Author Interview: Nancy Jane Moore
Interviewed by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Nancy Jane Moore pursued both the law and martial arts with equal vigor, applying their lessons to many areas of her life. She found that questions of justice, fairness, and equality were extremely important to her. This led to her championing low income housing, food co-ops, and working as a legal editor. As she puts it, she didn’t become rich from the law. However, she is a fourth degree black belt in Aikido, both teaching the art and expanding her own knowledge of it. Here at Book View Cafe we suspect she is secretly a superhero.
Her approach to fiction is equally mind-bending. Science fiction, fantasy, slipstream, and points in-between, you’ll find her there, and the length always varies. Moore started writing fiction in college, but became serious about it when she attended Clarion West in Seattle, WA in 1997. Fond of the novella length, Moore has written everything from a post-apocalyptic re-telling of As You Like It set in a Balkanized Texas after climate change and bad economic policies (Ardent Forest) to a very unusual coming of age story that takes place in Wichita Falls, Texas… or does it? (Changeling) Also check out her short fiction, which runs the gauntlet from flash to shared world.
One thing Nancy Jane Moore will never do is bore you.
1.) I loved your collection Flashes of Illumination. Your story “Emergency” is still my favorite of your short pieces. What made you decide to blog weekly with a new or revisited story for an entire year? That’s quite a commitment of time and energy, requiring a lot of mind shift.
A.) I am a big fan of the work of Bruce Holland Rogers and subscribe to his emailed series of short-short stories. He sends out three per month and has done so for quite a few years. I’d also read about artists who did a painting a day. The whole process of turning something out on a regular basis like that appealed to me, so when we started Book View Café I decided to do it.
I like the short-short form, so I had a backlog of stories—including some reprints—available. I didn’t have to come up with something new every week, thank goodness.
2.) Do you think your “voice,” the thing that stamps your writing as uniquely yours, changes from book to book, story to story, or can you already see themes that reoccur in your work?
A.) I suspect my voice doesn’t vary a great deal from story to story. I often deal with moral dilemmas and conflict, regardless of whether I’m writing slipstream fantasy or straightforward SF. Though some of the flash fiction—especially stories like “Emergency”, which grew out of an emailed alert from the District of Columbia government—is more experimental and doesn’t include a main character who has hard choices to make.
3.) Do you ever re-visit a world when you write? Or is it always a new canvas for creation?
A.) I haven’t done much of that in the past, but I’m now starting to do it. I’m working on several short stories set in the near future—and some set in the far future—with an eye to creating a “future history” of how we cope with climate change and how that shapes our lives. I’ve got a novel in mind, but I think I’m going to write my way into it by doing enough short stories to build the world. The story “Or We Will All Hang Separately,” which was published on Futurismic and will be in a forthcoming collection from BVC, sets some of the initial ground rules for that world, along with the story “Thank God for the Road” in Flashes of Illumination.
4.) Why writing to communicate your vision, and not art, drama, etc.?
A.) Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “Since I cannot sing, I paint.” I speculated on the BVC blog the other day that I write because I can’t paint. But of course, I also like stories. One of the things I like best about writing fiction is that I get to be in charge of the whole story. Television and movies are collaborative media, and even playwrights face a lot of changes. I like working on things where I get to make all the decisions.
5.) You belong to an interesting group of writer organizations—Book View Cafe, Broad Universe, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, and you’re an alumni of Clarion West. Did you choose them because they seemed to have some similar goals, or did you see them covering a wide spectrum of areas that interested you?
A.) I think it’s important to work with others in your field. I like the information and sense of community I get from SFWA and Broad Universe.
Book View Café is a little different. I’m a longtime co-op person—in fact, I was one of the people who helped start Wheatsville, the Austin food co-op that just opened a new location—and I feel strongly that writers working together can have a positive impact on publishing in this crazy new world.
Clarion West was different, too. I went because I was starting to get serious about writing but didn’t know how to develop myself and my career. An MFA program wouldn’t have worked for me, partly because of the longer time commitment and greater expense, and partly because I don’t like a lot of the fiction those programs emphasize. For me, Clarion was the perfect experience. I wrote a lot (and have sold most of what I wrote there), got support for the work I liked doing, and began to understand how the writing world worked. I would love to live full time in a Clarion environment, though with more sleep and exercise and less stress.
6.) What inspired your latest book, Ardent Forest? What brought Shakespeare and a post-apocalyptic world together in Texas?
A.) To be honest, I wrote that book originally as part of a three-day-novel contest (I didn’t win anything) and decided to use the play because it gave me a plot outline. Also, it’s my favorite Shakespeare play, but I’ve never quite believed the ending. So it was a fertile place for my imagination.
It’s been rewritten quite a bit since the contest version. I think a short deadline—like a three-day period or NaNoWriMo—is good for getting the basic story down, but my work is better after it’s been revised. And sometimes revised and revised and revised.
I set it in Texas because it was an area I knew well and could imagine into the future. I wanted it to have a grounding in reality.
7.) What have you learned from your own writing? To what concepts, intentionally or not, do you think you’ve exposed your readers?
A.) Every time I finish something, I learn what I think. Sometimes I am uncomfortable with a story because what the character thinks and what I think are not the same.
I’m pretty sure I’ve exposed my readers—both intentionally and unintentionally—to my belief that women can be strong actors in the world. I suspect I’ve come to truly believe that women are powerful because I’ve spent a lot of time writing powerful women—not queens and presidents, but ordinary women in tight situations.
8.) Has writing taught you anything you didn’t expect?
A.) I feel about writing the way I feel about Aikido: what interests me about both of those things now is pretty far removed from what I thought I was doing when I started. I took up martial arts with some idea of being “tough,” of being able to defend myself. Now, I’m interested in subtleties I didn’t even know existed when I started.
Likewise, I started writing because I loved adventure stories and wanted ones that included people like me. I thought I’d be satisfied writing space opera and sword and sorcery. But as I got better, I realized that I wanted to do much more than that. I wanted to both play with language—which is part of what I like doing with flash fiction—and delve into more complex themes and issues. A rollicking fight scene is no longer enough for me, and that I never expected.
9.) You’ve written for a lot of theme anthologies, everything from classics like Sword & Sorceress to collections celebrating steampunk, cat mysteries and tales of treason and treachery. How do you discover all these anthologies, and what draws you to this challenge?
A.) One of my favorite ways of writing for a theme anthology is to come across a call for submissions that fits a story I’ve already written. So serendipity helps a lot.
I did write the cat mysteries specifically for Crafty Cat Crimes. It was an experiment: could I crank out a quick story that fit their guidelines in just a few hours? It turned out that I could do it twice.
In a couple of other cases, the anthology theme brought to mind a story idea that I’d been kicking around for a long time and gave me the impetus to write it. I haven’t always been able to sell those stories, though.
10.) Have you decided yet what writing means to you?
A.) Writing is the way I understand the world. When I run across a new idea, I start writing about to figure out what it means and what I think about it. That’s one of the reasons I like blogging—it makes me address some subjects that pique my interest or make me mad. By the end of writing a blog post, I have a better understanding of what the issues are and how I feel about them.
I was drawn to fiction as part of that process of understanding because reading great fiction changed my life on more than one occasion.
Story is a powerful path to understanding the world.