Wednesday, November 11, 2015

#Interview: Nicky Penttila of The Spanish Patriot

Nicky Penttila writes stories with adventure, ideas, history, and love. She enjoys coming up with stories that are set in faraway cities and countries, because then she *must* travel there, you know, for research. She lives in Maryland with her reading-mad husband and amazing rescue cat.

Some fly to war. Others flee it. No one is safe.

When the British army is sent into Spain to help expel Napoleon’s invaders, nothing goes as expected. Not for London newsman Sam Kerr, hunting a story that will win him the editor’s chair, who discovers one that could wreck his career. Not for the Wakefield family, loyalist refugees from America seeking peace among people of their faith, who find war has followed them even here. And certainly not for the British troops, whose mission of support turns into a fight for all their lives. Historical fiction set in Corunna 1808.


INTERVIEW with Nicky Penttila

Two days of Nicky - in a row even!  I was fortunate to read The Spanish Patriot and my review can be found on yesterday's post.

1.  Have you always lived in Maryland?  (I asked because I lived in Cumberland, on the western side of the state for the first half of my childhood.)
Nope, I grew up in Michigan and Connecticut. I came here a decade ago to join the editorial board at the Baltimore Sun; that job lasted only a couple of years, but I married a local so here we are. Don’t know that I’ve gone as far west as Cumberland, but did spend a memorable weekend around Berkeley Springs.
2.  What is the favorite place you've traveled so far?
Japan. It was *so* different from my daily life, from how you order food and eat it to the many unspoken rules of sharing communal steam baths. I got just a taste – two weeks traveling to Tokyo, Kyoto, through the mountains, and around Miyajima Island. I’m so envious of David Mitchell when he writes of living there for years, teaching and researching; you can see and  feel in his historical novel set in Japan, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
3.  Where is one place in the world you haven't visited yet that you would like to experience?
Either New Zealand, with the amazing landscapes I first saw in The Lord of the Rings films, or Italy, to tour all the great art and architecture.
4.  What drew you do the period/events covered in The Spanish Patriot?
I was reading a memoir by Henry Crabb Robinson, who you could argue was the first English foreign newspaper correspondent, writing for The Times of London in the early 1800s. He had to learn on the job in Spain, and I wondered if people would like to read about how a reporter learns to distinguish fact from fiction while in the field.
If you are on Twitter or other social media, you have to learn these skills yourself, nowadays—for example, the first report of a shooting you see almost never has the details right (who, what, when, how many); as the hours and days pass you have to revise the story in your head as you see new and conflicting information. That’s a lot of mental work! It used to be that only reporters had to do this, and they waited until they (and their editors) were fairly sure what was the truth before reporting it. Now, we see information stream out in real-time on TV, Twitter, everywhere, and *we* have to act like reporters, not trusting the first or second thing we hear, judging who is a reliable witness or reporter, and weighing evidence as it flies by our eyes and ears.
Also, as I followed the current US military entering and re-entering various theaters of war, I saw parallels in the way the British were surprised at their reception in Spain and the US and allies were surprised at their reception in Afghanistan and Iraq. I also watch how the reporting by US and others about these events changes as the years pass. It seemed a lot like Robinson’s stories from Spain, and I wondered if I could show those parallels.
5.  If you could invite any writer from history over for supper and conversation, what would you serve and how would the evening go?
Emily Dickinson, for coffee and lemon scones. I studied some of her poems in an online class last year, and I’d like to ask her about them, and about why she didn’t publish them.
6.  Other writers you admire or who have influenced you?
Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow (scifi) blew my mind, and her historicals are rich but not heavy with detail. Each of her books has such a strong voice; I wish I’d written Doc. Also Elizabeth Gaskell (North and South) and Charles Dickens (David Copperfield and others), who showed you could write rip-roaring stories with big casts on tough topics.
7.  Where do you stand on the indie/traditional publishing issue?
I grew up dreaming of being traditionally published, with book-release parties, book tours, and respectful reviews in newspapers. But I don’t write in a literary style, and I like a lot of action, so my chances were always slim for that route. Indie publishing has opened many doors for me, and helped me reach adventurous readers willing to cross rigid genre boundaries.
8.  Any suggestions for our young folk interested in writing?
Keep going! And if you think book-length stories are impossible, consider taking the National Novel Writing Month challenge now (November) or next time. 50,000 words in 30 days! I love it and do it almost every year. I have a hard time starting new stories, because I never think I am ready. Almost all my books have been NaNo first drafts, just vomiting the words into the file trying not to look a them. My novels take two to four years to finish (after a few years of research), so a 30-day experiment is worth it—if it’s not working you’ve only lost a few weeks.
And when you do reach 50k you realize yes, it *is* really possible. Totally possible.
9.  What is the best thing about writing for you?
Figuring out what I think about things, discovering what’s important to me. I think best by writing. Now that I get reviews and people talk to me about my books, I love to hear what each reader responds to---their reactions can be *so* different!
10.  What's your favorite color?

Green or blue.

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