Nancy Knight is the author of twelve novels, as well as many short stories, produced plays, and a produced screenplay. She is also a partner in BelleBooks Publishing, and is the director of the Writers Track at Dragon*Con.
Daily Dragon: Thanks so much for taking time away from the track for this. You’ve been running the writers track for how long now?
NK: You know, I’m not sure. I think it’s been about 13 or 14 years.
DD: Do you enjoy doing it?
NK: I love it. You know, I got an award last year, a mentorship award that was named after me, for mentoring new writers. The reason that I got that award is, for the last 25 years I’ve edited manuscripts, I’ve critiqued manuscripts, I’ve judged contests, I’ve taught classes, I do Dragon*Con, I speak at writers conferences all over the country. So the Georgia Romance Writers group decided they needed an award for a mentor, somebody who gives back more than anybody else. And I got the first one, and they named it after me.
DD: That is really something special.
NK: Yeah, it was like a really stunning thing to have happen. I totally didn’t expect it.
DD: How did you start running the track?
NK: I’ve been attending [the convention] for many, many years. I’m a member of Dark River Writers, and when I first started, one of the members [of DRW] would say, okay, I’ll do Dragon*Con this year at the writers track. One year nobody wanted to do it, and I said, you know what, I’ve been wanting to do this, so I’ll do it. And I’ve been doing it ever since. They considered it a chore, and I consider it a privilege and a delight.
When you see someone, like there’s a guy here, Anthony Francis, I’ve been seeing him for years at Dragon*Con. And to see him come back this year, having met the woman who edited his book at this convention, that’s so gratifying to me, because that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to help someone who needs a hand up, and to see that actually come to fruition because of Dragon*Con, because of the writers track, is just unbelievably gratifying.
DD: Do you know of any other track attendees who’ve gone on to become published?
NK: I really probably should have kept a file on that over the years. But people who have taken my classes, many of them go on to be published. I’ve been teaching this class since 1987, and I teach it about twice a year, called “Well Begun Is Half Done.” My feeling is if you can make somebody laugh, they can learn more, and that for a writer of popular fiction–whether it’s romance, historical romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, whatever it is–if you can stimulate their creativity, if you can find a way to do that, or find a way to teach them to do that, then that’s half the game. Because there are a lot of people who are competent writers, but it’s that spark you get from someone who’s really creative, who comes up with the really great idea and takes it a way that you might not think they would take it. When the editor gets that and goes, wow, that’s really cool, I never would have thought of that… That’s really the focus of my teaching–teaching ways to be more creative.
DD: So running the track is pretty much an extension of your teaching and mentoring as far as you’re concerned.
DD: I’m sure you must put a lot of work into it over the course of the year, putting it together, getting guests, building a schedule…
NK: You know, my track is different from everybody’s. I give them sort of a wish-list and I say, “In the future I’d really like to have so-and-so.” I work with whoever they give me, and I try to put people together who have different opinions, or who approach things in different ways. Sometimes we have a little bit of a clash, but for the most part, it’s a healthy debate. Like, how do you start a book? If you’ve got ten writers sitting there, there’s going to be ten different ways. We all do things differently. My feeling is, if I’m in the audience, and I’m unpublished and I’m listening to this, maybe I’ve heard a hundred times, “start with a really great character” or “start with a really great idea or plot line.” And maybe it’s hearing it that tenth or twentieth time that makes the light go on and you say, “Oh yeah, I know exactly how to do that!” Or maybe it’s somebody who does it differently from everybody else, and you say, “That might work for me.”
They laugh at me in programming, because there’s six slots I can fill, and I fill every one of them almost every panel, unless I’m doing something special like with Debra Dixon, or the ones I’ve done with Kevin Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. I fill them because I feel like sometimes hearing something just said a different way is going to be the thing that takes you from being unpublished to published.
DD: Do you have a number-one person on that wish list?
NK: No, not really. I would love to have Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Dean Koontz, or those kinds of people. But the thing about them is that if they come here, they’re not going to be in here [in the writers track room], they’re going to be in the big room, and there’s going to be fans in there. And what I try to put on panels in here are people who are not only writers, but who can convey to somebody else how to get started, how to get moving in the direction of being published, and sometimes it’s not the big name that has that capacity, it’s somebody who’s published a few books that’s a relative unknown who really has a way of saying things or really has a way of connecting with the audience, who is able to convey that where somebody else would not.
DD: So sometimes it’s the newbie, like Anthony, who can connect better because he’s only one step removed from where everybody else is sitting right now. He was literally sitting there himself maybe only two years ago.
NK: Exactly. It’s not always the big name that’s the best teacher. I don’t want to take anything away from Sherrilyn Kenyon, because she’s done a lot of good workshops for me in here, or from anybody else–and actually Sherrilyn is a really good speaker and she really is able to convey information–but sometimes it’s not her, not somebody of her caliber, but just somebody who churns out a short story every week or something like that who is the person who really can give you that little push that puts you over.
DD: You always kick off the convention with Gary Kim Hayes and the “Develop a Story in an Hour” panel, which has sort of become a tradition. How did that start?
NK: He said to me one time, “I want to do this workshop that’s similar to one that Orson Scott Card did years ago.” So I said okay. Early panels on Friday and Monday panels are really hard to get guests for because people are either flying in or flying out, and Gary is local and I said to him, let’s kick off with yours. There’s a lot of reasons for that. Number one, because he is local. And number two, which is probably the most important, because it gets people invigorated and they start shouting out ideas and it just really sets the tone for the whole weekend.
DD: Do you have a “most memorable” guest that’s been on the writers track?
NK: I have a funny story about that. In I think it was ’94, when World Fantasy was at Pine Mountain, one of my favorite authors was there, Stephen Donaldson. I was a huge fan. I went up to him and just babbled and babbled, you know, like, “Oh, I love your work” and “I teach writing and I use examples from your work.” I just babbled like an idiot, and when I walked away, I said that man probably went home and told his wife that there’s an idiot woman in Georgia who is going to ruin his career, and I felt really bad about it because I know I didn’t express myself well. Finally, he was a guest here, and I booked myself as the moderator of that panel, and when he came in the room I made sure that he sat next to me, and I said, “I have an apology to make to you.” I told him the story about Pine Mountain and what happened, and he said, “I really don’t remember that.” At the end of the con he came down to see me and he said, “You know, I really don’t remember the incident at all, but I do have to say that this is the best run track of programming I’ve ever worked on.” It just made me feel so good that one of my idols would say that, so that was a very memorable guest.
DD: The track moved to a new location a few years ago, a nice big space compared to the tiny room it used to be in. Are you pleased with the growth of the track over the past few years?
NK: I’m pleased with the growth of the track overall, because I remember the first writers track [panel] I ever attended, there were like six people in the room, and for the entire weekend, there was almost nothing for writers, and I thought, God, what a missed opportunity. There are a lot of people who are writers that are fans, and they would come and see good programming that would not only let them see somebody they enjoy reading, but to help them get published, and there’s where my focus started to go.
Somebody said to me, you’re here every year and you never leave this room, and asked if I’d ever seen the parade. I said no, and he said, “You’re the director of this track.” All you have to do is not program for that time slot, and I said, “I can’t do that.” It’s not in me to have a time slot vacant. I can’t do it. I feel like I have an obligation every time slot that’s available to have something that might help somebody.
Aspiring writers who are here have a really different focus. You know, it’s always good to see Sherry Kenyon and Laurell K. Hamilton, and all the actors, all of the glamor and the glitz, but the thing they’re here for, I think, is learning how to be one of those people, how to get there and be one of those people.
DD: Do you ever make it to any of the other events?
NK: In X-Track, they do a ghost story thing, and I’m a storyteller, I tell ghost stories. There’s an event here in Atlanta called “The Tour of Southern Ghosts,” and I’ve been working for 16 years now as a storyteller. I do the research and I find the stories for most of the storytellers, so every now and then I go down to X-Track and do part of a program for them, and I tell ghost stories.
DD: We’ve talked a lot about the writers track, but what about you? You’re a writer, a publisher, an artist, and you have written a screenplay.
NK: Yes, I did a screenplay that was produced, and it actually was accepted into the Dragon*Con Film Festival. It was also in the Women in Film and Television Film Festival and the More Magazine Film Festival. I’ve done seven plays that were produced, and all of them are fantasies in one way or another.
DD: Is all of your writing fantasy or science fiction?
NK: My books were published in romance and historical romance and suspense. And now I’m working on fantasy. I still edit for BelleBooks, and I do freelance editing.
DD: And you said you teach writing classes as well.
NK: I still teach at ART Station at least once or twice a year, and then every now and then I teach a class somewhere else, and then I teach a one or two day workshop for writers groups around the country.
DD: Do you have any spare time for yourself?
NK: I do have personal time, and I read a lot in my personal time.
DD: Do you have a favorite author?
NK: I have a lot of favorites. The Harry Potter books I read over and over again. Tolkien I read over and over again. The Rick Riordan series, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians, I think is wonderful. Janny Wurtz and Raymond Feist wrote a series of books, the Empire series, there were three of them and those were three of my favorite books. Books are good friends, and I always have a book with me wherever I go.
DD: What one piece of wisdom would you share with aspiring writers?
NK: The best piece of advice I ever got was from a woman named Nell McFather. The first conference I ever attended, she was one of the teachers, and she said, “You know, you’ve got a gift and you need to use it. Put your butt in the chair and write.” And that’s it. You can talk about it, but if you don’t put your butt in the chair and write, you’ll never get a product, you’ll never get that book or that story finished, and you never, ever will get it in front of a reader somewhere.