The Writing Life of: Fred Nolan
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Fred Nolan. Fred will be sharing with us details of his writing life, telling us all about his book ‘Alexei and the Second Empress‘, which was released on 26th November 2018 and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
Fred Nolan is a speculative fiction writer from Texas. He has published short stories, technical construction articles and one novel, Alexei and the Second Empress (Emery Press Books, November 2018). He lives near McKinney with his wife and children.
1) As a child did you have a dream job in mind?
I did, but only the usual: army general, fire fighter, astronaut. My ideas about space travel were pretty warped by television and kids’ toys. I figured it would be a very cramped, five-minute ride to the moon and voila. For all I knew the space helmet fit like a baseball cap.
2) Who was your favourite childhood author (s)?
My parents swore I was a huge fan of Seuss and the Hardy Boy mysteries, although I don’t recall it that way. I remember never genuinely responding to fiction until I started reading Stephen King. By now I’ve lost interest in his writing, but his abilities as a storyteller have no parallel.
3) Was there a particular point in your life that you realised you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t remember any one, decisive event, but by the age of ten I’d routinely come home from the movies and write my own spinoffs, for example Star Wars, Rocky and Jaws. I’m still deeply inspired by cinema and am almost never in the moment in a theater, no matter how large the screen is, or how loud the music. One day I should apologize to my family for that.
4) What is your average writing day like? Do you have any special routines, word count, etc?
I do my best to sleep until four in the morning, but much later than that and my head wakes me up like a dog that needs a walk. I write very slowly, fewer than 500 words an hour sometimes. So I’ll write until six or six-thirty, then play a few rounds of Overwatch before it’s time to wake the kids.
As for where I write, it’s whatever couch looks the warmest. One thing I’ll say about our house, the air conditioning works!
5) How many books have you written? Any unpublished work?
Just the one so far (Alexei and the Second Empress, published by Emery Press Books). I’ve been struggling with the sequel, even with the idea of writing sequels, since then, which was November 2018.
6) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Both. I’ll type out a very detailed outline then let the characters hack it to bits. I realize it sounds like humblebrag when writers say they’ve been trampled by their characters, but it’s not. It’s quite frustrating.
Concerning your latest book:
Publisher – Emery Press
Pages – 328
Release Date – 26th November 2018
ISBN 13 – 978-0999204788
Format – ebook, paperback, audio
These are the final days of the tsars and Alexei Shafirov, an infirm skeptic, is bedridden after a fall. Throughout the long recovery his loved ones speak to him of fables, uprisings and a royal family under house detention. At the heart of their stories is Alexei Romanov, the heir apparent. Like him, the Romanov boy is a hemophiliac, near the center of a decades-old political cabal. Both children are prone to mischief, self-indulgence and illness. But some insist their connection runs deeper than that.
Alexei and the Second Empress is an account of the end of Imperial Russian, told in equal measures fairy tale and cruel realism. It is a story of opulence, folklore, addiction and secrets. And the most profound of those may not come to light without a price.
7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
Other than the basic stuff, when I don’t have to leave the couch (“Hey Siri, what is the population of Denmark”), everything starts in libraries and used bookstores. For what it’s worth I intended to visit Saint Petersburg but we flew to Brussels first. When we set out for Russia a few days later, Polish customs officials wouldn’t let my friend through. So internet searches and old print books had to do.
If I may, I’d love to make the case for the used books industry, especially now that brick-and-mortar retail is suffering. A second-hand bookshop is invaluable for research, and not only for its convenience and prices, but because you often leave without quite what you’re looking for. Buying the wrong title is a feature, not a bug. There is no better way to expand your research than reading some other book than the one you intended.
What’s more, I love finding handwritten notes in the margins. It is like reading a few pages with a stranger.
8) How long did it take to go from ideas stage to writing the last word?
Alexei began with one of Tyler Cowen’s October 2006 blog posts, and its publication was December 2018. That’s twelve years in all.
There are still changes I would love to make. But every once in a while, a writer needs to call a project complete and leave it in the editor’s hands.
9) How did you come up with the title of your book?
A full answer would be a spoiler so let me leave it at this: the book is set in Imperial Russia and the main character, Alexei Karlovich, bears a close resemblance to the royal son Alexei Nikolaevich. His mother resembles the boy’s mother, the empress at the time. Hence, Alexei and the Second Empress.
I might add, I think book titles, ultimately, should be spoilers. The same goes for the opening page. The reader will not know it at first, but can somehow feel it. And when they finish reading, it is clear.
10) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
When I study history, and when I wrote Alexei, I assume that people do not change much over the decades, only their settings change. Therefore, Alexei’s character has a fairly modern audaciousness to him, despite his hemophilia. His mother, Revekka, is firm, but only to keep the boy safe, and she often relents when he insists.
Chehreh Qajar is the one major character without historical parallel, so I had full creative license in her case. Chehreh despises Catherine for what happened to Ivan VI, and has watched the Romanovs closely in the meantime. I liked thinking of her as a disillusioned activist who, not incidentally, is mistaken for a witch.
11) What process did you go through to get your book published?
For a while I meant to publish Alexei on Channillo, and I commissioned Wendy Garfinkle to do the proofreading and copy editing. When I backed out of the Channillo agreement she asked if I would consider her small publishing house, Emery Press. It felt a bit sudden but I believe she loves the work.
12) What’s next for you writing wise?
I just completed the first draft of my second novel, and have had four short story publications since Wendy accepted Alexei. But that came to a halt in March, and I’ve only recently accepted how the pandemic has affected my mental state and creative output. I’ll likely have a personal reinvention soon, and distance my work from magic realism and huge displays of emotion. Not every story needs to start quietly and end with life-or-death.
Instead, I’d like to publish work that is a bit more lively, with the emotion infused into the words themselves, not into huge plot developments. Lastly, I’m a short story writer at heart. Writing three hundred pages exhausts me. It’s difficult to have every word in place when there are 72,000 of them. I will try to find a publisher for my current work-in-progress, but for the time being it is my last novel.
1) If you could have any super power for the day which would you choose?
Remember how The Lawnmower Man became pure energy and uploaded himself onto the “information superhighway?” I’d love to do that, but I’d just refer to it as the internet.
2) Do you have any pets?
We have a very old retriever named Lucy, who hates having her picture taken. Let me see what I can do.
3) If you decided to write an autobiography of your life, what would you call it?
Wow! That’s difficult to answer. Is this multiple choice?
How about Challenging Our Assumptions? That’s something I always try to get across to my family, coworkers and readers. Challenge your assumptions before you try challenging anyone else’s. You might find flaws in your own worldview, and save yourself, and your opponent, from unnecessary conflict.
4) Your book has been made into a feature film and you’ve been offered a cameo role, which part would you choose, or what would you be doing?
I’d love to secretly pose as an intern, getting Rebecca Ferguson her double almond milk latte or whatever her latest demand. (Ferguson would have to play the role of Revekka, that much is mandatory. Naomie Harris would star as Chehreh, and let’s say Aidan Gallagher will be in the starring role.)
I take all of this back. If I did that, I’d probably overhear some scathing remark about the source material and never want to leave the house again. Instead, I’ll star as one of the metal golems. Someone who doesn’t have to show his face, then gets shot to bits in the last chapter. Spoiler alert!
5) Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Eleuthera, no question.
6) A baseball cap wearing, talking duck casually wanders into your room, what is the first thing he says to you?
‘Outta my chair, loser.’ But you have to nail the voice with this one. I’m thinking Boston Rob with laryngitis.
I would like to say a big thank you to Fred Nolan for sharing with us details of his writing life and for a wonderful interview.