Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nancy Hansen's Way

Nancy Hanson writes fantasy. No, not the new, fancy-schmancy spin-off fantasies like Dark Urban, or Supernatural Romance, or any of those. She writes fantasy in the way it was written years ago.

The kind of fantasy that would make Tolkien proud. (And probably a little jealous.)

Nancy blends her love for fantastic settings with her love for pulp style action and straightforward storytelling. And that means you should get to know her better. 

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

Well I always have something going! I’m primarily a fantasy writer, though I will tackle other genres. My second book, which just came out in January 2012 is an anthology of three short stories written for Pro Se and set in the same world as FORTUNE’S PAWN, which debuted last August (2011). TALES OF THE VAGABOND BARDS is the first release under my new imprint Hansen’s Way, which right now is going to feature other such collections of stories written in that overarching world.

I tend to do a lot of epic/heroic sword & sorcery tales with a mythical quasi-medieval background. This anthology is no exception, but the main characters here are not wizards or warriors, but bards who fight primarily with song and word rather than swords and magic. In this land I’ve created, there has been a big push by an upstart religion to rewrite history so that humanity is the center of the universe and completely faultless in any conflicts with other humanoid groups, such as Elves, Dwarves, and Fairy people. Older beliefs are shunned and history is being sifted through and rewritten. As the frontier for the humans expands, it pushes the other races of beings farther back, creating even more conflicts, since the pervading belief is humans are superior beings. Since a good portion of the human populace is illiterate or nearly so, the Vagabond Bards are a group musicians, poets, actors and singers dedicated to educating and assisting the masses so that the mistakes of the past are never forgotten. Unfortunately that has become a very dangerous occupation, opposed by what is gradually becoming a state religion. The three tales in the book involved three different bards in specific circumstances, doing what they do best.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

Whether I’m writing humans, elves, aliens, or troglodytes, I try and show the commonality amongst all sentient beings. The lifestyle, language and thought process might be different, but inside, we all have the same hopes and dreams. I try not to make the villains as clear cut cookie cutter evil as they are complex and twisted. I tend to favor less than idealized heroic characters because mine are often the underdog who gets thrust into a situation and rises to the occasion. I think that’s something we can all identify with. I use a lot of female leads because that’s something that is something pulp really hasn’t done much of.

A lot of what I write—even in fantasy—comes right out of the news. For instance, the other day I was giving a final read through a story I wrote a while back that has a monk who was once a warrior entering an archery contest. His reason for being there? His mission supports war veterans who are homeless and permanently injured and the monks who minister to them want to use the money to expand and offer more beds and services. That is a very contemporary theme; a private sector individual who uses what he knows to make a difference in the lives of veterans who gave their all, in a world that has seemingly turned its back on them.

The idea is not to preach to readers, but to touch them somehow. When you enjoy a story and can see a bit of yourself in a character or your life in the tale, when you have some strong feelings about the situation portrayed, and wind up with that ultimate good feeling about the outcome, then I’ve done my job correctly. 

What would be your dream project?

I’d love to have someone like Peter Jackson, who did such a marvelous job with THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, bring my world to life as well. I’d love to sit in as the consultant and watch that happen!

I always say aim high and dream big, just be prepared to do the groundwork to get to that point.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?I’m actually doing that right now… FORTUNE’S PAWN and the rest of the trilogy it belongs to started out as a huge 850+ page, plodding mainstream fantasy novel. I wrote that monstrosity back between 2000-2003, and shopped it and some short stories set in the same world around for a while with no luck. Having fallen into Pro Se Press’ lap in 2010, I got a quick education in how to write pulp short stories, and did that for six months or so before we started talking bigger projects, like a novel. Pulp novels are a lot shorter than the mainstream fantasy I was used to reading and writing, and the pacing is far faster. When the decision was made to keep the essential story of my book but break it up, I had to reread it first. I’ll tell you, after writing all that high paced action and adventure stuff, I found good long portions of it were BORING! So I carved it into rough thirds, and started reworking what I had, keeping what was good and necessary, and writing entirely new scenes. I had fought this idea before but now I am glad I’ve done it, because the storyline I have going now is far superior to what I had, and the main character went from a simple victim of circumstances to a feisty young woman who plunges right into her destiny.

So if I had to do that over, I would have written the shorter, more high action books, and probably have gotten published a lot sooner. 

What inspires you to write? 

I’ve always been a dreamer and a story teller by nature. You should have heard some of the elaborate excuses I gave my parents when things went wrong... We lived in a neighborhood where there weren’t many playmates, so my sister and I would act out scenes from our favorite TV shows, and write ourselves in as new characters. We whiled away entire summer vacations that way, because my family couldn’t afford camp or vacations for us.

I was always an avid reader, I’ve been know to open encyclopedias and dictionaries and devour whatever was on that page. I was that one kid in class who actually looked forward to the essay questions on the test because I knew I had a good chance of winging it. I once got an above average passing grade for writing an entire book report on why I didn’t finish reading the book (because I didn’t like it).

In high school I was given a last minute project no one else could dig up info on, simply because I’d been absent and it was the only thing left. It was a report on debtors’ prison in Dickens’ London, and I had to explain how it worked. I hunted for a week and couldn’t find any new resources, and the deadline was closing, so… I created the entire system from scratch in one night. It must have been convincing, because even with citing the same resources others had hunted through and not found much in, I got an A. I have a feeling the teacher knew what I had done, but was intrigued that I had imagined such a plausible setup. It was very detailed description.

I’ve read a lot of fiction, primarily fantasy over the last fifteen years or so, and that plays heavily into what I write. In all honesty though, the whole world around me is an inspiration. I’m someone who watches people and notices what motivates them, bringing them together or tearing them apart. I see things in the news, online, catch snatches of conversations, or dig up little interesting facts that will spark a story. Now and then I’ll get a story idea in my sleep; I tend to have big colorful cinematic dreams complete with music, that look like movie trailers. The first Vagabond Bards story came from one of those dreams that I adapted to my ongoing world, and that seeded the rest of the series.

You have to stay open and carry something to write with on you at all times. You never know when an idea will strike. 

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

From Tolkien came the idea of a big world with a long history and lush backdrop. From Jack London I learned that both people and creatures have a motivation for what they do, and it isn’t always pleasant. From Steinbeck I learned to wring the hearts of the readers by showing them everyday people in extraordinary situations. Hemingway showed me you can say a lot with a few words, so don’t spell everything out and trust that the reader is going to get it once you’re done. Robert E. Howard taught me that breathless pacing and endless action makes for a darn good page turning read. David Eddings and Joel Rosenberg (the sci fi author) proved a series can be fascinating from beginning to end if you have characters the readers fall in love with. Joseph Campbell showed me that all cultures have the same archetypes for heroes and mystical beliefs. Pioneering female speculative fictioneers like Andre Norton, C.J. Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Ardath Mayhar showed me that you can write in what is thought of as a male dominated sector of fiction, and if you’re good enough, and willing to do what it takes to see print, you will succeed.

A couple of women who are more noteworthy outside of writing have been a big influence on me too. Helen Keller did write, but her entire life was a huge inspiration because she had so much to overcome, and she did it with such grace and determination. And Anna Mary Robertson Moses—AKA ‘Grandma Moses’—pointed out that you’re never too old to try something new and be a success at it, so if you have to get your family grown and on their own first, do so and then pour all your life experiences into your creations.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

Writing is an art that has a strong footing in science. Since the dawn of time, mankind as a whole has had this hunger to leave behind some evidence of our passage through this world; otherwise we wouldn’t have the cave paintings, carvings, and decorated pot shards we keep digging up. Once language became sophisticated, we told stories; initially oral and eventually coded in designs that represent meanings. Most of those early tales portrayed life events like births, deaths, hunting, where to gather food, warfare, and natural phenomena or disasters through the filter of our beliefs in some higher meaning to it all… All those things are rather scientific, even on that very primitive level of understanding that gave them supernatural powers. Some of those stories I am sure were trumped up as they were passed along; tales were added to and embellished. I don’t see how that’s terribly different from what writers do now. We’re still telling the same kind of stories about big daring deeds and those who faced them.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

I’ve recently finished a couple more short stories destined for PRO SE PRESENTS. The sequel to FORTUNE’S PAWN is also done and has been turned in, and I am almost finished collecting stories for another Hansen’s Way anthology. Both of those books, the novel and the anthology, will be out later this year from Pro Se. There’s a couple of special projects I have fingers in, one of which is Pulp Obscura, where I have three different short stories to write, and am doing the background studying for those now. You might even see some things from me that aren’t fantasy, or strictly intended for an adult audience.

I do some editing for Pro Se as well, so I have had a lurking presence behind the scenes too.


For more information about Nancy and her work, visit