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Author Profile: Nairne Holtz

The Skin Beneath

Nairne_Holtz
Nairne Holtz

Nairne Holtz was described by the Globe and Mail as a “writer to watch.” She is the author of This One’s Going to Last Forever (Insomniac, 2009), which was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and The Skin Beneath (Insomniac, 2007), which won the Alice B. Award for Debut Lesbian Fiction and was shortlisted for Quebec’s McAuslan First Book Prize. She lives in Toronto with her lover and miniature dogs.

This One’s Going to Last Forever is about relationships that are, for the most part, destined to fail. From campus lovers to a middle-aged man who performs drive-through weddings dressed as Elvis, the characters in these darkly comic stories search for love in all the wrong places. They also find love in the most unexpected places. 

In The Skin Beneath, Sam O’Connor is a “yuffie,” a young urban failure who is covered in tattoos and preoccupied by picking up girls she quickly discards. But there’s one woman she can’t forget—her dead sister, Chloe, a conspiracy freak who may not have killed herself. Tracing Chloe’s final days in this noir coming-of-age tale of swapped, hidden, and altered identities, Sam discovers everyone has another layer and secrets they hide from themselves—including herself. 

This One's Going to Last Forever

 CW: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

NH: One of my fourth grade teachers assigned creative writing exercises for homework and that sparked my interest in writing. I decided I wanted to be a writer, a spy or a private detective. I’ve wound up working as a librarian and being an author. I can’t talk about the spy stuff. 

CW: How did you develop your book idea?

NH: My ideas come from my imagination, reality, and skewed reality. The reality isn’t necessarily mine. Sometimes I draw on the lives of friends or complete strangers. I’m always reluctant to say what is real and what isn’t in a specific story or book, but I will say I was amused when a reviewer of my first novel, The Skin Beneath, described the only character in the book inspired by a real person as “unlikely.”

CW: And what research was involved?

NH: Research involved trips to various libraries and searching the web. Being a librarian helped.  

CW: What’s your personal approach to the writing process?

NH: My writing process for longer work involves outlines, revised outlines, and endless drafts. The process is often tedious as is discussing it in my opinion. As to training, I have a graduate degree in English from McGill University. I also completed the Humber College creative writing program, where you are paired with a writer who edits chunks of your work for eight months.  

CW: How long did it take you to write your first book and find an agent?

NH: It took me a little over two years to write my first novel, but I was lucky at that time not to be doing much paid work. Humber College has an agent, and I sent my stuff to her when I finished the program, and she took me on. That process took about a year and a half.

CW: What were the surprises and challenges on your route to publication?

NH: My first attempts at publication were in Canadian literary journals. I received one acceptance and fifty rejections, which was quite discouraging. My girlfriend kept saying, “There is always more than one way,” and indeed, my stories eventually found print in American lgbt literary journals and anthologies. While my books have received glowing reviews in the mainstream, basically my audience is lesbian.    

The hardest part of the publishing process was realizing the extent to which manuscripts languish in slush piles. The mainstream presses look at books represented by agents whom they know and the indie presses tend to publish their friends and aren’t necessarily impressed by agents. What I enjoyed about the process was how much I learned about both writing and marketing. Also, of course, it was such a thrill the first time I walked into Chapters and saw my book on the shelf.

CW: What advice would you give unpublished writers?

NH: You have to decide what you want and make peace with it. If you want to write novels, this will likely mean periods of not working fulltime at a paid job, which has obvious economic consequences. If you tell a story with non-mainstream characters or you have an experimental style or you write poetry, you will likely limit your audience. You have to decide whether it is more important to have a wider audience or to tell your story in exactly the way you want.

CW: Have changes in the book industry forced you to change how you published or marketed your work?

The closing of so many gay and lesbian and women’s bookstores has meant fewer places to sell my books, but the web has offered more opportunities in terms of publicity. I think Amazon, not to mention all the second-hand booksellers online, will mean a longer life for my books, and I was quite happy to add my first book to Google’s free electronic library. For my second book, I focused more on the web in terms of publicity. For instance, I had my publicist give my book to a few bloggers and some places where I did readings used Facebook as their main publicity tool.

CW: What’s next?

NH: I’m working on a new novel set in Nova Scotia in the ’70s and ’80s about a Quaker hippie family.

For more information, Nairne’s website is www.nairneholtz.com.

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3 Responses

  1. Is it the formal training as a librian, that caused the endless outlines and drafts? Do you feel one can write a decent story without using an outline? Just a couple of questions for thought.

  2. […] Author Profile: Nairne Holtz (chazzwrites.wordpress.com) […]

  3. […] Author Profile: Nairne Holtz (chazzwrites.wordpress.com) […]

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