Please welcome Nancy Hightower, author of Elementarí Rising.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I’m known for wearing a black jacket almost 99% of the time, to any function. The other thing I’m probably known for is having kind of crazy hair. Some days I really do look like a wild professor/writer gal. Signature fragrance is always vanilla.
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Kafka, because I love his surreal landscapes and strange attic rooms. Tolkien, because he was the first epic fantasy I ever read and showed me you can create whole worlds. And all my professors at Fort Lewis College, who gave me the wackiest assignments so I would have to think creatively.
Do you listen to music when you write?
It all depends on the story or novel I’m writing. For Elementarí Rising, I listened to more ambient music—stuff by Lisa Gerrard, Adiemus, Enigma—because I was trying to reach that archaic, mythic place. When I’m writing short stories (which tend to be more surreal and creepy), the music gets more intense—there was one story where I replayed Bush’s “Mouth” over and over again just to stay in the vibe.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
I’m going to go with Jack Daniel’s fudge—a whole pan of it to sustain you through the journey. It’s a path full of mystery as they go on their quest, and you begin to see that there all are this underlying alliances and treacheries that have happened, and that many people are trying to correct a grave mistake they made in the past.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’ve been living in Colorado a really long time, and have watched the weather patterns change, have seen the drought take its toll on the forests and land. So, part of the book came from a deep desire to explore the ecological complexities that we are dealing with today amid all the politics and economic factors. My characters have those same concerns, with no easy answers. But also, I’ve learned a great respect for nature, for the power of winds that are strong enough to blow you off a path, and for snow storms that can paralyze you for days. I wanted to explore that tenuous relationship we have with the elements—wanting to tame them while still being so awestruck by their force.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I am usually always looking at that mythic journey we want to take—that adventure outside ourselves and into something mysterious that draws us up into becoming more than we ever hoped to be. It requires sacrifices we might never have intended to make, but find ourselves able to sustain the cost of truly fighting for what we believe in. I usually look at what makes a family—is it blood or loyalty, serendipitous chance encounters or chess-like manipulations? All come into play with Elementarí Rising.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Jonathan lost his older brother the year before and he still feels guilty about it, even though it technically wasn’t his fault. His one desire had been to join the Order of the Seven Wood, to protect the deathless forest, but those plans have been put on hold indefinitely since he must now help his family keep their home and farm. So, he’s already experienced two great losses when we meet him and he feels pretty trapped by circumstances. All of this changes, though, as the elements awaken and begin to wreak havoc in their hunger. Jonathan finds himself in the middle of an epic war between humans and the spirits of earth, water, fire, and air, and so he gets the chance to become a part of the greater adventure, just not as he expected.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
That’s a hard one. Let’s go with an 18-year-old emotionally tortured Christian Bale, who has uncanny intuition and sensory abilities like Detective Nick Burkhard on Grimm, and the brashness of Han Solo. He craves adventure, but also wants to take care of the people around him.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Well, let’s have some fun with this, since I’m an epic fantasy writer. I’d have Agatha Christie and George R.R. Martin (she would have to deduce who he was going to kill off in the next few novels), Dorothy Sayers and C.S. Lewis (they were good friends), G.K. Chesterton and Neil Gaiman (mysterious and otherworldly).
What’s next for you?
Too many things! I’m finishing up a short fiction collection called Kinds of Leaving. There’s also the sequel to Elementarí Rising (it ends on something of a cliffhanger), and then there’s an urban fantasy lurking in the distance….
Nancy Hightower’s first novel, Elementarí Rising, just came out from Pink Narcissus Press and received a starred review from Library Journal. Her short fiction and poetry has been published in Word Riot, story/South, Gargoyle, Prick of the Spindle, Strange Horizons, Electric Velocipede, Bourbon Penn, and Prime Number Magazine, among others. She did the majority of her graduate work on Henry James, but asks that you don’t hold that against her. She has taught classes at the university level on memoir writing, the grotesque in art and literature, writing in the visual arts, and the ghost story. Currently, she resides in New York City.