Never one to pass up a good kidnapping story, I reached for Nancy Springer’s Drawn Into Darkness. Liana Clymer is running away—from her divorce, from her past, from herself. Leaving behind everything she knows, she finds herself ensconced in a fuchsia-colored cottage in the swampy hinterlands of the Florida panhandle. Far from the grown sons who don’t return her calls, her only companion her dog, Liana decides to put her best foot forward and get to know whoever lives in the blue house across the street, the only neighbors within sight of her new home. But moments after a teenage boy, Justin, answers the door and wins her over with his shy kindness, his face appears on the TV screen, and is immediately recognizable as the child who was taken from his parents two years ago. Worse, Justin’s abductor has no intention of letting Liana go.
I was so pleased when Nancy agreed to talk with me about her fascinating story and share advice on how to become a writer. Thanks again Nancy!
What inspired you write Drawn Into Darkness?
Aside from my contract with the publisher? Aaak, I can’t remember. I seldom can. I’ve been writing professionally for so long now – forty years – that words patterned into fiction have become a kind of natural byproduct of mine. People are always and forever invoking “creative juices,” and I’ve never had any idea what that means. Like, orange, cranberry, moo juices? What flavor, or are we talking about glandular secretions? Whence the heck did this cliche originate? (I’ve looked it up. Nobody seems to know.) Is there supposed to be a spigot that turns off and on? I missed out on that. I just get up every morning and write. I remember I enjoyed writing Drawn Into Darkness, especially the swampy parts, because I love swamps. But I don’t remember how it came together.
How did you research the psychological impacts of kidnapping victims?
I’ve just been mulling over Stockholm Syndrome for a very long time, ever since the Patty Hearst kidnapping, which happened when I was what, twenty-something? Back then, like most people, I couldn’t understand what was going on in the Hearst girl’s head, but as I kept watching the news and reading true crime stories over the decades since, I’ve become completely sympathetic to victims like Justin in Drawn Into Darkness. Not until recently, however, did I realize what my parents used to call “brainwashing” was the same thing. Korean War prisoners who were “brainwashed” and cooperated with their captors were displaying Stockholm Syndrome.
Were any of the deathly situations Lee experienced hard to write?
For some reason I don’t understand, it’s not hard for me to write about violence and other disturbing behavior. I mean, all fiction writing is difficult as a craft, and sometimes sad good-byes or death scenes are hard on me emotionally, but I’m oddly blase about crime and criminals. My editor at the publishing house had to ask me to cut quite a bit of material that was too graphic. I trust my editors and agents to curb me in like that. I almost always go “over the top” with whatever I’m writing, but that’s okay. In fact, a lot better than being timid.
What did you hope to show by developing a relationship between two strangers, Lee and Justin, during highly stressful situations?
Lately my husband and I have been talking a lot about UFOs and ETI (extraterrestrial intelligence. It’s no longer PC to say “space aliens.”) I’d love to meet some. If a blue beam appeared in my back yard, I’d go out to say hi to whoever was coming. (Living in the Florida swamps, I already have lots of weird life-forms dropping in, and I do welcome them, including snakes. I just give the poisonous ones some space.) My point is, metaphorically, some people like to build walls and others like to build bridges. I’m one of the latter. By having unlikely characters connect, I’m not trying to show anyone anything; I’m just fulfilling my needs as a storyteller. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, I have a dream, and it finds its way even into a novel of nightmarish suspense.
Who are your favorite authors?
Hmm. In chronological order: Paul Gallico, when I was a kid. Does anybody remember Paul Gallico? The J.R.R. Tolkien, of course. And when I was learning to write fantasy, Evangeline Walton, whose series based on the Mabinogian, the Welsh national epic, blew me away – she was a writer’s writer, a master stylist and storyteller. Later on, Sharon Sheehe Stark, Anne Willard, Peter Beagle, Sharon Creech – heck, there are so many, I’m boggled. Lately I’ve been on a Victorian binge – Frances Hodgson Burnett, Oscar Wilde, Louisa May Alcott (I skip the preachy parts). At the same time I’m discovering Amanda Eyre Ward. I’m all over the map as a writer and as a reader too.
Are you working on any future projects? Can you give us a hint as to what they are?
Sure thing. I’m finishing up an Arthurian fantasy called MERLIN’S MISBEGOTTEN DAUGHTER, which I devoutly hope will find a home with a publisher. I expect to keep writing as long as my arthritic fingers and my fumbling brain can manage.
What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
Read, read, read. Read the good, the bad, and the so-so, and after a while you will begin to recognize which is which. Above all, read poetry, both rhymed and free verse, old and new. Memorize your favorite poems. Recite them. If they are set to music, sing them. Get a handbook of poetic forms and attempt to write some of them. Frame poems you love and put them on your walls. I can’t find enough different ways to say that you must absorb poetry. Why? Because a writer who has not read poetry is like a singer who is tone-deaf. A writer with a prosy voice and a boring style is one who cannot access the resonance and rhythms, the tone and textures of words because of a lack of grounding in poetry. In no other literary form are words put through their paces as intensively as in poetry.
When does read, read, read turn into write, write, write?
Not as soon as you want it to. Sure, write for the challenge and joy of it, but don’t hope to be a prodigy. There are no Mozarts in this field, nobody writing finished works at the age of eight. The mind of a genius focused on musical notes or chess strategies or higher mathematics can do wonders, but focused on writing it can only display cleverness, and cleverness is not nearly enough. Mature writing requires emotional depth, which comes with life experience. So go ahead and write, but be sure also to live. Life itself will teach to to write with your heart, your spirit, your soul. If you can hang onto the emotional passion of your adolescent years long enough to find your voice, learn some wisdom, and know how to write right, you’ll be a marvel among authors.
As a child, I lived in Eden. I explored every inch of the fascinating brook that meandered crystalline amid wildflowers and willows to the swamp along the Passaic river where I discovered herons, hawks, muskrats, snapping turtles. Coming home from school feeling bruised, I turned to the brook, the swamp, the fields of farmland and the deep forest on Riker’s Hill to comfort me. I read at will from my parents’ large library, so that even when I was not outside I was still running wild — in the world of words. My husband Jaime and I now live in a real house just down the road from the airport where I still ride my bike, looking for trouble to get into. Other than that, I write, I feed feral cats, I do face-painting for public library fund-raisers, I read, I fly with Jaime over this Edenic place where two of my favorite things, water and forest, come together, and I write some more. Every day is a new story. Learn more about Nancy Springer on her website, http://nancyspringer.com/