Nina-Marie Gardner Answers Eleven Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing the which questions, and how many questions they want to answer! Nina-Marie Gardner author of the newly released Sherry & Narcotics, played along and answered seven questions.  Here is what Nina-Marie had to say about reading, writing and being Kyra Sedgwick’s understudy.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write? 

I grew up in a small town outside of Boston called Marblehead (where nothing bad ever happens). In college I knew I wanted to be a writer or an actress, and once I graduated I spent a good many years as an actress in New York and LA.  I played a lot of troubled teenagers. The highpoint of my career was probably understudying Kyra Sedgwick in the LA premiere of David Mamet’s ‘Oleanna.’ I don’t know how familiar you are with the play, but it was the kind role where people wait for you at the stage door when the play is over not so they can congratulate you, but because they want to beat you up.

During those years I also held just about every job known to man—waitress, bartender, dogwalker, SAT tutor, gardner, executive recruiter, retail associate. I was also Jack Klugman’s assistant for time, as well as William H. Macy’s.

I was always writing stories and short plays while I was acting, and eventually I got fed up with Hollywood—I also hated seeing myself on film—so I applied to creative writing programs and wound up doing my degree in London.

I am most interested in writing about people on the fringes: the loners, the losers, the quirky and/or invisible types. The quiet wallflowers who do the observing. The late bloomers. The ones who maybe have fallen through the cracks, the deeply flawed but big-hearted, the lost but relentless. I care most about keeping it real and honest and true. I am interested in writing about women and addiction and recovery. Language matters a great deal to me; I also hope to expose readers to a perspective or emotional place they might not have considered before.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

Books and reading have always sustained me, I cannot imagine not having books as an escape. My favorite rituals include waking up at dawn, before it’s light out, for my main writing session of the day. I drink black sweet coffee, and usually this is my most productive time. Maybe because the judgmental over-thinking part of my mind isn’t warmed up yet, and my subconscious still rules.

Many weeks this is the only time I have for my own work, as I have to devote the rest of the day to the freelance editing and other jobs I do to pay the bills. On the weekends, I like to wake up early, get my coffee, and crawl back into bed with a book and just read. That to me is the ultimate indulgence.

The two books I turn to when I am stuck or discouraged or simply need to recharge my muse and mind are The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Letters of John Keats. There’s enough courage and heart and soul in each of those books to inspire the universe.

Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.

Are you an Ernie or a Bert (from Sesame Street)?

I am most definitely an Ernie!

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

Sherry & Narcotics is based on a devastating affair and extended relapse I had while living in the UK. When a friend first suggested I write about it, I was horrified—it seemed like the last thing I would want to revisit, even as fiction. However, the seed had been planted and it eventually consumed me. Writing the book was incredibly cathartic, and also terrifying. I never would have kept going if I hadn’t been in a workshop where I was submitting a new chapter every week. With each chapter I felt it was just this stark ugly mess nobody would want to read, but they kept urging me to keep going and then it was done. It absolutely changed me—in the way facing your deepest darkest fears changes a person. I was fairly convinced publishing this book was going to ruin my life. But it hasn’t—yet:-)

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

Just finished People Who Eat DarknessThe Fate of Lucie Blackman and it was phenomenal. Generally I like the darker, edgier stuff.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)? 

I avoid reading when I’m writing, unless it’s something I want to examine or get the feel of for my own work. When I was midway through my first (unpublished) novel, I made the mistake of reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and I had to take to my bed for a few days. I just thought, why am I even bothering? But I just have to remind myself that my work is what it is—it’s all right if it’s not resplendent with glaring genius. Simple and sparse and quirky and dark can be okay too.

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?

I have three or four going at any one time. Nothing is ever completely scrapped—I think of them as temporarily abandoned or set aside—I always hope to come back to them

As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?

Fewer people hate me than I thought.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?

Well, there’s the rock stars from Brooklyn like Jonathan Lethem and Jennifer Egan. Fortress of a Solitude is one of my favorites, and Welcome to the Goon Squad is a beautiful, beautiful book. I’ve always enjoyed Maggie Estep’s books, and Melissa Febos is pretty great too. There’s a writer named Liza Monroy from Brooklyn who wrote this book Mexican High—and Siri Hustvedt, I can’t wait to read her new book. Although she currently lives in Venice CA, Ruth Fowler has split her time between the same three cities I have: New York, LA and London. She writes beautifully. I am completely in awe of her right now.

Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?

The only place I can really write is at home—either in my bed, or at the kitchen table. And I can’t have music on, or too much noise from the neighbors or the street or whatever. I wear earplugs when I have to, but it also drives me crazy listening so intimately to the sound of myself swallowing.

What’s next?

There’s a story about an American girl who finds herself at an all-boys boarding school in England, another about a murder on a college campus—but the one that is tugging at me most powerfully right now is about friendship and fame. The loss or fading of a close friendship can be more devastating than losing a lover. I want to explore the usual things that interest and plague me—the search for one’s identity, what it is to love, to be true and to be betrayed—all set against the backdrop of our current celebrity-obsessed culture.

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