INTERVIEW: Nancy Coffelt


Aurora is pleased to have Nancy Coffelt visiting with us this week. Nancy’s debut novel, Listen, was released by WestSide Books this past fall. Listen is not, however, Nancy’s first book. She’s also written several picture books for younger readers, winning the Horn Book Honor Award for Fred Stays With Me. She’s currently revising a YA novel and is in the middle of a first draft of a new one. She’s also working on a couple of picture book projects.

Nancy had a list of things she wanted to be when she grew up: teacher, veterinarian, concert clarinetist, and artist. Writing and reading were activities she just did.

“It wasn’t until I had my own studio gallery and found that my artwork’s titles were getting longer and longer, did I explore really working on that craft,” she told me.
“I don’t play music so much anymore and I found out that I can’t stand the sight of blood so veterinarian was out. But I do teach as writer and artist in residence, and still illustrate and show my fine art in galleries.”

She can’t imagine not writing or drawing. “That’s about the same as imagining I had gills instead of lungs,” she said. “But if I had another separate lifetime I would have wanted to be a physicist and a professional tennis player.”

Nancy has an office/studio where she draws and writes. A large drafting table is covered in mountains of oil pastel stubs, a computer, TV, and a stereo. It’s also filled with books, her teaching files, empty tea cups and diet Dr Pepper bottles.

“Twig, the min-pin puppy’s toys cover the floor as well as the paper scraps she loves to shred,” Nancy said. “I don’t let anyone see my messy room!”

She sometimes writes down ideas for picture books in longhand, but she confessed that she writes so fast that her handwriting is almost illegible, even to herself.

“I’m a two finger typer but do okay,” she said. “I got a netbook to write my latest novel. I wanted to be able to write outside of my studio if I wanted. “

Nancy told me she needs an extra day in the week.

“Because I don’t have a ‘regular’ job, I need to have lots of jobs to make up for that fact. So I’m usually scheduled within an inch of my life. I get up super early to get my own writing in before running off to a school or teaching an online class.”

“How do you keep your finger on the pulse of today’s kids?” I asked.

“I read a fair amount of YA and I also am in the schools a lot. Right now I’m teaching 2nd through 5th grade in one class and also a couple of other classes with middle schoolers and high schoolers. Plus, I am highly immature.”

When Nancy’s not writing, she enjoys cooking and admits to being a tennis freak. “I play on a team and try to get out there on the courts a few times a week,” she explained.

Her favorite word? Lackadaisical. Least favorite? Moist.

“What’s the one question that no one asks you that you wish they would?” I wondered.

“Would you like me to give you a million dollars?”

The lives of three people intersect unexpectedly in this unique, compelling story. There’s Will, an eighteen-year-old living alone since his mother died and his drug- and alcohol-addled brother was put in jail. Then there’s Kurt, a troubled, fourteen-year-old loner still reeling in the aftermath of his mother’s abusive boyfriend’s death, and his part in it. And there’s Carrie, a middle-aged schizophrenic who “hears” the thoughts of the abused and neglected neighborhood animals she rescues and brings home. When Carrie and Kurt connect, she agrees to pay him for each “stray” cat or dog he delivers. But when her “rescuing” goes one step too far, events spiral dangerously out of control. Told from alternating viewpoints, Listen is the haunting story of three people dramatically thrown together by fate, each struggling to come to terms with their harrowing past.

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