Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Nancy Avery Dafoe. In terms of age, I’m no longer young and not yet old.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I live in Homer, New York.
Fiona: A little about yourself (i.e., your education, family life, etc.).
I have a Masters in Teaching in English, a Bachelor’s degree, and taught high school English and in a community college. I have three grown children, two daughters, Colette and Nicole, who are both lawyers, and a son Blaise who trims trees. I also have four little grandsons, Truman, Enzo, Owen, and Luca, who are too darling for words. Actually, I’ve written something for each of them. My husband, Daniel Dafoe, has the author’s name.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
My second murder mystery in the Vena Goodwin series, Both End in Speculation, has been accepted by the publisher and is expected to be released later this year (Fall or early Winter 2018). My first full-length book of poetry, Innermost Sea, will be released from Finishing Line Press late fall, but pre-orders go up this summer, starting in July 2018. I recently finished a fable/graphic novella, Naimah and Ajmal On Newton’s Mountain, and I’ve started outlining and writing my third murder mystery in the Vena Goodwin series. No title for the third one yet. I also write a political blog and author’s blog.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
When? Very young. Writing is a way of looking at and processing life—our interactions, actions, and failures to act, how we cope with tragedies—our own and those of other people’s, how we think and analyse complex systems operating in our world and universe. I wrote in elementary school without knowing exactly why, figuring out why I wrote was a process akin to figuring out identity.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I thought of myself as a writer at a very young age, probably by the time I was 15 years old, but I know other people don’t tend to think of you as a writer until you have a book published. So, I had to wait a long time for others to “consider” me a writer.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was a pedagogical text teaching writing, inspired by the work in my classroom and my students. Breaking Open the Box(Rowman & Littlefield, 2013) offers a way for both students and teachers to approach writing more creatively and dynamically.
My first published novel, You Enter a Room, was inspired by a literary mystery I uncovered after reading two works that were supposedly not connected. I did some “detective” work and discovered something very surprising about the authors. I built the murder mystery around this find.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Titles are fun to create. Breaking Open the Box arose out of the idea of literally breaking the silly boxes constructed by someone in education in which students were told to fill in the shapes, supposedly to help them organize essays, but in actuality, deadening their creativity and narrative flow.
You Enter a Room arose out of a concept in which my novel explores the genre of mystery writing, as well as a trope that begins nearly every murder mystery.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
Because I write across multiple genres—from non-fiction texts on writing to fiction and poetry, from fables to murder mysteries and literary fiction, I think my style is related to the genre I have chosen to express the ideas.
After years of writing literary fiction (many as yet unpublished), I jumped into the murder mystery genre and found it constricting at first, but then immensely satisfying, like completing a 1,000-piece puzzle of blue sky. I recently finished a graphic novella/contemporary fable, and I discovered that my voice took on a different tone. The beginning of every work is nearly always challenging, as I find the point of view, tone, mood, etc. arises out of the topic, genre, and so many other variables.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I have written a published memoir—An Iceberg in Paradise: A Passage through Alzheimer’s—that arose directly out of my experiences with my family and mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. The book was published by State University of New York Press in 2015. Obviously, the memoir is painfully and profoundly realistic.
Everything I write has some basis in what I have experienced or people I have known but not always directly. A character may emerge as I’m writing, and I wonder where that character came from, almost as if she or he invented an identity. I surprised myself that I could create a character as cruel and evil as Dr. Gould in You Enter a Room. I once wrote a short story about a character creating herself, surprising the writer by fighting the intent and going off on her own.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I travelled to Italy twice in researching the first and second books in my murder mystery series. In the first published novel, You Enter a Room, Italy only slightly figures into the setting. In the second novel, Both End in Speculation (a line Keats wrote to his brother in a letter, and Keats figures into the mystery), Rome is the setting of the novel, so I had to do additional research. For the third book in the series which takes place in Florence, I plan to go back to Florence to continue my research.
While I don’t think it is a requirement to travel to write about a place, it certainly makes the writing more realistic and believable. Traveling will also give the writer richer material to work with in creating the work. Someone who lives in that setting is likely to spot any errors very quickly if the writer is speculating from research alone.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
I designed the covers for all of my books, but I had artists create them. A good friend of my daughter who happened to teach art in the school district in which I worked, painted the startling and powerful cover for my book An Iceberg in Paradise. Matt Cincotta, the artist friend and teacher, also created the cover for my book Breaking Open the Box. I’d love him to get more recognition because he is so talented.
One of my friends from Pen Women, an organization of writers and artists, designed the cover of my new book of poetry Innermost Sea. Katie Turner is another amazing artist I’m fortunate to know. My fable cover is being designed by one of my former students, Katie Mulligan, a National Scholastic Art Award winner in the portfolio category.
I designed the cover of my murder mystery, but the publisher assigned the art to their inhouse artist. I was very pleased with how it turned out.
Covers are tremendously important because they can either pull a reader in to pick up your book or turn him or her away.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t think novels have “messages” but, rather, themes, concepts for readers to struggle with and consider. In my recently published novel You Enter a Room, I hope readers will think about the idea of authorship, what it means to create a work in a continuum of writers throughout human history. How do we discover our ethics? What does it mean to steal another’s work? Is our work our own? I want my readers to question themselves about why we are fascinated with murder, with mysteries. I hope my readers will ponder the concepts of deception and illusions, how the charming may disguise the sinister. How we may defeat evil in small ways.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
Again, too many to fairly name. I return to William Faulkner again and again for his mastery, his narratives that are far more than narratives. Has anyone ever written a section of a novel like Benjamin’s voice in The Sound and The Fury?
I’m currently going through the mysteries of Louise Penny and loving them. Colum McCann’s novels stop me and make me rethink the genre. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, and TheTiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht are a couple of the younger writers whose work I think is fantastic. For mysteries, I am a devotee of the Sherlock Holmes series of books. Of course, the first great murder mystery was written by Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
Far more than “one entity.” I have been fortunate. My students—many of them. I acknowledge my students my books on writing. I also have writer and poet friends who have been tremendously supportive and helpful over the years, including the poets Gwynn O’Gara and Jo Pitkin, and my friends from the National League of American Pen Women (NLAPW), Central New York Branch, Karen Hempson, Bobbie Panek, Mary Gardner, Judith McGinn, among others. I would also have to recognize my former college professors William Rosenfeld and Mary Kennedy, both of whom were instrumental in my writing career.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes. However, it took a long time to reach that stage.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No, I wouldn’t change anything in my novel. I would change how I marketed my work and offer myself some professional advice at a younger age, so, perhaps I didn’t have to wait so long to find some degree of publishing successes.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learn many things on every major and most minor writing projects. I tend to do a lot of research even if I don’t use all of the material, it helps me discover and create.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
If someone was to make a great mystery movie from my novel You Enter a Room, I’d love to cast Emilia Clarke or Emily Blunt in the role of Vena Goodwin, Dan Stevens to play Michael, Ralph Fiennes in the role of Dr. Gould, and Kim Rossi Stuart in the role of Elio. (I’ve actually thought about this. My murder mystery would make a great movie. Fiennes could pull off this charming but evil character.)
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Never give up. That’s it. The rest is just working at it.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
You’re lovely. Thank you.
Fiona: What books are you reading now?
Michael Chabon’s Moonglow and Louise Penny’s Still Life.
Recently finished Deborah Digges’ The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart (poetry), and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power (yes, I cried reading it)
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I wouldn’t start with the first book I read, such as a first-grade reader, but the first book that made me think and weep and ponder for months (years) after reading—The BrothersKaramazov by Dostoevsky. I still rememberstanding at a cash register as the only clerk in the store one Christmas eve many years ago, and reading that great novel, suddenly feeling the snow outside and connection to the universe—all in that little store without customers. I’m not alone in citing Dostoevsky’s work. Others who credited the book for influencing them dramatically are Einstein, Freud, Heidegger, Kafka, and many other well-known individuals from various disciplines.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
A great book or poem, my darling grandsons, my daughters, my son, my husband, my friends, a play, a great work of art, the loss of someone I love, losses great and small, the victories in life, an amazing satirist like Andy Borowitz, missing children, the unexpected…
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Too many to elaborate. If I had to narrow it down to only one—Dante Alighieri. I’d ask him, “So, what do you think of Hell now? Any changes you want to make to Inferno? Aristotle, Ovid, and Homer in Hell? Really? Are the conversations intriguing?”
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I spend all of my time reading and writing when I’m not directly interacting with my family and friends, so I’m not sure how to quantify or qualify that. Reading is not a hobby. I guess if it’s something light, I like swimming, diving, and photography. I love going to museums and poetry and prose readings, but again, they do not feel like “hobbies.” I’m well versed in politics but, again, this does not feel like a hobby.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Although I don’t watch a lot of TV, The Rachel Maddow Show and Lawrence O’Donnell’s The Last Word are nightly fare for me. I love The Blue Planet andPlanet Earth specials. On a night when I’m exhausted and don’t want to think anymore, I might turn on HGTV (house design shows) or Jeremy Wade’s River Monsters.The other day, I watched 13 Reasons Why with my son, and we talked about the series.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Color—easily, blue, for a myriad of reasons, from the political to the affinity with the sky and water, for its soothing quality…
Music—Rhiannon Giddens, Sunny War, and George Ezra are new discoveries for me, and I’m startled by their talents. Old favorites include Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, The Beatles, Otis Redding, Bonnie Raitt, and Bruce Springsteen. My son loves rap, and I’m discovering the power of its raw poetry but still troubled by the misogyny.
Foods—berries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cherries. Oh, and a lovely, warm croissant.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I would still write. Until I am incapacitated, I will continue to write even if not for publishing, for others, for myself. If I am unable to write, I imagine my brain would not be working due to some tragedy or disease.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
Traveling with my husband Daniel and writing poetry because I would want to leave him something just for him.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
“Here lies a woman who loved well and loved to write.”
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?