Monday, March 26, 2012

Interview with Nancy Wagner aka N.L.Sharp

Interview with Nancy Wagner aka N. L. Sharp

Nancy’s outgoing, never-throw-out-an-idea personality charmed me when we worked together at the 2011 Beatrice Business Expo. She’s willing to take the lead, but does not insist on it.

When you visit her web page at the first thing you notice is her mantra “A teacher who writes, A writer who teaches.”

Nancy writes children’s books. She visits schools to talk to children about writing, and she holds workshops for teachers about writing with children.

Nancy lives in Fremont, Nebraska. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska Lincoln in the area of Language Arts (with an emphasis in Writing) and an endorsement in Educational Library Media from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Q. Nancy, I have your book EFFIE’S IMAGE that imparts an interesting way of dealing with self-image. It is a charming story of a little girl who helps an 82-year-old woman regain her sense of self worth. Please tell us where you got the idea for EFFIE’S IMAGE.

A. I got that idea when I was teaching first grade in Fremont, Nebraska. I had a volunteer from the foster grandparent organization helping in my classroom every day. She was not a teacher and had never been a teacher. However, when her son and his family moved to another state and her husband passed away, she knew that she needed to find a reason to continue to get up each morning. I was so grateful that she found that reason in my classroom with my students. My students loved Hazel and she loved my students, and I knew that was a story I needed to tell.

Q. I had the pleasure of listening to you talk about your flip over book THE RING BEAR/THE FLOWER GIRL. You have found a special market for this precious book. Can you explain how your market for this book got started and how it developed and changed?

A. Several years ago, I overheard a conversation between two mothers who were talking about weddings. One of the mothers said that when her son was asked to be the ring bearer in a wedding, he thought he was going to get to be a bear and dress up in a bear suit. They laughed (and I laughed) but I thought, "That would be a great idea for a story." I took out my notebook and made a note to myself: Boy thinks he's a bear in a wedding. Later, at home, I rediscovered that note and wrote a book called The Ring Bear.

Of course, I just thought it was a funny story, but other folks thought it was the perfect gift for the ring bearer in a wedding. Many people who bought the book also wanted a flower girl book. Therefore, when we had almost sold through the printing of the original Ring Bear book, we discussed whether to reprint it or let it go out of print. We decided that it did not make sense to reprint the book unless we also created a Flower Girl Book. Therefore, I wrote The Flower Girl, with the idea that it would be the ideal gift for a flower girl in a wedding, just as we believe The Ring Bear is the ideal gift for a ring bearer.

Then, a bookstore owner suggested that these two might be fun "back-to-back" stories. In other words, since they are about two kids in the same wedding and their stories are parallel stories, it might be fun to place both stories in one book, and the reader would read one story, and then flip the book over to read the other story. That is exactly what we did, creating two gifts in one book!

Q. Your presentation in Beatrice explored types of publishing and the affect on the author’s choice. You also explained some of the pitfalls. Would you be willing to share a brief outline of your experience with publishing?

A. Absolutely, I’m blessed to have worked with a variety of different types of publishers, and all of my books have won recognition of some type, regardless of the way they were published. A traditional royalty publisher (Boyds Mills Press) published my first book. Today I’m Going Fishing with My Dad. It was accepted in 2001, was released in the fall of 2003, and named a Nebraska Golden Sower nominee in 2005-2006. That book was very popular (I guess lots of folks relate to fishing!) and Boyds Mills Press kept it in print (in some form) until 2011. This was a run of 18 years, which is great for any type of book! Actually, they have not "officially" taken it out of print yet, but it is listed as "out of stock indefinitely" for anyone who tries to order it. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, it is now out of print.

My second book, The Ring Bear, I published with a partnership publisher out of Crete, Nebraska. I define a partnership publisher as any publisher that requires some sort of financial commitment from the author, before that publisher will publish the book. In order for The Ring Bear to be published, there were some things I paid for (illustration, printing) and some things the publisher paid for (distribution, award contests, publicity). This book had just been selected as the winner in the Children's Category from the Nebraska Center for the Book Awards Contest when that publisher declared bankruptcy.

With a basement full of books and a third book (Effie's Image) almost completed, my husband and I decided we would create our own publishing company. We created Prairieland Press, to distribute The Ring Bear and to self-publish Effie's Image (which was named a Teacher's Choice Award winner by Learning Magazine in 2006, and a Nebraska Golden Sower nominee in 2007-2008). And after we sold through the original printing of The Ring Bear, we republished that story along with my flower girl story in the book: The Flower Girl, The Ring Bear: A Flip-Over Book.

Recently, I have just been offered (and have accepted) a new opportunity in the publishing world. A Christian royalty publisher has contacted me and offered to republish my two self-published books (Effie's Image and The Flower Girl, The Ring Bear: A Flip-Over Book) in both softcover and ebook format. So these books will be re-released under their imprint, probably in 2013.

Q. I’m going to take a different direction now and ask about your school programs. What kind of reaction do you generally get from the children when you talk to them about writing?

A. Because I am an elementary teacher with more than twenty years' experience in the classroom, and because I love to write and talk about writing, I am well versed in what types of presentations work best with the various age groups. With the younger students, I usually read my books and talk to them about ideas for stories, and they usually have a great time listening to my stories and then sharing their own ideas. With the older students, I usually do not read my books (since they are geared for primary students). Instead, with these students, I share what I consider the four truths of writing (writers write, writers read, writers share their writing with other writers, and writers keep a notebook of some kind) AND then I share with them examples of my various writers' notebooks--and how those notebooks contain the seedlings for my assorted writing projects. Students are always fascinated to see my notebooks and get at peek into my own personal writing process.

Q. Working with children is only a part of your writing program with elementary age students. You also work with teachers. With teachers complaining of time crunch to get the mass of material, they teach into a relatively short time; how receptive are teachers to your workshops?

A. Because Nebraska has a state writing test that all 4th grade, 8th grade, and 11th grade students must take, and because I am trained in this assessment model, my staff development workshops are designed to help teachers feel more comfortable with the process of teaching writing and preparing their students for this writing assessment. In fact, many times I am invited to present in a district because a classroom teacher has seen me present somewhere else (the state reading conference, the state kindergarten conference, a class for Wayne State College, etc) and that teacher, in turn, convinces his or her administrator to invite me to their building. So I would say that teachers are not only open to my presentations, they are my biggest advocates!

As it states on my website, I do believe that we learn to write by teaching, and that writing is a craft that anyone, of any age, can learn, as long as we adhere to the four truths of writing: writers write, writers read, writers share their writing with other writers, and writers keep a notebook of some kind.


It’s not often I have the chance to spend a day with one of the writers I will interview. My day with Nancy at the Beatrice Business Expo gave me a personal edge with developing this interview. Nancy is one of the prolific Nebraska Authors who is dedicated to education and writing. I’m not sure whether to describe Nancy as an educator that writes or a writer who educates. Thankfully, Nancy answers that question in her motto “A teacher who writes, A writer who teaches.”

Visit Nancy’s web site at

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Interview with Author Jack Loscutoff

Interview of Jack Loscutoff

This month I introduce Jack Loscutoff who refers to himself as “sage in bloom, author and poet.” Born in San Francisco of what he refers to as humble Russian peasant stock, Jack alludes to his Grandparents immigration as a factor by geography and politics that affects his view of life.

Jack’s pursuit of education moved him by increments from San Francisco to our beloved Nebraska. He earned a PhD focusing on English and American Literature. Jack worked as an instructor, critic, and at 58 realized his love of words could become a new kind of career. Jack started writing.

Jack’s multi-faceted character enchanted me. I leave it to Jack to charm you.

Q. Jack, when I read your biography, on your web site, one thing that struck me immediately was that your Russian heritage does affect your unique writing style.

Would you give us some insight into that influence?

A. Any Russian influence on my writing came from having read the works of a few of the great Russian writers. Since I don't read the language and have relied on translations, what I've gotten is what any reader and writer, with or without a Russian ancestry, could. Here is some of it.

Checkhov said something like this about short story writing. "If at the beginning there is a rifle hanging over the fireplace, it must be fired before the story ends." He meant that there must be no unnecessary information in a short story. Everything must contribute to its point.

Dostoyevsky wrote a novel, The Brothers Karamasov, in which Jesus returns to earth. Most people do not recognize him. The "authorities" regard him, at best as a nuisance, at worst as a criminal. I guess the lesson there is don't try to write about Jesus.

Tolstoy wrote, at over a thousand pages, War and Peace. Many critics believe it is the greatest lo-o-ong novel ever written in any language. What I've learned from reading it is to keep mine as short as possible.

End of lecture.

Q. I’ve read some of your poetry and prose. To me you have a unique style. Case in point is your short story No Cross for Jesus. Some may say its science fiction, or some could say it’s philosophical. I see both. Your novel THE CLOUD OF DOOM is listed as science fiction, but you told me it crosses other genres. It is hard to decide a single genre to list a book. What would sell your book and stories to philosophers, adventurers, or any interest?

A. The last time I was at Barnes and Noble (and I hope they're still there), they had a section of books labeled "Fantasy/Science Fiction." Those books could also be called "speculative fiction." One reason why "speculative" can be applied to sci-fi is that most SF writers "speculate" about the future. Because no one has experienced the future and thus cannot know it, we can only speculate, or imagine, what it might be like. When I wrote my book I wanted the emphasis to be heavy on the "science" and light on the "fiction". In it you won't find dragons, eight-legged humanoids or a setting two thousand years in the future. My novel is set in 2035. Every animal, plant or machine in it exists in the present or is accepted as a possibility among the scientific community of today.

Even though the plot is rational, there is plenty of adventure. Among others, a trip to the planet Jupiter's moon Europa. There, in an ocean under the ice, my characters encounter strange animals and barely escape with their lives.

Philosophy? The reason the scientists go to Europa is the hope of finding a way of increasing Earth's food production. In 2035 more and more people on our planet are malnourished and starving because of food shortages brought on by over-population and global warming. I believe the dangers of those two trends are things some of us are waking up to, but too late to prevent their catastrophic results.

Q. What authors influence you most?

A. That's a tough one. It's really a question for a critic. As I suspect it is with most writers, I lack the objectivity to answer it. But here are a few possibilities.

Some critic has said that in order to be considered a top poet you must be skilled at writing about death. I have done that. "Alas and Alack," below, is on that subject. Here are some others who may have influenced me in that regard.

Emily Dickinson. "Because I could not stop for Death,/ He kindly stopped for me."

Shakespeare. "This (old age and the impending death of the speaker) thou perceiv'est that makes thy love more strong/ To love that well which thou must leave ere long."

W. B. Yeats. "An aged man is but a paltry thing,/ A tattered coat upon a stick/ Unless soul clap its hands and sing/ and louder sing/ For every tatter in its mortal dress." (again, old age as a prelude to death.)

Note that both Dickinson's poem and mine choose to laugh at death rather than cry.

Among novelists, I would choose Vladimir Nabokov as one who taught me a lot about the uses of "point of view." POV for writers does not mean "opinion." It means who is telling the story and how he or she is telling it. In Nabokov's novel Lolita, the narrator, a character in the book, speaks in the first person ("I" rather than "he" or "she".) That choice by the novelist means that a reader must take the word of Humbert Humbert, the child molester, that his victim, the teenager Lolita, is a willing participant in her own abuse. Although that idea sounds absurd when put the way I just have, it works in Nabokov's novel. The reason it works is that for three fourths of the book, the POV is Humbert's. As a result the reader begins to see and think about the abuse as Humbert does, that it is one big, delightful sexual adventure, especially if the reader is a man. This technique is called "unreliable narrator." Many others besides Nabokov have used it. I often employ it for ironic or humorous effect in my poetry.

Q. Jack, I know you have a funny bone, or at least like to tickle our funny bones. I said before you are a multi-faceted author.

Humor is essential in writing. However, it is not easy to achieve. How would you advise me, for example, to develop humor in a piece? Are there particular authors or publications you would recommend? If you don’t mind, I will include an example of one of your humorous poems.

Alas and Alack!

You are old, Father Jack,
and under sneak attack
by a junta of contagious diseases.

So you give folks your back,
hunch and hiss like a cat
whenever somebody sneezes.

You should not do that.
You should keep it flat
till you die or till hell over-freezes.

Though to you it makes sense,
Annie's correspondents*
may, perchance, take offense
at your shunning their germ-laden breezes.

So your choice is a cinch:
be a snarling old grinch
or the cool, smiling corpse
whom your loverly last widow greevez.

*"Annie's Mail Box" is a social advice column in an Omaha newspaper.

A. I guess the main requirement for "develop(ing) humor in a piece" is for the potential for humor to be already present. To make that happen is quite complex. It begins with the question of audience. Who are you writing for? Children will not laugh at adult humor, and vice-versa. Some of us old geezers may still laugh at jokes about women drivers, but most women, no matter their age, wouldn't. I could go on and on, but we don't have the space.

Q. You’ve written plays that have been performed in Nebraska. My Heart’s in the Highlands is a one-act play that won honorable mention in Writer’s Digest. That is quite an accomplishment. For myself, and I’m sure the Nebraska Writer’s Guild, I’m interested in letting the rest of the world know about Nebraska’s fine arts culture. Theater is one of those areas, like film often unheralded for our state.

Do you have an opinion as to how we in Nebraska can bring more attention to the literary accomplishments of our authors and thespians?

A. I'm sorry. I don't.

Q. I’m going to make one final pull to find “Who is Jack?” You said in your biography that it was at age 58 you realized you should be writing instead of teaching others how to write and working as a literary critic. In one of our email exchanges, you mentioned there were other times when your interest in writing accelerated.

What do you attribute your love of literature and writing?

A. I have always been fascinated by language. Before I started kindergarten, I would spread the Sunday comics page on the floor and puzzle out the words. In the second grade, I memorized "The Ride of Paul Revere." My high school English teacher told me I was the only student of hers who understood Shakespeare. As a teenager I read all of Joseph Conrad's sea-going short stories.

I've heard that to be a poet, you must be in love with words. That is certainly true of me. Most of my growth as a playwright, writer and poet was gradual. However, there were a couple of periods in my life when it accelerated.

The three years when I earned a Master of Arts degree in English and American literature was the first period. The main set of skills I acquired in that time were those of a critic. I read the works of most of the great, as well as a few of the not-so-great writers in the English language from the beginnings of our tongue up to about the middle of the twentieth century. In addition to earning the degree, I emerged from my studies at San Francisco State College with a new set of skills. I could compare writers working in a particular genre and rate them against each other. That was a way of predicting whose works would continue to be printed and read and whose would not. In general, I could not only tell you which work was better and which was worse but also why.

The second period of acceleration was more drawn out. It has covered the last twenty-three years of my life. On my fifty-eighth birthday I complained to my daughter that I was tired of "being a bridesmaid and never a bride." That is, tired of reading the works of the great playwrights, writers and poets and wishing I could do the same. She loaned me a book entitled "Writing the Natural Way." It was a beginning writing course between two covers, a "how to" package that got me started learning the skills of a playwright, writer and poet. Over the years since then, I've continued to develop those skills.

I'm still no Shakespeare, Nabokov or Yeats. However, my cluttered writing office is my "Holy of holies." On one of the walls is a list of "the immortals," my heros and heroines, the great playwrights, writers and poets. Above their names are the words "In the company of the immortals." I no longer feel in impossible competition with them. Instead, they are my encouraging friends and mentors.


Jack invited us, figuratively, into his office and what develops from his mind within his ‘holy of holies’. Do I know Jack, no not really, but I know more about Jack. Like any author he has his own reasons for writing, personal to him. They are reflected by most of the rest of us. As authors we do love words and how they compliment each other. However, as unique as Jack’s reasons and process is to him, so are the reasons for writing personal for all writers.

Jack’s charm eminates from his unique lust for life, learning and legitimate search for meaning in what he does.