I have two boys, and I love being a mom. We live out in the country, and we have chickens, goats, dogs, and all sorts of wildlife on our land. Any day you can see roadrunners, deer, all sorts of songbirds, hawks, vultures, raccoons, armadillos, rabbits, and even tarantulas and snakes. (Other people have seen bobcats on my property, and I heard a mountain lion once!)
The best part about writing for me is when I get the initial idea for a story, and start putting it down on paper. It’s like a roller coaster ride that lasts for three months! Then, when I’m done, I have to do the part I like least: revising. Ugh. I have to eat chocolate every single day during this part. Still, I know that my stories wouldn’t be good enough to publish if I didn’t revise them – a LOT. So I do. With chocolate.
When I was little, I believed in magic. And honestly? I still do. For instance, a few years ago I looked up at the sky, and there were two clouds right overhead, that spelled the word “hi” in perfect print handwriting. Magic, right? Even though most adults would call it coincidence, or something silly like that.
I think grown-ups find ways to explain away all the mystery in the world, and I like writing books that are filled with the sort of magic I know – and lots of kids know, too – really exists.
I have to admit, I was a lot like Gayle when I was little. I climbed trees, made friends with them, sang to them, and imagined I was a bird…
I want my readers to get lost in my stories, to fall into them and forget chores and homework and regular life while they read! I hope all my books leave the reader with a sense of hope and a greater understanding of how powerful kids can be, if they find the courage, like my characters do, to stand up to the bad guys of the world.
I am not! I think one of the most rewarding parts of reading a good book is the way the reader gets to “finish” the story in her imagination, and I try to write endings that leave some space for readers to imagine what happens next. But I may decide to write a sequel someday! I think Sinister Sweetness could use a few more chapters. I mean, Molly the stepmom hasn’t got what’s coming to her yet, and Lorelei may end up using those broken wand pieces somehow….
This is a terrible question, like asking which one of my kids is my favorite! I love all of my books in different ways. Sinister Sweetness is my creepy book, and it’s based on my favorite fairy tale (Hansel and Gretel). Wish Girl is set in the place I loved the most in the world as a child, and loosely based on some real kids I also loved… but Nightingale’s Nest is the book of my heart. It’s full of sad parts, but a lot of hope, too… and birds, and music, and magic, and all the things I think are most important.
I loved Pippi Longstocking! She had everything I wanted as a child: A monkey, a horse, bags of gold, great friends, trees to climb, utter independence, red hair, and super strength. I dreamed of eating breadfruit for years after reading Pippi. (It’s sort of weird tasting, actually.)
I get my ideas from everywhere, but one of my favorite things to do is steal them from famous fairy tales! My first two books were both based on two of my very favorite fairy tales that I read when I was a kid. I also get ideas from my kids, from kids I taught years ago, and from the world around me. All you have to do to get ideas is pay attention to what’s going on around you… and remember everything, collecting images and thoughts, until the story is ready to be told.
First, let’s talk about some pleasant things.
I had the most fun time last night at The Writing Barn in Austin! I got to join my author friend,the amazing Joy Preble – who writes some of my favorite books for YA readers EVER – and Bethany Hegedus, and a room full of librarians, writers, and readers for a whole night of shenanigans. We ate, we drank, we read, we told Super Secret Stories about our books, and it was super fun.
Here is one very calm, tame picture to prove it happened. The rest are classified.
And now I am packing for a wonderful week in Edmond and OKC, chock full of writing workshops, presentations, lunches, dinners, and maybe even a book signing! But before I go…. let’s talk about whether or not I can be your critique partner.
If you find yourself thinking, hey! I wonder if Nikki can be my critique partner, first ask yourself these (possibly unpleasant) things:
1. Have I met her or spent a LOT of time chatting with her online, to the point where Nikki said/emailed/Tweeted “Hey, we should critique for each other,” or “I must read this story of which you speak, send it now?”
2. Have I shared a bowl of soup with her? (If you don’t know why soup is significant, you may not know Nikki well enough to ask the CP question. Soup is central to her CP relationships.) Have you written with her in a coffee shop?
3. Did Nikki ASK me to send her my work to read?
4. Have I ever babysat one of Nikki’s kids? Or fed the goats for her while she was on vacation? Or sent her an ENORMOUS basket of chocolates and by enormous I mean the size of a car?
5. Am I an Apocalypsie? Have we served on a panel together? Has Nikki fangirled me to an embarrassing degree online because I am her Favorite Author Ever OMG?
6. Did I meet Nikki at a school visit and she said “Hey, I want to read that, send it to me!” *
7. Am I paying her to read my work? (Yes, this is a thing authors get paid for. Not Nikki, usually. But maybe someday.)
If you can answer YES to any of these, then you have a relationship with me of some kind, and you should feel free to ask to read my work and/or have me read yours. I will be flattered, and pleased, and sometimes honored. I may still say no, depending on what’s going on in my real world life.
But… if you have never met me, live far away, and just Googled me randomly and thought “Hey, I know, I’ll ask HER to read my 850,000-word time-travel-dystopian-rhyming-novel-in-verse…? **
I must kindly decline. I have kids to raise, soup to cook, chocolate to eat, and young authors’ manuscripts I must cheerlead. Oh, and books of my own to write, too! Maybe someday we will meet at a conference, our eyes making contact across a crowded table stacked with ARCs, and the magic of a friendship will begin to blossom… but until then, I am full up on critique partners.
* In this case, young friends, YES send it… but I will probably respond with a LOT of pompom shaking, and not a lot of rough-and-tumble harshness, because you are a kid, and I want more than anything for you to KEEP WRITING and not give up no matter what! But I will give you some helpful advice. Please only send me one manuscript, though? Thanks.
**As this sort of thing is actually happening to me right now, I felt a blog post was in order. I hope I made it funny and not mean… but seriously. The Internet is a weird thing, and I think some strangers have gotten quite the wrong idea, what with me being a Mostly Nice Person and all that. As a CP? I am not nice. I am terribly frank and overly honest and tend to say things in a not-so-pleasant way. I am the Simon Cowell of CPs. You really don’t want me. And until we have soup? It ain’t happening.
Need a critique partner? Try the lovely Internet places listed below, or better yet, find real, live ones at a local SCBWI conference, meeting, or shindig. SCBWI? Is the KEY, people.
Online Critique Places:
meetup.com – hunt for “Literature and Writing” meetup groups in your area.
Googlegroups or yahoogroups. Or any one of a number of online listserv group meets.
Nikki Loftin lives with her Scottish photographer husband just outside Austin, Texas, surrounded by dogs, chickens, goats, and rambunctious boys. She is the author of the multiply starred-reviewed Nightingale’s Nest and The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, which Publisher’s Weekly called “mesmerizing” and Kirkus called “irresistible.” Her latest novel, Wish Girl, was published on February 24, 2015, and will be translated into Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and French.
Nikki Loftin is the author of three middle grade novels, all published by Razorbill/Penguin. THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY (2012) which Publishers Weekly called “a mesmerizing read,” and Kirkus Reviews called “deliciously scary and satisfying,” was the winner of the 2013 Writer’s League of Texas Book Award and was listed for Oklahoma’s 2014 Sequoyah Book Award. Her second novel, NIGHTINGALE’S NEST (2014), received starred reviews from Kirkus and the Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books, and was singled out by the Children’s Literacy Foundation as the middle grade “Next Great Book” of 2014. Nightingale’s Nest won both the Writer’s League of Texas and the Texas Institute of Letters Best Children’s Book Awards for 2014. It will soon be published in Portuguese by Editora Bertrand in Brazil, and in Chinese by Guangxi Normal University Press Group Co., Ltd.
Nikki’s third book, WISH GIRL, was published in February 2015. Foreign rights have been sold in Brazil, Italy, Japan, Spain, France, Portugal, and China.
Nikki’s short children’s fiction has appeared in Boy’s Life and Pockets magazines, among others. She also writes literary fiction, poetry, and essays for adults, and has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves, and the Guys Read: Terrifying Tales anthology. Nikki is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary Agency, and is an active member of the Austin SCBWI, and the Writer’s League of Texas.
Nikki attended the University of Texas at Austin for both her BA (French, ‘92), and MA (English – Fiction Writing, ’98). She speaks conversational French and limited Spanish, and has spent most of her professional life working with children and young adults. After teaching in the New Braunfels Independent School District as a Music and Gifted and Talented teacher, she pursued a career as a Director of Family Ministries at Presbyterian churches. She loves public speaking and has served as keynote speaker for regional writing organizations and library conferences, and presented at schools as far away as Tokyo, Japan.
A native Texan, Nikki lives near Austin with her husband (a Scottish photographer), two sons, and an assortment of goats, dogs, and chickens. Currently, Nikki writes full-time, with occasional breaks for tea, chocolate, and singing to her goats. She volunteers with the local 4-H club and at her own children’s schools in the classrooms and libraries, and teaches middle school Sunday School every week. When under extreme stress, or on submission with a novel, she bakes obsessively as a coping technique.