Nancy Sondel's Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop
14th Annual    September 23-25, 2016    Master Class to Masterpiece
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What do you like most about your job as editor?

Working with a variety of different writers. Since I also write, it’s a privilege to be of use and to learn from them in turn.

What’s it like to sit on both sides of the desk—to be both editor and author?

It’s sometimes hard to remember which hat I’m wearing—to turn off my writer brain and keep my editorial paws off when it comes to stylistic matters—but in the end, both jobs demand sensitivity and empathy, and I learn something either way.  

What helps you through the process of novel writing?

Research always triggers ideas and nudges me forward when I’m stuck. When I’m working on a novel, I read a lot of nonfiction (for Angel and Apostle, diaries, recipes, old ballads and etiquette books...) because it keeps me in the larger world, reminds me that my people need context, and there’s no quicker way to jumpstart a story than to throw a character into the mix with history. Take one event and expose five different people to it, you get five different stories. Five distinct reactions. Characters act a certain way because they are a certain way. So character creates plot, and plot makes story. I’m good at character and crummy at plot. So for me, history helps.

Do you outline plot and create character profiles before you begin, or proceed mostly intuitively—or both?

I work from a very loose, ever-evolving outline, mostly because with historical fiction you need to keep your bearings. But my characters have the bad habit of breaking out of whatever blueprints I impose, so I’ve learned to let them go, to just follow quietly behind and record what they’re up to.

Do you ever work “at both ends” of a story simultaneously? Does revising earlier chapters help you shape later chapters?

When I’m drafting, I’d rather plunge straight in where I left off the day before. But because I work full-time and have young kids there can be jagged gaps between writing sessions, in which case I need to get back in the right head. It isn’t that I’ve lost the narrative thread (like a lot of writers, I carry my characters and their concerns around with me even when I’m not at the keyboard, when I’m supposed to be focusing on other things!), but I need to get in thrall with the language again, the rhythms of whatever voice I’ve settled on.

So these days I tinker a lot with openings, fuss and rearrange words mostly as a way of re-saturating myself. But it’s dangerous if, like me, you prefer revising to drafting. You waylay yourself. I won’t loiter in yesterday’s pages if I can help it. Momentum’s a blessing, and a draft should be a breathless sprint, I think, not a marathon. There’s plenty of time for that luxurious mussing with words once the story’s down.

How do you track subplots, symbols, motifs and the like? Do you use tangibles such as charts and index cards, or do you mostly organize story elements in your head?

You used the word “intuitive,” and I think for better or worse I’m that kind of writer. I research like crazy—love research and take reams of notes—but haphazardly (writing something down is my way of remembering; it doesn’t mean I’ll be sensible enough to catalog or cross reference it) I don’t plan much, apart from the historical timeline. I’m beginning to understand that some logical part of me was drawn to historical fiction in the first place as a way of imposing order on an otherwise chaotic process, of guaranteeing some scaffolding.

To read reviews of Deb’s historical novel and a gothic anthology she commissioned, click here.

For more about these books and her most recent publications, including the nonfiction One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults), see her personal website:


Deborah Noyes Wayshak earned a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College. She has taught writing and literature at Emerson College and Western New England College, and was a Visiting Writer in Lesley University’s MFA in Writing for Young People program. Deb is a regular faculty presenter at retreats and conferences, as both author and editor—including the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ weekends throughout the U.S., as well as events for Writers Web New England, and others. In August 2006, she joined the faculty of the Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop... and was a big hit!

Now a Massachusetts resident, Deb was born in California and spent her early years as a “military brat.” She also lived on the East Coast and developed a voracious appetite for books: “I loved and love history and historical fiction; folklore, myths, and legends; fairy and fabulist tales; biography and odd natural history minutiae; and moody, intense supernatural stuff. If you shipped me off to the proverbial desert island with one book, it would have to be Wuthering Heights.”

Over the years, Deb has worked all manner of day jobs to support the fiction writing habit—from bartender and book reviewer to children’s book editor and zookeeper. “I love nature, animals, and the outdoors,” she says. “Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey were my idols growing up, and if I had another life to live (I imagine it often, this parallel life), I’d be a field biologist or trek around photographing invertebrates for National Geographic. I fancied rugged adventure, a wild and rambling, get-dirty sort of life, but happily I ended up in a fairly settled way instead, raising a family I cherish and making up stories in my pajamas. Nature and restlessness do crop up in my writing as favorite themes though, so nothing’s lost, and reading and writing continue to be the adventure of a lifetime.”

“Didn’t you love me even a little?” I asked, shocked... Mother nestled closer under
the bedcovers. She stroked my sweaty hair, kissed my brow, and wished all watery nightmares gone. What she did not do was answer my question. — From Deborah Noyes’
Angel and Apostle
(Unbridled Books)

For more about Deborah’s books, click here and here:

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