Raised in the Detroit suburbs, Eliza Nellums now lives with her cat in Washington DC. She is a member of Bethesda Writer’s Center as well as the Metro Wriders, a weekly critique group that meets in Dupont Circle. Her short story “Changelings” was published in the anthology MAGICAL. ALL THAT’S BRIGHT AND GONE is her first novel.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most?
I definitely always loved to write, even as a child – my sister and I would write our own Enid Blyton-style mysteries when I was still in primary school – but I was only vaguely aware of the business of writing until I was almost 30. I moved to DC for a job and met a group of really creative people through my writer’s group, and they taught me about things like agents and editors. My favorite thing about writing is getting the chance to live someone else’s life for a while. You get to walk around in someone else’s body, seeing what they see, and make choices that are so different from what you’d do in real life.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
All That’s Bright and Gone is my first and only novel published so far. It’s a mystery, told from the perspective of a six year old girl who is trying to uncover family secrets. My website, ElizaNellums.com, has the best overview and a summary of people’s reactions, as well as where to buy it. Or you can find me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
3) Where do you draw your inspiration from for the stories that you manage to weave together and the characters that you create?
I think most writers are hoarders of little snippets of life – a fragment of a conversation you hear on the bus, an idea you get reading someone else’s book before the story takes a different turn, something you hear about in the news. My characters are usually mash-up compilations of different people I’ve encountered. The inside of my head is a jumbled second-hand store, and everything’s on clearance.
4) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel? What projects are you currently working on?
I am a passionate and neurotic outliner!! I don’t start writing until I know more or less what I want to happen in every scene. I still manage to find plenty of surprises as I go. I try to write every day for at least the first hour after I wake up. I can finish a solid draft in about a year that way. It’s a relatively new schedule for me. For years I did most of my writing on weekends or vacation – and it took me about five years to finish a book. I am working on my second book now, but it won’t be available for a while yet.
5) What’s the first book you ever read that really moved you emotionally? Who is your favorite author to read? What book are you currently reading?
I loved Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I loved that kind of writing that was conversational, and made you think, but was also very poetic and beautiful. For my favorite author of all time I’d probably have to go for a classic and pick Austen – I pick her books up and it’s like visiting an old friend, I’ve read them so many times. Right now I’m in the middle of THE FAR FIELD, by Madhuri Vijay. It’s transporting me to a Kashmiri mountain village which feels like the perfect escape right now.
6) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
Haha selling this book has definitely topped the list. I was thrilled to be an Amazon editor’s choice for December, and was featured in a list in the Washington Post, my own hometown newspaper. Being on the Real Simple list of the best books of 2019 made me cry. But those are sort of external, beyond a writer’s individual control. I’m most proud of myself for going back to the grindstone and working on a second book after my first attempt didn’t get an agent. That was the novel that sold. In the next five years I just hope I’m still writing, and still excited about the stories I’m telling.
7) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career? What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry is drastically changing in terms of traditional and self-publishing?
Well as I said, I didn’t sell my first attempted book. Luckily, by the time I realized it wasn’t in the cards, I was already committed and enthusiastic about my next book so I didn’t seriously consider throwing in the towel. I could feel that I was getting better, and that kept me motivated. Sometimes that’s all you get, and I just feel tremendously lucky that I got the chance to try this crazy thing.
The industry is definitely changing! I was committed to pursuing traditional publishing, because I really wanted to grow from that kind of scrutiny and feedback. The difficulty with self publishing for me would be trying to decide what’s really truly ready when the temptation is to go fast. Traditional publishing is glacial, but you get so many talented people contributing to every angle, from the title to the cover to the fonts, the layout, the copyediting. I definitely hope that all of us can find new ways to connect with audiences and markets. For the most part writers are not making a living writing books, and that really limits who is able to participate and how seriously any of us can take the work. I really wish that wasn’t the case.
8) So many writers say that they hate reading their own work. Do you ever enjoy reading your own work back to yourself?
I do for the first couple times! That third draft where things are really snapping, that’s the best. I blow my own mind. But when you’re publishing traditionally, you keep reading your work over again and again – I’m talking probably 20 different drafts, each one getting more and more meticulous – so yes the joy really does fade eventually. The jokes aren’t funny, the turns are predictable, it doesn’t feel fresh. Then when it’s all done and out in the world and you can finally stand to pick it up again years later, you will notice an error or wish you’d taken a little more time to craft that sentence. It’s just the nature of the beast. I live for that third draft.
9) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
Absolutely not! Look at people’s reaction to Delia Owens’ book, WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING. That was her first novel and she was published at 70. The whole thing is so incredibly outlandish and unlikely anyway – kind of a one in a million stroke of luck – that nobody can draw any conclusions about who makes it or how or why. Everybody cuts a whole new path for themselves as if it’s never been done before. Are you improving? Just focus on that. If you’re getting better, just keep going, and for God’s sake don’t look down
10) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
Oh gee, put the pressure on! Hmm. Well, I think I’ve always wrestled with myself as being kind of a slapdash person, who loves to daydream and make intuitive jumps and connect ideas that don’t necessarily fit together and like, roll around in that. And I always felt sort of bad about it, because I really wanted to be a more diligent, disciplined kind of person – some kind of doctor or scientist, you know, a really valuable person like that – and instead I would be off talking to butterflies and bouncing off the walls. But fiction is a wonderful world where you can actually take all those crazy thoughts and dreams and really do something with them. You do need discipline, but once you’ve built this thing that you love, somehow it suddenly becomes easy to work hard.