Welcome to the blog, Nancy. Let’s get to know you.
I’m a Southern California gal who grew up in some pretty unusual settings and situations, one of which became the inspiration for Gunnysack Hell. Through life experience, I’ve learned two things (well, more than that!). The first is that God watches out for children. The second is not to judge others; they’re usually doing their best in the moment, and everyone has opportunities to grow into better versions of themselves. A little more about me? I’m living a pretty terrific life at the beach as a faith-filled wife and mother of grown children with seven grandgirls ranging in age from five to twelve. And the sunsets over Catalina Island are magnificent.
What’s the logline that describes your writing themes?
“The truth will set you free.” For example, in GH, one of my main characters struggles against a “big lie” fed to her by the perpetrator. If she can grasp the truth of the situation, she can free herself from silence, take action, and forgive herself. My writing usually includes a character who’s struggling with some kind of a “demon”—an untruth that’s keeping them captive to something.
Do you start with plot or characters first?
The characters usually find me and mull around in my subconscious for a while before they pop onto the page. I begin with the outside perimeter (the general story frame) before I assemble the smaller, interior scenes, which are character driven. It’s a little like putting a jigsaw puzzle together.
What was your biggest surprise in the editing/revision process?
During the final stages of editing, I morphed into an artistic conductor and orchestrated the visual feeling tone, lengths of paragraphs, and white spaces on the page. It was like I was using visual magic to create a book that would draw the reader’s eyes throughout it from beginning to end. I enjoyed this entirely different creative process after all the hard-core editing and line-by-line proofreading! (By the way, I took Linda Carroll-Bradd’s editing course, and it was very helpful in writing tighter and eliminating reader distractions in my text.)
What other genres do you write in?
I’ve published poetry (and won first place in a poetry contest recently!) as well as short stories in anthologies and stand-alones (a creepy, retold fairytale for grownups). I’ve written two unpublished adolescent novels (science fiction and time-slip fantasy), completed rough drafts of two contemporary adult novels, and have the beginning of another psychological thriller hiding in the wings. As a recently retired English and Education professor, I published in academic venues and designed content for educational publishers and websites. For the last several years, I’ve been reviewing new books for children and adolescents (International Literacy Association website).
What visual aids do you use when writing?
I love, love, love Pinterest! For almost every storyline, I have a separate board. Check out the one for GH (https://www.pinterest.com/nancybrashear/writing-ideas-gunnysack-hell/) with 136 pins, which even includes actors I would cast in character roles. For “Dare to Wish Upon a Star,” the prequel short story to GH (download here: www.nancybrashear.com), I compiled a 1940s board on Victorian mansions, furniture, clothing, tub claws, etc. (https://www.pinterest.com/nancybrashear/claires-story-gunnysack-hell/)
What do you hope readers gain from your stories?
I hope readers connect with my stories as “mirrors” that reflect their own experiences or “windows” that give them insights into the lives of others. Either way, I’d like them to come away from my writing with a renewed sense of compassion and hope for themselves and others.
“There’s more to fear in the desert than scorpions and rattlesnakes.” It’s the summer of 1962, middle of the Cold War, and the O’Brien family has moved off-grid to the Mojave Desert in Southern California. After all, the desert has to be a safer place to raise a family than the crime-ridden city, and there they can build a new future. But evil also stalks dusty desert roads, and eight-year-old Nonni finds herself harboring a terrible secret: Only she can identify the predator who has been terrorizing the community. And he knows where she lives.
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I read this morning that Donald Fricker was granted parole after serving twenty years in prison. Once I saw his name in print, the decades disappeared in the flick of a newspaper page. My childhood flooded back to eight-year-old me, too scared to identify him and save my family.
It was May of 1962. My family had recently moved to our new home, our grandparents’ one-room homestead cabin in the California high desert with tarpaper and chicken-wire lining the walls. It never occurred to me to ask my father why we had moved from our three-bedroom suburban home by the beach to “off the grid.”
All I knew was that we used kerosene lanterns, the chemical outhouse under the tall water tank, a wood- burning stove, and an old-fashioned ice-box that our father replenished daily with a big block of ice from Jolly’s Corner.
Tessa, my six-year-old sister, and I walked home alone, every school day, from the bus stop, a mile and a half down an isolated dirt road.
That’s when it happened, the thing that changed our family. I’ll never forget that day. I protected Tessa even though I broke all of my promises to Mama I’d made just the night before. To walk directly home from the bus stop, not to talk to strangers, and to stay away from open wells.
That afternoon, when the bus’s hissing air brakes signaled our stop, we leapt from the bottom step onto the dirt shoulder of the road.
I picked the perfect stone from the side of the road. It had to be small and round, with no sharp edges, and light enough to kick all the way home.
Tessa followed on my heels, talking my ear off, and stepping on the heel of one of my tennies. “Gave you a flat!”
“Back off!” I glared at her. Mama said those shoes were like gold, and we were to protect them. I gave the rock a punt and forged ahead.
Oblivious to things going on out there in the desert, we were lulled into a sense of safety and routine. Like Eve, we didn’t feel the danger around us until it was too late to escape. Instead, I should have been paying attention to the truck following us slowly.
Down the deserted road.
Yes, this is our story.
“I can’t recall the last time I was so impressed with someone’s writing style. It’s pure genius! Gunnysack Hell, told through the various family members’ point of view, takes the readers down a tunnel filled with mystery, thrills, and excitement. This masterpiece is not to be missed.”~L. C. Hayden, Award-winning and best-selling author, http://www.lchayden.com/
(The Harry Bronson Thriller Series, When Memory Fails as seen on NBC and ABC, and others)
Nancy Brashear lives in Orange County, California, with her husband, Patrick, and their rescue dog, Goldie, where her grown children and seven grandgirls have supported her writing adventures. A professor emeritus in English, she has published short stories, poems, academic articles, textbook chapters as well as website content and writing projects with educational publishers. Gunnysack Hell is her debut fiction novel and was inspired by a true-crime event. And, yes, she did live off-grid with her family in a homestead cabin in the Mojave Desert when she was a child. Visit www.nancybrashear.com to learn more.
Author website: www.nancybrashear.com
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Enter Nancy’s Free eCopy Giveaway Drawing of Gunnysack Hell at her blog (ends February 26) by leaving your name and choice of the version you’d like if you’re one of the three winners: Mobi (Kindle), ePub (Nook), or [scrolling] PDF! Winners will also be mailed a postcard of Gunnysack Hell.
Also by Nancy Brashear – Ready or Not: A Creepy, Retold Fairytale for Grownups