A sit down discussion with Author Nancy M. Bell
Nancy M Bell is an accomplished author with many titles to her credit. Just look at her site for a taste of her works. In my continuing effort to reach out to writing professionals, Nancy is one who answered the call to offer insights behind the writers pen. Please read along for a delightful interview with an author who writes outside of the dreaded box!
Randy: Hi Nancy! Welcome to SRL Desktop Creations, we are so pleased to have you here. Let us start off with you telling us something about you, where you grew up and the lifestyle you experienced as a youngster.
Nancy: Hi Randy, I grew up in the 1960’s in West Hill which was at the far east end of Scarborough/Toronto Ontario. We lived with my maternal grandparents on Kingston Road which is part of Highway 2. There was an empty lot beside us full of orchard trees. The whole block behind us, which was bordered by Kingston Rd in the north, Lawrence Ave in the south, Manse Rd in the west and Megan Ave in the east, was a vast field with two streams running through it and we used to short cut through it to go to school. In the spring there were dogs tooth violets and ginseng in one part and in the marsh were golden marsh marigolds where I often lost shoes and boots much to my mother’s chagrin. It was a lovely place to play and explore.
A major part of my growing up was the cottage my father bought on Davis Lake in Haliburton in 1962. Memories of that time are still vivid and special. My paternal grandparents ran a small store at the end of the lake and every long weekend in the summer the Ski Club would hold a dance outside under the stars with a local live band. Often us kids would spend the afternoon before these occasions shucking corn for the August corn boil. I spent every minute there I could until I turned 15 and started working at Rouge Hill Stables, mucking stalls and carrying water to start, and then progressing to leading trail rides and spending 8 hours a day on weekends and in the summer in the saddle. Horses are, and always have been, my passion.
“I healed a bull frog with a broken leg one summer at the lake”
Randy: Looking at some of your bio info, and based on the answer you just gave above, I see that you have a deep connection to animals, can you tell me something about that?
Nancy: Even when I was a kid, I would bring home anything I found that was wounded. My grandfather taught me how to care for the many kittens the cats had. In those days spaying and neutering was almost unheard of. I healed a bull frog with a broken leg one summer at the lake. I have taken in horses, sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits etc. that have needed a home over the years.
Now I work with Alberta Animal Rescue Crew in Calgary Alberta as a Cat Adoption Co-coordinator. I take in medical fosters that need to be monitored and medicated as well as healthy cats. I used to take dogs and puppies to foster too, but we adopted a big goofy dog about a year ago and it’s just too much to have dog fosters too. I have 3 dogs that were surrenders from First Nations communities and 4 cats of my own as well as 2 horses. It’s always a full house here. <laughs>
Randy: You mention First Nations communities in the previous answer, and I saw some mention of them in some of your Bio information. Tell us something about that group and your connection to them.
Nancy: Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS) is based in Calgary, Alberta and in partnership with the Alberta Spay and Neuter Task Force reach out to First Nations communities in Alberta and offer free spay and neuter clinics which take place over a weekend. All participants, including veterinarians, anesthesiologists and vet techs, volunteer their time and are supported by a huge network of lay volunteers. In a weekend there can be over 200 dogs and cats go through the ORs. It is a way to help reduce the number of stray and unwanted animals on the reserves. We also take in animals from the northern provinces and territories. We also work with the Alberta Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and often take in seized animals through them. An I have volunteered with AARCS for 5 years and recently became a staff member as Cat Adoption Co-coordinator.
Randy: For some, it comes like a bolt of lightning, for others it creeps up on them…for you, can you describe how and when you said, “I want to write books”?
Nancy: I have been writing since I was in grade school. I still have some of the short, and not so short, stories hand scribbled in pencil and pen. They are embarrassingly terrible. But words have always come to me and demanded to be put down on paper. It must be some past life geasa or something. <laughs>
Randy’s Ed. note: I didn’t know geasa, so I looked it up…it is associated with Irish folklore, “A geasa can be compared with a curse or, paradoxically, a gift. If someone under a geas violates the associated taboo, the infractor will suffer dishonor or even death.” Let’s hope Nancy keeps obeying!
I started a number of novels over the years, but life always got in the way, although I did amass a great deal of poetry and magazine articles. Then in 2005 I had a life changing accident and went from 200 miles per hour to 0 in about 2 seconds. While it ended my career, it did give me time <too much of it at times> to read and research things I had put on the top shelf for too long. I think the Universe said “Hey, lady. Quit ignoring me and write the stories we keep gifting you with.” Apparently, it was time I listened to my muse’s voice.
“My characters kind of slide into my head and start whispering their stories”
Randy: Do you think your particular background and experiences you have mentioned here play a major role in your written works, or are they unrelated to the worlds you dream up between the pages?
Nancy: Certainly! Life experience colors what we write. There are usually horse and dogs in my books. In ‘A Step Beyond’, the grey war stallion Alim actually steals every scene he’s in. It wasn’t meant to be that way, but hey, it happened.
My characters kind of slide into my head and start whispering their stories and I try to type fast enough to keep up with them. <no easy feat sometimes let me assure you> <grins> I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes I get characters popping up unexpectedly to help move the plot forward (sometimes in ways I hadn’t anticipated). Case in point is the fire elemental, the salamander Belerion, who shows up in the hearth when Laurel (of Laurel’s Quest) was in need of the next clue to her riddle. He took me by surprise but then he just winked that bright blue eye at me, and we were off. (he kind of looks like the Geico Insurance lizard but bright red and trailing flares of fire with brilliant blue eyes).
Randy: I see that you use very real-world places to weave you fictional stories and I can tell research is a big player of your works, can you tell me a bit about your research techniques and why they are so valuable to you?
Nancy: Oh Lordy! I have a whole antique book case of research books. All kinds, Hamish Miller is one of my favorites. His ‘The Sun and the Serpent’ helped me show Laurel the way to solve her riddle in ‘Laurel’s Quest’. During my search for the elusive book I contacted the publisher, Penwith Press and Hamish himself replied. We developed a long-distance friendship via email which I cherish to this day even though he has passed on the Shining Realms now.
I read voraciously, troll the internet and check out the bibliographies in the back of the books I find for research. It’s amazing the rabbit holes such research takes you down. Research can become an addiction and the actual writing can suffer for it. Sometimes you have to come up for air <or your muse yanks you back to the surface by the hair lol>
Randy: Do you believe that some of these places in of themselves inspire some to the stories that you write?
Nancy: Definitely. There are places on the prairies where the stories whisper in the wind and the rustle of the prairie grasses. Old stories, older than we could remember. The land lies dreaming under the sky. Those words were shared with me many years ago sitting on a hill looking over the sun-drenched prairie toward the Rocky Mountains in the west.
Stories are everywhere. I once came home from walking the dogs with a poem. April Earth. Another place is Lake Louise in Banff National Park, at the head of the lake, away from the hotel, and Boscawe’en stone circle near St Buryan in Cornwall is a magic place. You can almost see the enchantment hanging in the air and taste it on your tongue.
Randy: I ask that question in relation to a page on your site about Ley Lines. How did you learn of these and why do they interest you so much?
[Nancy gave me this warning “<hard to shut me up when I get going lol>”] I assured here that is just what we like here!!
Nancy: I’m also very interested in Celtic myths and legends and have spent many years studying and researching that as well as earth energy lines and ley lines. I am able to dowse energy lines both with rods and by intuition. A lot of that research and knowledge is used in the first novel I had published, Laurel’s Quest, which takes place in Cornwall UK.
Carn les Boel in Cornwall is an old Iron Age stone fort, unremarkable unless you are sensitive. It lies near the Cornish Coastal Path and is where the Michael and Mary earth energies come to earth in England having traveled from Mont St. Michel in Brittany. From Carn les Boel they travel to form a node at St Michael’s Mount just off shore from Marazion, Cornwall. Interestingly, both Mont St Michel and St Michael’s Mount are tidal islands.
Randy: With that said, what is their purpose, or how do they relate to the world at large, and how did that play into you story of Laurel’s Quest?
Nancy: Ley lines are the straight lines that can be drawn across the landscape connection significant places, (first noticed in modern times by Alfred Watkins and recorded in his book The Old Straight Paths. For example, a straight line can be drawn from Carn les Boels to Mount St. Michael to Mencuddle Holy Well, the Hurlers Stone Circle, the Cheesewring, Brentnor Tor, Cadbury Castle, Burrow Bridge Mump, Glastonbury Tor, Osborne St. George, Avebury, Bury St Edmonds and St Mary’s church in Hopton. This is often called the Michael Line, there are many churches and holy places dedicated St Michael along this line, and it passes through a lot of high places that are not necessarily easy to get to. St Michael’s Church on Brentnor Tor is prime example. John Michel is credited with rediscovering this alignment in the 1970’s. Since then many people have dowsed the line and there is now a pilgrimage route for modern explorers to experience the energy.
An earth energy line is different. It does not follow a straight line, but rather loops across the countryside. There are always two lines, one positive energy, one negative, or male/female if you prefer. The male (or Michael Line in SW England) tends to keep to high places, the female (or Mary Line) keeps to lower areas and is drawn to water. There are many holy wells situated on the Mary Line. The two lines loop across the country and on occasion they meet at what is termed a ‘node’. Intricate energy patterns can be dowsed at these locations and the combined energy can often be felt by people who are unaware of what exactly it is they are feeling. Feelings of peace, harmony and healing are most often reported. It’s a lot more complicated than what I’ve explained here. If anyone is interested in discovering more, check out the work of John Michel, Hamish Miller and Sig Lundgrund. Some experts describe the energy lines as the Earth’s nervous system. Indeed, if a number of people interact with the energy lines by dowsing or ‘tuning in’ to them the lines increase in size and amplitude.
I used the Michael Line to lead Laurel across Cornwell and Somerset in order to answer the clues to the riddle she must solve in order to help her mother. There is magic in the world, we only have to recognize and acknowledge it.
Randy: This also brings in some of the other concepts you use in your story telling, such as magic, and other spiritual concepts. How important, if at all, do you believe it is for an author to delve into the supernatural in relation to composing fictional writing?
Nancy: For me, it’s hard to separate the two. Standing with a foot in each realm is kind of where I exist most of the time, so it’s only natural that it comes through in my writing. I have a Level One Reiki degree and when healing you are a bridge between the ether, or Shining Realms, or whatever you choose to call it and it clings to you and colors your world view. <starting to sound spooky, aren’t I?> But it’s not like that at all, no crazy rituals or nonsense. Just opening your heart to the Light.
Randy: … A Level One Reiki degree? Tell us something about that.
Nancy: Reiki is a spiritual healing art. Reiki comes from the Japanese word Rei meaning Universal Life, Ki means energy. It has it origins in Japan and is not affiliated with any one or particular religion or practice. It is also not based on belief of suggestion Mikao Usui is recognized as the master who rediscovered the root system from which the modern practice of Reiki developed. The tradition and methods were passed through many grandmasters of Reiki over the years.
In a nutshell: Reiki is the life energy in all living things. Practitioners of understand each person has the ability to connect with their own healing energy and through touch and awareness help the client access that energy. It is an enlightening and peaceful experience for both client and practitioner. I often use Reiki on stressed and/or wounded animals, and it works wonders. I have only taken the level one alignments, but there are many more as well as other traditions than Usui, such as Holy Fire etc.
“At the center of every myth or legend is a kernel of truth”
Randy: I wonder, you seem to be tireless at digging into things, like old Irish folk tales, the old world, would you comment on how this affects your story telling and how aspiring writers could benefit from doing the same?
Nancy: At the center of every myth or legend is a kernel of truth. Something in the story will stir you and make you sit up and take notice. Take that element and run with it. Mercedes Lackey has had a lot of success with her Elemental Masters series which is taking some fairy tales and reworking them in a different way and environment, but the bones remain the same. Charles de Lint (who I love) is another example.
Randy: We sort of touched on world building, but what about characters? How deep do you go, before the writing, in character building? Is your cast predetermined or do they grow organically as the story unfolds for you?
Nancy: I am bad. I’m a pantser big time. My characters kind of show themselves and then they just develop on their own as the story progresses. Sometimes they run off on me and do things I haven’t anticipated, but that’s part of the fun and the process. <hmmm, that makes me seem kind of lazy doesn’t it?> There’s nothing wrong with those who work from story boards and notes and Scrivner, it just doesn’t work for me.
Randy: On processes, do you write your stories in long hand then to computer or do you write on a processor all the time?
Nancy: I tend to write poetry long hand, but for the novels and short stories always on the computer. I’m lazy, I guess. <confession time here> It takes too long to write it out in long hand and my scribbling can’t keep up with my muse dictating it to me at warp speed.
“Sometimes I get woken up in the middle of the night with a bunch of lines running around in my head”
Randy: Would you sort of explain the process you go through to write a book, how the idea starts, steps you take and how you decide its direction?
Nancy: Sometimes I get woken up in the middle of the night with a bunch of lines running around in my head and I have to get up and get them down or I’ll lose them and spend time fruitlessly trying to find them again. <you never do, of course> I have some series like the Longview Romance series and the Laurel series where off shoot stories are always hopping around waiting to be told.
Randy: Clearly you favorite genera to write is Young Adult romance, but you popped one out called “No Absolution” weaving a fictional tale around Jack the Ripper. How did you come to write this story?
Nancy: Now that’s the question, isn’t it? It started out as a collaboration with another author. We had about seven chapters written before the project fell apart. We had split the story into two, she wrote a female character running a bake shop in Whitechapel and I got to write the Jack figure.
So, I shelved my chapters and tried to forget about it. But the Jack character kept bugging me and I finally gave in and started to look at it again. I changed my character a LOT. The more I read in books and online the more my vision of who he might have been changed.
So, Jake Wincott was born in my oh so fertile brain. I latched onto the fact his last victim was so badly mutilated and gave him a reason why that was so. I also gave him a crazy evangelical dead father who haunted him and then his mother was like the angel on his other shoulder.
It was born out of the tons of research I went through. I found a source online for an ordinance survey maps of Whitechapel during that time period and it was so valuable. It has lists who lived on what streets, (great source for character names) what they did for a business (which is where I came up with the idea of having Jake work as a slaughter man for a butcher). It also allowed me to figure out where I wanted him to live and to plot his escape routes from each murder.
Randy: Of the books (or series) you have written, which one would you say is your most favorite one? Why?
Nancy: Laurel’s Quest because it was the first and it took me FOREVER to do the research.
Randy: If you put all business aside, what sort of book do you pick up to pass the time of day?
Nancy: I love Charles de Lint, Mercedes Lackey, Jonathan Stroud. Magic and Fantasy.
Randy: For fiction, which one is your favorite author? Non-fiction?
Nancy: Charles de Lint hands down. For non-fiction Hamish Miller or John Michell.
Randy: Tell us something about the Writers Union of Canada you are a member of. What comes from a membership of such an organization?
Nancy: It gives some recognition to you as a serious author as you have to meet certain requirements to be accepted. They also advocate for authors for copyright infringement and fair pay for work used in the education system. It is a national organization based in Ottawa, Ontario.
Randy: You are also a member of the Writers Guild of Alberta, how does the differ from the Writers Union?
Nancy: The Alberta Writers Guild is the provincial association and so is more concerned with what is happening in the province. It allows me access to their resources and a way to connect with other authors in my province.
“Writing the book is the easy part”
Randy: Along those lines, you have great experience in the publishing world, with the actual writings you have to your credit, what sort of things would you say to aspiring writers about the business side of authorship?
Nancy: Writing the book is the easy part. Then you need to find it a home (or you can self-publish) but the hard part is the editing (and editing ad nauseum), and marketing. Getting your name and face out there is so important. Don’t focus on your first book as the selling point, sell yourself. Connect with your potential readers and make them interested in you and your personal story, then they will want to read what you’ve written. Don’t be sell sell, sell, buy my book etc. Be genuinely interested in interacting with your readers and connecting with them. Diana Gabaldon is a master at this. Just check out her Facebook page.
Randy: Finally,What would you say is the number one piece of advice you would give a beginning writer who wants to become published?
Nancy: Make sure your manuscript is pristine before you submit it. It MUST adhere to the publishing house’s formatting and call for submissions or it won’t even get read. Publishers and acquisition editors are inundated daily with reams of submissions, if the author hasn’t taken the time to make sure they are submitting work that has been called for, and that adheres to their formatting requirements it’s a red flag that this author may not be the best to work with. You’ll get a rejection without them reading a word of your manuscript.
Randy: Nancy, it has truly been a delight to get some of your insights on the wide world of writing. You certainly given a unique and special inside look at your processes and wonderful advice for up and coming writers. Thank you so much for your time here!
I would also urge readers to find your guest blogs here on SRL Desktop. such as The importance of accuracy, that further aid writers in their craft. It is a real treasure trove for seekers!
Nancy: Thanks so much for having me, Randy. It’s been a pleasure to visit with you. Your questions have reminded me of a lot of things that have gotten shoved to the back of my mind by day to day living. It’s reminded me that magic and wonder lives among us and that all I need to do is reach out and touch it to be renewed. It has also awakened my muse who is whirling around with stories and strings of sentences. Thanks!
Here are links to connect with Nancy!
Nancy’s Website http://www.nancymbell.ca
Nancy’s author page at BWL Publishing http://bwlpublishing.ca/authors/bell-nancy-romance-ya/
Nancy’s Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/NancyMBell/