Author Q&A - Fred Nolan
Welcome to another Q&A post from Literary Edits! Every week, we interview a different author, asking them about their books, their writing experiences, and what they enjoy about the writing process.
This week, we have interviewed Fred Nolan, an author who has some fantastic advice and writing habits to share with us! Read on to find out more.
Q: As a way of introducing yourself, can you tell us a little bit about the genres that you focus on in your writing? The impression I gain from your book, Alexei and the Second Empress, is that it contains elements of magical realism. Would you agree?
A: Absolutely. I love magic realism as both a reader and a writer. I’ve published a horror story, too, and I have my eye on experimental fiction and poetry – anything with dim lighting and plenty of surprises.
Q: You’ve written both novels and short stories. Do you prefer writing in one of these styles more than the other? How do they compare?
A: Short stories are my preference by far. A novel is a short story that got too cluttered. As for how they compare, the short story comes off as new, and rather raw. Novels are safer. A full-length book is a ledger of compromises. By that, I mean the author has to compromise with the editor, or the genre, or other standards. At least in my case, most of the compromises are with myself.
Short stories have no room for that. You begin as close to the finish line as possible, then sprint.
Q: Is there anything in particular that you would say gives you the inspiration for your stories?
A: I’m deeply inspired by travel. I can’t name one publication that wasn’t created, at least in part, while we were out of town. It makes sense: the immersion in new customs, languages, and foods puts the mind into overdrive. I was on an assignment in Mexico several years ago, and, despite the 70-hour work weeks, I came home with a notebook’s worth of material.
Q: Do you read many books that inspire your writing? If so, do you have any recommendations for us?
A: Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo is mandatory reading. Also, Childhood of Jesus by J. M. Coetzee, but try Disgrace first, to get used to his style. The Oblivion Seekers by Isabelle Eberhardt is almost good enough to keep to myself. It’s so strange and crisp, it’s all anyone would read if they knew about it.
Today, I’m halfway through Dawn by Octavia Butler, and I highly recommend it. The dystopia is unrelenting, even from the first page.
Q: What is your favourite part of the writing process?
A: From the moment the idea comes until I put the first word on the page; the sense that everything is possible yet somehow already perfect. It doesn’t matter what comes next. Nothing can live up to that inner hype.
Q: When do you do most of your writing? Some writers claim that they are more productive in the mornings. Is this the case with you?
A: No doubt about it, the time for bulk work is when the house is asleep. But the most urgent writing comes at other times. Try recording audio during your morning commute, or stealing a paragraph between calls at work. In those moments, the prose can be intense.
Q: Do you have any interesting writing habits that you are willing to talk about?
A: One thing I like to do – especially when I’m stuck on a short story – is shop for used books with handwriting in the margins. I recommend that for anyone, writer or not, because it’s like reading with a stranger in real time. It’s strangely intimate.
After I find a few of those, I take four or five of the most interesting notes and lift them verbatim, and I employ them in the story somehow. That’s the only rule: it has to be word-for-word. The point is to make it appear seamless; that is, to incorporate the notes into the story as if you had written them. This takes the narrative in some pretty wild directions. I wrote “When the Water Settles” like that. The boiling pots, which are a defining element now, did not exist in the first several drafts.
Q: Are you working on any writing projects at the moment? If you are, can you tell us a little bit about them?
A: I have a finished manuscript sitting around collecting dust. The working title is Polarized, but it takes such an abrupt turn in the second half, I can’t imagine anyone publishing it, or the readers finishing it. I’m almost ready to start something called Salt Lake City, which is set in the Gold Rush years. I’d love to finish Alexei’s story, too. In the book, I hinted at an apocalypse in 1945, and I have at least two major events in mind, in 1883 and 1977. I know how Alexei dies, too, and if it works out, it will be heartbreaking but very cool. All of that could be five years of typing, to say nothing of editing and the rest.
Q: Writing can be difficult at times. Have you ever received any writing advice that you think other writers might benefit from?
A: I once read in an introduction to D. H. Lawrence that he “spent most of his short life living”. That is what most impacted my fiction, and it had a great impact on my life, too. I cannot stress it enough: live your life first. Learn, travel, make friends, lose some, fall in love, have children, and live in the moment with them. If, at the end of the day, there’s a few minutes left for writing, by all means write.
Q: Finally, can you give us a brief introduction to Alexei and the Second Empress? What is it about?
A: Alexei Shafirov is my creation, but he is mostly the same age, with the same face and medical condition, as the historical figure Alexei Nikolaevich Romanov. That Romanov boy was the heir to the Russian throne.
The story begins in the days after Rasputin’s death, and Alexei Shafirov tries to sell the monk’s remains, which he claims have healing powers. The con does not go as he hopes, and at least one of his patients knows more than Alexei does. She is fully aware of what he is selling, and of how it relates to the Shafirovs – and to the imperial family.
We’re very grateful that Fred Nolan took the time to feature in an author Q&A with us. You can show your support for him by checking out his published works, or visiting him on social media! In the meantime, we’ll be back next week with another author Q&A!