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.
We’re here today talking to author, Nancy Brashear, about her debut psychological thriller novel. Gunnysack Hell has received fantastic reviews. So let’s see what all the excitement is about.
Jann: Tell us about your journey to publication?
Nancy: I’ve always loved to write. I vividly remember the experience of writing a poem about sitting in the fog on a bench and searching for just the right word to express a specific feeling when I was only about-eight-years old. In more recent times, as a professor in Education and English, I’ve published many academically-related writings along with occasional short stories and poetry. However, Gunnysack Hell is my first full-length published novel, and I’ve had to learn much about the craft of writing longer works of fiction to get this debut novel published.
Jann: Gunnysack Hell made its publication debut in February. How did it feel?
Nancy: It felt great! I signed my contract with The Wild Rose Press in April of 2020 (with a big thanks to Ally Robertson, my editor, for being my advocate and steward), and, now, less than a year later, it’s been released world-wide. It’s been exciting to introduce my “baby” to the world during the pandemic, and I’ve gotten a lot of support from my writing communities, especially my critique group, Serious Scribblers.
Jann: How long did it take for you to write this story?
Nancy: I began writing Gunnysack Hell when I was working at a more-than-fulltime job and had to set it aside. Once I picked it back up in calmer times, I worked on it, on and off, for about three years including taking it through beta readers, multiple edits, and the publishing process. I’ve learned a lot through this process about how to write, polish, and publish a book. I have a few other projects backed up in the pipeline waiting for the same treatment—but on a quicker timeline!
Jann: Will you give our readers the premise of the story? I understand the idea for the book came from a childhood stint in the desert.
Nancy: My story was inspired by a true-crime event in my family when I was young and our family lived in my grandmother’s homestead cabin in Apple Valley. A predator who had been terrorizing our desert community stopped my sister and me when we were walking home, a mile and a half down an isolated, dirt road. Needless to say, this led to a lot of drama in our family!
Jann: Why multiple points of view?
Nancy: It didn’t start out that way. I began writing this story from a 3rd person POV, focusing on the young girl, Nonni. About a third of the way in, I discovered she had her own story she wanted to tell in 1st person. However, after I made this conversion, I discovered that her limited perspective was too restrictive to tell a full story. Other characters were bursting with their own secrets. In the long run, I think it made for a much richer story to have rotating 1st person POVs—but it wasn’t an easy task for me to accomplish, and it took a lot of rewriting to get it right.
Jann: Which character has the biggest arc?
Nancy: Although there are several adult characters in the novel, Nonni, the older child, probably experiences the most dynamic growth in this thriller, which was definitely not written for children. Through her personal epiphany, the truth will set you free, she emerges a much wiser young woman who finally finds her “voice” and can finally take action.
Jann: In your acknowledgment you mention your mother, Peggy Powell. Do you mind sharing with us today about her and how she inspired you?
Nancy: Although my mom had a challenging childhood, throughout her life, she fully embraced the idea that life was an adventure, even the gruddy parts, and, with a little faith, you could get through anything. This attitude embodies Claire, the mother in Gunnysack Hell. At my website (www.nancybrashear.com), my free prequel short story, “Dare to Wish Upon a Star,” is based upon Claire, as a ten-year-old living in Santa Ana with her mother, a singer in a 40s girl-band who also runs a boarding house out of a Victorian mansion. This backstory was also inspired by my mom’s young life, and provides insight into Claire’s personality.
Jann: What motivated you to write Ready or Not, A Creepy, Retold Fairytale for Grownups?
Nancy: I enjoy writing twisty things with elements of psychological suspense, and this short story for adults was inspired by “Hansel and Gretel.” At this point, I’m planning to continue this series with short-story retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Little Mermaid.”
Jann: What’s next?
Nancy: I have a couple of rough draft novels completed, awaiting some tender, loving care. Probably the next one out will be Love on the Fly, a psychological thriller about a flight attendant who becomes agoraphobic after losing part of her family in a mysterious housefire. That’s all I’m saying for now.
Jann: What’s the best thing about being an author?
Nancy: I love letting my mind run wild as I create the interior landscapes of characters and put them into impossible situations in which they have to use all their resources to survive.
Jann: How can we learn more about you and your writing?
Nancy: Please sign up for my newsletter and blog (author interviews, reviews of books for children and adolescents, and other topics) at my website; follow me on social media! Email me if you’re interested in featuring Gunnysack Hell in your book group (as a SoCal-based thriller) and/or would like to do a Zoom author talk with me.
Jann: What sound or noise do you love?
Nancy: Bird songs (lots of them in our back yard)
Jann: What sound or noise do you hate?
Nancy: People chewing.
Jann: What profession would you hate to do?
Jann: What is the one thing you have never been asked, but you wish someone would?
Nancy: What it was like to live in a UFO commune, as a child, for six months
Jann: What‘s on your To-Be-Read pile?
Nancy: The psychological thriller, You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz (the novel that inspired the short Netflix series, The Undoing)
Jann: Favorite song?
Nancy: “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles
Jann: What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
Nancy: I taught for a month in Zimbabwe during a period of deadly civil unrest, and my family and I were almost kidnapped on our return to the airport afterwards.
Jann: If you could travel back in time with whom would you like to meet and why?
Nancy: I’d like to meet Christopher Wren (1632-1723, distantly related) and talk to him about his contributions as an architect in the rebuilding 52 churches in London after the Great Fire of 1666, his anatomical and autopsy work, and his connection to other events that happened in Great Britain during those years. (And my son’s name is Christopher Wren Brashear.)
Thank you Nancy for your time here today. It’s been an adventure getting to hear about Gunnysack Hell and your exciting life. Stay well!!
USA Today bestselling author Judy Duarte has written more than sixty books and novellas for Harlequin Special Edition and Kensington, earned two Rita® finals, won two Maggies and received a National Reader’s Choice Award.
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We’re here today talking to author, Nancy Brashear, about her debut psychological thriller novel, Gunnysack Hell.
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