Nancy Holder is the New York Times bestselling co-author of the young adult dark fantasy series, Wicked, which was optioned by DreamWorks. She has received five Bram Stoker awards, a Scribe Award, and a Young Adult Pioneer Award, and her book has appeared on reading lists for the American Library Association, the American Reading Association, and the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age. She writes in a variety of genres such as horror, fantasy, romance, mystery, and science fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in many “Best of” anthologies. She has written novels, short stories, novellas, and episode guidebooks for established intellectual properties that include Beauty and the Beast, Hellboy, Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Saving Grace, Zorro, Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, and many others. She also writes movie novelizations; forthcoming is Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak. She is an editor and writer for Moonstone Books, working on comic books, graphic novels, and pulp fiction. She writes essays and articles for popular culture publishers such as BenBella Books (Finding Serenity and others) and I.B. Taurus (Cult TV.) She is the current vice president of the Horror Writers Association and a columnist for the Science Fiction Writers of America Bulletin.
The Rules (Delacorte, 2015)
Beauty and the Beast: Some Gave All (Titan, 2015)
The Screaming Season (Razorbill,2011)
How I Teach:
The Talmud says, “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow’.” I take that as my teaching mantra. Effective learning requires engagement on both sides. Writers who care passionately about what they’re doing write better over time; it’s as simple as that. My job as a mentor is to help you channel and refine your passion.
I believe that the elements of fiction—characterization, plot, description, dialogue, and the rest—can be taught. I also believe that talent can be drawn out and nurtured. These are my twin mandates as a mentor. What I can’t teach you are taste and discernment. In my experience, these come over time and with steady, sustained practice.
And lots and lots of reading.
Popular fiction writers work on two levels: the need to create, and the desire to sell. A firm foundation in the basics of craft gives you a toolkit that you can use to write in a variety of genres and forms, as I do. Genre literacy is also key. It’s crucial that you become informed about the history/classics of science fiction, horror, mysteries or romance before you spend months reinventing the wheel. For this reason, a good reading list is critical, both for breadth and depth. Creating a reading list is a collaborative process between my mentees and me, and most of the time, the list changes over the course of the semester.
I don’t assign craft books beyond the first semester, but I do encourage my students to put them on their reading lists and write annotations on them. I still read craft books myself. I have no preference among the accepted styles of annotations as long as you respond to what you’re reading as a writer seeking models to embrace or avoid. I also briefly comment on annotations, shaping my responses so that you make connections between what someone did well (or not) and what you hope to accomplish in your work.
I using electronic tracking changes to edit your manuscripts and provide margin notes, and then summarize and expand what I’ve observed in a cover letter that’s usually about three to five pages long. I encourage you to come back to me with your own observations about what I’ve said and I embrace discussion between your assigned packets of same. If you’re not comfortable with tracking changes, I can print out your manuscript and send it back to you, but in this day and age, it’s important that you learn how to electronically edit.
I exhort students to make sure they grasp the fundamentals of grammar and punctuation, as errors in either will harm your clarity and get you rejected. This is another reason why you must read, and read a lot. I am happy to assign grammar and/or writing exercises but I also believe that the aim of such exercises can usually be accomplished in a work in progress, since that’s where your passion lies.
In the residency workshop setting, writers take their pieces out for a “test run” and see how other writers work. Workshop is also a place to confirm that the “popular” in popular fiction doesn’t mean derivative, mediocre, or less worthy than “literary” fiction. I have guidelines for workshopping: Before commenting, each participant needs to ask: Are my comments kind? Are they specific? Will they help this writer tell their story, as opposed to the story I want to write? These are the same questions I ask myself when commenting on the work my mentees send me. I am always seeking to get you where you want to go. And sometimes this means telling you that you’re there. When a piece is “ready,” there’s really nothing more to say.
My chief aim is to help you get increasingly more skilled at transposing what is in your head (and heart) onto the page. To find what works and to keep you working. This is an intuitive give-and-take between you and me; there are no definitive answers in writing the way there are in math. Many of my mentees and I phone and/or Skype when it seems that we have a lot to discuss, but we primarily communicate via email. I encourage my mentees to stay in contact with me and let me know how they’re doing between packets if they so choose. To me, that’s part of staying engaged.