Author Nancy Martin has enjoyed much success as both a romance and mystery writer, with well over 40 books to her name. Quite an accomplishment for a woman who lives in Pittsburgh, PA.
Nancy began her career after her first daughter was born, deciding that she could be a “stay-at-home” mom while also pursuing a career, a lesson she wanted to impart to her daughters.
Her success in the romance field (38 books published in 19 languages with several appearances on best-seller lists) persuaded her to pursue another love: writing mystery novels. “I’ve read mysteries all my life,” she says, admitting that she did not pursue this genre earlier because she could earn more income by publishing in the romance field. But now that her girls are grown, “I can write what I truly enjoy -- character-driven murder mysteries.”
Nancy’s mysteries center around the Blackbird girls, three sisters who grew up with silver spoons in their mouths only to have their parents run off with their trust funds, leaving Nora, Libby and Emma Blackbird penniless and smack dab in the job market for the first time. Through humorous writing, Nancy takes readers along on the mad-cap adventures of the sisters, which include having dead bodies popping up around Nora periodically. The results: “. . . light, breezy stories with entertaining characters. I don’t write noir. I write nutty,” Nancy says.
Nancy took some time from her busy schedule to answer some questions for Boom This! readers about what’ it’s like to be a writer and how she and her husband Jeff are dealing with “Empty Nest Syndrome.” She also offers advice to Baby Boomers who are considering new paths for themselves with second careers or retirement.
Boom This!: What's a typical day of work like for you? Are you up early writing before dawn or do you prefer to write late into the night?
Nancy: Until recently, my schedule pretty much depended on the rest of the family. I wrote while my children were in school or late at night after they went to bed. But now that our nest is empty, I tend to work regular business hours for most of the year. During the month or two that our family has kindly come to call Deadline Madness, however, I work about eighteen hours a day. But my work sometimes looks a lot like Nancy sitting in the recliner reading Vanity Fair magazine, so it depends on your perspective.
BT!: Has the "empty nest" allowed you to be more prolific? Any advice for parents who are newly arrived at this stage of life?
Nancy: I wouldn't dare give anyone advice. I've been a writer for nearly thirty years now, and that means I haven't had a day job that required me to get dressed, put on shoes and show up for work on time. That said, I must discipline myself or I'd never get any writing done. I do have more freedom now that our daughters have their own homes, but I guard against the impulse to go shopping or hang around the coffee shop. Writing for a living requires a great deal of discipline and a willingness to spend most of your time alone. Although I loved raising my children and look forward to grandchildren visiting, I have always relished my time alone. Is there a kernel of advice there for anyone? If there is, it might be that allowing time to get to know yourself once the family responsibilities fall way may open many doors.
BT!: Have either of your daughters shown an interest in writing?
Nancy: Both of my daughters write. Cassie is an attorney, so she writes every day, but she has an idea for a non-fiction book that I think she'll get started on soon. My daughter Sarah is a nurse and taking graduate courses, so she's doing a lot of writing too. But deep down I think she's a novelist. I didn't start writing my first book until I was nearly thirty years old, so they've got time.
BT!: Where did you get your inspiration for the ladies of the Blackbird books? And being a Pittsburgher (!), why did you decide to set the books in Bucks County, near (rival city) Philadelphia?
Nancy: My husband and I went off on a romantic weekend while our children were teenagers. In desperate need of a break from work and family responsibilities, we went to Bucks County, stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast, and ate sumptuous meals. On our last morning, I surprised my husband with a horseback ride along the tow path. (It was much, much cheaper than the balloon ride!) While on horseback, the idea for the Blackbird sisters popped into my head. I could hardly wait to get back to work!
BT!: What do you think it is about your books that makes them so popular?
Nancy: I think the themes are universal. Everybody has a pesky sister. Or an exasperating parent. And a lot of people like to think they've put the "fun" in dysfunctional, so the humor really appeals to readers. Plus most people enjoy the satisfying ending of a mystery -- when the bad guy is punished and justice is done.
BT!: What aspects of your career do you like the most, the least? Is it the writing, the editing or the traveling and speaking?
Nancy: I hate the writing. The first draft is like using a hammer and chisel on a block of marble. It's very intense, hard work for me. But I love the re-writing, which is a good thing because most of writing is re-writing. The writer who thinks her first draft is wonderful is only allowing her mother to read her work.
BT!: Is it difficult to establish a writing career away from the major
Nancy: Do you mean is it difficult for a writer to live far away from New York? Not at all. I know a lot of writers, and only a small percentage actually live in Manhattan. With the Internet and the ease of travel, not to mention the proliferation of writers’ conferences all over the country, anyone who has the skill, discipline and orneriness to be a writer can certainly succeed.
BT! You have had such success in the romance and mystery fields, is there another writing genre you would like to conquer?
Nancy: Vampire books are incredibly hot right now. But I have no inclination to try writing science fiction! I think my work straddles many genres, and nearly every good story has a romance and a mystery in it. So I fit in many genres. Except the vampire books, I guess.
BT: What do you do in your "free" time when you actually have some?
Nancy: I read. And read and read and read. My husband and I are finally traveling, which is wonderful. And we go to the theater, attend sports events, and have dinner parties with friends. Nothing scandalous, though. We enjoy small pleasures. I also enjoy gardening. There's something about getting your hands dirty and your neck sunburned that's completely the opposite of the mental gymnastics of writing. I enjoy the work, but I also love the design aspect of gardening -- juxtaposing one kind of plant against another. Putting things in conflict -- on paper or in the garden -- is the way my brain works, I suppose.
BT!: Any advice for our Baby Boomer readers about enjoying what they do? About following their dream?
Nancy: I do feel very lucky that I've managed to find a career that I would have pursued as a hobby if I hadn't gotten into the business right away. If there's something you're passionate about, I bet there's a way of making that your life's work. Think creatively. You may come up with the next new idea!
To read more about Nancy and her work, visit her website.
By Teresa K. Flatley