Nancy Wayson Dinan is a native Texas who teaches at Western Kentucky University. Her work has appeared in Arts & Letters, Crab Orchard Review, the Cincinnati Review, and others. She earned her MFA from the Ohio State University and a PhD from Texas Tech. Her debut novel, Things You Would Know If You Grew Up Around Here, was published by Bloomsbury in 2020.
Nancy Wayson Dinan will be virtually visiting as a featured author for In Print 2021: Festival of First Books. The following is an interview with Dinan.
Describe writing your first book in 5 words.
Feverish, dreamlike, uncertain, experimenting, curious
This was a hard question for me — I used all adjectives instead of one complete sentence. Really, so much of what I was reading at that time influenced the writing: Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream, Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl, and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera. All of these books contributed significantly to how I felt while writing, and I hope that feeling transferred tonally to the page.
What is your latest inspiration (book or otherwise)?
Right now, I’m loving the prose in Elizabeth Wetmore’s Valentine, and as I write, I’m thinking of that richness as an aspiration. Lauren Groff and Karen Russell, too, are style inspirations. I’ve been thinking, too, of endings, and how I like the sort of weird ones, and Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi was such a surprise to me, such a welcome and unexpected book. As far as content, I’ve been inspired for some time by tales of reincarnation that seem almost irreconcilable, and one such example would be the tale of Dorothy Eady, which is a fascinating story.
Do you have an ideal reader? How do you imagine them?
I don’t know that I have an ideal reader; this is a question that I don’t know that I’ve ever considered. My first instinct is to think of comparable books to the ones I write and to try to describe this reader by their taste in reading. But if I were to describe the person herself, I realize I default to a description of myself: somebody who reads a lot, who escapes through books, who tries to live as many lives as possible. Somebody who is a little hesitant about the world itself, who has maybe had the kind of childhood where she doesn’t quite trust everybody to be kind.
The pronouns here are unimportant — I default to she/her/hers because these are my own pronouns, but this ideal reader doesn’t necessarily have to look like me. Somebody who’s curious about minute details, because I like to know everything possible about a place/story/time/etc.
What made you fall in love with writing and/or reading?
The question about reading is easier for me to answer — there was a time in my life where books saved me. I am surprised by how often I hear something similar from writers, that books were, at one point, a life preserver. Books allow us to escape, to some degree, from current circumstances, and they allow us to imagine briefly that we have a different life.
In my early life, I read everything I could get my hands on, and I wish that I had that kind of time now. Writing is a much harder question to answer, and my apologies(!), but I think I have to answer with a cliche. I don’t know that I love writing, but I love having written. I only rarely get so swept away in what I’m doing that the act of writing is a feeling akin to joy, but I keep trying to get there. There is absolutely a joy, however, in reading back the work. No matter how bad the scene or text is, there’s always some little surprise, like where did I come up with that?.
What song or album best captures the aesthetic of your writing?
This really varies for the project, but strong contenders are songs from my childhood, Willie Nelson’s “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” or Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Desperado.” Maybe Warren Zevon is in there, too, something sad like “Keep Me in Your Heart,” or something semi-historical, like “Veracruz.” Maybe some music from my adolescence, something like “Crucify” by Tori Amos. Or Tracy Chapman’s cover of “Stand by Me.”
All of these speak to the longing for human connection, though it feels like they’re by people who might not make a ton of these connections. I love this idea of a person who doesn’t really fit many places finding another person who makes them feel comfortable. “Crucify” is maybe a little more angry or angst-y, and definitely, that’s there, too. My characters often have a core of rage that they have never been allowed to express.
Advice for a rainy day?
Another tough one! I don’t ever really stop working, but things are at different speeds. On a rainy day, I might think of daydreaming as a form of goal-setting — what do I want from this life? I might look at examples of the kind of work that I would love to create — how are they doing whatever they are doing? I might watch an adaptation of a novel that I loved.
I think of Ray Bradbury’s quote about reading every day and writing every day, or Flaubert’s quote about being regular and orderly in life, and definitely, these are two principles with which I generally agree.
You can register to attend In Print 2021: Festival of First Books to hear Nancy Wayson Dinan at the virtual reading (March 23, 2021 at 7 PM) and hear more about her publishing experience at the virtual publishing panel (March 24, 2021 at 7 PM).