Interview with Fantasy Author – Nancy S. Brandt

Hello, Nancy. It is nice to meet you!

Author Photo

Tell us a bit about you where are you from and other than writing what else do you enjoy? 

Hi! I’m originally from Pennsylvania, born and raised, but since marrying my real life hero, I’ve lived all over the world (Illinois for 8 years while he was in grad school, Potsdam, Germany for two years, Pennsylvania (two places) for a total of six years, Beijing, China for a month (okay that was a business trip/vacation but we lived in an apartment so it counts), and now Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We’ve been here for almost 13 years.

Other than writing, I love to sew and do counted cross stitch.

I am an Army veteran (three years), a kidney transplant recipient, and a thyroid cancer survivor. I have two kids – a daughter, now married and a mom herself, and a teenage boy heading to high school. I also have a wonderful son-in-law and the cutest little granddaughter just a year old.

How did you start writing? What was your inspiration to create? 

I’ve always loved to tell stories, and when I was in about sixth grade, our English teacher had us write a descriptive essay. Mine was about a fabulous cave filled with diamonds and all kinds of precious gems. Every English class after that, even into college, I hoped we’d have to write something.

I believe we were made in God’s image and He is the Creator, so, therefore, there is something within us that drives us to create, whether it’s a lovely garden, a magazine worthy living room, fabulous one of a kind clothing, or books.

I have stories in my head all the time, and it came as a shock to me to find out that not everyone has that. I said something once at my in-laws’ house about everyone having stories in their heads, and my mother-in-law said, “I don’t.” I think that storytellers and fiction writers are wired slightly differently than the rest of society. We imagine what could be given a certain set of circumstances.

My inspiration comes from all over – a scene on a TV show might get me thinking about what if? A story in a newspaper or online connects to something else I read somewhere, and suddenly I’m wondering what would happen if.

Who is your favorite author, is there anyone out there that inspires you? 

 Favorite is hard because I love so many. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series always makes me relish his use of the language. I have often said if I ever met him in person I might hug him for some of the passages I love.

I love Alyssa Day’s Warriors of Poseidon series, and she’s a personal friend so I have to include her.

Leah Marie Brown is another personal friend, and her It Girls series is a great example of chick lit.

As for inspiration, my husband (Steven R. Brandt, author of Turquoise Bones) inspires me. He has an amazing imagination and fabulous work ethic.

My readers inspire me. Whenever I wonder if it’s worth it; if anyone is reading my stuff, I will get a note, a review, a comment, or something from one of them out of the blue that reminds me that this is what I am called to do.

What genre do you enjoy reading? What’s your favorite book and why?

 I love urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and YA urban fantasy. I also have been reading some contemporary books that have new movies based on them, mainly because the previews are intriguing and I’m curious.

Favorite book is hard, again, because how do you pick? In my teens and early twenties, I read a lot of glitz and glamor books and Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz was and still is my favorite. I read that one several times, which is remarkable because there are always new books coming out!

I love The Scarlet Letter, Rebecca, Gone with the Wind – these I have read more than once.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing? 

 I wish it had. I published two very different books with the same publisher in 2004. One was a contemporary inspirational romance and the other an epic fantasy. Neither of those are available anymore for personal reasons.

I didn’t publish again for 8 years, and that was a book that took me six years to write.

Then, I think I got a handle on the writing thing, and the next book came out three years after that and then one about two years after.

My writing process has changed from not knowing what I’m doing to understanding story structure. I am still a pantser, but I’ve learned to trust the process and let the characters take me where they need to, always keeping my ending in mind. Sometimes, throwaway lines or filler scenes end up being important, and that magic keeps me going.

If you’ve published a series, what is the series about? 

 My Misfit Monarchs series (Pigsty Princess and Questionable Queen so far) is about “pretty, pretty princesses and the people who are trying to kill them.” It is also about people coming to the throne who no one would ever expect to rule.

What was it like creating back to back stories that link? 

My stories are always about new characters who are related somehow to the characters of the previous book, so I don’t usually end up writing about people I’ve dealt with before too much. The biggest issue is keeping family histories straight, and people’s ages. How that changes from one book to the next one. If my heroine in this book appeared in the previous one, how old is she now and how does that change who she is or how she would react to a given situation?

It is fun to go back and see a bit of the “happily ever after” from the previous book. I’m big on babies, so my previous couple might be pregnant when the new book starts and sometimes that lends itself to seeing their relationship differently than we did in their book.

Have you ever thought about writing in a different genre? If you could, what genre would you like to dabble in? 

 I used to think I’d like to write cozy mysteries. I have a series of cozy supernatural mysteries in the back of my head; I just can’t quite make them gel yet.

What has been your most proud moment as an author? 

 Seeing your book, in print, in your hand is always a thrill, but there have been a few proud moments.

My second book, Attack of the Queen, contained a character who became a tree when she was expecting a child. Years before that book was published, I sat next to Eloisa James at an NJRW conference lunch and told her about this. She gave me some mythological information about such things, and when I finally got to sign that book at that same conference a few years later, she bought it! That’s one my claims to fame. Eloisa James bought MY book!!

More personally, there is a family member who is a bit passive-aggressive in her comments. (“I guess that’s nice for you.” “I wouldn’t do it, but if you like it, okay.”) She read my first Misfit Monarchs book, called me on the phone, and said, “Damn, Nancy, you can write.” That’s was a big deal.

Was there ever a time you wanted to pick up your laptop, and then launch it out the window with frustration? 

 Don’t we all! Some days the words flow and angels sing.

Some days you wonder if sexing chickens might not be a better career path.

Some days you feel like you’re mining words out of the concrete with a toothpick.

The book I’m working on now, Shipwrecked Sovereign, is a hard one. There have been some personal issues that kept me blocked for about a year, but I think I’m finally getting back into the groove again.

Are you a “plotter” or a fly by the seat of your pants “pantster” as a writer?

 I like to same I’m a recovering pantser. I’ll never been a plotter – that’s too organized for my unorganized brain, but I’m learning to pick out key plot points and figure out my ending before I start and then I just trust the process.

Am I the only one who gets hung up on commas? Do they make you go blah! when you’re writing? 

 Actually, grammar and punctuation are two things I’m good at. I never stress about those things.

What three tips would you give any aspiring writer? 

  1. Don’t do this for money. The media lies and writers don’t make millions of dollars and live in penthouses. Not genre writers anyway, for the most part.
  2. Write because you CAN’T not write. Write because there are stories pounding on your skull and you have to get them out.
  3. Write the story you want to write, not what you think will sell. The industry is SO DIFFERENT now than it was when I started. No one even knew what an ebook was when I published my first book with a small epublisher. I was asked all the time if they had to print it themselves. Self-publishing was what you did when no one else would have you. The industry is wide open now.

Bonus: 4. Throw away the ego. Understand your stuff is not gold. It’s not as good as you think and you aren’t too good to get someone to edit you. Find an honest critique group and DON’T ARGUE with them. If your readers don’t get it or don’t like it, that’s not their problem. You need to work hard and make sure your work is the best it can be, even if that means rewriting, polishing, getting critiques, rewriting, polishing, etc., etc., until it SHINES.

What are you working on now? What will you release next?

 Shipwrecked Sovereign, book 3 in the Misfit Monarchs series. Release? Who knows? I’m still in first draft stage. 

So… where can we get your books? 

 My books are available on Amazon, all by Nancy S. Brandt.

Fabric of Faith

How would you define what being a successful writer means?

 Putting out your best stuff and having someone love it. We may never be famous or even best sellers but to know that your words touched even one person and made them smile on a bad day or helped them have hope; that’s all that matters.

Writing consistently and not giving up is success.

Does a big ego help or hurt writers? 

I think you need a healthy ego to deal with one-star reviews from people who didn’t understand the story or didn’t like your style. We can’t please everyone (we’re not chocolate!) so a good sense of your own value is important, but I’ve given up reading authors that I loved before I became a writer because I recognize that their books aren’t necessarily being edited anymore. One of my former favorite authors had three POVs in one paragraph and I gave up. I never want to think I’m so good no one has to edit me. When you think you’re so good that anyone who doesn’t like your stuff is a moron, that’s a problem.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

 I started writing fantasy so I wouldn’t have to research! I don’t do a lot before I start. I generally dive in once I have a premise and know where I’m going. Research happens as I write and I have to fight Internet black holes when I do it. Usually, it’s things like what would my Princess wear, what did a pirate ship look like, blueprints of castles. I usually only take what I need and keep going. If my critique partners point out issues, then I go back and do more.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones? 

 I read all of them. Good ones make me want to hug the writer and bake him/her cookies. Bad ones – I have to go to my support system (husband and daughter, sometimes good writer friends) and tell them what the writer said. They remind me not to engage and either said, “oh, well, can’t please everyone” or “they didn’t read the book/understand that part/get fantasy/are stupid (that tends to be my daughter’s reaction! 🙂 )”

By this time, I tend to just shrug and move on. I have read books I didn’t care for and I’m sure the author put his/her heart into that one, so I let it go. People are all different, which is great because it gives us infinite stuff to write about.

 What was your hardest scene to write?

 Hee Hee. I used to have a terrible time writing mean people. When a character’s mother was going to slap her, I literally didn’t know it was coming until right before, and I mean the sentence before, it happened. I got up from the computer and did housework because I couldn’t write it.

However, it was true to the characters and had to happen, so I took a deep breath and did it.

The hardest scenes are the ones where I want the characters to do something and they don’t want to. Once, I KNEW that my heroine and her sister were going to have to fight, like literally with swords. However, no matter how I wrote them, my heroine wouldn’t fight her sister. I kept typing their dialogue and thinking, “Okay, she would say that but they’ll start fighting in a minute.” But Nope. My heroine just wouldn’t. At the end of the day, I called my husband (my co-author on that book) and said, “They won’t fight. She won’t challenge her sister.” He sighed and said, “Yep. You’re right. She wouldn’t.” That was really an odd feeling; to know what I wanted to happen and watch as it just wouldn’t.

 What’s your writing schedule like?

 Schedule? Schedule? What does that mean? Right now, I’m working part-time in a fabric store at the cutting counter, so I’m on my feet six hours a day three to four days a week, and on those days, I am usually so physically tired, I can’t think of words.

Otherwise, on my days off, I try to write 1000 words a day, but there’s not necessarily a specific time of the day to do it. I really need to get better at this.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

 I was a member of an RWA chapter for many years until we had to disband due to lack of members. A few of us went to a small conference about an hour away, and we were staying in a nearby hotel together. We attended a Heather Graham workshop and apparently, we were giggling together. She called us “The Rowdy Girls,” and the three of us started a critique group. Many member changes later (due to job relocations), we’re just the Rowdies.

Out of that group, I became good friends with Josephine Templeton (Fallen Angelle series – Scorned and Broken). I edited Scorned for her, and my husband and I edited her latest novella which isn’t out yet.

Jo, my husband, another author (Wendy Russo), and I try to meet once a week for dinner and writing. Sometimes there is critiquing, often there is a lot of talking and laughing, and usually we try to do some writing.

When my husband was in graduate school, his office mate had a fantasy/sci-fi critique group and Steve got me invited to join. He wasn’t writing much himself at the time.

The first time we met, they critiqued my fantasy novel (the one that eventually got published), and it was HARD. When they left (this was done at my house), Steve asked me how it was.

“I am NEVER doing that again. They tore my book apart.”

He nodded and waited a little while, then said, “Was there anything they said that you agreed with and maybe can use?”

“They were right about EVERYTHING and I hate that.”

However, eventually, he joined the group too and we met every week and took turns being critiqued. I know I’m a better writer because of those meetings and those people.

BTW, only Steve and I have since gotten published from that group.

How do you go from an idea for a book to the birth of the story? Is the process the same for every book you write? How long does it take you to write a book?

 I think the process changes a bit for every book because I learn more and more about how I write and what I need out of writing and more about structure and what makes a good story.

I get an idea – for instance, for Pigsty Princess, I wondered what would happen if a king got fed up with his spoiled daughter spending all the treasury on dresses, boys, and jewels, and he married her off to a pig farmer to teach her a lesson.

As I truly got down to the writing, I figured out that if he loved her he couldn’t just do that, so there had to be a reason for her to marry a pig farmer (or my cute title wouldn’t work). That led to fleshing out motivations and reasons and courtly intrigue and secrets and all that fun stuff.

Ideas for scenes or things come when you don’t expect them. One thing in Pigsty (can’t give much away) was settled in my head, but my husband kept asking me, “Well, why is she like that?” I didn’t want to go the route he suggested, but as I was making dinner one night, my brain said, “What if she goes in the opposite direction?” I stopped chopping veggies and told my husband. He said, “Well, that would be interesting.”

The book changed a bit after that and it was a good surprise.

The amount of time changes, depending on how well I know the story I want to tell, but I can do a rough draft in about six months with another four or five to polish, send to beta readers, and repolish.

How have your family and friends accepted your career as a writer? Are they supportive?

As I said, my husband is also a writer, so yes, everyone in the family supports me. My daughter is a book reviewer and wanted to be an editor. She keeps talking about writing, too.

My son told kids in school that his mother “makes wizards.”

My brother’s widow is a big fan and bugs me a bit about when the next book will be out.

Extended family is a little less enthusiastic. Yes, Nancy writes, isn’t that nice?

Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

I wouldn’t say totally because I’m sure I put part of myself in my characters. I’ve always hated that strong Princesses or fantasy women have to hate needlework because I love that, so I try to make sure that at least at some point in the story, my heroine is stitching something.

I can’t say I base my characters on real people either but I’m sure parts of people I know creep in. I haven’t killed anyone I know in a book. Yet.

What was the inspiration for your latest work of fiction? 

In Questionable Queen, I created a group of Sea People (the Anamii), like mermaids but able to live on land as well. I was going to explore them more in a book I was going to call Saltwater Sovereign but my husband suggested Shipwrecked instead. That led me down a path of thinking about why she would be shipwrecked and that led to possibly pirates. I happened to be listening to a book series by Robin Hobb (Liveship Traders series) and there was a pirate (a terrible person) in the story so that added to the idea of pirates.

Where would you like to travel to and why? 

I have lived all over the world and seen a lot of places I’ve always wanted to see. I never thought I’d see China, so that was interesting. I think I would like to see the Grand Canyon. My son went through a period where he was obsessed with Mount Rushmore so I would like to take him there. I’d like to see Ireland and Scotland, I think. I’m not an adventurous traveler nor an adventurous eater.

Tell us about how you develop your characters?

 I let them talk to me, and I try to imagine how I would be in their situation. Lots of times I have to say, Well, she’s stronger than I am so she wouldn’t back down. I write about imaginary royalty so I watch a lot of Reign, the Crown, Downton Abbey (for servants and how they act) and try to figure out what it would be like to be faced with the things my characters are facing. In Questionable Queen, my heroine marries a King in a proxy ceremony (Reign had one and I watched intently to see how it was done!) and her husband dies before she arrives to meet him. So she’s a widow and still a virgin, and a Queen of a country she’s never set foot in. I had to really get into her head. What would that be like? How would she behave? She turned out to be very strong and held her own pretty well. Better than I would have.

Which one of your characters is your favorite and why?

Oh, and which child is your favorite??? I love Moonrazer from Sword & Illusion (the book I wrote with my husband). I am Moonrazer! Right after Steve and I got married, my best friend was dating his friend who loved role-playing games, and she wanted to learn how to play them. Steve created a game and she and I invented characters. I created Moonrazer and she created Adazzra (also in S&I). We played through four adventures with those characters, so I have lived with Moonrazer longer than my kids. She was great fun to write because I feel like I know her so well and she was getting older and getting to a point in her life where she can’t be a warrior anymore.

Sword and Illusion

Gideon in Questionable Queen was a character I had in my head for years when I thought I would be writing contemporary romance. I created a man who came from a sports family (two brothers who were/had been professional athletes and a father who was a sports agent) but he’s been injured in a high school football game and was crippled. He could never play sports again and had to work harder to prove himself to his family. I fell half in love with him although I could never make a book with him in it work right. Eventually, when I turned to fantasy, I had to change him a bit, but I think he got a book worthy of him.

What would you like readers to know?

 I write books that I hope will make them smile, give them a lift on a bad day, maybe make them fall in love a little, and mostly, renew their hope in fairy tales and happily ever afters.





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About eve culley

Children's Author, micro-farmer in the great state of Texas
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