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Nightingale's Nest: Interview with Nikki Lofton

Tuesday, February 18, 2014
I'm delighted to have author Nikki Lofton here on the blog today to talk about her book Nightingale's Nest!

Nightingale's Nest

by Nikki Lofton

Genre: MG Mythological
Paperback: 256 Pages
Publication: February 20, 2014
by Razorbill

Twelve-year-old John Fischer Jr., or "Little John" as he’s always been known, is spending his summer helping his father with his tree removal business, clearing brush for Mr. King, the wealthy owner of a chain of Texas dollar stores, when he hears a beautiful song that transfixes him. He follows the melody and finds, not a bird, but a young girl sitting in the branches of a tall sycamore tree.

There’s something magical about this girl, Gayle, especially her soaring singing voice, and Little John’s friendship with Gayle quickly becomes the one bright spot in his life, for his home is dominated by sorrow over his sister’s death and his parents’ ever-tightening financial difficulties.

But then Mr. King draws Little John into an impossible choice—forced to choose between his family’s survival and a betrayal of Gayle that puts her future in jeopardy.

Inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen story, Nightingale's Nest is an unforgettable novel about a boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders and a girl with the gift of healing in her voice.

Author Interview

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing.
I’ve been a reader and a writer since I could hold a book and a pencil! I can’t remember a time I wasn’t making up stories in my mind, and trying to put them down on paper. I think I knew I wanted to be a published author when I was nine years old, and one of my teachers sent a poem I wrote into the local newspaper. Seeing my name in print, next to my words? Magic.

I let go of my lifelong dream for quite a few years, though. I ended up being a teacher for a while (super fun, actually), and a director of family ministries. Then one day, I looked in the mirror and saw the gray hairs starting to peek out and realized I didn’t have forever to chase that dream! I started writing again, in earnest, that year. I had my first two contracts with Penguin about two and a half years later.

I saw Nightingale's Nest was inspired by a poem you wrote "The Treasure Nest" and also the Hans Christian Anderson story "Nightingale." Could you elaborate on this?
When I first started writing for children, I wrote what I thought were picture books: short, quiet poems that came from my deepest childhood memories. Even when I figured out they didn’t work as picture books, I couldn’t stop thinking about one or two of them in particular. Turns out, they were the seeds of my next two novels! I took the first one, called “The Treasure Nest,” wrapped it around one of my favorite, strange fairy tales (“The Nightingale” by Hans Christian Andersen), and it grew into Nightingale’s Nest.

The second picture book poem was called “The Outside Music.” It’s now called Wish Girl, and will be my third novel! Writers should NEVER throw away any “failed” work. They’re seeds, all of those almosts.

What kinds of challenges did you face telling Little John and Gayle's story?
The story itself came to me whole; I almost felt at times like I was transcribing it rather than making it up. The challenge was having the courage to write it! There’s a lot of sadness there, dark memories and terrible choices the characters are forced to make. I think the hardest thing might have been allowing the story to be what it was, rather than softening it to make it easier for me to write.

Little John is a boy "with the weight of the world on his shoulders." How did you go about balancing Little John's vulnerabilities with his newfound role in Gayle's life?
Little John was unable to save his little sister when she fell to her death, and so he is in the perfect position when he meets Gayle – another fragile girl in a tree - to feel like he might be able to try again, and do it right this time. I think many people, after a terrible tragedy, would grasp at a new start, and this is what Little John did. It’s in his nature to take on others’ burdens, as well, so he acts in character when he accepts the mantle of responsibility for Gayle.

How have the characters changed since you first envisioned them? Did any in particular surprise you?
Honestly, the characters didn’t change very much! As I said, the experience of writing Nightingale’s Nest felt organic, like I was only uncovering a story that had been there for a long while. Possibly it felt this way since the “seed” had been germinating for so long (from that first picture book draft), so when it finally unfolded, the characters were fully formed in my mind. The only thing that surprised me greatly was the ending, and I still struggle with the way the final climax was resolved! I can’t elaborate, or I’ll spoil the whole thing, but I still find myself arguing - with myself, I guess – over how it all worked out.

What draws you to fairy tales and magical realism?
I was obsessed with fairy tales and myths when I was a little girl, and never really stopped reading them in any form I could find. Classic retellings, books of world folktales, Native American stories, Russian and Eastern European fairy tales, Nordic mythology – I read so many books! I think those tales shaped the writer I am. When I began to read magical realism in college and grad school (I studied fiction writing at UT Austin), I adored the way those writers allowed inexplicable, universal magic to seep into the realistic worlds they created. I had to try that!

What kinds of characters do you like to see in books and why?
I love strong yet flawed characters, weak and broken characters who keep trying, characters with good hearts and good intentions who make terrible mistakes, characters of every color and age and size, who fight against almost insurmountable odds… I like to see characters readers can identify with, and want to follow throughout an entire book! I think readers, especially young readers, need that – to see characters who look like them, and think like them, who may even feel helpless at times, and yet keep trying. Young characters who triumph over internal and external foes – that’s what I try to write, and love to read.

What are you working on right now?
That second picture book seed! My third middle-grade novel, which should come out in early 2015 is titled WISH GIRL, and it’s magical realism again. It’s about an introverted boy who moves to the countryside, near a valley that seems utterly magical. He meets a smart, bossy girl who may or may not make wishes come true…and also may need him to help her stay alive.

I think readers who liked my first two books will like this one, too. It’s full of magic and danger and a pinch of tragedy, too.

About the Author

Nikki Loftin is a writer and native Texan who lives just outside Austin, Texas, with her two boys, two dogs, nine chickens, and one very patient husband. She writes Middle Grade novel-length fiction as well as personal essays, puppet plays, articles, poems, and short stories. She is the author of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy and Nightingale's Nest. Nikki is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin graduate writing program (MA, '98). She has been a popcorn seller, waitress, bookstore employee, Music and Gifted/Talented teacher, and a Director of Family Ministries. Her favorite food/obsession is ice cream, preferably Blue Bell Moo-llenium Crunch. On very good days, she prefers writing even to ice cream.

Connect with Nikki
Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

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