Author Interview with Nancy Hartney

Today we welcome Nancy Hartney.

Book ‘Em:  Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.

Nancy Hartney:  I grew up on a tobacco farm and always had animals, so you’ll find some mention of various animals and birds in my tales. I received a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from Florida State University in Tallahassee, graduated and moved to Atlanta. Later, I managed a master’s degree in counseling from Texas Tech University, Lubbock. Over the years Florida, Texas, California, Georgia, and Arkansas have been home for me. I have owned and ridden horses most of my adult life with the last years foxhunting, trail riding, and low level work over fences. I’ve worked with mentally challenged individuals, vicariously traveled the world through my international students, been a waitress, secretary, grade school teacher, and librarian. I participate in several critique groups, have served as judge for writing contests, and participate in regional conferences.

Book ‘Em:  Do you have a work in progress?

Nancy Hartney:  I continue to write essays and magazine articles as the opportunities arise. My long term endeavor, however, is a novel. I am currently struggling with two different novels – one is an odyssey of a Vietnam veteran’s return and his emotional reintegration into home. A subtext is his pledge to a fellow soldier, and a love affair with a Vietnamese woman. The other novel is a murder mystery set in the Deep South against the world of game birds and hunting dogs. The characters include the family patriarch, his sister, a son he denies, and a blind stepdaughter. Subtext includes a black family that has worked for the family for half a century and now seeks to severe the relationship.

Book ‘Em:  What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote?

Nancy Hartney: “The Fig Trees” in my first collection, Washed in the Water, was difficult. I had not been to the old home place since my brother and mother were killed in an accident some 50 years prior. When I finally went by the farm, the current owners had cut down three prolific fig trees that had served my family and neighbors through my childhood and into my college years. I used those feelings of shock and disappointment to write a purely fictional tale of loss.

Book ‘Em:  What sort of research do you do for your work?

Nancy Hartney:  For tales set in the South, I re-read classic fiction, re-explore the history I lived during the civil rights movement, read new material, and attend lectures on political and economic trends in the South. I hope to write a collection of modern day western stories—I’ll travel again to the Southwest, Montana and Wyoming by way of research – reading and talking to people that have grown up there. I have several author friends I’ll rely on to look at my western tales and offer directions. Also, I have plans to write a collection of short stories set on the racetrack. Most of that research is reading, talking to trainers, and spending time on the backside at Oaklawn, a track in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Book ‘Em:  Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?

Nancy Hartney:  Not just one — That’s like asking a mother which child is your favorite. I read international authors such as Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Isabel Allende, and Colum McCann. The nonfiction of Thomas McGuane, Aldo Leopord, Larry McMurtry, Roy Reed, and Ivan Doig are an endless delight. Fiction writers I enjoy include Lee Smith, Flannery O’Connor, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Erskine Caldwell, Willey Cash, and Tom Franklin. Additionally, I’ve discovered Robert Olen Butler – an author that spent years as a linguist serving in Vietnam—and Mary Ward Brown, It Wasn’t All Dancing and Other Stories. She cuts to the bottom line of social mores and culture in the South. I read racing and horse stories – Ted McClelland, author of Horse Players: Life at the Track and Jane Smiley with A Year at the Races, are on my nightstand. As I said, I can’t choose just one – can’t eat just one potato chip either.

For my novels, I am looking at the way Ian Stansel, Last Cowboy of San Geronimo, Robert Olen Butler Perfume River, and David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedar, constructed their novels. I’d like to emulate that construction.

Book ‘Em:  Was there a person who encouraged you to write?

Nancy Hartney:  My mother – she read a great deal, always gave my brother and I books for Christmas, and went back to college as a middle age woman to carve out a career as a high school history teacher. Several English teachers likewise indirectly encouraged me by asking for book reports and encouraging a cross section of reading materials.

Book ‘Em:  What would you say are your strengths as an author?

Nancy Hartney: Depicting setting and developing characters. The places I write about are places I have lived and changed. The characters are my people. I know them.

Book ‘Em:  How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?

Nancy Hartney:  I try to write in the mornings- if I don’t work on one of my novels, then I write free verse poetry, focus on revising something to submit to a literary journal, or write a creative essay. I find I have the most energy and make the best progress when I consistently work on my novel coupled before working on a poem, an essay, or a magazine article.

Book ‘Em:  Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?

Nancy Hartney:  Writing stand-alone novels, with various settings such as the modern west, the thoroughbred racing world, the civil rights movement—using different characters. Chris Bohjalian (The Light in the Ruins, Sandcastle Girls, Double Bind, Midwives, etc.) writes stand-alones. Ian Stansel and David Guterson also write single novels. I really prefer to read a stand-alone rather than a series as I find the series tend to be template driven especially with the same setting and character.

Book ‘Em:  If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?

Nancy Hartney:  Write. If you are not writing, read. Participate in your local writing community. Attend conferences. Hone your craft. Above all, write.

Book ‘Em:  What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?        

Nancy Hartney:  I stayed up all night to finish your book.

Book ‘Em:  Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.

Nancy Hartney:  Here is the opening salvo between Udean and Amos, a childless couple that live on a hardscrabble farm.

The Bull and the Kitten

Udean had found the scrawny kitten with pus-matted eyes just as she finished the milking and turned the cow out into the south pasture.

She poured a pie tin of warm milk for the barn cats and watched when they crowded around, a greedy pinwheel of colors. Sick, the kitten lacked the strength to push forward even to eat.

Amos stomped into the passageway. “Don’t fool with that thing.” He growled, the craggy sound spilling through his discolored teeth and chapped lips. “I’ll knock the miserable creature in the head later today.”

“No, Amos. I’ll keep it. Let it be.” She stooped and lifted the ball of grey fur. Mouth open in soundless supplication, the kitten hung listless in her hand.

“The mama cat’s dead. I’ll feed this one and see what happens.”

“There’s no time for sick things. Barn cats live on their own.”

“It’s a baby, too small to survive alone.” Udean turned and glared at him, the wet-rag kitten dangling.

“We don’t need another useless thing to feed.” He grumbled, then hawked and spat onto the barn floor.

He turned and tossed a full hay bale into the bull’s lot. The animal snorted and butted its head against the barn panel, tossing strings of mucus across the ground, his neck and shoulders a solid mass of muscle. Fat testicles, jewels in a delicate skin sack, swung between his legs.

“He needs to stay out of the north pasture today,” Amos jerked his thumb toward the lot. “That fool Polack has his cows next field over. I don’t want the bull fighting through the fence to get at them.”

“That animal is dangerous. We got no need for him now with only a few cows left.”

“I ain’t paying no potato head for the use of a bull pecker every time them cows need a squirt.”

“Cheaper to pay for the humping than support that brute.” She gestured at the bull before sloshing toward the house with the milk pail and the kitten.

She knew Amos detested weakness and that he took special pride in the Guernsey bull, a personification of his manhood and power over the farm creatures.

“Hear me, you hussy. Mind the bull.” He hollered behind her. “And get rid of that useless rag.”

Ignoring his shouting, she clumped up the swayback steps and strode into the house. The screen door slapped behind her.


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