Monday, June 5, 2023

Q&A with Nancy Christie



Nancy Christie is the author of the new novel Reinventing Rita, the first in her Midlife Moxie series. Her other books include the story collection Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories. She hosts the Living the Writing Life podcast.


Q: What inspired you to write Reinventing Rita, and how did you create your character Rita?


A: I think the genesis of Reinventing Rita was the idea of reinvention. When I first started writing it back in 2010 (yes, 13 years ago!), I wanted to show that sometimes life reinvention is what we choose to do, but other times, it’s thrust upon us, which is the situation that Rita finds herself in.


While I didn’t have the same “empty-nest” experience she had, since I was already working full-time when my second (and last) child left home, I could understand how someone would want to go back to an identity that felt safe and secure, one where that person felt confident in a specific role when faced with an uncertain future.


For Rita, that was motherhood and wifehood. But when the story opens, she’s five years into ex-wifehood and she is also beginning to realize that her fantasy of her son Zack coming back home after college to live with her is just that: a fantasy.


Along with that unpleasant insight is the awareness of just how precarious her financial state is, which is what leads her into the next series of event that occurs.


But I also didn’t want her reinvention to be a Plan B, a fallback, a second-best, so I had to weave in the backstory of what she had dreamed of doing before she married and had her son. That is how baking and all those baked goods she makes became an integral part of the story—something my friends appreciated since I kitchen-tested my recipes on them!


More broadly, my fiction usually explores the difficulty that people experience as they navigate through life. Many times, my characters are afraid of change, yet they know that change will come, whether they want it to or not—or whether they are ready or not!


In Reinventing Rita and the other books that will be part of my Midlife Moxie Novel Series, while the changes are not life-threatening, they are serious in that they force the character to think about what she wants, what is right for her, what has held her back and what roles she played in allowing that to happen.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Well, I did know that it would have a happy ending! I’m a pantser, so I didn’t exactly sit down and say, “at the end of the story Rita will…” but I knew that she had to succeed in some way with her baking, and even more importantly with her understanding of herself and her abilities.


And she also had to learn to let go: let go of her son who was making his own way in the world, let go of her misconceptions about people like her ex’s wife and her mother’s boyfriend, let go of the past so she could focus on her future.


That being said, I’m sure I did make changes along the way but nothing that dramatically altered the story arc. I think of it as changing the paint color of decor in a house versus doing a complete renovation and expansion. All the “rooms” were there from the start. I just played around with them a bit.


Q: You’ve said, “I want my stories to illustrate that life is full of possibilities no matter what age you are, and in that respect, I could be looked at as a poster child for midlife reinvention.” Can you say more about that?


A: Sure! I’m a late bloomer, which is putting it mildly. I had my first short story published the year I turned 40, and the next year, went full-time as a freelance writer.


My first book (The Gifts of Change) was published at 50, my first short fiction collection (Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories) was published at 60, and now, a year away from turning 70, I’ve released my first novel.


In between, I also had three other books published: two books for writers and another short story collection, plus had short stories that appeared in print and online publications—my way of trying to make up for lost time!


Sometimes I worry about running out of time before I get all the writing done that I want to do. Sometimes I wish I had started earlier, although realistically, with two children and a full-time job and part-time job, that probably wasn’t an option. But starting late is better than not starting at all!


Q: This is the first in a new series--can you talk about what's next?


A: The next book in my Midlife Moxie Novel Series is called Finding Fran. Interestingly, it’s actually the first novel I wrote, although Rita beat Fran to the finish line, in terms of publication.


Finding Fran is about a once best-selling romance novelist in her 50s whose slow-but-steady drop in book sales is complicated by the knowledge that her lover, a professional photographer, has been on the wrong side of the camera (so to speak) with his models. So much for her author brand, built on the premise that women in their 50s and beyond can still find love and happiness.


She decides to spend a week at a northern California bed-and-breakfast, where she can lick her wounds and try to overcome a bad case of writer’s block in time to meet her next deadline: yet another romance novel of the type she’s been writing. Unfortunately, she realizes she is tired of writing those stories that feature protagonists who are a little more like their creator than she would like.


It’s a different scenario and a different set of challenges but still dealing with life transitions and choices and the outcomes of those choices.


There are more to come in the series, and my plan is to release one novel a year, since I am still writing short stories, too.


Q: What else are you working on?


A: I am revising stories for my fourth short story collection, The Language of Love, which will come out in 2025. And starting to plan my marketing for my third collection, Mistletoe Magic and Other Holiday Tales, which will be released December of this year. All my fiction collections are published by Unsolicited Press, while my novels are published by BookBaby.


I’ve also been creating videos and book trailers that are posted to my Midlife Moxie Novel Series on YouTube, doing author interviews on my Living the Writing Life podcast, and setting up in-person book events—a nice change from the Covid-era isolation.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Live your life, don’t just mark time. And don’t let your age define your possibilities. It’s true that when we reach midlife, some doors may be closed to us. But that’s not where our attention should be focused. Instead, we should look down the hallway of life at all the doors we have yet to open to find out what is on the other side.


That’s what I want the stories in my Midlife Moxie Novel Series to illustrate: that being 50 or 60 or 70 or even older doesn’t mean you have to settle for being who you have been or doing what you have been doing. Do your own reinvention. Find your moxie and live your dream!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Nancy Christie.

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