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Monday, December 28, 2009

Author Interview: Nancy Holzner

First off, I'd like to thank Nancy Holzner for taking the time to answer my questions. Here new Urban Fantasy novel, Deadtown, releases tomorrow (12/29)! Everyone should go run out and get a copy. It's an awesome book, as you can see from my review of Deadtown, which can be found here.

Sara: How would you describe your novel, Deadtown, in three sentences or less, for readers who haven’t heard of it before?

Nancy: Deadtown is Boston’s paranormal-only district, home to vampires, werewolves, a couple thousand zombies, assorted other creatures—and Vicky Vaughn, Boston’s only active Cerddorion shapeshifter. Vicky exterminates people’s personal demons for a living, dealing with demon-plagued clients, putting up with a pain-in-the-neck teenage zombie apprentice, and trying to squeeze in an occasional date with her maybe/maybe-not boyfriend, workaholic werewolf lawyer Alexander Kane. When one of her clients is murdered by a Hellion whose only purpose is to destroy, Vicky must face the demons of her own past—before the Hellion annihilates the city and everyone in it.

Sara: What sets your novel apart from the rest of the Urban Fantasy genre?

Nancy: I tried to play a little bit with urban fantasy conventions while expanding on them. One example is how Vicky’s roommate Juliet takes the “sexy vampire” convention and exaggerates it. Another is that Deadtown offers a different take on zombies from what I’ve seen in other urban fantasy novels—they’re also way different from what you’d find in the horror genre. In Deadtown, zombies aren’t props or plot devices; they’re characters. Their condition was caused by a fast-acting virus that swept through downtown Boston, causing almost immediate death. At the time, there was panic and chaos, and the area became a quarantine zone. Three days after the plague hit, the victims came back to life. (Of course, no human had willingly gone near the plague zone, so no doctor ever certified the victims as dead.) Deadtown’s zombies can think and talk. They have personalities. They also have spongy greenish-gray skin, blood-red eyes, superhuman strength, and near-insatiable hunger. My zombies play off convention, but they develop in their own direction.

I also spent a lot of time thinking about how society would respond if suddenly forced to confront the existence of paranormal beings in their midst. Before the start of Deadtown, Kane had been trying to organize paranormals to “come out” and lobby for their rights. But the zombie plague forced humans to recognize the existence of nonhuman creatures and to do it NOW—and they reacted with fear and a desire to control. Readers have told me they like Deadtown’s political dimension. Some have also been surprised and pleased to find humor in the book.

Sara: How would you describe your main character in one sentence?

Nancy: Vicky is a shapeshifter who’s proud of her Welsh heritage and committed to her demon-slaying calling, despite the sacrifices it demands; marked by the Hellion that killed her father, she struggles to control her own destructive urges and do what’s right in a city filled with demons, dark magic, and unholy ambitions. (That was kind of a long sentence. Thank the grammar gods for semicolons! :))

Sara: What made you choose Boston as the setting for your novel?

Nancy: I’ve lived in Boston, so I know the city pretty well. It was easy for me to visualize scenes from Deadtown happening in Boston. In some ways, though, I feel like Boston chose me more than I chose it. From the moment I started spinning out the story in my head, Boston was the place where everything played out.

Sara: Can we look forward to more books in Victory Vaughn’s world?

Nancy: There’s a sequel coming out in a year, and I’m currently working on the third book. The sequel begins a couple of months after the end of Deadtown, and in it Vicky has to deal with the consequences of an action she took at that time. She travels to Wales to get the training she needs to fight a kind of demon she’d never encountered before. While she’s there, she learns some troubling things about her family history and meets a distant relative with evil intentions.

Sara: Who are your greatest influences, both in and out of the Urban Fantasy genre?

Nancy: That’s a tough question to answer, because I spent a lot of years studying (and later teaching) literature. When writers read a lot, they absorb a great many influences through sheer osmosis. I used to be a medievalist, and the literature of that period still has a strong influence on me, even though what I write is very different. I also went through a period when I was reading a couple of mysteries each week. A grad-school friend was writing her doctoral dissertation on the origins and development of British detective fiction, and she got me hooked on Agatha Christie—and my interest took off from there. My favorite mystery author is Donald E. Westlake; his Dortmunder series of crime caper novels are endlessly entertaining. I got interested in urban fantasy when a friend recommended Kim Harrison’s Hollows series. I still love Harrison’s world, and some of my other favorite authors in the genre are Ilona Andrews, Devon Monk, and Patricia Briggs. I also love it when urban fantasy authors sprinkle in humor; Mark Henry, Jaye Wells, and Anton Strout are some of the authors who make me laugh out loud.

Sara: I know this is a very overdone question, but how did the idea for Deadtown come about?

Nancy: The background mythology come from the Mabinogi, a group of medieval Welsh stories and legends written down during the 12th and 13th centuries. There’s a great shapeshifting story in which Ceridwen (a goddess or a witch, depending on whom you ask) chases a boy who stole a potion she created, each of them changing shapes multiple times until she finally catches him. I used that story as the basis of the Cerddorion, Vicky’s species. Being able to shapeshift at will seemed like a handy quality for a race of demon fighters to have. :) The seed for the novel came from reading a complaint on an agent’s blog about too many authors who described characters as “wrestling with their own personal demons.” The agent wondered who else could wrestle with your own personal demons besides you—which led to my idea of a character whose job was to kill those demons for other people.

Thanks so much for inviting me to stop by, Sara. It’s been fun talking about Deadtown with you!

Thank you, Nancy, for taking the time to answer my questions! And feel free to post any comments or questions for Nancy.


  1. Hi :)
    Thank you for the excellent interview with Nancy Holzner and thank you to Nancy for sharing here. I really enjoyed learning more about Nancy and her writing. I liked learning about the worldbuilding for DEADTOWN and that there will be two more books!
    Happy Holidays,
    PS - What does Nancy like to read?
    PS - Does Nancy read when writing?

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview, and I'm really happy Sara invited me here. To answer your questions, I read all the time, and I read everything. :)

    All right, too vague. I do read a lot of urban fantasy, as I mention in the interview. But I've also been a mystery fan ever since a grad-school friend got me interested in Agatha Christie through her dissertation on the development of British detective fiction. And I love the classics, the kind of stuff they make you read in English class. (Partly because I used to teach those texts, and students *know* if you try to fake enthusiasm for what you're teaching.) Sometimes the mood grabs me to read poetry, or Shakespeare, or a 19th century gothic novel, and I go for it.

    I do read while I'm writing. I'd feel incomplete if I weren't reading something. When I'm revising, I usually set aside urban fantasy for a while so I can listen clearly to my own characters' voices. At those times, I read other genres.

  3. Thank you for answering my questions Nancy!
    All the best,

  4. Wow... I can not wait to read this book!!=)


Thanks for stopping by Sara's Urban Fantasy Blog! I'd love to here what's on your mind. :)