In this column I’m asking subscribers to share their knowledge about writing, publishing, and marketing books. I’m calling it “Ten Questions.” Thank you, Nancy Poling, for allowing us to learn about your profound, entertaining, and eco-conscious novel! – Marylee MacDonald
Here’s a takeaway about her writing process. “You’ve got to think and you’ve got to write. Then think and write some more. Then throw out half of what you wrote, think some more, write some more.”
Surrounded by nature’s beauty, Nancy Werking Poling lives in the mountains of western North Carolina. Her latest novel, While Earth Still Speaks, evolved from her asking of herself, and then of her protagonist, “During this time of ecological crisis, how do I make my voice and my life count?” Her published works include the non-fiction book, Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987); a short story collection, Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman; and the novel, Out of the Pumpkin Shell.
You are invited to learn more about her craft by visiting her website at www.NancyPoling.com
MM: A book begins as an idea in the writer’s imagination. Eventually, this grain of sand turns into a pearl. What was the grain of sand that fired your imagination?
NP: Three grains of sand kept rubbing against each other.
First, I read the following in the October 13, 1998, Chicago Tribune:
HOPES OF HEARING LAST MESSAGE FROM MARY LURES 100,000 TO FARM
Buses from as far away as Latin America arrived Monday at a Georgia farm where thousands of pilgrims hope to hear former nurse Nancy Fowler deliver her last message from the Virgin Mary on Tuesday.
I immediately wondered whether there were porta-potties on site. Did a physical Mary appear? If so, what did she wear? What was her message? And what about Nancy Fowler? What would she do once Mary left? Was she depressed thinking her life now had no purpose?
Secondly, in recent years I have become more and more worried about the environment. My imagination returned to the Mary visitations. What if Mary (more crone than virgin) came to a contemporary woman with the goal of rescuing Earth from ecological destruction? What if the main character’s daughter was an eco-terrorist?
Third, I accidently came upon a picture of Mary Surratt, hanged as a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth, in my dictionary. I read a lot about her and was intrigued.
Thus was While Earth Still Speaks inspired.
MM: How did you approach turning this idea into a manuscript, and eventually a book? Did you take classes, read books, or just plunge in?
NP: I mulled. For many years. I was convinced that the two Marys, Mary Surratt and the holy Mary, shared something in common: both had sons committed to confronting the crises of their time and place. A contemporary women, Elizabeth, would have a daughter committed to saving the environment.
And I drew charts on newsprint: circles and lines and more circles, more lines. I needed to visualize how these three narratives intersected. I also read novels about eco-terrorism and nonfiction books about the environment.
MM: Authors today have many options when it comes to publication. Did you work with an agent, find a publisher through other means, or self-publish your book?
NP: It’s harder to find an agent than some would guess. So no, I’ve never worked with an agent. For my first book, Out of the Pumpkin Shell, three years passed between the time the publisher received the manuscript and the release date. Then the press did nothing to promote the book.
The publisher of my second book, Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman, only handles religious books. As an older woman I don’t have time to waste. I want my work to be read. So, I self-published.
MM: What is the biggest single lesson you learned during the writing process?
NP: I spent a lot of time writing about the protagonist’s—Elizabeth’s—childhood, and then I deleted most of it. After grumbling about the waste of time, I decided that, in fact, my time had been well spent. I knew Elizabeth inside and out. I knew what had formed her and understood her lifelong struggles.
MM: What would you advise others who are still at the idea stage?
NP: I’m not sure I’m one to offer advice, but I’d say, you’ve got to think and you’ve got to write. Then think and write some more. Then throw out half of what you wrote, think some more, write some more.
MM: Were there any writing tools you’d recommend? Did you use apps like Grammarly, Scrivener, or another outliner to help you structure your book?
NP: I didn’t use any tools other than Spellcheck on my computer. In elementary school I was always among the early ones to sit down during a spelling bee.
MM: Was it hard to decide on a cover, or did you or your publisher hire a professional designer?
NP: I hired Jerry Pope, a local artist whose whimsy I like. He has designed covers for other writers.
MM: Who is your ideal reader? Who would particularly enjoy your book/s?
NP: I write for a “mature” female audience. Of course, “mature” doesn’t always coincide with age. Women concerned about the environmental crisis will especially enjoy the book.
MM: How do you connect with readers? Do you like to do live events, such as book fairs or library talks, or have you found readers through social media, Goodreads, or Amazon?
NP: I enjoy public speaking, but as a writer with no name recognition, I don’t attract big audiences. I especially enjoy meeting with book groups, whose insights never fail to amaze me.
MM: What has been your greatest reward in undertaking this publishing journey?
NP: Friends don’t want to hurt your feelings, so they’ll say they like your writing even if they don’t. When strangers, though, express appreciation, especially when it’s clear they “get it,” that’s a great reward.
Here’s where you can find Nancy on social media and the web.
Nancy’s website: www.NancyPoling.com
Facebook: Nancy Poling, author
I suggest that you explore Nancy’s other fine books. BEFORE IT WAS LEGAL is especially worthy of your attention. It’s one of the finest biographies I’ve ever read, and it’s especially timely in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, a short story collection, and THE RUG BAZAAR, a chapbook. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers’ Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, and many others. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, and when not reading or writing books, she loves to walk on the beach and explore National Parks.