1. Did anything in your early youth prepare you for the life of a writer?

I was always an avid reader. Early in my life, reading opened new worlds for me. By the time I was in third grade, I was reading books like Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. I started making long lists of things I would have to take with me if I ever ran away from home, just like Crusoe did. I was always a day-dreamer, too. I spent lots of time making up very involved stories in my head.

2. When did you realize you wanted to share your stories with others?

I tried my first novel when I was twelve. Some girl had a book published at age eleven. Here I was twelve and already falling behind! My first effort was about fifty pages, a first person narrative by my dog, written laboriously on an old Smith-Corona typewriter. Writing for a living was too scary though, so I went into the work-a-day world and only came back to writing during one of my many mid-life crises.

3. Could you easily find a publisher for the first novel you wrote?

Dear me, no! Danegeld was very difficult to sell. It was … different – a gritty book at Vikings and Saxons in the time of Alfred the Great. It broke about every rule in the book of romance publishing. I got an agent at a writing conference. I thought I had it made! It was rejected by, I think, 8 publishing houses. I went on to write the next book, but I couldn’t let Danegeld just die. So I joined Romance Writers of America and entered it in contests. Danegeld won eleven, and it was bought by Dorchester from my home chapter’s contest. I judge a lot of contests for RWA to help give others the opportunity that RWA gave me.

4. How was the reception of this book? Did it sell big?

It did not sell big, though it did more than make back its advance. It was what I call a “slow build”. The reviews helped. Still, it was not for everyone. I remember Romantic Times gave it four stars but said “not for the faint of heart”. People who liked it, really liked it though, and I still get e-mails about it.

5. You work with an agent. Why?

If you can find an agent, I believe you should always use one. They negotiate for you, keep you out of contract trouble, advise you when you are ignorant, and if you have a good one, they help plan your career. Agents are hard to get. Look in Writer’s Market for names; send out your work in the format they request. Send lots at once. It’s worth doing. If you do sell the book on your own, get an agent to do the contracts.

6. Are you receptive to comments and suggestions of readers, as far as your books are concerned?

I love hearing from readers. I like comments about my work, even if people are pointing out mistakes I’ve made. I suggest e-mail since I can normally answer all my e-mail, even when I am away from home. I must admit the contacts I like least are the people who have a great idea and just want me to write it for them!

7. You write novels in different genres: historical, futuristic, dark paranormal. May we ask why you don’t stick to a single genre?

Jumping around probably isn’t great for my career. But writing in different styles keeps the writing fresh and fun. The first three books I did (Danegeld, Sacrament – a Regency Vampire, and Body Electric – a cyber love-story) were all written before I had a multi-book contract with Dorchester. I just signed a three book deal with St. Martin’s Press, and I am going to try writing three Regency Vampire books in a row. My new editor has said that she would be thrilled to let me move around in sub-genres though. That’s important to me.

8. Much of your writing is dictated by what publishers and editors want. Do you follow their instructions to the letter, or do you prefer to ‘do your own thing’?

Well, first let me say that “what publishers and editors want’ comes in two versions – before the book is turned in and after the book is turned in. I honestly don’t believe in trying to do what you think editors will want before you turn the book in. Following all the rules can make a very generic story that won’t really excite anyone – not you, and not an editor. That said, breaking the rules can mean that you need an editor willing to take chances. It’s your call, but you must love what you’re doing.

Now, after you turn the book in, it becomes a collaborative effort. If your editor doesn’t ask for any changes, that means that for whatever reason, he or she isn’t interested in trying to make the book the best it can be. I never fight about changes. I try to see what the editor is concerned about, and address that, though perhaps not in the way they have suggested. If you have a good editor, they’re smart and they can help you improve your work.

9. As a young girl, did you ever dream of being kidnapped by a Viking?

Never!!! I have a Danish heritage. But I really got interested in the Viking/Saxon period in England while I was studying the history of the English language in graduate school. When these two cultures and two languages collided, the result was a simple and strong language that still has many elements of Norse in it today (any sk word for instance), and a culture that was very potent. Those times of turmoil proved great natural conflict for hero and heroine, too!

This story is going to sound wild, but I’m going to risk telling it here. I was fortunate enough to go to England when I was first getting the ideas for Danegeld. I was touring around the lands in East Anglia they had conquered as the Danelaw. I knew I wanted a heroine who had magic, who was conflicted about that magic, and a Viking warrior cut off from his world and who he thought he was. All this was churning around in my subconscious when I was standing outside a very old church on the site of an older Saxon church in Blytheborough, looking out over the churchyard sloping away to the River Blythe. My husband had gone down among the gravestones to look for old ones. I was alone, with the breeze drifting up off the river, and I heard my heroine talk to me. I know it sounds crazy, but she said, quite clearly, “Witch or saint, which? Even now I do not know.” In that moment, I knew who she was, and the rest of the book grew out of her character. Those are the beginnings lines of that book’s prologue. They never changed. Even though I don’t believe in prologues, I fought to keep that one in.

So no, I don’t dream of being kidnapped by a Viking, but in some ways a Saxon woman kidnapped from a churchyard in Blytheborough, and took me on a journey through her world.

10. Would you mind telling us what you read, when you can find some spare time?

I’m reading right now Charlaine Harris’s Until Dark. I just finished Melanie Jackson’s Outsiders. Both are excellent. I also read quite extensively outside the genre. I read all twenty of the Patrick O’Brian books about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, starting with Master and Commander hat the recent movie was based on. They are “guy-books,” (so was Robinson Crusoe!), but they are also quintessential studies in world-building and the use of complex characters.

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© 2005 Nickie Fleming/Jansan