I’m very pleased to feature this Q & A interview with Riel Nason, whose debut novel The Town That Drowned was published in 2011. Riel is a fellow New Brunswicker and someone I had met during my university days.
After getting part of the way through her novel, which I’m really enjoying, I decided to reach out to her so we could all benefit from her experiences. So, here we go, ten questions with Riel Nason!
1. Was The Town That Drowned the first novel that you’ve ever written?
The Town That Drowned is my debut novel, but I have written short stories and non-fiction.
2. Did your writing process for The Town That Drowned following a linear path, i.e. did you literally start at the beginning and flow through to the end or did you write sections out of chronological sequence?
The Town That Drowned was pretty much completely written in chronological order. It is the only way I could fathom getting the story right. I am writing my second novel now and it is the same process for me – beginning to end. That said, I do sometimes write a few little funny anecdotes or musings out of order when a good idea strikes me (to be dropped into the narrative later).
3. Writing teacher Don Murray once suggested that the writing process could be divided up along the following lines: about 85% of your time spent prewriting (planning, gathering information, etc.), about 1 – 5% spent on writing the first draft and then 10 – 14% of your time spent revising and editing. Does this split make sense to you?
I can’t say that is my experience at all. I do jot notes and ideas ahead of time and have a rough plan for some scenes that I know have to happen eventually, but the list of ideas keeps building along simultaneously with writing the first draft. I write longhand in notebooks. I have one notebook that is the written draft and another notebook that I’m always adding future ideas to. I record anything from a funny single sentence, to an idea for a scene, to questions about the characters’ motivations that I think will need to be answered.
4. I recall that you were a dancer at one point. Does physical activity play any role in your creative process?
I would say the only thing related to this is that I walk for exercise, and usually by the end of my walk I have to rush into the house and write a bunch of new ideas down.
5. When was the first time that you were published? How did that compare to getting your novel published?
My first publication was a non-fiction article on estate auctions in an American decorating/collecting magazine. It was definitely cool at the time and gave me the confidence to continue writing. As to comparing that to getting the novel published, it really isn’t in the same hemisphere. That article was my first try writing or submitting anything, and it was quickly accepted by a nice quality magazine with a big circulation. It seemed easy to be successful at the time. The novel was far, far from easy. It came after a lot of hard work, doubts, ups and downs, waiting, rejection, etc. Finally holding the finished novel in my hand, and especially now, hearing from so many readers the story has connected with, is a total thrill.
6. What’s the best time of day for you to write? As a follow-up, do you have a preferred writing location/writing environment?
I like to write early in the morning. I am only good for a couple of hours at a time anyway. As soon as my son goes to school and my daughter goes to preschool I try to start. That is now though. For The Town That Drowned it was totally different. My son was just three and my daughter was seven months when I started writing the novel, and I was at home with them. I would wait each day until my husband came home from work, eat supper, and then disappear for two hours to write. As to location, I just sit on the couch in our master bedroom. A large section of our house, including our bedroom, is a turret with windows in a semi-circle, so the light is amazing. I sit surrounded by windows.
7. Most creatives (virtually all, really) have had to deal with rejection. How have you had to deal with it as a writer/creative? Any horror stories that you’re willing to share?
Oh sure, I’ve been rejected. It was actually rejection that motivated me to write The Town That Drowned. Before the novel, I wrote a collection of short stories and was very fortunate to get a wonderful literary agent to represent me. She tried to sell the short story collection, but warned me that short stories were very, very hard to sell to major publishers. And, in the end, the collection didn’t sell. I was disappointed of course, but then I was like, I have to try again. I remember thinking that I had this agent to represent me, and according to any how-to-get-published books I’d read, agents were supposed to be hard to acquire. I had nothing else written at the time though. So I decided, basically, you are doing it or you are not. Try a novel or you will regret it. And I did, and I am so happy and grateful for how it all turned out.
8. Who are some of your favorite writers?
There are so many. I like Lucy Maud Montgomery, David Adams Richards, Susan Juby, Miriam Toews, Dan Chaon, Andrew Pyper, Ami McKay, Sheree Fitch, Vicki Grant, Carla Gunn, Lynn Coady, and John Green. I also like the children’s authors Chris Van Dusen and Nick Bruel.
9. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
With the novel, I really learned about the power of editing. I am sure I have probably heard that as advice many times, just to really not worry about wrecking anything you’ve already written and edit away.
10. What piece of advice would you give to a new and/or struggling writer?
Do it. Try it. You don’t know until you try. Just get going.
Thanks to Riel for agreeing to do this interview. If you’re in the market for a quirky, coming of age book from a different era, you should really check out The Town That Drowned.
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