In conjunction with National Novel Writing Month, the Los Angeles Public Library is proud to spotlight some of our great local authors who have submitted their e-books to our Indie California collection.
Nancy Young was born in Taiwan, grew up in Pasadena, CA, and currently lives and writes in Huntington Beach. She is an artist, writer, fundraiser, marketing/communications consultant, and filmmaker who has traveled extensively (30 countries and counting). She lived in Australia for 13 years where she worked for state and federal funding agencies as an arts policy and cultural facilities consultant. Since returning to Southern California eight years ago, she has been writing and fundraising for several nonprofit organizations.
Strum is Young’s first novel, which has won six book awards since its publication in 2013, including: 2014 USA Best Book Award (Finalist: Literary Fiction), 2014 Independent Publishers Book Awards (Silver Medal Best Regional Fiction), and 2014 New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Pacific Northwest Book Festivals (Hon Men General Fiction). Prior to Strum, Young published several cultural policy documents, a multicultural arts marketing handbook, and a short story in an anthology by Zonta International. She has published articles in the Long Beach Press Telegram and Los Angeles Times, and is currently assisting on a feature documentary about diversity and education in California.
Strum was designated a Biblioboard Select title by the staff of Library Journal and is now available at participating libraries nationwide. The Los Angeles Public Library congratulates Nancy on her award—let’s hear a bit more about her and her winning title!
You do such a great job of evoking all the different historical periods in Strum—did you do a lot of research before starting to write?
I have Masters Degrees in International Affairs and Asian Studies (from Columbia University and the University of Hawaii respectively), so I’ve studied world history, languages, world literature, and traveled extensively, which allowed me to start writing without doing a lot of research. But for some of the more detailed dates, names and locations, I did research to get it just right or to refresh my memory. As an English undergrad student at UC Berkeley, I also read A LOT of historical and literary novels!
You describe music and musical instruments in a wonderful and descriptive way. Do you have a musical background?
I started playing the piano at 6 years old, and played in my junior high school orchestra. I also fell in love with classical guitar later in life, which was my inspiration for this book. I continue to play for pleasure but am not a professional musician by any means. I was lucky enough to work for over 25 years in the arts and cultural sector in the US and Australia, and have many friends all over the world who are professional musicians and artists. My daughter is also quite an accomplished musician.
Strum has a complicated narrative structure, but you bring it together seamlessly. What was your strategy for mapping out all the interlocking narratives while you were writing?
I did not have a strategy at the beginning. I had many characters who were related, and who lived through recognizable and interconnected world events that formed the background of the story, but I did not want to reveal the relationships all at once or in chronological order, which would have been rather mundane. I began in the middle with the central character, and then went backward to several ancestors from earlier time-periods to show the source of that character’s personality and talents, and then forward in time to another time-period and location of a character who would later have a major impact on this character. Revealing the story and characters slowly made the story more interesting I thought—like unraveling a mystery—and unveiling a surprising twist at the end!
Do you have any advice for first-time authors attempting to finish their first novel? Do you have a daily writing routine?
Finishing a first novel may seem like the hardest thing in a writer’s life, but, honestly, finishing a second one might top that! My advice is to write as well as you can from the very beginning so you are not held back by a fear that your novel is not “good enough.” But do edits as you go; don’t wait to the very end or you may end up re-writing the whole thing! Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to ask others to read parts of it for feedback. I do not have a daily writing routine unless you count “thinking about writing” as a daily routine? Once a novel takes hold, however, I could write for 10-20 hours at a time for days on end until I am exhausted!
When writing Strum, did you complete multiple drafts? Did you show unfinished versions to friends or beta readers for feedback?
Yes, over a five-year period, I showed several versions to others. The first 20 pages were submitted to a “first novel” competition (which I didn’t win), then I showed it to my sisters. I showed the first few chapters to a film-maker friend for feedback which was encouraging, and then I showed a draft to an old novelist friend who gave great editorial suggestions (some which I kept, and others not). Feedback is important, but never let it discourage you – sometimes well-meaning family members or friends can be inadvertently harsh critics. Trust your instincts and your need to write!
The self-publishing industry has really exploded, especially in e-books. What advantages and/or challenges do you see in self-publishing your work?
Self-publishing gives you a lot more freedom and control as an author: you choose your own cover artwork, fonts, editing, and overall creative decisions. But marketing it yourself is the BIGGEST challenge once it’s written and edited! Publishing houses offer marketing budgets and advances, but these days they expect you to have a full marketing platform in order to take a chance on you as a first-time writer, which often means you will never get a foot in the door unless you are very lucky. For me, self-publishing was an opportunity to prove to myself (and potential publishers) that my creative writing was “good enough.” I never expected the six-book awards and was surprised when I placed in every competition I entered. Now, for my sophomore effort... it’s still in draft and beta, but I’m hoping to have a sequel to Strum (I’m planning a three-book series) in the very near future. For more information my website is: NancyYoungAuthor.com
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