About the Author
Nancy Hartney, short story author and freelance scribbler, writes magazine articles, travel features, and book reviews. Washed in the Water, her debut collection of short stories set in the South, is available through Pen-L Publishers,local bookstores, and Amazon. Her short stories appear in numerous regional anthologies and western collections. She writes non-fiction magazine pieces, articles on horse events, travel articles accompanied by photographs, and book reviews.
MF: Tell us about Washed in the Water: Tales from the South.
NH: It is my debut collect. I have published non-fiction articles for magazines for several years before I began to write fiction. I wrote the stories in this collection over several years during workshops. I joined a critique group and realized the pivotal role of readers and critical feedback. After several writers’ conferences, interviews with publishers, and contest wins, I decided put my scattered stories in a collection. That’s when I began to earnestly hone my craft
Washed in the Water: Tales from the South offers vignettes of folks living the best they know how as they reach out for redemption. Set between 1950 and 1970, each tale stares at an individual as unique as the humid southern landscape. Simple incidents, complex decisions, and lessons about getting on with the business of living reverberate among the characters.
The collection of seven vignettes, literary in tone, reflect a region often scorned for eccentric characters, less-than-honest politics, racial prejudice, and bone breaking violence. But herein also dwell independent, caring, and resilient individuals, enduring their lot in life while striving toward a better way. The humid, passionate South of Washed in the Water is historical fiction and a literary reflection of a tenacious region that continues into the present. In fact the South actually becomes a character in my collection.
MF: What inspired this collection of short stories?
NH: I grew up on a farm between 1950 and 1970. I was part of the Civil Rights Movement, Kennedy’s Camelot, Johnson’s New Deal, and the political and social upheavals surrounding Viet Nam. I’ve lived in the Deep South, California, and Texas. I’ve travelled internationally and across the United States. There’s a world of stories out there.
MF: Is there an under lying message you would like your readers to grasp?
NH: I want folks to think about the South in terms of the common, ordinary person. These people struggle to redeem the good in themselves. They strive to do better. The South has a history of grinding poverty – forget Gone with the Wind and think To Kill a Mockingbird or Norma Rae. Think music, like the blues; born in hard sweat and blood, yet thriving even today. Think politics and the changes as northerners move into the metropolitan South. Think lifestyles: deer and bird hunting juxtaposed against state of the art golf courses. Think chicken plants: the working person’s worse nightmare and best hope for a decent wage.
I cannot ignore the discrimination and harshness of this region nor its mean spirited citizens. Cannot ignore its continuing civil rights issues or problems with voting. Neither can I ignore the ongoing struggle by good, honest people that genuinely strive toward a level playing field for everyone. My characters are composites. Some succeed in small ways, others change significantly. But, at the end of the day, the South, like every region, has its good and bad, ugly and beautiful, kind and harsh.
MF: What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
NH: My non-fiction interviews for magazine articles have been a hoot. I had opportunity to interview Melvin Poe, a foxhunting icon and hound gruru. Despite his status in the hunting community, I found him gracious, happy to talk, and filled with a lifetime of stories. I’ve had a fine time interviewing rodeo folks- everything from bronc riders to queen contesntants to a rough stock contractors. I sat and talked with a contractor one afternoon while it was pouring rain. Cowboys at that night’s rodeo had a sloppy time.
MF: What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?
NH: Reading opens doors on other worlds. Think international authors (Christina Garcia); writers from other regions (Kim Heacox’s Only Kayak; Jack London, Tom McGuane); non-fiction materials (Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant, Thomas Friedman’s works on global politics, environmentalist Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, and Pete Dunne’s Prairie Spring); and, historical works (Elliot West, the Zippo lighter series). Emotions, things of the heart, and relationships are explored through writing and reading. Family history can be reclaimed through storytelling. Books offer adventure and information you don’t get in movies or on TV or by staying in your neighborhood. In short, writing and reading and storytelling have a synergistic effect on experience.
MF: Name two or three authors who have inspired you. Is there a particular author you want to emulate?
NH: That’s like asking which child is your favorite. Or, specifically in my case, which cat, horse or dog I like best.
I enjoy international authors such as Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Isabel Allende, and Colum McCann. The nonfiction of Thomas McGuane, Jane Smiley, Larry McMurtry, Roy Reed, and Ivan Doig are an endless delight. I’m also fond of some of their novels. Fiction writers I enjoy include Lee Smith, Flannery O’Connor, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Erskine Caldwell, Wiley Cash, and Tom Franklin. As I said, can’t choose just one – can’t eat just one potato chip either.
MF: Would you mind telling us about your current writing project?
NH: I’m working on another collection of short stories. Also, I will be doing a novel and non-fiction how-to publication. I have an endless fascination with thoroughbred racing so have to factor that in some place.
MF: What are some of the awards you’ve won for your work?
NH: I hesitate to list awards – I always feel excited when I win even a small award. It’s an electric charge and a humbling experience.
Ozark Writers League, Arkansas, recently awarded me the Best Book of the Year Fiction 2014 and President’s Award for Washed in the Water. My “Bull and the Kitten” placed first in the Seven Hills Literary & Penumbra Poetry Contest, Florida, for a short story. Oklahoma Writers Federation has honored my short stories with a first place on several occasions over the past three years. For me, writing is visceral. I do it to extend my experience and widen my world.
MF: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer?
NH: Criticism? Take any session with my critique group if you need to hear criticism. I love them for their red-pen-slashing ways.
MF: What has been the best compliment?
NH: A handwritten card from my husband’s cousin – that would be a cousin-in-law to me—saying the book opened her eyes to things about the South. She lives in Chicago, I’d never met her and did not realize she had my book. My father-in-law gave a copy to her – another fine complement. A friend’s mother called me from Minneapolis to tell me how much she enjoyed my book.
MF: If you could jump into a book, and live in that world … which would it be?
NH: I’m quite happy in my time. I’ve had joy and sadness, loss and gain, good times and rough. I’ve travelled, rode fine horses, met people from across the world, eaten foods exotic and plain, drunk wine, and loved. I’m happy here.
Washed in the Water: Tales from the South offers vignettes of folks living the best they know how as they reach out for redemption. Set between 1950 and 1980, each tale stares at an individual as unique as the humid landscape of the South. Hard lives, daily survival, and lessons about getting on with the business of living reverberate among the characters.
“This brief collection of stories deals with such diverse experiences as a river baptism and coon hunting while it embraces emotions of love, jealousy, and altruism. The seven southern tales contain some real gems.” ~ Pat Carr, author of One Page at a Time and The Radiance of Fossils