Sunday, December 11, 2011




Today's interview with Nancy Adams is part of her blog tour promoting her Christmas short story "Saint Nick and the Fir Tree," which has just come out in both ebook and print formats (

Hi Nancy, thank you so much for this opportunity. After reading your bio on your site I understand that you are a freelance editor as well as a theological librarian. For those of us that aren't familiar with the term can you tell us what being a theological librarian means?
Hi Kitty. Thanks so much for having me on the Great Minds forum.

Theology is the study of religion, either as an academic discipline or as practical training for people who want to go into some kind of ministry, whether as a minister, priest, rabbi, missionary, or what have you. Most theological librarians work in either a university or a seminary setting. In the university setting, a librarian who specializes in the field of religion will lend his or her expertise to questions at the reference desk, selecting books and journals, or cataloging them with appropriate subject headings to make sure that students and faculty can find materials on any given subject. Seminaries, on the other hand, are typically post-graduate schools that focus on practical training for men and women who wish to become ordained clergy or who desire training in fields such as counseling and social work, but with a religious slant.

What I've enjoyed about being a theological librarian in a small seminary setting is the variety of interests and disciplines I've encountered there and the variety of people. Religion, like politics, makes for some strong disagreements, but it's never a dull subject. Another aspect I've enjoyed is the professional comraderie at both the local and national level. Our school is part of a consortium that includes folks from the most conservative to the most liberal end of the spectrum and we all manage to get along and even form friendships with people whose beliefs may be very different from our own. This is a rare thing in today's society, and something I prize. I believe one of the key ingredients in this collegiality is that we share a common love of learning and of books. Anyone who's interested in the subject will find tons of support from the American Theological Librarians Association (ATLA).

It seems you enjoy Rome and it's the setting for a few of your books. Is there a reason this setting is enjoyable for you?

My Roman books are all historical mysteries, a genre I dearly love. I enjoy writing about settings that provide an escape from the everyday, whether it's an escape into the past, into a foreign land, or into a fantasy world. My specific interest in Rome is the Rome of late antiquity, the era bridging the classical and medieval worlds. It's a fascinating period of flux and change, especially for religion, and the particular period I'm drawn to is the late 4th century, just after Christianity was legalized. In the space of fifty years or so, an incredibly short time span, the Roman Empire went from persecuting Christians to favoring them. The old pagan aristocrats reacted in a variety of ways, some clinging to the beliefs of their ancestors, some embracing the new religion--whether for expediency or from conviction, and many of them making mixed marriages of pagan-and-Christian couples. The social interactions are absolutely fascinating!

You have many skills and talents. What is your favorite among them, which one do you enjoy the most?

I'm pretty good with foreign languages and I really enjoy using them. French is the only one I'm close to fluent in, but even with German and Italian, where I know just the bare minimum, speaking them gives me a kick. It's almost like putting on another persona. My new work in progress is set in Paris and I'm having fun writing the dialogue with a French accent in my head.

Tell us a bit more about the Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

Sisters in Crime is a wonderful organization and very much responsible for my growth and development as a writer. Although its mission is to promote and give women equal opportunities, men are welcome as well (list emails often begin: "Dear Sisters and Misters"). Sisters in Crime has many chapters, most of them geographical, and some of them online. The Guppy chapter, formed some years ago to promote aspiring writers ("The Great UnPublished") has been incomparably valuable for me. Its listserve provides a forum for education, inspiration, and companionship in what is often a lonely endeavor. I can't sing my fishy sisters' praises enough!

I haven't been as active in Mystery Writers of America, but it is the most visible professional organization for mystery writers and has many benefits and educational opportunities as well.

What do your friends and family think about your writing?

My colleagues at work are huge mystery fans, so they have been very supportive. I also come from a family of readers and married a reader, so I've been lucky to have support there as well. (Although my poor husband complains occasionally of playing second fiddle to the computer--with, I'm sorry to say, good reason!) It is, in fact, very difficult to come home from a day job and then have to juggle your writing needs with those of your family.

Who are some of your favorite inspirations?

Although I read mostly mysteries, my biggest inspirations come from non-genre writers. I think my all-time favorite must be Robertson Davies. He wasn't a writer of fantasy, but his works are all magical in the broadest sense of the word. Hard to describe and hard to pigeonhole--marks of a true original! His novels are page turners, but also very deep. At the same time they are light, light rather than dark, comedies in the Shakerspearean sense. He had a deep interest in religion--without being in the least doctrinaire, more like a Joseph Campbell, and he was also very much into Jung and his philosophy, and those interests come out very much in his work. I find myself thinking of Davies quite a bit as I write my current work in progress.

If you don't know him, I recommend you start with either THE REBEL ANGELS or FIFTH BUSINESS, each the first of a different trilogy. They are very fast, compelling reads!

Tell us a bit more about your different novels.

I've already mentioned the historical Roman series. The main character in those is a young girl born into the aristocracy. Her mother is Christian, her father pagan, and although she is supposed to follow her mother's religion, she is also attracted to the old religion of her father. Meanwhile her brother, who is supposed to follow the father's pagan ways, becomes a secret convert to Christianity. All these conflicts should be great fodder for the life of the series. I should also say that none of these is published and only the first is in a publishable state. I'm planning to enter the first one in several writing contests this year and to start querying small publishers.

If readers are curious about this series, the characters are featured in my published short story, "The Secret of the Red Mullet" (in FISH TALES: the Guppy Anthology). I write them in first person in my main character's voice, the young girl, and she is quite fun. Curious and prone to misbehave. She has read much--aristocratic Roman women were highly educated, and that is my excuse for giving her this rebellious streak.

How did you come up with the idea for "Saint Nick and the Fir Tree"?

It began one summer's day when I went out to do some pruning. The previous owner had shaped one of the yew bushes in the yard like a little Christmas tree, and as I went to work on it, cutting off the new growth, I noticed the "tree" had a little bulge in the middle, just like a beer belly. My imagination kicked into gear and I wondered how a tree would go about indulging. Thoughts of the Ent draft Treebeard gives the hobbits in THE LORD OF THE RINGS mingled with the yew's Christmas-tree-like shape, et voila, "Saint Nick and the Fir Tree" was born.

What is next on your list? Do you already have a future project in mind?

My current novel in progress is something of a departure. It's set in contemporary Paris, a city I know fairly well, and has elements of fantasy as well as suspense. It's quite fun to incorporate the fantastical elements, and I'm really excited to be writing an urban fantasy, since that's one of my very favorite genres. I'm a huge fan of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series and Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. But unlike those series, my book doesn't have a whole lot of supernatural characters--no vampires or werewolves. I'm trying to create a fantasy that incorporates elements specific to Paris, and since it's still being written I don't really want to say more. But I'm very excited about it!

Do you have any advice you'd like to give to other aspiring authors?

If you write mystery or suspense, get thee to Sisters in Crime and its Guppy chapter! If not, there are many other supportive organizations out there.

At the same time, if you're still testing your wings, it's very easy to be swayed by others advice--and that's not always a good thing. You have to find your own voice and style as a writer and often critiques by your peers have to be taken with a grain of salt. You have to find critique partners or editors who are truly in sync with what you're trying to do. If in doubt, it's very helpful to have many, many opinions.

Soon after joining the Guppies I was fortunate enough to take part in a temporary critique group of about 15 or so, all us of taking turns to read and comment on each other's first five pages (of a novel). It was a really great experience because often people would criticize something in another writer that I personally really liked, and I would email them back in private and say, "please, don't change this!" With that many people it was a real eye-opener, and it was also enough so that if there was consensus about whether or not something worked, well, the consensus was probably right. That's precisely the type of experience a young writer needs, knowing how many different varieties of readers there are and how many opinions.

The other important thing is that to become a good writer, you must first be a good reader. Read a lot. Read the sorts of things you aspire to write. Read the best. When it's not the best or not so good, try to figure out why.

Thanks so much, Kitty!

About Nancy Adams: A freelance editor and theological librarian, Nancy writes mysteries and fantasy. Her short story "The Secret of the Red Mullet" is published in FISH TALES: the Guppy Anthology. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. In her spare time, Nancy reads, sleeps, and whacks the occasional dust bunny. For more about Nancy and her works visit

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