difficult for many writers because so many of us are introverted. It’s why publicists are so crucial to the process of getting a book out into the world. They become a partner in the process just as your editor grooms the work so that you don’t look foolish. I’m blessed with my publicist, Wendie, and my editor Susan.
What are you most proud of as a writer?
It’s validating to see your book on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble, but the thing I’m most proud of as a writer is when a reader tells me she cried over a scene, or found a character to be cool. When a reader tells me they couldn’t put the book down for want of turning the next page means the reader is feeling the same passion I had for telling the story in the first place; it’s a connection to the audience and knowing that you’ve given them a few hours of enjoyment. In my own life, books got me though so many difficult times. It’s a blessing to give some of that back.
If you could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be and what would you talk about?
I would have to beg for two: Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. Mr. King has been my unwitting mentor since 1978 when I first read The Shining. At first, reading his books was so intimidating that I held off writing because I knew I would never be in his league. Finally, I realized that almost no writer is. I would love to talk to him about how he is so successful in characterization and how he finds a common touch with his readers. I’ve always said that if one of his characters called me on the phone, I wouldn’t be surprised – they are that real to me. In his book, On Writing, he claims it relates to honesty, but I’d rather talk to him about it first-hand.
With Ms. Rowling, I’d love to talk about her ability to world-build and how she lets her imagination fuel the process. When you consider the breadth of the world in the Harry Potter series, you cannot help but stagger under the sheer magnitude of it all. The main thing I learned for her is that no matter the world the story is set in, it’s the characters and their journey that matter most. Harry Potter is a wizard, but he’s still just a boy with growing pains and that’s what resonates with every reader (a billion or so) and connects them to Harry.
Gary Nilsen was born and raised in Brooklyn and Long Island, New York, but his career and interests have taken him far afield. In the early 1980s he spent five years living in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia while working for an international group of companies. A decade later, his interest in underwater archaeology, found him teamed with a research fellow from The Institute for Nautical Archaeology and working on the excavation of an ancient shipwreck in the Red Sea. Gary has written articles on marine archaeology, appeared on a special edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, authored two novels, and recently received an MFA in Fiction Writing. During his tenure in the masters’ program, Gary was awarded the university’s Robert J. Begiebing prize for a writer who demonstrated high literary promise. He currently resides in New York with his love Nancy and their two Old English Sheepdogs, Harry and Nana.
On Goodreads: http://bit.ly/1qwlLs