Thursday, October 14, 2010

Interview with Author Lisa De Nikolits

Lisa de Nikolits, author of The Hungry Mirror, a novel about a woman consumed by her body image, stopped by to tell us something about herself, her work, and her craft.

Originally from South Africa, Lisa has chosen to call Canada home since becoming a citizen in 2003. She has also lived and worked in the U.S.A., Sydney, Australia, and London, England. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has contributed to various international anthologies. She has art directed on Vogue, marie claire, and Cosmopolitan.

How did you get into writing?
I’ve been writing for the past 25 years (or more!) but it was coming to Canada that signaled my first real commitment and that was ten years ago.

I’ve lived in South Africa and Australia but I never aspired to be part of the writing scene in either of those places. Then I came here and I just knew this was where I wanted to write.
What's the earliest story you can remember writing?
I love this question! I don’t ever remember not writing as such but my first ever story…hmmm…I can’t recall!

I do remember writing a lot of very bad poetry on scraps of paper.
When did you decide to make the move to "published"?
I’ve always wanted to be published. To me, being published was validation that my writing is worth something.

Without being published, I felt I like I was paddling across a black hole – was there a point, would it ever end? And what would that ending be?

Also, being published opens up a world where you can share your writing in a real way, with people other than your friends and family.
How did you find the experience of seeking a publisher?
I have been very fortunate. Although it sometimes it didn’t feel that way! For example, I had a manuscript accepted by an e-book and print-on-demand publisher. We worked to final galleys, the cover was designed, we were all set to go and then, due to financial difficulties, the company couldn’t deliver. And I was quite devastated – all that work, all that time spent working on the book, all for nothing. So then I sent the book along to another publisher and the managing editor there gave me a frank review of the book, saying the main protagonist didn’t develop, wasn’t empathetic. Again, I was devastated! But then I saw she was right and my first thought was “thank heavens the book never got to print that time...”

I’ve now spent close to a year, rewriting this new character – I would say I have six to eight months of very hard work on her ahead – but she is fabulous and I love her!
Sometimes one’s disappointments can lead to better things; better writing, better books. It has for me anyway!

And the managing editor who rejected that book also rejected The Hungry Mirror; they were looking for a more teen-based work. But she pointed me in the direction of my current publisher and that was such a great gift. Working with my publisher, Luciana Ricciutelli at Inanna has been the greatest privilege.
What did it feel like when the acceptance notice came?
I was extremely excited!
At first I was speechless, I could hardly get the words out, to tell my partner. I first read it in an email and all I could do was point at the screen, wide-eyed!
I told my publisher it was the best thing that had ever happened to me in my life!
What inspired you to write the current release?
I really couldn’t not write this book. It’s as though this book existed before me and it chose me to write it. Because of my experience in the world of magazines, and my struggles with body image etc, the book clearly thought I was the one to flesh it out – and I am very glad it did!
What books have most influenced your life most?
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (for poignancy in writing)
A Prayer for Owen Meany (for such superb characters)
Cider House Rules
All of Stephen King’s books (and I do mean all! I love his writing style and the darkness he sees lurking in everyday life)
John Steinbeck’s writing (poetry is prose)
Harry Crews (lovely twisted vision of the world)
The Ground Beneath Her Feet – Salman Rushdie
Anne of Green Gables
Little House on the Prairie
Enid Blyton’s books
What book are you reading now?
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n. I’m loving it.
Do you have a current project?
Yes, I’m working on rewriting that once-accepted, once-rejected, now-fresh-again work! I’m so in love with my new character; she’s feisty, unpredictable, has her weaknesses and barrels at life with unbridled passion.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
How long it all takes! Actually, it didn’t take that long, it just felt that way.
But most importantly, I learnt a confidence in my writing. I felt panic-stricken at first, when my publisher wanted changes; I wasn’t sure I could deliver and my reaction was “why do we have to change it?”
Because I didn’t trust myself to be able to do it. But then I was amazed because I did just fine and I came to love the refining process and now I embrace it. I guess I was insecure, didn’t believe in myself, I thought the way I had written the piece was the only way I could – but that wasn’t true!
How important is the support and friendship of other writers?
Very important. This arena is such a tough one. It’s only through our mutual encouragement and support, that we can forge on.
How does your family feel about your writing career?
My partner is absolutely wonderful. He is incredibly objective and I can rely on him to give me very insightful and helpful critiques. I trust him immensely. For example, I was telling him about some escapade my new character was on and he pointed out that it was inconsistent with something else she does. I didn’t want to let go of the scenario I had created and I tried to persuade him that I was right to include it but he was not to be persuaded! And I realized he was right, went back to the drawing board, chopped out the bit I loved and the book is better for it.

My family (living in South Africa and Australia) are incredibly supportive of me too. My father, in particular, has always urged me to write, even when I was more focused on my career as an art director. Dad always felt I had a talent that I should work at developing. And I’m certain I inherited my writing talents from my mother, although she doesn’t agree!
Do you feel Canadian writers face unique challenges or have any distinct advantages?
Answering the advantages is easy. It’s the high standard and wide diversity of talent. When I came to Canada and became more aware of the writing talents, I thought “Wow, Canada really is an epicenter of great writing. If I can make it here, I’ll have reason to be very proud indeed.” And the Canadian voice is a very unique one and I love it. For me, an immigrant and now proud citizen, being here is advantage in itself. The Canadian voice resonates deeply with me.
Challenges…I wouldn’t say there are any specifically uniquely Canadian challenges… there are the usual challenges in getting published.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Not really…I don’t have advice but I do have thanks… thanks for being part of this crazy world that means so much to me. Thank you for being fellow sculptors of word and phrase.
Tell us a little fact about yourself that we don't know.
I love Dollaramas! I can spend hours in a good Dollarama. My last great purchase was a dollar Halloween half-face mask – pursed lips, chin and cheekbones. It’s quite surreal!
Thanks for the great interview, Lisa!

The Hungry Mirror is available for purchase on Amazon, and is published through Inanna Publications.

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