ALL PULP: Nancy, share some background with our readers, both personal and professionally.
NANCY HANSEN: I’ve been an avid reader since a very young age. Writing was always something I was good at; I was that lone kid in the classroom who actually looked forward to the essay questions on the test. When my sons were young and I was a stay-at-home mom, I took that opportunity to explore a lot of creative endeavors in arts and crafts areas. I eventually settled on writing because it worked the best with my busy home life. Once I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, I never looked back.
I took a couple of writing correspondence courses over those years, and put the insight and instructions to good use. Along the way, I taught myself to use a computer, and once we finally got internet (we’re rural) I started looking for like-minded souls. I spent the better part of 5 years as a volunteer moderator for first a big software company’s gardening and landscaping forums, and then Prodigy Internet’s Books and Writing Bulletin Board. In the first forum set I learned quickly how to explain complex ideas and instructions within the context of a limited space, and with the second position honed my writing skills while learning from the pros and helping a lot of new writers get started. From that latter experience came some long lasting friendships with other writers that remain to this day, as well as a lot of the story material I am mining now. I wrote a lot of poetry back then also, and managed to win a couple of local awards. So I was living the writing life, though the mainstream publishing field was always a dead end for me.
I have a very diverse household with three generations under one roof, and it gets hectic. Now that my sons are adults, I have more time to pursue writing. Because of that, most of my professionally published work has happened in the last couple of years. I’m another one of those overnight success stories that only took 20+ years in the making…
AP: THE TALES OF THE VAGABOND BARDS, your latest release, is a short story collection. What can you share about the characters and tales found within its pages?
NH: The initial story, The Arcane Codex, was the first and it was based on a vivid dream I had. My dreams tend to be in color and very cinematic, like movie trailers, and they even have background music. I did what you’re supposed to do if you’re a serious writer; I sat up in bed, and jotted it all down. It was just the very beginning of a tale, but it was enough to build upon. Later on, I decided to set it in that familiar sword & sorcery fantasy world I had created years ago where many of my stories—including my novel FORTUNE’S PAWN—take place. Since music was part of the dream, the idea of roving bards as teachers and keepers of the history of their land became appealing, and I just ran with it. Little by little I’ve been fleshing our their part of the overarching world, giving each bard a tale of his or her own, with a common thread binding them all. That’s what this book is, an introduction to the world of these restlessly footloose musicians, poets, singers, and keepers of the lore. Within those pages you will find three distinct stories about the adventures of three different bards.
AP: This is also the debut of your own author based imprint via Pro Se-Hansen’s Way. First, tell us how it feels to have such a body of work that you’ve been given your own imprint?
NH: There are times when it is mindboggling, and I’m surprised I can keep the details straight. I keep wondering if the well will run dry, but I never seem to run out of ideas. It does help to have some series diversity amongst the stories so that if X doesn’t seem appealing, or I’m stuck for an idea, I can go write something for Y or Z.
Over the years I have kept writing down story concepts and shoving them in files, with the idea I would sit down someday and flesh them all out. Some were actually finished tales, others no more than a few sentences. I remember when I first hooked up with Pro Se back in the spring of 2010, I told Tommy Hancock I had lot of mothballed stories I could write up and send him, and he said bring it on! I don’t think he was expecting 21 short stories from me that year! LOL He was a very good sport about it, and encouraged me to keep sending them in. Many of them were set in that same world, just different places and characters.
When I was approached about having my own imprint—which is an honor for someone who previous to 2010 was an unknown writer—I immediately thought about all those Terran World short stories, and bringing them in under one banner. I have 5 different series amongst those right now; each series with its own unique setting and recurring characters, and there have been some crossover characters and settings between them. It just makes more sense to keep them under one flagship imprint than scattering them hither and yon in other publications. I have other series that I write outside this world setting that will still be appearing elsewhere, as well as full length novels and other projects. So I’m going to be quite busy!
AP: What is the direction or guiding mission of Hansen’s Way? What do you hope to do with the imprint?
NH: The main thing for now is getting these 5 story lines off the ground and establishing characters and settings, and hopefully a loyal following of readers. What I hope to do down the road is interest other authors in contributing stories that fit within the concepts of each separate series title and the overall Terran World. For the present time I have enough backlog of work that I can fill anthologies fairly easily. When the time comes that I can’t keep up, and I feel enough reading material is out there that interested writers should have a good grasp of how to handle these series, I’ll send out the call for submissions. It’ll be a while though! I have not yet plumbed the depths of my files.
AP: You’re fairly a newcomer to Pulp. What about Pulp appeals to you, a fantasy writer.
NH: I am relatively new to both pulp writing and the published work, though I have been a big Robert E. Howard fan for many years. I didn’t really know anything about pulp per se, just that I loved Howard’s breathless pacing and direct approach to getting a story told. I’ve always been an avid fan of the epic/heroic swashbuckling adventure fantasy—could never get enough of that. It’s the kind of thing that works so well for pulp, which is big on action and heroes. If it’s got magic and swordplay, mythological creatures and a big otherworldly backdrop, I’m in!
Now that I’ve written on both sides of the line, I can say that the fundamental difference between mainstream fantasy and pulp fantasy is that pacing. The mainstream books tend to be very long, with convoluted plots and some sort of hero’s quest involved. Pulp is generally shorter, more straightforward, and a simpler plot that is easily satisfied in 200 pages or less. Both share a tendency for recurring characters in series stories, and that ‘larger than life’ hero opposing some arch villainous force over the course of the story.
Now that I’ve had a chance to write to a pulp audience, I find I prefer that quick pacing with shorter intervals between action scenes. Even reading mainstream fantasy now, I get impatient when the story plods through some long introspective moments. I don’t mind those sections as long as the action doesn’t bog down while our heroine is discovering her destiny. Keep that bow twanging during the breathless chase across the tundra while you’re soul searching and it makes for a far more exciting read, and you still get the point across.
AP: Readers of Fantasy and/or Pulp, what will they find that they love in TALES OF THE VAGABOND BARDS?
NH: In all my fantasy writing these days, I tread a tightrope between what I know the mainstream fantasy readers are looking for and what the pulp world expects. I don’t want to alienate either camp, because at the end of the day, all I want to do is tell a good story well. With the Vagabond Bards, which are not necessarily a fighting group, it’s been a real test of skill to make the stories appeal to the mainstream fantasy reader, who will have certain expectation; and yet maintain that headlong excitement throughout that pulp fans crave. Mainstream fans want a complex world setting with plenty of details and characters they can relate to and cheer along. Pulp readers want a wild ride with lots of action and adventure. So since I already have that big world behind all this, it comes down to characters and plot.
What this book has is three unique and separate tales of three different bards doing what they do best—using their talents and knowledge to help and educate the folks around them. I think what really shines in these is the characters themselves, and their dedication to what they do, and to each other. Each bard has a distinct personality, some claim to fame, and a background history, and yet they are brought together by a common cause. The three adventures are very different and not at all tame: a desperate attempt to secure a handwritten book of history before it is confiscated, a frantic search for a talented young boy before something happens to him that will alter his life forever, and a rather comical and poignant ‘rescue’ attempt for a local thief by the man who loves her and the bard who gets dragged into the whole sordid mess. If you love good old fashioned adventures in a world where magic and religion are often at odds, you’re not going to want to miss this book.
AP: What are your future plans for the Bards?
NH: Definitely more tales! I’ve barely begun to plumb their depths yet. I’ve brought in some new bard characters along the way that are begging for their own stories. What works well about these is that because they are not your typical fantasy action hero out swinging a sword or flinging spells, there is room for all ages and abilities to have a starring role. For instance, within this book, I have mentioned both a senior female bard and a young boy who will be joining them in the not distant future, and both could easily be featured in their own adventure stories. I see no reason why I can’t use a blind or disabled character, someone with a checkered past (done that once already in fact), bards with varying ethnic or gender identities, or addiction issues (ditto, though it’s outlined in another series). That’s one thing that is fun about these characters; they open a lot of possibilities.
I’ve already mentioned the idea of bringing in other writers to the imprint at some point, and it’s very likely that the Vagabond Bards series is going to be the first place that happens. I think the whole nature of having a rotating cast works very well for that. This is the one series under the imprint where other writers would have a good opportunity to create a brand new character. I’m really looking forward to seeing what others can come up with when we get that far.
AP: If you had to point out one thing about your writing that you hope readers take away from reading one of your books, what would that be?
NH: Actually, I have a couple of goals…
First of all, I like to make the point that everyday people can still do extraordinary things. Throughout my writing, many of my heroic characters don’t fit the mold of ‘superb physical specimen’ that you see quite often in pulp. Some of them have nagging emotional issues, less than ideal appearance, there are various vices mentioned—and a few are downright flawed. I do that on purpose, because I want these characters to resonate with readers, so that instead of seeing someone whose looks and personality are superhuman and unattainable, they remind you of someone you know, and can feel comfortable with. So when the character does rise to the occasion, you’re right there with them, wrapped up in that situation, cheering her or him on.
I want my villains to have real motivation, something that while it might be skewed thinking, is understandable. That’s how it is in the real world. We’re judged on our deeds today, but our background plays a long way into what we’ve become. Don’t worry, these scoundrels are nasty and you’re going to want to see them get their due, but it’s understood there is more reason to their madness than this is someone who is pure evil incarnate.
Most important of all, I want to tell some rousing good tales. While a story can uplift, enlighten, and make you think, it should also be entertaining. That’s the most important part of fiction writing as far as I’m concerned. I want you to shut that cover at the end of a book feeling good about what you read, and a little sad that it’s over. If I can accomplish that, then I’ve done what I set out to do: write the kind of stories I love to read.